Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Top Albums of the Year 2010, Part 2: Others


Other Albums from 2010 Worth Listening To



HYPNOS 69 Legacy

A great collection of retro rock with prog qualities in the vein of Procul Harum, Robin Trower, Uriah Heep, Nektar, Grand Funk, Blind Faith, Traffic, Utopia, and even Camel and Pink Floyd. Impeccable sound reproduction, stellar drumming and guitar leads and compositional and lots of 'borrowed' riffs/melody lines from classic rock and prog rock songs. This album is exciting and never dull, if a bit familiar. For example: imagine Traffic and post-Sinfield/Lake/Giles King Crimson jamming to Yes' "The Fish" "schindleria praematurus" vocal riff:  you get 5. "The Empty Hourglass" (10:49)(10/10). Or how 'bout Fripp/Eno and Jethro Tull playing with Pink Floyd on their 1974 Dark Side of the Moon tour:  you get 7. "The Great Work" (18:27) (8/10). Or Blind Faith playing on stage with Supertramp and Nektar on the Journey to the Centre of the Eye album tour:  you get 1. "Requiem (for a Dying Creed)" (17:52) (9/10).
     Anyway, you get my drift. The bottom line is that this is excellent music for listening--especially for bringing you back to about 1972 or 73--yet all original music with its own charm and clever hooks. Well composed, well performed, excellent production--well done, Hypnos 69!

2. "An Aerial Architect" (6:49) (8/10); 3. "My Journey to the Stars" (6:54) (8/10); the spacey, folkie 4. "The Sad Destiny We Lament" (4:58) (8/10), and; the slowed down beauty of 6. "Jerusalem" (6:53) (8/10).

84.29 on the Fish scales = four stars--just missing "near-masterpiece" status. Though it is reminiscent of many masters of the 1970s, we'll see in five years how memorable much less essential this one is.



LUNATIC SOUL Lunatic Soul II

A fan and critic of the first Lunatic Soul album, I am pleased to feel some progress, some development, some maturation of this ensemble on this, their second LP. Where I was crying out for melody and song development on the previous album, this one shows more of both.

1. "The In-between Kingdom" is a slow-moving, sonically full instrumental which displays the same familiar LUNATIC SOUL 'world' sound. Though this song has a rather nice melody line, it exhibits the same unchanging repetitiveness which, IMHO, plagued their previous album. (7/10)

2. "Otherwhere" (2:48) is an innocuous little ditty that is, while pleasant enough, still suffering from lack of development, change and diversity. (7/10)

3. "Suspended in Whiteness" (7:56) begins simply with a rather nice melody but suffers from over three minutes of monotony. But wait! Could it be! At the 3:20 mark, FINALLY, there is a change, a shift, development! And it almost gets complicated and does get emotional. Thank you, Mariusz! This is what I've been waiting for! Great tune! (9/10)

4. "Asoulum" (6:23) starts with the feel of a NIRVANA song. Then a synthesizer comes in and some high-range vocal harmonies fill the sonic plane for nearly a minute. Back to the opening section--but, no! Mariusz and his background vocals have created something new, fresh, harmonically interesting. These are vocals to listen to over and over! Very cool!  And a very interesting outro section, too. (8/10)

5. "Limbo" (1:53) is a brief instrumental interlude. Again: innocuous, worldly, and constant--though it does hold the album's tension quite nicely. (7/10)

6. "Escape from Paradice" (4:39) continues the emotional trip through earthly dross (I find no "up" or "light" or "positivity" in this music. I do find beauty, though.) I love the shift and scream at the 2:30 mark. At least this song moves. (7/10)

7. "Transition" (11:07) is the best song DAVID SYLVIAN never did. It begins very ambiently and builds very slowly--for over five minutes--until a PETER GABRIEL-ish transition into (other-)world sounds (TONY LEVIN with Australian Aborigines?!) An awesome, powerful second part of the song. Incredible synth outro! The highlight of the album--by far--and one of the best songs of the year! (11/10)

8. "Gravestone Hill" (3:41) is a simple song reminding me of BRUCE COCKBURN and ABNEY PARK. Pleasant and emotional. (9/10)

9. "Wanderings" (5:28) contains some trippy-New Age sounding sounds while establishing a very full and emotional aural textural field. Mariusz' voice and the entry of drums at the 1:30 mark are the only things really keeping this song out of the BUDDHA LOUNGE cds. But wait! At 3:18 a synthesizer and vocal bring the song into the NEW RDER/DEPECHE MODE realm. Nice bass work. Nice song. (10/10)

Though there is still a lot of room for compositional growth and maturity in these songsters, I am continually intrigued and drawn in by Lunatic Soul's fearless use of a wide variety of world, ethnic and even electronic instruments. I am also greatly enamored by the deeply emotional aural landscapes their music paints. Greatly improved use of Mariuisz Duda's vocal talents. Keep it coming, LS! 

83.33 on the Fish scales = A very solid, strong 4 stars. An excellent addition to my music collection that I know will keep me coming back again and again.



THE TEA CLUB Rabbit

This one came as real surprise--very cool sound feeling somewhere between OCEANSIZE, RADIOHEAD, BIG BIG TRAIN, MOON SAFARI and even some TOBY DRIVER. The weave of instruments is so well performed that rarely does any one instrument really stand out, yet all are of top caliber. But it is the vocal performances, IMO, that deserve special mention: so diverse, emotional and well-executed. The first three songs are acceptable rockers, but is with "Royal Oil Can" that something extraordinary leaps out at me. As a matter of fact, songs 4 through 11, minus #8. "Tumbleweeds" (beautiful yet lacking something...), are each and all beautiful, often masterful.

4. "Royal Oil Can" (5:15) is, IMHO, more beautiful than anything by MOON SAFARI--and powerful when the bass and toms enter at the 2:55 mark. The production is so clear and balanced, the songwriting and performance so mature and controlled. (10/10)

5. "Out of the Oceans" (7:17) starts with a kind of BILLY JOEL meets OCEANSIZE feel and sound. At 1:50 the pace changes and the vocals get the underwater treatment. The organ that joins at 2:45 is very cool. The OCEANSIZE vibe is definitely strong in this one. The delicate section with almost a cappella vocal beginning at 4:10 mark is stunningly emotional and gorgeous. This is where it really begins to sound like a TOBY DRIVER performance--especially as it builds to the tortured singing after the 6:10 mark. Great song. (8/10)

6. "He Is Like a Spider" (6:20) sounds very RADIOHEAD-like. The opening guitar and vocal work is quite ear-catching. The second section of the song kind of gets lost before it reassembles into another gorgeous section with harmonizing vocals resembling MOON SAFARI or BIG BIG TRAIN. Unfortunately, it then disassembles again into a reprise of the awkward second section to close. (9/10)

7. "Nuclear Density Guage" (7:22) has a very space/psychedlic beginning--even through the pretty vocals over slow discordant guitar strums. Then, suddenly, it kind of picks up into an energized section sounding much like THE MARS VOLTA. Awesome guitar sounds. I love the unusual (ZAPPA-like?) singing (ranting) that begins 3:45 mark and the chorus that closes it. Strange fade out. (9/10)

9. "Astro" (11:31) begins very melodically with all instruments weaving together in gorgeous support so much like BIG BIG TRAIN. A few divergences into pure RADIOHEAD land work well. And the DAVE GREGORY imitation guitar soloing here sounds even better than on "The Underfall Yard." Awesome segue back into vocals at 6:25! Then there is a very delicate "Cinema Show" section beginning at 7:25. Wonderful vocal and drum/cymbal  work. Again, remarkable collective weave of instrumental performances to support the vocals. (9/10)

I look forward to much more from this band. I so enjoy the extraordinarily selfless, 'group' mentality they convey so well (whether intentional or no) in their beautiful songscapes. Well done, TEA CLUB!

82.22 on the Fish scales = solid four star album; and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

Added 10/9/11:  I wish to update and upgrade my review of this album for, during the nine months since 2010 ended, this is one of only two albums that I keep going back to over and over the other is BROTHER APE's A Rare Moment of Insight), which feels fresh, interesting, and invigorating. The main point is, I keep wanting to come back to it, which, in my mind, means this is a keeper, a classic, a masterpiece. Again, well done, Tea  Club! Keep on doin'!



FOURTEEN TWENTY-SIX Lighttown Closure

Wow! What a surprise! I thought this was going to be a collection of demo songs but it's an album of full blown, very high quality crossover prog music. If you like the mellower, more spacious side of music, like THE CURE, THE CHURCH, NOSOUND, GAZPACHO, ANATHEMA, LOVE AND ROCKETS, AIRBAG, DAVID SYLVIAN, or BRIAN ENO, you will love this album!

1. 'Am' (6/10) is a brief acoustic guitar song that seems a bit out-of-place with the rest of the album--which means the lyrical content (a late-arriving vocal in the vein of LOVE AND ROCKETS) must be its most important contribution. 

2. 'After the Storm' (5:10) brings the album's introduction from the austere, minimalist folk blues-rock into a kind of 80s techno pop: THE CHURCH, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, SIMPLE MINDS, LOVE AND ROCKETS, even THOMPSON TWINS come to mind. It's good: not too retro, with plenty of modern sensibilities (guitars and other background effects). I love the quiet high-register vocal-over-'harp' interlude at the 2:45 mark, and the fuzz guitar that follows.  Poor ending (familiar from ENO's 'By the River' from Before and After Science). (8/10)

3. 'Closing Hours' (5:20) is an awesome song combining electronics, acoustic guitar picking, rolling COCTEAU TWINS-like bass line, and syncopated drumming with ROBERT SMITH vocals sounding as if straight off of the missing album between THE CURE's Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me and Disintegration LPs. (9/10)

4. 'Gone Today' (7/10) hails back to LOVE AND ROCKETS and THE CHURCH though still pulling a lot from GENE LOVES JEZEBEL. Haunting keys and background-floating 'infinite guitar' tremolos coupled with a truly masterful vocal performance make this a real crossover gem.

5. 'Tonight I' (7:43) is a masterpiece of psychedelic prog techno-pop--not unlike the GAZPACHO and NOSOUND efforts but more akin to a great AIRBAG song--with a very infectious chorus melody. Great synth and special sound effects. (9/10)

6. 'Signals in the Sky' (8:10) is simply amazing for the emotion of its spacey ambience. As good as NOSOUND or GAZPACHO at their very best! No, better! (10/10)

7. 'Descending' (7/10) is a bit of a let down after the past four songs. It starts with 2 minutes of very vocal-heavy singing over some very somber, minor- or chromatic-keyed (or, at least, 'melody-less') synthesizer sounds. When it does 'kick' in, it continues to carry forward its almost too heavy, too dark sound'which might be quite appropriate for the lyrical message Chris is trying to convey (but, to which I am all but oblivious). Another attempt at the depths of dark-night-of-the-soul master ROBERT SMITH? It actually has more in common with STEVE KILBEY of THE CHURCH's sound and PETER HAMMILL' style. Fortunately, it does build and end much more like 'music' than it begins.

8. 'White Paint' (7/10) is a true STEVE KILBEY/THE CHURCH song--with lots of spacing between instrument notes. Also similar in feel and style to DAVID SYLVIAN's work.

9. 'Lashes' (9:14) is stunning! It's like a song whose music came from the BRIAN ENO/ROBERT FRIPP Evening Star period while Chris has had the courage and wherewithal to add an absolutely amazing DAVID SYLVIAN-like, prime ROBERT SMITH vocal over the top. Absolutely stunning effect--and effects (listen with headphones, please!!) The crescendo of cacophony toward the end followed by the lulling sound of a solo cello at the very end is the epitome of the end of a great Post Rock end of the world song--like ULVER's Shadow of the Sun's finale. Superlatives! (10/10)

Each listen brings more enjoyment as this album's haunting vocals, simple, lazy but beautiful melodies and hidden subtleties draw you deeper into the music. This album is highly recommended for any music listener who likes a softer, more dreamy and yet very engaging listening experience. 4 stars for now--a HIGH 4 stars. ('Masterpiece' status usually needs be earned over time; stamina, the ability to hold interest over the long-term, are key. This album may have it!)

81.11 on the Fish scales = a solid four stars; a wonderful addition to any prog rock music collection. “Signals in the Sky,” 'Tonight I,” and especially the monster, “Lashes,” are all masterpieces of space/spychedelic/post rock.



Post edit: Comparisons to Radiohead and/or Depeche Mode? Frankly, I don't see it. Not as electronic as DMode and not as odd or experimental--or dull--as Radiohead. These guys are the real deal, the new Cure--maybe better.



 JAGA JAZZIST One-armed Bandit

A collection of delightful, mostly melodic and upbeat music--not unlike Bill Bruford's EARTHWORKS, TORTOISE, and the great Minimalists though often more straightforward and predictable.

2. "One-armed Bandit" (7:08) (10/10) is a charming, happy, hummable, and memorable tune--a cruisin' tune or a movie soundtrack intro or credits companion. I hear a little inluence of French soundtracks, BURT BACHARACH and even STEVE REICH minimalism. Same for the pretty, slower

3. "Bananfleur Overalt." (6:17) Nice melodies, pacing, and awesome bass lines. (9/10)

4. "220 V/Spectral" (7:03) offers a SATIE-like piano intro before a funky, acid jazz feel takes over. More to the electronica side with this one. Even the horns sound electronically treated. (8/20)

5. "Toccata" (9:11) is straight out of the STEVE REICH/PHILLIP GLASS school of minimalism. Add a little PAT METHENY sounds (drums & electronica) and you've got a classic Philip Glass soundtrack piece. (9/10) 

6. "Prognissokongen" (4:34) is the supposed prog tribute. It still feels very 'French soundtrack somposer imitating Philip Glass' to me--even the speeded up section and crash. (8/10)

7. "Book of Glass" (6:49) is another pretty electronic song--very STEREOLAB-like. Cool song! (8/10)

8. "Music! Dance! Drama!" (5:32) is a TORTOISE-STEROLAB-MONO (British version) styled song perfect for riding around in the city tour bus. (7/10)

9. "Touch of Evil" (6:40) has an emo-angsty spy-espionage movie soundtrack feel to it. It's actually a very cool, hauntingly beautiful song--complete with some upfront Euro-disco sounds and themes to it. (8/10)

A pleasant, fun, wholly listenable and entertaining music experience. Great music for driving the countryside or doing housework!

81.11 on the Fish scales = a solid 4 star album; excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.



