Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Top Albums of the Year 2015: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2015
(In some semblance of order)


***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. And what a year it has been! Definitely one of the best years collectively that I have ever heard--even to rival (or surpass) 2007, 2011, 2013, 1973 and even 1972! 
  The first list 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 Reviews that follow, however, are ordered according to my more 'objective' yet personal 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 and metric determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative, and quantitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums. According to my calculations, 2015 presents Prog World with 18 "masterpieces" and 12 "near masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. CICADA Light Shining Through the Sea
2. LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO La notte anche de giorno
3. MONOBODY Monobody
4. ALIO DIE & LORENZO MONTANÀ Holographic Codex
5. ANEKDOTEN Until the Ghosts Have All Gone 
6. BATTLESTATIONS The Extent of Damage
7. VOLA Inmazes 
8. METHEXISuiciety 
9. NEMO Coma
10. OZRIC TENTACLES Technicians of the Sacred

11. CICCADA The Finest of Miracles 
12. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Sunstone
13. DUNGEN Allas Sak
14. JAGA JAZZIST Starfire
15. KLONE Here Comes the Sun
16. THE AMAZING Picture You
17. MYSTERY Delusion Rain
18. THIEVES' KITCHEN The Clockwork Universe
19. MAGMA Slag Tanz
20. ZA! Lolosimo


Honorable Mentions:
SYLVAN Home 
JAM IT! Following the Unknown
3RDEGREE Ones & Zeroes, Part 1
STEVEN WILSON Hand. Cannot. Erase.
LEPROUS The Congregation
HOMUNCULUS RES Come si diventa ciò che si era
SVETAMUZIKA Present Simple
CORVUS STONE Unscrewed 
MANNA/MIRAGE Blue Dogs
TOE Hear You 
PROGRESSION BY FAILURE Sonic Travelogue
ABSTRAKT Limbosis 
ADVENT The Silent Sentinel 
THE TEA CLUB Grappling
NATIVE CONSTRUCT Quiet World
COSMIC GROUND 2
KARDA ESTRA Strange Relations
HOOFFOOT Hooffoot

Special Mention:
THE NERVE INSTITUTE Fictions



The Reviews



***** The Masterpieces:


****** Album of the Year for 2015! *****



1. LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO La notte anche de griorno

This is my favorite release coming out of the AltrOck/Fading Records stable from this year (so far)—which is saying a lot since a) AltrOck is my favorite record label and b) I’ve already awarded five stars to Ciccada’s new release. La note anche di giorno is an album with two multi-part “side-long” epics both constructed in symphonic style. Because the songs of each epic flow one into the other without break, the pieces really should be listened straight through, but I will review the album with the parts broken down as they are listed on the album credits.
     Lead singer Alessio Calandriello’s wonderful vocals always impress. There is something reassuring I find in his voice. There is a confidence to his singing and he is so versatile and yet consistent! Between the three La Conscienzo di Zeno albums and two Not A Good Sign efforts he’s become quite a fixture in my life. There is plenty of his fantastic work throughout this album. 
     The entire band is in great form throughout this album, guitarist Davide Serpico always integral and never over the top, drummer Andrea Orlando and bass player Gabriele Guidi Colombi make a stellar rhythm section, with some added kudos to GG for his wonderful double bass and bowman-ship. The prominent role of violin and flute, thanks to Domenico Ingenito and guest Joanne Roan, are touches that really set this album, this group, apart—they really help make this album so enjoyable and compelling. And then, of course, there is the backbone to La Coscienzo di Zeno, the keyboards. Here we have not one but two masters of their craft working together to compose and perform these brilliant pieces, Stefano Agnini and Luca Scherani. My hat is off to you, gentlemen.    

I. “Giovane Figlia” (23:59) (10/10)
1. “A Ritroso” (5:26) (9/10) opens with Alessio’s powerful voice straight out of the gate. Awesome! The song plays out dynamically like an overture bouncing several themes back and forth throughout with Alessio even doing some theatric voice-play á la Peter Gabriel in his Genesis days.
2. “Il Giro del Cappio” (5:22) (9/10) opens slowly, softly, with “harpsichord,” violin and Alessio’s low register voice. At the two minute mark drums, bass, and electric guitars join in to accompany Alessio’s step up into his voice’s upper registers. Key change at 4:20 gets us ready for the next song. 
3. “Libero Pensatore” (5:12) synths with guitar arpeggios open this one until an electric guitar carries in the main melody from the previous song—just before Alessio comes in. There is another melodic lead guitar solo in the third minute. Alessio sings slowly before a GENESIS-like shift at 3:20. Violin and organ alternate with synths and a staccato section in a very pleasant kind of rondo between the three sections. (10/10)
4. “Quiete Apparente” (1:37) (10/10)opens with driving bass and drums with Mellotron voices, steady and hypnotic until Alessio’s entrance to prepare us for the shift to: 
5. “Impromptu pour S.Z.” (1:10) (10/10) is a brief but beautiful folksy café piano and violin intro which shifts when joined by synth and electric guitar before:
6. “Lenta Discesa all'Averno” (5:12) opens with Alessio’s powerful voice driving the song (which reminds me a lot of Alessio’s amazing vocal from “La città di Dite“ from Sensitività). At 0:40 the music softens with organ and electric guitar before moving into a kind of GENESIS area again. Great vocal and narrative voice until the two minute mark when soft organ, flute and double bass are joined by gorgeous chanteuse Simona Angioloni singing in French. Simona’s vocals are gradually multi-tracked to form a choir, whose increasing numbers and power are matched by that of the accompanying instruments. Sublime! The suite finishes with violin and bowed double bass. Amazing climax and ending to an amazing musical adventure! (10/10)

II. “Madre Antica” (20:08) (10/10)
7. “Il Paese Ferito” (5:52) opens with heavier, more ominous tone and mix of instruments. At the one minute mark the tempo and rhythm changes—to which piano and flute add a jazziness. Violin, synths and electric guitar interplay until at 2:00 Alessio’s voice enters and the music shifts to sound like a the narration to a bar room movie scene. At 3:00 piano, bowed double bass, and violin carry forward the pastoral late night debauchery feel with Alessio singing within the instruments’ storytelling. At 3:50 drums and organ enter and change the tempo into a kind of stop-start. At 4:25 electronic keys and guitars enter play with a two-steps forward, one step back ascending chord progression. At 5:15 there is a shift to more PINK FLOYD-like guitar chord and fretless bass with violin accompaniment until the song bleeds into the next. I like the kind of classical music structure and feel of this one. (9/10)
8. “Cavanella” (3:09) seemlessly shifts the music to a more upbeat mood with Alessio’s easy-going vocal leading throughout, though his speed and style changes four different times before the instrumental section at 2:20 shifts into another different time, rhythm and style before settling into the next song. (9/10)
9. “La staffetta” (4:01) (10/10) opens with a nice weave of synths and violin before Alessio comes in to continue telling us the story of the Ancient Mother. He gets quite emotional, powerfully so, at the end of the first minute. A brief break allows everyone to recharge before coming back full force, letting Alessio and the violinist take their turns. The music turns quiet at the end of the third minute, allowing the entry of a jazzy piano —who takes us solo into the suite’s finale:
10. “Come Statua di Dolore” (7:06) opens so cool, so confidently. It’s like the band knows they’ve had you and they’re saving the best for the end—the enravelling, the dénouement, the dessert. And what a dessert it is! A chapter straight out of the best of the Masters. Perfect instrumental work, perfect melodies, perfect chord changes, perfect choices in instrumentation. GENESIS, PFM, CURVED AIR, at their absolute best! The violin is definitely on front display—along with Alessio’s voice, of course. What a way to end an absolutely brilliantly crafted album! (10/10)
My biggest disadvantage in reviewing this album is that I don’t know Italian and I have thus far been unable to find translations into English for the lyrics or even a synopsis for the stories being told. If I do eventually find what stories are being told, I will amend my review. 
96.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. ALBUM OF THE YEAR!




2. METHEXIS Suiciety

A concept album following the life cycle of a human being, childhood to citizen adult, the lyrics (and music) are replete with references to all of the odd destructive and self-destructive patterns our ‘civilized’ race has attached itself to. Brainchild of Athenian Nikitas Kissonas, Methexis’ music is never predictable and always unexpected. Begin with The Enid's Joe Payne's enigmatic voice. It seems that he can sound like anyone he chooses. Amazing! Then focus on Nikitas' eclectic and stunningly diverse guitar soundings and stylings. Then try to pinpoint his influences, the styles he is drawing from in order to make his eminently creative and original songs. It is nearly impossible. This is music that draws from so many diverse and unusual styles and ideas. This is music that tests the capabilities, the combinations and permutations, that are possible within the realms of human expression using sound and music. 

1. “Chapter IV - Ruins” (4:49) starts the album with ‘the end’! The fourth and final suite in the album’s song-cycle, entitled “ruins,” is what Nikitas chooses to begin his album with. I love it! 
     It is an atmospheric ‘post-apocalyptic’ song much in the vein of Mariuz Duda’s LUNATIC SOUL or even Norway’s ULVER. (9/10) 

2. “Chapter 1 - Exterior - Remember, Fear’s a Relic” (6:11) opens with the energetic force of a great blues-based jazz-rock song—complete with Hammond organ, sassy horn section, and bluesy GINO VANELLI-like vocal. A surprise as this was quite unexpected but I have to admit:  it is quite refreshing and enjoyable. The falsetto chorus is also quite unusual, but then, everything Nikitas does is quite unusual and unexpected. Quite fun. (9/10)

3. “Chapter 1 - Exterior - The Windows’ Cracking Sound” (1:46) (9/10) is another unusual song for its surprising mix/engineering: the entire time a heavily treated electric guitar is slowly strumming the accompaniment to Joe Payne’s delicate, untreated voice, a drummer is jamming away at a very fast pace in the background. Once, at the end, the drums are brought up to front and center before being faded back to deep background for the horn opening of the next song,

4. “Chapter I - Exterior - Who Can It Be” (6:34) is a song performed by a horn ensemble with occasional whispered vocal and mid-song classical guitar interlude (including a brief slightly angular/diminished replication of Beethoven’s “Ode to joy”). The post-guitar interlude shifts into PETER HAMMILL territory with some odd jazz instrumentation for accompaniment and the PH vocal. When things amp back up—first via return of the horns and then full TOBY DRIVER-like band to spacey end. So odd! So outstanding! (10/10)

5. “Chapter I - Exterior - The Origin of Blame” (3:27) starts out as a piano-accompanied cabaret-like vocal much in the MATTHEW PARMENTER style. The cacophonous ‘chorus’ is equally ‘out there’—but so creative and idiosyncratic! This is such an amazing mind that can successfully weave such odd and unusual sounds and styles into the flow of this, a concept album. I call it genius! (10/10)

6. “Chapter I - Exterior - Prey’s Prayer” (6:07) is an instrumental support/setup for an amazing guitar solo. The guitar play reminds me of JEFF BECK, ROY BUCHANAN, HIRAM BULLOCK, or RAY GOMEZ! Great horn support. This is not a song to be missed! Guitar this sublime is too seldom recorded! (10/10) 

7. “Chapter II - Interior - Sunlight” (8:20) opens with some more adventurous guitar sounds before shifting into a sensitive  acoustic guitar supported ballad—not unlike the recent work of JOHANNES LULEY—including the voice (though on this song Joe Payne’s voice is more similar to that of RITUAL lead vocalist, Patrik Lundström). Quite unusual song structure and sound combinations. So like our enigmatic chameleon Nikiitas! Excellent song. The final section sounds like recent ECHOLYN before the solo voice closes in Peter Hammill fashion! (10/10)

8. “Chapter II - Interior - The Relic” (8:28) opens with a minute of purposefully picked chords on acoustic guitar which are eventually joined by Joe Payne’s equally composed yet emotional vocal. By the end of the second minute piano and then full band have joined in to support a multi-voiced chorus. In the instrumental fifth minute the music builds in layers and intensity before crescendoing and crashing into silence with a brilliantly placed audible sigh to restore the gentle yet plaintive sounds and structures of the opening. Piano and violin—and later cello—perform some nice soli to accompany the synth orchestral sounds. Nice Post Rock song. (9/10)

9. “Chapter - Suiciety” (6:40) opens with a fast-paced, hard-driving PORCUPINE TREE-like sound of drums, odd spacey synth sounds and ominous keyboard bass chords until 1:37 when the drumming cuts the pace in half while the pile of ominous incidentals and washes mounts higher and higher. Then at 2:20 everything drops away to leave the slowly picked notes of a solo classical guitar. Cymbol play accompanies the addition of orchestral participation (I especially like the horns sections’ contributions). This is then followed by a creative section in which the drummer creatively fills orchestra-supported ‘space’ with his cymbol and kit play. A return to full force in the ominous chord progressions crescendoes and decays while Joe Payne’s treated voice alone fills the album’s sad finale. (9/10)

This is an awesome album of eclectic music! Being a concept album with songs integrated to express this elevates it a notch above Methexis’ previous 2011 effort, The Fall of Bliss (which I also love). A brilliant masterpiece of modern progressive rock music—one that gets me so excited to come back to it and hear it again. Special shout out to Linus Kåse and Nikos Zades, the keyboard player and sound design/D&B programmer, respectively. Amazing contributions! And Walle! Awesome play on the batterie! Check this one out, people!   

94.4 on the Fish scales = 5 stars, definitely essential:  a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




3. OZRIC TENTACLES Technicians of the Sacred

This is an album that I liked immediately--for the familiarity of the sound that is so uniquely that of OZRIC TENTACLES--but that has taken me quite some time to get familiar with. That seems to be the problem with these modern artists who release 80-plus minute long albums (Dave Kerzer, Sanguine Hum, Barock Project, Nightwish, IOEarth, Sylvan, are a few of the others who have released long playing albums this year, so far.), it takes quite some effort to listen through and to thoroughly get to know them compared to a 45-minute long release. Anyway, the patience and time invested in getting to know Technicians of the Sacred has been well worth it. This has become my favorite Ozrics release since Jurassic Shift. While all the albums I've heard have been nice, none have really possessed that magic touch that compels me to return time and again. And, while the Ozrics sound, style, and magic is pretty generic (it is often difficult to distinguish individual tracks by title--this owning to the fact that they are an instrumental band), yet almost every song on Technicians has had a way to worm into my brain, to get me engaged and then to build, shift, add, twist and turn enough to keep me interested--and, often, smiling! These guys certainly have an unique way of creating sound combinations. I cannot think of anyone quite as eclectic and electronic as them and yet they are always grooving me with their bass and drum rhythm tracks. Always! Plus, their unusual combination of spacey, "Nature" electronic walls of sound with odd and unexpected world instruments never ceases to astound me. And these guys have been doing it for 30 years! BUT they have NEVER done it better than they have on this album. Hail Technicians of the Sacred! The stars have aligned in such a way that Ozric Tentacles have created a masterpiece (of their own genre of music)!

