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.

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