ALCEST Écailles de lune

While the "shoegaze" and "death metal" labels are understandable with regards to Écailles de lune, there is a lot more to this music. There is a "freshness" to the styles Neige has combined in this album. While neither song structures nor instrumental variety and virtuosity are very special here--and the songs do sometimes get a bit . . . monotonous--there is still enough here to keep me smiling (growl vocals en francais!), and keep me pushing "replay" again and again. Good but not essential. Four stars because it keeps me coming back and because the album is consistently good, start to finish. Try it:  You might like it!

4 stars--could've been higher with a little more variation.



IL TEMPIO DELLE CLESSIDRE Il tempio delle Clessidre

An album of exceedingly well-crafted and performed songs, alas, the weakness, for me, is what others consider its strength: its vocals. Stefano "Lupo" Galifi, formerly of MUSEO ROSENBACH, is strong and confident, but his voices sounds aged and a bit over the top. Yes, his voice is fairly typical for the RPI scene, but I have found myself enjoying more of the groups that employ a team approach--where harmonies dominate more than a bombastic lead singer (PFM, MAXOPHONE come to mind). Still, the collectioin of intricately constructed symphonic songs here are performed so well--so clean and crisp--and with such melodic and emotional heights that I welcome the album's stay atop the charts. It is a very solid, strong four star album. However, the best album of the year, IMHO, is CICCADA's A Child in the Mirror.

1. Verso l'Alba (2:52)

2. Insolita Parte Di Me (7:21)


3. Boccadasse (5:21)


4. Le Due Metà Della Notte (5:19)


5. La Stanza Nascosta (5:10)


6. Danza Esoterica Di Datura (6:13)


7. Faldistorium (6:02)


8. L'Attesa (4:36)


9. Il Centro Sottile (10:40)


10. Antidoto Mentale (3:49)


4 stars for this collection of mature RPI.



ANATHEMA We’re Here Because We’re Here

I, too, was lured into the world of ANATHEMA by the high praise We're Here Because We're Here was receiving in 2010. While I am enjoying their music (I have gone back to acquire songs from all of their catalog), and I am enjoying the songs from WHBWH more than the other albums', I am once again mystified at their genre placement. Once a band evolves, perhaps its individual albums should be given their own genre placements--e.g. early Porcupine Tree is far more space/psychedelic and even symphonic than the more recent "heavy" prog. Early The Gathering was far more progressive than more recent crossover stuff--as was the reverse for Big Big Train!

1. "Thin Air" (5:59) with its driving bass line and drum beat and melodic guitar arpeggios and pulsing b vox is easily the best and most memorable song on the album. (9/10)


2. "Summer Night Horizon" (4:12) is another driving song quite reminscent of OCEANSIZE. Vocals and melodies are somehow lost, out of sync. (7/10)


3. "Dreaming Light" (5:47) plods along almost like a SIGUR ROS song--except in English. (7/10)


4. "Everything" (5:05) begins so strong with piano and voice, and then harmonizing female voice, but then fizzles a bit with the chorus key and melody change. (9/10)


5. "Angels Walk Among Us" (5:17) is a pretty Post/Math Rock song that nicely sets up the life after death recording of the next song. (8/10)


6. "Presence" (2:58) has guitar and organ music to accompany the recording of one man's recount of a key transcendent moment of his life. Song ends nicely with drums and female vocal "only you can heal your life." (9/10)


7. "A Simple Mistake" (8:14) bleeds from the previous song to begin quite delicately until the 4:15 mark when it switches gears to build into quite a dynamic RADIOHEAD/OCEANSIZE-like Post Rock song. (9/10)


8. "Get Off, Get Out" (5:01) twangs itself into a unmemorable rock song despite its catchy singing of the title lyric. (6/10)


9. "Universal" (7:19) while clever and well-constructed is simply too slow, its lyrics too distant, to draw the listener in. (7/10)


10. "Hindsight" (8:10) ends the album on a beautiful, peaceful high note. The sampled speech of some female speaker on "Love" is appreciated but, perhaps, a bit lost. As a matter of fact, much of the spiritual content and 'profound' lyrical intent on this entire album is, IMHO, somehow lost or corrupted by the music and melodies. It is difficult to explain, I don't know what could have been done differently--how it works for David Sylvian, Bill Nelson, or The Tea Club, but it just doesn't work for Anathema. (9/10)

Anyway, the music here is slightly more complex than previous albums--more PINK FLOYD-ish. The excellent lead voice commanded by Vince Cavanaugh almost boosts this group into the Crossover genre--he has that "poppish" kind of voice--the kind that attracts all the attention and makes you forget (or tolerate) the background music. So many acoustic guitars strumming away, yet not varied enough to even garner comparisons to The Church or some PT, Opeth, or Pain of Salvation--more akin to Radiohead or Oceansize. Yet, I do like this album. I'm not sure it's very proggy prog, but I do think it qualifies as an "Excellent addition to any music collection."


80.0 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album; an excellent addition to most prog lover's music collection.  



FROGG CAFÉ Bateless Edge

FROGG CAFÉ Bateless Edge is an exciting find for me because its sounds and instrumentation choices are rather unique and unusual: Brass with tuned percussives and Zappa-Frippish guitar leads?! Ultimately, however, like it's comparable genre-mate
ECHOLYN, the music never quite attains consistent heights of glory, cohesion, and accessibility.

The album has, for me, four highlights of admirable height, however: The opening song,

"Terra Sancta," with its highly engaging electric guitar riff and powerfully chaotic and frenetic electric guitar solo (10/10);

"Move Over I'm Driving" which recreates the JEAN-LUC PONTY-FREDDIE HUBBARD-WEATHER REPORT-MOTHERS OF INVENTION album that never occurred (7/10);

"Pasta Fazeuhl" which fuses so many unusual musical styles into one song that it defies categorization (fusion-fusion?!) (7/10), and;

"From the Fence" a more traditional song of almost ballad feel, beautiful lyrics and singing, interlaced with some awesome hooks from violin, CHICAGO-like brass section, trombone and trumpet soli. Actually, all in all this song has a very CHICAGO-ECHOLYN hybrid feel/sound to it (10/10).

The rest of the album (one 10 ½ minute song and a 24-minute, three-song suite representative of the process of adopting a Chinese child) fail to engage and/or entice me.

Overall an album of very interesting music and songwriting from very talented and adventurous musicians. I will continue to listen and look for FROGG CAFÈ music because it makes me pay attention and smile.

79.76 = four stars. Try it! You'll (probably) like (some of) it!




QUANTUM FANTAY Bridges of Kukuru

This reminds me of hard-driving OZRIC TENTACLES songs except fresher, more organized to showcase a variety of instrumental sounds and solos (yes, even more than Mr. WYNN et companie). the driving, propelling bass playing is noticeable--and greatly appreciated--throughout, as are the very dynamic and upbeat synthesizer soli and accompany-work.

Though the first song "Kukuriki, Pt. 1 (Bridge one)" (7/10) starts like an amped-up  TALKING HEADS "Cross-eyed and Painless" (if you can imagine that!?!?), it's Eastern influences give it its own identity.

 2. "Follow the Star (Bridge Two)" (8/10) takes on a WEST INDIA GIRL plays PORCUPINE TREE's "Sky Moves Sideways" flute-led jam section.

3. "Shiver Moments (Bridge Three)" (6/10) is the album's heaviest jam with some near-metal guitars ("Apocalypse in 9/8"?!) and structures.

4. "Portable Forest (Bridge Four)" (6/10) loses out because of its disco drum beat and fairly simple and straightforward rock jam showcasing.

5. "Counter Clockwise (Bridge Five)" (8/10) is the album's only 'slowed down' tune, with a kind of Ibiza-Ozric sound to it (though no techno-beats). Still, truly awesome keys and bass
playing!

6. "Kukuriku, pt. 2" is the most OZRIC-sounding of them all.

Check out this cool and tasteful collection of cruisin' songs! It's a joy ride! And really great musicians. Looking forward to more in their future. And look: a new bass player to watch! Kudos, Jaro!




AREKNAMÉS In Case of Loss

Wow!

1. "Beached" (8/10) Am I listening to CAMEL, KING CRIMSON, THE DOORS, or CAMEO?

2. "Alone" (8/10) is so Canterbury PETE HAMMILL/VDGG!

3. "Dateless Diary" ( 7/10)

4. "Don't Move" (7/10) has another awesome DOORS/ANEKDOTEN-like groove--of course, with PETE H singing over the top.

5. "A New Song" (6/10) is where I start getting bored. The electric piano, cymbol play, standard slow 4/4 beat and other 70s instruments and sounds are growing old.

6. "Where" (7/10) is a little more space-psychedelia with its organ wash and floating background synth leads.

7. "The Very Last Number" is almost smokey lounge late night blues/jazz, its so VDGG. Nice piece that does seal the fact that these guys are into replicating--though interestingly and in ways that combine groups and genres--music from the 1970s. Very well crafted though instrumental virtuosity is not yet there.

3.5 stars rated up for clever synthesis of the VDGG sound with others.


XING SA Création de l’univers 

Who knew Zeuhl could be so ambient and spacious! In Création de l'univers XING SA have created wonderful theme album of beautiful, touching, emotional, and yet subtle songs that are, despite the group's protests, classically Zeuhl. Try these samples: "Eau (Part 1)" (12:30) and "Eau (Part 2)" (4:33).


ARGOS Circles 

An incredibly well-composed, performed, and recorded collection of Neo-Prog songs which at times remind me of STEELY DAN, DAVID BOWIE, PETER HAMMILL/VDGG, GENESIS, YES, MICHAEL FRANKS, CAMEL, NOVA, HAWKWIND, THE BEATLES, CARAVAN, ROXY MUSIC, BRIAN ENO, SIMPLE MINDS, WEATHER REPORT, EGG, NATIONAL HEALTH.
What I enjoy most about this album is twofold:  its utter unpredictableness (one can never guess where the next influence is coming from) and the fact that this is such a refreshing form of Neo-Prog--imitative of the more quirky, delicate, acoustic, jazz and poppy strains of 1970s prog. I find this music more akin to such artists as RITUAL, DIAGONAL, VIOLETA DI OUTONO, and L'ESTATE DI SAN MARTINO in that it is more imitative of the quirky psych pop jazz of the Canterbury groups.

Favorite tunes:  "Lines on the Horizon" (5:48) with a surprising turn or twist every ten to twenty seconds (9/10); the stunning, BOWIE-like "Sun and Moon" (3:36) (10/10); the better-than-PETE HAMMILL/MATTHEW-PARMENTER, "Custody of the Knave" (6:05) (8/10); the straight-out-of- Canterbury, "Progology" (5:16) (8/10); and the incredibly melodic and memorable tongue-in-cheek JTULL/GENESIS/CARAVAN parody, "Lost on the Playground" (8:18) (8/10).

A four star album of very clever, very accomplished songs from an obviously gifted songwriter.




KHATSATURJAN Disconcerto Grosso

This is one of the better albums I've heard from 2010--IMHO, definitely better than SKY ARCHITECT, HAKEN, DISTRICT 97, and BUNCHAKEZE. The songs are fuller, more interesting and melodic, very tightly performed, and more diverse, if sometimes familiar, with some exceptionally nice (and unusual) vocal work. Also, this music has enough unusual originality to it to make it much more interesting than the above-mentioned artists 2010 albums. 

1. "A Rhyme of a Dime" (4:33) is a very theatric/Broadway-feeling song with multiple singers, many mood, instrumentation and tempo changes. Comparisons here to QUEEN are fitting and deserved. I like the flat, natural sounding NEKTAR/JAN AKKERMAN sounding electric guitar. The TERRY KATH-like vocalist takes a little getting used to, but overall, a decent song; "Bohemian Rhapsody"-like. (8/10)

2. "Reality Escapade Saga" (6:07) begins like a very pretty STYX-song--guitars a bit simplistic, before they begin to show their true WISHBONE ASH-like fire at the 1:11 mark. Then to some post Tormado90120-like YES vocal sections. So many shifts and changes! Yet, it still manages to come out a pretty decent song. I like the vocal harmony work here--as good as those of MOON SAFARI, IMO. Nice twin lead guitar work and bass solo. (7/10)

3. "Herculean" (18:32) begins with soft piano arpeggios being gradually joined by several other instruments--some soloing--until the two minute mark introduces a complete shift in tempo and mood--very YES-like with its fast-paced melody lines, starts and stops, all being played by the band as a whole. Vocals don't enter until the fifth minute, while the song retains its YES-GENTLE GIANT pace and structures. Nice guitar and synth soli in the sixth and seventh minutes. Treated vocal adds to a frenzy feel before a SAGA-like rap introduces a shift into a jazzy interlude. 8:00 sees a return to GENTLE GIANTness, this time with some really melodic vocal lines. 9:10 sees the music drop out leaving a plaintive vocal playing over some slow minor key SATIE-like piano arpeggios. Things pick up again at 10:25. Nice music! A very cool, entertaining song--not unlike some of YES' early epics. (9/10) 

4. "Present Here and Now" (4:11) begins with a very MARC ALMOND-like sound and, yes, has a definite pop structure and orientation--a lot like early TEARS FOR FEARS. KEN HENSLEY-like organ work unfolds into a song that could have come from any early URIAH HEEP album. (8/10)

5. "Dusk" (5:46) is a very nice song that begins in another early TEARS FOR FEARS feel before unfolding into more of a MOODY BLUES and YES song--all the while retaining some kind of originality. (7/10)

6. "Claims of 'No Can Do'" (4:02) uses a very interesting unusual vocalist--kind of like PETER HAMMILL. At first he sings over some pretty piano arpeggios but when the band joins in it makes for a very pleasant, cohesive, if short, progressive rock song. (8/10)

7. "The Tunnel" (16:02) is a little syrupy and simple (kind of STYX-ish)--again quite theatric as if meant for a Broadway musical--but is still a good song. Nice harmonized vocals to open the second section at the 2:45 mark. Guitar leads are much more interesting when doubled (two guitars soloing at the same time). Section 3 begins at the 4:05 with several layers of unusually combined themes and sounds: chant-like choral vocals, snaking minimoog, galloping electric guitar bass chords, electric lead soli. Reprise section 1 before the a very unpredictable and constantly shifting GENESIS section beginning in the  seventh minute. Upon repeated listenings I get the feel as if this song is almost a mini-opera version of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway! (Not lyrically but musically.) Interesting! And, in the end, intricate. Just not cohesive or engaging enough to warrant more praise. (6/10)

8. "Travels Led by Chance" (4:19) is a beautiful little pop song--almost JIMMY WEBB-CHICAGO style. Lovely! (10/10)

Overall, a very nice collection of songs--one whose idiosyncracies and subtleties bring me back for repeated listenings and which makes me want togo back to check out the band's back catalog.