Favorite songs: 11. "Zenlike Creature" (9:54) (10/10); 9. "Smiling Potion" (7:12) (10/10); 3. "Far Memory" (7:12) (10/10) 4. "Changa Masala" (6:05) (10/10); 10. "Rubbing Shoulders with The Absolute" (8:36) (10/10); 8. "The Unusual Village" (6:21) (10/10); 7. "Epiphlioy" (11:50) (9/10); 2. "Butterfly Garden" (5:04) (9/10), and; 6. "Switchback" (10:13) (9/10).

93.63 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is an album that is hard to find flaw with as it is all pretty engaging and highly creative (even witty) stuff. Check it out for yourself. You may be surprised!



4. CICADA Light Shining Through the Sea

Light Shining through the Sea is a stunningly beautiful collection of songs released in September of this year. This album has really connected with me--much moreso than the band's last two albums. I attribute this fact to the new level of maturity in both composition and instrumental contributions of each of the band's five. Veering more and more away from the repetitive Post Rock/Math Rock stylings that the band has been pigeon-holed with since the release of their 2010 debut, Over the Sea/Under the Water, this album sees much more variation in styles, transitions, moods and while still maintaining--no, far exceeding the high standards of composition and musicianship established by all of their previous albums. Light Shining through the Sea even shows some experimentation with expansion beyond the usual quintet form. But more, the contributions of violin, viola, cello, and guitar are all much more unique and individualistic instead of feeling as if they are just part of composer Jesy Chiang's mind (and more than substantial heart).

1. "Sunrise" (7:03) opens the album with (surprise!!) guitar picking, drums, and a kind of Western United States acoustic jazz feel. The interweavings of the strings and piano really jump out at the listener with individual melodies that all somehow work magically as one beautiful tapestry. I would like to go to this movie!
     At 2:10 everything shifts to a piano foundation while the strings and guitar all take turns equally distributing their bursts of melodic input--again creating quite an extraordinary tapestry. At 3:40 we take another turn, piano, guitar and percussives take on a three-part weave with violin, viola and cello sneaking in with their own beautifully harmonized melody lines. The big peak beginning at 5:25 is perfect. But, wait! It's not over! A wild-West kind of ride ensues at the six minute mark to ride us out of the waves and across the prairie in the sunrise. (9/10)

2. "Ray of Sunshine" (2:24) is an upbeat, spirited song with the unusual feature of having a melody line (at first presented by cello) central and fore to the song. Another example of the amazing growth this band has undergone. (8/10)

3. "Over Coastal Range" (5:32) is another upbeat, almost chimerical and childlike song of beauty and delicacy--this one more of a quintet weave as is more typical of the band's previous albums' songs presentations. (8/10)

4. "Deep Blue Shadow" (2:35) opens with Jesy's rather pop piano chords played out in arpeggi to establish a melody. Then, surprise of surprise! Electronically treated instruments! A veritable flood of reverb á la BRIAN ENO/HAROLD BUDD, COCTEAU TWINS, and Japan's excellent Post Rock band, MONO. (9/10)

5. "Seashore of Endless Worlds" (2:10) is a guitar-centric song in the style of WINDHAM HILL founder and artist, William ACKERMAN. Gorgeous cello and string accompaniment enrich this brief song to deeply moving levels. (10/10)

6. "Rolling Waves" (6:53) is the my favorite song on the album and The Best Song of 2015. Each time I listen to it I am struck by over 20 occasions in which my mind and emotions are caught unaware by the mood, instrumental, and tempo changes rendered by Jesy and crew. Each and every instrumentalist is seemingly let free to contribute their personal magic. (11/10)

7. "Ocean Foam" (6:56) is one of the more simpler, stripped down songs on the album--a kind of George Winston with accompaniment, but is quite beautiful and powerful in its simplicity. (9/10)

8. "Diving Into Pacific Ocean" (3:32) Very much a Jesy Chiang piano-based song (a very cinematic song, at that), I am truly impressed by Jesy's strict adherence to background/foundational work while the other instrumentalists shine and embellish with their subtle magic. The bow work on this song is extraordinarily powerful--as is the guitar's work with harmonics! (10/10)

9. "Light Shining Through the Sea" (8:35) is another gorgeous chamber weave adventure that Jesy and the gang take us on. The opening is so inviting, so engaging, that I'm almost let down when we're forced to "get off the bus" and look for ourselves during the third minute. Thankfully, our chaperones gradually surround and comfort us with their wisdom and love again--but only briefly! A flugelhorn and its stark guitar accompaniment grab our unshaken attention for a minute or so before they bow to Jesy's gut-wrenching finger play on the piano. Viola, cello, and violin each take their turn expressing their feelings (gratitude and sincere joy, I think) before the flugelhorn signals another shift--in which violin, viola, and horn take turns . . . saying goodbye.
     I feel so blessed to be able to witness such beauty from the art form of music like this.  (10/10)

93.33 on the Fish scales= five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. I am so impressed with the huge leap in creative and diversity represented on Light Shining through the Sea. Cicada have finally begun to truly realize the tremendous potential I heard in them those six years ago. One of my favorite albums of the year and definitely one of the best albums of the year.




5. MONOBODY Monobody

Precisely performed jazzy Math Rock from some youth from Chicago. Gutsy, intelligent, complex and intricate yet delivered tight and with great melodic sense.

1. "Lifeguard of a Helpless Body" (4:15) with the same fast pace and upbeat nature of a TOE (Japan) jam, this sets the tone for the album with some fast-picking (and tapping) guitar work. Such a refreshing sound! (10/10)

2. "I Heard them on the Harbor" (5:56) takes its time in establishing patterns as it opens with several instruments taking turns appearing and disappearing. It is only into the third minute that a rhythm and structure is established and played over--but then is challenged and discarded in lieu of some spacey and then jazzy keyboard. The spacey, spacious soundscape reappears for a while until at 4:18 an entirely new and soft-beat rhythmicity is established and built around. And exquisitely so, I might add! Cool and unusual song. (9/10)

3. "Curry Courier Career" (8:11) opens sounding like an intricate, upbeat WES MONTGOMERY song. It then diverts into I kind of étude in sharp time changes and collective band discipline. Things shift and progress in this song so quickly and suddenly--totally unpredictably. There is, however, a pattern to the song structure here (as opposed to song #2). A song that displays some seriously talented and skilled musicians and some seriously well-rehearsed execution of some seriously well-thought out song composition. Definitely the most jazzy song on the album. (9/10)

4. "Exformation" (5:21) opens with some intricate and frenetic guitar tapping leading the band into a stop-and-go kind of rush hour traffic pace. The guitarists melody lines here are seriously (and continuously) fast! Even in the mid-song lull the keyboard and guitar lines are intricate and speedy. STANLEY JORDAN would be impressed! (9/10)

5. "Gilgamesh (R-Texas)" (6:18) lots of interplay between instruments off doing their own thing: staccato rhtymic hits from drums and rhythm instruments, polyrhythmic arpeggi from piano, guitars and synths. It is an amazing display of artistry, vision, discipline and restraint. There's even quite a liteel MUFFINS-like Canterbury play in the chord and melody structures of the third and fourth minutes (and the horns in the fifth minute). Everything drops off at the end of the fifth minute save for an electric piano chord sequence--over which the delicate play of other instruments is added to the end. Another outstanding gem of a song! (10/10)

6. "Country Doctor" (5:25) opens with a simple little piano arpeggio repeated over before countrified big band joins in. The pace is atypically slow for this band until the one minute mark when a wall of KAYO DOT-like electrified sound enters and swallows us. The music vacillates back and forth for a while between the MAUDLIN OF THE WELL like beauty of intricately woven soft-picked instruments and the occasional wake-up call of a blast of heavy metal dynamo then settles into a long section of soft but intricately woven multiple instruments. The final 35 seconds allows instruments final flourishes over a fast piano arpeggio. Beautiful song! My favorite on the album. (10/10)

Every once in a while an album comes out of nowhere to shock and surprise me--and this is one of those. I only wish I had heard it in the year it was released so that I could have had more say in helping to bring attention to it. This is an AMAZING album that is truly worth the while of any prog lover's time and attention. Check it out!

93.33 on the Fish scales = a veritable five star album; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music! But what is it? Post Rock/Math Rock like TOE or ALGERNON? Eclectic Jazz Rock à la FROGG CAFE or UNAKA PRONG? Canterbury jazz like MANNA/MIRAGE/THE MUFFINS? It's a mystery! They're chameleon's! I can't wait to watch their future unfold for the skies are not too high for these talented musicians!




6. ANEKDOTEN Until the Ghost Have All Gone Away

Now this is a Progressive Rock album! Great mix of styles and moods and lots of instrumental choices and stylings that are fairly fresh for Anekdoten. I guesss the eight years off tending to other projects served Nicklas, Ana Sofia, Jan Erik and Peter well. 

1. “Shooting Star” (10:10) opens deceptively quietly for what is to follow. A hard driving album with some organ and lead guitar stylings that remind me of URIAH HEEP-era Ken Hensley and BLUE ÖYSTER CULT’s “Buck Dharma” Roeser and even a little of TRAFFIC-era Steve Winwood and NEKTAR’s Roye Albrighton. Definitely one of the best long-play prog songs of the year and one of the best songs overall! Depsite the awesome mood and key changes, this song maintains its hard driving force throughout the entire ten minutes. I can never believe how quickly this song plays! Just awesome energy! (10/10)

2. “Get Out Alive” (7:32) opens with what I call their signature “oppressive heavy-happiness.” While driving us into despair and doom Anekdoten’s music somehow maintains an upbeat,“happy” feel to it. The band just can’t go full-out doomer. Devil may care, they must love the music too much. 
     The vocals and doomer lyrics are somehow quite fitting for the music and yet I love how they feel secondary to the heavy (and light—from the sixth minute on) instrumental parts. Nice Frippertronics in the fifth minute. That one note Nicklas bends up and then down is so cool! Awesome song. (10/10)

3. “If It All Comes Down to You” (5:52) Melllotron drenched with CRHIS REA-like lead guitar riffs playing tantalizingly over the top, this song is just gorgeous and very jazzy—almost in MOTORPSYCHO or THE AMAZING territory. The constant background ’tron and Theo Travis flute play are awesome but it’s Nicklas’s delicate guitar play and the background tuned percussion (xylophone?) that make this song for me. (10/10)

4. “Writing on the Wall” (9:03) opens with another familiar Anekdoten opening and settles into a structure not unlike their masterpiece “Hole”—that is, until the lead vocal establishes its surprisingly light melody. An especially heavy subject matter is treated rather lightly, almost happily, for sure lackadaisically as if in complete resignation to the belief that there is absolutely nothing to be done. Perhaps the weakest song on the album, it is still a pretty good song. Some nice drum and guitar work in the middle over Ana Sofia’s awesome chord progression of the Mellotron foundation. The delicate guitar and synth “raindrops” interlude section is very KING CRIMSON-esque before bursting back into a two minute, two-part outro with some awesome REINE FISKE-like guitar soloing. (8/10) 

5. “Until All the Ghosts Are Gone” (5:07) opens with full band, some nice guitar work, and more of Theo Travis’ awesome flute (and saxophone) work. The vocal feels and sounds a bit too much like older Anekdoten, but the acoustic and electronic interplay is awesome throughout. between acoustic and electric guitars, mellow drum play, multiple keyboards and even some harmonized vocals. Acoustic and electric guitars, mellow drum play, multiple keyboards, beautiful flute play, and even some harmonized vocals for the repetition of the catchy final lyric, “Praying that it will work out ok” is really nice. (9/10) 

6. “Our Days Are Numbered” (8:36) is an instrumental with a familiar Anekdoten feel, driving acoustic drums with bass, electric guitar and keyboards weaving with and around each other in and out of synchrony and from collective play of the melody to weaving into harmony structures. Return of Nicklas’ new “Buck Dharma” guitar play preempts a brief polyphonic section before all music drops away for bass and echoed sax notes and riffs float around the background. The band gradually builds back its volume and full presence until at 6:28 Theo Travis’ saxophone screeches out some awesome notes to signal the beginning of a section in which there is a kind of gradual whole band climb until at 8:15 it all comes to a head for the finale. Another gem! (9/10)

93.33 on the Fish scales. I don’t feel as positively about any previous Anekdoten studio album as I do about this one. Until All the Ghosts Are Gone deserves five stars all the way. A masterpiece of progressive rock music that is definitely a candidate for Album of the Year!




7. MAGMA Slag Tanz

There are several things that set this album apart from other Magma albums that I have heard. First and foremost is the amazing cymbal play of drummer extraordinaire, Christian Vander. Second is the way in which Magma have refined and mastered their delivery format for their stories from the world of Kobaia. And third is the way in which the long-time band members have mastered and their vocal instruments:  Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois and Hervé Aknin (and even Klaus Blasquiz, who does not appear on this album) are simply astounding. They are solid as rocks. They are so seasoned that it is hard to discern any flaws in their work. It must be so nice for band leader, Christian Vander, to have such companion/collaborators who seem so unwavering in their support and who are so dedicated to this form of music, to the vision of their band leader, as well as to the betterment of their own skills. 
     While I have to admit that I find Slag Tanz slightly less engaging than Magma's previous recent studio releases, however, I find it hard to rate any modern recording of Magma's with anything less than five stars because the composition, performances, and recording/engineering is so consistently strong (even though many of the compositions were composed decades ago and have been performed live for years). It is my strong opinion that we music listeners are so very privileged to have the recordings and concert performances of an artist with such strong and independent vision who always composes and performs at the absolute highest levels every time (and, of course, demands the same of his collaborators). Try a listen for yourself "Slag Tanz" (2:29).

92.5 on the Fish scales = fives stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.





8. BATTLESTATIONS The extent of damage

With The extent of damage, Battlestations have put on display the fact that they have become masters of painting pictures—moving pictures—adventures!—with music.

