Tuesday, April 16, 2013

In Praise of Steve Jansen

My "In Praise of..." series is intended to shine the spotlight on artists who, in my opinion, continue to be under appreciated. While not necessarily in any particular order, I feel compelled to write about the artists that I feel A) the most personally geeked about and B) are most deserving of the added attention and appreciation.

     Steve Jansen has been creating unusual drum and percussion rhythms for the likes of Japan, David Sylvian, the Jansen Barbieri Karn ("JBK") trio, Steven Wilson, and solo projects for almost forty years. What makes his rhythm tracks so unusual is that they usually do not pace a song with a typical 4/4 "straight" time  in which bass (kick) drum, hi-hat and snare are the standard time keepers, plus he often refrains from using cymbols or even the hi-hat. (In his live drum set he typically will only have one to four cymbols on his kit. Perhaps he was influenced by Peter Gabriel's third solo album on which Peter asked his drummers to refrain from any use of cymbols.) Steve likes to use tuned toms, sampled sounds, and tuned percussion instruments while sometimes striking his percussives with less typical drum implements (hands, mallets, brushes, etc.)
     I am definitely attracted to drummers/percussionists who are "cursed" with the need to make percussive noises in atypical, even unusual spaces and places which, then, leaves the more typical or usual places for time-keepers to lay "down the beat" some times bare, open, as if implied or assumed. Bill Bruford was the first drummer I ever heard with this gift (or 'curse'?). Steve Jansen was the second.  In the jazz realm it is the music of PAT METHENY and the playing of his many gifted rhythmatists--but especially those of drummer Paul Wertico. OCEANSIZE's Mark Heron is the best modern example of one who is so 'cursed.'
     The effect of being exposed to songs and music with such rhythmatists at play on me as a listener is not only to draw my attention but, for some unexplainable reason, to soothe me. I find the rhythms of these drummers to be extremely comforting. Perhaps it is because whenever I find myself using my hands (or body) 'playing along' with the rhythms of a song I'm listening to I, too, am drawn to accenting the spaces or off-beats of the music's 'natural' or 'straight' times; it is my natural propensity to play off of the straight time or already-present beats.
     One of the elements of Steve Jansen's playing that makes him quite different from other drummers is the slow rolling applications of his sounds as opposed to the flashy quick approach to drumming of most rock and even jazz drummers. His playing might be called 'minimalist' because it leaves a lot of space between the percussive notes--not filling them with the usual battery of cymbol fills, but then I don't think this is how true minimalist music is defined. So, "bare,""sparse,""spacious," and even "ambient" may be more appropriate words to describe his style of playing. Why this is not more imitated is a mystery to me--though the drummers of Graham Sutton's BARK PSYCHOSIS often use a style similar to Jansen.
     I found it quite interesting that Steve Jansen's first (highly acclaimed) solo album, 2007's Slope, contained very little drumming, lots of computer and tuned percussion, and not a lot of his 'trademark' style of rhythms. My suggestion for anyone interested in hearing Steve Jansen at his most amazing best try listening to JAPAN's "Sons of Pioneers" or "Life Without Buildings" (to get a feel for his early propensity for this style), DAVID SYLVIAN's Brilliant Trees or, especially, Words with the Shaman and Gone to Earth albums, anything from JANSEN BARBIERI KARN (1993's Beginning to Melt, 1999's ISM or 2002's Playing in a Room with People) or Richard Barbieri's solo albums (Things Buried in 2005 and Stranger Inside in 2008), 1991's Japan reunion, Rain Tree Crow, and NO-MAN's 2001 release, Returning Jesus. More than anything, I only wish for more people to hear, recognize, and appreciate the musicality and contribution to some great music that Steve has given.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Top Albums of the Year 2011, Part 2: Others


Other Albums from 2011 Worth Listening To:





AUTUMN CHORUS The Village to the Vale

A brilliant album with folk choral type vocals set over some very pastoral music (despite the presence of drums). Unusual with an amazing male lead vocalist (Robbie Wilson) and interesting use of organ, strings, horns and effects (recorded in a church??) With only one song clocking in at less than five minutes--and three over seven--I'm not sure this album deserves the "Crossover" label; I think a "Folk" label would be much more appropriate--though the band calls themselves "Post Rock/Modern Classical"--both of which there are definite presences. There is even a strong feel of church chorale influence. As Robbie sings--and the effects cause a church-like echo--one cannot help but feel transported to some sacred or angelic venue. Amazing to have this kind of voice singing over Post Rock/Folk Rock music! "Progressive" in the truest sense of the word.

Album highlights:

1. The opener, "Three Jumps the Devil" (7:06) (9/10), surprises with the 1:45 minute glockenspiel bells and xylophone intro before a definite Post Rock/Math Rock sound kicks in--plus horns, strings,. Then the amazing voice of Robbie Wilson enters at 2:40. So reminiscent of some of the great folk/ psychedelic voices of the late 1960s! JESSE COLIN YOUNG, TIM BUCKLEY, DONOVAN, ART GARFUNKLE, etc.

2. The album's second song, "You'll Wait Forever" (6:29) is very much like a piece of classical chamber music--with, of course, the occasional voice lead angel Robbie Wilson. Unfortunately, the strings' lead melody gets repeated a bit too often, wearing thin on the listener. (8/10)

3. "Never Worry" (4:00) offers another church-like setting for Robbie Wilson's voice to grace us with. For some reason this song reminds me a bit of a song that crosses SIMON & GARFUNKLE with TIM HOLLIS. (8/10)

4. Unfortunaely, by the time song 4, "Thief" (7:26), rolls around, the music and slow pace is getting abit old. Still, "given a chance, "Thief" does change things up a bit: it is more of a story, less chamber/ church-like, and uses piano and drums, and contains, of course, an absolutely stunning lead vocal. At 4:40 the upbeat kick in reminds one of the true rockers of Post Rock/Math Rock. (9/10)

5. "Brightening Sky" (5:24) is a dynamically diverse song with the other diversion being the intermittent presence of a female vocalist with voice almost as angelic as Robbie's. (9/10)

6. At 16 minutes in length, song 6, "Rosa", is the album's longest. A choral presence accompanies the neoclassical music of the first 4:20. After that it softens to present space for Robbie's plaintive voice. In the tenth minute starts a true Post Rock/Math Rock song à la MONO--starting very slowly, very quietly, very minimally, while Robbie sings an amazingly angelic vocal--soaring above the notes of picked guitar strings and floating keyboards like Icarus to the sun. At 12:20 the music breaks into crescendo as if the heavens had burst open with rain or sunshine. This is a sensitive epic fit for any church venue. (8/10) An amazing song. If only I understood its objective. (Should I be on my knees?)

