Friday, January 30, 2015

Favorite Long "Epics" of the 21st Century

After long deliberation I am finally publishing my list of My Favorite Prog Epics (12 mins. or longer) from this the 21st Century. Rather than using the five star or ten point rating system I've decided to use the USA's good old school grading system. The ability to use pluses and minuses allows me to grade these songs in a way that feels much more accurate than the numeric systems.
      An A+ signifies a song that feels like it goes beyond perfection--has something(s) extra. An A is prog perfection, hard to find fault with. An A- denotes a great song that has a few minor flaws. The B+ implies that the song nearly misses masterpiece status; it has some great parts but lacks either flow, cohesion or enough memorable hooks or complexities to rate at the top echelon of prog music.

A+ songs
"Chapter IX" - AETHER
"At the Court of Alkinoos" - GLASS HAMMER
"Silhouette" - EDISON’S CHILDREN
"Perfect Cosmic Storm" - BIG BIG TRAIN
"Frozen Moment" - NINE STONES CLOSE
"Isis and Osiris" - AYREON
"Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)" - MAUDLIN OF THE WELL
"The Way Up, Part II" - PAT METHENY
"Fiori, frutti, farfalle" - HUMANA PROG
"God Left Us for a Black Dressed Woman" - SEVEN IMPALE
"From Silence to Noise" - NOSOUND
"Fire! Fire! Fire!" - MY BROTHER THE WIND
"Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II" - MAGMA

A songs
"Note from the Past" - HIROMI'S SONICBLOOM
"Antítesis"- KANT FREUD KAFKA
"Cicatrix ESP" - THE MARS VOLTA
"The Manifold Curiosity" - KAYO DOT
"El Regresso (the Return)" - NEXUS
"A Mysterious Cup of Tea, Parts 1-5" - MARGIN
"Transition" - LUNATIC SOUL
"Vapour Trail" - SYLVAN
"Germander Speedwell" - THIEVES’ KITCHEN
"Tryptique" - SETNA
"Pentacle's Suite" - KOTEBEL
"The Bright Ambassadors of Morning" - PURE REASON REVOLUTION
"Sequencer (from 70 to 07)" - KLAUS SCHULZE
"Sovrano dell-illusione" (Parts 1 & 2) - MAD CRAYON
"Zilezi" - ARANIS
"Second Life Syndrome" - RIVERSIDE
"Serenity in a Nutshell" - CIRRUS BAY
"Salt Water Falling on Uneven Ground" - BIG BIG TRAIN
"Ricorre l'abbandono" - J'ACCUSE..!

A- songs
"Phantom Pain Scars" - T
"Tick Tock” - GAZPACHO
"K.A. (Part III)" - MAGMA
"Dama" - KANT FREUD KAFKA
"In Orbit" - WOBBLER
"Great Cold of the Night" - MIDDAY VEIL
"Sulle ali del sogno Odissea" - C.A.P.
"Herculean" - KHATSATURJAN
"The Garden" - UNITOPIA
"Frank" - TRION
"A Piece of the Sky" - SWANS
"The Underfall Yard" - BIG BIG TRAIN
"Epitaph for a Mariner” - SEAN FILKINS
“Surveillance” - AIRBAG
"The Aftermath of Science" - T
"On The Run" - SATELLITE
"Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble" - KOTEBEL
"...And So We Destroyed Everything" - SLEEPMAKESWAVES
"Hell, part 4-6: Traitor/Cheese" -- MOTORPSYCHO
"9" - DATURAH
"Firebears" - THE TEA CLUB
"The Mortality of Doves" - KAYO DOT
"Dawn" - FAUNS
"Sound of the Apocalypse" - BLACK BONZO
"Wind, Water & Fire Suite" - IONA
"Pick Up If You're There" - BIG BIG TRAIN
"The Black Tomato" (Parts I-III) - ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE
"Io" -- SEVEN THAT SPELLS
"In This Puzzled Roundabout" -- ARLEKIN
"Storm" - GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR
"Songs of Ascent" (Parts 1-3) - IONA
"He Tried to Show Them Magic/Ambassadors Return” - PURE REASON REVOLUTION
"Temporary Peace” - ANATHEMA
"Jacob van Vennepkadell" - OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ
"'Even The Outsider' Suite, Parts i, ii, & iii" - DOMINA CATRINA LEE
"Le Gardien" - NIL
"Dreams" - FREQUENCY DRIFT
"Prologue: Nature Morte/You’re Not Welcome Here" - BATTLESTATIONS
"Pride" - MYSTERY
"Star-Filled Skies" (Parts 1-4) - DAVE BAINBRIDGE
"Terra Sancta" - FROGG CAFÉ
"Behind The Wall of Sheep" - ELECTRIC ORANGE
“Particelle” - LAGARTIJA
"The Collapse" - AMPLIFIER
"Lullaby in a Car Crash" - BJORN RIIS
"Quits" - PAATOS