1. “Necro” (12:38) The first five minutes of slow, ominous music sounds like a soundtrack to a French mystery film of the 70s or 60s. Then the music shifts into atmospherics and odd eerie background noises and voices until at 6:35 things kick back in with heavier synth washes, lead electric guitar and loud eerie wind/voice noises. At 7:39 everything cuts out again only this time we are presented with some different deeper synth “voices”. It’s like the sounds our imaginations would play upon as we’re walking alone through a large wooded cemetery in the middle of the night! At 9:35 you’d think we were just accosted by someone or something jumping out from behind a tree. The ensuing “battle” or “flight” does not end well, methinks!
    At first listen I did not think much of this song, but as I think of it as a soundtrack—and such vivd imagery passes within my consciousness—I am convinced that the band did their work admirably! Scared me through and through! (8/10)

2. “The Lies We Share” (9:46) the introduction of the VANGELIS-like synth wash minor chord at 3:30 is awesome! Then heavily treated guitar power chords. And the choice of percussion sounds that soon join in are equally great. The chord progression that takes over at 5:55 is absolutely heart-breaking! You’ve won me over, boys! I am at your mercy! But then you let it fade away at the eight minute mark and then we slowly shift and drift into a more somber, almost sad chord progression—equally gut-wrenching but sad! Amazing song! You have mastered the art of toying with your human listeners! (10/10)

3. “The Great Divide” (9:27) opens like a sunrise on an empty parking lot. But then at 1:40 the city seems to come to life:  cars and traffic trickle onto the streets, begin flowing with early morning rush hour regularity. At 3:10 the view shifts, and we are suddenly looking skyward—at cloud, wind, and air traffic. Is this the last day? The end of life as we know it? The sky view is so ominous and confusing. What are we seeing? 5:10. What? What was that? Is there something to give us hope? Something to give us strength and resolve? Cuz that’s what the new key and chord changes are making me feel. But then, at 6:28/6:38, reality bursts our bubble. It is the end. We are all going to die today. The slow but insidious devastation of the surface of the planet is in progress. We can only watch in total helplessness—we can choose to revel in the glory of the cleansing that Mother Earth is receiving as its parasitic humans are scoured from her skin by the consequences of their own hubris. Awesome journey. Awesome song. (10/10)

4. “They Sleep While We Burn” (9:33) opens with some industrial sounds creating percussive rhythms upon which other incidentals flit in and out. The first four minutes kind of build, kind of take me nowhere, but then a shift to an unusual (for Battlestations) chord sequence (kind of a Blade Runner theme sequence and sound) brings us to the private home and research offices of Tyrell Corp—oops! Misdirection! At 6:10 we are halted in mid-air turned around to look at a more beautiful version of what is possible—perhaps some of Roy’s memories from his off-world adventures—while we are numbly, humbly forced to watch. AT 8:10 a new chord and sound sequence segues us into a remorseful, conciliatory mood. Perhaps we can live in peace and harmony, after all! (9/10)

5. “The Extent of the Damage” (3:56) feels kind of like a medium for re-entry, re-integration into the normal human life that we were used to before entering the soundscapes of this album. And boy is it appreciated! It’s like the walk out of the theater while the credits are rolling—getting used to light, one’s body, movement, and negotiating through the “real” world again. But, What a show!

The key to the stunning success of this album is in the band’s growth in engineering/mixing as well as in timing. The mastery of knowing when and where to shift the song’s themes and sounds is so difficult to achieve but boy have you guys found it! I love the visual stories I’m sucked into as I listen to these songs! This is exemplary of some of the most magical potential that music contains! The power to transport! Mega kudos, Boys from Bruxelles!

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




9. JAGA JAZZIST Sunfire

What an incredible breath of fresh air! I am so glad to be reminded by an album like this of how much I love upbeat, happy-go-lucky groove tunes like these. From the first notes of the opening song, Starfire, I was gushing with a big grin across my face. After finishing my first listen I went back to listen through an "old" favorite of mine that I'd almost forgotten, 2010's One-armed Bandit.

I love the band's self-written tome on their history on their Facebook page:

Jaga Jazzist is:

(a) A jazz band; 
(b) A rock band; 
(c) A progressive rock band; 
(d) A hip hop group; 
(e) A rap group; 
(f) A reggae group; 
(g) A polka band; 
(h) A comedy band; 
(i) An electronica group; 
(j) A classical ensemble; 
(k) A choral ensemble; 
(l) All of the above; 
(m) None of the above.

with the answer being (l) and (m). Obviously a gang who are out to have fun, pure and simple. But talented, too! As a matter of fact, I'm beginning to think that the entire population of Norway must be made up of really interesting, fun-loving, laid-back, happy-go-lucky people! I need to get there!
     Anyway. Back to Starfire. (Can't believe I just missed JJ's North American tour!) The entire album plays out like some incredible soundtrack music, starting with the opening song, 1. "Starfire" (8:47), which sounds like the opening song from a light-hearted French murder mystery (yes: there is such a thing) from the 1970s. Nice syncopated rhythm making at a rather pleasant cruising speed with great guitar and tuned percussion work. There's even a cool MOTORPSYCHO sound & feel during the fifth and sixth minutes with the rising scale of musical progression. Then the odd synth melody/riffs take over for a while before the song mellows down for a brief bit with vibes before weaving all of the song's themes together for the final minute of awesomeness. (9/10)

2. "Big City Music" (14:07) opens by introducing us to its KLAUS SCHULZE-like electronica foundation--which sounds awesome--before the other keyboard and drums take over the establishment of the songs foundation. Sounds like LARRY FAST playing with BILLY COBHAM. At 2:46 the music breaks down to allow some hand drums and odd computer incidentals which establish a kind of odd rhythm before strummed guitar joins in. Then Martin Horntveth reenters with his jazz drumming for a bit before the song breaks down again to allow individual instruments to help fill a rather spacey, spacious soundscape--very OZRIC TENTACLES-like. A BLADE RUNNER-like moment at 6:30 opens the next section of the song as multiple melody lines are woven together for a minute. Another shift at 7:30 as vocals are used to mirror a new keyboard melody line--we are now into PAT METHENY GROUP territory, big time! A minute later everything shifts again, back to the opening electronica with some funky synth fuzz bass play, which is then joined by pizzicato strings play, again forming a weave of differently syncopated melodies into one fascinating tapestry of sound. The full band seems to come into play with a return to a PAT METHENY style of pulsing rhythm and sophistication. (9/10)

3. "Shinkansen" (7:43) is probably my favorite song on the album for the laid back groove set up and maintained throughout the song by the strumming acoustic guitars as well as due to the prominence of the flutes and myriad "windy" synth sounds. Just a gorgeous, breezy, Nature-celebrating song all around. (Shinkansen is, by the way, the word for Japan's network of high speed trains. How appropriate!) (10/10)

4. "Oban" (12:42) is also quite Asian/Japanese (think: "Ryuichi Sakamoto") sounding in its melodic and rhythmic approach--though the work of KRAFTWERK, GARY NUMAN, and PETER SCHILLING also comes to mind. Eventually, in the second half of the song, the sounds and stylings turn to sound more like early DEPECHE MODE--though the drumming always remains quite exceptionally a notch above any of the above mentioned. Mellow sax in the fourth minute is beautifully offset and accompanied by multiple other rhythm instruments and horns. Then a little slow down of delicate horns in the fifth minute makes way for an awesome display of electronica (OZRICS again) before the original ensemble return with the full weave of music--including choral vocals! 
     Another song that could work awesomely as a soundtrack. I personally would love to see this made into a video. In the tenth minute the DEPECHE MODE-like synth bass line is gorgeously offset by harp and strings melodies (slide guitar). Just an awesome song with so much to listen to! Every time I hear it I discover so much more than I had previously heard! Gorgeous little outro, too. (10/10)

5. "Prungen" (6:35) shows the band taking on some Arabian-like musical sounds and stylings. The song does, however, continue the amazing string of made-for-movies music that they have going here. The Arabian melodies become even stronger with wooden flute in the second minute and strings in the third. Sax in the third doubles up with the flute and then electric guitar takes up a variation of the theme while layer of layer fills the background tapestry. An Arabian "violin" joins in the melody making in the fourth minute until a scratchy saw-like horn synth takes over with a ROBERT FRIPP-like dissonant melody line. This dominates the song despite the rejoinder of the rest of the band and the addition of a horn section, until 5:45 when everybody falls into line, working with the original melody line. Great song though the use of that one "Arabian" melody line makes it a little less exciting as the previous songs. (8/10)

This is an awesome album of great mood pieces--all deserving of film soundtrack contracts. I'm not yet willing to give it full masterpiece status though I think it is, it's just a little at the edge of what I consider progressive rock music--which is really a good thing. It's like The Amazing or Five-Storey Ensemble: incredible music but perhaps not true progressive ROCK music. We'll see.

BUT: Check out the album! You will LOVE it! And if you want a little taste of the band in concert, try this:  Oban live!

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





10. NEMO Coma

Finally! A Nemo album that I feel immediately engaged with, that I can feel drawn into the melodies and structures! For so many albums I’ve read the rave reviews, bought or listened to the albums (with great attention, I might add) but this is the first time that I feel the music is comprehensible, that I’m not being pushed away by the music’s busyness and abrasiveness. I really appreciate Jean Pierre’s slowing down and spacing out the music a bit more. The moods and atmospherics are so much more evident and accessible this way.  

1. “Le coma des mortals” (11:38) opens with over three minutes of instrumental pomp and blaze before shifting to a more sensitive, jazzy acoustic foundation at the 3:20 mark. The piano-accompanied electric guitar lead setting up the vocal entry is sublime—very RIVERSIDE-like. And such a beautiful sensitive vocal it is! In the second verse he starts to amp up both his emotionality and volume—as does the support music. At 6:15 a BLACK SABBATh-like metal riff establishes the musical foundation for the next section—even though things quiet down soon after—back to piano and acoustic guitar with more laid-back vocal. The fretless bass play and jazzy piano tinkling are awesome! Mix in the electric guitars’ metal power chords and you have quite an ingenious passage. Militaristic drum beat with one, then two, then three lead guitars each playing their mirror’ed yet distinctive tracks eventually gives way to a steady background pulse of snare and thumping bass to set up a great old fashioned rock guitar solo. Layers of keys are gradually added to great effect. The final solo is given to a modulated synth. Awesome! Great opening track! (9/10)  

2. “Train Fantôme” (9:08) has quite a PINK FLOYD vibe to it without feeling as if it is a rip off or a copy—especially the opening and ending sections. Throughout the middle there is a neat little power riff used throughout that reminds me quite a bit of METALLICA’s “Enter Sandman.” I love it! (9/10)

3. “Comaïne” (6:01) starts out with a very French folk/troubadour-feel to it for the first 1:28. Then the metal guitars and rock drums kick in. The smooth vocal retains a consistency throughout—which helps in tying all of the song’s parts together. The two guitars playing out at the end reminds me of THIN LIZZY. (8/10) 

4. “St. Guy” (8:27) is an instrumental that opens with a Barbares familiarity to it but then morphs into its own with the gradual addition of synths and guitars. By the beginning of the third minute the song has established the structure it will hold for the next six minutes—a kind of bluesy rock, with some awesome organ, fretless bass, forward drums, and Colin TENCH-like guitar soloing. Around the 4:30 the band goes into a bit of a bridge before returning to a solo-based structure—electric guitar followed by nice showcase for the Ollivier Long, the fretless bass player. Again, the ease and dexterity of the guitarist’s play reminds me so much of the Jeff BECK side of Colin TENCH. Really nice stuff! (9/10)  

5. “Tu n’est pas seul” (8:01) a very powerful song with lots of space and atmospheric sound—definitely my favorite on the album. The opening minute is awesome with its slow-to-build weave and reversed guitar notes. The way that the delicate lead vocal is accompanied by background vocal harmonies is gorgeous. Then there is a very powerfully constructed spacious interlude in the fourth, fifth and sixth minutes—which perfectly sets up the emotional heavier lead guitar solo section that ensues at the 5:30 mark. Gorgeous solo. The vocal return is quite welcome and caps off a virtually perfect song. Awesome! (Nice to know that I’m not alone—and that Nemo appreciates my musical tastes.) (10/10)

6. “Coma” (12:46) opens with a bombastic beginning much more in the Neo Prog vein followed by a sensitive solo synth. At the 1:00 mark gentle arpeggiated electric guitar, military drum beat, Arp synth voices, piano and bass create a GENESIS-like weave before the electric guitar establishes a melody. Then, at 2:05 the music shifts into a rhythm-guitar and bass-dominated section with syncopated drum play over which the lead vocalist lays down his first lyrics and melody. Organ and heavier guitar chord play elevate the song into a heavier realm—over which the vocalist and his companion (tracks) sing with matching intensity. Great melody and harmony lines! At 6:00 a Jan HAMMER-like synth solo takes us away. Then at 6:25 the song shifts into a different time signature and the instrumental balance shifts toward multiple keyboards and multiple electric guitars. At 8:20 there is yet another tempo shift—this one allowing synth washes and soloing synth to take the fore while the singer shifts to singing from within the mix. The song seems to be winding down in the tenth minute as a few familiar melodic and chordal themes are recapitulated, entwined and played with. The final two and a half minutes are played out with deliberate power and bombast but at a pace that allows each and every sound and shift to be heard and appreciated. Awesome song! (10/10)

91.67 on the Fish scales = five stars. This is DEFINITELY my favorite Nemo album I’ve ever heard and one that I feel deserves a five star rating. Nemo has definitely brought their music into a range that is more accessible (to me) and yet is just as creative and powerful as their previous releases. Bravo! and Encore!



11. THIEVES' KITCHEN The Clockwork Universe

Thieves' Kitchen, a trio consisting of Phil Mercy, Amy Darby, and Thomas Johanson (ex-Ångagård), with adjunct members Anna Holmgren (Ånglagård), Johan Brand (Ånglagård) and Paul Mallyon (ex-Sanguine Hum), have created a collection of meticulously crafted and expertly performed songs in the vein of the most complex Canterbury scene and symphonic Yes demanding the highest degrees of difficulty from its musicians. Vocalist Amy Darby's stylings are similar to the palette-clearing effects of a superlative red wine--the backbone upon which each song rests, despite the fact that it is a "lead" instrument. She could be singing about chainsaw massacres but it would feel like walks on the soft floor of a pine forest to me.

