Friday, February 7, 2014

My 60 Favorite Albums of the 1980s

1. COCTEAU TWINS -- Tiny Dynamine/Echoes on a Shallow Bay/Aikea Guinea (1985 EPs)
2. DAVID SYLVIAN -- Brilliant Trees
3. THE CURE -- Disintegration
4. COCTEAU TWINS -- Treasure
5. LOVE AND MONEY -- Strange Kind of Love
6. THE DREAM ACADEMY -- The Dream Academy
7. U2 -- Boy
8. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL -- Idlewilde
9. SWING OUT SISTER -- It's Better to Travel
10. HAIRCUT ONE HUNDRED -- Pelican West

11. GEORGE WINSTON -- December
12. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL -- s/t ("Eden")
13. SWING OUT SISTER -- Kaleidoscope World
14. BUDD/ENO -- Ambient 2:  Plateaux of Mirror
15. THE FIXX -- Reach the Beach
16. TEARS FOR FEARS -- The Hurting
17. RICKIE LEE JONES -- Pirates
18. ENO/LARAAJI -- Ambient 3: Day of Radiance
19. TALKING HEADS -- Remain in Light
20. DAVID SYLVIAN -- Gone to Earth

21. SIMPLE MINDS -- New Gold Dream
22. U2 -- October
23. JULIA FORDHAM -- Porcelain
24. PREFAB SPROUT -- Steve McQueen
25. STYLE COUNCIL -- Café Bleu
26. KATE BUSH -- The Dreaming
27. PAT METHENY -- As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls
28. AZTEC CAMERA -- High Land, Hard Rain
29. KATE BUSH -- The Sensual World
30. ROXY MUSIC -- Avalon

31. BLUE NILE -- Hats
32. BRUCE COCKBURN -- Stealing Fire
33. VANGELIS -- Blade Runner soundtrack
34. KING CRIMSON -- Discipline
35. ANITA BAKER -- Rapture
36. XTC -- Mummer
37. BRUCE COCKBURN -- Big Circumstance
38. PROPAGANDA -- A Secret Wish
39. BRIAN ENO & JON HASSELL -- Fourth World Possible Musics, Volume Two: Dream Theory in Malaya
40. GEORGE WINSTON -- Autumn

41. TEARS FOR FEARS -- Songs from The Big Chair
42. FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD -- Welcome to the Pleasuredome
43. PAT METHENY GROUP -- Still Life (Talking)
44. XTC -- Skylarking
45. PAZZO FANFANO DI MUSICA -- Pazzo Fanfano di Musica
46. THE POLICE -- Ghost in The Machine
47. GEORGE MICHEAL -- Faith
48. PETER GABRIEL -- Soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ
49. U2 -- Unforgettable Fire
50. TEARS FOR FEARS -- Sowing The Seeds of Love

51. KATE BUSH -- Hounds of Love
52. COCTEAU TWINS -- Blue Bell Knoll
53. RYUICHI SAKAMOTO -- Illustrated Music Encyclopedia
54. STEVE TIBBETTS -- Yr
55. STYLE COUNCIL -- Confessions of a Pop Group
56. PETER GABRIEL -- "Security"
57. LES MYSTÉRES DES VOIX BULGARES -- Les Mystéres des Voix Bulgares
58. JANE SIBERRY -- Bound By The Beauty
59. PETER GABRIEL -- "3"
60. SIMPLY RED -- A New Flame

My 40 Favorite Albums from the 1990s

My favorites--not just prog rock, but from all music--from the "techno/grunge" decade.

1. STEREOLAB -- Dots and Loops
2. BRAINSCAPES -- Chakradancer
3. OPUS III -- Mind Fruit
4. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL -- Walking Wounded
5. LANDBERK -- Indian Summer
6. SADE -- Love Deluxe
7. JULIA FORDHAM -- Swept
8. PAT METHENY -- Secret Story
9. AFTER CRYING -- Megalázottak é Megszomorítottak
10. COCTEAU TWINS -- Four-Calendar Café

11. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL -- Temperamental
12. STANLEY CLARKE, AL DI MEOLA, & JEAN-LUC PONTY -- Rites of Strings
13. BARK PSYCHOSIS -- Hex
14. JANET JACKSON -- janet.
15. SWING OUT SISTER -- Get in Touch with Yourself
16. LANDBERK -- One Man Tells Another
17. HAPPY MONDAYS -- Pills 'n' Thrills and Bellyaches
18. OZRIC TENTACLES -- Jurassic Shift
19. MY BLOODY VALENTINE -- Glider
20. SIGUR ROS -- Agætus Byrjun

21. JULIA FORDHAM -- Falling Forward
22. RYUICHI SAKAMOTO -- 1996
23. AFTER CRYING -- Overground Music
24. PORCUPINE TREE -- Sky Moves Sideways
25. JON ANDERSON -- Change We Must
26. COLLAGE -- Moonshine
27. EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL -- Amplified Heart
28. SEAL -- II
29. LUTHER VANDROSS -- Power of Love
30. PAT METHENY -- Imaginary Day

31. K.D. LANG -- Ingénue
32. THINKING PLAGUE -- In Extremis
33. NEW ORDER -- Republic
34. AFTER CRYING -- De Profundus
35. PEARL JAM -- Ten
36. ALANIS MORISSETTE -- Jagged Little Pill
37. MASSIVE ATTACK -- Mezzanine
38. QUIDAM -- Quidam
39. VOLARÉ -- The Uncertainty Principle
40. BEASTIE BOYS -- Ill Communication


Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Top Albums of the Year 2013: The Masterpieces



My Favorite Albums of 2013
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. The first is merely a list consisting of a Top 20 with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The ensuing Reviews are ordered according to my personal, more objective judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to my personal determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums.  

2013 offered some amazingly fresh music from many artists, most of whom were relatively new. What I noticed in 2012, the increase in the number of quality new studio releases in Prog World--is diverging into a phenomenon of new bands appearing on the scene--and a whole new generation of young artists entering the fray. 2013 was a very good year for progressive rock music--one of the best ever! I have on My Favorites List 19 masterpieces and 11 near-masterpieces. This upswell of new prog rockers and wonderful new music is very exciting!


The Rankings
(My "Favorites")

1. FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE Not This City
2. HOMUNCULUS RES Limiti all'eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto
3. THE GABRIEL CONSTRUCT Interior City
4. VOTUM Harvest Moon
5. EMPTY DAYS Empty Days
6. SETNA Guérison
7. KARNIVOOL Asymmetry
8. EDISON'S CHILDREN The Final Breath Before November
9. MIDAS FALL Wilderness
10. MIDLAKE Antiphon 

11. ULVER Messe I.X-VI.X
12. NOT A GOOD SIGN Not A Good Sign
13. TIRILL Um Himinjǫður
14. LIZARD Master & M
15. BROTHER APE Force Majeure
16. AIRBAG The Greatest Show on Earth
17. FLICKER How Much Are You Willing to Forget?
18. MIDDAY VEIL The Current
19. LIFESIGNS Lifesigns
20. KOSMOS Salattu Maailma


Honorable Mentions:
STELLARDRONE Light Years
INNER EAR BRIGADE Rainbro
SCARLET STORIES Scarlet Stories
DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS In Extremis
STEVEN WILSON The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)
INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE In hoc signo
THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Tale of The Golden King
UNREAL CITY La crudelta di Aprile
VIENNA CIRCLE Silhouette
THIEVES' KITCHEN One for Sorrow, Two for Joy
HAKEN The Mountain



The Reviews


***** 5 star Masterpieces:



 ***** Album of the Year for 2013! *****



1. HOMUNCULUS RES Limiti all'eguaglianza della Parte con il Tutto

A band from Italy in the AltrOck Productions stable whose debut album, 2013's Limiti all'equalianza della parte con il tutto, offers wild and humorous musical stylings that definitely evoke that light, airy Canterbury feeling. All songs (but one) are short (less than four minutes) and quirky in the SOFT MACHINE/Matching Mole style. Great keyboard and synthesizer work, drumming, and rhythm section as each and every song incorporates amazing and unexpected whole-band syncopation and tempo and key shifts throughout. The laid-back vocals of composer and Casiotone virtuoso Dario ALESSANDRO are awesomely soothing. The Di Giovanni brothers, Daniele and David on drums and keyboards, respectively, flutist Dario Lo Cicero and not one, not two, but three keyboard players (including AltrOck ubiquity, Paolo "SKE" BOTTA), serve Dario's songs amazingly well. 

Imperfect songs: 5. "Sintagma" (1:09) (8/10); 8. "Rifondazione unghie" (3:18) (9/10); 14. "Centoquarantaduemilaottocentocinquantasette" (2:06) (9/10), and; "Puk 10" (2:25) (9/10).  

Perfect songs:  All of the others! (14 of them!!)

This is the best Canterbury album of the 21st Century and perhaps the best of all-time!!

97.2 on the Fish scales = 5 star album; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.





2. AIRBAG The Greatest Show on Earth

O, frabjous day! Calloo, callay! They've finally done it, folks! The heirs-apparent to PINK FLOYD have finally fulfilled the enormous promise of their 2009 debut album, Identity; they have pushed past the imitative phase of their 2011 PF-clone/imitation album, All Rights Removed. Now that they have mastered the sounds and stylings of their ancestors, they have moved into new territory, creating fresh, new music. Yes, this is still close to the songs familiar to us all from the original Floyd, but AIRBAG have gotten their courage and confidence built up enough to, in effect, create new Pink Floyd music. That is, if the individuals and collective members of Pink Floyd had been able to retain the creative and explorative fires of their prime years (68-80), this is the five star music they would have been producing. All songs are incredible! All performances, all constructions, all sound and engineering choices are impeccably crafted. Check out these songs on YouTube: "Redemption" (7:07) (10/10); "Call Me Back" (11:16) (10/10), and "The Greatest Show on Earth" (7:03) (9/10).

96.67 on the fish scales = five stars; a masterpiec of progressive rock music. Again, take the beautiful melodies and masterful instrumental weaves of Identity and the Pink Floyd sounds and forms of All Rights Removed and you get this 2013 release, The Greatest Show on Earth.

Mega kudos, Asle, Bjørn, Henrik, Jørgen, and Anders: You have achieved what I thought possible for you: A masterpiece of progressive rock music! This one is for the ages, boys!




3. SETNA Guérison

Imagine the most hypnotic Zeuhl grooves that MAGMA has ever given us, blend it with the accumulated best Canterbury instrumentation that any of Dave Stewart's bands ever gave us, arrange it all with the most positive, uplifting chord progressions and gorgeous male and female vocal melodies imaginable, then use the best technological advantages that 2013 gives us and you get a glimpse into what France's SETNA's second album, Guérison, has to offer. It is beautiful, sublime, hypnotic, and so spiritually uplifting! Each of the five songs is sub-divided, but, in effect, the album has a straight-through flow not unlike many Magma albums.
     Every song and, in fact, each sub-song has idiosyncrasies worthy of high praise and long discussions (as well as repeated listens), but "Cycle II (c)," "Tryptique I (c)," "Tryptique II (a)," and "Tryptique III (b)" and "(c)" stand out particularly strong for me--should you want to listen to a few pieces in order to get a feel for the album, these might be just the ones cuz they display quite a broad spectrum of the sounds, feels and styles offered here.
     The "Guérison" suite (link to YouTube extract) feels separate, a bit more atmospheric, more displaying of rhythms and percussion, and, until the interesting Part "(c)," a slight step down from the previous two suites (four songs, eleven sub-songs). Still, this is one of the best releases I've heard from 2013, one of the best Zeuhl or Canterbury albums I've ever heard, and an album that will likely grow in my esteem as it occupies my turntable for the upcoming months. Click here for access to YouTube video of a live performance of "Tryptique Part I."

96.0 on the Fish scales = 5 Stars; an unquestioned masterpiece of progressive rock music.




4. FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE Not That City

Out of the ashes of RATIONAL DIET rises this phoenix of incredible power and beauty--in my humble opinion, an album ten times better than the very well crafted albums of its predecessor. Yes, Five-Storey Ensemble is the spawn of RATIONAL DIET. RATIONAL DIET founding member and reed player, Vitaly Appow, and keyboard/vocalist Olga Podgaiskaja, of the final two RATIONAL DIET albums, At Work and On Phenomenon and Existences, are principle composers here, while violinist, Cyrill Christya, and bass guitarist, Dmitry Maslovsky participate on several songs.
     While I thoroughly enjoyed the Avant/RIO/Modern Chamber musings of RD, I was quick to zoom in on Not That City once it was posted on progstreaming.com. Bam! Was I broadsided! This album blew me away from the opener through to the last song. It’s music is reminiscent of RATIONAL DIET but, like ARANIS, it is much more melodic. Plus, vocals play a much more important role in defining their sound. The vocals here are used more operatically—and really only used in the forefront of four different songs. Whenever the male tenor and female soprano voices perform I find myself reminded of Goreki’s Third Symphony. Even though vocalists Sergey Dolgushev and composer and keyboard player, Olga Podgaiskaja, respectively, employ operatic approaches stylistically, their vocals are often used almost more as additional instruments—which has the tremendous effect of deepening the conveyance of emotions within each song. And each singer makes such a distinct and different contribution to the songs with their voices—often at the same time--that it has the effect of bringing two very different, almost divergent threads into the emotional weave.   