78.75 on the Fish scales = 4 stars: not essential, but really an excellent addition to any prog music collection. One of the most interesting albums of the year.



ERIS PLUVIA Third Eye Light

This album has been really growing on me since I bought it a few months ago. I know of few guitarists in prog world that are doing as exciting playing as Alessandro Cavatori right now (only JOHN MITCHELL comes to mind). The musical structures of this album are mature and diverse, with enough stylistic and tempo shifts to make it fresh and exciting--while being melodic enough to be continually engaging. While not a masterpiece, this is definitely an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Where the album suffers, in my opinion, is in the sometimes awkward mix between "old fashioned" electric instruments and new ones, the odd often awkward accent of the singer, Matteo Noli, and the general poor engineering/mixing.
  
It's too bad that any Italian prog rock group has to be automatically assigned to the RPI sub-genre because there are many that would fit the "prog folk" or "space/psychedelic" or "symphonic" subgenres as well as Tull, Floyd, or Yes.

The delicate, more acoustic-oriented 9. "Sing the Sound of My Fears" (4:31) (9/10); the stunning guitar play of the album's opener, 1. "Third Eye Light" (6:33) (8/10); 3. "The Darkness Gleams" (4:29) (8/10); 7. "Shades" (5:02) (8/10), and; the 80s ICEHOUSE-sounding 8. "Fellow of Trip" (5:22) (8/10).



RED SPAROWES The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer

Of all the "Post Rock/Math Rock" artists I've heard (and I try to listen to everyone I hear of cuz, for some reason, I really like this new subgenre of progressive music) Red Sparowes keeps me coming back. I not only enjoy their music, but I love the concepts they employ to inspire their songwriting. While not earth-shatteringly innovative, they are still testing the Math Rock structures--and all this while remaining an all-instrumental band. There are no bad songs; all songs make for good attentive listening as well as background music for work, etc. There are several slower, softer songs as well as the usual Post Rock power builders. The Oklahoma twang guitar is at time more prominent but also more enjoyable because it is such an unusual sound in the prog world.

This album is good enough to be recommended as an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. 4 stars.



MARS HOLLOW Mars Hollow

A very well crafted, well-recorded & engineered, collection of well-executed songs in the vein of MOTH VELLUM. As a matter of fact, they sound, to me, like a cross between MV, STYX, HAPPY THE MAN and a modern (better sound recording) STARCASTLE. In fact, they remind me a lot of STARCASTLE--nice music, well-versed in the YES and RUSH schools of music construction, but just lacking that certain je ne sais quoi. Even the best songs, "Wait for Me" and "Midnight," lack something in the way of originality, warmth and, most of all, emotion. Enticing intro to "Eureka" and, again, well-constructed and performed, it's just that something is . . . missing. Maybe it's the singer and lyrics. They're good but not great?not engaging enough. Or perhaps the vocals and lyrics are too often given too much attention. The key to JON ANDERSON's effectiveness is that his voice/singing/lyrics were constructed and mixed as if they were an integral part of the music--like another instrument; the musical complexity didn't stop or stall for him to sing. "Wait for Me" and "Midnight" seem to have this going for them. The others don't. I don't know. Repeated listenings to Mars Hollow seem to render this music more familiar and yet, at the same time, more mundane, more ordinary. Again, this album is a collection of very well-crafted, well-recorded, well-performed songs. There's just, room to grow. Still, this is one of the better albums I've encountered in 2010 (what I consider, so far, to be a pretty average year). 

Four stars, almost lower. Guys: More songs like "Wait for Me," please!



SHAOLIN DEATH SQUAD Five Deadly Venoms

This album took me by quite some surprise with its diversity and freshness. Don't let the "prog metal" label fool you: there is a lot more to this than metal music. Though I find myself reminded of many bands from the 70s and 80s (THIN LIZZY, UTOPIA, ADAM ANT, IRON MAIDEN, et al.), I also find myself hearing a lot of similarities to OCEANSIZE, ORPHANED LAND, KHATSATURJAN, UNITOPIA, and even MOON SAFARI ("Romanza," Let Us Welcome the Actors," and "Farewell"). I really enjoy this album--it makes me smile, I love theatric vocals, and it is full of shifts and changes--not a true hardcore metal album at all. A very solid four star production.

Favorite songs: "Snakes," "Toads," "Let us Welcome the Actors," and "Farewell."

4 stars.



ALGERNON Ghost Survelliance

When this album first entered the ProgArchives 2010 charts I was very pleased to see that it was near the top. How it has fallen so far I do not know for I truly believe this album will end up as one of my Top Ten at year's end. So fresh and out of the ordinary, ALGERNON is a group of musicians who create unusual music and sound. They use unusual recording techniques (less technique, greater use of space and natural acoustics), unusual compositional and structural choices (are they Math Rock, Post-modern, Avante-garde, Jazz-fusion, Experimental, or Eclectic?), and unusual instrumentation (xylophone, untreated drum kit), while remaining a mostly instrumental band. When I listen to their songs I get the feeling I am there with them in some empty Chicago warehouse or sparsely furnished top floor artist's studio apartment, all of them jamming live, grooving very attentively to one another.
Having stumbled upon them by accident on Lala.com about a year ago, I was very pleased to see that they are sticking together, continuing to explore their unique sonic territory--bordering on a kind of theatric jazz. Also pleased to see that some of the ProgArchives stallwarts are on board their bandwagon. Everybody who loves King Crimson will LOVE "Operative vs. Oposition."
Try it! You might like it!

4 stars.



THE LENS Regeneration

An excellent production of songs each exemplifying the style(s) and sound(s) of some of the most influential synthesizer-oriented progressive rock bands from the 70s: Pink Floyd/Hawkwind/Eloy, Camel/Genesis, Vangelis/Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre. I love the way that several songs contain or are initiated/ended with sampled voices from some of the most influential Sci-Fi movies of the same period (e.g. 2001: A Space Odyssey, Blade Runner). While not a trend setter and heavily steeped in simple and repetitive riffs, the music succeeds in capturing a different strain of 'classic' prog than is being done typically today--the spacey, synthesizer-driven musics. Well done, M. Holmes. A very engaging and enjoyable album.

Solid 4 star album.



THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Myth of Dying

This musical journey through one man's encounter with death is fascinating, beautiful, and much more cohesive than TPE's previous album. The fact that one man composed, performed, recorded and produced this wonderful album is astonishing. The way TPE's mysterious one-man band weaves the conversations of multiple instruments together is quite something to observe. I'm not even sure that YES ever did it so well--though they are the band to which I find the most similarities to this music.

Favorite song (by far): "Canto 2: Transcendence" (9:27) (9/10).

  

STICK MEN Soup

 A real surprise! I guess I was expecting something with a harder edge; something with not much variety, melody, or accessibility; a lot of technical show and monotonous sound. But, NO!! It's not. There is plenty of melody! There is variety! There is beauty! There are plenty of interesting sounds and lyrics. And, of course, there is also the technical wizardry and compositional complexity galore one might expect from Tony Levin and ... anyone he chooses to sidle up with. 

While I love the Crimson-esque (Adrian Belew-era) sound/feel of "Soup," "Hands," "Sasquatch," "Firebird Suite," and "Relentless," (7-8/10 all) I love more the un-Crimson sound of "Inside the Red Pyramid," "Fuque," Sasquatch," "Scarlet Wheel, and "Firebird Suite" parts 3 & 4. 

Great disc! And not just for lovers of King Crimson, Tony Levin, or Chapman stick. This is a great prog album. 

Excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. Solid four stars!



Albums from Y2K that Are, IMHO, Over-rated




LEBOWSKI Cinematic

I've been wondering why more prog artists haven't moved more toward cinematic soundscapes like this. Seems a natural fit for creative/artistic mood-affecting instrumental music. I know a lot of prog artists have ventured successfully into the film soundtrack business.
     While this is a wonderful collection of familiarly cinematic songs with superb recording production and an amazing array of interesting, melodic sound/instrument (& voice) uses, my one reservation is the fairly constant "lounge" pacing/rhythms. Music to chill out to. Very pleasant and interesting background music. When one does give it one's full attention, one is greatly rewarded by the details, subtleties, and variations within the aural scapes. I just can't get past this slight 'disappointment' that I'm listening to 'sophisticated' urban lounge music. 

Still, I cannot resist rating this anything less than 4.0 stars--it is masterful, fascinating, seductive . . . but is it an essential piece of every prog lover's music collection. I have to vote no.




HAKEN Aquarius

'The age of Aquarius' this is not. After repeated listenings to any and every sample and full-length song stream I can find including the band's own MySpace site--I am going to go out on a limb and write a review. Aquarius is a well-crafted, well-constructed, well-engineered, awesomely performed album--and I LOVE "Point of No Return" (vocals reminds me of Wetton with UK)--but this is just not my cup of tea. Even the slowed-down "Sun" with it's acoustic guitar arpeggios, fretless bass (Lord knows I'm a sucker for fretless), congas, piano, monk-like male background vocals, and eccentric vampire-themed lyrics, can't convince me to actually buy this album. It would never get played! I have to admit, (again?): I don't like heavy metal or even heavy prog much. Sure, the occasional work, like ALCEST, ORPHANED LAND and some PORCUPINE TREE have won me over, but, on the whole, I've always gone for subtlety and beauty over power and volume. I've never been won over by even RUSH or KANSAS, so obviously this album is not going to bring me into the fold.

It's so difficult for me to see this album atop the ProgArchives poll for best album of 2010 because it just shows me how mediocre--how unexceptional--2010 has been so far. And my favorite album of the year, COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE's The Sirens Sound hasn't even arrived on ProgArchives yet!

4 stars; higher for some, lower for others.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Top Albums of the Year 2012: the Masterpieces


My Favorite Albums of 2012
(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 20 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.  

2012 offered some amazingly fresh music from artists new and old as well as some highly polished examples of old favorite styles. A very good year in terms of quantity and quality, I have on My Favorites List 11 masterpieces and 11 near-masterpieces of progressive rock music. What is becoming evident is that since 2008 there has been a significant increase in both the quantity and quality of new progressive rock studio releases.


The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. VIOLETA DI OUTONO Espectro
2. IAMTHEMORNING ~
3. L'ESTATE DI SAN MARTINO Talsette di Marsantino
4. SWANS The Seer
5. KOTEBEL Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble
6. BATTLESTATIONS In a Cold Embrace
7. MAGMA Felicité Thosz
8. BIG BIG TRAIN English Electric, Part 1
9. THE TEA CLUB Quickly, Quickly, Quickly 
10. ANGLAGARD Viljans Ôga

11. JENSEN CODE The True Colors of Mars 2
12. I AND THOU Speak 
13. NINE STONES CLOSE One Eye on the Sunrise
14. DAAL Dodecahedron
15. MOTORPSYCHO The Death Defying Unicorn
16. VAURA Selenelion
17. METHEXIS The Fall of Bliss
18. THINKING PLAGUE Decline and Fall
19. ARANIS Made in Belgium
20. MYSTERY The World Is a Game

Honorable Mentions:
RHYS MARSH & THE AUTUMN GHOST The Blue Hour
DISTORTED HARMONY Utopia




The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:


 ***** Album of the Year for 2012! *****


1. BIG BIG TRAIN English Electric, Part One

Without a doubt Dave Longdon is the new shining star of modern progressive rock; his vocal, composition, and flute contributions to Big Big Train have taken this band to a whole new level, a level that may imprint BBT into the Prog Hall of Fame--one of the few modern bands to achieve a standing right among the masters of the 1970s. Also, while I was not convinced of Dave Gregory's 'fitting in' based upon his previous BBT contributions, on this album everything, everybody, is clicking. Amazing song compositions with fresh and diverse stylistic presentations topped by the amazing--did I say "amazing"? I meant, "incomparable"- -vocals of Dave Longdon. And this time the lyrics and vocal passion fit with the music. I LOVE these lyrics. Every component of every song seems woven into a magical tapestry worthy of adorning the walls of kings! With The Underfall Yard we saw a lot of glimpses, but not everything with the "newcomers" (D'Virgilio, Gregory, and Longdon) had gelled yet. 

1. "The First Rebreather" (8:32) (Linked sample is an excerpt) is an amazing opener which reminds me of the way "Dance on a Volcano" or "A Musical Box" opened their respective albums, the former for Nick D'Virgilio's display of Phil Collins-like drumming (Phil at his absolute best) and the latter for the changing dynamics and essential individual contributions to the whole-group masterpiece. Amazing story, lyrics and singing! Wonderful weaving of al the instrumentalists AND the vocal arrangements. A perfect song! (though the nod to GENESIS is quite obvious.) (10/10)

2. "Uncle Jack" (3:43) Off-beat like a STEVE HACKETT song (or, a little bit like "I Know What I Like [In Your Wardrobe]"), this is, to me, refreshing for its celebration of an average Joe (again like "I Know What I Like"). I bit like a carry over from The Underfall Yard, but still a mature, masterful blend of everyone's talents. Plus, banjo! (9/10)

3. "Winchester from St. Giles' Hill" (7:17) was my instant favorite. Now I can't decide between it and all of the other 10s! A beautiful song from it's opening notes and accompaniment. Incredible vocal melodies and vocal arrangements. I love Dave Gregory's jazzy (almost PAUL WELLER-like) guitar. Amazing chorus. WOW! What power and feeling! Then to soften with those guitar strums and mellotron. The bass playing just kills me. This is a funky jazzed up prog MASTERPIECE! And then the MICHEL LE GRAND/JEAN-PIERRE RAMPAL almost- classical section in the middle! Followed by an awesome guitar solo which brings us back first to the funk rhythm and then to the AMAZING story, vocal, vocal arrangement. I'm undone! TOO beautiful for words . . . (11/10)

***** Each year I give a 11 out of 10 rating and this, ladies and gentlemen, is that song:  the one song that transcends my expectations for the potential for human creativity.