B+ songs
"Chapter V" - LIZARD
"Ghost Track" - DATURAH
"Ato piradime" - UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA
"Simurgh" - KOTEBEL
"Dérégénération" - NIL
"One More Time" - THE FLOWER KINGS
"Requiem (for a Dying Creed)" - HYPNOS 69
"Suite Beef" - ELECTRIC ORANGE
"Berlin" - PROTEO
"Sky and Sea" - ALEX CARPANI
"First Contact" - INVISIBLE OPERA COMPANY OF TIBET
"Tesarul de Lumini" - NEGURA BUNGET
"Deadman" - KARNIVOOL
"The Apostate" - SWANS
"Love and Inspiration" - HELIOPOLIS
"Dream of Stone" - GAZPACHO
"Eastern Fields" - PROTEO
"Greed" - MAGENTA
"Il Tredici” - SANHEDRIN
"Ocean Mind" - FREDDEGREDDE
"Old Friend in a Hole" - JACK O'THE CLOCK
"Cruces y Sombras" - NEXUS
"Sensitivià" - LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO
"The Curious One” - SKY ARCHITECT
"Chapter I" - LIZARD
"Sjo & Land" - BRIMSTONE
"Rogue" - DISCIPLINE
"Searise" - WHITE WILLOW
"Vento Madre" - UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA
"Russia on Ice" - PORCUPINE TREE
"In the Shadow of Our Pale Companion" - AGALLOCH
"Warrior" - UNIVERS ZERO
"Coerenza delle percenuali" - UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA
"Ouroboros" - ASTRA
"Cassandra Gemini" - THE MARS VOLTA
"The Fall of Bliss" Suite - METHEXIS
"Deep B Flat" - DATURAH
"In Principio" - LOGOS
"The Trip" - DJAM KARET
"The Seer" - SWANS
"Soulprint" - INTROITUS
"Too Much to Lose" - THE PINEAPPLE THIEF
"A Dangerous Journey" - RITUAL
"The Walk" - GAZPACHO
"Learning to Fly" -- CIRRUS BAY
"Obsolescence" - ABEL GANZ
"In Extremis" - DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS
"Progression by Failure" - PROGRESSION BY FAILURE
"A Virtuous Man" - THINKING PLAGUE
"...And I Awaken" - I AND THOU

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Top Albums of the Year 2014, Part 2: The Others

Other Albums from 2014 Worth Listening To




DREAM THE ELECTRIC SLEEP Heretics

Some of the best music I've heard all year. The music has an energy and urgency and excitement that is rarely felt in modern studio music. Great songwriting, great musicianship, great vocals, songs that pack a wallop yet are filled with many unexpected twists and turns. Heretics puts up some awesome, but not over-the-top, walls of sound. If there is a drawback to some of it, it's that it often sounds and feels too derivative of the music of U2--including the vocal stylings sounding like U2 lead singer, Bono. Otherwise, this is, start to finish, an exciting album of high-energy rock. I have a feeling that Heretics will win over a lot of new fans for this group of American alt/prog rockers. There are some very special songs on this album, especially the title song opener, "Heretics" (4:51) (10/10), which takes The Beatles and King Crimson to places they never dreamed of going! It opens with powerful chords that hook you in from the opening riffs. The closer, "Ashes Fall" (8:08) (9/10), is another stunner, this time for the continuous list of "waiting"s heart-wrenchingly read by a female voice.  

Favorite songs: "Heretics;" the U2 War-ish and doves-like "Elizabeth" (8:22) (9/10); the doves-like "Utopic" (6:38) (8/10); the brief folk-with-Bono-ish "Lost Our Faith" (2:06) (8/10); the full-out U2 sounding "How Long We Wait" (9:29) (8/10), and, of course; "Ashes Fall."

Solid four star album of high quality, highly creative, highly detailed music.






AGORÀ Ichinen

This is an album I liked immediately and continue to find eminently enjoyable. Almost every song offers me reminders of some of the greatest jazz fusion artists ever:  JEAN-LUC PONTY, DARYL STUERMER, RETURN TO FOREVER, AL DI MEOLA, CHICK COREA, PAUL WINTER, CODONA, RALPH TOWNER, DOMINA CATRINA LEE, JOHN MCLAUGHLIN, WEATHER REPORT. Plus there are songs with vocal touches that make Agorà unique unto themselves ("Ichinen," "Sensei," "Star Strings," "Tre Maggio," "Oceano"). There are many styles of jazz represented here, including traditional jazz ("Oceano"), Paul Winter Consort-like jazz ("Piramide di Domani"), Windham Hill jazz ("Wood of Guitar"), World Music jazz ("Ichinen," "Sensei"), New Age jazz ("Star Strings"), Jean-Luc Ponty jazz ("Serra San Quirico"), Hawaiian jazz ("Star Strings"), and funky Weather Report-like electric jazz fusion ("Costa dell'Est" and "Progressive Suite"). Almost all of it is beautiful, soul-soothing, and virtuosically performed.

5 Star songs:  "Serra San Quirico," "Ichinen," "Sensei," "Star Strings," "Oceano," "Wood of Guitar," "Progressive Suite," and "Piramide di Domani/Cavalcata Solare."

A 4.5 star album



ATOMIC APE Swarm

Out of Mimicry Records comes a kind of action movie soundtrack à la Pulp Fiction or, as the album art indicates, a soundtrack appropriate for a modern King Kong movie--kind of Dick Dale meets Frank Zappa and the Pink Martinis on Broadway. The songs are all instrumentals and--did I mention--very soundtrack-ready (now somebody, please, make the movie!) though wordless voices are occasionally used in the mix as another instrument ("Passenger"). There are few with some klezmer feels to them ("Penumbra," "Heraklion," "Nerve Agents" and "Rhythm Futur"). The use of horns, accordions, heavily treated guitars, and many odd "incidentals" to augment the standard rock lineup is rather creative and refreshing. 
     The band's leader is Jason Schimmel--formerly of acclaimed bands ESTRADASPHERE and THE ORANGE TULIP CONSPIRACY. I really enjoy every song--they all make me smile, they all make me want to dance, they're all unusual, quirky and, yes, freshly entertaining, but my favorites include:

Favorite songs:  the Dick Dale-influenced opener, "Red Tide" (4:22); the hilarious 60s Samba "party movie" parody, "The Blind Snake Charmer" (4:38)--which could easily fit into a 60s James Bond or 70s Pink Panther movie (8/10);  the eery, down tempo "Cabin of The Cursed" (3:58); the nearly KARDA ESTRA-like "Passenger" (4:14), and; the hip and upbeat "Refraction" (3:06).