1. The Harbinger” (5:51) opens the album with some long, sustained note playing from accordion player, Alexander But’ko. He is then gradually joined by violinist, Anastasia Popova, and oboist, Natalja Malashova, all weaving their magical notes together, slowly, deliciously. At the 2:20 mark pianist Olga Podgaiskaja, bassoonist Vitaly Appow, and double bass player Vyacheslav Plesko join in, taking the music into more staccato, rapido mode for several measures before fading back to let the original weave evolve. This cycle of piano- and bass-infused tempo upgrade recurs twice more, before the third occasion, in the third minute, ion which a prolonged, sustained dark theme more suited to PRESENT or UNIVERS ZERO is presented and built upon. This continues until 4:15 when an additional thread of color is provided by male vocalist, Sergey Dolgushev. We then see the song devolve into a final weave coming from Sergey’s plaintive voice and Alexander’s emotional accordion.
     Awesome song—though it does get drawn out a bit in places. I’ve heard this song in three different formats now, album version and two different live performances with two very different instrumental lineups (one more expanded, like the album version). (The YouTube link I provided is to a video recording of the song being performed by the band in front of a live audience.) Each has its strengths and charms. (10/10)  

2. “Bondman’s Wings” (2:24) is a short, beautiful and powerful 'folk' instrumental using accordion, bassoon, oboe, and stringed instruments (with some military-like percussion) to tell its tale. Charming! (10/10)

3. “The Incommunication” (5:22) uses alternating female and male vocals as if in conversation. It sounds so romantic yet spiritual, almost religious. Sparse instrumentation of long sustained chords accompany the vocal until the two minute mark when a kind of Renaissance courtly music dances us into another dimension. Incredible constructions of seemingly independent instrumental voices all woven into a spacious yet multi-layered tapestry of exquisite beauty! The voices return for the final two minutes, this time woven within the multi-layered tapestry (a bit too much going on here for these ears). (10/10)

4. “To Ringfly” (3:11) begins as a rondo between accordion, bassoon and percussion and plays out very much in that format with the occasional instrument added here or there. One of my favorite instrumentals, very much in the vein of the best of AFTER CRYING. (10/10)

5. “A Disappearing Road" (4:42) To pulsing bassoon, and drum are soon woven in with accordion and other woodwinds. The first third is very Baroque/Renaissance processional feeling, but then structure shifts at about the two minute mark, taking on a more squared, constant feel, and then again at the 3:20 mark in which cacophonous strings play wildly over a woodwind section that holds long, long notes in strange discordant harmonies. Interesting and unusual. (9/10)

6.     “The Unpainted” (7:57) is a haunting, even disturbing song beginning with simple piano arpeggio, double bass, and intermittent injections of string or woodwind instruments. Just after the one minute mark, the discordant tones of a female vocalist enters in low registers, then slowly climbs, octave by octave, until a minute later she is singing her dirge in her highest soprano register. Piano, strings, and woodwinds work themselves into until at 3:35 drums join in to accentuate the drama. A few seconds later and all has calmed down to 'solo' piano attended very sparsely by injections of winds, strings, percussives and, in the sixth minute, an electric guitar(!)--all painting a picture of the most ominous and despondent tones. The most UNIVERS ZERO-sounding song yet! (8/10)

7.     Yesterday Dormant” (5:40) is a classical sounding discourse between male and female vocalists. Very powerful. I love music like this (no matter that it's being sung in a language I neither know nor understand.) It kind of reminds me of a more classical sophisticated version of Jon Anderson's "Chagall Duet," a conversational duet he did with Sandrine Piau from 1994's Change We Must. Beautiful music! Very powerful in the way that Sergey’s tenor is so strong, staccato, and positive while Olga’s soprano is so delicate, melodic and pleading. (10/10)
8. “The Protector” (3:22) uses oboe and piano over rapid hand drumming--all of which makes me feel very at home, as if I were at a Renaissance Faire. The slowed down piano chord hits with cello and percussion section that begins around the 2:20 mark is quite devastatingly sad, a mood that is then quickly dispelled with a return to the opening section. But the song then concludes with a half-a-minute of some very ambiguous chords and feel. (9/10)

9. “Fear-Dream” (3:47) piano, strings and bassoon dominate this one, though accordion, oboe and a little percussion are also involved. It's very powerful and emotional. Electric guitar even joins in for some soloing a couple of times--especially during the last minute. This one reminds me of the music of one of my favorite modern groups, KOTEBEL. (9/10)

10. “Amid the Smoke and Different Question” (6:31) starts out sounding like a Broadway/operetta, even Moulin Rouge-ish. A male vocalist sings over the simple support of long, sustained accordian chords, and later is accompanied by an almost-separate woodwind dance, then another separate, discordant thread comes from strings, and then yet another seemingly unrelated theme arises from the deeper woodwinds. It's as if several small troubadour groups are parading through a town center, criss-crossing at the center, each playing its own little diddy as it passes by where the tenor continues, unphased, singing his plaintive dirge. Brilliant and gutsy! (9/10)

11. “Not That City” (6:57) (YouTube link is to a video recording of the song being performed by the band live [before a "dead audience"!]) The recording of the band performing begins as a rondo between oboe, chor anglais, and bowed double bass and then accordion. Then harpsichord takes over! The other instruments join in in a frolicking folksie tune with the accordion and chor anglais kind of dominating the twin melody lines. The at 2:15 all stops and piano enters to take over lead melody and rhythm making while all other instruments slow down in long languorous sustained notes in gorgeous harmonies. At 3:32 it happens again, everything stops and adjusts to a section in which strings lead the basic rhythm while all else pulse and dance around them (even the double bass and viola). Another shift allows the song to play out its final minute in a very dreamy, mysterious but beautiful way. Incredible song! My favorite on the album. Were I a music theorist I might appreciate and enjoy this even more—it seems so bold and daring.  (10/10)

Without a doubt Not That City is one of my favorite album of the albums I've heard from 2013. It's music excites and mesmerizes me, its constructs surprise and delight--they raise my hopes for the possibilities of music and for the possibilities of humanity.

94.5 on the Fish scales = 5 Stars, unquestioned; six if it were allowed (occasionally). I've not been this excited about a new album since MAUDLIN OF THE WELL's Part The Second blew me away back in '09. Stunningly creative and fresh.




5. MIDLAKE Antiphon (2013) is Midlake's first album after the departure of front man and chief songwriter Tim Smith. Tim Smith's talents are considerable but Antiphon shows us just how talented Smith's band mates are--and how their founder's talents may, in fact, have overshadowed and suppressed the full display of Midlake's true potential. This is an amazing album. And truly a Prog Folk album. One of my favorite Prog Folk albums of all-time--and preferable to Van Occupanther.

I am in total bliss as I listen to songs 5 through 10, "Vale" (4:31), "Aurora Gone" (4:38), "Ages" (4:39), "This Weight" (3:34), "Corruption" (5:18), "Provider Reprise" (5:01) are all, each and everyone, masterpieces of Prog Folk.

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




6. LIZARD Master and M

Probably the coolest album I’ve heard from 2013 and definitely the one I’m most hooked on. Not since MAD CRAYON’s 2009 release, Preda, have I heard an album with so many diverse influences so well melded together. There’s KING CRIMSON—lots of King Crimson—but the band has somehow enmeshed within it sounds and styles from 80s techno pop (I hear THE BLOW MONKEYS, KAJAGOOGOO, ABC, ICEHOUSE, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, and, especially, MINIMAL COMPACT), 70s metal (the reminder of BLUE OYSTER CULT—especially in Buck Dharma-like lead guitar soli—is strong), 80s pop metal (DEF LEPPARD and WHITESNAKE immediately come to mind) and even late-70s jazz fusion (e.g., EARL KLUGH, BOB JAMES, FREDDY HUBBARD, NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN), all covered with amazingly gorgeous and powerful vocals—all sung in Polish! Infinitely melodious yet interestingly constructed and, amazingly well mixed/engineered and produced.  
     Amazingly, I have to give five star ratings to all of the songs (all given the simple designation of “Chapter,” I through V) with four of them achieving my own personal (10/10) highest rating. If the album has a weakness it would be in the fairly straightforward drumming and predominance of straight rock time signatures. The singing of founding member, Damian Bydliński, the bass playing of the only other member from the original band, Janusz Tanistra, the keyboard work of newcomer Pawel Fabrowicz, and the electric guitar work of Daniel Kurtyka are all extraordinary—top notch—each a real joy to tune into.

Man, Poland and Italy are where it’s at in ProgWorld these days! 

94.0 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Great creative originality.

P.S. Check out their awesome website! as well as these YouTube links:  "Chapter II" (10:37); "Chapter V" (13:26), and; "Chapter I (Single Edit)" (9:19).




7. TIRILL Um Himinjǫður

This is the most recent solo release from this true master of the folk-centric Prog Folk sub genre, Tirill Mohn. Her work with the original WHITE WILLOW lineup on 1995's Ignis Fatuus and her other more recent collaborative project, AUTUMN WHISPERS, are well, well worth checking out as well. During my listening of this album I found myself remarking for the first time at how similar Tirill's voice has evolved to sound like that of enigmatic American singer-songwriter,  JEWEL.

Album highlights for me include: the heart-wrenching harmonized singing and melodies of "Serpent" (4:40) (10/10); the multi-layered choral approach to "Fagrar enn Sol" (2:56) (10/10); the awesome male-female duet, "Muzzled" (4:56) (10/10); the gentle "Voluspa" (3:08) (10/10) which is sung in Tirill's native language; the mellotron-drenched "Moira" (4:46) (9/10); "The Poet" (5:04) (9/10); the medieval folk song, "Quiet Night" (3:07) (9/10), and; the album's most proggish and 'mini-epic,' "In Their Eyes" (9:25) (8/10). 

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




8. EDISON'S CHILDREN The Final Breath Before November

A late release in 2013, it’s taken me this long to get to listen to this album and now that I know it intimately I write my review and prepare to adjust all of my year-end rankings to make room for this masterpiece of prog ear candy. 

1. “Final Breath” (4:04) opens with some ominous incidental noises and sustained notes before an old player piano and synth exchange supporting melody lines. Pulsing synth bass and other instruments slowly gather around until drums declare the song to be in the style of Pink Floyd, not a cinematic soundtrack. (8/10)

2. “Light Years” (7:33) opens with a strumming 12-string not unlike George Harrison’s infamous “My Sweet Lord” before a somewhat cheesy upper register electric guitar melody line joins in—introducing and, later, mirroring the vocal melody line. Drawn out over minutes it becomes a little tedious. The second solo guitar line added at 3:25 is no better. The vocal could very well come from Fish—especially his more rock oriented solo stuff-even his album of the very same year, A Feast of Consequences. Nothing very special here, though the unusual ‘second song’ that begins at the 6:20 mark is a bit more original and a notch more interesting. (7/10)

3. “Silhouette” is an epic masterpiece. Thirteen to nineteen song threads woven together into one long story have an atmospheric quality that captivates the listener even through the heavier sections. The opening two sections (“i. Silence Can Be Deafening, Part 1” [6:47] and it’s companion, “ii. Welcome to Your Nightmare” [3:16]) are so hypnotic, so comfortingly, beautifully engaging, as to lay the groundwork for the totality of the 67 minutes. 
     “iii. Where Were You?” (12:01) has such awesome, pleading and floating vocals over Floydian rhythm tracks with Dave Gilmour/Mirek Gil-like lead guitar play. Could anyone sing “It’s in my head” with any more feeling and vulnerable power than Pete Trewavas? Awesome lead guitar play in “iv. The Loging [7:48].
     “v. The Morphlux” [3:12] is interesting for it’s departure from the flow and synth domination of the previous 30-minutes. Oud, acoustic guitar and hand drums lay down the base for the theatrical whispering Genesis-like Gabriel vocal. Once the rock instruments bash their way in the song rollicks along with a relentlessness that is just awesome! All-out vocals and Hackett-like guitar leads carry this song to prog heaven! 
     The sudden and complete switching of gears at the transition into “vi. I Am Haunted” [2:51] is interesting if a bit off-setting. Then, just as suddenly, we enter into a reprise of the opening themes with “vii. What Do You Want?” [2:04] only this one amped up with two channels of prog-heavenly lead guitars, which, then transitions rather (too) quickly into the atmospheric four-part “viii. The Seventh Sign [7:01], a very Pink Floyd Wall-era sounding song, complete with a Gilmour-rivaling solo.
     Suddenly we find ourselves back in the Morphlux theme with the disturbing effect of multiple vocals vying for our attention (“ix. The Second Coming of The Morphlux” [3:08]) before fading/floating us back into the awesomeness of the soundscape of Silence Can Be Deafening (Part 2) [5:13]—though a decidedly more echo-y and atmospheric version. This, however, allows the drum play to stand out much more—and awesome is that drum play as it builds and plays with Pete Trewavas’ excellently layered synthesizer extravaganza and Eric’s beautiful Mirek Gil-like guitar leads. 
     By the time we flow into the exquisite nine-minute instrumental “Music for The End Credits of an Existence” we are wondering how much longer these guys can maintain this high level of inspiration, creativity, and emotional output. Incredible! The final 100 seconds of “The Clock Strikes November” teases us with a little ditty from The Morphlux themes in order to try to bring some closure to this amazing sonic journey. Perfect! 