4. "Judas Unrepentant" (7:18) unfortunately begins with a bit of a Genesis "Illegal Alien" feel to it. Luckily the chorus and bridges diverge quite a bit. The mellow, almost classical section beginning at the 3:30 mark is a welcome, even masterful, diversion. When the main song theme returns it with a wonderful symphonic crescendo of sound. Nice little organ solo to cover the return to the original "Alien" beat/sound. An light, upbeat, fast-paced yet somehow heavy and complex song. Fascinating! (8/10)

5. "Summoned by Bells" (9:19) begins with a pretty Tony Banks/Anthony Phillips piano arpeggio before establishing itself as something else, quite, with cello, doo-wap b-vox, recorders, and even the kitchen sink thrown in. (Just kidding!) Have I mentioned how noticeable and creative--even melodic--is the bass work on this album? Wonderful. And replete with so many unexpected flourishes and techniques. And Nick D'Virgilio really makes his mastery known without going over the top or without having to be mixed too forward in the production mix. This song provides a perfect example of how Dave Gregory's guitar work fits perfectly whereas on previous albums it may not have worked, may even have stood out a bit too much. On this one every strum, arpeggio and strum fits perfectly. Absolutely stunned and LOVE the delicate, emotional outro with its gorgeous horns and heart-wrenching Fripp-like guitar solo. (10/10)

6. "Upton Hill" (5:40) reminds me of a perfect PREFAB SPROUT or DREAM ACADEMY song-- quirky yet drop-dead gorgeous. Prominently featured flute, cello, accordian, female b-vox and banjo help provide this one with its own unique feel. (8/10)

7. The first 1:36 of "A Boy in Darkness" (8:03) has a very KATE BUSH and TEARS FOR FEARS feel to it. Until the very TEARS FOR FEARS breakout at 1:36. Later, the almost jazzy top-speed instrumental section in the middle is filled with great drumming, great guitar, flute, strings, percussives, and organ is one of the highlights of the album. Breathtaking. And then the segue back into the vocal sections is so masterful. Absolutely brilliant! Fripp guitar soloing beneath Longdon's powerful singing. The final minute is a crescendo of power and emotion with Gregory and D'Virgilio leading the way. Love the oscillating organ to-fade. (9/10)

8. "Hedgerow" (8:32) has an amazing XTC/BYRDS/ANT PHILLIPS/BEATLES feel, musically (thanks, Dave Gregory!), topped with some jaw-droppingly astounding vocal arrangements. Slow guitar arpeggios over which a solo viola/violin dirges propels the song into emotional depths of amazing proportions. Top this off with Nick D'Virgilio's stupendous drumming and you have the best crossover prog song of the year. The lyrics are the coup de grace--they bring me to my knees! I am not worthy! Especially the repeating flower names sung by the background singers! What an end to an amazing album--an album of a quality and consistency that I thought I'd never hear! Move aside Echolyn, Marillion, Astra, TFK, and even Anglagard. (10/10)

93.75 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music--and Album of the Year! Hail! to the new kings of the hill!

Congratulations Andy and Greg: Your passion, vision, and perseverance has paid off! This is the great music: one of the best albums I've heard from 2012. So many, many times as I listen to this album am I just astounded at the instrumental, compositional, incidental and lead sound, and textural shifts that occur--and frequently--within each song--not to mention the unparalleled vocal arrangements. (I beg of you: Has ANY album EVER put forth such astounding vocal arrangements??) These five gentlemen are truly master music craftsmen. No: Master music artisans. This album is, to me, akin to a Sistine Chapel, a Taj Mahal, a Monet, a Beethoven's 9th.




2. KOTEBEL Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble

I fell in love with Kotebel with 2006's Omphalos (one of my Top Ten favorite albums of the Naughties). At that time the band had, IMHO, the finest female vocalist in modern prog music (Carolina Prieto) and arguably the greatest flutest ever in prog history (Omar Acosta). By 2009, with the recording and release of Ouroboros they both had left the band (or, perhaps, they were not asked back). Thus my expectations for Ouroboros were quite low. (As it turns out the album is very good--showcasing some jaw-dropping work from bass player Jaime Pascual. The music just took a lot longer to draw me in.) 
      Now for 2012's Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble I was willing to give them another chance; I figured that six years is long enough for such creative and virtuosic artists to compose something fresh and mature. And how right I was! This is an amazing album of melodic jazz-rock constructed within classical symphonic structures. The pianist, Adriana, daughter of band founder Carlos Plaza Vega, while no Hiromi, stands quite strongly with the rest of the band and within the setting of the four-movement 43-minute "Concerto" (9.5/10) does quite well both leading the ensemble as well as supporting it in an orchestral way. In song after song drums, bass, electronic keyboards, saxes, and a great variety of guitars (pleasantly, a lot of wonderful acoustic guitar playing) together weave the fabric of wonderful music. At times I find myself reminded of ELP, King Crimson, Return to Forever, Weather Report, SBB, Nil, and After Crying.

5. "The Flight of the Hippogriff, Part 1" (4:53) takes off at suburban speed while establishing its melodic "hooks" but eventually ramps up to overdrive. Some great solo work from bass, sax, and electric guitar. (8/10)

6. "The Dance of Shiva" (6:58) carry one into more tranquil, visual sonic soundscapes using lots of synths and space to tell their story. Very pretty melodies (I hear echoes of Carolina Prieto!) and fun Latin percussives. I like hearing this patient, subdued side of Kotebel. (9/10)

7. "The Flight of the Hippogriff, Part 2" (4:35) is the slowed down, more melodic groove version of song 5. Quite beautiful--and beautifully conceived. (10/10)

8. The finale, "The Infant" (7:12) establishes itself kind of slowly with a piano sound/melody/feel similar to early TOTO. The rhythm section eventually informs the listener that this is no TOTO (fine group that they were) but a much more classically-oriented band. But, wait! The jazzy sax seems to draw us back into a more cinematic place. A personal favorite. (10/10) 

Crossing genres so seemlessly, so effortlessly is what makes this album, IMO, a sure fire masterpiece of progressive rock music. Well done Kotebel! This will be a tough album to beat for 2012 Album of the Year! I hope enough people really give this album a chance because it really is some wonderful music--and progressive in the truest sense of the word.  

93.75 on the Fish scales = 5 stars: a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 




3. ANGLAGARD Viljans Ôga

I want to make this clear:  This is by no means a perfect album; I do not consider this to be one of the guiding lights by which progressive rock music should be compared or to which artists should aspire. This is partly because, IMHO, it lacks the commitment and courage of using lyrics and vocals. It is, however, an incredible gathering of talented artists who have made a complete effort to create intricate compositions fully displaying their top-notch instrumental wizardry. And, for once, Anglagard has mastered tying into its complicated compositions both melody and emotion. (Something I have criticized them of in the past.) I believe it is through their maturity that they have been able to discipline such an amazing collaboration. And, yes, I agree, that the stronger prominence of both acoustic guitars and woodwinds have helped bring this album to this level of not only masterful performance and presentation but to universal accessibility and acceptance.
     While I appreciated the technical and instrumental mastery that it took to create Hybris, I found it repellingly cold and cerebral. While I found Epilog more engaging and melodic, not so pretentious, I still felt no long-term love for it. After intense and frequent revisits (even now) I still find little to no attraction to either of those albums. Viljans Ôga, however, has entered my heart. I play it often. It has the pastoral, spacious, melodic sections--and lots of them!--that my soul seems to require in order for me to want to come back to music--my favorite music. I especially enjoy the slow-to-develop structures of these songs, and really love the prominent place the flutes and mellotron and keyboards are allowed to have. And "Snardom" has an absolutely irresistable hook around which the entire song is built. It easily my favorite song from Anglagard.

1. "Ur Vilande" (15:47) is probably the biggest surprise because, as the opening song, I am continually surprised at its patient, slow, rather soft acoustic development--with flute, cellos and tuned percussion, piano and acoustic guitar dominating the pastoral scenery for fully the first minutes two minutes. And then continuing with a kind of STEVE HACKETT Voyage of the Acolyte/KING CRIMSON In the Court of the Crimson King sound for another exquisitely delicate two minutes. Is this really Anglagard or is it Spain's KOTEBEL? There are even moments reminiscent of GENTLE GIANT (whole band syncopation at the 8 minute mark) and SANTANA (guitar at the 9 minute mark). (9/10)

2. I like the beginning (and ending) folk melodies and cinematic layering that "Sorgmantel" (12:06) (9/10) is built upon.

3. "Snardom" (16:15) again reminds me a lot of YES and KOTEBEL. It is also blessed with the album's most catchy, melodic riff--around which the entire song is built. The interesting thing is the broadly dynamic way in which this little riff is explored. Again, I can't help but point out that this is quite the way Carlos Plaza Vega and KOTEBEL construct 90% of their songs. Very dramatic, very classical/symphonic. All it needs now is a vocal (and boy does it scream for GENESIS' Peter Gabriel!)(10/10).

4. The YES-like almost-avant/borderline chaos of "Langtans Klocka" (13:22) after the 4:45 mark, and after the 10:50 mark, I find quite entertaining and amusing--kind of like listening to UNEXPECT, THINKING PLAGUE, or even ZAPPA. (9/10)

     Whether Viljans Ôgo will make my All-time Top 100 is doubtful. Whether music listeners will want to rank this up there in the PA all-time Top 10 is not for me to say, but then, I do not consider Thick as a BrickGodbluff, or Wish You Were Here, among the ten most seminal, influential standard bearers of progressive rock music. I like the construction and flow of the first and last songs on Viljans Ôga, and the other two songs are good but, IMO, a little more disjointed. What I do find odd is how similar the music of Viljans Ôga is to that of Kotebel--how often I hear Kotebel while listening to Anglagard. And yet, nobody seems to give Kotebel the attention and praise that one would think it deserves--especially in relation to how much Anglagard receives.

92.5 on the Fish scales = 5 stars: A masterpiece of progressive rock music.




4. THE TEA CLUB Quickly, Quickly, Quickly

     Some of you may know this already about me: I love music that uses space and subtlety; I love the power that is conveyed through pause, sustain, minimal input. That is why I've been so attracted to groups like PG-era GENESIS, ANT PHILLIPS, DAVID SYLVIAN, BARK PSYCHOSIS, BJÖRK, KARDA ESTRA, AISLES, MAD CRAYON, NOSOSUND, BIG BIG TRAIN, BROTHER APE, FREQUENCY DRIFT and some of STEVEN WILSON's work, to name a few. Well, let me tell you, people: There is another kid on the block--an American group--that is knocking on the door, making a claim to be included in this group, and that band is THE TEA CLUB.
     I only picked up on THE TEA CLUB in 2010 with Rabbit--which I loved and remains a regular on my playing rotations to this day. Now we have a 43-minute release of four songs under the title Quickly, Quickly, Quickly. (Check out the amazing album cover: It's like Japanese animator extraordinaire Hayao Miyazaki painted Carl Jung's favorite book, The Tibetan Book of the Dead!) This masterpiece of diverse prog music draws from many, many that have gone before yet is synthesized into a sound all their own. One area that this mature group has especially mastered is the ability to convey their message with their music--by this I mean, the moods that their instrumental compositions set forth seem to always fit perfectly with the lyrical message they are trying to convey. This is a rare and special talent.

1. "Firebears" (17:52) has an awesomely dynamic and original intro with great drumming and bass supporting cool guitar and keyboard interplay to introduce the song's main themes. At the two minute mark begins the vocal section of the song. The first vocal section has a very XTC Skylarking-era feel and sound to it--especially the harmonies, pacing, and guitars. A STYLE COUNCIL-like organ play helps bridge to the "If you can't sleep at night?" speaking part. The next vocal section has quite the WHO/TOBY DRIVER/STYX combination feel to it. (You have to hear it to understand what I mean.) At 6:40 everything quiets down for an absolutely gorgeous, dreamy, four minute NEKTAR/MARC ALMOND/ MAUDLIN OF THE WELL-like section. The vocal dexterities on this song are amazing! GEORGE WINSTON-like piano play brings us out of this delicate section, helped by guitar, a great bass line, and sensitive drum play. At 13:35 a strumming electric guitar starts the emergence into a reprise of the first XTC-like section--this time with some awesomely powerful, emotional vocals, keyboards and beautiful chord and key changes. The wordlessly intoned vocal passages are especially catchy and emotive. Great work on the batterie throughout! An incredible journey--a wonderful song that reminds me of the epics on one of my all- time favorite albums, BIG BIG TRAIN's The Difference Machine except with all the idiosyn- chronous things belonging exclusively to The Tea Club. A prog epic for the ages! (10/10)

2. "The Eternal German Infant" (8:11) begins with a great OCEANSIZE-like intro--great drum sounds (I love how TEA CLUB record their drums--especially their cymbols). The ensuing vocals are more like what I'm used to hearing from THE TEA CLUB. Raw bass--very early prog sounding. 2:00 slow down with vocal "meows" and ROBERT FRIPP guitar (which then turns to STEVE HOWE) sounding. At 2:40, as vocal continues to recite his alphabet associations, the music starts with quiet background then builds, first with glockenspiel-like instrument, then the full band rejoins, gradually adding layer upon layer of background voocals (hi and lo). At the 3:50 mark, (after a cool single fast piano arpeggio) the song starts into a more OCEANSIZE-like bass, guitar and drum pounding, building. Then, at 4:40 a solo synth "flute" sound carries the song forward into a delicate GENESIS Trespass-like pastoral section. Again, it builds with layer upon layer and increasingly complex, frenetic drumming, keyboard support and vocal arrangements. Guitar & keyboard soli start at 7:30, leading into frenzied kind of classical (Beethoven?) chord progression to close. Great song. (8/10)

3. "Mister Freeze" (6:49) opens with a bare electric bass followed by a plaintive wail from a sustained electric guitar--not unlike that from THE MARS VOLTA's "Televators". The vocal that follows sounds to me almost like a sedated IAN ANDERSON or CAT STEVENS--or even PHIL COLLINS on "Ripples." I love the spaciousness of the instrumentation throughout these first three minutes. Love the 'surprise' chord change at 1:30. Bass, Acoustic & electric guitars and synths, and now b vox. At 2:55 enters kind of KING CRIMSON/TONY LEVIN rhythm. At 3:38 a spooky synth ushers in a very intimate, softened, pastoral acoustic section similar to very early GENESIS/ANT PHILLIPS. The volume-controlled electric guitar in background is wonderful. Beginning at the 4:46 mark is a delicate "scat" vocal similar to PETER GABRIEL's in "Mother of Violence"--and organ joins in! At 5:24 arrives an awesome multi-layered vocal harmony "your labor that filled my mind, body, soul" section. Cool organ! Nice bass, too. This section plays out to the end. Awesome song with a very Trespass/HARMONIUM sound, yet with a mature sensitivity and feel to it. Tons of subtleties making this one of those songs that you hear differently each and every time you hear it. (10/10)

4. "I Shall Consume Everything" (9:26) begins with a couple of strangely odd guitar chords being played rapid arpeggio. The harmonized vocals at 1:10 sound like FLEET FOXES. Then, at 1:30, there is a lull of guitar arpeggios and tremolos. Just before the two minute mark we are teased with a very brief dynamic shift before everything calms down again and harp(?) arpeggios carry us forward. At 3:00 the song climbs fully into realm of electric "rock". The lead vocal surprises me by staying in a low register. It's very effective! The vocal builds in emotional intensity until a scream opens up into a brief guitar solo. This is soon followed by a very powerful "More, give me, more, give me" vocal/music section. I love the crazy- lunatic-sounding "circus carousel" instrument sounding in background, as well as the haunting repetitive bass and electric guitar lines. The feel gets creepier and weirder crossing the six minute mark before electric guitar chords and drums usher in the powerful "only some will live forever" vocal section. The last two minutes of the song repeat this dirge with increasing strength and dynamic effects. Nice FRIPP-like solo beginning from the eight minute mark. The last thirty seconds sound as if the human machine is fading, failing, losing strength. This one I get without having to try very hard. I find it amazing how the group's vocals, bass, guitar parts, frenetic drumming and keys parts all convey so masterfully the tense lunatic-crazy feeling of our culture as we frenetically, freakishly follow our addictions like slaves. It's as if the eery, ludicrousness of our rampant rush to self-destruction is constantly conveyed by at least one instrument throughout--guitar, bass, 'circus carousel' keyboard sound, drumming, and, of course, the diverse vocals, solo and harmonized. What a sad world we've created--and how brilliantly THE TEA CLUB have captured it in their art. (9/10)

Mega kudos, Dan and gang. Mega Kudos, Tea Club! With Quickly, Quickly, Quickly you have not only proven yourself, you have risen to the top of the heap.

