Tuesday, December 13, 2016

21st Century Kosmische Musik


It seems to me that the 1960s German experimental/progressive rock music scene can be split into four basic avenues: 1) those that came out of the free or acid jazz-based rhythm and sound experiments of the so-called Düsseldorf School of Experimental or "Kosmische Musik," like Can, La Dusseldorf, Faust, Guru Guru, and Neu!; 2) those that focused on long jam sessions exploring Eastern instruments, rhythms and sounds, like Amon Düül II, Gila, and Popul Vuh; 3) those that came out of the so-called "Berlin School of Electronic Music," like Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, Ashra Tempel, Manuel Göttsching, Kraftwerk, Kluster, and; 4) those that grew to try to emulate the spacey, hypnotic psychedelic rock coming out of England like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind--Grobschnitt, Eloy, Neuschwanstein. This page is going to be about the first two groups since the Berlin School became included in what we call the "Progressive Electronic" subgenre and the Pink Floyd imitators became included in the "Psychedelic/Space Rock" subgenre.
     The Kosmische Musik style of music also became known--from those listening, talking and writing about it from outside Germany (particularly in the UK)--as "Krautrock." I consider this later term one of a derogatory nature. The word "kraut" (whose literal translation is "herb" but is most often associated in our Anglo-centric world with the storable fermented cabbage dish known as "sauerkraut") is an offensive slang term used initially by foreign soldiers who were adversaries/enemies of the German nation in World War I and World War II. I am sure that the term arose from a reference to the supposed predominance of sauerkraut in the German diet and as a reference to the strong smell that sauerkraut has as well as of it's common digestive result (flatulence). Likewise, "Krautrock" is a term created and used by non-Germans (originally, mostly British) to refer to a spectrum of music coming out of Germany during the late 1960s and 1970s. I choose to use the term, "Kosmische Musik," as it is the term that some members within the German experimental music scene of the late 60s and early 70s chose to call their own new style and sound of music--and because, in my opinion, it does a much better job of trying to explain the effect and scene of the drug-induced and altered, or "cosmic," states of consciousness that the creators of these hypnotic rhythms and experimentations in electronic sounds were producing--and which they were going for.

There are many people who wonder what it is that separates Kosmische Musik (or "Krautrock") from Progressive Electronic music. After all, they both attribute their origins to the same time and same locations and they both enjoyed frequent crossings over of groups and artists between the two. Where do they differentiate?
     To my mind the difference lies in the use of more live, human played instruments during the performance of a song--as is more foundational to Krautrock music. The electronic scene relies more on computer or keyboard sequenced sounds and rhythms for its sound production. Kosmische musik is often more organic and emotional while Progressive Electronic music is more fabricated and cerebral.

While I, myself, was not particularly tuned into the music coming out of Germany in the 1960s and 70s, I was aware of it. I purchased multiple albums by Kraftwerk, Can, and Tangerine Dream. I enjoyed these albums but I felt no deep passion for the music contained therein. However, the "ambient" and "New Age" scene(s) that followed or, more correctly, that survived from the Kosmische music scene, did suck me in--especially as I came to develop a personal meditation practice and as I came to know and appreciate the phenomenon known as "entrainment" rather intimately. Today, jam bands attract me more and more; it is the more melodically successful and rhythmically hypnotic songs from today's bands that win me over--including some of the music from the bands and albums listed below.
      Though there are very few bands that continued experimenting within the domain of Kosmische Musik during the 1980s through to the Naughties, the subgenre has had a bit of a renaissance in the last 20 years--and not just from Germans. Japan's ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE has been prolifically active since the 1990s. DZYAN, ELECTRIC ORANGE and Russia's VESPERO have each had multiple releases in the last 15 years while several others in the Northern European region have had at least two releases in the past ten years. Here are some of the ones that I know and enjoy:



WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmisch, Ganz Progish (2017)

ELECTRIC ORANGE Morbus (2007), Volume 10 (2014),
Misophonia (2016)

ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE The Black Tomato (2007),
Øresund Space Collective (2006)

THE SPACELORDS The Liquid Sun (2016)

CAMERA Radiate! (2012), Remember I Was Carbon Dioxide (2014)

THE SPACIOUS MIND Rotvälta (2005)

ACID MOTHERS TEMPLE

MY BROTHER THE WIND I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity (2011),
Once There Was a Time When Time and Space Were One (2014)

VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow (2010); Lique Mekwas (2016)

SEVEN THAT SPELLS Superautobahn (2012), The Death and Resurrection of Krautrock: IO (2014)



Saturday, December 10, 2016

2014: Other albums worth checking out for your selves



FACTOR BURZACO III

Another confounding yet mesmerizing adventure into the Freak House of avant-garde composer Abel Gilbert, this one does not disappoint. Once again the listener is accompanied by vocalist Carolina Restuccia as your guide through the aural maze that is a Factor Burzaco album. I have to admit the awe and amazement of hearing an FB album has passed over me, but this album for some reason seems more comfortable, more coherent, more cohesive, and more familiar, which then translates into a more comfortable and interesting listening experience than the previous albums. Someday I will do an experiment by listening to all three albums back-to-back-to-back to try to get a feel for the different effects they have on me, but for now, let's suffice it to say that Abel & Co. have done it again: a masterpiece of thought-demanding, sanity-questioning, boundary-pushing music.




NORTH SEA OSCILLATION The Third Day






TIGER MOTH TALES Cocoon




THE MERLIN BIRD Chapter and Verse

Brilliant concept: combining mediaeval and Baroque vocal and instrumental traditions with the modern prog world, but pulled off with minimal attention to sound engineering and other performance and production details. Chapter and Verse is an album that feels too scattered, unfocused, lacking cohesion and consistency--as well as lacking good production--but I LOVE the concept of blending medieval, Renaissance, and sacred church choral music stylings with both ancient acoustic and modern rock instrumentation while often using prog rock song stylings.
     I wish the singing was of a higher quality. The bands attention to and/or budget for recording/engineering needs great improvement. Many of the songs sound as if they were recorded in one take with the full band and no engineer and then left that way!