1. "The Library Song" (6:47) is a jazzy exploration held strong and fast by Amy's solid vocal--which is oddly mirrored by the lead guitar. Great keyboard play throughout but the drumming and bass play are stellar! (9/10)

2. "Railway Time" (7:38) begins with quite a "smokey lounge" bluesy keyboard and guitar duet before evolving into a bass-anchored exposé for Amy's most diverse and adventurous vocal of the album (less sustained notes, more scatting around the scales). Nice shift away from the blues foundation after the mid-song flute solo. This is probably the most melodic and accessible song I've ever heard from TK! (10/10)

3. "Astrolabe" (3:17) is a slow duet that puts the wonderful sympathy of guitarist and founding band member Phil Mercy and pianist Thomas Johnson on full display. (9/10)

4. "Prodigy" (9:07) is full-scale prog song construction on display (á la 1970s YES) with the absolute highest caliber musicianship possible. Great story and lyrics with a rock-solid vocal from Amy. Classic! (10/10)

5. "The Scientist's Wife" (19:58) An obvious attempt at the more sophisticated Canterbury sound, this is my least favorite song on the album--and it's still an 8 out of 10! The five-minute opening instrumental section is quite impressive for the excellent play of its interwoven parts--not unlike a KING CRIMSON "Discipline" display--but it then mysteriously disappears in order to give way to a soft acoustic guitar foundation behind Amy's storytelling. A pleasant enough section blessed with Amy's crystalline vocal warmth, but then, though the song builds layers around and with Amy's story line, the song never seems to take off and fly--and feels much the homogenous single movement of what is promised to be a Yes symphony. Impeccable performances by all with some truly jaw-dropping flourishes from Phil's lead guitar and Paul's drum kit but, something is missing. It just feels under-developed, too much unrealized potential. (8/10)

6. "Orrery" (4:41) is another slowed down, scaled down song of mostly gentle piano play, though Thomas's work is beautifully embellished by ethereal flutes, intermittent guitar and bass flourishes and Mellotron, no drums. On a par with Francesco Zago's EMPTY DAYS work of 2013. (9/10)

Stellar musicianship, remarkable sound engineering (instrumental clarity), and quite beautifully sophisticated compositions that impress and engage. Phil and Amy have sure profited from the association/collaboration with Ånglagård, but more amazing are the contributions of Paul MALLYON: he is an AMAZING drummer!
     Like Ånglagård albums, this one has taken several listens to start to weave their way into my psyche, into my heart. So, give this one some time and you'll be very, very thankful.

91.67 on the Fish scales = five stars. An incredibly well-polished masterpiece from a dedicated and deserving group of musicians. Definitely a Top 20 Album of 2015!




12. SYLVAN Home

I've been listening to this album for a couple of months with increasing enjoyment with each listen. As a matter of fact, I can say that this is the first Sylvan release since Posthumous Silence to truly captivate me. Marco and crew (a much changed crew since PS) have returned to more of the elements of progressive rock while at the same time using their greatest strength to its utmost. Of course, in that I speak of the marvelous voice of Marco Glühmann doing what he does best: telling a compelling story of the challenges and pitfalls of being human in this confusing modern world. I think Marco's voice is the strongest I've ever heard it--using all of his tricks and strengths in perfect timing with the emotion of the lyrics--of each word--embellishing the music perfectly. And I really like this stripped down, simplified music mixed with elements of electronica, classical, chamber and Sylvan's usual solid rhythm section. I have to agree with one of the previous reviewers that sitting through 80 minutes while trying to remain fully attendant is challenging. (But, even sitting through the entire play through of my favorite album of all-time, The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, is a challenging thing to achieve.) But the rewards of having a song from this album pass through my iPod Shuffle's random playlist is always rewarding and enjoyable. Especially as I have gotten more familiar with them. Consummate professionals with a very polished and straightforward presentation, they have the experience and maturity to employ all of the "tricks" to hook the prog listener. I love it! I love the throbbing bass! the way the grand piano is recorded to sound like a classical piano, the powerful yet succinct guitar solos, the deliberate arrangements and orchestrated sections, and, of course, the sublime voice of one of progressive rock's all-time masters!

There are no songs that I skip or dislike but I find myself really tuning in when I hear:  1. "Not Far from the Sky" (6:31) (9/10); 4. "With the Eyes of a Child" (4:19) (10/10); 6. "The Sound of Her World" (9:23) (9/10); the refreshingly genius and emotion-packed 7. "Sleep Tight" (5:31) (10/10); the MARILLION-like 8. "Off Her Hands" (3:33) (9/10); the best song on the album, 9. "Shine" (6:19) (10/10); the hypnotic 10. "Point of No Return" (5:25) (10/10); the gorgeous finale, "Home" (6:05) (10/10), and; the tumultuous epic "in Between" (10:50) (9/10).

91.67 on the Fish scales = five stars. Such a polished, mature album of excellent and original Neo-Prog. A masterpiece of progressive rock music.
 



13. CORVUS STONE Corvus Stone Unscrewed

Axeman extraordinaire Colin Tench has gotten busy in the engineering room! And I LIKE IT! The “new” sound Colin has produced here is wonderfully reminiscent of the pre-computer-enhanced days of sound (re-)production (i.e. before the Fairlight CMI, gated drums, PC home studio software, and the now ubiquitous sound compression). I just love listening to the drums and percussion! It reminds me of being in one room playing and recording with my brothers: the sound is all right there with you, not compartmentalized and isolated in different “rooms”. It’s like capturing live performances! Which is ironically wonderful for the fact that Colin and his bandmates, I believe, live in widely distant locations and, therefore, submit their instrumental contributions over the internet (or by mail).
    Unscrewed also displays another step forward in the progress of this band as a band. Corvus Stone I put on display the (not insignificant) instrumental talents of individual band members while failing to consistently present the feel of an integrated band. Corvus Stone II brought songwriting and coherent whole-band weaves into focus. Unscrewed presents what feels and sounds like a successfully integrated band with each instrumental contribution fitting into the coherent weave of each song importantly, even essentially. 
     While this music is not always satisfying to my personal musical affinities, it is always well done, incredibly well performed, well-composed, and awesomely well engineered. Last year I theorized that CS was one album away from “their masterpiece.” I am happy to say that I was right. Colin and crew have achieved the rewards of hard work and maturation: mastery of their presentation of music.   

Five star songs:  the amazingly fitting soundtrack song, “Scary Movie Too” (7:38); the powerful opening instrumental, “Brand New Day” (3:52); the awesomely multiple vocals of “Early Morning Calls” (3:52); the crystal clarity of every instrument on “Horizon” (1:52); the medieval folk feel to the foundation of “Landfill” (3:44); the wonderful multiple melody lines and multiple tempos of “After Solstice (Remix)” (4:05); the awesome Al Di MELOA/James Bond-like theme song, “Petrified in the Cinema Basement” (3:10); the organ and military drum base and late Sixties feel of “Lost and Found Revisited” (3:29); the virtuosic guitar showcased on both “Cinema Finale” (6:02) and “Pack up your Truffles” (2:07), and; the rollicking fun and humor of “Moustaches in Massachusetts” (4:18).

What I’d like to reiterate in conclusion is the step up in sound and whole-band cohesion, but I’d also like to make sure attention is drawn to the wonderful contributions of each and every band member and guest on this album. It’s one of those albums that keeps revealing new jewels, new surprises with each and every listen. If you haven’t tried the previous CS albums, definitely try out Unscrewed. It is in a class by itself—the masterpiece class. 

91.54 on the Fish scales = five stars.




14. CICCADA The Finest of Miracles

It’s been five years since Greece’s Ciccada released their highly acclaimed debut album, A Child in the Mirror on AltrOck Records. Now they are back with an album that displays the maturation process the band has undergone in both recording and compositional technique. The songs of The Finest of Miracles show improved mastery of the band’s proclivity for weaving sophisticated instrumental structures using their multiplicity of ancient and traditional folk instruments integrated with modern electrified instruments. They have also refined their symphonic sensibilities, as is displayed in the long-playing masterpieces, “Around the Fire” and the 18-minute long “The Finest of Miracles Suite.” They are also much more evenly paced, eliminating the occasional tendency they had previously to over-do or flood passages with too much information. 

1. “A Night Ride” (6:26) is an instrumental putting on immediate display the fact of the band’s maturation as well as its further commitment to both rock music and symphonic song structures. Also on display is the multi-instrumental virtuosity of leader Nicolas Nikolopoulos who is credited with flute, tenor sax, Mellotron, synthesizers, electric and grand pianos, organ, and glockenspiel. The contributions of guest musician Lydia Boudouni on violin are also quite significant. Nice opener. (8/10) But, we’re all waiting for the complete ensemble—and especially the contributions of vocalist extraordinaire, Evangelina Kozoni. The next song does not take long to satisfy. 

2. “Eternal” (8:02) starts out sounding very much like A Child in the Mirror’s “A Garden of Delights”—though a bit more spacious. By the middle of the song the band has started mixing things up enough and by the end of the sixth minute they have finally broken away from its predecessor: organ, acoustic guitars, flutes, Mellotron and violins. In retrospect, it feels as if it is really Evangelina’s vocal melody that keeps bringing me back to “Earthly Delights,” not so much the instrumental music. Still, a great song. Great sound. (8/10)

3. “At the Death of Winter” (4:04) starts out with flute, synths, Mellotron and marimba setting things up for Evangelina’s storytelling vocal. The song is impressionistic:  jazzy, folkie, kind of childlike and pleasant. At times it even treads into GENTLE GIANT territory—especially with the jazzy section beginning in the third and the rondo weave of male vocals accompanying Evangelina which soon follows during the fourth minute. Surprising and beautiful song! (9/10)

4. “Around the Fire” (9:16) is a true symphonic construction with no single section lasting more than 45 seconds and never less than 30. It opens with two wooden flutes playing together for the first 30 seconds. Multiple tracks of acoustic guitars fill the next 30 seconds before an all-out acoustic JETHRO TULL instrumental weave bursts out. This is then joined by organ and Evangelina’s vocal. Next there is a brief instrumental of medieval instruments before the music returns to the JTULL theme with electric guitar and flute flashing in and out in an enthusiastic dance. Next Evangelina returns with the organ before the song quiets down to the medieval instrument section this time with Evangelina’s voice. It sounds like a 1960s folk songs with its strummed acoustic guitars and background vocal harmonies. Gorgeous! At the five minute mark we get to hear two electric guitar soli before the song devolves into a rapidly strumming acoustic guitar. Then, at 6:30 we get to hear some impassioned JTULL flute and guitar soli, building into a heavier JTULL crescendo before returning tho the 60s folk section with the addition of Mellotron and GENESIS-like guitars to exit. Amazing song! (10/10)

5. “Lemnos (Lover Dancer)” 0:47) is a song in the true medieval folk minstrel tradition. Plus horns! (10/10)

THE FINEST OF MIRACLES SUITE:

6. “Birth of the Lights” (1:52) opens surprisingly heavily, with and odd time signature, before evolving into a softer and lighter “sunshine and unicorns” mood. (9/10)

7. “Wandering” (6:42) opens sounding a lot like very early GENESIS. Sax with background violin and piano are interspersed with the “mischievous” “interruptions” of flute A weave of multiple synths ensues before the song returns to the sax and violin weave, this time interlaced with slightly heavier sections—one of which has some raunchy jazz guitars. The song always comes back to either the sax and violin theme and/or the flutes over acoustic guitars for its grounding. This is very much a soundtrack for a film—like an old silent film soundtrack—one in which five or six very distinct personalities are interacting and/or conversing. (9/10)

8. “Sirens Call” (1:38) starts with simple acoustic guitar arpeggios joined by flute and then double bass and Rhodes piano. Violin and flute trade soli throughout. (9/10)

9. “As Fall the Leaves” (3:09) is a medieval folk ensemble set up for Evangelina to sing in her native Greek. Very RENAISSANCE like. (10/10)

10. “Song for an Island” (4:47) sees the suite step into the electronic era with trumpets and Mike Oldfield-like lead guitar with Evangelina continuing singing in Greek. The music has the feel of an early bluesy JETHRO TULL or GENESIS song. Horns join in at 1:10, adding something special before the song returns to the opening vocal section. In the fourth minute it takes a turn into new territory—a kind of “MacArthur Park” sound and structure. At 4:30 a circus-like element is introduced—which carries us through to the end! (9/10)

Amazing composition pulled off with such skill and maturity! Awesome!

This album has an amazing 1970s feel to it in the way it is composed and performed; such mastery and maturity is rare in this day and age. Always a sucker for medieval and folk traditions, this album has bewitched me—much more than even their debut—to which I also ascribed five stars.

91.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of folk-based progressive rock music.





15. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Sunstone

The mysteriously anonymous artist who chooses to let his projects attract their own merit without name associations under the title The Psychedelic Ensemble has released his fifth concept album in six years under the title, The Sunstone. Based upon legends and mythologies that have emerged from sea-faring cultures (mostly Viking) revolving around the mysterious navigational aid known as “the sunstone,” the gifted and eminently skilled composer/performer behind The Psychedelic Ensemble once again draws from universal archetypes to offer entertainment and meaningful lessons to we, the people.   
    Four things are particularly noticeable upon listening to this new TPE album that make it stand out as a bit different from previous releases. First is the way in which the presence of the orchestral and chamber instrumentations and arrangements are much more foundational and integral to the overall sound of The Sunstone’s music—on virtually every song. This artist is above all quite accomplished as a composer and arranger of symphonic sounds and structures; TPE’s song tapestries are always interesting and complex in a multi-layered way that is strikingly similar to symphonic structures from ‘classical’ music. 
     The second thing that is noticeably evolved from previous TPE recordings (at least the previous two albums) is that the soloing weaves of multiple instruments that we’ve come to know and be awed by are somewhat tempered and not always delivered at such breakneck speed. It’s as if TPE has let go of a desire to impress in lieu of allowing more emotional content to be delivered. I am still amazed by how he can create and perform these three-, four-, and sometimes five-instrument “duels.”
     The third thing that I’ve found so noticeable is the way TPE has committed to sharing the lead vocal duties with his relatively new and quite talented female vocalist, Ann Caren. She is given lead opportunities in no less than three songs. And I hear more of Ann’s own imprint on her vocal delivery than on her performances on The Tale of The Golden King.
     The fourth change—and, to these ears, the most significant improvement to the TPE sound—is the more ‘real’ or ‘drum-like’ sounds of the toms and snares used in the drum recording. I have always felt that the previous settings/tunings of these ‘skins’ were too tight, too plastic sounding.  