"More, give me more, give me more, give me more"!

92.5 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; a masterpiece.




5. VIOLETA DE OUTONO Espectro

A prog album with a sound and style very familiar to 1970s Rock Progressivo Italiano--especially to that of LE ORME--it also has quite a Canterbury feel to it--like KHAN, STEVE HILLAGE or CAMEL. Despite the pleasant, easy timbre and style of the vocalist, it is the instrumental sections of all the songs that really stand out. The keyboard play is outstanding and the wonderful electric guitar sound and style is kind of a cross between that of ROYE ALBRIGHTON and STEVE HILLAGE. And the melodies are the kind that haunt you and stay with you for days, pulling you back again and again to listen to see if it was real or if you were just imagining it.

The opening nine-minute 'epic,' "Formas-Pensamento" (8:54) (10/10) is repeated in a longer English version as the album's last track, "New from Heaven" [9:26] ([9/10]). It has a very familiar, laid-back vocal (uncanny likeness to that of LE ORME's Aldo Tagliapietra), and is a fairly simple song and instrumental construct with a relatively slow pace to it. Where it differs and excels is in the individual instrumental sounds and performances: synthesizer, guitar, and organ soli are all OUTSTANDING. (9/10)

Other song favorites include: the refined, bluesy STEVE HILLAGE, CAMEL, and even SANTANA-like "Ondas leves" (7:38) (Sample link is from a live performance.) (10/10); the amazing Latin-riffed SANTANA-like "Solsticio" (6:30) (Sample link is also from a live performance. Sorry for the poor quality.) (10/10); "Montanhas da mente" (5:14) (nice keyboard work all around; love the jazzy CAMEL/NEKTAR-like instrumental sections) (10/10); the upbeat, fast-paced CAMEL and PINK FAIRIES-like "Claro escuro" (5:06) (8/10); the simple and very poppy, "Algum lugar" (4:14) (9/10); and the LE ORME throwback, "Anos-luz" (4:47) (9/10).

I gotta admit: There's no one out there doing music like this. It grooves, it's smooth, it's emotional, it's evocative, it's instrumental solos are so different than the rest of current prog. Here melody and feeling reign supreme. This is the modern equivalent to KHAN's classic (and my all-time favorite Canterbury classic) Space Shanty. The drumming, keyboard work, and guitar playing are all so mature and proficient--perfectly timed, packed with incredible emotion, and skilled as true virtuosos: they make it sound so easy. Espectro is also an album that keeps growing on me--inviting me back again and again instead of getting old and stale. Highly, highly recommended, folks! Especially if you like mostly steady-paced, highly melodic music with a lot of excellent, excellent soloing. 

92.22 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. This album deserves to be heard. A lot! 




6. METHEXIS The Fall of Bliss


I am excited to see new music--especially progressive rock--coming out of Greece. I've long loved APHRODITE'S CHILD's 666 and 2010's A Child in the Mirror by CICCADA. Until now, I've not heard of much else coming from this small, historically rich country.

1. "Eradicated Will" (8:57) is excellent. Kind of like 2011's A Shattered Accord by DISCIPLINE, yet quite unlike other bands. It is, to me, amazing that, other than drums, METHEXIS is the work of only one person, NIKITAS KISSONAS. That is extraordinary! What a talent! The engineering/production team is outstanding! (Leonidas Petropoulus??!!) (9/10)

2. "Poetic Mirrors Wound Heroes" (4:52) has some wonderful melodies and vocal harmonies. I like the syncopated instrument play and instrumental clarity. The guitar sound and stylings remind me of PAUL WELLER. Not sure what the lyrics are trying to convey, but that's okay: I am NOT a lyrics man. To my ears, the voice is mostly another instrument in the music. (9/10)

3. "Those Howling Wolves" (8:07) has an eerie yet jazzy feel to it--musically reminds me of ANITA BAKER (not sure why). I like the programmed drums and many incidental keyboard sounds and samples. The Rhodes piano chords are quite effective--leaving lots of space for the listener's emotions to build. Nicely done! Again, I feel that with your singing you are often trying to be as theatric/dramatic as MATTHEW PARMENTER, yet you have a more beautiful singing voice than MP--one that kind of reminds me of two of my favorite current vocalists, DAN and PATRICK MCGOWAN from THE TEA CLUB. Thus, the chorus sections are my favorites, vocally. Incredible guitar/instrumental solo section! To drop out for the bare keyboard and your voice--great stuff! (9/10)

4. "Lines on a Bust" (3:42) is jazzy like GINO VANELLI and, later (in the chorus) MARCO GLÜMANN (SYLVAN) singing over an ERIC SATIE classic. Gorgeous song, Nikitas! (10/10)

5. "Track the Saviours" (4:13) reminds me of a mix of BILL NELSON (BE-BOP DELUXE) and DAVID BOWIE. I guess a little GENTLE GIANT and PETER HAMMILL, too. Definitely Bill Nelson. Cool song, though the heavier parts, even the the first electric guitar solo sounded and felt a little tongue-in-cheek (à la This Is Spinal Tap). Interesting high energy song! (9/10)

6. "The Aftermath" (4:14) is straight out of early PETER HAMMILL. Again, your singing parts are much more beautiful, polished than Peter's (or Matthew Parmenter's), but the simplicity of your supporting musical paly is, in my opinion, a true strength of these songs. Love the acoustic guitar fadeout at 2:27 which turns into a crackling 'old fashioned record' album recording of an old mellotron(?) then ending with the return of the acoustic guitar. Cool song! (9/10)

7. "The Fall of Bliss--Intro" (1:41) must be an ANTHONY PHILLIPS piece! It's gorgeous guitar play! (9/10)

8. "The Fall of Bliss--Part 1" (8:22) starts like a STEVE HACKETT piece, then goes TOBY DRIVER wild on us! Awesome! The GEORGE BENSON-like acoustic guitar soloing is cool! While not going quite as deeply jarring or abrasive as Toby Driver, the song does, in fact, remain quite similar to a Bath/Leaving Your Body Map-era MAUDLIN OF THE WELL song (with Pete Parmenter/Matt Hammill singing in parts). Love the organ and whispering voices section. Kind of creepy like Harry Potter or something. (CHRIS SQUIRE singing?!) Very cool section with the carnival-weird organ solo. Awesome bass playing! (10/10)

9. "The Fall of Bliss--Interlude" (4:22) is an awesome instrumental reminding me of DARGAARD, DARK SANCTUARY, NOX ARCANA and many, many great Goth rockers. (9/10)

10. "The Fall of Bliss--Part II" (6:32) is a heavy rocker with some absolutely astounding shifts, effects, and guitar playing. The "we're the whole/join hands/minds/hearts" vocal section is awesome--especially knowing what Greece, the EU, and the Occupy Now and Arab Spring movements have all been doing, but that extended guitar solo that fills the whole second half of the song is simply breathtaking. Like ROBERT FRIPP in his prime, only, filled with a raw, open emotion. 3:40 and on! What an amazing end to an astounding--yes, breathtaking listening experience. This one tops even TOBY DRIVER! (9/10)

It's difficult for me to imagine anyone not being blown away by this album. What a talent! What a gifted artist! Thank you Nikitas Kissonas for sharing your amazing album with me.

I love this excellent album. It reminds me so much of Discipline's To Shatter All Accord--only, in my opinion, better! (I rated TSAA four stars.) The Fall of Bliss earns 4.5 from this reviewer-- rounded UP because of freshness, innovation, creativity, great production, and amazing variety (no two songs sound the same and yet all sound and feel like METHEXIS!)!!

92.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Listen to this one, prog lovers! You won't be sorry!




7. BATTLESTATIONS In a Cold Embrace

Thus far I have found 2012 to be a less-than-stellar year for new music. With In a Cold Embrace, BATTLESTATIONS has synthesized a true masterpiece of progressive rock music, only the third of the year, according to my reckoning (Anglagarde and Kotebel being the other two).
     Very cinematic, a bit trip-hoppy à la MASSIVE ATTACK, with a little COCTEAU TWINS shoegaziness thrown in, and then, of course, follow Post Rock/Math Rock formats, and you have the formula for the majority of In a Cold Embrace. I think what I like most about this music is that if I were still creating music, this is exactly the kind of music I would want to be creating.

1. "Prologue: Nature Morte/You're Not Welcome Here" (13:17) is my favorite song on the album. This song sounds as if it could have been taken straight off of an old LOBOTOMY BROTHERS CD, probably their first one, Live! But Just Barely or their second, the out-takes EP, Partial Lobotomy. "Prologue" begins like a wonderful Spaghetti-Western soundtrack. At the 4:25 mark the song shifts with the introduction of a repeating sequence of two 'orchestra hit' chords from the synthesizer around which the other instruments (rolling Cocteau Twins- like bass, treated acoustic and electric guitars, programmed drums, and percussives) dance. At 7:15 things change again. A baribou-sounding instrument sets the pace of the new equally slow rhythm and is accompanied by fast-oscillating flanged guitar strums, voice samples, slow-picked guitar melody, and, later, drums (they sound live but could also be programmed) and background synth sounds. This is cinematic, meditative, background music heaven. (10/10)

2. "Comrade/The Way We Grieve" (9:59) could be another very effective cinematic theme song. Military march drumming lays the groundwork over which guitars and synths are added, layered, throbbing, buzzing, and zinging their melodies. At 5:10 every thing slows down, fades away to allow the establishment of a new lineup of instruments playing in a new key, watched by a whale-sounding guitar, before a melody-supporting chord sequence is formed, over which a delayed guitar plays a very beautiful, very emotional melody. Synths and additional guitars join in after the eight minute mark to fade. Stunningly gorgeous. (10/10)

3. "Interlude: Time Stands Still"(2:37), at two-and-a-half minutes in length is the album's shortest piece, but it is a beautiful one, with heavily effected guitar crooning out another slow but emotional melody. Once again, it sounds like it came right off the 1988 Partial Lobotomy CD. (9/10)

4. "Breaking Bad News/The Faces We Remember" (6:55) is a very spacey, airy song sounding almost like an ambient Fripp/Eno or Eno/Budd experiment with the interplay of various effects and delays--until the 3:40 mark when a synth wash chord progression and electronic drum track enter and establish some drama. At 5:15 a full drum and bass rhythm section join in sounding very much like a COCTEAU TWINS instrumental. Awesome. Ends with the same sparse ambient themes and instruments of the beginning. (9/10)

5. "The Semblance of Fate/Citizen Creep/The End" (11:48) begins with some piano (treated à la HAROLD BUDD et al.) in yet another cinematic theme. At 2:30 piano stops leaving some atmospheric synths to float around in the background while what sounds like the treated (reversed?) voice of a female London Underground PA speaker voice makes some (to me) unintelligible announcements. Once she stops, a new theme with new instruments is developed, coming to full force with a fast-paced drum program (I think) livening things up quite a bit. At the seven minute mark, the music stops leaving a repeating piano arpeggio to bridge into the next section which does, in fact, sound like the band--or film--is trying to say good-bye (except this is the second section, "Citizen Creep"). Beautiful, like a French romance. The final two and a half minutes are very much like each instrument is going to sleep--or trying to put you to sleep. (8/10)

Each of the past five years has revealed a stunningly beautiful album from the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre which gives me faith that the sub-genre has not been 'played out' that, in fact, fresh ideas and creative variations are being made to keep the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre alive and moving forward. In 2008 Hamburg's DATURAH gave us Reverie, in 2009 came APPLESEED CAST's Sagarmantha, in 2010 we had not one but three brilliant Post Rock/Math Rock releases: COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE's The Sirens Sound, MY EDUCATION's soundtrack tribute to F.W. Murnau's 1927 silent movie, Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans, and GIFTS FROM ENOLA's Gifts from Enola, and last year, 2011, we had Australia's SLEEPMAKESWAVES' ...and so we destroyed everything. I am so thankful for these beautiful albums--and for the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre.


