Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Top Albums of the Year 2016: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2016
(In some semblance of order)


***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. 
  The first list is merely a list consisting of a Top Twenty with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These 20 are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The Reviews that follow 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, 2016 presents Prog World with 14 "masterpieces" and 32 "near masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. AXON-NEURON Metamorphosis
2. VANETA Antimemory
3. TONY PATTERSON Equations of Meaning
4. DUNGEN Häxan
5. MOTHER TURTLE II
6. IAMTHEMORNING Lighthouse
7. THE MERCURY TREE Permutations
8. STARE AT THE CLOUDS This Clear Divide
9. UTOPIANISTI The Third Frontier
10. GHOST MEDICINE Discontinuance


11. UNAKA PRONG Margot
12. STARSABOUT Halflights
13. PROMENADE Noi al dir di di noi
14. THE ARBORIST Acrylic Road
15. LOST WORLD Of Things and Beings
16. GADI CAPLAN Morning Sun
17. iNFiNiEN Light at The Endless Tunnel
18. ILL WICKER  Untamed 
19. THE WINSTONS The Winstons
20. MANTRA VEGA The Illusion's Reckoning


Honorable Mentions:
KAYO DOT Plastic House on Base of Sky
ULVER ATGCLVLSSCAP
THENCE We Are Left With A Song
GRAVITY SAYS_I Quantum Unknown
SHAMBLEMATHS Shamblemaths
JACK O' THE CLOCK Repetitions of The Old City - I
THE COLIN TENCH PROJECT Hair in a G-String (Unfinished but Sweet)
ANTOINE FAFARD Sphère
PLINI Handmade Cities
INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE Warm Spaced Blue
SEVEN IMPALE Contrapasso
WHALEPHANT KaMMA
YUGEN Death by Water
NOSOUND Scintilla
AMOEBA SPLIT Second Split
AKT II (Binario)
ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique
AMPLEDEED BYOB
VESPERO Lique Mekwas
RESINA Resina
ZHONGYU Zhongyu
MATTHEW PARMENTER All Our Yesterdays
N.y.X. The News
LOST KITE Remains
MYRATH Legacy
SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO Work in Progress
HELMUT RÓBOT Kowloon . . . Ciudad amurallada
BENT KNEE Say So
DAVID FIUCZYNSKI Flam! Blam! Pan-Asian Micro-Jam!

Special Mention:
WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmisch Ganz Progisch--released on SoundCloud during the summer, this collection of brilliant Kosmisches Musik was retracted once Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (of WHITE WILLOW, JAGA JAZZIST, KAUKASUS, et al. renown) received a contract from a record label (Apollon). It is now slated for release in the Spring of 2017. It would most certainly have made my Top 20.





The Reviews



***** The Masterpieces:



ALBUM OF THE YEAR!



1. VANETA Antimemory

A band of young men from the Santa Gabriel mountains of California--self-proclaimed "keepers of the forest"--have decided to go with a change in direction from their previous heavy metal roots into the sophisticated progressive rock alter-ego that the band had been working on on the side. I've not heard or seen any of their previous music or concerts but I hear they were stunning, breathtaking. I, for one, am grateful for their new direction--and their collaboration with Lone Pine Records' producer Bill Fiorella, as together they have come up with one of the more unique and memorable sound styles this reviewer has heard in quite a while. The production, in and of itself, is quite unusual in that all of the instruments and voices are allowed to remain so clearly distinctive no matter how dense the music gets. Every subtle noise in the soundscape is preserved--which is something I adore in music:  the subtleties.
     The vocal arrangements alone are worth noting as guitarist Chris Durban and vocalist/guitarist Jared Paris and keyboard player Allan Hennessy do some stunning performances in all of the lead, background, and harmony capacities. These are vocals that are incredibly complicated and yet so impressively executed! It's like listening to world class dance choreography!
     Also, notably absent are the computer "corrected," effected, "compressed" soundscapes that have become so prevalent in music production over the past 25 years. The acoustic guitars sound like they are in the room with you; the drums sound real and full, not gated; the vocals are natural and raw, not auto-tuned. All in all, Antimemory does a wonderful job capturing an 'acoustic' sound of an electrified rock and roll band. And it works! It's awesome! It helps remind and reinforce my love of the recording styles of those 1970s masterpieces.

Lineup:


Chris M Durbin - Vocals, Guitar
Jared Paris - Harmony Vocals, Guitar
Andrew C Sanchez - Drums
Allan Hennessy - Keys, Vocals on Last Ray Of The Sun 
Wyatt Martin - Bass  

1. "Son of Sorrow" (6:42) opens with a minute of heavily vibrating scared bells before guitars, piano, and bass join in to set the stage. This bass play is awesome! Vocalist Chris Durbin bids us "hello" and sings an impassioned vocal--which is soon joined by the amazing backing harmonies of Jared Paris. This sounds so much like the best of one of my favorite bands of all-time, DOVES from Manchester, England. 
     The build up to the chorus at 2:40 is awesome--as is the cool down in the first half of the fifth minute--which is followed by an excellent chorus section and then by a searing 45-second long lead guitar solo in the sixth minute which is then followed up by an awesome three-layered chorale vocal section to the song's end. 
      Incredible song! One of the best things I've heard from 2016! (10/10)

2. "Looking On" (5:06) opens with vocal, rhythm guitar and bass creating a weave that sounds like . At the 0:25 the song kicks into second gear with a very engaging THE MARS VOLTA/STEVEN WILSON foundation. The two-voice delivery of the second verse is so innovative and fresh! Stunning! Another great guitar solo begins rather humanly at the end of the third minute but then shifts into super-man speed in the fourth. The distant acoustic guitar song in the third verse is so cool! It makes it sounds like a Dobro (which I love). The vocal arrangement over the fullness of sound from all band members in the final minute is, again, brilliant! Stunning song! (10/10)

3. "Ferroform" (5:52) opens with a familiar CORVUS STONE-like sound and guitar riff before a second guitar joins in with some fiery riffing. The effected vocal is cool in a hollow Greg LAKE/JIMI WILLIAMS/KING CRIMSON/DOVES "Moon Child" kind of way. As the voice comes to the fore--and is joined by the awesome wailing screams of Jared Paris--the song kicks into full speed--and into a nice long instrumental section in which guitar, bass, keys, and drums resonate in perfect cohesion. Then there is a drop off into a floating, dreamy section that is held together by a Hammond organ and some word being panned around in the background. Guitar arpeggi join in and, eventually, the band emerges out of the fog into it's full speed again (awesome bass line/play!) and then finishes with some thought-provoking piano and guitar notes and chords. Awesome! (9/10)

4. "Child" (8:26) the song's mini-epic opens in a kind of GUNS'n'ROSES-LED ZEPPELIN guitar-oriented way. Even the layered lead vocals have that kind of perfected classic rock feel to it. Into the third minute the Led Zep/G'n'R influences are still strong until there is a sudden shift at the three minute mark into a kind of THE MARS VOLTA/OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ Spanish-imbued high energy rock. The guitar play is so cool! So different--like RANDY BACHMAN on "Blue Collar" (Bachman-Turner Overdrive)--before a searing double guitar solo in the sixth minute. Man! I don't know how the band keeps up this coherent, stable intensity! Amazing! There's even some growl vocals behind the lead in this section. And then horns! Awesome horns! A saxophone lead! What a brilliant touch! For the final minute the band recoups and returns to the mature sound and pace of the opening with the song title being sung a few times by the double vocalists. Great, great song! (10/10) 

5. "Last Ray of the Sun" (1:26) opens with a solo piano tinkling slowly away before setting up in a kind of "Great Gig in the Sky" (Pink Floyd) chord foundation while pianist, Allan Hennessy, sings the first verse (which turns out to be the chorus). The final 45 seconds finds the rest of the band joining in on this chorus line before letting Allan's piano finish on its own. 
     Beautiful, haunting song! Well deserving of its presence on this album. (10/10)

6. "Mountain Chorus" (5:47) opens with acoustic guitar picking away at two chords--two heavily charged chords--while a second, electric guitar slides and squeaks around far in the background before treated Chris' voice joins in. At 1:45 the voice again 'comes out of the closet' to sing "But it won't save you." The second verse then begins with two harmonized voices singing gently. Drummer Andrew Sanchez' cymbal play throughout this second verse is mesmerizing. I find myself reminded during this beautiful section of some the recent Prog Folk greats, FLEET FOXES, LEAFBLADE, DOVES, AUTUMN CHORUS and THE AMAZING. 
     At 3:45 the band suddenly kicks into full gear with some energized bass, drum, guitar, voice and choral work--which plays out till the song's end. Gorgeous song! (9/10)

7. "Antimemory" (3:18) opens with sustained computer synth noise which is then joined by guitar strum, bass, and multiple voices floating and flitting in and around the soundscape. This continues for the first two minutes before all fade out in lieu of sacred bells and shakers. A perfect ending to such a spiritually gut-wrenching album. (10/10)  

Despite my high marks for each and every song--(more for their exceptional creativity, originality, beauty and promise)--I still see 'room to grow' for this band and it's sound. It will be difficult to top such an 'out of the blue' debut album, but I feel that this band of so many talents and influences can definitely refine their raw and passionate sound.
      The excitement I feel when hearing this album reminds me of how I felt upon hearing Manchester's DOVES debut album first time in the early 2000s (my favorite album of Y2K). This is astonishing music regardless of who is performing it--made even more remarkable for the fact that this is a debut album. 

Let the world know it: VANETA is here! . . . and they are a FORCE to be reckoned with!

97.14 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and official winner of the title, ALBUM OF THE YEAR!

P.S. I want to have bass player Wyatt Martin's babies. Or, at least his autograph!




2. GHOST MEDICINE Discontinuance

Produced in England, with the full participation of seasoned bass legend, Colin Edwin, comes this project from Atlanta's JARED LEACH and company--including lead and background vocalist and lyricist Sarah Hoefer, amazing drummer and programmer, Scott Prian (who also recorded and mixed the album), and, of course, Colin on bass. Three principle musicians created these incredible weaves of heavy prog rock sound! Only three!!! Amazing! 

1. "Crooked House" (9:44) opens with an awesome synth-supported acoustic guitar picking/strumming solo. By the time the first minute comes to an end, the intro gives way to a very fast-paced, intricately performed heavy rock with a slightly Southern Rock flavor. The male and then female vocals that enter around the two minute mark take over the foreground but the amazing YES-like instrumental guitar feast that forms the background goes on--and would command all of the listener's attention were it not for the beautiful melodic voice of Sarah Hoefer and the great harmonies presented by composer/bandleader/guitarist extraordinaire, Jared LEACH. (Remember this name:  It is one I guarantee you will hear again!) An interlude of beautiful ANTHONY PHILLIPS-like solo acoustic guitar in the eighth minute feels like it could be the "bookend" of the song's opening intro--but no! The song returns to its top speed heaviness for the final minute and ends on a high note of LED ZEPPELIN quality and ferocity! Amazing song! Incredible opener and introduction to this extraordinary new talent! (10/10)

2. "Shiver" (5:55) opens with a very strong C-W feel and sound--which is only solidified with the entrance of Nashville-like vocal of Sarah Hoefer for the first verse. The instrumental bridge between first and second verses is awesome--and some amazing slide guitar work continues beneath Sarah's singing of the second verse. By the time the chorus and instrumental sections arrive the song has almost lost any Country/Southern feel to it. Astonishing flow and development! The guitar, bass, and drum work on this song are spell-binding, to say the least--so much so that I found myself pushing the repeat button three times when I first heard it! The song's only flow is that Sarah's voice starts to become drowned out by the instruments by the end of the second verse. In my listening history, only BRUCE COCKBURN at his very best rivals this complex, virtuosic sound! (10/10)


3. "Departure" (6:24) opens with a very heavy, fast-driving OCEANSIZE-sounding guitar, bass and drum weave, which backs off a little into more of a heavy PORCUPINE TREE sound as the vocals enter. The instrumental passage at the end of the second minute contains some awesome guitar--which falls into some ALCEST-like guitarscapes beneath the next round of vocals. The next instrumental bridge contains some guitar shredding (two tracks, R & L) that rivals anything anybody has ever done with pick and four fingers. This then segues into a minor-key section that sounds like something between Italia's AKT or East Anglia's FEN or 4AD's DIF JUZ. The instrumental sections are amazing. The vocal sections are weak. (9/10)