7. "Bye Bye Now" (5:33) tugs at one's heartstrings because of the presence of the spoken voices of small children. The integration of the child and mother's (and, later, father's) voices is done over the entire song, the first two minutes of which are constructed like a very slow dirge, over which Robbie Wilson begins singing--at first in solo, and later in chorus--at the two minute mark. The song threatens to pick up at 3:00 when the little child says "Bye!" but then quiets back down, lets the child and mother speak again, then takes the final minute to fade. At the end I find myself asking, "Why? What was the purpose of this song? What was he trying to say?" (8/10)

It is definitely a stunning album, start to finish. The long intros and exceptionally patient, delicate fades throughout the album make it an exercise in DELIUS/ELGAR/BRITTEN listening. Overall, I come away from listening to this album feeling as if I've just heard bits of FLEET FOXES and THE DECEMBERISTS playing over music by SIGUR RÓS, PAUL SIMON, DIRTY THREE, RADIOHEAD, and, of course, the three composer giants mentioned in the previous sentence. Despite the breathtakingly delicate, sensitive, beautiful vocals on display in The Village to the Vale and the sophisticated 'modern classical' musical constructs, there is a musical sameness, a kind of ennui that prevents me from giving this album 5 stars "masterpiece" status.

84.29 on the Fish scale = narrowly missing the 4.5 stars, near masterpiece status. Thus, a solid four star record that is highly recommended as an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Check it out! Decide for yourself. But come to the experience with time, quiet, and patience: you'll be amazed at what unfolds.



EDISON’S CHILDREN In the Last Waking Moments

This experimental collaboration of MARILLION roadie Eric Blackwood and PETE TREWAVAS has produced some absolutely gorgeous atmospheric The Wall-era PINK FLOYD-like Crossover prog. Great keyboard work fills every song and some pretty darn good guitar playing and singing, too. There is some kind of thread of repeated themes and sounds throughout the album. Overall the album has a kind of ART OF NOISE plays with PINK FLOYD and Hogarth-era MARILLION, with a more soulful IAN ANDERSON performing the vocalese. This is an album full of very catchy, engaging sounds, hooks, chords and lyrics and amazing production value.

Album highpoints: the gorgeous #5, "A Million Miles Away (I Wish I Had a Time Machine) (5:01) (8/10), the vocal on #6, "Outerspaced" (3:14) (8/10); the gorgeous #7, "Spiraling" (5:01) (10/10); the all-out rockin' #11 "Lifeline" (3:17) (8/10), and the regurgitative #12 "Fallout (of the 3rd Kind)" (4:01) (9/10), and; the beautiful epic, "The Awakening" (15:33) (10/10).

83.57 on the Fish scales = solid four stars; an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Not really very innovative or ground-breaking--it's all really very familiar, albeit, gorgeous, music.





SEAN FILKINS War and Peace and Other Stories of Love and Hate

I like Sean Filkins' voice. BIG BIG TRAIN's The Difference Machine is one of my favorite CDs of the Naughties. I like this album pretty well. I agree with a few other reviewers that it's a bit bombastic, at times a bit drawn out or overextended, and overall fails to really explore any new territory, however, it does contain some stellar moments and one song that, IMHO, deserves to be launched straight to the pantheon of prog epic masterpieces: Epitaph for a Mariner.

1. "The English Eccentric" (8:47) is is interesting for the way it feels heavy with out being really heavy at all. (It's the excellent bass playing.) A different vocal timbre from Sean with nice b-vox harmonies. "The cracks in the pavement..." section, with its standard power chords, is a bit overblown (despite some nice bass work). And there is a very pretty, medieval-ish section after the "Her father said..." line. Pretty good wah-ed guitbox solo to the end, too. (8/10)

2. There are outstanding parts to "Prisoner of Conscience, Part I: The Soldier" (19:22) (the flute and sitar intro section; the use of mandolin and acoustic guitars in the second section; the organ in the third section; the heavier, bass-led "I Don't..." section; and, the climax with excellent [John Mitchell?] guitar solo from 15:30 to end), but then there are parts that are, well, bombastic and overblown ("mist of sudden fear" and follow-up sections [12:30-14:38]--including the spanish guitar part). (8/10)

3. "Prisoner of Conscience, Part 2: The Ordinary Man" (11:02) has the unfortunate disadvantage of starting with a synth and synth bass foundation that sounds like it's been lifted straight out of JOURNEY's "Don't Stop Believin'," and, unfortunately, it doesn't get much better from there--almost "too proggy"--(like some Tangent, Flower Kings and Glass Hammer.) The piano-backed middle "So fragile...time stands still..." section helps--until the JOURNEY-like lead guitar (John Mitchell? really poorly mixed; IMO, not the right sound fit for this part) enters. A true neo-prog song. (6/10)

4. The topical theme suggested by the title "Epitaph for a Mariner" (20:53) conjures up comparisons to BBT's The Underfall Yard--which is unfortunate, because the lyrics and their emotional presentation were where I personally found flaw with Underfall. However, that is where the comparisons should end. The first three sections--one instrumental sans drums with female 'siren' singing, the second including a brief recorded voice of a sailor, the third an ANT PHILLIPS--like 12-string with synth wash section over which Sean sings his heart--is absolutely gorgeous. The fourth section gets heavier, with an awesome slide guitar floating around in the background, yet retains the intense emotion and fresh-feeling to it--and delightfully peaks with a spine-thrilling slide solo. Together with this being by far Sean's best vocal performance on the album, this song alone warrants the purchase, listen, and Top 10 standing of this album. (10/10)

5. "Learn How to Learn" (7:28) uses a really strange effect on Sean's lead vocal--which is especially noticeable in the quieter sections. The song's overall similarities to YES' "I've Seen All Good People" is rather enjoyable--including some rather esoteric, New Age lyrics I much prefer the move into the spacey, sitar w/tabla second/final section to that of "Your Move." (8/10)

A masterpiece? No. But a solid 4 stars. Admittedly, I came into this listening experience with some doubts, but I come away a believer. Sean & Company are for real!

An excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




UNEXPECT Fables of the Sleepless Empire

Not quite as innovative or stunningly fresh as 2006's In a Flesh Aquarium, this is still a music that is so unique, so intricate and layered, filled with such amazing instrumental (those voices, too!) performances that I can rate it nothing less than "essential." As noted by previous reviewers, this is a step forward, a maturation of the songwriting and skillful performing abilities of the band members. Amazing work. More immediately accessible than IaFA, too. (That was one crazy album!) But still out there--WAY out there. What's in the water and air in Quebec to produce such amazing music/musicians and creativity? Pick this one up, you 2011 naysayers. It's an earful--and then some! (P.S. "In the Mind of the Last Whale" has got to be one of the most poignant, emotion-packed, spot-on renderings of post-industrial--post-human?---Earth.)

Album highlights: 1. "Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest" (6:55) (10/10); 2. "Words" (5:58) (10/10); the middle section of # 4, "Mechanical Phoenix" (6:56) (8/10); the title of #6, a kind of amped up B-52s, "Unfed Pendulum" (7:55) (8/10); 7. "In the Mind of the Last Whale" (2:59) (10/10), the hillariously humerous 'operatic' "Silence This Parasite" (5:19) (8/1), and; 9. "A Fading Stance" (2:06) (9/10).