1. “Prologue - The Voyage” (2:14) opens with a wonderful display of the potential of full orchestra to set a mood. By the time TPE’s electric guitars and synthesizers join the party there is a wonderful feeling of excitement—and perhaps a little bit of Blade Runner or Harry Potter-ish foreboding. (10/10)

2. “The Sunstone” (5:32) Moving straight from the Prologue, “The Sunstone” enters familiar TPE territory in that the drums and magical weave of multiple stringed and keyed instruments present themselves with the immediate joinder of the soothing voice (multiply layered) of TPE. The vocals are nicely harmonized and kind held back within the instrumental mix—which sounds really fresh and demonstrates that restraint I mentioned above. Great TPE song! (9/10) 

3. “The Siren’s Spell” (4:17) opens with organ, synth and dirty distorted guitar setting the stage for Ann Caren’s first vocal performance. Again, restraint rather than flamboyance seems to be the modus operandi here as Ann’s vocal is never ‘in your face’ strong. The mid-section of soli is also much less flashy and feverous/high-pitched than we’ve come to respect—again to great effect. The song’s acoustic guitar coaxed outro is very nice—and a perfect segue into the next song. (8/10) 

4. “The Storm” (4:50) is an instrumental in which we see a return to a weave of more rapid-fire instrumental solo melody lines—though this time in the form of but two instruments—at least for the first 2:15. Then the Hammond organ gets a turn. Back to original two ‘dirty’ instruments, then electric violin to make it a threesome. Nice but could’ve used something . . . more. (8/10)    

5. “A Hundred Years On” (8:04) opens with some gorgeous orchestral play—like watching a sunrise through music! After two minutes the song shifts into medieval acoustic folk with some acoustic guitars, harpsichord, double bass and drums while TPE sings. The fourth minute opens with a new feel—some great vocals and Hammond organ with full band and some chamber support. Really beautifully constructed song—with great effect! The final minute sees an awesome atmospheric section in support of Ann Caren’s lovely voice. I love this one! One of my favorite TPE songs ever! I wish every band could afford the support of such a wide range of instrumentalists—and compose with the maturity and sophistication that TPE does! (10/10)

6. “Sun Mad” (6:59) is kind of a continuation of the previous song’s storyline but it brings the pace and tone down a bit—allowing piano, jazzy lead guitar, emotional vocal, and orchestral support to come shining through. Such a brilliant weave of melody lines, start to finish! Awesome chord progressions and key changes. Great choice of instrument sounds. Quite a beautiful song. Definitely a favorite of mine. (10/10)

7. “Digging Up the Past” (5:45) At the 1:30 mark the song is established. I love the three or four bass melody lines interweaving at the bottom of the song with drums and Hammond organ. Hypnotic in a kind of TANGERINE DREAM way but amazingly mixed into a 60s blues-rock song. Awesome song! (9/10)

8. “The Quake” (5:42) opens with a kind of jazz fusion soup with some wonderful vocal inputs trying to steer the song onto its proper course. Once established, it becomes a very solid instrumental display of jazz fusion. The sound and instrument choices are definitely meant to capture the sounds and stylings of 1970s fusion. Like something from JAN HAMMER or electro-funkified STANLEY CLARKE, even a bit of WEATHER REPORT. Incredible song! (10/10)

9. “Gaze” (7:43) is a sensitive, emotional song constructed mostly of orchestral instruments in support of a wonderful vocal of Ann Caren. Synths and electric guitar enter in the third minute; drums, fretless bass, and Hammond organ in the fourth. I love the JEAN-LUC PONTY-like electric guitar arpeggios providing the glue to the song throughout the second half. Awesome bass play (including a brief solo) in the sixth minute traded with synths and guitars. My only criticism is of the fact that Ms. Caren’s voice gets a little buried in the mix of the instrumental weave going on throughout the last two minutes. (9/10)

10. “Endgame” (4:07) features Ann Caren and TPE trading vocal duties in a conversant kind of way over an often rhythmic KIG CRIMSON like weave of arpeggios coming from multiple instruments. A very familiar sound from previous TPE releases. (8/10)

11. “Back to the Sea” (7:19) opens with ocean waves and a bit of a folk sound with acoustic guitar, mandolin, recorder weaving behind TPE’s light IAN ANDERSON-like vocal. In the second minute Ann Caren takes over the lead vocal—this time with additional support of folk electric guitar and slide synth sounds giving it more of a Nashville sound. Light and upbeat though—kind of like a 60s Flower Child song of total optimism. The church organ opening the fourth minute, coupled with the chunky bass notes, gives the song more of a YES “Your Move” feel to it. Then the fifth minute sees a shift into more of an ominous tone with horn-synth taking lead over some minor key chords. At 6:00 we re-enter the sunlight and hope with the church organ—which then gives way to the original light folk feel and its instrumental support. The final minute sees the return to ominous and heavy as the soloists vie for supremacy and dominance. The song finishes with the dominant church organ and folk voice harmonies claiming the title. Definitely the most mood-complex and song on the album. Nice to end the album on a bit of a quieter if still dramatic note. (9/10)

TPE believes that this is his best release yet and I agree. The variation and maturity of presentation on The Sundstone coupled with the slight evolution of soundscapes and slight pullback from the previous tendency to be a bit over-dramatic puts this one ahead of his previous masterpieces, 2013’s The Tale of the Golden King  and even my previous personal favorite of his, 2011’s The Dream of the Magic Jongleur.  

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





16. 3RDEGREE Ones & Zeroes, Vol. 1

One of the things I had to get used to in this album is the “scantly clad“ music presented here: there are very few added layers or fluffy fills and incidentals in these songs. Each song feels rather stripped down, bare, and naked. And clean. The drums feel live. The vocals feel live. The acoustic guitars feel live. Like the recently released CORVUS STONE surprise, Unscrewed, 3RDegree seems to have gravitated to a pre-computerized recording/engineering style—which I love! Every sound is crystal clear and feeling as if you are in the room with it—as if the band is playing live, in the same room, with each other. Other than ECHOLYN, STEELY DAN, early DAVID BOWIE, or the occasional flash of CARAVAN or PETER MURPHY, I can’t find myself feeling many immediate associations with the music on Ones & Zeros. It’s just good, unusual, fresh and original music—on the pop side of prog. 
      Lyrically, once again 3RDegree comes through with a masterfully cogent presentation of one of the current “pink elephants” in the room of human civilization. They get you thinking about some of the many signs of increasingly imminent decay and death, get you asking “How should we behave, how should we think? What should we do?” The fake adverts used to tie each song together are more focused on the ludicrous, hollow and double-edged promises of science and technology, like the ‘advances’ of bioengineering and medicine. It is obvious that the band wants us to think. I love it! They remind me of the Lacuna Corporation ads in the 2004 film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Like STEVEN WILSON, 3RDegree seems brave enough to be willing to point a mirror on some of the most sensitive, touchy subjects of our modern ‘civilized’ lives and world. Bravo! and kudos to them!
     Like their previous album, 2012’s The Long Division, 3RDegree have produced an album that has totally taken me by surprise. And, also like The Long Division, I find Ones & Zeros growing on me with each listen. Wonderful stuff! Check it out!

Favorite songs: They’re all wonderful but personally I like: the mostly instrumental 9. “We Regret to Inform You” (5:23); the piercing indictments of 6. “Circuit Court” (5:19), 7. “Life at Any Cost” (8:49), and 8. “What It Means to Be Human” (5:31), and; 2. “The Gravity” (7:51). Also good are:  4. “Life” (3:08), 5. “The Best & Brightest” (4:06), and the tongue-in-cheek anthem, 10. “More Life” (5:33).

Though this is definitely the poppier side of prog (and thus the "crossover" designation), the cleverness of the lyrics and the charming, upbeat sophistication of the music make this, in my humble opinion, a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

90.0 on the Fish scales = fives stars.





17. JAM IT! Following the Unknown

Unusually well-produced jazz fusion from Russia. Though Russia is supposedly cursed with a lack of attention (or care) for rhythmicity, the drummer here, Alexey Vostrikov is quite steady, disciplined, and creative. His supposed influence from Mike Portnoy has rubbed off well. For me, however, the centerpiece of this quartet of tightly matched musicians is guitarist Konstantin Illin. His technical skill is enhanced by his creative sensibilities, allowing him to sound like some kind of cross between blues legend Luther Allison and jazz legend Allan Holdsworth. Bassist Dmitry Medvinsky and keyboardist Roman Savelyev play excellent roles in support of the machinations of the two "leads" in this band. All in all, the music and composing are very, very solid--and the songs are performed very tightly. Though some reviewers have noted the metal/Dream Theater or the 80s King Crimson influences to this music, I am not as convinced--though song 5. "Avalanche" does possess many of the shifts and angularities and rhythmic guitar and drum interplay one might expect from those kinds of influences. The presence of a strongly independent melodic sense throughout takes me out of DT-KC territory. Even the chord progressions--often quite fast and complex--are surprisingly melodic. The music produced by these guys stands on its own; they are their own force, not an imitator or clone of someone else.


1. "Following The Unknown" (10:10) opens with a 1970/80s familiarity and simplicity, but then a volume- and twang-bar-treated electric guitar proceeds to take us deep into guitar heaven. What a solo Konstantin unleashes for over a minute! Then around 2:15 things shift--they slow down to give the rhythmtist a chance to shine (though no real soloing--this seems to be Alexey's way: to surprise and express in his syncopated, intuitive and creative percussion-scapes). by the 4:30 mark the band has played around, woven something together, before a little axe solo and a wonderful NIL-like section unfolds. I'm also thinking "Fromuz" with this one. The melodic flow of this one doesn't quite make sense to me but I can certainly appreciate the 'theory' behind the compositional flow. Nice introduction but nothing mind-blowing (except for the opening guitar solo). (8/10)

2. "Sea Breeze" (7:16) continues to put on display the band's complex and tight tempo and chordal changes--but, though impressive, this is nothing so very new or exciting. Yet. (8/10)

3. "Through The Forest" (6:30) opens a bit like a CORVUS STONE song, rockin' bluesy with the COLIN TENCH guitar sound. It goes through a few shifts over the simple bass line and stumbling drum line. This is, for me, the "breakout song" in which the band shows some of its uniqeness. There are interesting tempo and key shifts, interesting keyboard choices and passages, and frequent melody shifts as well. The duplicated keyboard-guitar riffs in the fifth minute are awesome--and they're followed immediately by some awesome power chords before a piano-based section takes over. Soon bass and drums kick up a groove over which the guitar and piano rip. Awesome song!
 My third favorite on the album. (9/10) 

4. "Mountain Of Solitude" (9:33) is the first song in which I feel as if the band members have set up a goal or study of an idea--as if they are practicing some concept from music theory. A relatively slow tempo song, the band amps up the volume around the 3:45 mark--with Konstantin's guitar, of course, taking the lead--but not for long, as the song quickly returns to étude mode though with increasingly heaviness--building toward a guitar harmonics bridge at the five minute mark that precedes another classic bluesy pitch-bending and chord-interspersed guitar solo. Stevie Ray would be proud! I love the collective control and discipline exhibited in this one. Alexey is awesome in the background! I'd love to see him and Gavin HARRISON or Vinny COLAIUTA trade punches! (9/10)

5. "Avalanche" (7:24) opens with an Alexey solo establishing the mixed-meter tempo. The rest of the band soon arrive and eventually establish some nice, complex melodies through chordal progression and instrumental interplay. Really interesting! Konstantin almost gets unleashed a couple of times until the fourth minute when tempo and mood downshift to something very pretty and simple--but not for long! A heavier expression of this same slowed down section establishes itself before alternating back and forth with the pretty section. But then, surprise, some awesome djenty guitar and bass open the door for some odd drum soloing by Alexey. Konstatin's guitar soon tries to take the lead but Alexey seems to fight him for it! Awesome! Alexey is going crazy as the band launches a new almost RPI-like section up to the end. Great song! (9/10)

6. "Into The Mist" (5:07) opens as a kind of gentle chordal and rhythmic etude. By the time the song gels into its second round of the study after the first "chorus" their is some significant and beautiful development. Starting at the 2:15 mark the song begins to amp up with some amazing bass and guitar play (as Alexey lays back). When Konstantin hits some amazing notes at the end of the fourth minute the 'étude' feels as if it is building, gradually filling all of the "empty" space that the opening section had displayed to the point that it is very full, but not too busy or loud by the end. It all works wonderfully! A top three song for me. (10/10)
 
7. "Random Name Hero" (12:22) This is the song whose surprising chord progressions are surprisingly melodic--even replete with delightful Asian tendencies. A true West-meets-East contrivance. I love it! It starts out rather mundanely but by the second minute unfolds into a wonderfully entertaining and engaging song. By the six and seventh minutes enough interplay has been displayed to allow the individuals to go on to some nice soli--bass, keys, and awesome classic rock-like blues guitar. Roman's keyboard support throughout this one is, I have to admit, quite extraordinary. And Alexey's military-founded rhythmics are, of course, in a league all their own. Wow! Another top three song. (10/10)

An incredibly tight display of teamwork with many usually brief displays of individual brilliance (most often by the guitarist and drummer), JAM IT! is definitely one of the surprise bands and albums of 2015. So glad our vigilant Russian spy Nikolaj keeps me informed as to the goings-on on the Russian front!


90.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock (jazz fusion). This album is DEFINITELY highly recommended--it would be an excellent addition to any prog music lover's album collection! 




18. ALIO DIE & LORENZO MONTANÀ Holographic Codex

Ambient music in the vein of BRIAN ENO's 1982 classic, Ambient 4: On Land, seasoned electronica veteran Alio Die teams up with countryman Lorenzo Montanà who is more known for his film scoring. The collaboration is perfect as Alio Die's typical Arabian-indfused heavily treated zither, voice, and percusssives are mixed and diluted with M. Montanà's contributions, making them more ethereal and more effective. All but one of the song compositions rate exceedingly high in their capacity to engage and interest the listener.
     The above-mentioned comparison to the classic Eno masterpiece--a veritable landmark in the progression and evolution of ambient music--is not without purpose as Holographic Codex presents seven songs, three of which explore some of the less angelic, less relaxing, more unsettling, even "darker" effects of musical soundscapes--areas of response that invite exploration of what is called the "shadow" side of our psyches--as the Eno album did for us psychopsiritual explorers of the 1980s.  Three of the other songs evoke spiritual uplift through the use of familiar religious means, two more Christian, the other very Islamic.