Favorite songs:  the anthemic, "Chapter and Verse" (2:56) (9/10); the pretty little instrumental, "In Dreams of Egypt" (1:23) (9/10); the beautiful harpsichord accompanied vocal of Shakira Searle on "Of Night and Day" (4:59) (8/10); the gorgeous Sergio Leone/Mediterranean-sounding instrumental "The Word That Was" (3:30) (9/10); the troubadour style story-song, "Unto Rome" (4:17) (9/10), and; "Another Told Story" (7:17) (9/10).

A band with a great idea and awesome but as-yet-unrealized potential.
  



ARLEKIN Disguise Serenades 


Throughout the listening experience of Disguise Serenade I was flooded with reminders of 1980's one off wonder BABYLON. It's that kind of sound, that kind of engineering, that kind of showman vocals, that kind of musicianship, that kind of naiveté. Like Babylon's eponymously titled album, I like this album very much.

1. "The Lost Path" (8:26) opens with quite a dramatic feel, with the incredible emotion packed into the vocal like Peter Gabriel or Matthew Parmenter or BABYLON's Doroccus. After the vocal opening The music takes over in more of a DISCIPLINE and then PINK FLOYD way. Excellent emotional lead guitar play with perfect band support make this song a sheer masterpiece--that is until the bouncy 80s drum beat and chord progression that takes over at the 6:20 mark. During this section the vocal matches less well. Excellent guitar play almost saves this song. (9/10)

2. "Dance of The Jester" (8:47) has so much of a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis feel to it. The dramatic vocal 'storyteller' presentation is so much like Peter Gabriel's--and Fish's--'in character' approach to performance vocals. However, the song on its own has nothing really new to add to the prog lexicon.(8/10)

3. "Romance" (5:00) is a bare-bones blues-based song almost like a DOORS song--in which, unfortunately, the vocal is rather weak and almost over the top in its dramatic affect. Again this song seems to lack anything new or fresh to make it very interesting. It might even be called dull. (7/10) 

4. "In This Puzzled Roundabout" (15:04) begins very powerfully like a classic DISCIPLINE song with some very simple instrumental support to the dramatic vocal performance. The spaciousness in the instrumental support is perfect for this vocal opening. At 2:05 an awesome instrumental section ensues in which an eerie keyboards solos while the background instruments build in intensity and volume. A minute later the rhythm section kicks it up to overdrive for thirty seconds before a gap of stillness opens the way for a very GENESIS sounding organ-led section. At 5:00 the vocal--now doubled up--returns with a strong melody to mirror the guitar arpeggios preceding and following it. This guitar-vocal cycle repeats a couple times before a brief TONY BANKSian solo bridges the way into a heavier almost BLACK SABBATH-section begins at the seven minute mark. Organ and then very fluid electric guitar solo lift us out of the dirge and back into the more upbeat realm of Foxtrot-era GENESIS--complete with Steve Hackett-like guitar work. Suddenly, at 10:05, a militaristic drum style takes us into a kind of "Get 'em out by Friday" section--except an awesome wah-treated guitar solo plays over the top. Awesome section! All too brief as at 11:52 the organ again leads the listener back into GENESIS/BABYLON land. Definitely my favorite song on the album--an "epic" for the ages. (9/10)

On progstreaming.com the album has a fifth song that is not listed in the liner notes of the official album release. 
  5(??). "Old Father East" (20:02) on progstreaming this song comes up as a 20 minute song but with a six minute gap of silence after the first instrumental song ends at the 3:59 mark, a second song begins at the ten minute mark--and it turns out to be an alternate (demo?) version of song #2, "Dance of The Jester."

Overall there is something lacking in the recording/engineering/mixing of this album that is again quite reminiscent of early Genesis and the 1980 Babylon release. Is this intentional? I do not know. But the musician's performances--including the vocals--are quite good and usually quite engaging. The album's two bookends, "The Lost Path" and "In This Puzzled Roundabout" are quite good.

82.5 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




MY BROTHER THE WIND Once There Was A Time When Space and Time were One

This is a more diverse mix of improvisatinoal jams caught on tape than the previous studio album. Unfortunately, several of the songs fail to either engage me from the or else they fail to develop enough during their play to keep my interest (I can only listen to improvisational soloing for so long); the background grooves remain too static or else do too little of interest to gain my notice. (Even with close headphones listening.) The increased use of Mellotron is amazing wherever and whenever it is used, especially on “Garden of Delights,” “Thomas Mera Gartz,” and “Epilogue.”

Song #2, “Song of Innocence, Part 1” opens wonderfully with a guitar sound like THE AMAZING or Jesse Colin Young’s “Get Together”—which continues to wend and weave throughout the duration of the song. The drum play is quite enjoyable but the bass is very boring. This is unfortunately an example of both the strengths and weaknesses of this album: some great tracks are accompanied by some very boring parts.
  
Favorite songs:  the addictively groovin’ “Epilogue” (4:19) 10/10; the hard-driving “Into The Cosmic Halo” (6:40) (9/10); “Song of Innocence, Parts 1 & 2” (8:10), and the title song.   

A nice listen but nowhere as mind-blowing or engaging as I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity. Three and a half stars. 




A SECRET RIVER Colours of Solitude

Colours of Solitude is a collection of melodic, catchy if rather simple, neo prog much in the same vein as 2012's Speak by I AND THOU. The delicate vocals are beautifully rendered by founding member and bassist, Andreas Ålöv. He sounds a bit like David Crosby, Chris Flynn from ART IN AMERICA, and the lead vocalist and creator of THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE. The drums and bass playing are solid, the guitars quite nice (especially the jazzier sounds) but the keyboard work is the most interesting and enjoyable to tune into. Yes, Björn Sandberg is a real find--the "final piece of the puzzle" as the band itself says.

Favorites: the ANT PHILLIPS/MIKE RUTHERFORD-sounding opener, "Blinding Light" (5:59) (8/10); 4. "Colours of Solitude" (5:32) (8/10); the delicate and sensitive, 5. "Are You Coming With Me" (5:14) (9/10), and the pop-jazzy 6. "A Place to Start" (7:41) (8/10).

Nothing earth-shattering or particularly groundbreaking, just nice, pretty music. 3.5 stars.