A smile-a-minute masterpiece of perfect-for-a-soundtrack songs who just happen to be without a screen companion. Perhaps Hollywood will find this extremely talented orchestra and hook 'em up!

4.5 stars.




PHI Now The Waves of Sound Remain

 Phi is a young 3-man band from Austria that call their approach to music "post Progressive Rock." I found myself surprised that I'd not come across this term before. Then the internal quarrels as to what could be meant by this term accompanied my listening to Now The Waves of Sound Remain on progstreaming.com. What impressed me about the band and their music was that instead of sounding retro- or neo-prog, or retro- or neo-classic rock, the band sounds to me like a band of youth expressing themselves in their most heartfelt way. I especially enjoy the way they so unexpectedly and yet effortless incorporate updated LED ZEPPELIN/RUSH sounds and riffs into their songs. They can be indie/alt rock like MEW, they can be proggish like DEVIN TOWNSEND, they can be metal like Led Zep, they can be grungy like ALICE IN CHAINS, they can be Experimental like ANEKDOTEN, and so tight like Rush, but they are so original and unique! And their vocals are so diverse, interesting, and unusual. Everything is so fresh and unexpected. My listening to this album kept flushing me over with wave after wave of excitement and awe similar to when I first heard CREAM, LED ZEPPELIN, LYNYRD SKYNYRD, or PEARL JAM. Supergroups. And PHI is young! I am excited! This band is so creative! So confident! So tight!


This is an excellent album that I want everyone to check out. For now I'm going to give it four stars as I've only listened to it twice so far. But this may end up getting bumped up to masterpiece status--and it may be a top tenner of 2014.

Prog lovers: Check out this album!



MARGIN Psychedelic Teatime

This one sounds a lot to me like a continuation of 2013's AIRBAG and COSMOGRAF albums along with 2012's I AND THOU, NINE STONES CLOSE, MYSTERY, and RIVERSEA albums with a bit of THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE (especially in the singing voice). The album's highlight is, of course, the five-part epic entitled "A Mysterious Cup of Tea" (9/10) which sounds most like the brilliantly nostalgic music of Andrew Marshall's WILLOWGLASS only with singing and with more emotional guitar leads. The rest of the album is really good Neo-Prog with quirky, tongue-in-cheek ANDY TILLISON or Thomas Thelen-like lyrics and singing. 

Enjoyable and nice to come back to once in a while. Some really great lead guitar soloing. Often feeling a bit too familiar in the Neo-ness of it. 

3.5 stars rated up for overall number of high points.






CORVUS STONE II

This is a much more mature and cohesive band effort than CS's debut album--with an entertaining (and often humorous!) concept entwining the collective of 16 songs. These very skilled musicians are showing a greater familiarity with each other and nice collaborative blend in their music than on their previous effort (in which many of the songs seemed contrived to give more flash and shine to individuals and to solos). The brief instrumental interludes between some of the longer songs are nice. My only complaint with this album is that when the occasional all-out rock song ("Purple Stone") or passage rears its head it takes the feel of the album, in my opinion, away from that of progressive rock and instead into a more "classic" "southern" rock zone.
     Once again I have to single out axeman Colin Tench: the man can play! And he seems to be a master of any style he chooses! Check out "Uncle Schunkle" to get a little taste of what I mean. It's like hearing Alvin Lee, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy all in one! An astounding listening experience.

Album highlights: "Boots for Hire" (8:58) with its excellent keyboard guitar weaves, Krautrock rhythm lines, and excellent raspy vocal (kudos Staf Flaming) (9/10); the upbeat Santana-like "Scandinavians in Mexico" (5:06) (8/10); "Camelus Bactrianus" (8:42) (9/10); the extraordinary "Eternal Universe" (3:52) (10/10); the epic "Moaning Lisa" (14:08) (which feels like a tango in disguise as a waltz and has a delightfully unpredictable uptempo instrumental midsection) (8/10), and; the album's brief intro and outro.

Nice variety of male vocalists--ALL quite good! Top notch recording and mixing (much better than on CSI) Kudos, Corvus Stone! You guys are gelling so well! Next album, I expect, will be your masterpiece.

4.5 stars.




INIOR Hypnertomachia

Instrumental jazz-tinged prog rock. When playing on the softer, jazzier side, they are not unlike the Italian band LAGARTIJA. But in most songs they often make tangential forays into heavier territory--like . Vocals are sparse, infrequent, and often unexpected--which, with lead vocalist choosing to sing in a heavily accented English, I can understand.

Four stars.




TAYLOR WATSON (A)Synchronous

A remarkable debut record from son of Fusion legend Dean Watson, this music has a fusion going on of its own:  There are many times that I feel that I'm hearing the walls of sound of DEVIN TOWNSEND's guitar-heavy work or TOOL. But I hear many more melodic moments, variations, and I can access much more of the individual instruments' work here. All-instrumental, Taylor weaves some very interesting themes and riffs together in a singular and fresh way--which is why I can tolerate this type of metal/extreme metal better than I can Devin's. The music is complex and the musicianship virtuosic (with some great engineering tricks) but not over-the-top nor sacrificing quirk or engaging melodies. I also find myself reminded of one of my all-time favorite albums, PROGHMA-C's Bar-do Travel while listening to many parts of this album. 
     If this is where young Mr. Watson is starting then, watch out world!  We're going to see (and hear) great things in the future from this musical wiz-kid.