1. "Muns de Et" (6:56) is beautiful in a peaceful, angelic way using treated organ, wind sounds, computer clicks, treated percussion, processed zithers and more. Gorgeously layered and flowing song. (10/10)

2. "Hydra e Vers" (5:16) is dark and brooding in a BRIAN ENO Ambient 4: On Land kind of way using what sounds like Islamic chants, prayers or calls to prayer. (9/10)

3. "Akvil" (9:35) starts out uplifting in a meditative way with church bells as if at the end of a wedding or high mass but then turns subtly in a darker direction around the 2:30 mark with a sub-layer of sound that at first creeps in and eventually becomes the dominant mood driver. (9/10)

4. "Silent Rumon" (15:16) is ominously laden with a full orchestra-like feel and a subtle yet driving Berlin School electronic percussion. This feels like a KLAUS SCHULZE classic. The use of Arabian voices, sounds, and melodic patterns is quite prevalent in this one. (10/10)

5. "Egetora" (5:24) not the prettiest or most engaging nor relaxing song. The music is so ethereal, so distant and almost pitchless that it almost fails to qualify as music! But it does produce an ambient space, with a limbo-like feel in a way that only Brian Eno has done well. It's like being in Purgatory:  We are waiting and waiting; we are all waiting. (7/10)

6. "Cinta della Breccia Divina" (15:14) wind and pulsating drones give this an On Land feel to it. Even rejoinder of the ambient and incidental zither makes it feel Eno-esque--kind of like Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, Eno's recording of the music of African-American street musician, zither player Laraaji. (8/10)

7. "Eternal Wisdom" (6:12) embraces the angelic in a European cathedral choir practice kind of way. From the uplifting opening chord to its end. (10/10)

I have to say, the fact that I keep playing this CD for background music everyday while doing our farm wash'n'packs says a lot about its effect. It offends no one and adds a bit of the dramatic-contemplative to our day. This is definitely one of the best ambient albums I've heard in a long time (And I'm so glad ambient is an accepted sub-category of the prog rock sub-genre "electronic.")


90.0 on the Fishscales = A-; a masterpiece of progressive rock and deep ambient music.



4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces:




19. COSMIC GROUND Cosmic Ground 2

Great retro electronica/Kosmische Music from ELECTRIC ORANGE's keyboard player, Dirk Jan Müller. 

1. "Sol" (19:23) opens with a couple of minutes of distant-sounding industrial sounds playing around in the background soundscape. In the third minute a TANGERINE DREAM-like computer-synth sequence emerges, rises and proceeds to dominate until around 5:20 when other sounds (organ) are beginning to emerge---though not enough to commit to the weave for a good minute or more. The increasing volume of the top end of the oscillating sound waves (approximately 60 seconds per cycle) is very effective--and the clarity lends to its pleasurability. This is, truly, like a prime TD song (e.g. "Coldwater Canyon" sans electric guitar) only recorded/produced with the advantages of 21st Century technologies. (9/10) 

2. "NGC 224" (18:40) awesome electronica in the TANGERINE DREAM vein. The electronic drum sound sequenced sounds a bit 'off' to me but the progressions and evolution of the song throughout its nearly 19 minute length make up for it. (9/10)

3. "Organia" (19:43) opens with wave after wave of synth chords, washing ashore due to the slow flange effect. At the five minute mark the hypnotic rhythm sequence is introduced, slowly rises in sound level, as the synth waves recede. Gradually, other keyboard sounds, notes, riffs, and waves are introduced/added to enrich the sound palate--but the programmed sequence is awesome on its own. Beginning at about the 13 minute mark, the bottom drops out: the music begins to slowly fade (the treble side, for sure) virtually disappears before slowly flanging back to a loud crescendo--a pattern that continues over the next two minutes until we are left with one long sustained bass chord and Mellotron voices. By 15:30 a layered reed-like buzzing sound is introduced and quickly takes over. The rhythm sequence is gone, all that is left is the rise and fall of this ominous buzz chord--which plays out to the end. 
     Were it not for the exceedingly slow and drawn out--and fairly simple--development, this would be a sure-fire masterpiece. (9/10)

4. "Altair" (20:09) opens with some sustained, high pitched crystalline notes--could be organ, could be glass harmonium. The weave is joined by some eerie noises and minimalist STEVE REICH-like sounds, notes and chords. Feels like a walk through the night woods in a horror film. Fortunately, there are no "Tubular Bells"-like sudden noises jumping out at you in the first six minutes. In the sixth minute, however, there is a brief four-note riff (arpeggio) from what sounds like a computerized guitar that rises into prominence and dominance in a quite ominous way. It feels as if something is approaching--something mysterious and powerful, if of low and/or tired intelligence, that a woods-walker would want to avoid/hide from. By the 10:00 mark the intruder has passed; it's probably safe to emerge. But we don't. For another minute and a half we wait--until the very last strains of the maurading lurker have passed. Then organ chord changes indicate a slight change of perspective--perhaps one as little as a turn of the head--and then again--but no movement from this safe hiding place. Observation, listening, hypervigilance, heightened senses, distrust and fear keep the woods-walker glued to his spot. Our patience and caution are rewarded as in the sixteenth minute a distant moan or haunting voice is borne on the wind. Not close but not far--and getting closer?! At 16:45 it sounds as if we have launched--running--away--speeding through the woods away from the witch voice, away from the trail of the massive Lurker, running at near break-neck speed through the woods. The run begins to feel timeless, spaceless, as noise and sensory input seem to fade away leaving us . . . in our bed, awake, soaked in sweat. What a dream! What a brilliant musical journey! (9/10)   

90.0 on the Fish scales = a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. The only thing holding that album back from true masterpiece status, in my humble opinion, is its lack of something new, fresh, or innovative to add to the lexicon of the Electronica and Kosmische Musik subgenres.




20. MANNA/MIRAGE Blue Dogs

With a bit of a Canterbury Style music revival picking up steam it is no wonder that the USA’s only true contributor to the sub genre, The Muffins would chime in with a contribution of new music. Only, mid-production one of the band’s members had to excuse himself, leaving Dave Newhouse, Billy Swann, Paul Sears and friends with the decision of whether or not to move forward. Under the guise of the clear reference to the parent band’s 1978 debut album of the same name, Dave and company decided to go ahead and finish the album in progress. Apparently revived by their recent work with Cuneiform label stable mate GUAPO and AltrOck Productions’ HOMUNCULUS RES, as well as Richard Wileman’s KARDA ESTRA projects, Dave and Paul, respectively, have gathered enough impetus and support to self-produce this album of seven songs which come in at a rather brief 36 minutes in length. And boy are we fortunate and am I happy that they did! I’ve been dancing around the house and in my car to the likes of the ear candy opener, “Canterbury Bells” (4:50) (10/10), ever since! Everytime I play this in the house my wife says, “That’s so Seventies!” And I say, “So?!” The bass, drums, and steady yet-syncopated piano chords bounce us along at a nice walking pace while an odd array of horns and percussion build unusual chord and harmonic layers over the top. Just brilliant! Should be a soundtrack to a video/commercial! One of my favorite songs of the year!

2. “Duke Street” (4:47) opens a little more playfully, with a piano playing a little two-bar ditty over and over in a kind of 50s/60s be-bop style—like Duke Ellington (for whom the song is named and who is present via a tape recorded sound clip from an interview of his at the end of the song), Thelonius Monk, or even Paul Desmond. The foundation established, the jazzy brush-played drums, double bass, and multiple horns play in a kind of big band style—playing as a group in chordal unison while single instruments take turns soloing over the top. If I have any complaint about this song it’s that there really is no significant shift of the foundation. (9/10)

3. Muffin Man Redux” (7:23), we find out toward the end, is a jazz song that is built over the ditty that we know as “Do you know the muffin man?” Until the avant shift at the 2:20 mark, the song presents itself as another small-scale big band song—not far from the Glenn Miller or Stan Kenton style. At 3:25 a drum interlude preps us for a kind of carnival-atmosphere in which, at the 4:13 mark, the “Muffin man” theme is presented. At 4:30 the music moves into a very catchy, melodic section with piano, electric bass, and jazzy drums laying another steady foundation over which the 
At 5:46, the lone piano seems to be beginning a return us to the muffin man melody—but no! another pretty melodic variation picks up and plays on until the final twenty seconds when a single microphone is used to pick up a man and his ukelele playing and singing out the “muffin man” nursery rhyme before saying “bye bye, everyone” in a condescending as-if-to-children voice. Some great sections to this humorous song. (8/10)

4. “Lost in a Photograph” (4:21) opens with a slow jazz big band foundations, double bass and flute gently standing out the most. At 1:10 a shift brings forth a “chorus” melody from the horn section before a sax takes on the lead duties over the original opening foundation. An eminently enjoyable little dirge that even takes on some nice STEELY DAN hues and in the third and fourth minutes. No complaints here! (As a matter of fact, I would not mind at all if this one went on longer!) (9/10) 

5. “Blind Eye” (4:57) is the first song on the album that, to my ears, really sounds like an avant/RIO/Canterbury song. The initial rhythm and sounds established are familiar to me in a kind of BRUFORD/YUGEN way. The guitar soloing that begins in the second half of the second minute is quite angular and discordant. The section that begins at 2:15 is pure avant/RIO in a kind of UZED/PRESENT way. The ensuing section uses some very Middle Eastern or klezmer-type melodic sounds and structures—which is then varied and embellished over for the fourth and first half of the fifth minutes before fading away to leave an electric piano to delicately play out the final 40 seconds. An interesting song but not my favorite. (8/10)

6. “Shwang Time” (4:58) opens with a kind of Pink Panther-meets-James Brown kind of feel as double bass and snare drum play with and off of each other. At 0:49 the rest of the little big band joins in with multiple melodies and being represented simultaneously but woven together in a fun, 1960s kind of way. At 1:55 there is a shift into a more insistent, ascendant bass and chordal progression giving the song a kind of YES-like feel! A tom-only drum section allows for some different horn interplay—eventually morphing into what sounds and feels like a 1920s jazz dance piece (with a film-noire detective theme playing within.) Odd but fun song! (9/10)

7. “Rovian Cue” (4:10) obviously refers to Karl Rove’s cue ball shaped head. Regardless of the meaning of the title, the song has a kind of slap-happy, fun feel like one of Sweden’s DUNGEN’s happy songs or something from Sicily’s current Canterbury revivalists, HOMUNCULUS RES. The piano play in the final minute feels so much like that of VINCE GUARALDI (jazz pianist most famous for the original Charlie Brown television specials’ soundtracks). Next to the album’s opener, this is my favorite song on the album. (10/10)

A late comer to the 2015 catalogue of albums, this is one that is well worth everyone’s listen and patience—it’ll grow on you in a very pleasant way!

89.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. One of the year’s 20 best!



21. THE TEA CLUB Grappling

It's taken me a long time to get around to this late arrival to the 2015 catalog as I was fully enmeshed in trying to keep up with the new releases of 2016 before I was able to acquire this one. But time has given me a good chance to get to know this album pretty well. I'd read many reviewers commenting on the "new direction" The Tea Club had apparently taken with this album. I see it--mostly in the form of a much more present and flashy drummer and keyboard player than the last album. (Welcome Tony and Reinhardt!)  

1. "The Magnet" (6:07) is a vibrant, intricately arranged song with stellar performances from all band members--especially the way the guitars and keyboards mimic and weave in and out of each other's shadows. I love the pace of this one. A pretty-near flawless song and my favorite on the album. (10/10)

2. "Remember Where You Were" (7:43). Though new keyboard player Reinhardt McGeddon shone on the opening song, this is the one which really puts on full display his tremendous talents--layers and layers worth. The pacing of this song is a bit slow and syncopated for my tastes--or perhaps I find it difficult to match the rhythm section's play with the vocal and keyboard play. (Are they playing on the same song?) It almost has a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway "In the Cage" feel to it. (8/10)


3. "Dr. Abraham" (8:11) opens with a full low end, drumming on full display, with organ and guitars diddling in the background. When the vocals enter things cohere and then the music shape-shifts beneath. Over the course of the first two minutes I am befuddled by the sudden and, to my ears, incongruous time and dynamic shifts. The story about some kind of Doctor Abraham is told with quite some emotion--and, in the fourth minute, with two separate vocal lines going on simultaneously. Meanwhile, the heavy rhythm section and noodling organ and synths continue to play as if they are oblivious to one another. One of those songs whose choices for musical and vocal expression mystify me. The slow build from 5:00 to 6:00 is cool. The drummer is very good, but maybe a little too busy--which is a distraction for me. The "lamination" finale is just weird. (7/10)


4. "The Fox in the Hole" (4:45) opens with violin and acoustic guitars weaving a kind of medieval tapestry. Vocals soon join in--later to be joined by bass and drums and other multiple other voices. Electric guitar and organ 7 synths fill in the weave as the scattered, layered multiple vocals play around the sound field. Interesting. Adventurous. A top three song for me. (9/10) 

6. "Wasp in a Wig" (6:16) opens in standard rock form with a pleasant lower register singing voice singing a fairly normal, straightforward vocal. At 1:10 the music drops and bass chord play are all we are left with. Gradually, a jazzy kind of collaboration builds before the vocals resume for a bit. A very nice drum and keyboard/synth solo ensue into the fourth minute. The vocals rejoin and sing with feeling as they are harmonized by the borther's background voice. (I've never been able to pinpoint which of the McGowan brothers is which.) Another synth solo fills a chunk of the fifth minute before a GG three-way vocal weave takes over. The final minute recapitulates the 1:10 quiet section with gentle key chords, drums and vocalise. Another top three song. (9/10)

7. "The White Book" (9:57) is the longest album on the album. As the band are fond of doing, The Tea Club use this temporal expanse to patiently explore several tangents--one full of subtlety and delicacy, the other with bombast and layers woven into one. My fourth top three song. (9/10)

Line-up
Patrick McGowan - Vocals, Guitar
Dan McGowan - Vocals, Guitar
Jamie Wolff - Bass, Violin, Cello
Reinhardt McGeddon - Keyboards
Tony Davis - Drums


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




22. ZA! Loloismo


This refreshing and creative album reminds me of the wild freneticism of LES NEGRESSES VERTES or THE CLASH or THE BEASTIE BOYS only putting them together with a modern technological bent—all kinds of samples and some Zeuhl and industrial drums and bass, while, at its core, this is Post Rock! (At least, the first side is.) Just the kind of shot in the arm that Post Rock needs! All coming from Spanish artists Spazzfrica Ehd (drums, keyboards, vocals) and Papadupau (guitars, trumpets, samples, vocals).  A little avant-punk Post Rock rap loloiza anyone? 