UTOPIANISTI II

Another submission of quirky avant music that people are allowing to be included into the "progressive rock" genre with similarities to Pingvorinkestern, Humble Grumble, UneXpect, Atomic Ape, Major Parkinson, Knifeworld, and even the modern Univers Zero--though Utopianisti is much more closely aligned to true jazz, if of the avant-garde stylings. All these groups are very talented, very tight, and very entertaining. But, gone are the smooth, slow developing songs--especially the long-playing "epics." Now seems to be the new era of staccato, stop and start, avant-garde and theatric production. It's as if today's bands are trying to pack nine minutes of music, story, and emotion into four minute songs. Is this the new prog?

My favorite songs include: "Pohjola" (8:09); "Bisphenol A" (4:11); "The Sundays of Love and Peace" (5:14);"Kynttiloitakin Vain Yksi" (6:16), and my favorite; "U.L.J.C. The Unnecessary Leftover Jam Compilation" (9:38).

A masterpiece of modern avant-jazz composition and performance. Upbeat, quirky, and unusual. However, this is just not my favorite kind of music.

3.5 stars rated up for quality.



MOE-TAR Entropy of the Century

A collection of quirky, intelligent and delightfully melodic "avant-pop" songs that are, in my humble opinion, distracted from by the highly engaging vocals of the uber-talented singer, songwriter and founder Moorea ("Moe") Dickason. I find it quite challenging to really listen to the music because of the draw of the intelligent song lyrics and their delivery style (which does, however, at times, get a bit repetitive and 'old'). Clearly a group of very talented musicians led by a duo with a clear and mature vision, this is highly recommended as another polished example of this new modern era of "poppy prog."

Favorite songs:  "Where the Truth Lies" (4:49) (9/10); "Confectioner's Curse" (3:02) (8/10); "Entropy of the Century" (2:52) (8/10); "Welcome to the Solar Flares" (3:03) (8/10), and; "The Unknowable" (6:26) (8/10).





THE BLUE SHIP The Executioner's Tale




UNIVERS ZERO Phosphorescence





SWANS To Be Kind


MAJOR PARKINSON Twilight Cinema

This music would probably be very entertaining to see live--kind of like a Sweeny Todd barrel house Broadway musical--but I'm not sure how progressive this is. I guess it's not unlike the work of Humble Grumble or Nemo or even UneXpect, but, I'm unconvinced. More like DeVotchka (which is a great band but not a prog band), or THE CURE in their early years, with a kind of LEONARD COHEN/LON CHANEY as its lead singer (And DIDO for its female counterpart). While there are certainly rock and even prog elements and influences to make this creation what it is, the result, to my ears, is still little more than the recording of a Broadway play. Or the next Rocky Horror Picture Show (which, again, is not considered a prog album.) Interesting how this kind of Euro-creep soundtrack music is creeping more and more into modern progressive rock. Atomic Ape, Utopianisti, Pingvorinkestern, and Major Parkinson are four that I've discovered so far. All very talented, very tight, very entertaining. No epics or smooth, slow developing songs. All staccato, stop and start, avant-garde and theatric. Humble Grumble, UneXpect, It's as if today's bands are trying to pack nine minutes of music, story, and emotion into four minute songs. Is this the new 
prog?

Favorite songs: "Beaks of Benevola" (4:27) (10/10), "Impermanence" (4:25) (9/10), and the title song (5:44) (8/10).

Cool stuff, lively and entertaining, but not anything I'll come back to--nor deserving, IMO, of a place here on PA.




SLEEPMAKESWAVES Love of Cartography

I've been listening to this one for a while. I've been having trouble pinpointing just what it is that makes me like this album less than their previous release, 2011's ...and so we destroyed everything, which I love. I think I've finally got it.
     Most of the sounds and weaves used in the songs of Love of Cartography are far simpler, far more melody-oriented and less filled with the subtle keyboard and computer generated "layers" beneath and between the main chords and melodies of. The songs on Love of Cartography fall too easily into the bin of "Post Rock for the masses", whereas those of ...and so we destroyed everything each possessed so many delightfully unexpected twists and turns to keep me fully engaged throughout. The band's intimate and idiosyncratic touch to each song of ..and so we destroyed everything was so magical and so interesting that I feel that I could practically feel the joy and enthusiasm these guys were having in the recording and mixing rooms while making that album. I do not feel the same transferral of energy here. As a matter of fact, I feel myself 'tuning out' at some point during almost every song of Love of Cartography. The guitar chords are strummed more aggressively, played with more distortion, and recorded more loudly, and they feel more rehearsed and more methodical, less free-wheeling and spontaneous. Also, what were subtly layered beneath and within the mix before are now right up front and in your face. I can still feel emotion--especially in the solos, but everything else feels so . . . 'by the book.' Are the band members focusing more on composition and the mental side of their music--trying to produce a "perfect, polished" album?
     Is this just an example of the dreaded "sophomore slump" or is this the more mature band exhibiting the "true" direction that they'd like their music to take? Don't get me wrong, this is a collection of fine song. They are incredibly well produced, but they come straight at you more in the vein of a band like MASERATI than that of a synth-generated GYBE as their previous album had exhibited (at least, potentially).
     While ...and so we destroyed everything felt new and fresh--like a new great hope for the potentially for growth and 'progress' within the Post Rock subgenre, Love of Cartography feels like good ole Post Rock. Nice stuff for Post Rock enthusiasts. Nothing very new or exciting for the rest of the world.

Favorite songs:  the gentle trip-hoppy-turns-rock anthem 10. "Your Time Will Come Again" (8:56); the gorgeous yet simple melodies of 9. "Something Like Avalanches" (5:30); the PINK FLOYD- and MASERATI-influenced 4. "Emergent" (8:28); the straight on power of 2. "Traced in Constellations" (4:37), and; 5. "Great Northern" (4:58).
 
3.5 star effort rounded down for disappointment factor.



MONO Rays of Darkness

Companion release to The Last DawnRays of Darkness is really, at 35 minutes in length, almost an EP—though in 1960-70 time it qualifies as a full album. This album is by all admissions and intentions a much darker, more depressing album than its companion. 