4.5 stars, rated down for the fact that this abrasive, amphetamine music is NOT for everyone. Metalheads, avant/RIOers, doomers, and lovers of gypsy rock will like this. A lot.



IONA Another Realm 

Astounding beauty. Memorable melodies. Mature, virtuosic performances. My disappointment with this album lies in the 'new' overt Christian message in Joanna Hogg's lyrics/message. On all previous IONA albums the lyrics have been more poetic, allegoric, the Christian message present but not so blatant, not so 'in-your-face.' Before, the poetry and imagery were able to blend in with the music. On Another Realm the band's music definitely plays secondary support to the lyrics' Christian message.

Favorite songs:  the VAUGHAN WILLIAMS-like instrumental, "Rauch" (6:21) (10/10), the simple, straightforward, folk-poppy "Speak to Me" (3:30) (10/10); the incredibly gorgeous, incredibly powerful closer of disc 2, "As It Shall Be" (3:17) (10/10); four star songs:  The East-meets-West spiritual "The Fearless Ones" (5:42) (8/10); the slightly-oriental (RYIUCHI SAKAMOTO)-sounding "Saviour" (5:07) (8/10)

A solid four stars though a disappointment when compared to previous IONA and IONA-related issues.




Italian keyboard specialist Paolo Ske Botta--also of FRENCH TV and YUGEN--has composed and performed some wonderful avant-prog songs with the help of several of Europe's AltrOck Productions premier avant-garde musicians--including YUGEN and KURAI members Francesco Zago (the mastermind!), Mattia Sign', Valerio Cipollone, Favio Ciro Ceriani, and Maurizio Fasoli (also of NICHELODEON), Nicolas Nikolopoulos (CICCADA), and Strasbourg's CAMEMBERT members Pierre Wawrzyniak and Fabrice Toussaint, ) This music is so difficult to describe, change for change, layer by layer, instrument by instrument because THERE ARE SO MANY! Changes, layers, themes, melodies, and instruments. Not quite as wildly discordant as YUGEN or UNIVERS ZERO, there are many more melodious and harmonious parts to SKE's music--complete with many of the unpredictable twists and turns of avant compostions.

1. "Fraguglie" (6:06) KING CRIMSON meets BILL BRUFORD's Earthworks meets ERIS PLUVIA meets CICCADA meets MILES DAVIS meets RUSH meets BRAND X meets KITARO! This song has it all!! (10/10)

2. "Denti" (5:11) has slower, heavier, almost cinematic feel to it. The presentation of specific and repeated melody lines makes this song feel nearly symphonic. A song with teeth! (8/10)

3. "Carta e burro" (4:57) ("paper and butter"?) is a fairly simple, almost nursery rhyme-like song which interweaves the wordless vocals of Roberta Pagani as an added instrument. The song has a lot in common, sound-wise, with Bill Bruford's early EARTHWORKS albums (sans batterie!) (10/10)

4. "Scrupoli" (4:12) has trouble drawing the listener in, emotionally, yet is filled with interesting and often delightful twists and turns. (7/10)

5. "Delta" (5:06) begins with an absolutely gorgeous foundation of arpeggios and melody lines by the woodwinds. The second section--almost an interlude--includes children playground noises in the background over which guitar arpeggios play very TOBY DRIVER-ish for a while. (10/10)

6. "Scogli 1" (2:13) tuned percussion, electric piano (and, later, other synths), bassoon and electric guitar dance around one another in an avant-KING CRIMSON exercise in polyphonic arpeggio weaving. Reminds me of a classical etude. (7/10)

7. "Sotto sotto" (5:35) feels like a slowed down continuation of "Scogli 1"--making it quite beautiful--including some beautiful Robert Fripp-like guitar sounds and riffs'in a kind of AFTER CRYING masterpiece. (10/10)

8. "Mummia" (5:24) brings the listener back into the realm of cinematic soundscapes. It is replete with tension and up- and down-tempo sections. Not my favorite but perfect for a 'mummy movie' and the song closest to 'mainstream' symphonic (or neo-) prog. (8/10)

9. "Scogli 2" (2:33) the second 'rock' or 'stumbling block'--though, IMO, rather more like an 'etude or variation' from the X-Files soundtracks. (8/10)

10. "La nefazia di multaulti" (6:29) is another song that tries to use the vocal talents of Roberta Pagani--but this time it doesn't work. Roberta is often off-key and her melody lines are too often following another instrument (usually synth) note for note, making her presence redundant. Plus, the song seems to lack vision and focus. IMO, this is the weakest song on the album despite some breathtakingly beautiful passages (3:45-4:45). The vocals are kind of like a failed version of Burt Bacharach's soundtrack to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (6/10)

11. "Scogli 3" (1:30) (8/10) opening piano arpeggios usher the listener into the best of the three Scogli variations. Organ emerges to take over the center section before woodwinds take us out--and into the album's finale,

12. "Rassegnati" (7:09) an at-times almost eclectic/heavy prog (think KING CRIMSON on its raw side) end to the album--and what an album it is! (8/10)

83.33 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album. This is one for the ages! Melody and technique; harmony with dissonance. Check it out! (Sample link is to a 3:35 long album "teaser.")



OPETH Heritage

Fascinating album! How many times can a band re-invent themselves? Like Conor above, I was immediately impressed with the drumming on this album. It is absolutely stunning. ANd, overall, I have to say that this is my favorite Opeth sound. I love the keys, am blown away by all musicians' skills and touch, actually really enjoy the vocals, but agree that the music seems to never really go anywhere. There is so little structure and/or point to each song's development as to leave me wondering--after almost every song--what were they trying to do there? These are not so much songs as impressionist pieces, or, better, Zen pieces: every moment could and does lead to something raw and unexpected. More RIO/Avant, to my ears. I am more reminded of YUGEN, HENRY COW, and UNIVERS ZERO (and maybe a little JETHRO TULL??--even ZAPPA) here than anything else. Still, this is a very interesting album--one that I will return to many times, I'm sure--which is more than I can say for "Still Life," "Blackwater Park" or "Damnation"--all of which I appreciate. I just don't feel the desire to revisit them very often. Nice job, OPETH. Check this album out. It really is worth it.




SANHEDRIN Ever After

An excellent album I saw appear on PA but was unable to hear until I discovered Progstreaming--What a great find that site is!! Sanhedrin has been a great listen--all instrumental, which I like, but not boring or predictable, and with great engineering and production. I love the flute-led melodies, but the entire ensemble is awesome. At times they veer close to cheezy 'smooth jazz,' but the layers, shifts, and sounds keep them on the side of prog. No, this is not CAMEL, but . . . there are moments . . . Still, a great infusion of fresh music. Highly recommended!

Solid 4 stars.



DUNGEN Skit I Allt 

A much more mellow romp through 60s-steeped psychedelic pop music than I'm used to by Dungen. Not as good as 2008's more upbeat or as experimental and instrument-oriented as 2004's Ta Det Lugnt but definitely worthy of your attention and listening.