1. "La maquinaria está engrasada" (4:54) deep computer generated bass and group shout-chanting over changing, shifting time signatures of a loud industrial-sounding drum kit. (9/10)

2. "Badulake" (3:33) opens with a frenzied Zeuhl-like sound crescendo before almost settling into a straightforward song structure--almost, because it does not. Odd and intermittent effects and odd instruments/samples are introduced throughout the song. No set rhythm or melody is ever really established for any duration longer than about 20 seconds. It can be jarring and unsettling but oh so fascinating! Post Rock has NEVER sounded this raw and abrasive! (8/10)

3. "Empatando" (4:14) opens with MARK ISHAM/JON HASSELL-like treated trumpet which is gradually joined by full out drums and some bass and other sampled "percussives." (Remember all the odd noises PETER GABRIEL would sample to use in his rhythm tracks? These guys have taken it to a new level.) The syncopated "bridge" starting at the 2:40 mark lays the transition into the salmer group singing before the return to the Post Rock build. This sounds like the Spanish version of GIFTS FROM ENOLA. (9/10)

4. "Mundo Estrella" (3:27) If JIMI HENDRIX were to have played with THE CLASH and bass player JANNICK TOP while being produced by Trevor HORN this is what I think it would sound like. Awesome song! (10/10)

5. "Sancha" (5:01) is the album's closest thing to straightforward Post Rock, with guitar and drums doing all the work, but the constantly shifting odd time signatures make this one no walk in the park. Awesome song. (9/10)

6. "Hablas como Autechre 1" (2:03) is the modernization of THE BEASTIE BOYS, 2.0. Odd rap-like rhythms and shouted chorus chants (the title words). (8/10)

7. ""Hablas como Autechre 2" (3:30) is a varied version of the rhythms and sounds but same effects as the previous song only with no vocals and more keyboard/computer noises woven into the fabric of the song. (9/10)

8. "Loloismo" (2:44) very high energy like a punk song from the late 70s only using more modern computer technology. The lyrics are shouted by the group chorus loloiza style, like the punk groups and The Clash and Les Negresses Vertes would. (9/10)

9. "Captain Rondo" (1:34) is a computer keyboard exhibition over funky bass and drums groove. Group chanting joins in after about 30 seconds. The final 25 seconds are more interesting keyboard interpretations. (8/10)

10. "Don Autoleyendas" (2:44) is pure 90s hip hop rap with treated horn section a la YOUNG MC and THE BEASTIE BOYS--and it is awesome!! (10/10)

11. "¡Aquí huele a Assufre!" (4:51) pens with didgeridoo and trumpet sounding as if he is tuning or practicing scales. Toms and cymbols enter in a kind of African rhythm to provide foundation for the group rants and ensuing solo spoken voice. Halfway through the song some ADRIAN BELEW-like guitar noises are presented for a bit before the song returns to percussives--both hand and electronically generated--and heavily distorted electric bass guitar with the intermittent group chanting of the title words. The weakest song on the album (musically) but still interesting. (8/10)

Many will question the inclusion in "progressive rock" of this music--especially Side 2 of the album--but it is so refreshing, so fun and creative I cannot deny this wonderful album a place in my lists of Masterpieces.

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




23. VOLA Inmazes

Who says djent isn't prog? I STRONGLY disagree. Denmark's Vola demonstrates a refreshing album of progressive rock music by melding the keyboard techno-wizardry of the 1980s with an outstanding rhythm section of djenters who absolutely refuse to play anything in a straight time. Think TEARS FOR FEARS or DEPECHE MODE teaming with MESHUGGAH, TOOL, or PROGHMA-C and you'll have a pretty good image for the aural soundscapes these guys paint on Inmazes.
     The album starts out much more heavily, more djenty, and then starts to show more of the band's 80s synth-pop roots in the second half.

1. "The Same War" (5:19) opens with some truly abrasive industrial djent sound before opening up into a full-on TOOL-like onslaught. When the vocals of guitarist Asger Mygind enter I am immediately struck by the similarity of his tone and sense of melody to that of David Gahan of the 1980s New Wave band, DEPECHE MODE.
     I need to point out that throughout the album the work of the bass, drums, and djent guitar play is absolutely top notch and amazing. I love the unpredictable syncopated and multi-octave guitar melody at the four minute mark. (9/10)

2. "Stray the Skies" (4:13) opens rather melodically, hooking the listener in with the album's most haunting melody, before sliding into a very heavy, very djenty, almost abrasive A Section. The Chorus returns us to the opening melody and synth chords, but then the following section becomes even more sparsely djenty. Back and forth the music goes, start to finish. Awesome contrast! (9/10)

3. "Starburn" (6:05) opens with some spacey atmospherics joined by an electronic tuned percussion arpeggio before the djent crew brings down the wrecking ball. This one even incorporates some vocal growls/screams. The shift at 1:55 into the melodic and harmonic realm of 1980s New Wave is a bit incongruous and perhaps denotes the weakest moment/transition of the album--the only place where the djent-New Wave partnership might not work. The prolonged guitar djent chord play that plays out over the second half of the song is interesting but never really goes anywhere new or fresh. Unfortunately, this is the album's low point. The good news is: it is virtually its only one! (7/10)

4. "Owls" (5:51) opens with a prolonged TOOL-like drum, bass and guitar section. When the vocalist joins in the band once again tries to marry the melodic, almost syrupy New Wave vocals with the abrasive, syncopated and less-than predictable staccato of its djent rhythm section. Here it works pretty well. Early SIMPLE MINDS on steroids. (8/10)

5. "Your Mind as Helpless Dreamer" (5:21) opens with perhaps the most high energy, ambitious rhythms and pace. Fast-paced midi-ed keyboard chords join in (in a NEW ORDER kind of way) while the vocals are presented with a much heavier, more aggressive fashion--very similar to the wonderful sound and work of Australia's KARNIVOOL. This song is working and barreling along on all cylinders! (10/10)

6. The delicate and techno-edgy "Emily" (3:01) plays out like a very emotional Roland Orzabel (TEARS FOR FEARS) masterpiece--though it has strong DEPECHE MODE leanings, too. Beautiful song. (10/10)

7. "Gutter Moon" (3:55) opens with a treated (compressed) keyboard riff before spilling out with some rather restrained djenty-yet-fuzzy bass and guitars. The B section takes on more of a DREAM ACADEMY/PREFAB SPROUT feel and synth pop sound. Then the djent rhythm section comes out in almost full force as the melody, vocals and synth keys sustain their 1980s sound and feel. Nice, interesting song. (9/10)

8. "A Stare Without Eyes" (4:58) opens heavily, though compressed, before settling into a melody sounding very much like a DEPECHE MODE song, just heavier. The lead vocal starts out heavily treated before coming somewhat forward for the first chorus. By the second A Section all holds have been taken off of the vocal, the song remains heavy but still retains this familiar DEPECHE MODE feel to it--as if the Mode merely upped their angst and aggression and let it show in the treatments of their instruments. Not quite as catchy with melodies here, but a good song. (8/10)

9. "Feed the Creatures" (5:37) opens heavily before letting all abrasive sounds drop away in lieu of sustained organ chords and computer-pop noises acting as percussives to support the delicate Jonas Bjerre (MEW)-like vocals. The heavy chorus at the three minute mark followed by the delicate piano chords and gorgeous soft vocal over the heavier TEARS FOR FEARS-like electro-rhythms is brilliant! Amazing! Great song. GReat blend of sounds and technology of the 80s, 90s and 21st Century. (9/10)

10. "Inmazes" opens with an odd keyboard pulsing between two chords in a straight time before it is joined by fairly straightforward electric guitar playing a fairly dissonant and discordant arpeggio. The tension is enhanced when the full band joins in with its full heaviness and PORCUPINE TREE-like sound (think "Blackest Eyes") and odd time signature playing over the still audible, still pulsing odd keyboard of the opening. The vocals that ensue are very much in the vein of those of DEPECHE MODE's David Gahan or even NEW ORDER's Bernard Sumner. I like the long, even outro, too. Great song! (9/10)

A wonderfully refreshing album from a group of young Danes who are attempting something quite ambitious in their blend of New Wave techno-synth pop with TOOL/MESHUGGAH djent. The point is:  They succeed! Wonderfully!

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




24. DUNGEN Allas Sak

After a five year hiatus in which band members freely and productively explored other musical projects, Sweden's Dungen is back with a new set of wonderful yet more mature, more diverse musical offerings. Band leader Gustav Ejstes's instrumental choices, recording techniques, and stylistic palette have expanded considerably since 2010's Skit I Allt

1. "Allas Sak" (3:29) opens the album with a couple great hooks: high pitch Rhodes piano arpeggi, a repeated series of descending slide notes on the electric guitar, and then syncopated electric guitar strums. Once the full band joins in and lead singer and principle songwriter Gustav Ejstes begins to sing, all sounds like the Dungen we've come to know and love. Some odd horn in the "C" solo slot feels fresh and new (Gustav on tenor sax?). (9/10)

2. "Sista Festen" (2:25) is a bongo-based song set up for Gustav's multi-layered, harmonized vocals and some Reine Fiske guitar soloing. (8/10)

3. "Sista gästen" (2:40) is a kind of set up for layers of wind instruments (multiple flutes, saxophone) and electric guitar work, Gustav's forward but whispered vocal and some Michael Giles-like drum play. Very interesting to hear electric guitar woven in with the "horn section" of flutes and saxes! (9/10)

4. "Franks Kaktus" (5:40) is an awesome bongo-based flute and electric guitar face off. Ejstes and Fiske bring the best out of each other--and the support crew of drummer Johan Holmegård and electric bass player Mattias Gustavsson are so solid. This is one awesome song! (10/10)

5. "En gång om året" (4:32) begins with pretty solo electric piano play, establishing the melody that Gustav soon picks up with his solo Swedish vocals. At 1:12 the rest of the band joins in for a few seconds before flutes, mellotron and acoustic guitar establish a kind of BEACH BOYS feel. Some amazing effects are used on Reine Fiske's slow but emotional soling in the song's final minute. Such a gorgeous, mature composition! Don't miss this one! Quite outside the usual Dungen wheelhouse!(10/10)

6. "Åkt Dit" (3:00) begins with piano and bass making moves around one another before the song kicks into nice with some really nice drumming, great vocal melodies (sung in Swedish), and awesome tenor saxophone contributions. Is that Reine Fiske on the Mellotron? (9/10)

7. "En Dag På Sjön" (4:13) is a piano-based instrumental jam set up for Reine Fiske and drummer Johan Holmegård to go ape crazy over. It feels as if it were an edited piece from a longer whole band jam--faded into as all four instrumentalists are hitting on all cylinders. Nice, and not excessive. (9/10) 

8. "Flickor Och Pojkar" (3:10) is another instrumental, this one a little more delicate and soft. It opens with a xylophone sound (Rhodes piano?), flute and some kind of strummed percussive (later becoming the strummed acoustic guitar?) maintaining a floral quality to it throughout. (8/10)

9. "Ljus In I Min Panna" (3:57) is a pretty straightforward rock song with Reine Fiske's fuzz guitar lead playing throughout, though more in the background than on "En Dag På Sjön." Este's singing in the first half of the song is less melodic, more monotonous. Nice jamming to end, but definitely the weakest song on the album. (7/10)

10. "Sova" (8:34) opens with slow moving, floating organ chords supported by simple, basic rhythm section, while a heavily-treated vocal joins in (singing in Swedish) within the first minute. This one has an almost PROCUL HARUM feel to it. Harp and some of Reine Fiske's finest lead guitar work on the album help fill the gaps between singing parts. The background organ work in the fifth minute is quite interesting: at times quite a bit like carnival music, at others almost reverent, church-like. Over the top RF's truly psychedelic lead work slowly takes us off-world, into other dimensions. (The other instruments somehow magically disappear as if to support and/or enhance this effect.) Extraordinary song. (9/10) 

I do think this is Dungen's most diverse, varied and mature set of songs--less hard as Ta Det Lugnt, not nearly as poppy as Skit I Allt, more eclectic than 4. Great album. If you love the Dungen sound but want to see the band continue to grow and experiment, don't miss this album. Your wish has arrived!

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




25. LEPROUS The Congregation 


I'm going to agree with the many reviewers here who are extolling the virtues of this album. It is, in my opinion, a very powerful Prog Metal album which displays the continued refinement and maturation of these musician/songwriters. Vocalist Einar Solberg continues to show virtuosic mastery of his craft--yet with continued refinements in his restraint, control, and use of space and simplicity. All powerful developments for the overall impact of the songs here.
     Coal was a real step forward from Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome which both had a lot of elements of quirk, humor and pop woven into the song and melody structures, but The Congregation seems to show of a band that is finally comfortable with its style--a band that knows and uses its strengths through and through.
     While I find this overall a very powerful album, there are weaker songs and then there are absolute masterpieces.

5 star songs: "Rewind" (7:07) (10/10); "Slave" (6:38) (10/10); "Moon" (7:13) (9/10); "The Flood" (9/10); "Down" (6:26) (9/10); "Lower" (4:34) (9/10), and; "Red" (6:36) (8/10).

Album of the Year? I don't know. It's a great one! "Rewind" and "Slave" are must hears! Two of the best of the year, to be sure!

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




26. KLONE Here Comes the Sun

10% 1976 BLUE ÖYSTER CULT, 10% 1990 THE CURE ~1990, 20% FIELDS OF THE NEPHILIM around 2004, and 60% 1992 ALICE IN CHAINS, Klone represents a very welcome if nostalgic musical hybrid all blended very much into a progressive rock package. I can only imagine the awesome power this band must pack live in concert as lead singer Yann Linger's voice must surely fill any auditorium! Even in "softer" songs like "Nebulous"--no, maybe more in softer songs like "Nebulous"--Yann's LAYNE STALEY-like voice stands out as the main attraction. It is not often that one comes across that kind of commanding presence in a front man, but Yann Linger has it--just as Layne Staley had it. (In my humble opinion, Staley was probably the most distinctive, central representative of the 1990's "grunge" movement--yes, even more than Eddie Vedder or Kurt Cobain.)
     Here Comes the Sun flows with such addictive power that one cannot help but want to hear more once one has started. Just a great sound, top to bottom, with the addition of a great saxophone player and great sound engineering and production. This is surely one of the gems of 2015! It simply must be listened to in order to be believed!