I cannot imagine someone not enjoying this song! Even my wife keeps chiming in to ask who’s singing, who is this playing, what are they singing so beautifully about? I have even found myself pushing replay while working with this song in the background—and been curious enough to follow the lyrics through an entire listening. Is it a ghost story or a story about a lost part of life, an older identity, a past life, a look back into the past at an older version of one’s self or another? It’s no matter. It’s gorgeous, composed, performed and sung with heartfelt emotion and excellent, excellent engineering and mixing. Kudos, Pete, Eric and helpers. Thank you for keeping beautiful progressive rock alive—ney, giving it a great booster shot of fresh life! I am ever so grateful!!

93.0 on the Fish scales = Five stars. A masterpiece of atmospheric, melodic spacey progressive rock.




9. THE GABRIEL CONSTRUCT Interior City

I’m not sure if composer/multi-instrumentalist Gabriel Riccio intended for this amazing Eclectic/Post Rock album to be a flow-through concept album, but that has been the only way that I’ve been able to hear it. Something in this music and album concept is reminiscent of DEVIN TOWNSEND’s Ziltoid The Omniscient. The humour, the vocals, the high dynamic musical parts, and even the theme of cultural brainwashing, conformity, oppression, fear and isolation (though Devin addresses it more through implication and is more tongue-in-cheek humorous) are quite Ziltoid. While I consider Ziltoid a masterpiece, this is better.
     MUCH better.
     The music influences and styles chosen for Interior City are so much diverse—more diverse than any album I’ve heard in the new modern age of Prog Rock. Gabriel’s influences range from 20th century classical composers Olivier Messiaen and Ligeti to 70s proggers Yes and King Crimson (old and new) to jazz maestro Charles Mingus, to rockers DEFTONES, NINE INCH NAILS and current master Devin The Magnificat--and these influences can be heard in every song, though I am excited to shout out that this young man has a sound and style quite new and refreshing—one that is all his own. Plus, he has surrounded himself with some stellar talent—especially in drummer extraordinaire, TRAVIS ORBIN, bassist, THOMAS MURPHY, and violinist, SOPHIA UDDIN, saxophonist, Sornen LARSEN, and guitarist DAVID STIVELMAN--all of whom, sadly, will probably not be appearing with Gabriel in his live touring band or on future albums due to his recent relocation from the East Coast (Philly & Maryland) to Chicago.
     Anyway, this is an album that I want everyone to hear—and I mean everyone! It is so accessible yet so fresh and creative, so powerful yet witty (just look at the song titles), and it’s filled with such virtuosic instrumental performances (listen to Gabe’s command of the piano instrument!). Plus, this album is incredibly well engineered and produced. (Did I mention how amazingly well engineered and produced this album is? Mega Kudos Engineer Garrett Davis and Mix-Master/Producer Taylor Larson!)

1.     Arrival in A Distant Land” (6:52) opens the album with what at first sounds like a strum across the strings of a zither—until one realizes that Gabriel is playing the strings of a piano from inside, “under the hood,” so-to-speak. This familiarity and facility with the piano instrument is displayed to great—no, to amazing—effect throughout the album.  The chord sequence played in the bass clef climbs to the middle ranges at the 2:20 mark while the notes popped in the upper registers are still flying along in seemingly random and discordant patterns and time. At 3:13 Gabriel’s gentle, almost frightened sounding voice enters with a gorgeous melody and chord foundation. I believe he is here setting up the contract one’s soul makes when a commitment to Earthly incarnation is made. “I can’t get out” is the plaintive scream powerfully expressed—assumedly at the moment of realization that this commitment to human life is real and ‘permanent.’ “Welcome home. This is your home now,” he sings before resuming the unusual and seemingly random ‘interior’ piano play till the song’s end.  (10/10)

2. “Ranting Prophet” (4:51) opens with the same piano and gentle voice until at 0:48 a burst of multiple track harmonized voices and full rock ensemble enters. Violin mirrors the anxious vocal of the protagonist and his slave-driving ‘over-soul/unconscious—a voice that takes turns trading barbs with that of the protagonist for a minute before a cohesive chorus seems to insist that he’s condemned to being addicted to pretending that your someone.(!) Crazy violin solo exacerbates the insanity of this news—the idiocy of this internment.  (9/10)

3. “Fear of Humanity” (8:02) opens with some great piano chords and screechy violin scratches flitting about all over the soundscape. A deep-voiced baritone lead vocal enters to announce that “I’m afraid of humans” and, later, “I’m afraid of tumors.” This low-register male voice is so unexpected, so unusual and disarming that it is utterly refreshing and genius. At 3:30 the song shifts into high gear with drums, support instruments and ‘scatting’ vocal choir racing along with police sirens, industrial noise and growls. The “entities” chasing and pursuing the 5:39 adds a nice electric guitar riff which turns into a kind of group solo. The drummer’s sense of timing throughout is breathtakingly fluid in its precision and confidence. At the seven minute mark there is another shift as the band congeals for a brief cool coda. Return to the entity chase—it seems that the musical accompaniment is growing more and more chaotic and overbearing when suddenly--!! (10/10)

4.  in the transition and intro to “My Alien Father” (4:46) a solo piano arpeggiates a gorgeous intro. A treated higher register male voice enters speaking of the alien chase and their X-men-like “shapeshifting” tactics. Brilliant vocal harmonies are used. “They’re out there.” ”They watch us.” “Please greet me,” pleads the protagonist. (Awesome fretless bass work here!) “Will you enslave my body and mind or will you bring me to life?” precedes an awesomely layered, multi-melodied and all-too-brief instrumental section reminding me of the absolute best of anything Sir Robert of Fripp has ever done. (10/10)

5. “Retreat Underground” (2:38) takes off running with drums, piano, and bass playing at seering speeds while the Devin Townsend-like vocals (solo and multi-layered/beautifully harmonized) sing over the top. (9/10)

6. “Subway Dwellers” (5:32) bleeds from the preceding song while shifting tempo and style to a little more of a pop-jazz structure (though using the same instrumentation). The use of many cacophonous background voices/samples truly lends to the “subway dwellers” effect. Creepy and eerie. If I have a complaint with one part of this album it is with the part of the album that begins with this song: the music becomes a bit repetitive and monotonous as the lyrics become more important to listen to (something I am not particularly well-suited to). The song is good, the structure good, just too much the same—until the Tears For Fears section in the last 30 seconds of the song.  (8/10)

7. “Defense Highway” (10:49) opens slowly, as if having trouble developing into a groove, but then, thanks to the direction of the violin, structure coagulates and the song gets up and goes. Another Devin-like racer with great screeching and voice-warbling to illustrate the protagonist's fragile grip on reality and self-control. A delicate, quiet part in the fifth minute seems to  Amazing drum work throughout this song. An incredible section beginning at the 5:38 mark with “Walking…” is so familiar yet so brilliant—alternating fast and slow, running and collapsing, running and hiding, running and giving up, letting go. This song is all over the place but so incredibly powerful in its representation of yin-yang duality, the human rollercoaster, the madhouse and house of mirrors that we all walk through every day. The chaos at 8:35 is again won over by the gentle piano play and angelic vocal choir. At 9:38 Gabriel once again whips out an incredibly moving chord progression and beautiful vocal section—which then quickly morphs into an out-of-control race of fuzzy freneticism. Even the winning piano and ensuing saxophone triumphant are a bit out of control. Am I listening to the modern-day version of Rael and Brother John’s trip through The Ravine? Will they come out with IT—with the realization that all is one, all is illusory, all is part of the game to which we all contracted our irreversible participation? (10/10)

8. “Inner Sanctum” (7:34) is very reminiscent of many of the heavier song parts and grungier styles from TOBY DRIVER’s Kayo Dot and maudlin of The Well projects—and this one, too, gets a little overwhelming with its barrage of cacophony coming at me from so many depths and directions. Still, I understand the point being made here: it is only through incredible strength and perseverance that one can fend off the incredibly distracting and overwhelming cacophony of external noise in order to find, strengthen and maintain the Inner Voice. The electric guitar and violin clattering for front-and-center attention at the  three minute mark seem to feel triumphant and hopeful. This then is followed by a very TD-feeling nightmare-dream-feeling section of purposely plodding, monotonous heavy discordant music while the droning, slowly drawn out treated vocal seems to descend into the murkiness. As if sucked into the tar, “Goodbye,” he repeats, as he gives in—and before the crazed cacophony of wildly random bashing and crashing of all instruments closes the song. (9/10)

9. “Languishing in Lower Chakras” (11:09) finds the listener hearing the stillness, peace, and near-calm of the protagonist after the chaos of internal battle, after the psychic meltdown. Musically, Gabriel uses the gentle yet randomly flitting and floating piano play of the opening song to create this place of calm retreat.  Gradually these notes become . . . organized—are joined by supportive elements—electric keyboard, clapping, sounds of feet running, PA voices, television voices, angelic humming and gathering of energy—all swirling gently but with an increasing element of organization and insistence, of wakefulness and strength. Are these the distractions trying to lure this catotonic creature back into the world of action and reaction? Is he returning to consciousness? Or is he dying but hearing his last voices and noises from Earth Plane?
    The choir of oddly treated and fading in and out ‘heavenly’ voices leads me to believe further that this is a dying or at least near-death experience conveyed through music: Reversed notes and chords from the introductory ‘birth’ sequence enters with the protagonist’s floating background voice repeating his initial plea, “I can’t …”  followed by the insistent repetition of a spoken voice, “Get me out of here!"
     This is an odd song yet I find it very effective in the context of this incredible storytelling. My take on this one is that Gabriel’s protagonist is struggling with a solution to the problem of how to cope with the incredibly taxing, insistent and ultimately depressing amount of information bombarding us from this ‘civilized’ world. The protagonist is either choosing to attempt to learn--or learning out of absolute necessity--the ‘art’ of detachment, here passively observing the dross and cacophony of the external world from a place of inward peace and calm.  This exercise is not easy as one is constantly being lured out of one’s ‘center’—that sanctuary of internal peace--by the distractions of the ‘noise’ coming from ‘outside.’
      Or I could be way off base and the character is merely going through a bardo-type experience—a post-human life or near-death experience in which he is the unwitting passive observer of petty events occurring around his unresponsive corporeal body.  Or maybe sleep has become his only refuge. (8/10)

10. “Curing Somatization” (10:26) Heavy and discordant cacophony opens this song (reentry and bombardment of stimuli?) before a quiet, calm (return to safety of the inner sanctuary?), within which can be heard an aimless, almost child-like voice sing-songing to itself. Then at 2:05 is a return to the barrage of noise but it seems to be more organized, more structured, more controlled or ‘managed.’ But the chaos always seems to be pressing in from around, creeping closer and closer. Paranoia. Delusion. “I’ve only been running from myself,” screams one voice. “I built this city to hide,” comes later. The musical shift at the beginning of the sixth minute coincides with lyrics like, “I try to create something, (but) I destroy what‘s beautiful. I try to save and I kill instead.” "I’m trying to love but I’m in hate’s grasp,” and “Fear is my one form of wealth," and “Why do I torture myself.” Then a strong, clear male voice sings beautifully, incredibly emotionally, “Erosion of confusion, I forgive you for all you have done. Corrosion of illusion, I forgive myself for choosing hell” (the realization that these constructs, the interior city, is hell—that that is what the human experience is).
     “This city can’t control all that I see. This city has no power over me. It’s taken on a life of its own. AND I CAN LET IT GO!” is the protagonist’s awakening moment—his moment of true detachment. Then he turns to his new reality, the beauty of his new Truth, with the beautiful piano chords, now fully formed, fully supportive, full of profound beauty, familiar from the opening song (The pre-birth blissful state of ignorance and spiritual wholeness?):
“Welcome home! This is your home now. Step OUTSIDE! You’re not alone,” ends the album and we’ve come full circle, back to the Eden of the beginning. (9/10)

It is so refreshing to hear an album—from a younger person—which tries to tackle an incredibly important and meaningful topic:  the struggle to find purpose and meaning in this human life experience. Interior City is, I believe, an allegory for our time—for Mr. Riccio’s generation—which attempts to give meaning to life—to offer a way to cope with ‘this mortal coil’ while incarnated during this particularly difficult challenging time on planet Earth. Gabriel accepts that, yes, we have made the choice to commit to human life form but that it is also quite a struggle to find reason and justification for this choice. Detached Self-centeredness may be the best solution to surviving the overwhelmingly confusing experience with some semblance of sanity.
     The ability Mr. Riccio has shown in being able to express his ideas through music is masterful. With the diverse talents and interests he has shown in his brief yet diverse and experimental past, I do not reckon that “Prog Metal” will be the resting place of this master’s musical expression. Don’t be surprise if we hear some classical or world musically-influenced music coming from The Gabriel Construct in the not-too-distant future. I know, I, for one, will be there to receive and relish any recordings offered by this new and bright, bright light of music and art.