5 star songs: "(A)Synchronous" (6:00) (9/10), "Moments" (6:36) (10/10), and "Tarnished Rendition" (7:05) (9/10).

The rest are all solid four star compositions. A very solid four star album. Kudos, Taylor!





BJØRN RIIS Lullabies in a Car Crash

AIRBAG's guitarist extraordinaire has gone solo! A self-confessed DAVID GILMOUR fanatic, the student is doing his best to surpass the master, though he still sounds a bit too imitative of M. Gilmour. Great songs rendered beautifully with the full power of PF/DG. Just a bit too derivative.

AIRBAG guitar player and DAVID GILMOUR-worshipper Bjorn Riis here tries to go it alone and the result sounds remarkably like Airbag's last two albums. Bjorn's sometimes atmospheric, sometimes soaring Gilmouresque guitar play is always the highlight and always amazing in how completely he has replicated the great Pink Floyd guitarist's sound, stylings and technique. On Lullabies in a Car Crash Bjorn takes on the lead vocal duties and does surprisingly well. He even sounds remarkably like a cross between Airbag band-mate and lead vocalist, Asle Torstrup and the man himself, Roger Waters. Great music still very much in the Animals-era Pink Floyd vein.

Favorite songs:  1. "A New Day" (4:16) (8/10); 3. "Disappear" (6:27) (9/10); 4. "Out of Reach" (10:02) (8/10), the mercurial instrumental, 5. "The Chase" (7:08) (9/10), and; the title song, 6. "Lullaby in a Car Crash" (13:27) (9/10).

Solid four star effort of impeccable neo-prog music. Great stuff for Pink Floyd/David Gilmour fans.






SUNN O))) with Ulver Terrestrials


Is very powerful if brief and slow-developing music in the Post Rock and Krautrock veins. Gorm's distinctive vocals only grace one song, toward the end. I don't know SUNN O))) but apparently it is their guitars that are used here.





SOLSTAFIR Ótta

Awesome atmospheric Post Metal/Post Rock from these Icelandic rockers. As fellow prog reviewer Gallifrey pointed out, this what Sigur Rós might sound like if they were more metal, the music is very much in the vein of SIGUR RÓS and EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY. The nuances and subtleties on this album are so worth paying attention to, so gorgeous and powerful, that I highly recommend the headphone treatment. They are, after all, timing and titling their songs after the Old Icelandic monastic tradition of three hour increments, called "monastic hours."

Favorite songs: the emotional and stunningly gorgeous almost chamber music of 7. "Midaftann" (5:39) (10/10); the very Sigur-sounding 2. "Ótta" (9:38) (10/10); 1. "Lágnatti" (8:48) (10/10); 8. "Náttmála" (11:15) (8/10), and; 6. "Nón" (7:47) (8/10) 







PROTEO Republikflucht...Facing East

Nice jazzy prog. An Italian band of seasoned veterans have here put together quite an excellent oeuvre. I hear so many wonderful sounds familiar to me from so many other bands (The Fixx, Steely Dan, The Dream Academy, Prefab Sprout, Rush, Art in America, Gino Vanelli, Ozric Tentacles, Unitopia, Aisles) and eras (the 80s), all blended together subtly, unassumingly, into a very fresh and original (and welcome!) sound. And it is all packaged in great sound engineering. 

Favorite songs:  “Eastern Fields” (11:52) (9/10); “Echoes Mankind (part II)” (9:22) (9/10); “Four-Leaf Clover” (10:37) (with its gorgeous SANTANA-like last three minutes!) (9/10); Berlin” (12:55) (love the sound big shift at 3:30!) (9/10), and; the FIXX-like “Republikflucht” (10:54) (8/10).

83.3 on the Fish scales = A very solid four star contribution to the annals of progressive rock of which this band should be quite proud.




ALEX CARPANI 4 Destinies

This one has taken me a long time to really get a grip on. At first its jazziness captivated me. But then the more I listened to it I was hearing the GENESISness of it--and the PETER GABRIEL-like voice and vocal stylings. Then, more and more the imitativeness of GENESIS and other early prog masters like VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR came forward. Now I don't know how well I like this one.  

1. "Silk Road" (12:58) is very much like a heavier THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE song made to excel by its constant morphing into a wide, wide variety of styles and tempos: awesome Italian singing parts, classical and jazzy piano parts, chunky bass, bouncy organ play, breathy flute soli, Gabriel-era Genesis background vocals, 70s era synths, 70s-sounding drums, and many tasteful solos. The continuous shape-shifting, however, does take its toll: It detracts from allowing this song to form an identity of its own; in the end I am left with the impression that this song was made to be a show piece (of the artist's skills). (8/10)

2. "Time Spiral" (13:22) opens like an old GENESIS song--one that was left off of Selling England by the Pound. It then settles into Neo territory--very imitative with plenty of melody but really with nothing new or innovative. But then the third minute seems to shake the mold with some more modern--no. (Fourth minute) Just my imagination. It's Neo. Pleasant enough stuff. KNIGHT AREA comes to mind. Unlike the album's first song, this one seems to want to plod along at the same pace, with a very predictable form and structure. 
     The blatant GENESIS rip off beginning at 8:21 a bit is disappointing. Luckily it is soon followed by a jazzier KC/VDGG-like section. A Steve Hackett solo tries to fit in at the ten minute mark. ERIS PLUVIS anyone? Nice work. Again the singing in Italian may be the song's saving point. (8/10)