4. "Desert Spring" (8:54) has some very interesting sound and structure. I especially like the atmospheric treatment of the guitars and the presence of acoustic guitar. The song's instrumental sections contain some of the heaviest soundscapes of the album--more than Porcupine Tree at their heaviest--and then some of the album's most sensitive, atmospheric sections, too. Yet they work. Together! In the seventh minute there is a very GENESIS-like feel to the soft, atmospheric section as it slowly climbs back into full soundscape. And then Sarah's wonderfully impassioned vocal falls over some of the album's most straightforward neo-prog section (not unlike MAGENTA, MOSTLY AUTUMN or MANTRA VEGA). (9/10)


5. "Beautiful World" (4:00) opens with some soft, delicately played acoustic guitar--sounding a lot like many of the 1980s guitarists from Windham Hill--or Steve TIBBETTS and/or the late, great Michael HEDGES. The ensuing voices (Jared with Sarah in harmony b vox) present a spacious story with Jared's voice sounding quite beautiful--not unlike Britain's Tony PATTERSON. Though an all-acoustic guitar based song, this one plays out quite well. John Martyn or Tim Blake might have liked this one enough to cover it. (9/10)


6. "Broken Corridor" (5:01) despite solid sound and song structure, there is nothing new or innovative about this one; it feels like something that's already been done. It opens with some Southern Rock Dobro-like guitar fast-picking--which then becomes the pace and melodic structure of the whole band sound. Things quiet down enough for the vocal to enter--first the male, in a REM-like sound, and then Sarah for the second verse. The breakneck speed is, I have to admit, impressive. By the third verse Sarah and Jared are sharing the lead. The drumming and guitar play during the instrumental passages rival anything Gavin Harrison and former  DIXIE DREGS' axeman Steve Morse have done. Amazing duo! (9/10)



7. "Discontinuance" (11:14) opens with spacy synths, computer-like percussive sounds before being joined by gentle acoustic guitar arpeggi and bass guitar. Sarah Hoefer's HEATHER FINDLAY-like voice enters at the end of the first minute to deliver the first verse of the song. Lively drums and more playful bass accompany the second. Then, at 2:30, everything stops to start a very PORCUPINE TREE/KING CRIMSON-like heavy instrumental section. All instruments are cruising at very skilled levels for two minutes before a slight switch allows the presentation of a more traditional electric guitar solo--albeit, a brief one, as things soon back down to allow drums and bass, synths and Sarah's vocalizations to haunt us beautifully. At the beginning of the seventh minute everything shuts down to make way for acoustic guitar arpeggio fast-picking and slide guitar in background with synths and bass in support. (Colin Edwin is masterful!) Echoes of screechy, scratchy electric guitar sounds open the ninth minute before the acoustic guitar picking takes on another few phrases. Then a great wall of sound, like a tidal wave rushing onto the shore, fills the soundscape during the tenth minute before fading into a slow fade into guitar amp feedback, static, and distant guitar tunings till the end. Amazing song! One of the album's other top three. (10/10) 

94.29 on the Fishscales = A; a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the most astonishing albums of the year if not the decade! Again, people, remember this name:  JARED LEACH is the New Kid on the Block and a force to be reckoned with for a long while, I surmise!






3. MOTHER TURTLE II

Very nice eclectic prog from Greece. Each time I find myself listening to this album I am blown away by A) how good it is, B) how familiar it is, C) how diverse the styles represented here are, and D) how much it sounds like some long-lost 'classic' from the 1970s--like a new release of a heretofore undiscovered BABYLON tape.

Line-up: 
 - Kostas Konstantinidis: guitars, vocals, midi guitar, ukulele
 - George Baltas: drums,vocals
 - George Theodoropoulos: keys
 - George Filopelou: electric and fretless bass
 - Babis Prodromidis: saxophone, flute
 - Alex Kiourntziadis: violin
      With:
Alexandra Sieti and Maria Mariadou: vocals on (4)

1. "Overture" (1:46) acoustic ditty introducing the epic that follows performed in a kind of Renaissance vocal herald style à la GENTLE GIANT. (9/10)

2. "Harvest Moon" (13:08) a song that sounds like it was left off a VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR or KING CRIMSON album in the 1970s or perhaps a more recent DISCIPLINE/MATTHEW PARMENTER--only with a different vocalist. Great drumming, great keyboard work, great saxophone, great vocals, amazing ending! (10/10)


3. "Ennui" (3:31) a gentle yet insistent STYX/RUSH-like interlude between the album's twin towers. (8.5/10)  


4. "Walpurgi Flame" (20:15) Like two songs in one:  the first a eight-minute rendering of an amazing though long lost Zeuhl (GUAPO?) warm up, the second a contrasting gorgeous, hope-filled symphonic folk piece with female lead vocalists feeling similar to a CIRRUS BAY song (though it sounds more, in fact, like a song from Chile's AISLES' 2009 In Sudden Walks because of the incredible vocal melodies). Methinks the lyrics refer to the trouble a typical (or particular) Greek individual might have with his country (as well as his species') preoccupation with money and power when, at basic biological status, all are equal. My new favorite prog epic of the year 2016. (10/10)


5. "The Tower" (2:56) a beautiful and incredibly powerful tribute to the shock and confusion of the eye-witness observers of the destruction of New York City's Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. (10/10)


6. "The Art of Ending a Revolution" (14:44) is a decent if fairly bland and simple prog epic about the lesson humans are supposed to learn "the art of smiling while someone is stabbing your back," the art of practicing The Golden Rule, the art of patience with hope, the art of detachment. Nice electric guitar chord progressions, nice vocal, nice message, nice bass play, nice saxophone work--just a nice song. Nice. Like we're expected to be. Despite the chaos and corruption surrounding us. 
     The best part of the song begins with the eery Twilight Zone-like synth over which David Strathairn reads Edward R. Murrow's famous anti-Eugene McCarthy speech from the 2005 film, Good Night, and Good Luck... and then the powerful final two minutes. (9/10) 

This is one of the most brilliantly conceived and realized concept albums I've ever heard. I hope it gets the attention it deserves--both musically and moral-politically.



94.17 on the Fishscales = five stars; A; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music and an album that should be heard around the world--especially in times like these.





4. IAMTHEMORNING Lighthouse

The young duo of classically trained musicians from St. Petersburg, Russia, Gleb Kolyadin and Marjana Semkina, are back again with their third album (not including an EP and live recording) since 2012--this one enlisting the capable help of seasoned veterans Gavin HARRISON on drums, Colin EDWIN (PORCUPINE TREE) on bass, and Canadian Vlad AVY on guitar. They even got RIVERSIDE's Mariuz DUDA to contribute a vocal to half of one song!
     The most striking difference in the feel and sound of this album comes in a shift back toward the classical and folk music sounds and structures that made their debut album so striking and refreshing. I am not sure if this shift back is due to the mixed fan response they received from their more rock-oriented second album,  Belighted, or their own gut feelings, but surely the choice of hiring the engineering talents of Tori AMOS-experienced Marcel Van LIMBEEK, and Neil PICKLES for the mixing and mastering helped.
     The KSCOPE connection is great, and the studio recording and production is amazing, but I like this 'new' return to their original sound much better, and I'm sure it's production has something to do with that. Gleb's classically-influenced piano playing is prominent throughout the album--which is a strength--especially if you've seen some of the videos of their live performances:  iamthemorning music is very powerful when it is broken down into the acoustic versions in which they were composed. Marjana's vocals have also improved--her amazing range has increased in strength in all directions, but her confidence and mastery in making exciting and daring vocal arrangements has also grown tremendously. It is truly a wonder, a privilege, to behold.

1. "I Came Before the Water, Part I" (1:41) opens with rippling stream water sounds before Marjana's angelic voice enters in her upper registers, announcing her folk-mythic presence while being accompanied only by orchestral strings and quiet electronic keyboard. Awesome start! I am excited! This sounds like a very mature, very composed, very centered iamthemorning. (9/10)

2. "Too Many Years" (5:10) is a piano and orchestra supported song which is notable for Marjana's layering of multiple vocal tracks of her own voice in several parts for some harmony support to her lead--to amazing effect. I can't remember hearing her do this with such great outcome before! How she has grown and matured!
     The contributions of bass, drums and strings are wonderfully enriching to the mood and the late arrival of the double-reed French bombard is awesome. Great song. (9/10)

3. "Clear Clearer" (4:35) opens with eery background noises, electric bass, woodwinds and electric keyboard establishing a mysterious musical foundation. At 0:45 Marjana joins in with a more powerful (but not dominating) version of her voice. After another 45 seconds hand drums, piano, and other metallic percussives bring up the decibels level a bit. This is the first occasion on the album in which I am reminded of the waltzy song construction style that was so joyfully present on the iamthemorning debut album, ~.
     Soloing electric guitar takes front and center in the final stretch over Marjan's whispering vocalizions panning right and left in the background, though all instruments eventual fade and drop out to allow for a charming little woodwind finale. Brilliant song! Great, memorable melodies! (10/10)

4. "Sleeping Pills" (3:44) opens with Marjana's angelic voice holding these amazing notes, singing like an angel straight into one's soul, with some simple piano chords arpeggiating beneath. Background vocals--(Marjana's or the "Perezvony" Choir's?)--join in as singular classical instruments also make their presences known as the chorus begins. Then, with the second verse we are treated to a JOHN TOUT-like piano solo and haunting background violin solo just before the Perezvony Choir enters to perform its chant-like magic. Stunning! Hand drums, piano, fretless bass, and drum kit join and gradually build in intensity to the song's (IMO, premature) end. Gorgeous! And so refreshingly ingenious. (10/10)

5. "Liberetto Horror" (2:14) has a kind of cabaret-burlesque feel to it--frolicking piano, sexy vocals--only the b vox and flutes and, later, strings, shift us away from this stage-like tease extravaganza. But it's too late: Marjana and Gleb have long ago seduced me. Fun song! (9/10)

6. "Lighthouse" (6:19) opens with a kind of SATIE/CLAUDE BOLLING-like jazzified classical piano speeding up and down the keyboard before Marjana's whispery voice enters front and center (singing right into my ear! So intimate it makes me blush! Only KATE BUSH has been able to effectively do this before. As a matter of fact, the KATE BUSH comparisons should consider as the piano and voice combination is strikingly similar to a few of Kate's bare bones piano and voice song styles).
    At 3:55 the duet format ends as strummed guitars, strings, harp, drums, bass and background vocals join in--eventually giving center stage to a beautiful if less-forward-than-we're-all-used-to vocal by RIVERSIDE's Mariuz DUDA. When you know his voice is coming, you expect some heavy, dramatic shift, but instead the vocal and song play out very smoothly, almost soporifically.
     The amazing first half makes this song a timeless classic, a master class in classical folk duet; aside from the wonderful wisps of background vocal work (by multiple tracks of Marjana and some Mariuz), the second half is a little too mellow and monotonous. I feel the anticipation (and expectation) for something more emotional, even bombastic. It could've been better but it's still amazing. (Is that possible?) (9/10)

7. "Harmony" (5:19) is an instrumental that has a wonderfully symphonic feel that is quite strongly reminiscent of John TOUT-era RENAISSANCE. John HACKETT-like flute solos, tuned percussion, and, eventually, full rock band and solo electric guitar grace this gorgeous song. (No offense, Marjana, but Gleb has the potential for a solo album/career.) (As do you!) (10/10)

8. "Matches" (4:18) is the first song on the album which opens with a very familiar feel and style--fast-moving piano fingering with Marjana's delightfully acrobatic voice dancing a bit too far back in the mix (I've always wished her voice to be a little more front and center, a little more over the piano in the mix). Switch to electric piano is interesting, but then back to grand piano as the drums and fretless bass of Gavin HARRISON and Colin EDWIN, respectively, take prominence (though only for less than a minute before the song fades out). (8/10)