1. “Recoil, Ignite” (13:19) unfortunately for these ears, contains a very James Bond-like theme in the main melody of its first section (first seven minutes) which, at this pace and in this style, just doesn’t work for me. The theme gets reconfigured a bit, enough, for the middle section to make the experience somewhat better, but this one still never gets inside me and grabs me. And then the ‘Bond theme’ returns around 9:30 to spoil it all for me again. The heavier eleventh and twelfth minute also do more to distract me with thoughts of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life” or “She’s So Heavy” and other stuff. (7/10)

2. “Surrender” (7:41) suffers from identity issues—it never seems sure of who or what it is and/or where it wants to go. I love the presence of the trumpet/horns holding part of the harmonic weave, but, again, it just never seems to establish itself, never seems to gel or congeal. (Maybe that is the point: dis-integration, distress and dis-function.) Disturbing and unsettling. Thanks, Jacob Valenzuela, for the first trumpet in the final two minutes—which stands sadly alone for a spell. (8/10)

3. “The Hand That Holds the Truth” (7:44) has become renowned for the presence of a vocal (Tetsu Fukagawa’s death metal growls). The YouTube video of this is quite entertaining and enlightening as to the group’s individual contributions as bassist/pianist Tamaki Kunishi-Yuasa dons an electric guitar to help produce the three-part weave that forms the second part of this three-part song (intro, weave-building, and climactic main explosion). (8/10)

4. “The Last Rays” (6:39) is an exercise in noise from distortion and atonal string plays. Again, if the theme of this album is the end of the world, then all of the compositions here make perfect sense. What surprises me is the dispassionate, detached feeling of the music—and this from a band that usually seems SO invested in the emotional impact of their songs! Maybe to them the end of the world is so matter-of-fact, such a foregone conclusion that they have decided to present it like this as an exercise in detachment. I commend them for their efforts but have to admit that I much prefer the impassioned efforts of albums like ULVER’s Shadows of the Sun or Nikitas Kissonas’ Suiciety to represent a sad goodbye to human dominion over the planet.

A good album that is better intellectually—especially when considering the tough subject matter.





Saturday, November 19, 2016

2015: Other albums worth checking out for yourselves





GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

Is a powerful and engaging album that unfortunately requires full attention in order to truly enjoy and appreciate it. As with many GY!BE albums, this one is really one piece, start to finish--which can also be taxing upon the listener. The payoff is, however, quite rewarding as the album seems to get stronger and build in its power the further you go into it. The opener, "Peasantry or 'Light! Inside of Light'" (10:28) is strong but plods along without seeming to go anywhere new or exciting (8/10), while the atmospheric 2. "Lambs' Breath" (9:53) is mostly disturbing hypnotic background music (7/10)--which gets more disturbing with the third song, "Asunder Sweet" (6:13) but at least develops into something interesting in a SWANS-like way (8/10). The finale, "Piss Crowns Are Trebled" (13:50) fulfills and completes expectations for a GY!BE album with some interesting layers, multiple themes and melodies going on at multiple levels all working into an interesting and intricate weave of top-notch Post Rock (9/10).

This is a dark but powerful album with a wonderful finale but fails to hook one into coming back for more on a regular basis. 3.5 star album rated up for maturity and flow.



KARDA ESTRA Strange Relations





TOM DONCOURT The Moon Will Rise





LOOMINGS Everyday Mythology

In Strasbourg-based band, LOOMINGS, AltrOck Productions has taken into its fold another band with adventurous and unusual musical ideas and expressions--certainly one of the oddest excepting Argentinian band FACTOR BURZACO.





YAK Quest for the Stones

Yak seems to have captured some of the essence of late 1970s GENESIS and CAMEL--melody and sound, not necessarily musical complexity. As a matter of fact, some of the foundational music sounds so rudimentary as if it was constructed purely to serve as a vehicle upon which melody and guitar and keyboard soli can shine (which they do fairly well). This is, for me, a treacherous slope, as I want my progressive rock music to to feel as if all instrumentalists are equal contributors to both composition and exposition. Even iconic instrumental virtuosi like John McLaughlin, Jean-Luc Ponty or Al Di Meola surround themselves with near equals and compose for the exposure and exploitation of the full talents of their sidemen. (Usually.) Perhaps I am wrong to try to put Martin MORGAN on that level (Is he ONLY a keyboardist as listed above? If so, how does he make all those keyboards sound like guitars?), but I find myself bored and disappointed in the simplicity of the four-chord foundations to each of the suites' multiple sections (which often drag on a bit too long, IMHO) as well as the simplicity of the work load demanded of his rhythm section. Martin has managed to create some wonderful, engaging melodies over these simple foundations, but, it's kind of like listening to TONY BANKS or GENESIS with all of the lyrics removed or the watered down version of CAMEL after Doug FERGUSON and Pete BARDENS had left. 
     In my opinion, this band (or its leader) has some growing to do before it produces masterpieces of the quality and caliber of the other five star albums in PA's Top 100. This is a very good album, a very pleasant listen that takes one on a nice fantasy ride (or two), but no more. The second song, "Vale of Æternum" (19:26) is, to my ears, much more enjoyable than the first. (9/10)

3.5 stars, rated down for lack of anything truly new or innovative.



GLASS HAMMER The Breaking of the World

Other than their epic contribution to 2005's Colossus Magazine-Musea Records project, Odyssey: The Greatest Tale--which is one of the best modern symphonic pieces I've ever heard--I've had quite a bit of difficulty connecting with the music of Glass Hammer. I have heard many of their albums according to recommendations of friends and other PA and PE members but have not been able to connect with any. While technical masters, their sound styling has been just too imitative of classic YES for me. How can I love WOBBLER's Rites at Dawn and not connect with any of Glass Hammer's work? I think, as I said, it is the band's nearly exact recreation of the sounds and playing styles of Chris SQUIRE, Bill BRUFORD, Steve Howe, and Yes harmonies that irritate me. With Wobbler, there is an awesome melding of the CROSBY, STILL, NASH & YOUNG singing styles, much less exact imitation of Squire and Bruford, and much more of a Steven STILLS lead guitar sound and style that Steve Howe.
     Anyway, this is all a moot topic for this was then, and today I'm writing a review of Glass Hammer's latest album, The Breaking of the World. As Aussie-Byrd-Brother mentioned, this is a much more diverse sounding album from Glass Hammer--not as tightly bound to YESsounds, which makes it more interesting for me. Songs like the jazzy snippet, "A Bird When It Sneezes" (0:34) (8/10) and the more laid back and melody-driven, "Sand" (5:46) (9/10) and even parts of the opener "Mythopeia" (8:34) (8/10) are much less Yes-complicated. But, then, this more simplistic approach makes them sound like 'prog-by-numbers' 'mainstream' NeoProg bands like IQ. The song which gives Glass Hammer their most distinctly 'unique' sound is the album's finale, "Nothing, Everything" (8:50) (9/10) which has some very jazzy chord and melody lines as well as several very interesting and engaging shifts in dynamics and keys.
     "Babylon (7:56) (8/10), "Bandwagon" (6:20) (6/10) and "North Wind" (9:26) (7/10) are examples of the band's not straying too far from the usual YES-with-ART IN AMERICA (Chris FLYNN)-vocals sound. Then there is the odd duck--which happens to be the jewel of the album--the stunning, "Haunted" (5:55) (10/10) which has a sound all its own--more RPI than Neo- or RetroProg--which is due to both the more FRANCESCO ZAGO/EMPTY DAYS sound as well as the gorgeous and highly underutilized female lead vocal of long-time adjunct member Susie Bogdanowicz.
    In conclusion, this is definitely a step in the right direction for my ears. The contributions of "Haunted," "Nothing, Everything," and even "Sand" bring the music of Glass Hammer much closer to my liking. A 3.5 star album I'm rating up for the band's usual stellar sound engineering/production and exceptional instrumental skills.