3. "Sky and Sea" (13:53) opens with a delicate weave of GENESIS-like instruments including 12-string guitars and clarinet. The Gabriel-era GENESIS vocal that joins in completes the song's obvious GENESIS reference. The B Sections move, again, into more VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR territory, until at 2:45 an amorphous bridge moves back into GENESIS territory with mellotrons and organ. The vocalist's likeness to Genesis-era Peter Gabriel is truly extraordinary. I guess the presence of Genesis-imitator THE WATCH's guitarist and VDGG's David Jackson throughout this album could also have something to do with its Genesis and VDGG sounds.
    The soft almost-spoken vocal part in the eleventh and twelfth minutes sound much like Fish-era MARILLION. This is probably my favorite song on the album--if you can get past its obvious roots and influences. (9/10)

4. "The Infinite Room" (14:17) opens with some untempoed piano and saxes--very VDGG-like. As the soundtrack feel builds a tempo seems to solidify until at the two minute mark drums and guitars take over to provide a foundation for a Richard Wright-like echoed synth solo. Mid-tempo Rock tempo is established for the vocal (again very Genesis-era Peter Gabriel-esque). At 3:55 a very COLLAGE Moonshine like section begins, but it eventually morphs back into the vocal part--which turns from English to Italian at the end of the sixth minute. Dracula is mentioned just before the Richard Wright synths are let loose again. Grand piano takes over with the advent of the seventh minute before a more RPI familiar section takes over. Solos from multiple instruments are being traded until TONY BANKS' Arp synth (think "Colony of Slippermen") takes over. Grand piano then supports a Broadway-like vocal before David Jackson's sax supplants Steve Hackett for the solo on a section taken straight out of "Fly on a Windshield"--which then morphs back into "The Colony of Slippermen." I guess the Infinite Room may be just next to The Waiting Room! 
     The song is pleasant listening--especially if you can get past the familiarity of so many sections--especially some lifted straight out of other classic 70s prog. (8/10)

It is very difficult for me to come up with a rating for this album. I don't do well with Neo-prog in general as the sounds, structures and formats are often too overwhelmingly lifted from favorite or familiar songs from my already prog rich and prog happy past. This is well done. It is well composed and well performed. It is pleasant to listen to. It isn't bad. I guess I'd recommend it to others so that you can make your own opinions. It is in my opinion more pleasant to listen to than most Neo-Prog--for me, moreso than Marillion or IQ--and certainly more than The Watch or Citizen Cain. But "excellent addition to any prog rock music collection"?? Hmmm . . . I think I'll let you decide.

82.5 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album and excellent addition to any prog music collection.

 

SYNDONE Odysséas

The drums!!

Some very polished (well produced) RPI with a story (Odysseus) and some music made most interesting for its full synth sound and the presence of tuned percussion (Francesco Pinetti on vibraphone) and horns throughout. The impassioned vocals unfortunately feel a little over-the-top (melodramatic) due, I am sure, to the fact that they are sung in Italian—which I do not understand. The music is sometimes jazzy, sometimes Broadway-esque, sometimes classical in its presentation. Perfect RPI. It is always well-polished and cleanly performed. For those of you enamored of the vocal talents of La Coscienza di Zeno’s Alessio Calandriello you will be well pleased with the ambitious offerings of Syndone’s Riccardo Ruggeri. Considering that Syndone was a one time solo project of Nik Comoglio, you have to say that he’s come a long way—and has gotten very good at finding great sidemen and guests for his projects (including drummer extraordinaire Marco Minnemann and flutist John Hackett). 

Favorite songs:  “Il tempo che non ho” (5:33) (9/10) and the finale, “Daimones” (4:54) (9/10).

Overall this is an admirably solid, well-conceived, and beautifully realized music. Definitely four stars. Maybe worth more. 





ABEL GANZ Abel Ganz is an album of quite diverse and eclectic styles, though it is essentially a collection of nice retro Prog Folk in the same league as THE DECEMERISTS and ECHOLYN (though I like this album better than anything I've heard from the latter two). The five-part epic entitled "Obsolescence" (23:22) (8/10) is a true prog epic--opening in an acoustic folk fashion like THE DECEMBERISTS, but closing with hard electric instrumentalism. 
     The album has a couple of full-blown world music songs, including "Heartland" (5:08) (9/10) complete with woman singing in an unusual foreign language and ENIGMA-like rhythms and synth washes, and the instrumental "End of Rain" (5:33) (9/10).
     "Spring" (2:25) (8/10) and "A Portion of Noodles" (3:22) (8/10) are both Windham Hill-like solo acoustic guitar pieces. "Thank You" (6:57) (7/10) is an out-and-out Country/Western song. "Recuerdos" (4:20) (8/10) is a beautiful, sensitive, horn-supported CHICAGO/FROGG CAFÉ-like song. There is even a modern neo-chamber piece, the album's opener, "Delusions of Grandeur" (2:12) (10/10). "Unconditional" (14:05) is a kind of ECHOLYN-meets-PORCUPINE TREE song of suitable prog length. (9/10)
     The album's finale, "The Drowning" (5:25), with its deeply stirring male vocal singing with only the support of a horn section, almost defies categorization and yet may be the most beautiful and effective song on the album. (10/10) What a way to end and album!
     This is definitely an album that has been well worth the attention and time I've given it to get to know its depths and subtleties. What I originally thought was good I now highly recommend as an excellent addition to any prog music lover's collection. Well done Scotland!