9. "Belighted" (3:20) opens with Marjana's delicate voice singing with the accompaniment of only a harp for the first verse. Glockenspiel (electronic keyboard?) and background voices join in for the second verse. Then full strings orchestra makes their entry for the chorus and successive verses. Enter bass, hand drums, and woodwinds and what a magical weave of dreaminess we have just before Gleb's piano and electric guitar take the fore ground in some nice counter-melody play. Wow! I don't want it to end. This band, these songwriters are at the very top of their game!!! (10/10)

10. "Chalk and Coal" (4:57) is a dramatic, almost Broadway show tune-like composition that contains a strain of spoken vocals that are treated to sound like whispered or muted radio samples throughout the background of the song. It's brilliant!--as are the trumpet soli in the second and fourth minutes.
Electric guitar  I also love the decision to have a long fadeout with Gleb's jazzy piano riffs repeated over and over while only being accompanied by a flanged percussion hit as time keeper:  Simple, bold and powerful. Incredible! (9/10)

11. "I Came Before the Water, II" (2:56) is an incredibly emotional near-a cappella performance by Marjana--the only instrumental support coming from a very slow build of orchestral strings that begins in the second minute--just as Marjana shifts her singing into a very high octave (she opened the first verse of this reiteration of the album's opening song & lyric in a mid-range voice).
     The song closes with the same water sounds from the opening song. Stunning! Utterly gut-wrenching! And haunting! (in a good way) (10/10)

12. "Post Scriptum" (2:44) is the album's finale in which Marjana's voice is used to wordlessly sing the song's Russian folk melody in tandem with strings and woodwind while Gleb tickles the ivories and Colin and hold their steady beat behind. Haunting. (10/10)

In my humble opinion, Gleb and Marjana have come out of their shell, into their own state as mature butterflies, to fulfill the amazing and unique potential they exploded onto the scene with back in 2012. The return to piano- and "classical folk"-based sound styles is much welcomed but more, the display of ingenious musical ideas is made felt throughout each and every song--so many choices in structure, sound and restraint that only masters of their craft can ever achieve. And yet, they are still so young! With their confidence and creative beasts released; I can see a long string of masterpieces in iamthemorning (or Gelb Kolyadin and Marjana Semkina)'s long and illustrious career(s).

94.17 on the Fish scales = without hesitation or argument, this is a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music, essential for any prog lover's music collection; A. An album that I will be listening to regularly for years to come
     Marjana and Gleb are focusing their energies on giving attention to the under-attended ills of those suffering from psychological illness, so, for those of you with a friend or loved one with some mental illness, this album might just be a perfect balm ... or tonic. Compassionately conceived and intended, Beautifully rendered, this is music for healing and wholeness.





5. PROMENADE Noi al dir di Noi

Another great find for Italia's risk-taking, forward-thinking music label, AltrOck Productions! These creative musicians have a cool confidence that belies their youth.

Line up:
Matteo Barisone : Vocals and Keyboards
Gianluca Barisone : Guitars
Stefano Scarella : Bass and Saxophone
Simone Scala : Drums 


1. "Athletics" (10:32) a fast-paced, complex instrumental opens the album as if to say: "We can play!" And, boy! can they! (9/10)

2. "Il Secondo Passo" (6:43) a scaled down, gentler song, with very delicate play from all band members and a great, understated vocal from lead singer, Matteo Barisone. The best song on the album. (10/10)

3. "L'albero magico" (4:33) starts out as another gentler song with some really nice guitar and fretless bass (Chapman stick?) interplay. The drum work also really shines on this one--not for its flash or demonstrativeness but for its solid support and subtle contributions. A top three song for me. (9.5/10)

4. "Roccocò" (5:48) Harpsichord! Renaissance minstrels/troubadours! A very fun 'period' piece--complete with farmers market noises and orchestration! (9.5/10)


5. "Kernel" (4:16) opens with lots of gentle arpeggi and soft drum play in a kind of celebration of 1970s jazz-lite. Once the vocal and lead guitar parts enter and take over, the rest of the band amps things up (especially the drummer!) and accelerates to all-speed ahead. Still some quirky pauses, temp shifts and sound samples liven this one, making it quite unpredictable. ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS-like. (9/10)

6. "Pantera" (6:47) more fast-picking guitar and intricate bass and drum play over which Matteo sings in a style that seems both out of time and yet old. Amazing how fresh and refreshing this music is! I am quite reminded of the Chilean band AISLES with their twin masterpieces from 2010's In Sudden Walks, "Summer Fall" and "The Maiden." (9.5/10)

7. "Crisantemo" (7:53) sounds almost like a classical music piece from the Romantic era as written by COLIN TENCH. (9/10)


93.57 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music; A. 




6. UTOPIANISTI The Third Frontier

The next (third) album from the incredibly talented Finnish avant jazz composer/bandleader, Markus Pajakkala. I find myself liking this album much better than the previous albums because of it's cohesive flow. On II each and every song sounded and felt so different--which makes a lot of sense considering the use of completely different musicians on each and every song. Also, the increased presence of the operatic vocalization of female vocalist Suvi Väyrynen (on three songs) gives the album a bit of a Zeuhl (UNIVERSAL TOEM ORCHESTRA) or Canterbury (AMANDA PARSONS, ELIZABETH GASKIN and THE NORTHETTES) flavor--which I love. I just think Markus has probably matured, clarified his vision, and polishing his songs as well or even better than before (he has always shown impeccable attention to detail in the engineering room).

1. "Voodoo Mammoths From Neptune" (4:25) has such clarity in its sound production! It is an odd, cinematic piece with a nicely extended introductory section which allows the listener to get hooked in for the ride. Simply stunning sound! (9/10)
 
2. "Dr. Gravity's Evil Plan" (4:01) treads more into cinematic jazz like a good spy thriller--or a spoof of a whodunnit. Great ensemble timing opens before multiple trumpets are given solo lines--at the same time! At the end of the second minute some nice organ play bridges into the next section. (Again, the clarity of sound distinction is remarkable!) Awesome organ play gives way to flute while the background ensemble keeps things so tightly glued together! How Markus gets this kind of collaboration from his band is remarkable! Awesome, simple bass line near the forefront holds it all together so well. (10/10)
 
3. "Universe For Dummies" (5:52) opens with some staccato arpeggi from the electric bass before the wonderful vocalise 
of Suvi Väyrynen betrays the composer's Canterbury intentions. Great weave of some quite disparate threads--like from horns, vibraphone and electric guitar--breaks into full force at the one minute mark. Very much like a song from INNER EAR BRIGADE. Great soli (and from some odd instrumental choices/sounds) parade around the foreground while bass and organ continue tip-toeing around with the foundational bob and weave. Truly an astounding song! (10/10) 

4. "White Dwarf" (1:24) slows things down as an electric piano (Rhodes?) solos slowly before being joined by reed instruments. Cool sound! (9/10)
 
5. "Life As We Thought We Knew It" (4:55) opens with a metronomic electric piano riff which is built upon by horns, vibes, guitars and cymbals. Very pretty. At 1:32 the volume turns up though the play of the horn section gives it all a kind of CHICAGO feel--if however briefly. At 2:38 things get more serious. This could be right off of FROGG CAFÉ's 2010 classic, The Bateless Edge (which makes me beg for the presence of some lyrics--like "Terra Sancta"). Nice song! (9/10)
 
6. "A Hundred Rabbits" (5:03) opens with a little funk coming from the rhythm section of bass, drums, congas, vibes and clavinet. These are shortly joined by horns and woodwinds and, a bit later, the synth-horn-like vocalizations of Suvi. Things are toned down a bit toward the end of the second minute to allow for the isolation of a flute solo. HUBERT LAWS would be proud! A little bass solo bridges our way into a protracted solo from a seething electric guitar. HENDRIX would be proud! Awesomely woven into the funky horns until it finally fades away into the background so that Suvi and the horns can take us out. Awesome song! (10/10)
 
7. "Spanking Season" (2:33) the first song I heard from the album has vocals! Odd, cabaret-like vocals--not unlike the stylings of HUMBLE GRUMBLE, PINGVINORKESTERN, KNIFEWORLD or MAJOR PARKINSON. Fun, funny, laughable and eminently clever song! Great solo from a 'Space Invaders' synthesizer toward the end. (9/10)

8. "13 Demons In The Disco Dimension" (3:12) opens with some odd radio clip before a campy melody and odd time rhythm establish a kind of Zappa-esque envirnoment--sophisticated, highly disciplined, and sleek. Not my favorite song but I truly respect and understand it. (8/10)
 
9. "The Last Reflection" (7:00) Has a bluesy soul and proggy feel to it, as the whole band seems to ride as one wave while the drums are free to play beneath! The delicate part in the fourth minute which opens up space for the vocalise soloations of the gorgeous voice of Suvi Väyrynen is perfection! Great restraint is shown throughout this song from both the composer and his musicians. Even the climax starting at 5:15 shows great emotion and sympathetic feel from all: horns, bass, drums, organ, electric guitar--I can really feel it from all of them! Amazing! (10/10)

All in all, Markus Pajakkala has packaged together a masterpiece of incredibly well contrived and well executed theatric jazz. Consistently, this is one of the best ensemble performances of very sophisticated music that I've heard in a while. Definitely one of the funnest albums of the year (so far).

93.33 on the Fish scales = 5 stars; A; a true masterpiece of progressive music.



7. LOST WORLD BAND Of Things and Beings

A band that has always had a gift for melody and beauty has now vaulted into the upper echelons of prog world with this release of complex, well-recorded and produced, symphonic prog. Whereas their sound was always a little unpolished and their songs a little too syrupy sweet, this one shows a significant leap in both sophistication and maturity. The new sound is like Mike Oldfield only better; Lost World has gone where we all wished (and thought) Mike would go (but didn't).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Didorenko / all guitars, violins, keyboards and vocal
- Vassili Soloviev / flute
- Konstantin Shtirlitz / drums
- Alexander Akimov / percussion

1. "Shapes and Objects" (a symphonic creation with full orchestral support)
     I. "Random Objects in the Sun" (3:20) impressive dynamics. I find myself reminded of Mike Oldfield's Incantations only on a much more sophisticated level. The song just keeps getting better as it goes! Amazing instrumental appearances. (9.5/10)
     II. "Moving Dots" (3:15) the andante of this symphony--with vocals, flutes, acoustic guitars and orchestral contributions all helping with the syncopated weave. Then, half way through, it shifts into a smooth, upbeat orchestral piece. Awesome! (9.5/10)
     III. "Water Circles" (4:31) a kind of rondo with guitars, violins, and flutes trading the melody with orchestral percussion and drums helping out along the way. Incredible song. We are not worthy! Would that Mike Oldfield ever climbed to such heights! (10/10)
     IV. "Time Squares" (3:10) the dénouement and climax. Perfect! (9.5/10)


2. "When the Time is Still" (4:18) Gorgeous arrangement. (9.5/10)


3. "Death of Mr. Winter" (1:05) quirky and angular--a perfect foil for the previous songs. A bit like JACK O' THE CLOCK. (9/10)


4. "Intertwined" (3:30) an awesome multiple acoustic guitar étude--not unlike a WILLIAM ACKERMAN song, only on high doses of cafeine. Andy Didorenko on full display. (9/10)

5. "Of Things and Beings" (0:51) another quirky odd JACK O' THE CLOCK-like song with a heavily treated multiple tracked vocal. (9/10)


6. "Watchbird" (6:08) a full out, Chris Squire chunky bass prog en force. Not my favorite song or style of Andy's but it does display his ability to write and perform at a very high YES-like level of rock dynamism. The violin adds a true EDDIE JOBSON/UK-ness to the song. (Great drumming, Mr. Shtirlitz!) (9/10)


7. "Simple as"
     I. "One" (2:13) pastoral, hand percussion with flute and acoustic guitars. Amazing flute(s) and guitar(s) weave. Gorgeous! (10/10)
     II. "Two" (1:41) The feast continues! A little more up tempo this time. Like a Michel Legrand/Jean-Pierre Rampal/Alexandre LaGoya composition. Amazing! (10/10)
     III. "Three" (1:46) the third of the trilogy steps into a more metronomic (though off tempo) medieval troubadour feel and sound. Again, the jazzy sound of Legrand/Rampal/LaGoya is strongly brought to mind. (9/10)


8. "The Structure of Madness" (4:05) a return to heavier, electrified rock--this time of a style more akin to bands like MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA, ELP, BRUFORD, URIAH HEEP, even RUSH. Wonderful performances by all instruments--especially drums, electric guitars, and bass. A definite masterpiece of progressive rock by a certifiable master of musical composition and performance.(10/10)


9. "On Thin Ice" (3:33) treads into the almost-'pop' style and sound of previous albums like 2009's Sound Source and 2013's Solar Power. By has this band/musician matured! (8.5/10)

10. "Downpour "(3:12) aggressive violin, guitars and bass open this song before the drums enter full throttle to drive this one to crescendoed highs (with notable valleys of meek dynamics). Impressive but not memorable or even very likable. (8/10)


This is by far and away the best album Lost World has released and one of the best albums I've heard from this year. (Oops! I guess it was a late 2016 release!) Excellent sound recording and production throughout (which was a weakness of past recordings). And despite Andy's virtuosity, his flute player and drummer are both on an equal level!