SPOCK’S BEARD the Oblivion Particle




Fragmentropy

 I have been intrigued by the music of Thomas Thielen since I first purchased his excellent album, Anti-Matter Poetry back in 2010. His music has gotten more complex, more enigmatic, and, unfortunately, more inaccessible to me since that time. His album themes are quite complex and imaginative, conceptually speaking, perhaps a bit too cerebral for me. Or perhaps his music is too dependent on his lyrics--which I am not one to necessarily tune into. What has confounded me about this album and his last, Psychoanorexia, is how foreign his melodic and harmonic sensibilities are to me. Listening to T for me is a bit like listening to Schoenberg or Stravinsky or Bartok: the structures and flow are confusing and not engaging. In fact, I rarely feel connected or familiar with ANY melody, rhythmic flow, or chordal harmony during any of his songs! And yet I am fascinated by them! I KNOW they are well thought out, well composed, and, of course, very personal. Perhaps that is where Thomas' growth is yet to come: connecting his mental and musical genius with a larger audience (at least, larger than himself). I know there are many others who love Thomas' music and rate him very highly for it. I rate him highly for his skill and production value. I would have trouble rating his music higher than four stars until I can connect with it, remember it, feel compelled to return to it. Not since "Phantom Pain Scars" have I felt this way (though "The Irrelevant Love Song" and the first part of The Cure-ish "The Aftermath of Silence" were pretty good, too). It was upon my fourth or fifth run through Fragmentropy that I was finally able to put some words to my frustration with "getting INTO" Thomas fine work. Also, I think that his vocals are often muddied by the way they are mixed into the thick of his often busy and multi-directional instrumental tracks. Still this is an amazing set of compositions that will probably bring a lot of joy and interest to a lot of progressive rock lovers. Check it out for yourself to find out if T clicks for you.

BEARDFISH +4626 - Comfortzone


A band that I can never figure out, never seem to connect with despite many, many tries on several of their albums. This one is no different for me: somewhat melodic, somewhat interesting, but ultimately unengaging music. Much like Echolyn. Or Uriah Heep.






IOEARTH New World 

This is an album that grates as much as it impresses. IOEarth seem like the heirs apparent to bands that heavy prog bands that seem to have peaked about a decade ago--like MAGENTA, IONA, EPICA, WITHIN TEMPTATION, and NIGHTWISH (though all four of the afore-mentioned bands continue to produce high quality albums). What grates me is the frequent use of sudden Jeckyll and Hyde transformations. Sultry, hypnotic melodic passages suddenly become loud, abrasive, over-the-top head-banging sections and then just as quickly fall back to beautiful passages full of interesting nuance and subtlety. The opening song is the perfect illustration of this: wonderful singing by Linda Odinsen and sensitive, delicate sax/reed play by Luke Shingler are offset by power metal shredding and Norse chanting. The Jeckyllish Magenta/Iona comparisons are not far out of line but, then, neither are the Hyde Epica/Within Temptation/Nightwish ones. For me, this is frustrating. I really don't enjoy the pendulous swings back and forth between tender and in-your-face. Are the compositions good? Are the performances top caliber? Yes, by all means they are. I cannot fault any of the musicians--they are a great band. The compositional style is just not my cup of tea. As with all IOEarth albums I own so far (the first and third--I rated the second "Moments" from its progstreaming appearance), I rarely connect with an entire song. I am more prone to like parts and passages or individual performances in each. Such is still the case with New World "Trance" (5:10) (8/10), "New World Suite" (7:16) (8/10), "Body and Soul" (7:04) (8/10), "Morning" (8:38) (8/10), and "New World" (8:59) (8/10) are all strong four star songs. "Fade to Grey" (9:06) (9/10) and "Dreams" are a step above--though, like the song "Smoky Wood" on their debut release, the seductive song, "Dreams" (5:49) (9/10), doesn't even feel like it's the same band. 
     Another "problem" I have with IOEarth releases is that they are so long! Another two-disc release makes for a long and arduous task to actually hear and get to know all of the music (which is only fair when reviewing an album, right?) I think my brain and butt are conditioned to 45-50 minute listening tolerances.

Four stars for another wildly enigmatic album from IOEarth. Check it out so you can decide for yourself.









THE DEAR HUNTER Act IV: Rebirth and Reprise









DAVE KERZNER New World






A FOREST OF STARS Beware the Sword You Cannot See




NIGHTWISH Endless Forms Most Beautiful



ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE Different  Creatures

A double CD of quite diverse songs, all jamming in the space/psychedelic/Kosmische styles, of which the 30-minute Indian-tinged "Digestive Raga" (10/10) is the crown jewel.