Five star songs:  4. "The Drifter" (6:13) (10/10); the ALICE IN CHAINS-like 8. "Come Undone" (4:25) (10/10); 1. "Immersion" (5:11) (9/10); "Grim Dance" (5:27) (9/10), and; the instrumental 6. "Gleaming" (2:53) (9/10).

Four star songs:  9. "The Last Experience" (7:18) (8/10); 5. "Nebulous" (5:53) (8/10); 2. "Fog" (4:48), and; the POLICE "Messsage in a Bottle"-like "Gone Up in Flames" (3:59) (8/10).

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




27. SVETAMUZIKA Present Simple

Young Russian keyboardist, SVETLANA MARINCHENKO is a name you might want to remember. Not only is she a force to be reckoned with but with this, her debut album, she has managed to not only produce wonderfully engaging music, incite truly superlative performances from her collaborators, but release the single best sound engineered album--of any kind--that I have ever heard come out of Russia or any of the former Soviet republics. I'm assuming that we owe this to the amazing vision and ear of chief composer, Svetlana, herself, but also to the skill and ear of collaborator/engineer Kira Malevskaya. Well done! It is so refreshing to finally hear a record from Russia that is equal in sound and compositional quality to that that we in the West have been used to. Plus that has got to be one of the coolest album cover photos ever!
    Much of the music has a sound quite similar to that of the music being made in the 1970s and 1980s by artists like JOE SAMPLE and the band he came from, THE CRUSADERS, and the likes of DAVE GRUISIN and his GRP Records label as well as LONNIE LISTON SMITH--all of which has been carried forward and perpetuated by the "smooth jazz" movement with artists like Boney James and Rick Braun among many, many others. Funky, melodic, downbeat jazz, with groovy, highly cool, masterful/virtuosic soloists--all of which can be extended to include the music and artists contributing to these songs. Special recognition going out to bassist extraordinaire, Anton Davidyants, as well as to horn player, Roman Kvachlov, guitarist Martin Miller, sax player Dmitry Tsepilov, flutist Ekaterina Chistohina, and even drummer Peter Ivshin (whose snare and toms sound a bit too hollow and short-gated for my liking--except on most of "Moonlight Therapy").

1. "Not Available" (9:59) (8/10); 2. "Blues for Boss" (6:22) (8/10); 3. "Dangerous Connection" (8:29) (8/10); 4. "Love Space" (8:49) (10/10); 5. "Spring's Movement" (6:23) (9/10); 6. "Moonlight Therapy" (8:11) with it's purposely old- (vinyl-)sounding piano intro and nice brushwork by drummer Peter Ivshin (9/10); the funk'n'groovin' weave of 7. "Railway" (6:43) (the most proggy song on the album) (9/10), and 8. "Blues 'n' Funk" (7:13) (7/10).

A solid 4-plus star album of consistency and clarity, included here mostly for its unusually distinctive production quality and high caliber musicianship. I'm still not sure this should be included in a "Progressive Rock" music compendium, but it's definitely worth shouting out about! The best Jazz-Rock/Fusion album of 2015!

86.25 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of beautifully produced jazz-rock fusion.




28. MYSTERY Delusion Rain

If Neo Prog has to be over-the-top bombastic, let it be like this band, Mystery, and this album, Delusion Rain, their best to date. Simply the best sound, best song construction, best lead vocalist, best tempos and best lyrical topics I can think of in the Neo Prog realm. So what if they sound like 80s hair bands WHITESNAKE, SKID ROW, QUEENSRYCHE, GREAT WHITE, DEF LEPPARD or BON JOVI. They have a clarity and consistency, a masterful command of melody and chord progressions and a solid confidence that puts them in your face but in an emotional, sympathetic way.

1. "Delusion Rain" (10:04) A solid song that just never elevates itself into heavenly standards of memorability. (8/10)

2. "If You See Her" (6:11) A prog ballad by the numbers but done to perfection. The keyboard embellishments and restrained guitar soli (especially in the fifth minute) are wonderful. (9/10)

3. "The Last Glass of Wine" (6:47) Great pacing, great singing and lyrics, incredibly engaging chord progressions and melodic hooks, amazing sound and instrumental clarity, and hugely chunky bass, and yet nothing over-the-top or overdone. This is about as Neo Prog can get. (10/10)

4. "The Willow Tree" (19:30) A few choices misfire and a few opportunities were missed--and it may drag on a bit longer than it needs to, but, still, overall, another beautiful and wonderfully restrained presentation. "Have you seen your eyes" is definitely a brainworm. (9/10)

5. "Wall Street King" (6:39) Despite the cogent topic and pleasant opening, this is the only dud on this otherwise stunning album. (7/10)

6. "A Song for You" (12:35) is a little on the cliché bombasitc side, but I cannot argue with the gorgeous melodies, heart-wrenching chord progressions, tasteful guitar soli and amazing synth soli. Change the first 6:15 a bit and you have an outright masterpiece. (8/10)

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

Sorry, Thomas, but this, Delusion Rain, is the greatest Neo Prog album ever made. (Just kidding. That honor would go to either Moonshine or Seven.) If all Neo Prog were like this, I might like more of it.




29. STEVEN WILSON Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Leave it to the genius of Steven Wilson to pick up on the disturbing story of London socialite Joyce Vincent and make the marvel and mystery of her death into the inspiration for an album—a brilliant album full of the musings and vignettes of subtle criticism of our 21st Century society. The possibility that a young, popular, almost-engaged woman of caring parents could go three years without being discovered or missed seems ludicrous, even impossible. Especially when considering that the television was on, the window wide open, and the mail and bills kept piling up inside on the floor of her front door—for three years! Amazing.
    What makes Steven Wilson such a genius, to me, is not his reverence for the “masters” and “masterpieces” of the past, not his incredible attention to detail in the engineering and production rooms, not his proclivity for attracting the most amazing instrumentalists to contribute to his songs and tours, but it is in his insightful articulation of the signs and symptoms of the disease and decay of contemporary society. And he’s done it almost from the beginning—at least from Lightbulb Sun on. 
     I actually don’t like much of Steven's music. As sophisticated and catchy as it is, as well-constructed and well-performed as it is, as well-produced as it is, it is usually lacking something, je ne said quoi, (I can never pinpoint it)—which is what makes me rarely feel the desire to return to many of his albums. In Steven Wilson I recognize the true genius in his lyrics, his subtle yet oh-so timely and poignant social commentary. When we look back in 50 years for music that gave us a look at the real issues troubling our society in the opening of the 21st Century, we will be able to find it in the songs of Steven Wilson. 
     Hand. Cannot. Erase. is definitely a work of genius, definitely a testament to our troubled times. Whereas some groups choose to focus on the big picture issues like Anekdtoen, Ulver, and Paatos, Steven Wilson chooses to focus on the microcosm—on individuals or scenes that provide us with pictures into the imbalances in our society, the odd patterns in our collective and individual consciousnesses, the disease eating away at our souls. Kudos to you, Steven, for continuing to find the cojones, the drive, as well as the right stories to satisfy your obvious need to place that ever-disturbing mirror in front of our eyes. We are such an odd—disturbingly odd—species!

The album starts off rather weakly, trying ever-so hard to breach the chasm of pop and prog for the first four songs (the fourth of which, “Perfect Life,” just happens to be awesome and, yes, haunting). Yet, it’s really not until the fifth song, “Routine” that Mr. Wilson and company reach the prog stride that will be necessary to please us progheads. From there on, however, the album is pure magic, power and bliss. Brilliant prog songs. Brilliant vignettes into individual lives which Mr. Wilson masterfully uses to illuminate the dysfunctional patterns and priorities that are eating way at our society.

Though not all of Hand. Cannot. Erase. is my cup of tea, I cannot argue with its masterful construction, its mature song writing and the sophisticated play of some of modern prog's instrumental masters. With Hand. Cannot. Erase., Steven Wilson has, once again, contributed something quite significant to posterity. 

Five star songs:  songs 4 through 9.

Favorite songs:  “Perfect Life,” “Routine,” “Regret #9,” and “Transience.”

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




30. THE AMAZING Picture You

I've been listening to Picture You long enough now to note that it is . . . different than 2011's masterpiece and my Favorite Album of my favorite year of progressive rock music, Gentle StreamPicture You has more reverb in the vocals, a greater presence of keyboards, more prominent female vocals, and, I guess, a greater diversity of sound and song palette--which sounds like a winning combination, right? It could be, but I can't honestly say that I like Picture You as much as Gentle Stream. There are some great high points and no terrible low points but something about Gentle Stream just sucks me in and holds me warm and excited--to this day, even. 

1. "Broken" (5:04) opens with an amazing sound and not one but two very catchy CURE-like guitar riffs. The vocals a are a bit back in the mix, but are accompanied by some wonderful background vocals--female included! Not quite THE CLIENTELE but definitely reaching back for more of that 70s warmth. The slow down, soft down, outro part that begins at 3:40 is quite unexpected and quite gorgeous--the vocals wafting and weaving delightfully among each other. (10/10)

2. "Picture You" (9:27) opens with not one, but two very engaging chord riffs before the song tempo and vocal enter. The guitar arpeggio once again reminds me of JESSE COLIN YOUNG, the voice like that of former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, BOB WELCH, on his late-1977 album, French Kiss (remember his monster hit, "Sentimental Lady"?). The instrumental section that begins at 4:30 begins simply enough with slow-changing guitar chords played as two- or three-note arpeggios but gradually building support from the rest of the band, with Reine Fiske's atmospheric work staying fairly far in the background. Drummer Moussa Fadera's jazz-lleanings are given nice room for show. Though this is a nine and a half minute song, it speeds by incredibly fast. And I just can't get enough of it! (10/10)

3. "Circles" (6:23) mellows things down quite a little. Guitars, organ, slow pace, catchy guitar riffs, gorgeous female-backed vocals from Christoffer Gunrup, it even blesses us with a gorgeous all-accoustic guitar outro from three guitars. It would seem that this song has no flaws save nothing that shocks or shakes you, only that it is a perhaps a bit too sleepy pretty. (9/10)

4. "Safe Island" (8:35) sounds as if we're being taken underwater: even the drums that are, I believe, here meant to be central and showy are somehow muted or softened by recording effects. At 5:30 Reine and Christoffer take us into a three minute ride into outer space with their complementary guitar and keyboard/ computer effects (Christoffer going psychedelic prog? Oh, my!) (8/10)

5. "Keep It Going" (5:43) reminds me of a kind of floating interlude, meant to give the audience a little nap before going into Side Two. A little monotonous and soporific. But still pretty. (7/10)

6. "Fryshusfunk" (7:29) is a Reine Fiske showcase very much in the vein of his work on LANDBERK's last two albums before that band,s dissolution. A slow jazz-pop PAUL WELLER/STYLE COUNCIL-like foundation and structure works pretty well for the first two minutes, but the real meat of the song (for me, REINE FISKE junkie that I am) takes off after that 2:15-2:35 bridge. The heavy, blues-rock section that begins at 5:00 is hypnotic like a whirlpool, but also like Charybdis, the whirlpool of the Straits of Messina, it is deceptively dangerous as it threatens to suck you in. (9/10)

7. "Tell Them You Can't Leave" (4:08) shows the band backing off a bit on the reverb. This is the first song on Picture You that sounds like it could have come straight off of Gentle Stream. What is disappointing is the song's lack of melodic hook--in the vocals or in the guitar play. At times it almost sounds like it's trying to go BLUE ÖYSTER CULT "Don't Fear the Reaper." But it doesn't. The drumming, b fox and acoustic guitar strumming are, for me, the most interesting parts of this song. (7/10)

8. "The Headless Boy" (4:02) sounds very much like an early EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL (first decade era) song, with Ben on lead and Tracey on harmonies. Nice song but would not have been one of the songs to make my "EBTG Faves" playlist. Rather innocuous and forgettable. (7/10)

9. "Captured Light" (8:13) opens with some CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG power and distortion. Then harmonized voices! This is cool! The bass is awesome. I really enjoy the weave of layered voices despite their difficult-to-discern lyrics. Though the vocals veer the song more into the territory of THE ASSOCIATION, the instrumental part definitely stay strongly reminiscent of CSN&Y. At 3:34 a keyboard-generated strings sound slowly descends eight notes before roller-coasting to the end of a fourth measure where it starts over, repeating its infectious hook for the next two minutes. At 5:45 the song takes a rather odd and incongruous turn to an all acoustic guitar format with Christoffer singing among them. This to the end. A bit of a letdown. I really liked the CSN&Y/ASSOCIATION blend. (9/10)

10. "Winter Dress" (5:28) builds itself around a slide guitar riff that gets repeated and throughout the song behind Christoffer's ROBERT SMITH-like mumbled lyrics. The drum play is, for once, played fairly straight on and recorded well into the mix. I like the guitars being up front and the clarity of the bass, drums, and acoustic guitars. I guess this might be the key for me: less "under water" music, less distortion and reverb (though I love reverb!), more return to the folk rock sounds of Gentle Stream. (9/10)

Where Gentle Stream elicited warmth and inclusion and familiarity, I think that the muddiness of parts of Picture You kind of holds one at a distance, isolates the listener from feeling included in the music. I'm not sure of the band's intentions with Picture You, but, thought there is still some great music here, it is not nearly as engaging and energizing as the all-out jams Christoffer, Reine and the boys were luring us in with their end-of-song interplay throughout Gentle Stream

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

I forgot to mention how much I enjoy the stepped up presence and input of the keyboards.




  *** SPECIAL FEATURE***

  SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION TO MUSIC IN THE AREA OF ORIGINAL MOVIE SOUNDTRACK:



ALEXANDRE DESPLAT  The Danish Girl

Once in a great while a film is so enhanced by its musical soundtrack as to make it bigger, better and more impactful than it would be without it. The The Danish Girl is truly a cinematic marvel--the acting, cinematography and editing are truly exquisite--but Alexandre Desplat's brilliant soundtrack is gorgeous beyond words. Each scene is enhanced artistically--in beauty, and in emotional power and depth--by the melodic, sometimes minimalist jazz contributions of Maestro Desplat. From the very first opening theme of the movie I knew I was in for something special--that the music was going to suck me into this film as deeply as I can go. And it did. Without question or hesitation I can say that The Danish Girl was both my favorite and the best movie that I saw from 2015.

1 comment:

  1. I'm using your post to help make a list of great albums of 2015 that I missed but will want to check out. I only bought about eight new releases last year. This list and the PA top 100 of 2015 will help me catch up.

    ReplyDelete