92.0 on the Fish scales = a five star album; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




8. IAMTHEMORNING ~

~ is a refreshing stream of beautiful crossover/chamber rock/folk rock songs often interlinked by interludes/etudes called "~[intermissions]" (there are six not intcluding the two long breaks of silence amid the final 11m42sec 'song' "i.b.too" [8/10]). The often-piano-based songs showcase the wonderful, smooth, controlled, breathy voice of Marjana Syomkina--often on multiple tracks. The music most often reminds me of TORI AMOS when it is stripped down to just piano and voice (e.g. on "circles") and IONA when a full chamber rock band is accompanying Marjana (e.g. on "burn"). The voice most often sounds like IONA's JOANNA HOGG, though it does take on the classic TORI AMOS and even, sometimes, JANE SIBERRY/KATE BUSH-like stylings (e.g. on "weather changing," "~[intermission III]," and "would this be"). The full band interplay is exquisite--especially since there is invariably a stringed instrument or two or three in the mix--right up my alley for perfect prog (though I love woodwinds and accordians, too)! And keyboard payer Gleb Kolyadin's touch on the piano/keyboards reminds me tremendously of RENAISSANCE's master ivory tickler, JOHN TOUT.

Favorite songs: 1. "~[intermission I]" (2:48) (9/10); "inside" (4:16) (9/10); 3. "burn" (4:40) (10/10); 4. "circles" (3:19) (8/10); 5. "~[intermission II]" (0:52) (9/10); 6. "weather changing" (3:05) (9/10); 7. "~[intermission]" (0:49) (10/10); 8. "scotland" (3:53) (8/10); 9. "touching II" (4:04) (10/10); 11. "monsters" (3:59) (9/10); 12. "serenade" (2:28) (10/10); 13. "~ [intermission V]" (0:55) (9/10); 14. "would this be" (4:21) (10/10); 15. "~[intermission VI]" (1:46) (9/10), and; the musical parts of 16. "i.b.too" (8/10) especially the sublime final three minutes.

For lovers of clean, clear, crisp, dynamic folk/chamber music in the tradition of IONA, TORI AMOS, KATE BUSH, JANE SIBERRY, RENAISSANCE or ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN.

91.875 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Amazingly consistent high quality in composition, performance and production. The only "flaw," IMHO--and this should fuel them for the future--is that the band might have stretched themselves even further. I hope they will be around for a long time for I, for one, will be an avid follower.




9. L'ESTATE DI SAN MARTINO Talsete di Marsantino

As I listened to this disc the first time I couldn't help be feeling repeatedly astounded at the freshness of the music I was listening to. I am also a witness to the extraordinary contributions to the whole by prog legends Steve Hackett, Francesco di Giacomo, and Bernardo Lanzetti. This music could be called neo-prog, but really it's neo-RPI, but with all new ideas--new melodies, new combinations, new emotions, new, 21st Century energy. As other reviewers have pointed out, I, too am reminded at times of GENESIS, ANT PHILLIPS, ROBIN GUTHRIE/COCTEAU TWINS, and even Norway's AIRBAG (because of the tremendous keyboard support work) and Poland's COLLAGE. But, for the most part, this is all Italiano--or, rather, in this case, L'Estate di San Martino. Congratulations.
     This one goes down in the history books as a modern classic, a masterpiece for the ages! Thank you for achieving something so rare in this modern era of very good (and very alive) progressive rock music: creating a modern masterpiece that fills the listener with blissful nostalgia for the prog classics of the 70s. Something so many groups (especially in The Netherlands [Trion, Flamborough Head, Knight Area, etc., etc.]) seem so desperate to do. In my humble opinion, none have done it better than this one.

Favorite songs: I LOVE THEM ALL (except #13, the radio/television talk vehicle bonus track, "Res Gestae" Wish I could find a translation for this obviously important radio play)!!! Try these samples: "Hallucigenia" (5:37) (10/10); "S.E.N.O." (7:23) (10/10); "Long Now Clock" (5:03) (9/10); "Il cielo per San Lorenzo" (4:40) (9/10); "Otto" (2:24) (9/10)

So why isn't this album rated or ranked higher on my year-end list? I think it's because the songs sometimes lack the complex structures and varying time signatures that I look for in progressive rock--that I value in seeing prog "progress." Or else it's because unlike Violeta di Outono, I don't leave a listening session with any of the album's songs or melodies haunting me or replaying inside my head. 

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



10. SWANS The Seer

This is one of those very rare albums that comes along once in a great while--maybe every two or three years--that catches me by surprise--that is so unexpected, contains music that is so far beyond my experience or imagination as to absolutely blow me away! This album has also, once and for all, confirmed for me that I have a very serious attraction to/affinity for trance-inducing music. This music drives and thrums and sucks you into its maelstrom of controlled chaos. It induces entrainment--an experience I value perhaps more than any other in this lifetime.
      For those of you who don't know about, or who might have never heard of 'entrainment,' it is a word used to describe the event of the 'synchronization' of a multiplicity of persons (or beings) into a singular rhythm. For a musician or music listener this is a supra- or meta-physical event in which time and space seem to disappear due to the deep connection one is experiencing with the music, the rhythms, the experience of feeling as if one is within/a part of the music. Their is forged an amazing interconnection to all others in--a veritable disappearance of ego and I-ness, which is replaced with an unhuman feeling of being so connected to the music, to the (other) musicians, that one could swear that the 'perfect' and 'magical' music is being  channeled through the collective--as if it is effortlessly coming through oneself as if seeking to take its place among and with the notes, rhythms and sounds of the others. It is understood that on a very deep, unconscious level humans are drawn to the lake- and sea-shores because the rhythm of waves rolling up onto the beaches is one with which the human Cranial Rhythmic Impulse (the brain's rhythmic pumping action of cerebral spinal fluid) entrains--creating a very steady, healthy, and healing physiological event within the human host. Entrainment is when feelings of connectivity and unity supercede all illusions of separation and disconnection.

The music of The Seer is music to entrain to.

Five star songs: "Mother of The World" (9:59) (10/10); "The Seer" (32:13) (10/10); "The Avatar" (8:51) (10/10); "A Piece of the Sky" (19:10) (10/10); "The Apostate" (23:00) (9/10); and, "Lunacy (6:10) (9/10).

90.0 on the Fish scales = five star record; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is one of the best albums I've heard from 2012 and my #4 "favorite" album from that same year.




11. MAGMA Felicité Thosz

Beginning like an ANDREW LLOYD-WEBER musical doesn't hurt this piece by Zeuhlmeisters, MAGMA. As 'dark' or heavy as it tries to be, the whole piece comes across more as a Dickensian Christmas play written by STEPHEN SCHWARTZ and/or BURT BACHARACH. Awesome bass play, as usual, very melodic piano and perfect drumming from founder CHRISTIAN VANDER help carry this operetta, but it is the wonderful, delicately woven vocal performances that the listener has a chance to really tune into. The lack of hard driving, mega-pulsing music and power vocals is, as a matter of fact, quite unexpected. Yes, the album is brief (by modern standards), but 37 minutes is right in line with a typical vinyl album (unless you are Todd Rundgren). Though the album is really meant to be played straight through--and I love all of the songs here--I must admit to really enjoying putting "Teha" (5:15) (10/10) on repeat ad infinitum. As a matter of fact, the first five songs all flow together seamlessly, flawlessly, beautifully. The most 'Broadway' of all, however, is "Ohst" (4:53) (10/10) with the bouncy piano and the voice of the Maestro, himself; CHRISTIAN VANDER is brilliant, astounding! I mean, how old is this guy? Playing off of HERVÉ AKNIN, it is quite a song. Even the end is very Broadway-like--like the ending to a song from Fiddler on the Roof or something.
I have to admit that hearing an upbeat, positive sounding album from such masters of melodrama is quite an unexpected experience, but it is an entirely enjoyable one.

90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars. Another masterpiece? I can't see this little beauty as anything less. 5 stars.



****1/2 -- 4.5 stars; Near-Masterpieces:




12. VAURA Selenelion

This is an intriguing and surprisingly easy album to access and like. Over and over I find myself being reminded of 2011's excellent album by FEN, Epoch, but also a great deal of Selenelion sounds like I'm hearing the reincarnation of one of rock's all-time greatest bands, THE CLASH. Though Mellotron Storm calls this a Metal album, I am in no way having to brace my ears (and soul) as I have had to for metal bands (even for early maudlin of the Well albums). The engaging melodies and copious and numerous special effects take all of the rough edges off of this music. The opening song, "Souvenirs" begins like something off of an early U2 album. Heck, the mostly acoustic title track hails back to some of the psychedelic folk stuff from the 60s and 70s! (remember early Moody Blues and Greg Lake's contributions to ELP everybody?) Vocalist Joshua Strawn's very laid-back, pleasant voice is so heavily reverbed that I feel like I'm listening to THE CLIENTELE! (though Strawn's vocals are much further back in the mix.) There isn't a song on the album that I don't like. I definitely think this Experimental/ Post Metal album should have the added "Psychedelic" label somewhere.


Favorite tracks: "Souvenirs" (4:43) (9/10); "En/Soph" (5:11) (9/10); "Relics" (4:49) (10/10); "The Column's Vein" (2:29) (8/10); "Vanth" (5:53) (10/10); "Selenelion" (7:03) (10/10), and; "The Zahir" (7:42) (10/10).


89.9 on the Fish scales = A 4.5 star album that I'm going to rate up because of consistency of quality and freshness, variety, and the fact that album keeps sounding and feeling better and better with each listen. Try it! If you like Fen, The Clash, Toby Driver, and "gentle metal," you'll probably like this one.





13. NINE STONES CLOSE Eye on the Sunrise

Nine Stones Close vocalist Marc Atkinson has a voice and style that, IMO, nearly duplicates the great voice of one of rock’n’roll’s all-time greatest vocalists, rocker JON BON JOVI. That alone give this album some amazing weight. Now put that controlled, emotional voice together with some gorgeous, never-overdone neo prog music and you have the makings of a truly addictive listening experience. Lush beauty reigns supreme throughout this album and yet it retains—no, revels, in—its rock’n’roll roots and a neo-proggish sound palette.

1.  Faceless Angel” (2:55) is a pretty space-age instrumental that uses multiple keyboards in three or four layers to set up the ‘surprise’ entrance of a wailing lead guitar as the song kicks into third gear at the 1:25 mark. Very emotional gtr play over the perfect setting of beautiful keyboards. (10/10)

2. "A Secret” (5:33) is a simple yet gorgeous vocal ballad in which keys and strummed and picked acoustic guitars wailing electric guitar solo perform all of the accompanist duties until almost the three minute mark. Has a bit of a “My Guitar Gently Weeps” feel and sound to the music and guitar play. Not a complicated song but very hypnotic and well performed. (9/10)

3. “Janus” (5:46) is an instrumental that begins with modern keyboard play a la CHROMA KEY before keys fade to background synth washes while multiple lead guitar tracks wail away at the same single, awesomely bent note, repeated over and over over the revolving chord progression beneath. AT 2:30 this all stop and a piano practices shifting arpeggio chords for while before the rest of the band, bass, drums, synths, and strummed acoustic and soloing electric guitars play along. Even the acoustic guitar gets a little soloing in “Spanish style” in the last couple of minutes. Again, not a very complicated song, but gorgeously composed and executed.  (9/10)

4. “…And Dream of Sheep” (1:52) begins with some acoustic guitar play—two guitar tracks playing with and off of one another—almost sounding like a WINDHAM HILL piece. Piano joins the two guitars at 0:54, then background synth strings. (9/10)

5. “One Eye on the Sunrise (12:06) begins with acoustic guitars and what sounds like a cello. Not far different in mood or feel from the previous song except that the vocalist soon enters with a cool, controlled performance—that is until 2:55 when all hell breaks out with a very BON JOVI “Wanted Dead Or Alive”-like explosion.  For a minute we are lulled back into the intro themes—but his time by electrified instruments, not acoustic. Then, at 4:50 the full powered rock versioin of this song takes over. The vocal and guitars’ strummed chord progressions are, admittedly, not very engaging at this point—too clichéd and stale sounding. Then at 6:30 everything stops. Electric guitars begin picking arpeggios again, treated cello floats in and around, Atkinson sings “Hey-ah” over and over. It’s pretty. It might go on a bit too long. Finally, at 9:18 a new section begins, with Atkinson’s dramatic vocal. He’s so good! The emotions on display here are masterful! I just wish that the music was better. Incredible JOHN BONHAM-like drumming here—at 10:55 it kicks into a new (and totally unexpected) world of LED ZEPELLIN-like heights. Brillliant finale! (8/10)

6.  Eos” (2:39) has a very PINK FLOYD feel to it, start to finish. Starts like “Hey, You” until the amazing voice of Marc Atkinson graces the aural waves—on two levels! Guitar strums and guitar leads all feel so Gilmour-esque! This is most obviously a PINK FLOYD tribute song all the way—and probably the best I’ve ever heard, if I do say so myself. (9/10)

7. “The Weight” (9:51) has almost an 80s classic rock sound and feel to it—like one of those gorgeous emotional ballads by WHITESNAKE, BON JOVI, POISON, DEF LEPPARD, or even a 70s classic from JOURNEY. The song does suffer a tiny bit from several unusually long pauses—almost gaps—which make one wonder how many small parts might have been spliced together to make this ten minute beauty. (9/10)

8. “The Distance” (4:54) is another masterful vocal performance drawing from the same softer, ballad side of the classic rock masters of the 1980s. Not as proggy but a beauty anyway. (8/10)

9. “Frozen Moment” (13:34) starts like a great DEF LEPPARD song before the more modern drum (kick) style diverges. The electric guitar strum sound, however, is very old—PAYOLAS or even PSYCHEDELIC FURS old. The first minutes of the song feel so 80s, even the background mix of the lead vocal is different from the previous songs. The coda at the four minute mark gives segue into another 80s-ish section—this one sounding even more like a cross between PAYOLAS “You’ve Got the Eyes of a Stranger” and Def LEPPARD’s “Hysteria.” The kick back into heavier gear in the seventh minute is more modern—with great sustained lead guitar and strummed acoustic guitars. I wonder if the “Frozen Moment” theme is being mimicked by the instrument sound choices.
     At 8:44 a heavier section with echoed background vocals kicks in to prep us for an awesome section with very cool lead guitar and drum interplay—very fresh and adrenaline pumping. Organ tries to get involved, and background mellotron, but all ears are still on the electric guitar and drums. Simply awesome! Three minutes into it and Adrian Jones is trying to go FRIPP-crazy! Same section plays out to the end! (10/10)

10. “Sunset” (1:28) is a pretty little outro-bookend, piano and violin. (8/10)

I’m really not much of a fan of either classic rock or Neo prog but the incredible levels of compositional and instrumental mastery coupled with one of the best voices I have ever heard make for quite a listening experience—one that I have been drawn back to over and over during the past few weeks. Album of the Year? Perhaps not for composition but for aural pleasure . . . ? Skies the limit for this group. You can be sure that I will be keeping my Eye on the Sunrise.