KNIFEWORLD The Unraveling


Quirky songs with quirkier lyrics. Knifeworld is another example of the new wave that is emerging from within a younger generation of musicians who are drawn to composing, performing, and recording techniques that use forms, sounds, stylings, techniques commonly associated with progressive rock artists of the past. Let's call it New Wave Prog. In my mind, 80s bands like XTC, Zammla Mannas Mamas, Thomas Dolby, It's Immaterial, Art of Noise, Ryuichi Sakamoto, and The Cardiacs were progenitors of this approach. The presence here of former Cardiacs guitarist, Kavus Torabi, would support this association. Remember what Jem Godfrey was trying to do with the second FROST* album:  give the listener all of a ten-minute prog song condensed down into four or five minutes? That's what this New Wave of Prog is seeming to do.
     Knifeworld is also following another recent trend of using a female vocalist as a part-time lead vocalist. The lead vocals of bandleader Torabi, are adequate--and just as quirky and jerky and intelligent as Cardiacs music is--and the composition and instrumental skills on display are wonderful. Think XTC with ARANIS and you've got a good feel for Knifeworld. Very good stuff.
Check it out to make your own decision.  





ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI AdC

The AdC music I hear on AdC has finally achieved what their previous albums failed to do:  engaged and pleased me. Melodies I actually remember after songs are over, songs I actually know by name and chose specifically, willingly, longingly to put on my iPod playlists. They have always felt accomplished as musicians--technical wizards, each--but something was missing. As it turns out, it was the fresh, original and memorable constructs that I hear on this album. 
     I've heard that AdC's concert appearances are quite impressive--other reviewers seem to always write with a bit of a stunned awe at what they observed and heard live. Perhaps with this album they have finally captured that jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring sound that they've been reported to convey on stage. Perhaps the roles and contributions of each of the seemingly-committed band members have been clearly established so that they can write and record cohesive, joy-expressing music. If I have any complaints it is that the recording sometimes feels a bit sterile, lacking human frailty.

Favorite songs: the SANTANA/STEELY DAN-like jam, 1. "Nadir" (9/10); the Hendrix-plays-with-The-Softs sounding, 2. "Dandelion" (9/10); the slow-building DIAGONAL-like, 5. "Tiglath" (8:28) (9/10); and the lovely Windham Hill-sounding pastoral acoustic ensemble of 6. "Piu Limpida e Chiara di Ogni Impressione Vissuta (Pt.2)" (3:21) (8/10).

Nice work, Contrarians!

4 stars.




FREDDEGREDDE Brighter Skies

 Fredrik Larsson is a fresh young multi-instrumental talent out of Sweden who has a proclivity for Drama-era YES but who is unfortunately cursed with a voice like OWL CITY's singer-songwriter Adam Young--"cursed" because, in this reviewers opinion, the OWL CITY singing approach does not match stylistically well with the YES-like music.

1. "Welcome the Bright Skies" (5:45) introduces us to Mr. Larsson's YES-like sound--that is, until he starts singing. "Fireflies" automatically comes to mind (a song I rather like but whose idiosyncratic vocal approach is, I think, better left as uniquely Adam Young's domain). (I know that Mr. Larsson cannot help that his English singing style sounds so familiar to these experienced ears. My point is, I think, that I don't find the OWL CITY vocal approach to fit very well with your choice of bombastic prog music.) A forgettable song that displays tremedous potential. (7/10)

2. "The Autotelic Self" (11:05) The Drama-era YES/Chris Squire bass sound and Trevor Horn voice make this for an interesting song. It is during this song that I am beginning to think that Mr. Larsson's real gift is in the keyboard department--his choices and uses of multiple sounds throughout a song is quite dextrous, confident and masterful. With each successive listen to this album I find myself tuning out the domineering bass and drums to focus on the more interesting keyboard work. Overlooking the too-busy, too-loud drums, and this is quite an interesting, well-constructed song. Even the vocals work tolerably well on this one. (9/10)

3. "Your Life" (3:00) is quite a cute, entertaining (biographical?) journey through the adventures of a young world-traveller. Quite catchy and engaging, if also poppy. (8/10)

4. "This Fragile Existence" (5:50) is a song with just too many layers, too much going on, and not enough consistency to render it engaging much less memorabl--though a brief GENESIS/TONY BANKS section at 4:25 tries to render this hodgepodge song from forgettability. (7/10)

5. "The Tower" (8:21) is probably my favorite song on the album. It has quite a RENAISSANCE feel to it--especially in the bass sound and foundational role of the piano. Quite symphonically constructed and of varied paced, the song's main flaw is in the singing. The singing sometimes feels forced, as if the singer has to rush the lyrics along to keep pace with the keyboard melody lines. The heavy section beginning at 6:45 is quite powerful. Still, the song could benefit from some more instrumental sections--or simply less singing. Reminds me of GENESIS' "Eleventh Earl of Mar" in that it is musically an incredible song over which the singing and lyrics have a negative effect. (9/10)

6. "Shining" (4:02) is another song of wonderful musical creativity that, unfortunately, suffers from the over-/domineering presence of singing and mismatched lyrics. The singer's approach often reminds me of one JON ANDERSON in the way these quite unusual and unexpected lyrics are sung in quite unexpected places and ways. (8/10)