92.0 on the Fish scales = clearly a five star masterpiece of music; Interior City is one of the most profoundly moving artistic oeuvres I’ve encountered in my lifetime.

P.S. All of the links I've created lead to YouTube videos of songs played in real time as tracks were being added to individual songs (two with Gabriel playing his piano parts and one with Travis Orbin adding his drumming part (to "Fear of Humanity"). Enjoy! They're amazing to watch!




10. STELLARDRONE Light Years 

Stellardrone is the name that Lithuanian artist Edgaras Žakevičius has been using to release self-published music over the past ten years. While Edgaras' output has been at a fairly pleasing level from the start, it feels to me that until this album, Light Years, each of the Stellardrone albums has provided me with a bit of a rollercoaster ride--a lot of great songs pitted with the valleys of some weaker ones--songs that feel underdeveloped or 'cheesy' in their simplicity or in the choice of computer synthesized sounds chosen therein. Light Years is the first Stellardrone album that I absolutely love start to finish. There is no song-skipping here, no weak songs, only shifts in dynamics and speed, provocations of dreaminess or movement and adventure.

Five star songs: 1. "Red Giant" (3:15) (9/10); 2. "Airglow" (5:16) (10/10); 3. "Eternity" (6:21) (10/10); 4. "Light Years" (6:04) (10/10); "Comet Halley" (3:42) (9/10); 8. "Ultra Deep Field" (5:44) (10/10), and; 9. "Eternity (Reprise)" (3:33) (10/10).

Four star songs: 5. "In Time" (3:47) (8/10);  6. "Cepheid" (4:32) (8/10), and; 10. "Messier 45" (2:26) (8/10).

92.0 on the Fishscales = five stars; truly a masterpiece of modern electronica.




11. BROTHER APE Force Majeure

It's hard to imagine a more catchy song than "Doing Just Fine" (5:15) (10/10). Though the album has much more of a pop-orientation--and it's un-prog-like upbeat--it is still a wonderful collection of music proving that the BA boys are riding high on the crest of their creative super wave.

One of the poppiest records of the year from a "prog" artist, I find the upbeat joie de vivre spirit on this album, within these artists quite engaging and refreshing. Though I would not place it in the same hallowed ground as their previous effort, A Rare Moment of Insight--which I not only rated a five star masterpiece but continue to declare as my favorite album of 2010--(and of which I am still the only PA reviewer !!!!)--this is still an outstandingly well- crafted musical journey. And, though the overwhelming sentiment expressed in this music is one of unbound joy (you can tell that these guys love their music--that they love playing music!), there are moments of complex emotion and complex music. Take the multiple layers of instrumental play in the instrumental title song: there are ambiguities, tensions and ambivalences being expressed throughout this song--in different sections and by individual instruments mixed into the overall weave. And though "The Mirror" (6:01) (10/10) has the same upbeat, fast pace as the light and happy "Doing Just Fine" there is a tension and underlying seriousness that makes one feel pulled both ways. They must be using major seventh chords--those magical four-plus-notes combinations which incorporate both a major chord and a minor chord into one--that is, those sublime chords that express the fullness of the human experience, the joy and the sorrow all in one. Think of Satie, America, Vangelis, Serrie, and Karda Estra and you know major seventh chords. I do agree with my esteemed prog reviewer Dr'mmarenAdrian that this group belongs in a sub-genre other than "jazz rock/fusion." As a matter of fact, I do not know why PA cannot accommodate a "by-album" categorization process instead of a one-time-and-forever pidgeon-holing of a band. Think of how eclectic, experimental, and ever-growing bands like Ulver ("Post Rock/Math Rock"), Big Big Train ("Crossover"), The Gathering ("Experimental/Post Metal"), Steve Hackett ("Eclectic"), Mike Oldfield ("Crossover"), Porcupine Tree ("Heavy"), Steven Wilson ("Crossover"), Airbag ("Neo-prog"), Motorpsycho ("Eclectic"), Anekdtoen ("Heavy"), Genesis ("Symphonic"--even their post 70s stuff!)) and so many others are forever biased in the eyes of newcomers because of their categoric assignation despite having produced albums from numerous sub-genres other than the one to which they were assigned. Anyway, sorry to go off on that little rant. Back to Brother Ape. Every song on this album has a maturity and high-level production value that the band may not have consistently achieved in the past. Also, the confidence displayed in these compositions is almost awe- inspiring: they have a sound all their own and are not afraid to stick to it. And they keep evolving, which is something I really admire in this business, in this day and age of formulaic comfort zone composition and performance. 

This is, I admit, a bit too poppy to be considered as a masterpiece of "progressive rock music." Still, it is a record that I highly recommend--if only as a refreshing alternative to the current retro/neo trends in prog music. There is only one song on this album that I do not consider a five star, nine- or ten-out-of-ten piece of high quality music. Quite a beautiful journey, this. Give it a try. Click here to hear the title song (5:43) (10/10), or a collage of samples from the album, or watch the video for "After Rain" (4:51) Then treat yourself to 2010's A Rare Moment of Insight.

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




12. MIDDAY VEIL The Current

A modern psychedelia-extraordinaire group carrying forward the Krautrock traditions of CAN and BRAINTICKET, this album is at times a bit crippled by the fact that their music is really meant to be accompanied by their multi-media stage show and therefore at time gets a little repetitive and drawn out. The album, however, has an utterly awesome, engaging, multi-layered fullness that is different from its ancestors, especially in the first two and last songs, "The Current" (6:56) (10/10), "Choreia" (6:02) (10/10), and "Great Cold of The Night" (11:16) (10/10) ("Official Video" here). The album's first three songs are more akin to a cross between the spiritual trance music of JONATHAN GOLDMAN and the pop of modern psych-poppers WEST INDIAN GIRL. Definitely trippy trance music on the upbeat, happy side. Even the first four minutes of the dream-like "Remember Child" (7:18) (8/10) has some gorgeous organ play, vocal chanting, and Blade Runner-like drum and keyboard "explosions" all playing over an oscillating, R-L channel-surfing keyboard loop, it's the final two minutes that get a little tedious. All songs bleed one into the next, carrying forward some themes and sounds while gradually morphing into new songs. It is with the finale, "Great Cold of The Night," however, that the band steps up to show its strengths: including an incredibly dominant vocal from Emily Pothast, great driving, crashing drumming from Garrett Moore, and searing lead guitar from  Timm Mason. Quite an amazing song.

The Current is a wonderfully engaging, entrancing album that makes me only want more to experience Midday Veil's show live. Plus, I am so glad and appreciative of the gorgeous female voice that reminds me so much of those of BRAINTICKET's trio of charismatic singers, Dawn Muir, Carole Muriel and Jane Free.

91.67 on the Fish scales = a 5 star effort--one that I think deserves a listen from everybody. A masterpiece of psychedelic rock.






13. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Tale of The Golden King

He’s done it again, folks! TPE has created another masterpiece of progressive rock—this time a “prog rock drama” telling an original story synthesized from medieval sleeping hero and mountain king legends, The Tale of The Golden King. A benevolent, Arthurian-like king is rewarded by the gods by being turned into a gold statue with the attached promise to his sad reverent subjects: When the time comes your king will return. The Great King’s disappearance results, of course, in the invasion of a greedy and oppressive lot,  “The Henchmen.” Fear and despair fall upon the citizens until finally a revolt is planned—with the ensuing battle, victory and celebration. The “return” of The Great King, however, is not as one would expect, which is the clever twist in this allegory for a new age.
     Musically, TPE has surpassed all previous work by not only expanding upon his multi-layered, multi-instrumental wizardry but also by exploring a broader variety of musical genres than previously—using more medieval and theatrical jazz instrumentation and themes. Also, TPE has expanded his horizons by incorporating orchestration in the form of The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra and guest vocalists, including the crystalline voice of Ann Caren for female leads and background vocals. And, as usual, the artwork of TPE’s CD and booklet are breathtaking. 

1. “Overture – Our Great Kingdom” (7:22) Opening with a Gong, a background note held by some Gregorian monks, and a wooden flute, and oboe, you just know this is going to be epic. Next, the acoustic guitar and lone synth present some themes that you’ll hear a lot—followed by electric guitar with another theme. Shortly the whole band is in sync, multiple synths, electric guitar, and calmer-than-usual drums, the themes weaving together, “Hail, Great Kingdom” repeats the vocals in self-proclaimed glory.  The classic TPE layers of multi-instrumental melody weaves, with numerous individual instruments taking turns to step into the spotlight to solo, even if ever-so briefly, is well-established by song’s end. I’ve never heard any artist or band so clever and masterful at this multi-multi-instrument solo-weaving. The themes here, unfortunately, seem a bit too familiar—as if I’ve heard them in other TPE songs. (8/10)

2. “The Prophecy of The Seer – The Transformation of The King” (6:04) begins with a kind of midnight lull, a gentler, calmer feel to the music—as a messenger is presented to The King. At the one minute mark a RICHIE HAVENS-like voice enters as The Seer—and awesome and majestic is that voice! This whole section is quite magical and sophisticated. I have to admit that, for me, the sound and presence of even more guest vocalists would be a welcome addition to the TPE sound. The break-neck speed and awesome guitar and synth soloing of the fourth minute are big highlights of this one. It’s a very ELP-sounding section. Awesome! At 4:40 an eerie church organ provides background to the proclamation of The Gods as, all the while, the band of subjects tries to intersperse with some of its themes as if to convey a sense of normalcy, while actually expressing denial and an unwillingness to hear the prophecy and “curse.” Great theater. Awesome song! (10/10)

3. “The Golden King” (9:24) opens with a return to orchestral presentation while TPE instruments singly interject themes and voices. As the song takes full form around 2:15, an absolutely gorgeous and infectious melody and vocal presentation is opened and developed—all occurring with a full and very intricate weave of endlessly soloing multi-instruments dancing and sparring in the background. Awesome bass lines throughout this one, too. Incredible guitar solo initiated at the five minute mark, which is then masterfully tied into the main themes before decaying into a gorgeous piano-based section before returning to the main vocal theme. At 7:45 the ‘rock’ sounds and themes of the song stop, making way for a gorgeous orchestral section, led by a beautiful flute solo. Gradually the orchestra builds around the flute’s melody, crescendoing as an electric guitar caps off the celebration of this theme. This song is definitely the high point, musically, of the album for me. (10/10)

4. “Captive Days” (4:12) is an instrumental that begins with a wonderful almost-pensive medieval sound and feel. It evolves by the second minute into what sounds like a kind of Broadway jazz dance scene—Bob Fosse would’ve had some awesome choreography to this piece. Pianos, brushed drums, big orchestral accents. The congas and fretless bass rising to the forefront in the third minute are a nice touch. (9/10)

5. “The Queen of Sorrow” (8:22) opens with a solo lute before piano, acoustic guitar, distant drums and some orchestral background break our to support the crystalline and angelic if –melancholy voice of the Queen of Sorrow, the wonderful Ann Caren. The syncopated background piano chord play is a highlight for me in this song. At 3:45 there is a shift in the music to a kind of clandestine, hidden and very eerie section in which odd Arabian horn-like instruments flit and float around behind The Queen’s almost-whispered, fear-filled vocal. The ensuing instrumental solo section is very Keith Emerson/ELP–like. Cool! At the six minute mark the piano play, Queen’s vocal and background vocal mix is extraordinary. Devolving with support of cello into the final 100 seconds of orchestral supported medieval sounds while The Queen once more states her case. (9/10)

6. “Save Yourself” (6:10) opens with some mood-setting sound eerie sounds—like we’re in the catacombs beneath Paris. The music enters with some jazzy popping, fretless bass and jazz-styled drumming. Great vocal melody is supported by some synths, organ, and twangy electric guitar. Great section! Great organ sound and solo at the two minute mark. This is so fun! The follow-up guitar solo is also vintage early 70s jazz fusion guitar—like Steve Khan or Larry Coryell. The bass solo shortly after the four-minute mark once again reminds me of what a bass virtuoso is TPE. Electric piano and fuzzy guitar finish the soloing as we get back to the story with this excellent vocal and haunting melody. (10/10)

7. “Make A Plan—Golden Swords” (7:10) opens with a bluesy feel: electric guitar filling a large-room sound and a kind of blues-styled vocal intro. Soon the usual cast of synth characters noodle their way in, though organ, bluesy piano, and fuzz guitar seem to be the constant sounds threading this weave. The drums are, thankfully somewhat muted and mixed in the background for in the third and fourth minutes their rapid fire gattling gun sound gets a little overwhelming and distracting form me. The vocal performance of the wise elder, The Court Blacksmith, could have used, in my opinion, a different voice or style—if only to help convey that wisdom that has supposedly earned the respect—and ears--of the rest of the kingdom. (7/10)

8. “The Battle” (4:16) is an instrumental that uses some interesting sound and rhythmical constructs to convey the march into and conflict—there is a definite sense of confidence and insistence conveyed through this music. And with many underlying and tangential sounds strings moving around, behind and from within the main music, it has the very cool effect of evoking the minor skirmishes that invariably occur within and at the edges of a battle. The ghost-like synth floating background is also an ingenious tool which serves to convey the fog-like precariousness of the conflict and the tide-like ebb and flow of the potential outcome.  (10/10)