TELERGY Hypatia

A talented composer of sumptuously cast music with a vast cast of all-stars to accompany his work. I find the music very engaging and bombastic with a slight bent toward the heavy/almost metal music in the same vein as Arjen Lucassen’s ARYEON and STAR projects and many of the KARFAGEN. The musical landscapes are surprisingly diverse, with 6. “Mathematician” (4:23) (8/10) taking the form of a keyboard-generated “orchestra” concerto or film score; 8. “Teacher” (6:57) (8/10) taking the form of an East-meets-West Arab/Indian song á la DARRYL WAY or even FROMUZ because of the way it becomes Heavy Metal for the final third of the song, and 16. “Martyr” (3:11) (8/10) taking the form a string quartet chamber piece. The violin, electric guitar, and keyboard soli are quite impressive and dynamic throughout as is the composer’s ability to mix styles and ethnicities into the heavy prog/metal style. The story and narration/audioplay used as interludes between the songs is a little hokey—especially when placed side by side with the heavy music. 




LEAP DAY From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter 2

While I do not quite agree with those reviewers willing to vault this album into the echelons of prog Valhalla, I do not think it a wasted listen. Melodies and good musicianship abound. Some of the "tricks" are familiar but still manage to feel fresh enough to be enjoyable without sounding too redundant (though there were a lot of times that I found myself thinking to myself, "This sounds so much like Unitopia"). Still, there is a lot of derivative and cliched musical gimmicks, the sound mixing is not great, the singer's pitch is suspect, and the individual songs' musical foundations are often quite simple. Also, I can't help but find it sad that "...nothing but a fart in a windstorm..." plays a significant role in the lyrics of the chorus of a song here (2. "Amathia" [Homo Ignoramus]" [4:50]). The lyricist is obviously mad at the stupidity of humans--whose choices have propelled its species onto a course of extermination. Usually I love messages like this. But this one is served up in a bit too much syrup and cake.

Best songs: the instrumental 3. "Taurus Appearance" (7:28) (9/10) and 4. "Phaeton" (7:30) (8/10)


Overall, this is a competent if inconsistent representation of Neo Prog. Not nearly up to the impact of 2015 releases from bands like Sylvan, Mystery, Fetish, Perfect Beings, or even, Barock Project or Comedy of Errors, but decent.




Albums that Are, In My Humble Opinion, Over-Rated



UNREAL CITY Il paese del tramonto

This album has disappointed me. I raved about the fresh new voice coming from Unreal City's debut album two years ago but still felt that the young men had some growing to do. The 'growth' on display here is not the direction I hoped for. Here I see far less presence of vocals--which mystifies me when such an outstanding voice as Emanuele Tarasconi is available. Plus, there is often a poor mix of vocals into the music (recording, engineering sound mix is not yet a strength of theirs). I find myself reacting irritably to an unusually long list of "old" or "cheap" keyboard sounds (as if trying to step into the shoes of 1970s BANCO DELLA MUTUO SUCCORSO using keyboards from the 80s or 90s like Casio and Ensoniq). Also, sometimes there seems to have been the choice made to go the easier route rather than the more impressive and complex way. Too bad! Then there are other times where rather odd and unusual, even discordant choices were made to fit passages into songs in ways that just feel . . . odd and discordant. Still, this is not a bad album by any means. There is a high standard of ideas and performances on display here. There are even a few five star songs, like "Caligari" (10:05) (9/10), "Lo schermo di pieta (Kenosis)" (7:54) (9/10), and the album's ultimate epic, "Ex tenebrae lux" (20:35) (9/10). I would just like to see/hear less jumping around, more cohesive coherence, less reliance on the sound and sounds of their RPI predecessors.



POND Man It Feels Like Space Again

Other than the HAPPY MONDAYS/TOM TOM CLUB song 7, "Outside Is the Right Side," this feels just like a group of OMD/FLAMING LIPS/THE CLIENTELE/TAME IMPALA wannabees.




SYMPHONY X Underworld

Sounds like the same ole Symphony X to me! Nothing's changed; nothing new. I'm sorry to go against the grain, but I did like a couple of Symphony X's earlier albums and, to my ears, this album sounds like outtakes to those albums, or like covers of "vanilla" Metal music--that is, there is nothing new or innovative here; the band sounds like they are suspended in a time warp around 1989. They remind me of an aging KISS. At times they sound like a 80s power ballad hair band (e.g. Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, Poison) and others like a heavy metal-on-the-verge-of doom metal. Nothing like the still-evolving, still adventurous IRON MAIDEN.
     Musically there a few songs that get the blood boiling ("Kiss of Fire," "Charon," and "In My Darkest Hour" come to mind) but they are inevitably taken down by a Tom JONES-like quality in the vocals--especially in the choruses. What's happening to Symphony X? Maybe they need to get out of New Jersey.

3 stars. Recommended only to die hard 80s & 90s metal heads.




ECHOLYN I Heard You Listening

1. "Messenger of All's Right" (6:23) opens with a brilliant use of space and pace with no over-the top melodies or incongruous changes. At least for the first three minutes. Guitar solo at 3:00 sucks. The quiet gap of whispered vocal after is also odd but okay. Another odd guitar solo--very odd choice of guitar sound--almost like Dave Gregory's (XTC, Big Big Train). "--there is one who'll pull me out" ?!?!?!? WTF?! (8/10)

2. "Warjazz" (5:16) sounds like an Echolyn attempt at heavier rock. Again, the choices of guitar sounds are not at all to my liking. Odd lyrical message. Nice coda at the end of the third minute leading into a nice section of harmonized vocals. This is followed by an abrasive section of guitar and screeching voice before the song pauses and winds up for the closing minute. (6/10)

3. "Empyrean Views" (9:18) starts out sounding so familiar Echolyn--like a total rehashing of the music from their last album's "Past Gravity." The switch at 3:13 tries to move away from this, but then they get into their older, early STEELY DAN "Country-Jazz" sound. This is acceptable, sometimes enjoyable, thought the choral shout "calls for a destination" is odd and completely lost on me, lyrical deaf-mute that I am. The dreamy waltz arpeggios at 6:40 are engaging, but then just as soon they are gone. A decent Jeff Baxter-Like guitar solo fills the eighth minute before synths take over and start a friendly duel with the guitarist. This could definitely be an early DOOBIE BROTHERS or STEELY DAN song! (8/10)

4. "Different Ways" (7:47) opens like an attempt at a YES song (Drama/90120) before settling into a true STEELY DAN sound. ("Any Major Dude" comes to mind.) The chorus returns to the YES "Changes"-sounding form. Really odd bridge at 3:20 leads into heavy section before things quiet down and Fagen sing-talks one of his signature stories. A little early AMBROSIA sound is recognizable in this one as the song gets into its final third. (7/10)