The album's finale and longest song, the epic, 7. "Ocean Mind" (18:24), opens with three minutes of well-crafted symphonic prog bombast. Once the vocal does finally enter, it begins with some admirable restraint while some YES/STARCASTLE-like music fills the background (foreground and wings, too!) Again, the instrumental presentation may be a bit too busy. A softer section in the seventh minute has a TREVOR HORN/YES/BUGGLES feel to it (a feeling I'm revisited by A LOT during this song) before the music returns to a heavier instrumental section. Great keyboards and powerful drumming throughout--though the volume and activity of the drums at times detract attention from the other instruments. The song, unfortunately, wanders all over the musical spectrum without revealing (to me) its purpose or soul. The acoustic guitar backed gentle section in the fifteenth minute is nice, though the reverb and singing style forces that Adam Young/OWL CITY feel upon me as much as ever. The denouement of the final two minutes again leaves me wondering, confused: Is this supposed to be a "Supper's Ready" or an Elton John song? (7/10)

FreddeGredde is a band that I look forward to following in the future as I can see great potential if young Mr. Larsson decides to learn to use a little more restraint--to give more power to the subtleties and incidentals and not so much to the bombastic. He certainly has command of all of the elementals of great prog. Now to learn pacing and more mature presentation.

78.6 on the Fish scales = A 3.5 stars album (between "good" and "excellent") that shows tremendous future potential. I do recommend progsters give this one a listen as I believe Mr. Fredrik Larsson may be destined to contribute great things to the prog lexicon. Therefore, I rate it up to 4 stars.





NEW KEEPER OF THE WATER TOWERS The Cosmic Child

A heavy prog gourd which sounds like it has been heavily influenced by AGOLLOCH, ALICE IN CHAINS, Ozzie/Sabbath & IRON MAIDEN. 

1. "The Great Leveler" (6:37) is just too grungy for me. (7/10)

2. "Visions of Death" (9:25) has a great AGOLLOCH feel to it except with a bit more complexity and layers. (9/10)

3. "Pyre for The Red Sage" (12:05) sounds like a drawn out classic ALICE IN CHAINS song--except at its halfway point it totally shifts with an organ into PINK FLOYD mode--until at 7:40 some high octane guitar strumming and riffing takes us into the realm of old Heavy Metal artists like IRON MAIDEN. Then, at 9:44 we are brought into the warm sludge of the ALICE IN CHAINS world. Man does this vocal sound like Layne Staley!  (8/10)

4."Cosmosis" (3:27) is a gorgeous little song that feels bigger than its length. A bit of the AGOLLOCH feel to it because of its strumming acoustic guitar foundation but instead of the growls there are heavily treated voices. (8/10)

5. "Lapse" (12:32) has a very peaceful pace and feel for its first minutes--even into the ethereal higher range male vocal which commences with the third minute. The first sign of any ramping up occurs with some electric guitar picking at the 4:35 mark--but this only a little ripple in the pond. At 5:30, however, a repetitious, pulsating bass takes over while keys, drums, and electric guitar provide incidental notes, chords, and odd sounds around it. At the seven minute mark the music returns to a full band progression while some interesting DOORS-like guitar sounds play around. With the arrival of the ninth minute things get heavier, fuller, with power chords and rousing lead guitar work. Then, at 8:50, things freeze for a moment before the bass sets up a fast-pcaed plucked version of its earlier repetitions progression until at 9:25 strumming electric guitar and then drums kick in to usher in a ramped up rocking' section in which a couple of awesome electric guitar soli present themselves--duelling. Well composed/structured song. (9/10)

6. "The Cosmic Child" (2:51) is a little instrumental 'lullaby' contrasting picked acoustic and electric guitars. The song feels a little out of place--like the little lost child among all of these ploddingly heavy 'storm' songs. (8/10)

81.7 on the Fish scales = solid four star album; an excellent addition to any progressive rock lover's music collection.




COSMOGRAF Capacitor

Once again Cosmograf has come up with a gorgeous sounding concept album--with a very intriguing topic and some very cool incidental samples used to help string the songs together. However, I find, as I have on previous Cosmograf albums, that there is just something lacking to really draw the listener back for more. Once the story's been heard, the music is forgettable. The ambience of the incredibly well-engineered music is dreamy--great for background music, but Robin Armstong has brought very little new or exciting to the prog table. Instead, he's served up a meal of sumptuous flavor but nothing we haven't had before.

Favorite songs: the album's opener, "The Spirit Capture" (7:37) for its excellent set up of the album's story (8/10); the most memorable and varied song of the album with its beautiful melodies and simple instrumental support, "The Drover" (6:37) (10/10), and the guest party jam; "Stuck in the Wood" (6:27) (8/10).

3.5 stars rated up cuz this is, IMO, Cosmograf's best, so far.




EMERALD DAWN Searching for The Lost Key

Nice psychedelic jam-style prog music from Devon. Kind of 1970s STEVE HILLAGE-like. A bit unpolished and under-engineered but left raw is kind of good. Vocals and lyrics are nice but sometimes feel out of place. The dated computer keyboard and guitar sounds used are sometimes grating for the fact that you know that there are better sounds available--and better recording engineering possible--but the overall framework for the free-for-all guitar jams is good. I find myself tuned in by the foundational keyboard parts and then enjoying the play of the talented and energetic guitarist. It is, unfortunately, the rather rudimentary keyboard sounds and recording techniques detract from the overall effect of the songs.