93.33 on the Fishscales = Five stars, A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music!



8. STARE AT THE CLOUDS This Clear Divide

More outstanding djenty atmospheric prog out of Australia. Like country-mates KARNIVOOL and Polish prog masters VOTUM, these musicians know how to create great melodies and moods within heavier musical walls of sound--and they are even better at building over or deftly interspersing their songs with awesome atmospheric, almost shoegazey passages!

Line-up / Musicians:

- Keelan Butterick / Vocals, Guitar
- Seb Key / Guitar, Vocals
- Evan Jackson / Bass
- Jacob Grindrod / Guitar
- Cassandra Key / Drums, Piano, Percussion

1. "Prelude" (0:42) opens the album with some atmospheric guitar notes and constant keyboard soundscape in order to set up the barrage of sound that is unleashed at the beginning of #2. (9/10)


2. "The Falling" (3:31) opens with some full-brunt walls of sound very similar to the VOTUM and KARNIVOOL style of recent years. Great vocal also fitting into the VOTUM "First Felt Pain" style. At 2:50 the tempo is downshifted a few steps before falling away for a soft little atmospheric keyboard end. (9/10)


3. "Concurrent Abreaction I: Presage (The Hunter)" (8:22) opens strongly with vocals joining in soon after. But the song pauses and slows before the first minute is out for a sustained reset before returning to the opening pace and heaviness. It's a bit like being in a car that is driving in traffic--stop lights and all. 
      The totally atmospheric section that begins at the end of the third minute is so cool--rolling, jumping bass lines and drums playing off one another while the guitar arpeggi and keyboard backgrounds accompany the soft vocal. At 4:34 the djenty bass and guitars return for a little display of their own. The vocal that eventually tries to join in is, unfortunately, a bit incongruous. Another soft, atmospheric section begins at the six minute mark--this one less pretty, less satisfying than the last--and soon gives way to another barrage of djenty guitar. 
     The shifts from heavy, djenty walls of sound to atmospheric, almost Shoegaze soft sections throughout this song are quite interesting--and, now that I'm used to them, awesome. (9/10)


4. "Concurrent Abreaction II: Ocean (6:31)" opens very sedately, spaciously, until the very end of the second minute when some slow, heavy guitar-based walls of sound establish themselves in a kind of FOREIGNER "Double Vision" way. All ensuing song development is slow and methodical with nothing much very surprising or exciting save for a return at the 4:40 mark (to the song's end) to the shoegazey-atmospheric sound of the opening. (8/10)


5. "Concurrent Abreaction III: The Outside" (6:20) opens with some atmospheric guitar play over an interesting uneven time signature bass and drum rhythm. The vocal that joins in repeating "inside my thoughts" is a nice touch. As a matter of fact, this is the first song in which the lyric and vocal perfectly match the music being expressed beneath. At 3:34 the djent wall of sound is unleashed in a KLONE/ALIC IN CHAINS way--with vocalist reaching up to scream his lyrics along with the escalation in sound volume. This is, however, but a brief crescendo before all falls back to the more floating atmospheric levels of the opening section. (9/10)


6. "Concurrent Abreaction IV: Lucah" (4:26) is a song that again reminds me of a YANN LIGNER-led KLONE song for its first two minutes. Then it becomes a totally different song--an instrumental that contains some gorgeous ROBIN GUTHRIE-like atmospheric guitar chord play and guitar effects--for over a minute before returning to the KLONE-like grungy heavy metal sounds introduced in the opening section. The heavily treated GUTHRIE-like guitar can be heard contributing single note arpeggi throughout. This is awesome! One of my top three songs for the album. (10/10)


7. "Concurrent Abreaction V: We Lie In Shadows" (5:41) opens with some fun drum exercises before the shoegaze guitar sound joins in. Long, sustained FRIPP-like guitar notes accompany and soar over the other guitar, bass, and drum play. Beautiful! This is another beautiful albeit heavier version of a COCTEAU TWINS/shoegaze-styled song. Even the heavier buildups in the second minute take nothing away from the incredible syncopated, stop-and-play melody and rhythm play here. As a matter of fact, the densification that occurs at the end of the third minute within the multiple arpeggiating guitars is stunning! And the SYLVIAN-esque atmospherics in the middle of the fifth minute, too! Probably my favorite song on the album. (10/10)


8. "Concurrent Abreaction VI: Sehnsucht" (4:03) is an ENO-esque ambient ocean raft ride in which long note harmonized vocals and Fripp-like sustained lead guitar notes waft in and out of the gorgeous foundational music. Certainly a top three song for me. (10/10)

9. "Dead Letters" (2:27) is an instrumental that sounds like a reprise of an earlier theme played slightly more clearly and with different approaches to the drums, keys, and guitar sounds used. Still, gorgeous with memorable melodies used throughout. (10/10)


10. "Cutting The Ties" (5:33) is a rather low profile attempt to tie up loose ends and end the concept album on an even keel. Such a great sound! (9/10)


93.0 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music; A. I love this album! Stare at the Clouds has produced a masterpiece of atmospheric djent. 





9. MANTRA VEGA The Illusion's Reckoning

This has been a truly surprising find for me. I know most of the members of this "band" (Heather Findlay, Dave Kerzner, Alex Cromarty, Chris Johnson, and Dave Kilminster) as well as the supplemental contributors (Troy Donockley, Irene, and Arjen Lucassen) but never have I enjoyed any of them as well as I do on this album, in this presentation of music. It's as if these seasoned prog rockers have stripped down all of their music to the barest of constructs and forms. The end result is stunningly beautiful, breathtakingly simple, deeply engaging and hauntingly memorable. I found myself utterly astonished--moved to my core--with the discovery of each and every song. I couldn't wait to start over from the beginning once it was over!

1. "Every Corner" opens the album in a totally surprising way--beautiful music with Heather Findlay talking over it--very much like STEVEN WILSON's "Perfect Life" from 2015's Hand. Cannot. Erase. And it works! Well! What a way to open the album! (9/10)

2. "Island" (5:53) (9/10) and especially its reprise, 9. "Island (reprise)" (1:42) (10/10) are gems straight out of the KATE BUSH playbook.

3. "Veil of Ghosts" (6:48) is the most musically complex, heavy and uptempo song on the album (if you can believe that)--and it's "low" point (though it has some truly magical parts--like the double keyboard solos beginning around the three minute mark). (8/10)

4. "Lake Sunday" (6:10) is just as simple and lazy as you might expect from this title. Heather Findlay's vocal in the opening verse gives the song it's country/Linda Rondstadt "Blue Bayou" feel but as soon as the chorus enters it shifts. (8/10)

5. "Mountain Spring" (6:09) comes at you like a great Joni Mitchell or Christoffer GUNRUP/THE AMAZING song. And then the Mellotrons and chorus hit--it's awesome! CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG heaven! Flutes, muted lead electric guitar a la Stephen Stills. Wonderful! (10/10)

6. "In a Dream" (5:20) opens with spacey background keyboard washes and reversed notes of electric guitar before giving way to Celtic flute and strummed acoustic strings and Heather Findlay's folkish vocal. With Troy Donockley's flute play, piano, and anthemic adult & children's choral support, this turns into quite a powerful song--with the message that "we are made of star light." Quite a RENAISSANCE feel to this one, as well. (9/10)

7. "Learning to Be Light" (5:03) is gorgeous in a FLEETWOOD MAC/Stevie NICKS way, hauntingly beautiful in a TOBY DRIVER way. (10/10)

8. "I've Seen Your Star" (6:00) is gorgeously delicate like something from an old SHAKTI (gentle John McLaughlin guitar style) or JAN GARBAREK (wooden flutes) or even K.D. LANG (vocal) album. (10/10)

10. "The Illusion's Reckoning" (9:54) has vocal moments that remind me of the ascendant moments of LULU's amazing 1967 rendering of "To Sir With Love" and others like KATE BUSH in at her absolute best--which is all enabled by the simple musical constructs around and behind her. Heather's amazing vocal melodies are supported throughout by absolutely crushingly beautiful instrumental and choral chords. Brilliant solos from keys in the fifth and ninth minutes. This gorgeous song makes the album end on such a high! Awesome! I am in heaven! (10/10)

I want to make a special comment here: I have never been much of a fan of Heather Findlay's vocals--they just never grabbed me. Until now. The song style used here is the absolute perfect winning formula for her talents:  not mixed within the music but isolated above and in front of the minimally constructed instrumental music. Also, because of the chordal structures and keyboard dominance, this album is a real delight for all you Kevin Moore/CHROMA KEY fans.

Though this is an album of kind of pop-oriented simple melodic music, it is rendered proggy by the amazing cast of seasoned prog veterans. They have simplified their musical delivery but done it in such a refined and masterful was as to still have created wonderful music for the progressive rock fanatic.

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




10. AXON-NEURON Metamorphosis

Classic symphonic prog of the first order from Ohio's Jeremey Poparad and company. They possess a sound somewhere in the same ballpark with Germany's FREQUENCY DRIFT, Sweden's INTROITUS and Norway's WHITE WILLOW due in part to the presence of exceptional female lead vocalist in Amanda Rankin (though her singing style is more akin to that of THIEVES' KITCHEN's Amy DARBY). The guitar sound is a bit deeper, djenty--probably due to the presence of composer/producer Jeremey Poparad's 9-string electric guitar and full, deep bass sound. All songs are incredibly well constructed, recorded, performed and possess wonderful melodic and harmonic sensibilities.