Favorite songs:  the BURT BACHARACH-like opening instrumental, "Vara Snabb" (3:10) (9/10); THE CLIENTELE-like, 2. "Min Enda Vän" (3:15) (9/10); the rest are all solid 8/10s.

A solid album; definitely a four star outing.



SUNCHILD As Far As the Eye Can See

Wow! More great music from 2011 yet revealed! This is part great neo-prog, part theatric rock opera (reminds me of a very, very toned down kind of UNEXPECT, if you can envision that), part eclectic-world music. What this is not is boring music: the myriad tempo and mood changes are so unexpected and out-of-the-blue as to always keep me interested--kind of like From.UZ or The Mars Volta. Plus, there are many interesting musical instrument choices (though, in this age of computer programmed composition one can never know what is authentic and what is played on keyboard--and Kalugin is, after all, a master keyboard artist). Favorite songs include: "Ring of Eternity" (9/10), "Stars of Cardiff Bay" (8/10), and the title song (8/10). Though Kalugin's vocal stylings are eerily similar to both COLLAGE/BELIEVE's Tomek Rozycki and TFK/TRANSATLANTIC's Roine Stolt, there are many other co-vocalists who add quite a bit of spice to each song. Another great release from 2011, The Year of Prog! Highly recommended.



AMPLIFIER The Octopus

Some really great, though very dense (as in, 'very interesting; requiring a lot of the listener's attention') music covering nearly two hours! Wow! How luxurious would that be to be able to sit with headphones for a two hour musical journey! But, music of this calibur--production value, sound quality and compositional skill on par with the likes of PORCUPINE TREE, RIVERSIDE, ANATHEMA, PHIDEAUX and LUNATIC SOUL--may be worth it! As a matter of fact, if you're a fan of the above listed bands, you'll find a lot of sounds, riffs, and and structures to be very similar to each of those. Nice MARIUSZ DUDA-like vocals and beats throughout, lots of post-2002 PORCUPINE TREE heaviness, many of the subtleties for which PHIDEAUX is known and loved, and frequent reminders of the Post Rock feel of ANATHEMA and LUNATIC SOUL. Overall, though, I'd place thses guys--and particularly this album--in the category of 'RIVERSIDE/PORCUPINE TREE 2006;' probably better than In Absentia and head and shoulders with Second Life Syndrome. Well done. No weak songs. Just . . . a lot of music. 

Four stars; definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.



A surprising and sometimes unsettling listening experience from an avant group that definitely pushes boundaries in its employment of odd, theatric vocals over fairly simple, almost minimalistic folk/tango musical constructs. Experimental music at its oddest. Think of UNIVERS ZÉRO writing and performing a Allan Ginsberg or other Beat poet's work on a small, smoky stage, black and white the only colors under stage light. Female vocalist, Carolina Restuccia, most often sounds like BJÖRK singing in a Japanese Noh. Interesting but not a familiar or comfortable style (at least to these untrained, Western, ears). Fascinating, mesmerizing music that needs many listens to truly come to terms with. Do I like it? I'm still not sure. Ask me after another 20 listens. I would, however, recommend this album for the brave and open-hearted listener--one who likes to explore new, unfamiliar, and unusual musics. Like UneXpect, I very much respect and am in awe of these composers and performers. Unlike Factor Burzaco's first album, which felt more musically 'normal' and whose music provoked some interesting reactions, II is really an emotional experience delivered through music. The music, to my ears, of II is much more integrated and cohesive, i.e. all sounds, structures and musicians contribute integrally to the whole. 


1. "Beginnin" (1:51) gentle marimba, background horns, a male voice speaking as if in narration or in thinking out loud, and Carolina Restuccia's rapidly interjected syllables--what an amazing introduction to this group, this album. (10/10)

2. "Progressions" (4:53) is the most 'normal' and rockish song on the album--and my least favorite! (6/10)

3. "What" (2:23) begins as if the band is tuning. A very open-space sound--as if in a grand cathedral. Beautiful and powerful. (8/10)

4. "InMemorian" (5:39) begins with a vocal that sounds almost like chant--or a girl trying to memorize some facts for a test--and then, church music. Woodwinds 'blow' dissontant, sustained notes. The intermittent bursts of dynamic energy from the percussion department are most interesting for the delicate sections which immediately follow. (9/10)

5. "Guantanabu 1" (7:07) has a mesmerizing tuned percussion riff repeating itself over and over in a minimalist way while the same male voice from the album's first song whipers rapidly, while alternating with an operatic/liturgical voice. (7/10)

6. "Guantanabu 2" (1:38) is full of industrial sounds blended into something like Genesis's "The Waiting Room." (6/10)

7. "Guantanabu 3" (4:15) is probably my other least favorite song on the album mostly because of its abrasive bass work. (7/10)

8. "Straviko" (5:59) begins with Carolina's Björk-like voice, only she alternates farther into weirdness and classically trained singing styles--often within seconds of one another. She is fearless, uninhibited, pure Zen singer. It's a wonder the other musicians can match her, yet the music also darts all over the place. It is a stark and warm song, an spiritual and soulless song; it is one of the most bizarre yet fascinating songs I've ever heard. Truly avant garde. Astonishing that it is only in the final 30 seconds that a straightforward beat and driving message are ever established. If only I knew what message the lyrics were trying to convey, my opinion might be better informed. (9/10)

9. "Before the end" (0:32) is a brief piece with bassoon soloing over sound and musical incidentals.

10. "Mereditika" (7:34) is a beautiful soundtrack-like piece of mood-setting music--like something that should come from an ALFRED HITCHCOCK movie. Cool song. (9/10)



MEMORIES OF MACHINES Warm Winter

NOSOUND's multi-instrumentalist mastermind, Giancarlo Erra and NO-MAN's vocalist extraordinaire, Tim Bowness, united again--as they were for two songs on NoSound's 2007 masterpiece, LightDark--this time for an entire album of ambient Post Rock. Guest appearances by the likes of Robert Fripp, Steven Wilson, Colin Edwin, Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm (PAATOS), Peter Hammill, Julianne Regan (ALL ABOUT EVE), Jim Matheos (OSI, FATES WARNING), and trumpeter Aleksei Saks.

Favorite tunes: the trumpet accompanied and Fripp-infused "Lost and Found in The Digital World" (5:12) (9/10); the ambient neoclassically-tinged "At the Centre of It All" (7:26) (9/10); "Before We Fall" (5:11) (8/10); "Change Me Once Again" (5:55) (8/10); "Warm Winter" (5:33) (7/10), and; "Something in Our Lives" (4:09) (7/10). 

A pleasant album of nice songs in the typical Tim Bowness style. The guest performances make it worthy of the added effort in attentiveness.

3.5 stars rated up for consistency and excellent production.