9. “This Great Day” (7:35) opens with some relaxing pastoral acoustic guitar play—joined shortly by a strumming 12-string and a flute-synth. The Queen’s voice enters with a melody that harkens back to Jon Anderson’s classic solo “Your Move” section near the beginning of “I’ve Seen All Good People.” As a matter of fact, the entire first two minutes is quite strong in its evocation of YES: “Your Move,” “Wond’rous Stories,” Wakeman. Then a very cool electric guitar solo takes over, bridging out way to music with a kind of celebratory mood. Here some multi-level, rondo-like vocal harmonies are used to great effect—as is the continued use to the kind of country twang-and-delayed electric guitar. Synths, piano, and guitars go into a kind of collective game of hot potato—each taking turns to burst forth a brief solo. The song finishes with a brief return to the opening YES theme with a collective harmonized chorus, “Yesterday is gone, it’s through, The past has flown away. All you thought and all you knew, Have turned the other way. This Great Day!” (9/10)

10. “Finale – Arise! – Great Kingdom” (11:39) opens with “celebrate the dawn”-like music as presented by The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra. Beautiful recapitulating weave of the album’s themes. With the third minute comes a modified reprise of the “Great Day” mixed with the medieval instrumentation of “Captive Days.” The singing is quite celebratory—apparently the prophecy has been fulfilled-not in the expected form of the King arising from the dead/gold-preserved form, but, rather, the Kingdom has arisen—using the very gold of the statue of the Great King to forge their weapons of rebellion and victory. This song is replete with layers of recapitulated themes and instrumental ejaculates all morphing in a seemingly constant and unending mobius strip weave. Cool if perhaps a bit drawn out.  (9/10)

If I’ve ever had any complaints with TPE’s music it would be in the drum sound (particularly one tom-tom that is often used over-exuberantly à la Keith Moon), the drumming style (snares and toms used to mirror exactly the flash-speeded keyboard and guitar soloists) and the vocals. With The Tale of The Golden King both have been improved wonderfully. The drumming employs a greater variety of drumming sounds (and is mixed further back into the middle of the soundscapes) and nice mix of styles (brushes and jazz styles, to be exact), and less frenetic tom-tomming. The vocals have been improved with the use of other vocalists (particularly the wonderful voices of the Richie Havens-like “C. Francis” and The Queen of Sorrow, Ann Caren) and through the use of much more intricately layered and dispersed background and harmony vocals. I am also quite pleased to hear a broader spectrum of musical influences and sound styles:  the increased use of piano and the jazzier rhythm sections are employed quite nicely, and, of course, the presence of The Psychedelic Ensemble Orchestra is a wonderful and quite welcome addition. (More, please!)

The story of The Golden King—supposedly “a true story invented by The Psychedelic Ensemble” and “based on medieval sleeping hero and mountain king legends”—is a bit simple and somewhat predictable, but these are the kind of mythological tales that are popular in the mainstream (witness:  The Lord of the Rings/Hobbbit, Game of Thrones, and Hunger Games movies).  While I love an allegorical concept album, this one, in my humble opinion, falls a bit short. Lyrically there is a bit too much repetition and something too cliché in many of the phrases used. Plus, the word choice is just missing something . . . something from the realms of dark mystery and poetic creativity.

I really enjoyed experiencing the greater variety of musical styles and vocal and instrumental choices (including those of the wonderful Ann Caren and of TPE orchestra) used in this album. It’s always quite ambitious to undertake A) a concept album and B) one which tries to tell an epic or mythological tale—especially if this tale is trying to convey a social-political message. I wonder if the Great King is a metaphor for American Democracy or one of The United States’ iconic Presidents (Washington? Lincoln? Kennedy? The hyped- and hoped-for Barack Obama?). Is the tale presenting the theory of possibilities for a society’s potential to realize its release and freedom from bondage and darkness through taking the power of democracy back into our own hands and fighting as a people, tooth and nail, with the golden essence of that democratic ideal—that we might realize that the true power of our democratic ideal was not in the idolized word and fear-inducing and disempowering form our government but in the action of our own hearts and hands? I wonder.

TPE’s unique multi-layered multi-instrumental sonic weave and sophisticated composition skill always make for a listening experience that I HIGHLY recommend for all music and prog lovers. The music TPE creates is fascinating, creative, and intricately worked—and masterfully performed. Check it out!

91.0 on the Fish scales = 5 stars. Another masterpiece of music that is difficult to compare and categorize and yet awe-some to behold.




14. VOTUM Harvest Moon

Another heavy prog band from Poland. There sure is some great music coming out of Eastern Europe! And this one clocks in at no less than 69 mintues!

Harvest Moon kicks off with a real gem--a piece that betrays very little of the heavier, more metal-oriented stuff to come. 

1. "Vicious Circle" [8:13] takes the listener on such a nice ride through quite a diverse range of soundscapes. It starts off with a slow picking acoustic guitar that is backed by a cool organ sound. When drums and bass finally join in a great electric guitar solo completes the intro section. Settling into a very steady slow pace, the vocalist enters with a very strong, soulful presence. As things amp up at the chorus everything is working so well: no over play or show-boating. Then there is an ominous lull, which fulfills all expectations when a heavier section kicks in (with some great lead guitar arpeggios and bass and drums). At 4:45 we are back to lull. A very delicate 'distant' el guitar and organ play a little before the beginning section is recreated (with a bit more play from the organist). This time, however, the solo section is much expanded and displays much more energy and technical instrument play--especially from the drums, bass, and lead guitar. Vocals rejoin to complete the song but the ride plays out with a minute of very eery space noise. Gorgeous song. [10/10]

2. "Cobwebs" [5:01] sounds quite a bit like it could have come off of PEARL JAM's Ten despite the presence of some growl/screams and engineering effects. Luckily, the music is not detracted by the screams. A great song for the Octane Radio listeners. [8/10]   

3. "First Felt Pain" (6:52) starts out with a very heavy modern metal sound (stereotypically signalled by the machine gun riffs from the kick drum). But that's just the first minute. At 1:05 a pause is filled with a fast strumming acoustic guitar before the heavy rhythms rejoin in a flow that supports the vocals (which are surprisingly melodic). The instrumental solo sections are still steeped in modern heavy metal. At 3:45 an emotional acoustic section ensues that feels so powerful and heartfelt--including the guitar solo and engineering effects (panning b-vox). At the six-minute mark, all sound drops away leaving some layers of very eery industrial noises which play out to the end. Very effective! Incredibly unpredictable song. (10/10)

4. "New Made Man" (5:27) has a very familiar classic rock feel to it, a simpler, more straightforward song structure, but, when put into the context of this whole album, it holds a very stunning presence. It sounds very much, to my ears, like a cross between early DAVID BOWIE and the Aussie glam rockers, ICEHOUSE--or THE RE-FLEX. At 3:10 the song breaks down to arpeggiated acoustic guitar and some random sounding tickling of the piano ivories. Very pretty! Quite a melodic gem! (10/10)

5. "Numb" (5:01) is a gentler, almost LUNATIC SOUL song with layered vocal harmonies sung over a very simply picked acoustic guitar and some hand percussives. The final minute and fifteen seconds plays out with some "windy"-sounding synth washes.
     Overall, "Numb" sounds a lot like a Southern Rock classic from the likes of THE ALLMAN BROTHERS BAND or THE MARSHALL TUCKER BAND or even KANSAS or BLIND FAITH, TRAFFIC, or THE ATLANTA RHYTHM SECTION. Again, another surprise in terms of this band's musical dexterity. An excellent song. (9/10)

6. "Ember Night" (6:58) "slows" things down to a very standard heavy metal pace. Unfortunately, for the first 3:35, the song does very little musically to make it stand out from the rest of the metal scene--and certainly does little to help it hold up to the album's previous stellar five songs. The jazzy lull from 3:34 to 5:15 does nothing new or exciting. A return to the harmony vocals and the first sections of music add nothing--continue to bore me. It just never engages or does anything special. (6/10)

7. "Bruises" (7:43) begins with some acoustic guitar play over some synthesizer washes. The vocal and rhythm section kick in to establish a slow, almost piano jazz song. Then the music begins to build--first the more insistent rhythm from the bass and drums, then the lead guitar starts to warm up--but then everything drops out to leave just a soft piano and the vocalist--who, though heart-felt, seems weak of voice. Staccato acoustic guitar strumming restarts the song--ushering in the full-scale heaviness of the band. Now the vocal fits better! But, then, the soft piano (and, this time, drum) supported emotional vocal section returns--this time to much better effect. At 5:28 when the full power of the song is finally released it is working: great drumming, great chord sequences, great vocal performances (including b-vox) and great melodies. The final 45 seconds allows the piano, delicate drum play, and whispered voice to bring the song to decay. Beautiful, emotional song. (10/10)

8. "Steps in the Gloom" (7:51) begins with synth wash and reverb-electric guitar notes, soon joined by delicate piano play and soft-jazz kind of drum and bass play. When electric guitar starts to play in the second minute the electronic keyboards are doing some very interesting things. The vocalist enters around 1:45 sounding quite relaxed and laid back. His emotions are soon amped up as the band kicks into a section of driving sound. Back to softer, and even ambient section reminiscent of some of the things DAVID SYLVIAN, RYUICHI SAKAMOTO and TREVOR HORN were doing in the 80s.
Awesome strumming and soloing from electric guitars around the five-minute mark. And the bass play! This guy is getting off, too! Best instrumental section of the album! The final 90 seconds is a kind of SEAL/"Crazy" return to the song's main vocal followed by an ambient outro. Odd song that defies categorization. One of the album's best. (10/10)

9. "Dead Ringer" (6:52) begins with a rolling bass line and steady, strong drum pace to back what sounds like a DAVID BOWIE-like vocal performance. The heavier chorus section betrays a different path (though Bowie had his metal-like moments--and may have used this stylistic approach were he peaking in the post-90s Prog Metal era.) Cool guitar work at the 3:10 mark followed by hollowed out section with rock-steady drum, muted bass, and slow, muted vocals. Excellent! It then rebuilds to full-scale onslaught on our senses. I love the powerful, firm-but-understated drum-work throughout this song! The song 'ends' at the six-minute mark while another cinematic display of ambient synth play carries the song out to its end 52 seconds later. My favorite song of the album. (10/10)

10. "Coda" (6:32) begins like a cross between PEARL JAM and TOOL before shifting into a brief delicate section. AT 1:45 the synths and electric guitars enter with some really new, fresh sounds, the song's feel and rhythm and tempo shifts, the industrial synth takes over for a bit, then it all comes racing back into a full-out metal bang. For 30 seconds. A 30-second spacey section is talked over in a BONO-like voice before the band climbs back into banging mode--with some nice (though stereotypic) support vocal harmonies. This could be a ARJEN LUCASSEN song! Were I one to key in on lyrics, the story here might prove to be quite interesting. Yet another eery space wash synth journey plays out the final minute of this song. (8/10)

11. "Numb - A Reprise" (2:35) ends the album with a return to the acoustic side of this band of talented and creative songwriters and rock solid performers. (8/10)

This album is a real shocker to me in that I find myself liking it far more than this year's new release from fellow prog countrymates, RIVERSIDE. There is much more dynamic energy here--as if VOTUM really cares about every note of their music, as if they are really into their music--into engaging and at the same time hyping up their audience. As much as I appreciate the creativity and leadership of MARIUZ DUDA and RIVERSIDE, I have to say that with Harvest Moon, a new band has usurped the crown of Poland's prog scene. That band is named VOTUM.

Hail to the new king! Long live the king!

90.0 on the Fish scales = Pretty darn near a perfect album and definitely a masterpiece of creative, energetic progressive rock music. 5 stars.




15. ULVER Messe I.X-VI.X

A haunting album of dark ambient music on which the enigmatic masters of doom and gloom team up with the Trømso Chamber Orchestra to produce a soundtrack of majestic and impactful heaviness. Full of subtlety and breathtaking beauty, the album is most unusual for the fact that Kristoffer "Garm" Rygg only sings on two songs--one, "Son of Man" (8:25) (9/10) on which he almost sounds as if he is trying to reach operatic heights, yet, which unfortunately renders the song perhaps the weakest on this powerful album. As a fellow reviewer has written, Garm's vocals almost seem out of place with the song, with this music, with this album. All songs are amazing and reveal more layers and nuances with repeated listens. They all seem to run together into a whole, perhaps this is a concept album? I've heard reference to the Western liturgical forms imitated (or honored) here. The Mozart references in the second half of "Son of Man" seem pretty obvious to me. Perhaps this is the case. Regardless, this is a stunning album--one that can easily suck you in! I love it!

Favorite songs:  all but the "X-Files Theme"/trip-hoppy "Glamour Box (Ostinato)" (6:11) (10/10), "Shri Schneider" (5:35) (9/10) and the Eno/Ambient-like "Noche Oscura del Alma" (5:21) (9/10) get me every time.

I go months without listening or even remembering that this album exists, but then every time I do listen I find myself getting sucked in and getting blown away all over again. This is a truly amazing album!