Line-up / Musicians:


- Amanda Rankin / voice
- Ryan McDermott / 6-string electric guitar
- Jeremey Poparad / 9-string electric guitar, acoustic guitar ("Koan"), 6-string electric guitar ("Silence", "Eulogy"), mandolin ("Silence"), electric bass, and glockenspiel
- Steven Miller / keyboards
- Dylan Gomez / percussion 

CD1
1. "Prelude I" (6:28) is a classical music composition performed by acoustic orchestral instruments. (9/10)


2. "Euclid" (4:31) opens with harp-like arpeggi before a metal band orients us in a different direction. Djenty yet melodic, we are quickly introduced to the Amy DARBY-like vocal stylings of singer Amanda Rankin. The song breaks into several sections, though all continue to revolve around variations of the central arpeggiated chord progression from the intro. Brilliant! (9/10)


3. "Suspicions" (5:48) again structures itself around variations on a gentle four-chord jazz progression that is established in the opening--which is beautiful and hypnotic. Amanda's vocals here are her first attempt to get grungy--which doesn't work very well. Her voice is too pure and crystalline to rough up. Still, the song has many memorable and haunting elements that make it rise above the mis-matched vocal choices. Nice drumming and keyboard work on this one. (9/10)


4. "Shattered" (5:58) opens with plucked bass and upper octave piano play setting up for Amanda's delicate vocal. The song shifts into second gear at the one minute mark, and then into third with full band and orchestral instruments shortly thereafter. Nice jazz guitar leads throughout the song. The arpeggiated piano chord progression is quite lovely, quite engaging. Amanda's melody line, as well. At 3:20 things shift into a heavier gear. Nice! I find realizing that I wish Amanda's vocal had been mixed differently in the sonic field--more full and slightly forward. Nice electric guitar soli at the end of the fifth minute. This could be a masterpiece! (9/10)


5. "Koan" (3:42) opens with some nice acoustic guitar picking, over which Amanda begins singing in her upper registers. Quite lovely. As the full band and orchestral instruments join in I am definitely feeling the genius of this "big band" approach. This is a classy old-time jazz song with some modern instrumental twists. In fact, it is the orchestral strings and not the vintage and modern rock/jazz instruments that steal the show on this one. One of my favorites! (10/10)

6. "Eyes" (6:04) for the first two minutes contains some trip-hoppy drum sequences playing beneath the more constant presence of some floating plucked guitar chords and Amanda's singing. Then the music breaks into a more jazz-metal flow with lots of picking, plucking of strings while Amanda continues doing her Amy DARBY thing. At 4:00 the weave begins to sound like a DEVY TOWNSEND wall while Amanda's now treated voice falls a little back in the mix. Dreamy! At 5:00 things return briefly to the more dynamic, voice forward sound, before falling back into the dreamy style to the song's end. (9/10)  

7. "Erasure" (5:54) opens as a duet with Jeremey's picked electric guitar and Amanda's voice. At the one minute mark the song kicks into a more poppy, almost Latino style while Amanda continues her story telling in and interesting alternating middle and low voice style. The instrumental portion of the third minute finds a much more jazzy Latin-like style with the use of several more complicated time signatures. The final minute of guitar weaving sounds again like a milder, less processed version of DEVIN TOWNSEND. (9/10)

8. "Postlude I" (7:48) opens with synth strings and orchestra instruments playing a beautiful stop-and-go, flow-between-octaves song. Glockenspiel and woodwinds take the leads during the first two minutes, but then low range winds take over before oboe and violins take their turns. In the fourth minute French horn 
horn-led horn section next get their say. Bassoons, flutes, and clarinets get a turn around the five minute mark. Beautiful melodies and harmonies are presented and woven in and out of simple and many-layered weaves throughout the course of this gorgeous piece of music. (10/10)

Using the now institutional Fishermetrics, the first CD with a total time of 46:13 is alone worthy of the "masterpiece" status.

CD2
1. "Prelude II" (7:25) continues the previous disc's pattern by opening with a composition that is composed and performed by a full orchestra. Percussion and pulsing lower strings notes establish the almost PHILLIP GLASS foundation over which violins and woodwinds play their weave of melodies. A more Baroque sound establishes itself in the third minute before making way for a more theatric, liturgical sparsely instrumented sound around 3:30. AT 4:20 we are returned to the more modern sounds and structures of the opening. It reminds me of NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA's "Berliner Luft" or "Mitte der Welt." Beautiful piece! (10/10)

 
2. "Silence" (7:23) opens with warmly picked electric guitar with accompaniment of trilling strings. The melody established feels quite theatric--as if we are getting ready to see an emotional love scene from Brigadoon or The King and I. Amanda's entry and presence confirms this as she gives us the warmest, most emotional performance of the album (thus far). The Post Rock-like drumming and full strings accompaniment are highlights, again. The piano solo in the fourth minute is too cheezy--over the top. Luckily Amanda's stunning performance helps us to quickly forget this. In my opinion, this is the first song in which the instrumental soli have negatively affected the overall outcome of the song, one in which the vocal could have been left to more sparse accompaniment. Amazing performance, Amanda. Amazing orchestral arrangement, Jeremey. Maybe that's all you should have concentrated on. (9/10)

 
3. "Kronos" (7:35) is my favorite song on the album. It has a WHITE WILLOW-FREQUENCY DRIFT like feel to it with Kashikura TAKASHI (TOE)-like drumming, CHICK COREA-like keyboard work, James Bond murder-mystery-like orchestration, and Amanda Rankin's beautiful vocal work (which, again, I find myself wishing were mixed more prominently into the soundscape). (10/10)  


4. "Summit" (8:00) has the musical feel of a good OCEANSIZE song. This may be the best progressive rock song on the album. The guitar and bass interplay is remarkable for the precision of their 'conversations'. Neither the lyric nor the vocal add much; this could've been a great instrumental. (9/10)


5. "Keepsakes" (6:40) opens with some delicate percussion play into which a few sparse keyboard and guitar noises and/or chords are mixed. A delicate, slow, breathy vocal by Amanda Rankin ensues which is mirrored, note-for-note, by a heavily chorused lead electric guitar. Crazed jazzy electric piano play is going on beneath. Brilliant song! So unique and unusual! Psychedelic. On display here is yet more of diversely creative genius of everyone of these musicians and songwriters. Amazing! (10/10)


6. "Kafka" (7:43) is the only song that really doesn't work for me--and this is true on multiple levels. There are so many things going on, so many different styles and sounds, and, for some reason, they just don't gel as well as one would hope. A bit like a Dan Britton (CEREBUS EFFECT, DELUGE GRANDER, BIRDS & BUILDINGS, ALL OVER EVERYWHERE) song: Proggy but a little too esoteric. (7/10)


7. "Eulogy" (4:53) gets the prog back on track with a nice prog ballad in the Bill GILLHAM/CIRRUS BAY style. (9/10)


8. "Postlude II" (8:13) closes the second album out with another classical piece. Performed by orchestra, this one opens in a kind of DELIUS/ELGAR/BRITTEN pastoral style before detouring into a full-on blues-rock dirge--a folky version of a Clapton song, perhaps. Beautiful metaphor for the stylistic melange that is the entirety of this beautiful album. Well done, Ohio! (Nice vocal, Amanda! Nice guitar lead, Ryan! Amazing composition, Jeremey!) (10/10) 

A stunningly original and mature album. I consider this a veritable masterpiece of eclectic and/or symphonic progressive rock and yet I can see where this band and its composer/producer have room to grow. Can't wait to see what they bring in the future!

92.5 on the Fish scales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




11. DUNGEN Häxan

A brilliant new collection of songs composed/created in an analog domain as a soundtrack to what is believed to be the oldest surviving full-length animated feature film, from 1926, "The Adventures of Prince Achmed" by Lotte Reiniger.

Line-up

Gustav Ejstes
Reine Fiske
Johan Holmegard
Mattias Gustavsson

1. "Peri Banu vid sjön" (3:01) an atmospheric experimentation in dronescapes with bass and simple drumming. Nice. (8.5/10)

2. "Jakten genom skogen" (4:10) is an amazingly soothing though uptempo two-chord acoustic guitar-based instrumental jam drenched heavily with Mellotron and incredible percussion work. One of my favorite songs I've heard from all year. Not to be missed by any prog lovers! (10/10)

3. "Wak-Wak's portar" (1:35) heavily distorted electric guitar strums and pans while free-form flute 'child's play' form this wildly psychedelic song. 


4. "Den fattige Aladdin" (0:30) sounds like someone listening to flute over the radio or television.


5. "Trollkarlen och fågeldräkten" (4:30) sounds like a VINCE GURALDI TRIO or KOOP loop over which guitar(s?) and organ(/synths?) are racing in a wild tapestry. Cool! Psychedelic entropy. (9/10) 


6. "Grottan" (0:58) eery space music culminates in

7. "Häxan" (2:48) plays like a funeral march over which folk themes are explored. "The Witch" to be sure. (9/10)

8. "Aladdin's flykt över havet" (0:59) is a brief synth and Mellotron play over toms and bass. This one sounds like it could come out of a Miyazaki/Studio Gibli film. More of this! (9.5/10)

9. "Kalifen" (4:37) starts out sounding very much like the organ, drums and bass tracks to PROCUL HAREM's "Whiter Shade of Pale"--which came from a Bach melody, if I'm not mistaken. By then end of the third minute it has shifted into something more jazz experimental--almost SUN RA or LARRY YOUNG like. Awesome song! (9.5/10)

10. "Achmed flyger" (4:33) piano, Mellotron and upbeat drums and bass make this uptempo instrumental another winner. The true adventurer in this one is the Mellotron (especially in trying to keep up with that piano). The main melody is quite familiar. Awesome jam--like an ANEKDOTEN live jam. (9/10)

11. "Aladdin och lampan, del 1" (0:49) heavily treated solo piano. It's pretty. And still quite DUNGEN/ESTES-like.
12. "Aladdin och lampan, del 2" (1:12) flute and upright piano take the leads for this one--over bass, drums and acoustic guitar. Nice flute play. Strange fade out into 'radio background' while "del 1" returns.

13. "Achmed och Peri Banu" (3:10) broody, moody, and deeply emotional, this gorgeous song sounds like it could come out of some Greek tragedy film--except for the KOOP-like bass play. Incredible song! I feel like crying! (10/10)

14. "Andarnas Krig" (6:21) the only long song on the album, it opens with some Hendrix-like feeback & distortion strums of electric guitar. Alone. At 0:40 the rest of the band kicks in to create a jam that is truly reminiscent of the best psychedlia from the late 1960s and early 1970s (both CREAM and NEKTAR come to mind). The pace gradually picks up until, by the fourth minute, the speed is almost breakneck. Just when you wonder whether they can go any faster or if the guitar shredding (literally) can get more frenetic, everything starts to 'crash' and 'fall apart.' (What kind of animated film was this??!) But then the phoenix gathers up its ashes and begins to pull itself back together for one more sprint into frenzied chaos. Wow! Quite free for all; quite a jam. THE WHO at their most violent. Makes one wonder what the studio looked like after this song was over! Amazing! (9.5/10)

92.22 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and one film that I definitely want to see (if it has this soundtrack attached to it)!




12. KAYO DOT Plastic House on Base of Sky

My first listen to any Toby Driver music project is always so darn humbling. Every time. And Plastic House on Base of Sky is definitely no exception to this pattern. Surprise, shock and awe are invariables in my range of responses. 
     Toby does things with sound, with music, that are beyond any conceptual imaginings that I could ever have for the scope and bounds of musical expression--and I think I have a pretty good imagination! I can honestly say that every single Kayo Dot album has caught me totally unprepared. I'm never sure whether or not I really like the music I'm hearing but I am ALWAYS floored and awed by it. Creative genius. Expanding the horizons of musical possibilities like nobody else in the 21st Century.
     Taking ten steps further into the realm of techno-electronic music than they did on 2014's Cofffins on Io, Toby Driver and company have once again put forth a challenge to all lovers of progressive rock and progressive music: Is this good? Is this progress? Is this prog? I can hear the arguments from both sides lasting for years to come. I, for one, like the constant unpredictability of Toby and the projects, themes, and musical directions he has chosen. To my mind, he is one of the very few truly "progressive" artists in the music industry today.