1. "Beyond the Wall" (12:05) feels quite a bit like listening to early CURE (with EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL's Tracey Thorn singing) drawn out in HAWKWIND/ELOY fashion--far beyond necessity. (9/10)

2. "Buridan's Lament" (10:50) has trouble getting started and throws one off a bit once the Goth vocals of the male lead come in. By the third minute guitar, backbeat, and chord sequence have finally established themselves--but are barely interesting or engaging enough to draw the listener in. The Hackett/Hillage-like lead guitar play is the most interesting part of the music--before the piano arpeggio establishes a new key and the sax enters and takes over. Nice Dick Parry sound. Then simple church organ takes over--with nice effect. Previous sections are repeated and drawn out. (8/10)

3. "Shadow in Light" (10:14) an guitar jam instrumental, is my favorite song on the album despite (or, perhaps, because of) the fact that the entire song is a blatant ripoff of COLLAGE's 1995 classic, "Living in the Moonlight." (9/10)

4. "In Search of the Lost Key" (11:06) is just testing my tolerance for the same guitar lead played over slightly varied rhythms and chord progressions. The presence of murky female vocalist and organ does little to bring this song up to higher status. (8/10)

82.5 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album; an excellent addition to any prog music collection. A band with A LOT of potential and a lot of growing/matureing, practicing, experimenting to do.




ESOSOME What We Thought Would Save Us

What starts out as an album of upbeat refreshingly new music devolves into just another Porcupine Tree/Steven Wilson imitator. Well engineered and produced to create a very nice sound, I can't help but find myself feeling disappointed in its almost blatant familiarity. I like all of the songs--some are even better than the PT songs that they steal from, which is something, but the "borrowing" is so obvious . . . .

"Oracle" (6:26) "Not Like You" (4:48) and "Bloom" (4:12) are the albums three best songs. I just wish they sounded original.




Friday, January 2, 2015

2014's Best Epics

A great year for long songs in Prog World!

1. "Fiori, frutti, farfalle" -- HUMANA PROG
2. "God Left Us for a Black Dressed Woman" -- SEVEN IMPALE
3. "Antítesis"-- KANT FREUD KAFKA
4. "Hell, part 4-6:  Traitor/The Tapestry/Swiss Cheese Mountain" -- MOTORPSYCHO
5. "Hombre" -- KANT FREUD KAFKA
6. "Kuun Tytär" -- AALTO
7. "Oh, My Gravity!"-- SEVEN IMPALE
8. "A Mysterious Cup of Tea, Parts 1-5" -- MARGIN
9. "Spirit Photography" -- KAYO DOT
10. "Sjo & Land" -- BRIMSTONE
11. "The Grotesque Pageantry of Fading Empires" -- UT GRET
12. "Dama" -- KANT FREUD KAFKA
13. "Behind The Wall of Sheep" -- ELECTRIC ORANGE
14. "Song of the Wind" -- CIRRUS BAY
15. "Visions of Death" -- NEW KEEPERS OF THE WATER TOWERS
16. "Venivo da un lungo sonno" -- LOGOS
17. "Eastern Fields" - PROTEO
18. "Escape from... Heaven/Nebayilhaye" -- JERZY ANTCZAK
19. "In This Puzzled Roundabout" -- ARLEKIN
20. "Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22" -- KAYO DOT
21. "Lullabies in a Car Crash" -- BJØRN RIIS
22. "The Tower" -- FREDDEGREDDE
23. "Now The Waves of Sound Remain" -- PHI
24. "Magma" -- HOMíNIDO
25. "Io" -- SEVEN THAT SPELLS


Also Considered:
"Crowded Corridors" -- IAMTHEMORNING
"I'm Hiding Behind My Eyes" -- KNIFEWORLD
"Anima" -- INTROITUS
"Sky and Sea" -- ALEX CARPANI
"Autotelic Self" -- FREDDEGREDDE
"Echoes Mankind (part II)" -- PROTEO
"Elizabeth" -- DREAM THE ELECTRIC SLEEP
"Love and Inspiration" -- HELIOPOLIS
"Ocean Mind" -- FREDDEGREDDE
"In principo" -- LOGOS
"Out of The Box" -- CIRRUS BAY
"Four-Leaf Clover" - PROTEO
"Suite Beef" -- ELECTRIC ORANGE
"For Such a Time as This" -- DAVE BAINBRIDGE
"Obsolescence, Parts I-V" -- ABEL GANZ
"Piramide di Domani/Cavalcata " -- AGORà
"Burning Blood" -- SEVEN THAT SPELLS
"How Long We Wait" -- DREAM THE ELECTRIC SLEEP
"Shadow in Light" - EMERALD DAWN
"Eterno Retorno" -- HOMíNIDO
"Berlin" --PROTEO
"The Dance of the Drastic Navels" -- DAAL
"Progressive Suite" -- AGORà
"Slipping Away" -- INTROITUS
"I Fought Against the South" -- TIM BOWNESS
"The Infinite Room" -- ALEX CARPANI
"Song of Innocence, Parts I & II" -- MY BROTHER THE WIND
"Republikflucht" -- PROTEO
"Buridian's Lament" - EMERALD DAWN
"Last Exit to Pluto" -- MARGIN
"Walkabout" -- PERFECT BEINGS
"T.I.M.E (Part 3, The Sign on The Wall)" -- PERVY PERKIN
"Lapse" -- NEW KEEPERS OF THE WATER TOWERS
"Learning to Fly"-- CIRRUS BAY
"Time Spiral" -- ALEX CARPANI
"Nadir" -- ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI
"The Mortality of Doves" -- KAYO DOT
"The Road of Bones" -- IQ
"Shaking Hats" -- UNIVERS ZERO
"White Car" -- COSMOGRAF
"It Must Taste Good" -- DREAM THE ELECTRIC SLEEP
"Palefeathered Wind" -- PALEFEATHER
"Beyond The Wall" - EMERALD DAWN
"Memories of The Water" -- PERVY PERKIN
"Broken Glass" -- INTROITUS

*Bold print denotes a song that has risen into my pantheon of All-time favorite "epics."