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





14. ANATHEMA Weather Systems

A fine Anathema production with their usual spiritual-curious orientation. The music, however, as does nearly all Anathema music for me, continues to drag on and change little, sometimes using multiple themes to try to make the songs more interesting but, in my ear, only making things busier and distracting. Still, the Cavanaugh brothers pick great chords to lock into and create very emotional and melodic vocals. Plus, the band's production acumen has only grown with time; since about 2009, Anathema albums have certainly become some of the most lush and beautiful-sounding albums out there.

Best songs:  3. The Gathering of Clouds (3:27) (10/10); 6. "The Storm Before the Calm" (9:24) (10/10); 8. "The Lost Child" (7:03) (9/10); 1. "Untouchable, Pt. 1" (6:14) (9/10); 7. "The Beginning and the End" (4:53) (9/10), and; the spiritually messaged 8. "Internal Landscapes" (8:52) (9/10).

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




15. THE GATHERING Disclosure

The band has returned once again in this, the post-Anneke era, and does so with quite some success. They are refreshed and recharged, returning to exploring the edges of trip-hop, slow, subtle song and melody development, and use/experimentation with odd strange sounds. "New" vocalist, Silje Wergeland, a Norwegian late of Goth metal band OCTAVIA SPIRATI (three albums from 2001 to 2007), is by no means no slouch. In fact, one might say that Silje might just have a bit more diversity than Anneke while still possessing the tone and strengths of past Gathering vocalists. Silje's tone quality and vocal style is remarkably similar to that of Anneke's. It is not only remarkable, it's uncanny.
     I have to agree with other reviewers who have remarked that Anneke's departure may have provided the band with the kick in the butt it need to get back on track with its adventurous, experimental musical expressions. This is my favorite album of theirs since 2000's If_then_else.

Best songs:  the amazing epic (thanks, trumpet!) 4. "Heroes for Ghosts" (10:42) (10/10); the "classic" Gathering tune in the Anneke tradition (Silje's tribute to her predecessor?), 3. "Paralyzed" (5:05) (9/10); the "new" Gathering style experiment--kind of a CURE/NEW ORDER approach--introduced in the opening song, 1. "Paper Waves" (5:33) (9/10) (Does anybody else hear the vocal similarities in this song to IAMTHEMORNING's Marjana Syomkina?); the first and trip-hoppy of the twins, 5. "Gemini I" (4:55) (9/10); ; the driving, Post Rock-updated variation on the Byrds classic, 7. "I Can See Four Miles" (9:04) (9/10), and; the gorgeous vocal-centric finale, 8. "Gemini II" (5:04) (9/10). 2. "Meltdown" (7:56) (8/10) and the piano-based, scaled down 6. "Missing Seasons" (3:26) (8/10) are also pretty damned good.

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





16. THINKING PLAGUE Decline and Fall

An album not far below their 1998 classic, In Extremis. Dissonance and surprise still rule the roost in TP land. Vocalist extraordinaire Elaine Di Falco has a kind of sultry smarmy Annette Peacock-Annie Haslam thing going on: crystal clarity delivered with whimsical tuning.

Five star songs:  2. "I Cannot Fly" (8:38) (10/10); 1. "Malthusian Dances" (6:43) (9/10); 4. "A Virtuous Man" (11:53) (9/10); 5. "The Gyre" (4:47) (9/10), and; "Climbing the Mountain" (8:38) (9/10).

Four star song:  3. "Sleeper Cell Anthem" (6:15) (8/10).

88.33 on the Fish scales = a 4.5 star album. A near masterpiece and a great album of Avant/RIO prog.




17. I AND THOU Speak

Upon first listen I thought this piano-based, soft-voiced collection of four long songs a bit too syrupy, and, because of its being piano-based, a bit too simple. I am so glad I continued to give this one more listens (thanks once again to progstreaming.com!) because it is not the music of a simpleton! (Though ear candy it is--BIG TIME!)

1. "Speak" (12:19) starts out sounding like a SUPERTRAMP song until the vocals enter giving it a very SPOCK'S BEARD sound. At the 4:00 mark an awesome upbeat driving groove is established by layers of synths, bass, piano, and drums. By the 6:00 things are developing more melodically. At 7:00 there is a YES-like shift with piano and guitar establishing new melody. At 8:05 another exciting section is introduced before the band falls back into a little heavier version of the section established at the six minute mark. At 9:25 the song returns to the beginning vocal section. Song ends with the final two minutes giving the song a very Wind and Wuthering feel. Good tune. (9/10)

2. "... and I Awaken" (11:31) begins with an AUTUMN CHORUS feel, until the same SPOCK'S BEARD-like vocalist enters. The very pleasant layering of harmonizing vocals at the 1:30 mark is the 'hook' that sucks me in. This is followed by a brief but very effective section of some symphonic call and response layers. The song's first part ends about 4:10 with a beautiful little classical piano bridging the way to a little STYX/STARCASTLE section. The excellent classical piano bridges are so RICK WAKEMAN-like! The fuzz guitars so MIKE OLDFIELD! Beginning at the seven minute mark is a dreamy almost RENAISSANCE section--with a touch of BURT BACHARACH key and chord changes! Beautiful! Church-like and yet folkish as well.The section beginning at 8:20 has an amazingly dramatic "Great Gig in the Sky" feel to it. There are even female vocals in the background! Again, PHIDEAUX coms to mind--but this is better! Then the song ends with a bouncy, upbeat section that is so catchy and memorable! Amazing how many "hooks" this song has! This song alone is worth the purchase of the album. (10/10)

3. "Hide and Seek " (16:30) begins with a classical chamber section featuring piano and strings (yes, real ones!) Quite lovely. Then it melts with a single strum of an electric guitar into a classic GENESIS/PINK FLOYD section--which turns into a TONY BANKS "Mad Man Moon" solo section. Gorgeous. Vocals enter giving it again a PINK FLOYD ("Comfortably Numb) like feel. The background synths and acoustic guitars keep it vacillating back to GENESIS territory, while the addition of vocals make me think of some of early ALAN PARSON PROJECTS' dreamier vocal sections. The voice of female KEREN ANN first makes its presence known in the seventh minute, just before the big shift into an upbeat driving groove--over which a PAUL WELLER-like guitarist solos. Fun, catchy section--gets me to my feet to move a little. At 9:50 we fall back to the dreamy "Mad Man Moon" section--complete with "Banksian" piano arpeggios and Hackett-esque volume pedal-controlled sustained guitar notes. The APP dreamy vocal section resumes with some beautiful vocal harmony work from KEREN ANN (among others--or using several tracks). A GILMOUR-esque "Comfortably Numb" solo begins at the 12:40 mark before the song descends back into a more acoustic though more folk than classical section reminiscent of the opening section. Acoustic guitar is here featured. An fast paced section reminding me of something from Selling England begins around the 14:30 mark. Excellent composition of beautiful music if perhaps a bit too familiar and dreamy. (9/10)

4. "The Face Behind the Eyes" (13:35)  begins with a classic GENESIS sound (Tony Banks chord progression) but turns into something that is nothing very special until the fourth minute when a bouncy piano-based, jazz-classical fusion section begins--sounding very much like a great TONY BANKS soundtrack piece. Awesome stuff! a BEAUTIFUL song! (9/10)

5. "Go or Go Ahead " (6:41) begins with a very simple chord sequence of fast-played piano arpeggios over which first Jason Hart and then Steve Hogarth take turns singing. A song in whose lyrics both singers evidently find quite a bit to connect because it is delivered quite emotionally. To me it is nothing very extraordinary--and too monotonous. It could be a Christmas carole. The last minute and a half is pretty good. (7/10)



88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music; it is definitely an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Highly recommended! Especially for those lovers of melodic neo-symphonic/crossover prog.





18. MYSTERY The World Is a Game

This is a pleasant surprise--and my favorite Mystery album yet. The musicians are all clicking on the same wavelengths, the songs are sufficiently constructed to raise this band from what I call "second tier" prog into the halls of the real thing. (Obviously, M. David has learned a lot from his experiences with other bands--most notably, YES. And Nick D'Virgilio continues to only get better with the years--his intuitive skill at meshing his drumming with the musicians and ideas with which he works is IMHO unsurpassed in present-day prog. Just look at what he did for BIG BIG TRAIN!) 
     In Michele St.-Père MYSTERY have the real deal: a guitarist of the very top echelons. I cannot name four other guitarists so well in command of their craft, their skill, their sound, their connection with the music, their ability to evoke and provoke intense emotion with their "voice". Truly remarkable. And I don't know if Michele has much control of the recording/engineering of his guitar sounds but the sound captured on these albums is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Michele St.-Père is the full package. 
     Aside from the two wonderful intro/interlude songs (1. "A Morning Rise" [1:19] and the ominous 4. "The Unwinding of Time" [0:050]), we have here six meaty songs with mature compositional value and great sound production. This latter aspect is one reason I give this album the bump up to the 4.5 star level.

The second song, "Pride" (11:28) has a fairly simple construct and nothing terribly surprising--feeling like a cross between RUSH Signals-era and GENESIS And Then There Were Three: lots of catchy melodic hooks and some awesome drumming--though the soft section at the eight minute mark (beginning with the acoustic guitar arpeggio riff from the Midnight Cowboy theme) owes everything to maestro, JON ANDERSON (and a little of LOVERBOY). The individual performances are perfection and are especially noteworthy for the coheseive "team" feeling to it all. (9/10)

The album's jewel, however, IMO, is the third song, "Superstar" (6:59). A laid back tune with heart-breaking melodies much in the same vein as MOTH VELLUM. The vocals, guitar soli, drumming, bass and keyboard work are all absolutely perfect! One of my Top 10 songs for Y2K12. (10/10)

The title song, (7:57), has its gorgeous parts--including the guitars and piano--but the vocal and melody lines feel a bit too syrupy---like the group AIR SUPPLY from the 70s and 80s. Even when it hits third gear at the four minute mark it feels too much like 707, STYX or JOURNEY (three of my "second tier" "prog-wannabees"). (7/10)

6. "Dear Someone" (6:21) has quite an awesome beginning (even if it reminds me of one of my favorite JOHN DENVER songs), which evolves into an equally gorgeous DEF LEPPARD-like section, thanks to an awesome electric guitar sound. Great melodies throughout this one--and some really hopeful, heart-warming lyrics (I hear you, Benoit! I have children!) Incredible work sur le batterie, Sir Nick, from the fourth minute on! Love the el gtr, flute and drum interplay at the very end. (8/10) 

7. "Time Goes By" (6:04) has a bit more use of odd, thoughtful, melody lines woven together in an interesting and, I would guess, (for this band) risky way. The chorus melody reminds me tremendously of THE BUGGLES' "Rainbow Warrior". This one never really grabs me unitl the last minute in a half when the drums, bass, and guitar start playing off each other in an awesome display of instrumental "inter-PLAY." I appreciate this song's 'adventurousness'. (7/10) 

8. "Another Day" (19:02) is one of my favorite epics of the year--mostly because I feel so strongly as if I am back listening to the best stuff from COLLAGE's Moonshine or SATELLITE's A Street Between Sunrise and Sunset. And you will find some awesome work by Nick D'Virgilio here! (9/10)

The World Is a Game is not a masterpiece that propels the evolution of progressive rock forward, but it is a very solid, excellent sounding piece of prog ear candy--with some excellent group and individual performances. Definitely recommended for 'classic rock' and prog lovers.  

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





19. CICADA Let's Go

Taiwanese NeoClassical Chamber composer/band leader Jesy Chiang has now pumped out three stunningly gorgeous albums in three years. (If you haven't heard 2010's Over the Sea/Under the Water or 2011's Pieces you are really missing some timelessly beautiful music.) This one continues the string of superlative work though the compositions seem to have become much more piano-centric than on the previous works. In fact, there are several songs in which piano is almost the only instrument for over half of the songs' lengths. This is not meant to be a complaint; Jesy continues to present us with masterfully beautiful melodies and structures full of breathtaking use of space and charming cadence. Even the band's videos capture--even sometimes add to--the timeless GEORGE WINSTON/ERIK SATIE supra-pastoral, archetypical human soundscapes.

I cannot recommend this music any more highly. This music makes me feel proud that I am human--it reaffirms for me the amazing creative potential of this often misguided, thoughtless, and destructive species. Try sampling a few of the album's songs here performed live by Jesy and her friends: "Here We Are!" (3:12) "Boom Boom" (2:19); "Sunshine Smile" (4:17), and video presentation of the album version of "Floating over the Street" (4:52).

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




20. ARANIS Made in Belgium

I love Aranis. To me they represent the bravest of artists--being all acoustic, they have no space for mistakes, no means to cover up or hide behind effects or treatments; they represent the possibilities of intelligent, virtuosic music without electricity. Mega kudos!
     I love this album--getting to know and re-know composers of modern chamber music (Belgian, all). Where this album suffers is the same place that all Aranis albums thus far have suffered: the songs, musics are lacking melodic "hooks" to lure the listener in and make them feel welcome, secure, at home. The pieces composed by WIM MERTENS ("Gentlemen of Leisure" and "Salernes") are the most melodic, mostly due to the smooth, minimalist style that Mertens wrote, so the Avant/RIO-shy listener might want to start there, but eventually all the songs grow on you. Aside from the two Mertens pieces, my favorites have become the gentle and folksy #5. "Where's Grommit?" (10/10) by Arne Van Dongen, the high-spirited "Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2" (9/10) by UNIVERS ZERO/PRESENT/ ART ZOYD's Daniel Denis, the circular and percussive #6. "Le Mar t'Eau" (9/10) by Geert Waegerman, the intricately layered yet smooth #8. "L1" (9/10) by Joris Vanvinckenroye, the Gothic KARDA ESTRA-like #2. "Le Feu" (9/10) by Wouter Vandenabeele, and the Bond movie soundtrack-like #3. "Inara" (9/10) by Ward De Vleeschhouwer.

87.5 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece. As much as I believe in Aranis and their magical mission, I'm holding out for their next album of original songs. These serious virtuosos are so close to breaking through!