NEAL MORSE Testimony 2

Much heavier than I expected! I'm not a Neal Morse (or SPOCK'S BEARD) fan, but I must admit that this album is better than my expectations. The sheer volume of high quality music and performances may bear this one out to be a 'masterpiece'--one for the ages--though to my mind this one is still a bit too KANSAS-like to vault it into such esteem. I have no problem with Neal's Christian message--as I have no problem with the despondent Goth messengers. This is just good music with emotion-filled vocal performances. The fact that Jesus and Christianity are what inspire Neal to deliver such performances is immaterial--we're just lucky his muse is so very strong.




SEVEN-SIDED DIAMOND Enigma

A little heavier than I like, but this is definitely an album of stellar performances and creativity! "Shine" (9/10) is my favorite, though the "Enigma" suite (8/10) is great, too. Nice to see that Latin America is coming to prog life! The future of prog looks very good if bands like this one, Haken, Camembert, Aisles, Airbag, Sean Filkins, Sanhedrin, Ciccada, Frequency Drift, My Brother the Wind, Karfargen, Sunchild, Unexpect, Fen, Autumn Chorus, etc., etc., ETC. keep popping up (out of nowhere!) What a year was 2011! Can '012 (or any year) top it?! It's tough to imagine!

4 stars--excellent addition to anyone's prog collection.



HUMBLE GRUMBLE Flanders Fields

More fun and fresh music from AltrOck Productions. These songs are much more straightforward folk/jazz--there's a 1940s/50s feel to this music--and clever English lyrics and quirky vocal presentations in the vein of Continent-lover Cole Porter and Brit Porter-lover Joe Jackson. Also a bit of a Rockabilly feel of the music  à la Stray Cats. Fun but, like Rockabilly, not for everybody, so adventure into this album with an open mind and open heart, prepare to be entertained and surprised while at the same time given a twinge of nostalgia. Excellent songwriting which reminds one that "they just don't write songs the way they used." Except, here there are some!

3.5 stars rated down ("good, but non-essential") because this music will not be everyone's cup of tea. If you like flamboyant, Porter-esque, Broadway show tunes, definitely check this out. Fans of Edgar Winter, The Cardiacs, Paul Weller, and Frank Zappa will probably enjoy this a lot.



STEVE HACKETT Beyond the Shrouded Veil

STEVE HACKETT is still a songwriter of great diversity of styles--all of which are on display in this album (as Steve is want to do on all his studio albums). I find Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, overall, perhaps the most accessible prog studio album Steve has done in about 30 years. Save for the Sketches of Satie album, IMHO, you have to go back to the Voyage of the Acolyte/Spectral Mornings/Please Don't Touch/Defector/Cured period to find as appealing and accessible a studio album as this one. (All of his live albums are great). He is still as gutsy and yet quirky a songwriter as he was 30 years ago. And an ubertalented guitarist.

Bravo, Steve! Thanks!

P.S. On the bonus CD I LOVE the cover of SOLUTION's saxophonist, Tommy Barlage's song "Divergence"--made famous by FOCUS's inclusion of it on Moving Waves' epic "Eruption" as part 6, "Tommy"--and by JAN AKKERMAN's inclusion of it on virtually all his solo live albums. Very cool! Would love to hear Steve and Jan Akkerman play/do an album or song together.



LEPROUS Bilateral

Probably the most accessible and melodic example of 'tech-extreme metal' (if in fact this album can still be categorized as such) I've heard since NEGURA BUNGET's 2006 masterpiece, Om. The songs are theatric--at times stage-like--and the lyrics quite comprehensible (with out crib sheet) and sung at a pace more akin to QUEEN or A PERFECT CIRCLE, instead of the frenetic psycho-pace of UNEXPECT. I am enjoying this album ten times more than Tall Poppy Syndrome--though I appreciated the skill and freshness of the latter. I still feel the fresh and unusual approach to song delivery of this band--and the skill of the performers--especially Einar's vocals. 

A strong four stars--perhaps even in line for some recognition for Top 10 of 2011 status



TRURL Don’t See Me Rabbit 

Alter ego of GLASS HAMMER's accomplished keyboard artist, Fred Schendel, "Trurl's" first album is actually something Fred had created back in 2004-6 but only decided to publish in 2011 thanks to progstreaming.com. A collection of very prog-oriented instrumentals well-worth checking out if sometimes a bit over the top or 'prog-by-the-numbers.' Still, highly creative and enjoyable music from a prog lover and very talented composer-musician.

3.5 stars rated up for consistency and true prog nature.



MAGIC PIE The Suffering Joy

A group I've followed with interest for several years now. Like TRANSATLANTIC, SPOCK'S BEARD, THE FLOWER KINGS, THE TANGENT and KARMAKANIC, Magic Pie seems to have some very high standards of technical proficiency and can create some awesomely complicated songs that are fun to listen to (and pretend to be able to play). BUT, also like the above listed, they seem to be doing, saying, or offering anything really new that YES, RUSH, IRON MAIDEN and other classic rockers haven't already said. It just seems a lot of show and not enough magic, melody and heart (though these guys may be a step up [a baby step] from the aforementioned groups. I particularly enjoy "Headlines," "Endless Ocean," the acoustic guitar (always the acoustic guitar work!) on "Slightly Mad" and "TIred" (as well as the vocals) and "In Memorandum." 

3.5 stars graded up for consistency of the level of composition and performance.



JONATHAN WILSON Gentle Spirit

A very pleasant collection of mellow acoustic guitar and piano-based songs written and performed by golden-voiced Laurel Canyon singer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson (formerly collaborator and background vocalist to Elvis Costello, Chris Robinson, Phil Lesh, Erykah Badu, Benmont Tench, Gary Louris, Vetiver, Dawes, and others. The album starts incredibly strongly, with one of my favorite songs from 2011, "Gentle Spirit" (6:28) (10/10), and then follows with a folk-AMERICA-feeling anthem "Can We Really Party Today?" (6:41) (9/10) before the excellent Crosby, Stills, Nash and America-like "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" riff-borrowing "Desert Raven" (7:58) (9/10) plays, but then the quality and freshness of the music begins to slide drastically. While songs 4 & 5, "Canyon in The Rain" and "Natural Rhapsody," are still pretty decent, the following eight songs are quite mediocre and repetitive.

Nice music, a three star album rated up for the opening four or five songs.  



Albums from 2011 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated




DISCIPLINE To Shatter All Accord

This is one band with an unfortunate case of split-personality. While their (few) studio albums present some great music, IMHO, there is always something lacking--something 'second rate'--in the engineering/production of those albums. In concert, live, the band brings an energy, a sound, a rawness, an emotional immediacy, a here-and-now type of feel to their music which is so much more, so much bigger, so much more vibrant and engaging, so much more powerful--the word 'devastating' even comes to mind--than their studio recordings. Front man Matthew Parmenter's show, his body language, his engagement in the act of embodying the persona of his lyrical message is so powerful--the Parmenter-audience connection is so necessary for the full effectiveness of his music, that the studio albums pale in comparison. A Discipline/Matthew Parmenter studio album is like seeing a two dimensional painting on a museum wall. A live performance--even a live album--is like experiencing a fifth dimensional out-of-body wet dream.
      I'm glad Discipline decided to try to 'preserve' studio versions of some of their long-time (and hitherto un-studio-recorded) live favorites. Unfortunately, for those of us who have gotten used to seeing MP/Discipline perform them live, these are static silhouettes of the live versions.