Line-up / Musicians:


- Toby Driver / vocals, bass, synth, guitar, producer
- Daniel Means / saxophone
- Keith Abrams / drums
     With:
- Ron Varod / guitar (5)
- Lemuel Bardor / harpsichord
- Bree Eng / pipe organ
- Duggan Elston / Hammond organ
- Valentin Dublev / Mellotron
- Gloria Hattifer / celesta
- George Chamdles / Rhodes
- Sage Riesman / violin
- Stacey Winegyn / violin
- Roman Celine / viola
- Dabe Wyche / viola
- Alexis Travelion / cello
- Landen Chelengs / contrabass
- Charmane Tressel / glass harmonica
- Bhin Turmes / trumpet
- Ephraim Narata / flugelhorn
- Stelvio Nebulli / hand percussion
- Guillaume Veltaj / hand percussion
- The Adirondack Twilight Choir / chorus vocals

1. "Amalia’s Theme" (7:33) is an amazing song of layers upon layers of--as if five different songs are all playing together as one--each "song" playing in their own channels (tracks), oblivious to one another, and yet the blend, the weave, works as a cohesive single song. This is so difficult to describe. This is techno pop taken to the next level, 70s BOWIE or  80s DEPECHE MODE elevated to meaningful sophistication. Awesome melodies, awesome effects, awesome instrumental weave, awesome synth solos, topped off by one of my favorite vocals from Toby. One of my favorite songs of the year! (10/10)


2. "All The Pain in All the Wide World" (10:09) Cool sounds can't save the discordant disconnect between music, melody and lyric on this one. Perhaps it is intentionally done, but it makes for a very difficult listening experience when one feels pulled apart in three and sometimes four or five directions all at the same time. Again, this may have been the desired effect KD had here, but I find it more than I choose to take. Perhaps it'll grow on me. (7/10)


3. "Magnetism" (7:29) DEPCHE MODE 30 years later! Even the vocal sound is stylized remarkably like that of DAVE GAHAN. No more need be said!  (9/10)


4. "Rings of Earth" (8:40) opens with some synthesized drum sequence and multiple layers of synths before Toby's treated voice--mixed slightly back of front and center--enters. At 1:10 the music shifts a bit and Toby's voice comes slightly forward. This is so like early SIMPLE MINDS! Especially the rhythm programming. ("Promised You a Miracle" comes to mind.)
     The next shift in the third minute is pretty cool--multiple synths doing multiple things while a gradually increasing multiplicity of Tobys shout out, "Rings of Earth."* Then things return back to the second part before a ROBERT FRIPP-like heavily distorted guitar solo begins. The vocals become really cool with multiple voices layering and even harmonizing. Another outstanding song--perhaps more favored than "Amalia's Theme"! (10/10)


5. "Brittle Urchin" (4:32) opens with a heavily treated midi-bass skulking slowly over some distant background synth chords. A minute in, Toby's voice--in a fairly clear mix--leaps out at us with some more synths and slowly strummed guitar chords also present themselves very forward in the mix. At 2:30 drums and heavy bass chords join in. Toby continues singing in this pretty, mellifluous voice. It sounds like a PETER GABRIEL song! This is actually a very pretty, sedate song for TD! And a very pleasant end to an album. (10/10)

92.0 on the Fish scales makes this album another five star masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is rather premature, but I have a feeling that this is going to end up being my favorite Kayo Dot album of all-time--even above my beloved three maudlin of The Well albums released since Y2K. Thank you, Toby, for never getting stuck in a rut, for being ever-lured to explore new pathways, for going beyond where anyone has ever gone before, for feeling that you always have to test yourself (against yourself)!




13. ILL WICKER Untamed

Wonderful Prog Folk from Sweden--some call it "Acid Folk" for its similarities to the newly (and only minimally) electrified folk music of the late 1960s and 70s. A very welcome addition to the 2016 catalog of prog releases because this is a sound that is, unfortunately, all too rare in prog world today. This is true Prog FOLK music. The band uses a lot of acoustic instruments and multi-voice vocals weaving in and around each other in a manner that is quite reminiscent of the original folk bands who tried electrification, who tried "progressive" experimentation--and especially those bands that used more complex and idiosyncratic instrumental weaves, like THE INCREDIBLE STRING BAND, SPIROGYRA, and COMUS. From Sweden, this is the band's second release after the encouraging debut of 2014's Under Diana. The band's sound and lyrical choices are the closest thing I've heard to Germany's pagan folk masters, FAUN, yet singing mostly in English as opposed to Faun's German and many old and ancient language explorations.


Line-up:
Emil Ridderstolpe - vocals, guitar
Emma Lagerberg - vocals, reed organ, fiddle, glockenspiel
Thea Åslund - vocals, fiddle, viola d'amore
Hampus Odlöw - mandola, accordion, vocals

Ebba Wigren - percussion
Adam Grauman - drums


1. "I Was Here When The Sea Was Young" (2:40) is a fast-moving upbeat tune with some very complicated weaves of both instruments and vocals. A great opener and my favorite song on the album. (10/10)

2. "The Charm On Your Chest" (8:07) opens with a brisk pace but then turns into an exercise in subtlety and beauty. Throughout the second, third and fourth minutes I am filled with feelings of walking alone in an enchanted and beautiful woods. At 4:10 when the percussion hits intimate a change, I envision coming out of the woods to the vision of a beautiful lake below me and mountain hillsides beyond. But then the music makes feel as if I need to run--as if I am being pursued and need to escape. Violin, mandolin, and acoustic guitar shine above the organ and percussion as the pursuit becomes more intense in the seventh minute. Horses! closing in! Is it me they're after? The voice of a spirit enchanter asks me what I'm experiencing--why I'm choosing this adventure. And I stop--all sources of terror and fear disappear--they were all of my own creation. Nice journey. And what a story it seems to be telling of young love. One of the most emotionally powerful musical pieces I've ever heard; a vertiable prog masterpiece. (10/10)

3. "Untamed" (6:29) opens with the instruments establishing a perky pace like a ballad, but then, surprise!, when the vocals (presented in multiple voice harmony) take their turn the instrumental support becomes quite sparse and quiet. This pattern continues, somewhat, though the instrumental support becomes more prominent ver the course of the song. The instrumental section that begins at the end of the third minute is quite nice, with some surprise chords thrown in beneath the soloing violin. And then, at the beginning of the fifth minute, the vocals return in a joyful and unusually constructed four- or five-part harmony. The collective instrumental and vocalise play to the songs end is rather steady and beautiful. Great song. (9/10)

4. "Silent Impulse" (7:13) starts out as a slow song with kind of eery, drawn out multilayered vocals singing over some simple instrumental accompaniment (acoustic guitar and violin). But the second half of the song--about the time the singers finish their work--turns into a jam with a build up of slowly increasing speed and dexterity. (8/10) 

5. "Earth Child" (7:59) opens with quite a medieval feel and sound as hand drums and acoustic instrumentation repeat a brief little pattern a few times. The song then develops into more of an instrumental jam until, surprisingly, at 1:19 some very playful, festive (drunk?) vocals (led by a bacchanalian male) enter and follow along with the jamming instruments. Just as quickly and surprisingly, the music slows to a crawl at the two minute mark. The music and ensuing vocals sound almost ritualistic, give cause for a little fear and trepidation. But then the forward march signal is given and the band returns to cantoring along the path. Definitely the most COMUS-sounding song I've heard on the album. The mandolin soloing at the end of the fifth minute is refreshing. The wild orgy continues until at the end of the seventh minute everything slows, quiets, like the calm after all of the drunken regaliers have fallen asleep and the fire's flames begin to die down for lack of attention. Cool musical story tellling! (9/10)

6. "The Trials Of Madame Dillner" (5:11) opens as a kind of traditional folk song with standard accompaniment, single vocalist (male), and brief bridges of instrumental soli (mostly violin) between the vocal verses. In the second half of the second minute female background singers mirror the lead vocalist and mandolin joins the violin's melody making. AT 2:45 there is a shift in the foundation to more broadly fill the bass end (congas, bass, organ, lower register violin play). The vocals begin sounding so Dylan-cum-Judy Dyble-esque! Nice traditional folk song. (8/10)

7. "Min Levnads Afton" (6:36) a gorgeous MEDIÆVAL BÆBES-like rendering of a traditional Swedish folk song. My second favorite song on the album. (10/10)

These are very polished and professional folk musicians, people! Well worth checking out. And this, their second album, shows much improvement in composition, performance refinement, and sound engineering. An album that deserves to be heard--and one that deserves to be ranked among Prog Folk's classics! Certainly one of the finest Prog Folk albums of the new millenium!

91.43 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of Prog Folk music.





14. JACK 'O THE CLOCK Repetitions of the Old City - I

I really liked 2013's All My Friends but it showed signs of the band not firing on all cylinders yet--not everyone seemed able to rise up to composer Damon Waitkus' expectations. I'm glad to report that, while this is, sadly, only the second Jack O' The Clock album I've listened to, immaturity and scattered energy are no longer at issue:  the band is performing Damon's compositions seemlessly, flawlessly, and Damon's composition and production skills are at his most masterful high.

Line-up:
Damon Waitkus - vocals, guitars, hammer dulcimers, guzheng, flute, piano, pianet, mandolin, percussion, wine glasses
Emily Packard - violins
Kate McLoughlin - bassoon, vocals, flute
Jason Hoopes - basses, vocals, zither
Jordan Glenn - drums, percussion, marimba, vibraphone
    With
Sarah Whitley - samples (2)
Fred Frith (Henry Cow, The Residents, et al.) - electric guitar (6)
Darren Johnston - trumpet (5, 8)
Jonathan Russell - bass clarinet (7)
Andrew Strain - trombone (8)

1. "I Am So Glad To Meet You" (1:37) Damon Waitkus singing multiple tracks in his unusual, warbly, ANDY GIBB-like voice over an atmospheric echoscape. (7.5/10)

2. "The Old Man And The Table Saw" (10:30) a refreshing prog folk composition that sounds like no one else, proclaims (or reconfirms) that Jack O' The Clock is unique to folk and progressive rock music. (9/10)

3. "When The Door Opens, It Opens On Everything" (12:08) opens with a very folk/bluegrass-sounding acoustic guitar intro. At 1:15 the music shifts to a kind of AARON COPELAND/EDGAR MEYER sound in support of Daimon's vocal. Kate McLaughlin's bassoon plays a nicely prominent role in this one. Stellar performances by all band members in this mesmerizing composition. I even hear echoes of some of the sounds, melodies, and dueling of John McLaughlin's SHAKTI music ("Get Down and Sruti" from Natural Elements) on this one. (9.5/10)

4. "Epistemology / Even Keel" (5:45) opens sounding far more like an old WEATHER REPORT or JONI MITCHELL soundscape. But then all that dissipates in lieu of Daimon's nursery rhyme-like vocal. Not quite a cappela, it is supported rather sparsely with bird- and animal-like sounds created by acoustic instruments. The second half ("Even Keel"?) uses an electric jazz guitar and acoustic guitar to provide the foundational support for Daimon's voice. Double bass, shrill violin chirping, bassoon and flute provide occasional and intermittent accents and support. I like this song a lot. It's certainly a top three song. (9.5/10)

5. ".22, Or Denny Takes One For The Team" (6:58) opens as if we are getting to unleash a high-speed Celtic reel, but when dulcimer, electric bass and drums enter to support and mirror the established lead melody of the violin, it feels more rock like. At 1:30 everything shifts into a dreamy MARK ISHAM-like section. Violin and cymbal play support the baseball reference section as sung by Daimon and his support chorus. A lot of FLEET FOXES similarities in this middle section. I like it very much. The story here feels very dream-like, as if imagination (and time) is toying with the recollection of some past memory. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

6. "Videos Of The Dead" (7:21) opens with bass and low tom thumping a slow, straight 2/2 time while the guitar of prog legend Fred Frith slide over and between. While the time signature gradually shifts, and the song develops, it is still fairly sparse and simple when Daimon's simple vocal begins. At 2:50 things become heavier, more insistent as first the low end and then the middle of the soundscape fills a bit. Flute solos in the fourth and fifth minutes while the song shifts and other instruments snake around beneath. When Daimon returns to sing at the end of the fifth minute, a full Nu-grass kind of jam is mounting an assault beneath him. then, suddenly, at the 5:40 mark, order is restored just when I thought (and hoped) that wild chaos was about to break open. Awesome, even amazing song. My other top three song. (9.5/10)

7. "Whiteout" (2:28) a foundation of odd sounds (including synths, zithers, bass clarinet, bowed double bass, and what sounds like a backwards flowing solo electric guitar throughout) supports the slow, treated play of a hammered dulcimer. (9/10)

8. "Fighting The Doughboy" (13:42) starts out with a bit of an odd, gangly plod-and-hop sound that might have come off of a MAHAHIVSHNU ORCHESTRA or JEAN-LUC PONTY rehearsal during the 1970s. By the end of the second minute it's feeling more like a UNIVERS ZERO song. But then lyrics/vocals appear. At 4:30 the song suddenly steps into a straightforward rhythm--but only for about half a minute, when it returns to the syncopated UZed sound, style and pacing. Horns, violin, vibes, and bassoon are all quite prominent. At 6:30 another foray into straightdom provides a section with some interesting background vocal activities and harmonies--and even a lead vocal from a different male (Jason Hoops?). At 8:20 a kind of calypso foundation begins over which SHANKAR-like violin melody leads before a flanged Daimon Waitkus vocal slowly emerges (and continues moving into the foreground--with accompanying vocalists). At 10:30 new section begins with a sound that is reminiscent of some of JONI MITCHELL's jazzy-world music from the mid 1970s. Voice samples from the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr. are interwoven among the Dixieland party that ensues--and plays out to the song's end. Intriguing song! High marks for creative originality. (9/10) 

9. "After The Dive" (3:38) a very cool, unusual song with great, delicate performances from all--and a nice vocal from Daimon. (9/10)

Total time 64:07

91.11 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of prog folk and progressive rock music. This band is maturing, gelling into one of the most compelling masters of the modern prog scene.