5. "Carried Home" (5:10) opens with a gorgeous sound, like a classic hit song from the late 60s--from the CLASSICS IV ("Stormy"), THE BEATLES or even The Association. An awesome, aweome song. I love the female background vocals at 2:40 followed by a truly great electric guitar solo. The best singing I've ever heard from this band. Great AMERICA-like harmony at 3:25--which leads into a nice section of great lead and harmony vocals to the end. (9/10)

6. "Once I Get Mine" (5:40) plays like a song from the early 80s--like THE TUBES meet THE KNACK to play XTC. A complete throw away song for me. Even the jazz-rock section at 2:40 can't bring me back. (5/10)

7. "Sound of Bees" (6:57) is built over a nice weave of arpeggios--from guitar, piano, and bass--which are then intermittently added to by different instruments throughout the course of the song. The lyric or vocalist's melody line are not interesting enough to lure me in. Nice solo guitar work over organ from 3:10 on. (8/10)

8. "All This Time We're Given" (7:59) opens with a guitar sound going way back to the 50s or 60s over which a gorgeous CROSBY, STILLS & NASH like voice sings plaintively. Great shift at 1:42. I'm really loving this vocal! I might even try to go into the lyric to try to figure out what he's singing about! AT 3:10 there is a shift into more aggressive rock--very much in keeping with a late 60s CROSBY, STILLS & NASH song. It's working! Even the more aggressive singing voice and harmonies. AT 4:58 there's another shift into some very delicate solo electric guitar picking before the vocal and the rest of the band returns to rehash the A and B sections. I love the NEIL YOUNG-like stand-up piano solos in the seventh minute! Nice job! (8/10) 

9. "Vanishing Sun" (7:32) opens with some distorted walking bass lines and raunchy electric guitar chord strums. Drums eventually establish a rhythm which the heavy bass settles into and then organ joins in. At the two minute mark an odd new song begins with a nondescript aggressive vocal performance scringing his way into a better chorus section. And swear words! "Kill me now!" he says. Now I can't help but hear some of the words: "Anger is the root," "...set the room ablaze," "What a wasted life," "What a lonely life." The band as a whole seems to try to express anger through their increasingly aggressive and loud instrumental play before settling into a DAVID BOWIE "Suffragette City" kind of jam to the end. (6/10)

These guys are obviously talented and knowledgable and intelligent but their music just never connects with me. I appreciate it and I play it--always giving it another chance, trying to figure out what I'm missing--but I leave it in dismay and never seek it out. Even my favorite song of theirs, "The End Is Beautiful" I rarely play. I try Cowboy Poems Free three or four times a year. No luck. Inconsistency and a little too much obscure quirk keep me at a distance. What impresses me most is their use of odd--very odd--chords--sometimes just one single chord--thrown into songs at the oddest of places--chords that feel as if they were saving from a tremendous wealth of collected chords from a tremendously deep knowledge and familiarity with the vast history of rock'n'roll and music in general. But, like an inside joke or a family's private language, I seem to be left on the outside. Maybe as "All This Time We're Given" and "Carried Home" make there rounds on my "new music" playlist I'll snap into it. It took me 35 years to "get" and fall head over heels in love with Gentle Giant. Maybe it'll be the same for Echolyn. Until then this is a three star album for me--3.5 at best.



WILLIAM D. DRAKE Revere Reach

Without doubt an album in the Cardiacs' vaudevillian tradition. The music is as interesting as Cardiacs' stuff though the Drake's vocals are a bit scratchy. The album starts off with such promise--much like the sound and feel of NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA's 2011 masterpiece, I a Moon, but seems to run out of steam or stray from the feel and confidence of its opening by the fifth song, "A Husk" (5:41) (7/10) in which William seems to really be straining to sing in key and across the vast and demanding range set forth by the song. In the very next song William sounds like he has a horrible cold. Is this a joke?! Are we supposed to laugh or feel sorry for this man who can't afford to wait until he's healthy to sing these otherwise potentially strong Van Morrison-like songs? By the time we get through "Heart of Oak" and "The Catford Clown" I am totally bored and annoyed. "Liferaft" and the female sung piano lounge torch song, "Castaway," do nothing to improve the situation. By the time I've made it to the title song I feel as if I'd been present at free concert in the leaky old vicarage in Hevingham, County Norfolk! The fact that some listeners are naming this their album of the year boggles my mind!




COMEDY OF ERRORS Spirit 

Well-composed, cleanly-performed, crisply engineered prog of the Neo kind. Not unlike Big Big Train or Spock's Beard. Where the music suffers a bit, in my opinion, is from overly banal or cliche lyrics, inferior lead vocals, and use and repetition of tried and true prog riffs and hooks. Also, sound production is not of the highest caliber or quality. This is a great example of what I call "second tier" prog. The crossover simplicity, cheap instrumentation and lack of finish or polish make this sound like the 1980s. 




TIGER MOTH TALES Story Tellers, Part One
nice retro prog in the GENESIS style




BAROCK PROJECT Skyline

This is a well-made album with complex compositions and very competent performances on all instruments but, like Dan Brittan’s various highly regarded projects, the music of Skyline simply fails to lure me in. I do like it that Barock's songs have a distinct if sightly JTULL sound to them, but, like last year's impressive FREDDEGREDDE album, complexity does not always make for enjoyable or engaging listening. The problem here with Skyline is that even with repeated listens over months none of the songs are making their way into my brain, none of these songs are songs that I want to seek out or push repeat for. Once again:  Maybe if I were more lyric oriented . . . .

3.5 stars rated up for impressive composition, performance, and production.




VESPERO Fitful Slumber Until 5 A.M.

With this album Russian jammers Vespero have chosen a direction that incorporates more prominently the element of folk or world instrumentation. Guitarist Alexander Kuzovlev has introduced more traditional instruments (mostly mandolin) into lead or foundational roles in virtually every song. Keyboard wizard Alexey Klabukov has chosen either edgy-weird space/computer sounds or retro/70s sounds to be featured in his palette here. Drummer Ivan Fedotov has been asked to perform more straightforward role as rhythm keeper instead of the adventurous free-flowing improvisateur I fell in love with on By the Waters of Tomorrow. As a matter of fact, this 2010 release had me so excited exactly because this drummer and group were so free-form and adventurous--like the Krautrock bands of old. I fear that the band as a whole has reined in and contained their sound considerably since those formative days of the Naughties. It feels to me as if only bass player Arkady Fedotov has been able to really keep his groove on from the days of "old."