1. "Circuitry" (6:18) (7/10)

2. "When the Walls Are Down" (7:31) (7/10)

3. "Dead City" (5:17) (10/10)

4. "When She Dreams She Dreams in Color" (13:42) (9/10)

5. "Rogue" (24:05) (9/10)

3.5 stars; a nice addition to a prog lover's music collection.





AIRBAG All Rights Removed

I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this album. The band has moved far to close to PINK FLOYD--to the point of duplication, or at least sounding as if they were offering alternative versions or extended remixes of old PF classics. And Asle's amazing voice has been mixed far too back--amplifying its STEVEN WILSON timbres and singing style. I like the fact that the band has explored the longer, more extended song formats--and applaud their amazing replication of the PF/PT sound. But, 2009's Identity was such a wonderful album filled with amazingly rich textures, great vocals, awesome lead guitar solos, incredibly emotional chord and melodic progressions, and perhaps the best 'background' keyboard playing I've ever heard on ANY album. The band may be more mature, more polished, but their originality is, IMHO, a bit lost in the direction they've chosen. Still, FLOYD did some amazing music, and few have done it as well while truly being able to create 'original' songs that we all wish Pink Floyd had done (more of). 

1. "All Rights Removed" (8/10) sounds like Steve Wilson's "Time Flies;" the Floyd-imitation layers, sounds and structures are so precise it's scary!

2. "White Walls" (7/10) sounds as if it comes straight from The Wall.

3. "The Bridge" (6/10) is just too derivative/familiar for me.

4. "Never Coming Home" (7/10) has more of the Identity sound and feel . . . only, with the layers of Gilmour guitars (DSotM).

5. "Light Them All Up" (7/10) is an instrumental saved by an eerie keyboard background over which an Eastern European-sounding viola solos.

6. "Homesick I-III" (8/10) starts like another STEVEN WILSON-pays-tribute-to-PINK FLOYD song. Even the electric guitar kick in at the 1:20 mark are right out of Animals. But the, zoiks, an original (Airbag) section sneaks in from 2:10 all the way til a Richard Wright-like Hammond organ checks in at the 4:05 mark--followed by a fairly nice, NON-Gilmouresque solo. Synth washes with Floyd-like effects from 5:50 til 7:25 when a jazzy bass-line takes over, joined by cymbol play and R Wright's keyboard sound from "Welcome to the Machine" soloing to 9:05. Slow, methodic bottleneck electric guitar solo takes over (on a "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"-kind of  solo) as background rhythm section gains in strength, volume and urgency. Great section!! Ends in quiet key washes at 11:25 before
Gilmour's other "Shine on..." axe sound enters with, I swear, the duplicate tempo, instrumental support, and chord structure as "Shine on..." Oddly builds into a strumming crescendo at 13:40 before quieting down again at 14:05. Delicate electric guitar picking while synth solos in the background/R channel. Very interesting diversion. But, no! The guitar arpeggios from "Shine on... Part Two" enter... and are inverted! To fade. Interesting song. Obviously a tribute to "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." Nicley done.

Well made, extraordinarily performed. Unlike WOBBLER's Rites at Dawn, there just isn't enough truly original ARIBAG music here to prompt me to jump and shout.

4 stars.



STEVEN WILSON Grace for Drowning

Influences, imitations, and similarities be damned, this album is a psycho-sonic journey with few rivals in this 21st century. The problems are the length--i.e., the time necessary to immerse oneself into this music is considerable (and total immersion is where it gains its biggest impact). I find the vocals to be seldom-exciting, the lyrics rather banal and straightforward, and I often feel 'disagreement' or disappointment with Steven's unexpected shift in music mode or mood or his choice of which instrument he chooses to introduce next. "Odd," I found myself thinking time and time again with the changes, shifts or instrumental choices--usually two or three times per song. This being said, I do have a feeling that this album will come out in the long run being regarded as a great if not classic album of progressive music. It's just so intense and its power lies totally in its subtleties--of which the whole thing is:  one big subtlety--except when he pops out from behind a closed door in one of those dark rooms of his mind to try to scare the shit out of you. Don't get me wrong: There is great beauty here; but it's more of the kind of beauty that people appreciate through the works of Edgar Allan Poe (sans Poe's poetic command of the English language--though Steven's music may be just as expressive as Poe's poetry). As for the fan favorite, "Raider II": I've never been a fan of King Crimson's Lizard; I am no fan of "Raider II."

Five star songs: "Deform to Form a Star" and "No Part of Me."

Four star songs: "Grace for Drowning," "Sectarian," "Raider Prelude," "Remainder the Black Dog," "Belle de Jour," "Index," "Track One," and "Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye."

Three star songs: "Postcard" and "Raider II."

Overall rating: 3.5 stars rated up for incredible production, sound, and effort.



EGONON Risveglio

One thing is certain about the composition and execution of this album's songs: There is nothing simple or easy here! Each song packs in so much subtlety and so many twists that the listener barely has time to get used to a groove or melody when it's gone. If I have one complaint about Risviglio it is that there seems a bit of a formula at work here: the blending of soft sensitive intro sections with heavier B sections and then peppering the song with quirky brief little C sections, pauses, cadences or bridges. I admire the band's bold and effective blending of instrumentation and vocals (even languages!) rock, classical, Indo-Arabian Italian, and of course heavier elements of rock and roll. Yet even at its heaviest, the instrumentalists seem incredibly sensitive to the delicacies of their sound, of their intentions. Influences could be as diverse as AREA, OSANNA, BANCO del MUTUO SOCCORSO, LUNATIC SOUL/RIVERSIDE, KING CRIMSON or even A PERFECT CIRCLE.

1. "Phosforo" (4:16). I like the muted vocals and muted trumpets of the A parts, the heavier B parts make it sound like Maynard James Keenan's PERFECT CIRCLE. (8/10)

2. "Lacrime di luce" (6:50) begins with samples from Italian television. Gorgeous acoustic guitars and mellotrons enter to set up alternating channel lead vocals. Has a bit of LUNATIC SOUL feel. Love the first two minutes. Flute and deep male voice mellotron introduce next heavier 'chorus' section. Cool to hear "heavy" parts done with acoustic guitars and mellotrons. Interesting pause near the five minute mark. Again, PERFECT CIRCLE are my best comparison/reference. (9/10)

3. "Risveglio" (4:28) begins with sitar and drone. At one minute mark enters drums, followed by electric guitar power chords, but sitar, acoustic guitars and Middle Eastern-sounding flutes accompany! Ensuing pause filled by percussive notes of a ChapmanStick with cello playing over. After another round of the harmonized vocal part a voice is singing in Arabian. Saxophone and female voice! What an odd song using such wildly disparate sounds, tempos, and incidentals! To great effect. (9/10)