15. TONY PATTERSON Equations of Meaning

Lovely Neo Prog drawing from 70s ALAN PARSONS PROJECT, 80s GENESIS, and current day STEVEN WILSON with plenty of lush keyboard arrangements and ethereal vocal displays.
The drum machines may drive you crazy but the songs are definitely all gorgeous, mature constructs--they will quickly dig their way into your brain and never leave--you will never want them to; they are addictive.

Line-up: 

Tony Patterson (ReGenesis, Nick Magnus, John Hackett): vocals, piano, keyboards, guitars, orchestrations, flutes, programming, extras
   With
Nick Magnus (Steve Hackett, John Hackett): programming (2, 11), keyboards and programming (3)
Andy Gray: guitar solo (7)
Brendan Eyre (Nine Stones Close, Riversea): piano (10)
Adrian Jones (Nine Stones Close): slide guitar and guitar solo (11)
Doug Melbourne: mopho synth solo (5)
Siobhan Magnus: vocals (5)
Fred Arlington: horn and sax (9), sax (2), horn (5)

  1. "Ghosts" (4:01) an instrumental that captures the quintessential sound of the gorgeous electric guitar stylings of STEVE HACKETT--both Genesis-era and solo--before giving way to a more cinematic song style. Gorgeous. (9.5/10)

  2. "The Magdalene Fields" (5:59) opens with an obvious "Entangled" GENESIS/ANTHONY PHILLIPS sound before the gorgeous AMERICA-like voice harmonies enter. The key shift down into the rather disappointing chorus are this song's only flaws. Otherwise, beautiful--especially the ethereal section beginning at 4:08. (9/10)

  3. "Each Day a Colour" (4:48) opens with some gorgeous spaciness very much like the work of Steven WILSON's PORCUPINE TREE in the 1990s ("The Sky Moves Sideways" and Signify come to mind). When the band's rhythm section and vocal join in it still has a bit of the WS feel but also a kind of California dream-pop feel not unlike that of bands like PORNO FOR PYROS and WEST INDIAN GIRL. The keyboard work, chord progressions, and 'light' rhythmic approach make this another absolutely gorgeous song. (10/10)

  4. "Cast Away" (2:35) again we find Tony and company masterfully replicating the STEVE HACKETT songs style when Steve is at his most melodic and intimate. Another absolutely hypnotic, dreamy gorgeous song. Flawless. (9.5/10)

  5. "The Angel and the Dreamer (i.vision, ii. journey, iii. reprise)" (7:02) feels like a long lost song from one of ALAN PARSONS PROJECT's earlier days--Pyramid or even I, Robot era--even with the ANTHONY PHILLIPS-like 12-string presence in the middle. (9.5/10)

  6. "Beneath a Perfect Sky" (5:09) casts such a hypnotic spell of lush beauty that you may find yourself pushing the 'permanent repeat' button and lying down to sleep in a poppy field ... forever. Echo-y repeat piano chords, intermittent synth washes, Mark ISHAM-like percussive keyboard sequencing, languid drum pace, Kate Bush-like background vocal incidentals, laid back Tony Banks-ian synth soloing, even a lazy trumpet solo, all contribute to the magic here. (9/10)

  7. "Sycophant" (5:23) reminds me of the cinematic work of Poland's LEBOWSKI over-lace with an intermittent Hogarth-like vocal. Pretty good song! (8/10)

  8. "And When the Sky Was Opened" (2:07) could've come off of one of STEVEN WILSON's spacier 1990s albums. Really cool. I'd love to hear a 10 to 20 minute version of this. (9.5/10)

  9. "Pilgrim" (5:24) another hypnotic technologically created beat (quite similar to that of STEVEN WILSON's song from Hand. Cannot. Erase., "Perfect Life") whose dreamy music, melodies, and vocal don't quite stand up to some of the album's other gems. But it's still great! (I love the slow, single-note piano play at the 4:00 mark. Very dreamy!) (8/10)

  10. "As the Lights Go Out" (2:44) is a pretty little piano-based song embellished by the occasional contributions of synths and flutes. (9/10)

  11. "The Kindest Eyes" (6:30) again replicates the beautiful harmony vocal stylings that were so perfectly perfected by AMERICA in the early 1970s--but Tony here does only that: replicates; he offers nothing new, exciting, special or innovative. It's just okay, maybe even a little disappointing for its lack of buildup or climax. It would never be a radio hit in the way that AMERICA songs were.(7/10)


90.90 on the Fish scales = five stars; A-; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is without a doubt a collection of very beautiful, well composed songs. In fact, this is one of the most beautiful collections of beautiful songs I've come across in a long time. Astounding and spell-binding.



4.5 Stars; Near-masterpieces:






16. SHAMBLEMATHS Shamblemaths

From Trondheim, Norway?! No way! This vocalist must be THE STRAWBS' Dave Cousins! The sax and rhythm section has the youthful vigor and sound of SEVEN IMPALE!The music has the quirky yet complex adventurous of THE TEA CLUB! 
     As a matter of fact, this is exactly what I hear when I listen to this album:  the dynamic saxophone-assisted drive of youth as in countrymen Seven Impale playing with the musical experience and breadth of diverse styles as The Tea Club with a strong foundation in the tremendous wisdom of folk traditions and impassioned messages of The Strawbs (with, of course, the voice of Dave Cousins in the lead). (*A parenthetical addendum to this last statement:  It is obvious to me [and other reviewers] that the lyrical content presented herein may be intended to convey a somewhat tongue-in-cheek message--that Simen and Eirik may not, in fact, be so purely and selflessly uplifting or inspiring to the human audience as was Dave Cousins.)
     Nevertheless, this is truly an astonishing album--nearly flawless in composition (despite it's symphonic complexity and wide ranges of dynamics), performance and sound engineering. Three prog epics, each worthy of consideration for admission into the Prog Hall of Fame, yet each also standing alone in their own stylistic form and sound.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Simen Ådnøy Elliingsen / electric, acoustic and Spanish guitar, alto, soprano and baritone saxophones, vocals, zither, jaw harp, percussion, occasional keyboards, sundry implements-
- Eirik Mathias Husum / bass guitar

Guests:
- Eirik Øverland Dischler / keyboards
- Halvor Lund / Hammond organ
- Jon Even Schärer / drums
- Colin Howarth / tenor sax solo (3c, 3d)
- Karl Yngve Lervåg & Helene Hesselberg Rendal / choir (1a, 1j)
- Marit Høye Ådnøy / vocals (3a)
- Jan Røe (member of TiaC) / guitar parts (3b)
- Eivor Ådnøy Elliingsen / baby vocals (2e)


1. "Conglomeration (or: The Grand Pathetic Suite)" (26:54) (9.5/10)
- a. "Bloody Racket" - opens as a djenty Tech Metal song that turns into 
a metallic MAGMA-ish Zeuhl song with choir singing "Bloody Racket." Brilliant synthesis and pretty flawless imitation. The future direction of Zeuhl?
- b. "Your Silly Stare" - feels like an attempt at a JETHRO TULL style though it turns into more of a high energy Van Der Graaf Generator sound.
- c. "A Mockery in the Making" - "a broken man" section falls into the realm of 
THE FLOWER KINGS or even MARILLION--though the instrumental section in the eight thru tenth minutes feels more like SEVEN IMPALE. 
- d. "The Different Tastes of Sick"
- e. "A Mockery Well Made"
- f. "Life Is Tough (When You're Me)" - is simple, melodic and very funny ("I've nothing left to say but I say it anyway..." using familiar sound.
- g. "Saucy Tiara Woman!" - an skillful instrumental display that is trying to be JETHRO TULL and HEART and yet becomes a little HARMONIUM-like with the soft, sustained background sax--before, that is, all hell breaks loose with shredding electric guitar solo.
- h. "Another Pear of Ice" -
- i. "Con-girl Omen Ratio 1" -
- j. "Overture" -


2. "A Failing Ember" (9:27) the album's shortest song, full of mundane and quirk, starts out with
- a. "Never Innocent Again"- a three-minute acoustic guitar-based song with a very repetitious vocal melody.
- b. "The Winding Stair" - starts out with an odd-tempo SEVEN IMPALE sound that gets heavier like MYRATH or ORPHANED LAND before suddenly switching off at 4:45.
- c. "Three Flowers" - Two lone solo acoustic nylon-stringed guitars playing in a near-Spanish style before multiple tracked vocals enter and sing with/over. Some odd rhythms, instruments and styles filter in and out over the next part culminating in a baby's babeling over some odd organ/Mellotron sounds.
- d. "Deus Caritatis" - the final 25 seconds of Latin "gregorian" chanting. (8.5/10)


3. "Stalker" (19:55) 
- a. Stalker Begins  
- b. Bad Conscience Underneath Your Gown
- c. Stalker: Persistance
- d. Stalker's Lullaby
- e. Stalker: The Harrowing
- f. Stalker: Inevitable Anticlimax and Fade-Out

     The final epic opens with some Mediterranean-sounding guitar and Burt Bacharach-soundtrack vocals (uncredited female included!) before a nicely grooving Neo prog rock jam opens up at 1:08. Then at the 2:00 mark it shifts into a more scaled back, acoustic-base for support of a vocal section. The heavier chorus section that launches at the end of the fourth minute (and again at the 5:00 mark) is reminiscent of some RIVERSIDE riffs. At 5:42 some heavier electric guitar chords and bass begin a slowly-ascending-chord interplay that results in a throbbing organ and sax--and, later--electric guitar-synth--duet at the fore. The baseline riff persists throughout the mid-section sounding a lot like RIVERSIDE's "Second Life Syndrome" while the saxophone solos.
     At the end of the fourteenth minute a solo nylon string acoustic guitar combining Steve Hackett's "Blood on the Rooftops" with Steve Howe's "Awaken" riff breaks down the flow. The male vocal brings us back into full band until at 15:20 saxophone and organ take us through no less than three transitory passages before we come to the Inevitable Anticlimax and Fade-out. Nice song if not as fresh or inventive as the album's first song. (9/10)

90.00 on the Fishscales = five stars; A-/B+; a refreshing and exciting prog near-masterpiece.




17. STARSABOUT Halflights


My love for these songs just proves how much of a sucker I am for any CURE/CHURCH-like music--no matter how simple the song formulae are. Space is such a beautiful place!

1. "Halflight" (6:07) opens with some spacey, slow-strummed guitar chords before the rhythm section and dreamy vocal (and background guitar notes) join in and establish the full soundscape. I love the spaciousness that these artists are not afraid to use. (9/10)

2. "Every Single Minute" (6:06) is an upbeat, bouncy guitar-based piece with a very nice Robert SMITH-like vocal to it. The song builds sonically in a Post Rock kind of way. Is it Post Rock? 
     I really like the instincts of this bass player (Pitor IGNATOWITZ): laid back yet contributing to the melodic structure in a big way. (9/10)

3. "The Night" (4:54) has an haunting earcandy/brainworm of a melody and acoustic guitar chord progression. Very emotional despite the somber, almost-lackadaisical vocal. Gorgeous. (10/10)

4. "Black Rain Love" (7:01) lead singer Piotr TRYPUS dirges over an incredible spacious guitar while bass and drums subtly stay back--until the end of the second minute when everybody steps forward and the song becomes a full-out Indie prog. What awesome singing! (9/10)

5. "Escaped" (5:47) opens like some spacey Post Rock (Japan's MONO comes to mind) before toms play. Nice sound though it plods along a little--fails to develop --unless one counts the addition of electric guitar strums and leads over the same four chords that repeat over the course of the entire song. (7/10)

6. "Sway" (5:01) opens with a little interplay between the two electric guitars--which establishes itself as the foundation for the song's verses. The ROBIN GUTHRIE guitar sound used for the chorus is quite good. There is an awesome reed-like dual electric guitar soli in the fourth and fifth minute. Throughout the song I love the bass play and space guitar. Nice song! (9/10)

7. "20 000 Miles" (5:47) is an awesome little very pretty instrumental that has a BLUE NILE kind of sound and feel to it. (10/10)

8. "Bluebird" (7:55) has the band trying on a heavier sound for a bit of a change of pace. Not quite as charming or engaging as the previous, more downtempo stuff. Again, very Post Rock sounding--like the awesome German band, COLLAPSE AGAINST THE EMPIRE. (9/10)

What potential!