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





16. EMPTY DAYS Empty Days (7 songs + 7 instrumentals)


Another stunning gem from YUGEN/AltrOck/NOT A GOOD SIGN geniuses FRANCESCO ZAGO and PAOLO “SKE” BOTTA this one presenting a collection of gorgeous near-neo chamber music songs focusing on the extraordinary vocal talents of ELAINE DI FALCO (CAVEMAN SHOESTORE/HUGHSCORE, THINKING PLAGUE, Yugen’s Iridule) using musical stylings varying from straight medieval to dark ambient to the avant garde stylings of Iridule and then to straight ahead prog rock of Not a Good Sign as well as a kind of slowed down, vocal-oriented of SKE’s 2011 masterpiece, 1000 autonni.

Five star songs:  1. “Two Views on Flight” (4:17) with its incredible weave of multiple layers of vocals (10/10); 3. the Satie-with-vocals “Words Lurking” (3:12) (10/10); 4. the hauntingly atmospheric “Kurai” (5:50) (9/10); 5. the Kurt Weil-like presentation of John Dowland’s “Flow My Tears” (4:17) with operatic vocalist Rachel O’Brien (9/10); 7. the gorgeously sensitive and melodic, GENESIS-like rendering of the Seamus Heaney poem, “Running Water” (5:04) (10/10); 8. the ALAN STIVELL-like instrumental, “The Ghosts of Dawn” (4:14) (9/10);  9. Elaine De Falco’s utterly haunting rendering of John Dowland’s “In Darkness Let Me Dwell” (4:55) (9/10); 11. the acoustic, female vocal-led remake of NOT A GOOD SIGN’s awesome “Come Back Home” (3:56) (9/10); 12. the awesome interpretation of the sounds of an apocalypse “Waiting for The Crash” (2:08) (10/10); the hauntingly beautiful and richly emotional ambient masterpiece, “This Night Wounds Time” (12:04) (10/10).

Four star songs:  the eerie scaled down avant-Nektar-like instrumental 2. “Ankoku” (4:55) (8/10); 10. “A Knife Under The Pillow” (1:22) (8/10); 13. the musical rendering of Viktor Nabokov’s, “A Dark Vanessa” (3:03) (8/10);

An awesome year-end surprise from my favorite music label (AltrOck), one of my favorite modern composers (Francesco Zago), and one of my favorite teams of musical collaborators (Zago and Botta-with the not insignificant contributions of the remarkable Elaine Di Falco).

An immediate hit to my ears, mind and soul, I shall have to wait to see how high Empty Days ends up on my Year End Top Albums list. Probably pretty high.

90.0 on the Fish scales = Another five star masterpiece out of the AltrOck stable! Thank you, AltrOck for nurturing and promoting the artists that are paving the way for the future of music!




17. NOT A GOOD SIGN Not A Good Sign

This is definitely one of the most melodic, symphonic prog albums I've ever heard released from the AltrOck stable--especially considering the band's members have all previously contributed to some pretty unmelodic, dissonant, experimental Avant/RIO. As others have already pointed out, the keyboard work on this album is stunning; Paolo "SKE" Botto has already proven himself with his contributions to both YUGEN and his own solo project, SKE, but here he really shines--which is saying a lot because all of the instrumental contributors to this album are stellar!
     Despite the exemplary, virtuosic play on the album's opener, "Almost I" (6:37) (8/10), I do not find myself really drawn in to the song until the Section beginning with the eery arpeggios (around the 4:31 mark). From there through the end of the KING CRIMSON ITCOTCK-like"Almost II" (3:11) (10/10) the band achieves, IMO, pure prog perfection. 
     For me, the other highlights of the album are:  song 6, "Coming Back Home" (5:49) (10/10), which has a highly melodic and memorable vocal while remaining full-bore prog in its musical flow and attack; the beautiful Genesis-like 4. "Making Stills" (6:41) (10/10); 7. "Flow On" (6:05) (9/10); the album's King Crimson-esque (Red-era) title song (7:54) (9/10); the album-ending instrumental, "Afraid to Ask" (3:05) (8/10); the unusual 'song-within-a-song,' 5. "Witchcraft By A Picture" (7:35) (8/10), featuring the gorgeous voice of North Sea Radio Orchestra's Sharron Fortnum, and; "The Deafening Sound of The Moon" (4:31) (8/10). Wow! That's a 9/10 average over the entire album! It doesn't get much better than that! Guess this one's a real winner!
     Fans of 60s-70s King Crimson and Genesis will definitely find a lot to love in this excellent AltrOck/Fading Records release.

90.0 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. Great consistency, great performances throughout, amazing production.




18. UNREAL CITY La crudelta di Aprile

A delightful album of new music in the vein of the best musics of the prog rockers of the 1970s except with the energy, awareness and instruments and recording acumen of the 21st Century. As I listen to this collection of melodic, wonderfully constructed and performed songs I am reminded of two of my favorite albums from the past five years:  2009's Preda  by Italy's MAD CRAYON and last year's 's Espectro by Brazil's VIOLETA DE OUTONO--the latter which remains my favorite album from 2012 due in large part to the amazing KHAN Space Shanty (my all-time favorite Canterbury album) sounds and feel that no one else, in my opinion, has ever managed to capture and convey so well. Powerful, emotional vocals with the usual Italian flare for bombast and very interesting instrumental mixes. 

1. "Dell'innocenza perduta" (7:31) starts with two minutes of uptempo instrumental before a dramatic shift makes way for the listeners treat:  an Aldo Tagliapietra (LE ORME)-like vocal set to some gorgeous music. At 5:00 the song shifts again, heading more into a vaudeville-blues rock section--a more rag-time-jazzy almost country rock instrumental section--which eventually includes some wonderful violin playing by guest Fabio Biale. Great ending to an unusual and interesting song. (9/10)

2. "Atlantis (Conferendis pecuniis)" (9:51) reminds me so much of C.A.P. (CONSORZIO ACQUA POTABILE)'s amazing "Sulle ali del sogno Odissea" from 2005's Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. It has that epic operatic kind of feel to it. (10/10)

3. "Catabasi (Descensio ad Inferos)" (8:00) opens with some powerful church organ accompanied by awesome drum, tubular bells and, later, mellotron and vocal work. At the three minute mark a cello ushers us into an uptempo section which quickly (and unexpectedly) evolves into a kind of SOUIXIE AND THE BANSHEES-performs-The Rocky Horror Picture Show's "Time Warp" section. A very fun song with great performances--especially the vocal and organ. (9/10) 

4. "Dove la luce e piu intensa" (7:03) is another very dramatic song with great piano/keyboard and vocal performances. (9/10)

5. "Ecate (Walpurgisnacht)" (9:00) is full of some very fun Broadway/French cabaret/early BILLY JOEL schmaltz. Very playful, catchy and yet, at the same time, unpredictable. The heavier drum-and-electric-guitar section beginning in the sixth minute culminating in the punk-BOWIE-like rockin' shift at the 7-minute mark is quite sobering--and powerful. (9/10)

6. "Horror vacui" (17:53) uses production/engineering treatments on the vocals which I do not enjoy, and just generally just misses on one cylinder or another throughout its epic length. (8/10) 

90.0 on the Fish scales = 5 stars for this masterpiece of well-crafted, well-performed, entertaining mini-dramas. Keyboard-vocalist Emanuele Tarasconi has one of my favorite singing voices ever.






19. MIDAS FALL Wilderness

Awesome female-led Post Rock with singer/songwriter/guitarist Elisabeth Heaton and Rowan Burn on lead guitar. Ms. Heaton definitely has in her possession one of the most powerful, beautiful, emotionally expressive voices I've heard in a long time. Her voice is so nimble and her singing style so unpredictable that I find myself often thinking that there must be a second voice--or second track--being sung. But it's not so! It's all her! Brilliant and refreshingly different song-writing throughout. Special shout-out to the drummer, Chris Holland:  Mark Heron rules!

Five star songs:  the haunting, heavy, heart-wrenching, triphoppy opener, 1. "The Unravelling King" (5:37) (10/10); the surprisingly layered, textured 4. "Our World Recedes" (5:21) (10/10); the power vocal and TORI AMOS sound of 9. "BPD" (4:27) (10/10); the sensitive, dreamy and careful finale, "Wilderness" (5:42) (10/10) 6. the short but packs a punch 6. "Fight First" (2:12) (9/10); 3. "Carnival Song" (5:04) (9/10); and, the deceptively delicate, Sarah MacLachlan-like; "The Moon and The Shine" (5:50) (9/10).

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

The best Math Rock/Post Rock album of 2013.



4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces:



20. INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE In hoc signo

These are some of the things I find myself thinking over and over during my dozens of listens to this amazing album:

1. Is this album introducing us to the "new" Bill Bruford--young drummer extraordinaire, Shanti Colucci? (Answer: We shall see!)

2. What if the lineup(s) of mid-1970s JEAN-LUC PONTY (Aurora, Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean, and Cosmic Messenger) and that of late 1970s BRUFORD (Feels Good To Me, One of A Kind) merged? (Answer: It would sound like a lot of this album!)

3. What if George Duke or Jan Hammer had played with Jean Luc Ponty, Allan Holdsworth, Jeff Berlin, Dave Stewart and Bill Bruford? (Answer: It would sound like much of this!)

4. What would a progressive rock album trying to seriously and intelligently convey the concept of Christian Europe's mediæval Crusades sound like? (Answer: This!)

5. Isn't it great and wonderful that intelligent, talented, young musicians of today are getting into playing/performing prog?! (Answer: YES! It's awesome!)

6. What is in the air/water/food of Italy that so many great prog albums are being released there in the past couple years? (Answer: Unknown/Yet to be determined.)

Perhaps later I will go through a detailed, song-by-song, moment-by-moment account of my experience while listening to this incredibly rich and diverse album, but for now just suffice to say that I consider this not only a masterpiece of progressive rock composition but also a masterful rendering of a very challenging historical concept and a breathtaking and refreshing introduction to a brilliant and virtuosic group of young musicians. There is certainly room for these guys to grow (i.e. better transitions within songs, better vocal layers/harmonies, let those amazing end-of-song jams play out instead of fading them out on the mixing board) but then, what "classic" prog "masterpiece" from the 70s is without its flaws. (I know that I have yet to meet a flawless album.) Mega kudos to Igor, Mattia, Flavio, Marco, Shanti, and others. I hope you will consider staying together to do some more prog--you are so talented!

89.1 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars--a near masterpiece. Check out these YouTube links:  "Kairuv'an" (6:08) (10/10); "Musqat (Masqat)" (5:18) (9/10); "Mare in tempesta" (3:16) (9/10), and; "Finale" (9:33) (9/10).




21. KARNIVOOL Asymmetry

Warning: This is an album that requires headphones or a very good speaker system in order to fully appreciate! With Karnivool’s third release, Asymmetry, I am seeing a lot of growth, a lot of branching out in terms of influences and styles. There is still a lot of TOOL/MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN similarities-especially in the wonderful voice of singer, Ian Kenny--but add to that more THE MARS VOLTA/OMAR LOPEZ-RODRIGUEZ, OPETH/MIKHAEL AKERFELD, and OCEANSIZE as well as an incredibly full palette display of engineering techniques, all the while maintaining clear access to the individual instrumental tracks in what could have been a murky, soupy mess.   
In my opinion this is an aural and sonic masterpiece; the band has easily surpassed their wonderful 2009 album, Sound Awake. New producer, Nick DiDia, has helped the band achieve incredible new heights.

1. “Aum” (2:22) is a kind of spacey meditative intro. Not much really to like or dislike.