4. "Alma senza virta" (4:38) begins with cello and woodwind, then deep male voice, adding rolling toms and Arabian violin-like instrument as it builds into a heavier song. At three minute mark is an odd little section of double bass, woodwind and hand percussion, before song returns to original B and A parts. (8/10)

5. "L'uomo libero" (5:24) begins with vocal, backed by piano and soft electric guitar arpeggios before cello/viola joins. Vocal harmonies are quite typical of RPI. Pause filled by trumpet and piano, then cello, piano and voice. A distinctively Spanish feel to this song's melody and singing--not unlike THE GYPSY KINGS. Beat piks up at 2:20 and transmutes into an almost BLUE OYSTER CULT-like section (saxes make it stand out on its own). Electric guitars backed by mellotron again fill the background. As singers belt it out. Another lull at 3:50 in which plaintive voice sings over repeated electric guitar arpeggios and soloing trumpet. FRIPP-like electric guitar supplants voice for a solo along with the trumpet to end. (8/10)

6. "Voglio essere piccolo" (4:06) begins interestingly but then bleeds into a very pop-sounding B section. But the chorus section is heavier. The following vocal section is one of my favorites on the album: whispers, pleadings, great acoustic guitars. Then back to the chorus. At 2:05 a GENTLE GIANT-like multi-vocal display begins, morphing into a heavier ARJEN LUCCASSON-like section. At 3:05 drums bring us back to the lighter acoustic guitar section. Three songs in a row in which the lead guitarist has chosen a very familiar ROBERT FRIPP sound--dating all the way back to the early 70s. (8/10)

7. "Golgotha" (4:55) is begun with the sound of wind and a distant trumpet echoing from far away. Guitars usher in the heavier rock sounds, which fall away when the emotional soft vocals begin. Keening sound of an oud seems to accompany throughout (except for avant jazz section at 3:30). One of the album's heavier songs, yet as quirky and unpredictable as the rest. (8/10)

8. "Khamsin" (1:32) constitutes a lone male voice singing what sounds like an Arabic religious song. Pretty.

9. "Maya" (3:55) begins with some very typical RPI vocals but played over unusual instruments: Arabian strings (oud et al.) and female chants, flutes, bass, acoustic guitar. This could be something from an album by BANCO, AREA or OSANNA. Chorus section is built around electric guitar power chords and saxophone bursts. Excellent bass play throughout this song. What a complex weave! The Arabian themes continue, complete with some female Arabian vocals before and while the song gets heaviest (3:00). Fade with female vocalist singing in that middle Eastern keen. (8/10)

10. "Rosso asfalto" (5:41) is one of the few songs here that starts out on the heavy side and then settles back into a softer section before building. Some fast-speaking lyrics at times feeling as if they are delivering a tongue-in-cheek message. (Red asphalt?!) Ends with a phone conversation. These last two could have easily been from an AREA album. (8/10)

11. "Tra la notte e l'alba (4:03) begins rather delicately, synth and FRIPP "Moonchild"-like guitar notes, before kicking into a more evolved version of KC, say the Larks Tongue era. Less quirks and tricks on this more straightforward rock song. Not a favorite of mine. (But, then, neither is Larks Tongue-era KC.) (7/10)

12. "Tutto cia che avevo era un'anima" (3:52) is another song which makes me feel as if the band is getting a bit tired of diversity, seeking more to settle into more straightforward rock formulae. A little LINCOLN PARK, anyone? Great cello, though! The laugh at the end says it all--and I couldn't agree more. (6/10)

13. "Sul lato caldo della strada" (3:52) begins with that ominous delicacy that just shouts "Just wait: the loudness is coming!" But when the electric guitars come it is with the unexpected accompaniment of female choir and the a chorus sung in English ("Over the rainbow...") Nothing new or unexpected here. (7/10)

14. "L'abito bianco" (4:35) begins with some chanting, as if mountain monks from Eastern and Western traditions were joined together. The song that comes out of this chanting harkens back to a LINCOLN PARK/KING CRIMSON/KINKS union. (8/10)

15. "Coda 43 km!" (2:03) begins with some voices talking as if their in a highway underpass or tunnel. Pulsing reverse squeezebox and echo-treated trumpet join in as cars pass by from both right and left. By 1:10 the musical instruments have left and we are left with just the sounds of the passing cars. And then nothing.

The inventive, complicated compositions here are played and recorded incredibly well but leave me with the feeling that all is one, all are the same, no one song or melody or hook stays in my mind, haunts me, draws me back. I listen to this album from time to time--particularly since it continues to be so highly rated here on PA--but it has never been a labour of love. This music is, for me, interesting more than engaging. I find myself amused and entertained by the musicianship, creative constructs, and unpredictable instrumental combinations, but fail to come away loving this music. Recommended to all for the unusual experience each will take away, but I would not call this an essential addition to any prog lover's collection. For some it may become essential (especially RPI lovers), for others excellent, for still others only something good--a nice experience once in one's lifetime. I am probably of this latter category: once I've posted this review it is unlikely that I will ever return to this album again.

3.5 stars rated up for my appreciation of the talent and courageousness of its composers and performers.



HAKEN Visions

Okay. It's time. As of the time of my writing this review, Visions has been around for eight weeks. I've given its due time to percolate, sink in, resonate (or not). Sleek, polished, more refined and, IMO, less urgent to impress, than Aquarius, I find it fresh . . . and yet familiar. Full of melodies and hooks, interesting shifts and changes, and enough sophistication and subtlety to offset the forays into Devin Townsend/Porcupine Tree-like heavy/metal sound-walling. As a matter of fact, Haken sound as if they were a group of four or five Steve Wilson-Devin Townsend types who collaboratively come up with more fully developed ideas than the singular man ever could.
     I love the Latin rhythms in "Insomnia" (9/10)--though not quite sure of their relevance (nor of "history"'s) to one another. "The Mind's Eye" (8/10) is a bit too familiar and simple--kind of like a STYX song from Crystal Ball era. "Deathless" (8/10) is quite pretty, with a very patient, mature-sounding serenity in it. "Premonition" (6/10) and "Portals" (7/10)--though both full of interesting technical and very creative intricacies--are just too heavy to keep me listening. "Shapeshifter" (7/10) is all-too-familiar from so many Porcupine Tree albums. The two epics, "Nocturnal Conspiracy" (8/10) and "Visions" (8/10) are quite listenable, polished pieces that both pack a punch while never growing stale or boring. Ross Jennings' singing has definitely gotten stronger and more confident--as has the ensemble's collaborative compositional work. This is a very fine piece of artistry--very hard to find fault with, and masterful in many ways, yet, somehow, like Aquarius (and much of PT and DT) this just doesn't hit it for me--I have had to force myself back to Visions (as I did for Aquarius) time and again--not with enthusiasm or magnetism, but with duty and obligation: "Everybody else is saying this is a masterpiece, so I've got to give it a chance." And I have. Here is my review. Here is my rating. Like with Aquarius, it is doubtful I will ever be listening to this album again.