21. MOTORPSYCHO The Death Defying Unicorn

The Death Defying Unicorn reminds me somehow of THE WHO’s Quadrophenia but, musically, it reminds me most of MAUDLIN OF THE WELL’s 2001 Bath/Leaving Your Body Map release(s). There is about an equal mix of delicate, often orchestral (jazz and string) parts that use vocals and/or acoustic (orchestral) instruments layered and mixed into/and with long, repetitive, plodding heavy parts. The effort is ambitious and laudable I’m just not sure the outcome and effect are as praiseworthy as my fellow reviewers are extolling.

1. “Out of the Woods” (2:41) starts the album off with an intro filled with a lot of dissonance and tension being carried out among orchestra and large horn section (the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra). (9/10)

2. “The Hollow Lands” (7:37) begins quite powerfully with some multi-layered, busy music feeling quite a bit like THE WHO’s Quadrophenia and SYLVAN’s Posthumous Silence. It goes on for what seems like a long time.  Too long. When it quiets down and the singing/story begins there is a nice MOODY BLUES feel to it—melody, vocals and all. The bass, drum and guitar interlude at 3:45 is awesome—turning very psychedelic after the electric guitar starts to solo (and still surprisingly MOODY BLUES-like!). An all-instrument build and crescendo opens up for a return to the singing/melody part. The orchestration almost clutters/muddies it, though. Ends with orchestral segue into the next song. (9/10)

3. “Through the Veil” (16:03) begins with some percussives à la BLUE MAN GROUP and Ståle Storløkken’s SUPERSILENT. The percussive groove is quickly augmented and taken over by a very full horn section.  Just before the two minute mark, a powerful heavy rock groove takes over sounding like a cross between CLAPTON and HENDRIX. The vocals enter giving it a very ALICE IN CHAINS sings CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG feel to it. The next section, beginning around the 3:40 mark, takes one on a journey as if ARANIS were playing WINGS’ “Live and Let Die.” THE WHO takes over with a kind of Quadrophenia ride from 6:50 to 10:20. Nice work from the horn section. Then a HENDRIX-like guitar riff reintroduces and accompanies the re-entry of the vocal part. At 11:33 the heavy rock parade switches gear, to a kind of STEPPENWOLF/IRON BUTTERFLY jam. But then things quiet down at 12:25, get bluesy until a psychedelic guitar riff, and distorted vocals take over for a bit with “I can never go back, never go back there” BYRDS/CSN&Y section. Awesome bass sound and lines.
     SYD BARRETT would love this music! (Maybe he’s there: playing the guitars!)
     African-like drumming with electronic psychedelia guitar sounds play out till it ends with an organ leading into the next song. (8/10)

4. “Doldrums” (3:07) is kind of a modern orchestral interlude. Quiet. Like doldrums. (7/10)

5. “Into the Gyre” (10:23) (“whirlpool”?) begins with a chamber orchestra intro, wobbling (on purpose) as electronic instruments join in and take over. Very SUPERSILENT-like.
     Layered vocal sections takes over, sounding like it’s telling a BEATLES-esque children’s story. At 4:32 the song finally kicks out of park and into gear—though taking a while to establish exactly what gear that will be. I guess ‘cruise.’ At 6:10 the boys must hit the autobahn cuz it suddenly races into overdrive—on a busy road, at that, cuz the soloing guitar, bass, drums, horns, and keys are all racing—as if against each other:  the cohesion seems a bit lost, more like reckless abandon and chaotic unpredictability. Then it stops. (A crash?) This quiet section again makes me wonder if there isn’t supposed to be a visual element running along with this, so mysterious is this rather eery, almost ambient section. To end. Not my favorite song. (Nor would it be my favorite rollercoaster ride.) (7/10)

6. “Flotsam” (1:33) is almost like a solo cello’s tuning session. What is going on?? Floating debris after the shipwreck? (6/10)

7. “Oh Proteus – A Prayer” (7:35) begins with a gorgeous little string trio. Vocals and synths join at 0:45 in a very TOBY DRIVER way: chromatic singing over dissonant chords. This goes on and on, builds, Toby is joined by his usual thick guitars and bass, plodding on, trying to pretend to invite the listener in with samples of ‘pretty’ melody, while the music is warning you to be cautious—be very cautious! Interesting song. (8/10)

8. “Sculls in Limbo” (2:21) offers another “Silent Sorrows”/”Welcome to the Machine” intro-type moment. Space. Must be floating. Still. (6/10)

9. “La Lethe” (7:53) begins with a kind of jazzy pulsation, again TOBY DRIVER- or even ULVER-like, eventually establishing a more ULVERish Post Rock feel to it, down to the plodding, pulsing pace, wild horns playing in the background, and odd male voices ‘groaning’ around in the fore and background. I guess this is a very good musical representation of Hades’ River Lethe. Glad I don’t live or work there! Does this mean the protagonist is close to death?
     Great MEL COLLINS-like sax solo in the six and seventh minutes. A suspenseful pause ensues at the 6:20 mark before an AFTER CRYING-like orchestral crescendo enters and builds. Violins lead into the next song. (10/10)

10. “Oh Proteus – A Lament (1:05) is a multi-layered vocal in which the protagonist muses about his surroundings/fate.

11. “Sharks” (7:56) is such a murky, mysterious, yet ultimately pretty TOBY DRIVER/ RADIOHEAD/RAVEL’s “Bolero”-like song. It just goes on way too long. (about the same length as “Bolero”! More than a coincidence?) I especially enjoy the entrance of the brief appearance of horns at 3:15. The ensuing lyric is sung almost tongue-in-cheek, comically. Intentional irony? The sharks thrashing in the final two minutes is pretty good. (8/10)

12. “Mutiny!” (8:33) transitions from the tension of shark-infested waters into theme music from a high-octane James Bond rescue mission—or a great song left off of motW’s Part the Second album. Perhaps the only song on the album with a fairly straightforward, familiar melody. Definitely a great prog/classic rock feel. An early-KING CRIMSON-like instrumental section mid-song continues to make this one feel like a keeper for the all-time playlist. (10/10)

13. “Into the Mystic” (7:05) is an amazing song with all kinds of wild voice samples and a feel and sounds that remind me of some of the harder-driving music of THE MOODY BLUES and THE HOLLIES with a hint of RICK WAKEMAN. 
     Although it segues straight out of “Mutiny!” it starts off with an awesome violin solo from Ola Kvernberg. The WHO/MOODY BLUES-like vocal melody and JETHRO TULL acoustic guitar-part from song 2, “The Hollow Lands,” returns in full force, in its awesome glory—and is later rejoined by great violin, synth, and, of course, the ubiquitous heavy bass and drums. (10/10)

The final lyrics leave me a bit befuddled: I didn’t really sense this dude’s struggle with other men—or even much within himself—but more of the random travesties of nature (both Mother and human). Eh?

A masterpiece, IMHO, is something that either offers something new mentally, sonically/aurally, or compositionally—something that could have an impact on other musicians and perhaps on the course of music history (of which, of course, only time can be the judge) OR it is music that offers the listener a package that is so enthralling, so emotionally engaging, that it keeps drawing you back again and again over time.  Though I’ve owned Death Defying Unicorn for a while now I have had trouble A) listening to the entirety in a single sitting and B) feeling drawn in enough to want sit through the whole thing—especially the epics “Through the Veil” and “Into the Gyre.” The songs seem to go on longer than I can stay connected. Even the ‘shorter’ songs, “Hollow Lands” (7:37), “Oh, Proteus—A Prayer” (7:35), “La Lethe” (7:53), and “Sharks” (7:56) seem to drag on longer than they ‘need’ to. (Only “Mutiny!” (8:33) and “Into the Mystic” (7:05) hit on all cylinders, IMO.) Why are they so long? Why are they so tunnel driven bordering on monotonous? What is the purpose and/or value of this story (I mean, does it have valuable lessons or archetypical significance to the universal listener, or is it a myopic tale from someone’s personal dream or altered state of consciousness)? Is this piece of music intended to accompany a visual display (film, slide, art gallery, ballet, or stage play)? Is this really meant to be a theatrical soundtrack? If so, it may, in fact, need to be heard in association with that other medium in order to be fully appreciated.

I have to say, however, that as a purely musical adventure it has trouble standing on its own as a “masterpiece.” It is interesting and has many excellent parts and amazing compositional ideas (blending orchestra, jazz group and rock quintet to tell a 90 minute story), but it is not a piece in which the listener finds himself easily drawn into or compelled to stay within the magical spell of the music—not like Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, Brahms’ 2nd or 3rd, YES’s “Close to the Edge”, GENESIS’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway or “Supper’s Ready,” MIKE OLDFIELD’s Incantations, many of the master-jams from the realms of Krautrock, Space/Psychedelia or Electronica or any of the Colossus/Musea Records epics from Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. Only one song stands out as “amazing” in a way that makes me want to push repeat over and over (well, actually two: the last two—which are pretty much one song), and neither the story nor the music is so compelling as to keep me engrossed for the full length of the “play.”

As adventurous as this project is, as admirable is the vision and intent, I do not find it a success at creating a timeless masterpiece of musical entrainment. I like it, I will revisit it, and I will recommend it to the hardcore prog lovers out there. On that note, I rate this with 3.5 stars: it is IMHO, less than “excellent addition to any prog rock music collection” (italics added) but significantly better than “good.” More like a 3.88. It is not essential to every prog listener’s music collection. I would recommend it to any and all prog lovers who are drawn to explore musics that push the envelope—that offer something different and out-of-the ordinary. I truly appreciate the mastery displayed in the attempt to render this ambitious project—and that the artists themselves might feel quite satisfied and successful in their result. I question how well their “success” will translate into sales, referrals and a place in the history books.

Now, weeks later, I find myself haunted by Unicorn--so much so, in fact, that I have returned to it more often than I thought I would. While I still go away feeling that the album's music and story conveyance are 'missing' something, the album's contribution to prog/music progression is higher than I originally esteemed.

86.36 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars.




22. DAAL Dodecahedron

"Diverse" and "cinematic" are a couple of the words from other reviewers that I will definitely use in my own review of Dodecahedron. Also, "eclectic" in the truest sense of the word. The variety and diversity of sounds, styles, and instruments chosen to create this album are simply astounding. Here are my impressions of the album's song's similarities and familiarities.

I (7:46)--ANEKDOTEN imbued with a little PRESENT and even RUSH. (9/10)

II (5:10)--KING CRIMSON's In the Court of the Crimson King blended with PURE REASON REVOLUTION's The Dark Third. (9/10)

III (6:57)--"21st Century Schizoid Man" blended with Beethoven's 9th and THE BEATLES' "She's so Heavy" and then MIKE OLDFIELD's Hergest Ridge/Tubular Bells for the final minute and a half. (8/10)

IV (5:50)--feels like a more chamber rock continuation of the previous song--as if PRESENT or ARANIS had taken on the themes and melodies of the previous song. A bit too repetitive and drawn out, IMO, though the use of all acoustic instrumentation is quite fascinating. (8/10)

V (4:37)--is like a song that fell to the cutting room floor during the making of JAN GARBAREK, ZAKIR HUSSEIN, and JOHN McLAUGHLIN's 1986 "Making Music." (6/10)

VI (8:13)--starts out feeling as if it comes from PETER GABRIEL"s Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack but then evolves into something more akin to early AMON DÜÜL or ASH RA TEMPEL. The final three minutes move more into the territory of Force Majeure-era TANGERINE DREAM (with GEORGE HARRISON playing lead guitar). (8/10)

VII (3:02)--opens with a BUDDHA LOUNGE-like sound and feel. The airy flutes and zitherish instrument are soothing and mesmerizing--like a song by GOBI. A pretty song with a rather obscure/unsettling ending. (8/10)

VIII (4:32)--starts out like a piece from TANGERINE DREAM's 1977 live album "Encore." AT 2:40 there is a radical instrumentation shift, especially in the funk-stylings of the bass play, that take it out of the TD 70s music genre--or rather, combine it with some other group like THE DREAM ACADEMY. (8/10)

IX (5:51)--incorporates some incredibly familiar instrument and sound combinations--straight out of RUSH's classic work. At the one minute mark it softens into more of an ANEKDOTEN moment before rushing back into the "Limelight/Moving Pictures" riffs and sounds. I like the addition of the violin for the solo in the fifth minute. The synth strings' chord progression with whispering voices in the background gives it an eerie ending. (9/10)

X (5:11)--sounds of birds and waves are joined by treated piano, fretless bass, brushed drums and sax on this beauty. Sax plays the seductive melody over the piano's haunting liltings in the background. If this isn't a cinematic classic, then I don't know one. Much better, IMHO, than those delivered by LEBOWSKI on 2010's Cinematic. Perhaps a bit simple at first listen, but hearing it over and over there is so much depth, so much to listen to on this song that brings forth layers of emotion and unresolved tension. Masterful simplicity. (10/10)

XI (5:14)--begins with a DEAD CAN DANCE feel to it:  oddly treated percussives playing some kind of syncopated folk rhythms over which a bowed double bass keens its haunting melody. Random synth 'noises' are also interjected here and there to add to the deep-seated tension of this one. In the fourth minute everybody comes together into a cohesive structure--strings, synths and batterie. Ends with yet another odd, quiet ending. (10/10)

XII (8:15)--piano picks up a melody from the previous two songs and is joined by strings and zither. ARP synth solo takes over the melody from the two minute mark. All other instruments pulse together beneath. Brilliant! A few quiet instruments are allowed to "run free" between the synth and the staccato rhythm being played beneath. Reprise of the RUSH sounds/riffs. FRIPP guitar soloing. This song seems to be trying to gather all of the themes and sounds into one Overture. Very nice. (9/10)

I love the eclectic gathering of familiar and loved sounds that DAAL have used here to put together a collection of 12 mini-'soundtracks' to some Gothic stories. Great ideas, great execution, great sound, an album that I will go back to over and over. Definitely an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection, perhaps even a masterpiece. I shall offer an update as I get to know this album further.

85.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars.




JENSEN CODE The True Colors of Mars 2

Andrew Grumbridge and his contributors have created some very catchy, very creative music--each song setting itself apart from the rest, raising its own identity. Though, to my understanding, Andrew's music is (at this time) only available on Soundcloud, it is IMHO, well worth pursuing.
Vocalist "Logan" is chameleonic and brilliant. "Travel at The Speed of Light" (7:48) (10/10) is one of my five favorite songs of the year and "Silver Lionized Locomotive" (7:22) (9/10), "Flight to London" (6:00) (9/10) and "Under White Satellites" (4:02) (9/10) are pretty awesome, too.

Four star album--rated down for computer-sounding production.