2. “Nachash” (4:50) (Link to video of live performance from Moshcam) sees the band move straight into its TOOL-like territory but then they back off into some very delicate, spacey territory. There is an awesome vocal section beginning at 3:25 with “Wait!” and then culminating in a great guitar scream before the return to the original high octane pace and sound. The two guitars battle it out with Judd’s drum play for the finale. Awesome. (9/10)

3. “A.M. War” (5:18) opens with a catchy metallic guitar arpeggio riff before the bottomed-out bass and rest of the band join in full force, full throttle. The song overall reminds me of OCEANSIZE Frames era. (9/10)

4. “We Are” (5:56) begins with a little bit of techno-funk similar to some of Omar Rodriguez’s solo work. I just love Jon Stockman’s bass play throughout this song. I also love the impassioned vocal, the background keyboard flourishes and the almost “incidental” electric guitar embellishments. Great engineering/production on this, one of the most impressive songs I’ve heard all year! (10/10)

5. “The Refusal” (4:54) has a very heavy edge to it, like something I’d hear on OCTANE radio—Skillet or TMV—even in the bare bones section beginning at 2:05 there is a MAYNARD-like edge. Again, awesome engineering and production throughout the last two minutes. (8/10)

6. “Aeons” (7:18) begins with some spacey, echoed tremolo guitar notes before synth and amazing bass and drums join in. Incredible beginning! Delicate singing voice enters at 1:15 to tell us that he doesn’t feel so well. Amazing use of heavy, thick instrumental sounds balanced by an empty spaciousness that is simply stunning! Gorgeous floating guitar in the first mid-song interlude before the TMV-like barrage of sound enters again. Another stepped down section fills the sixth minute as the vocalist sings about chemical fires signaling our death. Another favorite. (10/10)

7. “Asymmetry” (2:36) uses an odd sound loop to gradually set up some heavily distorted free form guitar play. The top-notch engineering of this album again comes shining through. (9/10)

8. “Eidolon” (3:45) offers a very catchy MUSE-like song—rather sedate when compared to the previous lineup. Again, I love all of the amazing incidentals running through the spaces and background of the music. (9/10)

9. “Sky Machine” (7:49) opens with some gorgeous multi-layered singing supported by delicate guitar and awesome drumming. A little EDGE/U2 feel to this song though the vocal is like some of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN’s most sensitive. Even the more amped up section beginning at 5:30 is quite extraordinary for its beauty and sensitivity. Awesome song. Love this guitar work. (9/10)

10. “Amusia” (0:54) is another off-kilter sonic interlude which bleeds into/sets up

11. “The Last Few” (5:15) opens up Karnivool’s new TOOL/TMV meld style:  quite intricately planned, complicated, layered music with a more polished version of the raw freneticism of Omar and co. The vocal and melody is, unfortunately, a little weaker than the previous offerings, giving the song a bit of a flat feel to it. (8/10)

12. “Float” (4:17) carries over a psychedelia feel from the ending of the previous song for its first 30 seconds before emptying out with a spacey treated guitar almost as if KLAUS SCHULZE were manipulating the delicate guitar play of 1974 STEVE HACKETT. Kenny’s masterful vocal remains in his highest registers throughout the song. The space-treated instrumentation is quite effective. (9/10)

13. “Alpha Omega” (7:57) put an emotional Maynard James Keenan singing over some acid drawn out Led Zepellin being played by OPETH and I think this is what you might get. (9/10)

14. “Om” (3:52) is another odd, spacey instrumental using dissonance and random piano notes tied together only through their chromatic commonality to bookend. In the second half there is being played a tape recorded interview RE empathy and bliss, the common sound and color beneath it all. (9/10)

Unlike some of my fellow reviewer here on PA, I am finding that this album is haunting me—staying with me and drawing me back for more plays of “We Are” and Aeons” and “Float” and “Alpha Omega” and “Nachash” and even the poppier “Eidolon.” Asymmetry is easily one of the most unique and memorable albums I’ve heard this year. I think special mention must go out to each of the individual musicians involved with this album—including the engineer and producer. Steve Judd’s drumming is always solid and idiosyncratic. Jon Stockman’s bass stylings are amazingly diverse and always interesting. Guitarists Goddard and Hosking are amazing in their sound palettes, temperaments, and mature ability to hold back, reserve, instead of always flash and flourish. The “risks” taken in these compositions and performances can only be described as mature and virtuosic. The “asymmetry” of heavy mixed with delicate and subtle, virtuosic flash mixed with astoundingly simple is masterful. In my humble opinion, these are some of the finest, freshest proggers on the planet and they have created one of the best albums of 2013.

88.6 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece.




22. BEYOND-O-MATIC Relations in the Border Between

Part Canterbury fun, part Komische space rock, this is a eminently enjoyable album, start to finish. With a psychedelic sound reminiscent of the 60s and 70s San Francisco scene (which is, coincidentally, from where this band hails).

1. "In the C" (5:14) is a very GONG-sounding jam with plenty of wild electronic gadgetry playing around in the background throughout. (10/10)

2. "Tick Tock" (2:29) Again, Daevid Allen's GONG is all that comes to mind while listening to this one. (9/10)

3. "Wish" (15:38) With this song the band move into the realm of space/psychedelia. (Not that Canterbury bands--especially Gong and Steve Hillage--didn't use space/psychedelia sound palettes and techniques.) (9/10)

4. "In Two Os" (12:57) (8/10)

5. "Turn Switch to Trust" (10:43) is a very cool, very spacey, slow and ethereal journey into nether worlds--like a shamanic journey. Wonderful vocal layering throughout this beautiful song. (9/10)

6. "But the Love" (10:04) I love the slow build, "Hurdy Gurdy Man"-wavering of the guitar tracks and poetic lyrics of this one. (9/10)

7. "Out of C" (2:26) a true Country/Western-Bluegrass song! (8/10)

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




23. THIEVES' KITCHEN One for Sorrow, Two for Joy

I love Thieves' Kitchen! Vocalist Amy Darby is so unique--kind of a cross between THINKING PLAGUE's vocalist from 1996-2008, Deborah Perry, and the great ANNIE HASLEM. She has a strong, soothing voice that delivers her lyrics clearly, cleanly and yet with a melodic styling that is both unusual and interesting. On this new album the band is joined by some (ex-?) ANGLAGARD members to great effect--Thomas Johnson's keyboards, though mostly serving in a support role, and Anna Holmgren's flute contributions are quite welcome and provide a warmth and fullness that support Amy's vocals quite wonderfully. As always, I absolutely adore the pastoral themes--both musically and lyrically--that Amy and Rob explore. 

Favorite songs: the gorgeous epic 5. "Germander Speedwell" (14:32) (10/10) which is a welcome addition to my all-time favorite prog epic list; the simple yet perfect folk song "The Weaver" (4:33) (10/10) and 2. "Deor" (7:51) (9/10). 3. "Hypatia" (8:56), 4. "A Fool's Journey" (8:19), and the jazzier "Of Sparks and Spires" (12:49) are each solid, interesting, and pleasurable 8/10 songs.

88.33 on the Fish scales = a 4.5 star album that I'm not (yet) willing to elevate to "masterpiece" status. Give it some more time. Highly recommended.




24. LIFESIGNS Lifesigns 

 I've held off posting a review or rating for this album for months because I knew, upon first listen, that herein was something special, something that required time to seep into my brain cells. There is such professionalism, such polish and thought and detail gone into this album that it is hard to not want to give it the five star "masterpiece" rating. Yeah, "Telephone" may well be my favorite song of the year and "Carousel" is not far behind, but I have to admit it that the album's other three songs are lacking something. Call it memorable 'hooks' or 'magic' if you like but, despite wonderful compositional and performance displays throughout--and awesome production--and one of my favorite album covers of the year--this album still comes up a bit short of "essential" and "masterpiece." Actually, I find this album most intriguing for the way three things keep drawing my attention (and I have listened to these songs dozens of times): 1) the backup vocalist (whom I believe is Nick Beggs) and vocal arrangements that are so reminiscent of one of the most magical groups at vocal arrangements of all-time, AMBROSIA, 2) the masterful bass/Chapman stick play, and 3) the incredibly alluring flute contributions (which, I believe, are courtesy of Thijs Van Leer).

I wanted so much to find the same magic in all of these well-polished songs that I find in the above two but, alas! it is not to be. I hope against all hopes, however, that John, Nick and "Frosty" feel compelled to give their collaboration one more try. I, for one, will be looking for that release with high interest.

Five star songs: 2. "Telephone" (9:18) (10/10) and 5. "Carousel" (11:46) (9/10).

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

 


25. INNER EAR BRIGADE Rainbro

COS and STEREOLAB comingled and recorded for the first time!
Just kidding. This album is, however, for our times, quite unusual. At first I thought it "cute" and "interesting" but as I've given it many more listens I hear so much of two of my favorite "recent" or rather late in life joy-bringing discoveries in Canterbury styled music (of which there is so little coming out in the 21st Century) and, more specifically, the music of the unique Belgian group, COS. Actually, if you took 1970s COS and 2000 STEREOLAB you would have INNER EAR BRIGADE. Vocalist Melody Ferris sounds stylistically a bit like Kitchen Thieves’ AMY DARBY or Thinking Plague’s ELAINE DI FALCO, though the PASCALE SON (COS) and LAETITIA SADIER (STEREOLAB) comparisons are unavoidable. And these guys are from West Coast USA!
     This is an album of pure joy and fun. Even the extended jazz grooves with their serious and accomplished horn play and solos are fun. 

The opener, 1. “Knee” (5:02) is such an ear catcher! Sounds a bit like an ELVIS COSTELLO song as it might be performed by STEREOLAB. (9/10)

2. "Oompah" (5:07) has some KC AND THE SUNSHINE BAND riffs and influence as well as feeling like some of FROGG CAFE's most CHICAGO-ishness. (8/10)

3. "Missing the Train" (3:41) feels a lot like a song coming from the 1960s Brazilian-influenced period of U.S. pop jazz.  (8/10)

4. "Rainbro" (5:01) is perhaps my least favorite song on the album. It has more of a "bland" Stereolab feel to it--the melodies and chord changes are not quite as catchy as other songs--though I love the final 30 seconds. (7/10)

5. "Too Good to Be True" (4:12) has some social-political commentary like that commonly found in Stereolab songs as well as some nice XTC-like jazz guitar sound/work. (8/10)

6. "Somnambulist Subversion" (4:36) uses two long-out-dated instrumental effects: the cheesy synth and the ragged distortion strum of a punk-like guitar that begin the song. Once voice, horns and percussives, tuned and untuned, join in, the song takes on a more early Elvis Costello sound and feel. (9/10)

7. “Nutjob" (3:14) is an instrumental that begins in a tight Canterbury fashion: whole band chord staccato progression before settling down into a pleasant kind of jazz beat to support trade off solos from horns, Farfisa organ & crazy synths, distorted and jagged guitars, tuned percussives. (9/10)

8. “Forgotten Planet” (6:02) is my favorite. It  begins with flute and tight Stereolab-like rhythm bass with vocalist Melody Ferris’s scatting Pascale Son (COS)-like. Wonderful Canterbury song! (10/10)

9. “Dirty Spoons” (5:13) begins with an acoustic guitar playing an arpeggiated chord sequence that is just heart-wrenchingly beautiful. Bandleader Bill Wolter is gradually joined by the rhythm section, keyboards and horns--which take over the presentation of the melodies on this awesome instrumental. Parts have an almost Acid Jazz feel to it, only without the house downbeat. Another favorite. (10/10)

10. “25 Miles to Freedom” is notable for both its length (10:31) and its different jazz beat--like a kletzmer-meets-Philip-Glass or like the 1988 Pat Metheny-Steve Reich collaboration on “Different Trains.” Melody Ferris’s jazzy vocals aren’t quite as warm or alluring on this one--and actually make it obvious that on this particular song it’s the instrumental sections that are the standouts--like the violin, sax, and vibraphone trio in the seventh minute, or the STEELY DAN-like sax solo in minute number eight. (9/10)

My favorite songs in which Melody’s voice shine are the wordless “Forgotten Planet,” “Missing The Train,” “Oompah,” “Knee,” and “Rainbro.”   
The more I listen to this album, in a variety of locations, the more I think that this is, in fact, a masterpiece of progressive rock music. (My favorite listening venue thus far has been in the car, uninterrupted highway driving.) This could be slightly tainted by the fact that the album gets better and better with each song, but could be also because I am so craving upbeat, happy prog--kind of like what we lost with the fadeout of the Canterbury Scene.  

87.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars of fun, intelligent, joy and for resurrecting fresh, jazzy, Canterbury music.






26. HAKEN The Mountain

While I’ve listened to all of the Haken releases so far, and have been very impressed with the musicianship and compositional skills of the band, this is the first album in which I feel that the boys aren’t just trying to “show off”—in which they aren’t trying to purposely wow and dazzle. The slowed down compositional approach allows a more broad-spectrum emotional side of the band to be exhibited—which is what I’ve needed to feel engaged, drawn into the music. Both Aquarius and Visions are albums of impressive music, but The Mountain is the first I’ve liked well enough to actually buy.

     The impressive YouTube video for “Pariedolia” (10:51) (9/10) is what got me into really giving this album a serious listen. (Link is to YouTube "Official Video.") What makes me critical of this album, however, is the fact that virtually every song sounds familiar. “Atlas Stone” (7:34) (9/10) as excellent as it is, keeps reminding me of ANATHEMA, NEMO, Jem Godfrey’s FROST* and AMPLIFIER’s Octopus; “Cockroach King” (8:15) (9/10) seems like the band’s foray into ‘heavy’ GENTLE GIANT and 10CC territory; “In Memoriam” (4:17) (8/10) brings me again to FROST*, ANATHEMA and STEVEN WILSON’s recent more stuff (especially the vocals and lyrics); “Because It’s There” (4:24) (7/10) out Moon’s MOON SAFARI, but, in the end, it’s just Moon Safari, isn’t it? “Falling Back to Earth” (11:51) (9/10) has a cool combination of heavy metal and jazz in a MAD CRAYON/RIVERSIDE kind of way (excellent vocal, btw); “As Death Embraces” (3:14) (9/10) returns to a very STEVEN WILSON/RADIOHEAD kind of minimalist form (with better vocals, I must admit); “Pariedolia”, as awesome as it is, could easily come from a PORCUPINE TREE album, and; “Somebody” (9:01) (8/10) plays out just like an ANATHEMA song, despite the silly “I wish I could have been somebody” vocal rondo section. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying this album—as a whole and as individual songs come up on my iPod shuffle. Sometimes I just get a little frustrated with the lack of originality or lack of innovation in today’s music. 