Don't get me wrong:  There are good songs here--songs that I like to hear once in a while (though, I have to admit, there is not a single song that I love the whole way through)--but nothing that sucks me in and hypnotizes me the way By the Waters of Tomorrow and the "Liventure" series did.

Favorite songs:  "Vision 2: Outer Planting (4:02:16 - 4:10:30)" (8:15) (9/10); "Vision 5: Ezel (4:30:00 - 4:36:55)" (6:56) (8/10); "Vision 1: Ogni Fuoco (3:50:18 - 4:02:15)" (11:53) (8/10), and; the Arabian feeling "Vision 6: Atil (4:36:46 - 4:51:14)" (14:18) (8/10).


A well-performed set of songs that are, unfortunately, a little disappointing to me. It is hard to discern this album's value as it is not, in my opinion, "an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection" nor is it merely "Good." It is a 3.5 star album that I am going to rate down for failing to live up to both my expectations and the band's potential.




PANDORA SNAIL War and Peace





GENTLE KNIFE Gentle Knife

Gentle Knife is a new band from Norway delighting in promoting the fact that they have ten members, all interested in contributing to a progressive rock format. The album is intended as a concept album expressing the overwhelming confusion as an urbanite wanders and gets lost in a vast forest. Musically, the band seem to draw major influences from the classic prog artists of the 1970s, specifically, KING CRIMSON, VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR and GENESIS.
     The opening song, “Our Quiet Footsteps” (12:35) (8/10) definitely is a “suite” of four distinctive parts: the four-minute instrumental intro, the verbal story telling, the instrumental development of said story, and then an odd fourth part that seems to go off on its own before tying back into the original sections. Like most of the album, this song gives me impressions of an ambitious band that is still as yet unpolished in its collaboration, performance, and engineering. The use of two lead vocalists, a male and female, with sometimes alternating storytelling, sometimes one harmonizing with the other slightly in the background is nice but, like on song #2, “Remnants of Pride” (7:58) (8/10), the timing of the two vocalists is just enough off kilter to be distractive. I like it much better when each voice is given center stage, alone—though the alternating style works well, too. Often the songs are saved, for me, by the interesting inputs of the brass/woodwind instruments. 
     Two electric guitarists seems a delightful prospect yet one of the guitarists style is so raw with his fast picking over sustained notes that it feels as though he needs a few more months of practice to really master this technique. The other style of soloing used predominantly through the course of the album is much more pleasing and integrated—kind of a Robert FRIPP style and sound. Keyboards and rhythm section are good though song rhythmic foundations are often very basic, repetitive, and toilsome. This works well for the soloists to noodle over and the vocalists to sing over, but the “lead” instruments are rarely as fiery or flamboyant enough to take the music to a different level.  

Favorite songs:  the strongest, most complete, energetic, emotional and mature sounding song on the album, “Tear Away the Cords that Bind” (4:53) (9/10); the synth/electronica founded instrumental, 7. “Epilogue Locus Amoenus” (8:03) (9/10), and; the woodwind-dominated instrumental, “Beneath the Waning Moon” (4:35) (8/10).

Should this new band rise up to the potential exhibited on “Tear Away the Cords that Bind” they will become a great band that many prog rock lovers will scramble to see and hear. For now they are mostly interesting for their ambition, rawness, and potential.



AGUSA Tvá




IZZ Everlasting Instant




STEVE HACKETT Wolflight




ARENA The Unquiet Sky




ENSLAVED In Times




ROZ VITALIS Lavoro d’amore



ARGOS A Seasonal Affair

While I loved the eclectic retro prog-pop of Argos' 2010 album, Circles, with this release the band seems to have committed even more footing to the sounds and stylings of the 1980s. There are a lot of pleasant, pleasing sounds and melodies but very little edge or discord--that is, the music and lyrics are missing the kind of angst and tension that sucks one in until there is either resolution or reprieve. All attempts at 'abrasive' sound or tension seem to miss the mark. And the blatant imitation of PETER HAMMILL are off-the-mark as well:  too clean, too polished, too contrived, too computerized. Too bad! Such talent! Such a voice! But alas! Thomas Kalrmann is no Peter Hammill.

3.5 stars rated down for disappoint and lack of engaging tunes.




GRAND TOUR Heavy on the Beach

Dated, soporific neo-prog is not my bag. The vocals are rather weak and uninspired--especially melodically--and the lyrics are lacking conviction. I didn't like COMEDY OF ERRORs much and only liked ABEL GANZ moderately well, so I had no high expectations for this one. Listening to it I find myself thinking that I'm listening to lost demo albums from the 80s from the likes of STYX, LOVERBOY, AMBROSIA, ASIA, YES or ALAN PARSONS PROJECT. The drums and lead guitar work are quite competent but there's just nothing new here to bring me back for receptive listens. Album highlight is the instrumental "Little Boy and Fat Man" (8/10) with "On the Radio" coming in a not-so-close second.

3.5 stars rated down for lack of originality.




DRIFTING SUN Trip the Light Fantastic

This album is actually a step above the stale, cheesy or otherwise redundant Neo-Prog coming out this year. There is something fresh, creative, and original to it--even if it is still not ground-breaking or innovative. (It is, after all, Neo Prog.) Unusual recording of the grand piano (it sounds like it actually is a grand piano!) and raspy vocals conjure up artists of the 70s and 80s. Excellent acoustic guitar work throughout and I like a band that is not so heavily reliant on a drum kit for its rhythm and meter. The recording and stylings sound very much like current bands from South America like AISLES, Hominido



STATE URGE Confrontation

Another bombastic Neo Prog band sullied by their computer cleanliness and their use of prog-by-numbers sounds and formulae. The production of the voice is very poor. Some the foundational riffs and chord sequences--not to mention the sound and instrument choices--are so cheesy and irritating as to make me cringe! It's all I can do to sit through a full song much less give it my "open-minded" attention.
     "Cold as Lie" is a decent song and "Before the Dawn" brings to mind country-mates SATELLITE.

Three stars, no more.



RIVERSIDE Love, Fear and the Time Machine