ANUBIS A Tower of Silence

I'm sorry, folks, but, IMHO this album in no way matches up to this band's previous effort, 230503. The music has much more of a straight-forward rock'n'roll sound and feel to it--like post-Secret Treaties BLUE ÖYSTER CULT or something. The lyrics and singing are flat and unemotional. The sound mix is horrible: the bass is too far back and muted/dull (despite having some very interesting lines)--it's very hard to hear them beneath the drums). Even the album's best song, the title track, "A Tower of Silence" (9/10) starts like some standard bluesy-rock JOURNEY ballad.

The 17-minute epic opener, "The Passing Bell" (6/10), starts with some interesting fire but turns out to not have much else to offer--has almost an A-B-A-C-A-B song structure, just spread out over 17:08!

"Archway of Tears" (7/10) begins with an interesting STRAWBS/GG/JTULL feel (harpsichord) but then falls into a straight rocker à la URIAH HEEP.

"This Final Resting Place" (7/10) again starts with promise but really never delivers: weak chorus (musically) very strange mix (voices way back, keys and bass way forward). It just doesn't ever develop, and, up until the last minute-and-a-half, behaves like another straightforward ABACAB rock song.

"Weeping Willow" (6/10) seems a poor imitation of that which MOON SAFARI is working on
mastering.

"And I Wait for My World to End" (8/10) has a very similar to "Leaving Here Tonight" feel to it (it's the singing)--and has a very pretty and powerful chorus, but fails to 'state something new' when compared to their previous album (one of my 10 favorite albums from 2009). Is it my imagination or is Roger James Moulding trying awfully hard to be Roger Waters with a Freddy Mercury approach? "The Holy Innocent" (8/10) brings the album back to long-length (and, therefore, prog??) songwriting. A nice song, overall, with some emotional performances and lots of familiar sounds (from the 70s--mostly Floydian--like the Gilmour guitar solo in the fifth minute, the Dick Parry sax solo and ticking clock at the fadeout. I forgot: This is Neo-Prog!) Banksian keyboard chord progressions--the most 'out of character' part is in the way the drums are recorded and mixed--so loud and far to the front (especially the cymbols).

The album's closer, the eleven-minute "All That Is" (7/10) feels like it came from GENESIS' And Then There Were Three... A pretty song that fades from memory as soon as the next one comes on. (Nice keys and drum work.)

After reading the rave reviews for this album over the past month or so I must admit I had pretty high expectations for this one. I flat out disagree. 230503 is still Anubis' crowning achievement. Take a rest boys; next time come back fresh and really inspired.

3.5 stars rated up for the fact that this group really tries to produce good quality prog--be it neo or not.

Why Disintegration?



Why is The Cure's 1989 release Disintegration my eighth favorite album of all-time?


The bass lines. Simon Gallup's bass playing on this album are second only to COCTEAU TWINS' Simon Raymonde as my favorite style and sound of bass play.

The beats. Boris Williams has an approach to creating unusual rhythm patterns similar to one of my other favorite drum stylists, Steve Jansen.

The guitars. Such rich, deep effects. The guitars can be in the background wash or right up front, they are all superb.

The keyboards. Dated but used so effectively. Roger O'Donnell is, in my hymble opinion, such an improvement over Lol Tolhurst.

The voice. Robert Smith. Is there anything else to say? There is only one Robert Smith, despite his common first and last names.

The moods conveyed. I don't know about the depressing, cynical feelings everyone seems to conjure up with regards to Goth God Robert Smith's lyrics and messages, but I am absolutely geeked and pacified by the music on Disintegration.

The song structures and styles. Long songs that let the grooves and Robert's emotions dig deep under your skin, wormhole into your mind.

"Last Dance." An intensely emotional ride with some great guitar, bass and drum riffs. Love the keyboard's orchestra hits. One of my favorite Robert Smith lyrics and vocals. (10/10)

"Fascination Street." One of the most fun songs to play--live or air band. Love that bass line! Love the extended EP versions as much, maybe more. (10/10)

"Same Deep Water As You." A murky aquatic journey into the blissful psychedelia of an opium den. Another awesome, emotional vocal; another smooth rolling bass line. Great background synths. (10/10)

"Disintegration." A powerful ride to the end. (10/10)

"Homesick" is kind of a beginner's attempt at KING CRIMSON's "Discipline" with different instruments doing their different melody lines, chord progressions, and rhythms, yet blending into one amazingly beautiful weave. Kind of a slowed down "Last Dance." Love the guitar sounds, piano, and almost conversational vocal delivery. (9/10)

"Prayers for Rain." An almost-raunchy rock'n'roll song from the Goth Gods. Love the toy piano and other dated keys. Cool effects on the vocals. (9/10)

"Lovesong." A pretty, catchy tune in the vein of The Beatles and XTC. Cool guitar sound. (8/10)

"Lullaby." Another pretty though more unusual, even bizarre, song harking a little back to older Cure music. Love the whispered vocal. Spider-Man! (8/10)

Many a listen on the Polks with my brothers to this one.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Why Don Juan's Reckless Daughter?



Why is Joni Mitchell's 1977 release Don Juan's Reckless Daughter my sixth favorite album of all-time?


The utter freshness and boldness of this kind of experimental 'fusion.'

The presence and playing of burning supernova Jaco Pastorius.

Joni's unique and unusual 'percussive' approach to playing acoustic guitar.


The presence, contributions, and integration of musicians from the Jazz Fusion group, Weather Report (Pastorius, saxophonist Wayne Shorter, and percussionists Airto Moriera, Don Alias, Manolo Badrena, and Alex Acuña).


The contributions of other guests such as The Eagles Glen Frey and J.D. Souther, Michael Guerin, Larry Carlton, Michael Colombier, and Chaka Khan.

Michael Gibb's orchestration. "Paprika Plains" and "Off Night Backsteet" are blessed with some earstriking orchestral work as composed and performed by Michael Gibbs and

The presence and contribution of black hipster, Art Nouveau.


The odd, obscure, adventurousness and yet accessibility of this collection of songs.


Joni's impeccable, crystal clear voice.

Joni's poetic, provocative, emotional, distinctive, and beautiful singing.

Joni's provocative, poetic, witty, intelligent lyrics.

Joni's unique phrasing.

The album art. Striking earth reddish brown and turquoise-blue sky colors contrasting as background/foreground to the photos and paintings of Joni.

The amazing duo of songs, "The Tenth World" and "Dreamland" which contains only vocalists and percussionists.

The beautiful, amazingly poetic and bloody-hand-inducing repetitive bass slide of Jaco Pastorius on "Don Juan's Reckless Daughter."

The percussion work of Airto, Don Alias, Alejandro (Alex) Acuña, and Manolo Badrena.

The amazing feat of an all-too rare 'perfect side' in Side 1 ("Overture/Cotton Avenue," "Talk to Me," and "Jericho"). Three amazing songs on so many levels.

The genius and courage to improv "Paprika Plains" with orchestration!

An altogether incredible jazz-pop experience, comparable only to that of Steely Dan's Aja.