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



27. FLICKER How Much Are You Willing to Forget?

A collection of very strong crossover Prog songs with wonderful melodies, great structural and instrumental hooks in the vein of PORCUPINE TREE, AIRBAG, PINK FLOYD, and even a little bit of THE WHO. 2. "Go" (3:02) (7/10) takes me back to the 70s Fripp-assisted work of Peter Gabriel or Brian Eno. Some of the songs (like 3. "Out There" [6:00] [8/10], 6. "Everywhere Face" [4:37] [9/10], and especially 8. "Breathless" [8:20] [9/10]) sound so much like STEVEN WILSON/PORCUPINE TREE that it almost could be. (Is "Flicker" yet another Steven Wilson project??!!) Listening to the gorgeous Satie- and Rachmaninoff-inflected 9. "Is This Real Life?" (6:35) (9/10) I thought I was listening to RADIOHEAD!

My favorite songs are the album's two most original songs--the ones that, to me, sound the least like other bands: 4. "My Empty Head" (6:43) with its awesome final four minutes' instrumental jam (9/10) (Link is to live concert performance [7/10]) and 5. "Counting Time" (7:29)) (9/10), and the Marco Glümmann/SYLVAN-like "Falling Down" (8/10).

I have to admit that this is a very, very nice set of songs--especially for a debut album. Though often a bit familiar, they all stand on their own--are not total 'remakes' or ripoffs of the groups that they sound like.

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


P.S. Anyone else out there think they're hearing the voice of Pete Townsend singing on "Out There"?




28. ARABS IN ASPIC 2 Pictures in a Dream  

This is an album which overtly fits into the realm of stoner rock/psychedelia. What has really impressed me with this album is the production--the sound quality and layers of subtleties woven into the fabric of each song. I compare this music to that of HYPNOS69, QUANTUM FANTAY, and SAMSARA BLUES EXPERIMENT, among other, but find the music to be much more thoughtfully constructed and more creatively engineered.

1. a) "Rejected Wasteland" b) "Pictures in A Dream" (6:05) opens the album with some awesome sound combinations, evolving into a kind of HYPNOS 69 sound, but then showing their multi-dimensionality and song-writing maturity with some awesome codas, bridges and cadenzas. The song's "b)" section starts out as a kind of blues-rock jam before taking on a GRAND FUNK/NEKTAR-like shift progression. Love the vocals! Outstanding! (9/10)

2. "Let U.S. Pray" (5:18) though this politically-oriented song starts out like a BLACK SABBATH/LED ZEPPELIN song, at 1:20 it devolves into an interesting, creative and original song with great team vocal work--almost KHAN-like. At 3:12 an awesome scream-vocal introduces an awesome instrumental section. Again I can't help but compare this song to the work of KHAN on my favorite Canterbury album--their only album--Space Shanty. (10/10)

3. "You Are Blind" (5:41) begins loudly before settling back into an acoustic guitar based standard blues rock song. By 1:50 it has turned into a full-blown LED ZEPPELIN song, though more with the vocal harmonies of early BLUE OYSTER CULT, CREAM. At 3:40 the new section even directly references "Stairway to Heaven" and some other ZEP, HEMDRIX, and BEATLES songs. Well done tribute! (8/10)

4. "Felix" (3:04) streams in on the psychedelic synth from the previous song as a simple blues rock chord progression is established with "House of the Rising Sun"-like guitar arpeggios. The Clapton-imitating lead guitar is understated until he starts to soar at the 1:40 mark. Clever and catchy lead melody hooks. (9/10)

5. "Hard to Find" (3:01) travels into early Metal territory, the Farfisa-like organ giving it a MOODY BLUES/BLACK SABBATH quality and sound. Great RAY MANZEREK keyboards at the beginning of the instrumental section at 1:44. Great chunk of nostalgia. (9/10)

6. "Difference in Time" (2:46) again reminds me of a cross between early BLUE OYSTER CULT and LED ZEPELLIN--with a little ROBERT WYATT thrown in there. Good CREAM/ARGENT-like blues rock with a tinge of Canterbury. (8/10)

7. "Lifeguard at Sharkbay" (5:09) is an interesting song with a split personality. The instrumental second section is set up to showcase the Clapton-esque guitar skills. Section three speeds things up like a great URIAH HEEP song. Section four brings it into arena- anthem territory. It all adds up to a kind of a CORUS STONE jam setup song. (8/10)

8. "Ta et steg til siden" (2:53) starts right off into blues rock territory like a classic CREAM or BLUE OYSTER CULT song--and stays there. Solid but . . . proggy? (7/10)

At this point the album is starting to wear on me as being more imitative of classic 1970 blues rock and less of what proggers got hooked onto.

9. "VI Motes Sikkert Ighen" (6:48) opens with some bombast quite reminiscent of classic BLACK SABBATH. Nice song structure, chord progressions, and development. The sparse beginning to the vocal section at 1:48 sets up a pretty classic, almost RPI, section. This one, for some reason, feels less imitative of elders and more original (despite the less-than- exciting drumming in the first four and a half minutes). Great NEKTAR-ish dream-freakout section beginning at the 4:45 mark. Too bad it ends?goes back to the kind of dragging, dramatic vocal section. Still, I like that for the first time the band is displaying something creative and original. (9/10)

10. "Prevail to Fail" (3:22) is an electrified acoustic guitar strummed song with some alternating vocalists kind of treading CHICAGO and STYX ground. I like this second vocalist! He sounds quite impassioned. The quirky synth soli and vocal harmonies make for a very pleasant, catchy, almost poppy tune. (10/10)

11. "Pictures in A Dream" (acoustic version) (3:23) the acoustic version here really brings out the LED ZEPPELIN, URIAH HEEP and even CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH influence on this band. (8/10)

A very enjoyable listen by a group of well-polished stoner-rock imitators, but it is in the band's more original stuff that I find myself drawn back for repeated listens.

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





29. MOTORPSYCHO Still Life with Eggplant

I’ve never quite fallen under the spell of Motorpsycho but after last year’s sophisticated rock opera, The Death Defying Unicorn, and hearing that Reine Fiske had been lured on board for this one, I couldn’t resist.

1. “Hell Parts 1-3” (9:47). The first “part” of this song—which contains a multi-layered harmonized vocal--reminds me very much of an amped up CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG circa 1970. Around the 4:50 mark an instrumental section begins which reminds me very much of the work of EDGAR WINTER GROUP and around 1973. The third part, beginning at the 7:15 mark, is a stripped down, funky instrumental section set up to support a kind of HENDRIX-like solo guitar display by Reine Fiske. Okay song with nothing particularly ground-breaking or earth-shatteringly engaging. (8/10)

2. “August” (4:53) opens with a CREAM-like intro before settling into a kind of Southern Rock groove. The bridges between the first two vocal-supporting A Sections are interesting and unusual—kind of Zappa-like. The guitar solo section is also entertaining though it’s nothing better than anything the Allman Brothers did. (8/10)

3. “Barleycorn (Let It Come/Let I t Be)” (7:19) begins auspiciously like the TRAFFIC song of its namesake. The vocals enter with a whispery approach and are then amplified and multiplied as the singers wind up for the “Let it come, Let it be” chorus section. The second A Section is quite magical with the play of the slide guitar, more animated drums, and heavier sound. By far the best sound of the album so far. Nice guitar solo against this same storm-like musical background until the 5:00 mark when things back off and quite down for a bit. But then, instead of the expected reappearance of vocals the guitar solo continues and the band starts building toward a crescendo and then the vocals rejoin! Awesome song with some great spacey sounds working their way in and out throughout and some really nice multi-layered vocal work. (9/10)

4. “Ratcatcher” (17:10) begins with about 90 seconds of some spacey-echoed guitar pickings and arpeggios before the bass, keys, and guitars kind of go off each in their own “tuning” directions. Then suddenly with a burst at the 2:15 mark, the band bursts forth in full song unison (somewhat reminiscent of the sound and style of the final two songs on The Death Defying Unicorn). A vocal section begins before the song wanders off into a prolonged “solo” in which two guitars explore their psychedelic freedom over some awesome jazzy support from the drums and bass. Both guitars are quite interesting to follow but I find myself drawn more to the drumming and bass playing each time I listen to this section. At 8:40 the song begins to sound like everybody is coming back together but instead a more Neil Young-styled guitar solo ensues in the left channel while the right channel’s guitarist plays a more chord-oriented support role. At 10:55 Fiske signals his return to the fold and soon the vocals rejoin—all this going on over the awesome play of the rhythm section. At 12:15 the shout of “Ratcatcher!” signals the end of that section. Everything slows and winds down like a dying watch until the 13:35 mark where first a single guitar picks out a little melody, then the second guitar joins in and the more subdued drums and bass rejoin, this time in support of the right channel guitarist’s extended though quite mellow solo. Again, I can’t help but tune into and enjoy the subtle playfulness of the bass and drums during this section. The song’s final 90 seconds are left to the heavily effected psychedelic soundings of the two guitarists. Cool song kind of in the vein of country-mates MY BROTHER THE WIND, except with a bit more structure and, of course, vocals. (9/10)

5. “The Afterglow” (5:57) is a fairly gentle rock song sounding incredibly similar to some of the acoustic guitar-based vocal sections of Toby Driver from the 2001 MAUDLIN OF THE WELL albums Bath and Leaving Your Body Map. Even the chord sequences from the second section in which the whole band has come together are SO moTW! (though there is a little RADIOHEAD-like guitar play going on with it.) At 3:20 the rhythm and sounds take on a much more 70s CREAM-like feel before falling back into a kind of CSN& Y/ YOUNGBLOODS/ALLMAN BORTHERS music style and sound (including some cowbell!). Nice guitar solos beginning around the 3:30 mark. The vocals from the 4:45 mark on are screamy in a BECK Odelay-kind of way. I like this song very much. (9/10)

Though there are no songs that really knock my socks off on this album, it is a solid, creative, melodic, and enjoyable listen—especially as one gets past the more mundane first two songs.

86.0 on the Fish sclaes = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece.  Recommended to all music lovers.  




30. SCARLET STORIES Scarlet Stories

Once in a while--maybe once every two or three months--an album will come down the progstreaming pipe that really hooks its talons deep into my mind. Such is this new release from Scarlet Stories. I have really been enjoying this 45-minute long "EP" which I discovered through progstreaming.com and, later, bought on bandcamp. Bare-bones music from this Dutch duo with a definite prog orientation. Mostly just acoustic guitar (Bram te Kamp) (sometimes treated) and one powerful female vocalist in Lisette van den Berg. 

1. "Beauty Killed The Beast" (5:59) starts out like a coffee house rag à la Rikkie Lee Jones or Edie Brickell, gets a little more in your face with the first chorus, then, after cycling through a couple more times, at 3:30 there is a little change as both guitar and vocal get more aggressive. The least proggy of all the songs on the album. (7/10)

2. "Nostalgia in A Closed Mind" (6:31) (live version here) is a mesmerizing, hypnotizing piece of music despite its incredibly bold and powerful vocal. The lyric "Only nostalgia" will haunt me ( in a great way) for the rest of my life! (10/10)

3. "Resurrection" (6:13) my second favorite song on the album starts with multiple acoustic guitars doing some really nice picking and strumming. Lisette's entry is soft, touching, but by the time she gets to the "revenge is sweet" lyric things have gotten quite powerful. There is a sharp and unexpected shift at the four minute mark in which the guitars start playing different pickings and Lisette's singing unveils a new melody--which then plays out to the end. (9/10)

4. "Craving" (7:15) starts out with the guitar(s) picking at a much more rapid pace. Lisette soon joins in with a more conversation-like, stoccato vocal & melody. The "craving" chorus arrives like a stop-and-serve. The transition back into the A section is also a bit awkward--as if the A and B themes were forced together.
     In the third repetition of the "craving" chorus Lisette's voice has a strength which reminds me strikingly of FREQUENCY DRIFT's extraordinary vocalist on the Ghosts... album, Antje Auer. I love the guitar work in the last two minutes with Lisette's far off vocal notes in the background. (8/10)

5. "Girl on A Mushroom Cloud" (5: ) a softly picked acoustic guitar sets up the quick arrival of a more delicate vocal--again in the stylistic vein of Antje Auer. At 1:15 the first chorus is interesting for its strummed guitar and Bram's vocal harmonies. After the second time through the B section Lisette begins reciting a poetic section in her speaking voice. When she finishes, the guitar begins to strum aggressively and is eventually joined by Lisette, also singing quite aggressively, but then the song winds down rather gently. Storm over. (9/10)

6. "When The World Was Asleep" (4:46) begins with some very spaciously picked acoustic guitar notes mixed in with harmonics. At the one minute mark Lisette fills a pause with a very soft, delicate voice. As the song goes along Lisette's vocal styling becomes more similar to previous songs save for her use of more sustained notes here and there. A very slow, spacious, (almost plodding) but soul-filled song. (8/10)

7. "The Murder of A Chimera" (4:59) begins like a Broadway interlude song--you know, the one where the female protagonist is down-and-out, alone, confused, about ready to give it up but then gets some hitherto wellspring of motivation to press forward. (9/10)

I wish more bands, singers, and songwriters had the courage to record (and publish) music like this! 

85.0 in the Fish scales = 4.5 stars--one of my favorite albums of the year so far.