90.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; A-/B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.





18. AKT II (Binario) 


I haven't heard from this inventive and unusual Italian band since their wonderfully refreshing album Blemmebeya from 2011--which earned the #9 spot on my Top Albums list for that year. If five years is what it takes to make another masterpiece then I welcome it, for AKT has done it again: it has created a refreshing and masterful collection of songs in their unique and eccentric style and sound.
The band has expanded its membership from the trio of Blemmebeya of Simone Negrini (vocals, drums, keyboards), Marco Brucale (vocals and acoustic and classical guitars) and Alessandro Malandra (acoustic and electric basses) to include Elianto Puro on piano, melodica, Mellotron, and Moog, Achille Ottani on electric guitar and banjo, and Paolo Fiandra on vibraphone, xilophone, and flute. There are so many unpredictable twists and turns on this album and yet there is a commonality of sound basics: lots of techno-computer-generated sounds and sequences are interlaced within the music--often with a percussion/timing effect; lots of gorgeous acoustic guitar work and simple yet central and important bass play, and many unexpected and quite dynamic shifts. And, of course, the unusual yet subtly powerful low tone vocals of Marco Brucale (which are actually used somewhat sparingly on this album).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marco Brucale / vocals, acoustic and classical guitar
- Elianto Puro / piano, melodica, Mellotron, Moog
- Achille Ottani / electric guitar, banjo
- Simone Negrini / vocals, drums, percussion
- Alessandro Malandra / acoustic and electric bass
- Paolo Fiandra / vibraphone, xilophone, flute


1. "Coincidenze" (5:10) opens with some Avant-RIO sounds weaving together until the familiar almost-whispered deep voice of Marco Brucale enters at the one minute mark. By the end of the second minute we are treated to some pretty awesome full-band sounds with an impressive electric guitar solo. The three minute mark brings a dramatic lull and shift into more abrasive, treated vocals--though the keys and chord structures remain as gorgeous as ever. A weave of shifting arpeggi from multiple instruments provides the foundation for a fretless bass lead with some kind of wooden flute. Awesome song! (9/10)

The end of Song #1 lets you know that this is definitely a concept album as it bleeds straight into song 2., "Stazione" (4:42). The song takes almost two minutes to establish itself as we are familiarized with the train/train station theme with samples and voices before a more ominous full-band song is established. A break at 3:10 leads into a section which presents a kind of sad, upsetting classically-oriented music--that is, at least until 3:55 when all electric hell breaks loose--at full volume--before ending with another radio/PA sample. (8/10) 

3. "II" (9:31) is a cinematic instrumental with many shifts in time and texture and the nice foundational use of congas. In a nine and a half minute song it is again unusual and unexpected that there are no vocals save for a heavily distorted vocal over a 40 second span in the last 90 seconds of the song. This song has no real flaws but it is not as engaging or as memorable as the album's other songs. (8/10)

4. "Frenetica dialettica dell'etica" (2:49) opens with a very engaging, friendly Italian feel (the tremolo mandolin?) then shifts down to allow for one of AKT's most delicate and pretty vocals--lead and harmony--spiced up with fuzz solo guitar riffs in between and a "C" part with piano and acoustic instruments weaving together beautifully. Great song! (10/10) 

5. "Convoglio" (5:50) opens with some train and glockespiel sounds that make me think back to Supertramp's Crime of the Century's "Rudy" and Steve Hackett's Voyage of the Acolyte's "Shadow of the Heirophant." Eventually piano, guitar and simple pulsing bass provide background for Marco's quiet, treated vocal. At 3:35, just after the song had built up to full dynamic strength, it stops and totally shifts gears with fast-picking electric guitar, computer-generated fluttering percussion noises, complex drum, bass and keyboard segments before settling into a rather straightforward ballad-like construct for the final minute. Interesting! And unusual! (9/10)

6. "Scambio" opens with Marco's heavily treated voice singing to us in his whispery low tones before acoustic guitars and then strings, congas, and other acoustic instruments of traditional and classical nature (accordion, woodwinds, mandolin) join in. This is just an absolutely stunningly gorgeous song--and Marco's vocal is central and tantamount to this effect. Too bad I don't know Italian! (10/10)

7. "Binario morto" (6:23) is for me the weakest song on the album in that the vocal sounds strained and pitchy, and the music never really grabs me--it never seems to get itself established--just wanders and meanders aimlessly. (8/10)

8. "Passeggero" (12:30) is a gorgeous pastoral epic that has a kind of modern Sergio Leone movie soundtrack feel to it. Chords and sequences of sensitive arpeggiated melodies from acoustic guitars and harmonica, the odd low register singing of Marco and the odd computer-generated sounds in the sixth minute along make for a brilliant first half--but then in the second half the drums, bass, and lead electric guitar joins in to lend the song their magic and we have the makings of a prog classic. Brilliant electric lead guitar work going from beautifully melodic to emotionally unglued! Awesome! (10/10)

90.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; A-/B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. 

I am so glad to have new AKT in my life! Wonderful, gorgeous, melodic, sophisticated, and unique progressive rock music for the ages! 






19. YUGEN Death by Water

Francesco Zago's avant baby puts together another amazing collection of experimental/exploratory songs--their first studio album since 2010's wonderful masterpiece, Iridule. Percussionists and a percussion-mindset seem to rule the day with YUGEN work, and Death by Water is no exception. The ubiquitous JACOPO COSTA (NOT A GOOD SIGN, THE LOOMINGS) and Giuseppe A. OLIVINI practically steal the show--though the wind section, piano of Marcus FASOLI (NICHELODEON, NOT A GOOD SIGN, EMPTY DAYS), and rhythm section of Stefano FERRIAN on 8-strings guitar & Chapman stick, Francesco Zago on electric & acoustic guitars, Alessandro CASSANI on electric bass and Matteo LORITO on double bass are the glue that hold it all together.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stefano Ferrian / 8-strings guitar, tenor & alto sax, Chapman stick
- Francesco Zago / electric & acoustic guitars, 12-strings guitar, mellotron
- Dalila Kayros / vocals
- Elaine Di Falco / vocals
- Alessandro Cassani / electric bass
- Matteo Lorito / double bass
- Paolo "Ske" Botta / electric pianos, Hammond organ, ARP
- Maurizio Fasoli / piano
- Michele Salgarello / drums
- Carmelo Miceli / drums
- Jacopo Costa / vibes, marimba, glockenspiel, zymbalon
- Giuseppe A. Olivini / percussions, theremin, toy piano
- Valerio Cipollone / soprano, piccolo & bass clarinet, soprano sax
- Peter Schmid / tubax, contrabass clarinet, contrabass flute
- Fedele Stucchi / trombone, euphonium
- Taiko Lecco / taiko drums ensemble

Guests:
- Simone Quatrana / piano (#07, 09)
- Massimo Dolce / electric guitar (#03)
- Dave Willey / portuguese guitar (#10), accordion (#05) 

1. "Clinically Correct" (7:48) This song, from its opening notes, makes me laugh. It is pure Yugen as only Yugen does it. Each musician contributes their individual lines as if to a conversation, a heated debate, a street brawl. Even the 'heavier' stuff that begins at 1:13  serve to move the development of the song along quite nicely. A relatively calm and predictable electric piano based section of about 90 seconds occurs in the third and fourth minutes, but then Dalila KAYROS begins to spit out 
rapid fire some odd vocal ejaculations (in Japanese?) Wow! That was unexpected! 
      At 5:04 Dalila and Paolo "Ske" BOTTA team up to create a freaky space melody using voice and synthesizer, respectively! Awesome. More! The 'alien' conversation that occurs soon after is so funny--coupled with Dalila's machine gun spray of Japanese-sounding syllables. This is amazing! So creative! I don't know how these guys could/would ever replicate this in concert--it's seems so free form and diverse! They throw every thing at you but the kitchen sink! 
      The final minute or two fall under the sway of the heavier rhythm section while all of the incidentalists throw in their epithets over, under, and in between the flow of the rhythmists. (9/10) 

2. "Undermurmur" (1:31) is a jazzy excursion in which playful piano, double bass and drum interact before horn hits and synth whizzes are added to the mix. Fun. A song that could be developed further. (9/10)


3. "Death by Water" (5:06) is an awesome jazz fusion exhibition--like a PAUL WERTICO-led PAT METHENY GROUP song. I don't which drummer is working this song, Michele Salgarello or Carmelo Miceli, but they do an incredible job with the cymbal play. (10/10)


4. "Ten Years After" (1:12) (8/10) is a brief foray into djenty-heavy metal territory that gradually fades into: 


5. "As It Was" (4:58) one of the two showcase pieces for the always precious Fancesco ZAGO-Elaine Di FALCO collaborations. I do think, however, that Elaine's voice is mixed just a little too loudly into the mix on this song. Her sonorous meanderings are a little too dominant, making it sound as if she is above or separate from the band and music. I'd like to hear this song in which her vocal line is mixed in, embedded within, the beautiful, intricately rendered, musical weave. It's still a great song--with an odd vocal melody that stays with you for days. It just . . . could be better! (9/10) 


6. "Studio 9" (2:36) is an odd little jazzy piece that sounds like a warmup exercise for a big band lineup from a 1960s jazz combo--or a Broadway pit orchestra warming up at the end of intermission. Fun and funny, loose and impromptu. (9/10)


7. "As a Matter of Breath" (9:27) uses the more familiar YUGEN style of experimental jazz "un-forms." Though the drummer keeps a fairly steady rock backbeat for the rest of the instrumental dancers to tip-toe and riff and play over, the song is never what you would call 'danceable' as in social club dancing. These are for professionals! Piano--both grand and toy--have a grand time playing with time and interjection as does synthesizer, while horns play some of the more straightforward riffs--repeatedly. 
     After a choir 'hit' at 5:26, the song takes a turn into a more eerie ambient or soundtrack of the macabre section. At times feeling as if the A Trick of the Tail GENESIS lineup were ready to burst out into the finale of "Los Endos," this song plays out with tremendous pent-up energy, waiting to burst forth, but then, instead, peters out and fades. Weird. But brilliant! (9/10)

8. "Drum'n'stick" (2:12) is little drum and Chapman stick duet with all kinds of ghostly spacey sounds parading around in the wings. Really quite cool! (9/10)


9. "Der Schnee" (6:05) is the album's real oddity in that vocalist Dalila KAYROS intersperses the music with all kinds of abrasive and aggressive vocalizations much like a combination of BJÖRK, NINA HAGEN and fellow AltrOck stablemate FACTOR BURZACO's lead singer, Carolina RESTUCCIA. 
     The song opens with an eerie space synth weave over which lower register brass play long notes. Dalila begins throwing her voice around in the second minute. The final 90 seconds are quite ambient, even peaceful--in a 2001: A Space Odyssey-kind of way. Interesting--to say the least! (8/10)


10. "A House" (1:25) opens with acoustic guitars being picked in folk song style as Elaine Di FALCO sings front and center and etheral male and female vocalists whisp and willow in the wings. Quite beautiful! This is one I'd love to hear go on for five or six minutes: the vocal arrangements alone are beautiful and interesting in a Josquin des Pres kind of way. (10/10)

The most curious thing about Yugen productions, to me, is that they are truly the brain-child of visionary FRANCESCO ZAGO, and Francesco is primarily a guitarist, and yet we rarely get to see/hear the guitar showcased! Is that selflessness or is it more attributable to the reality that Francesco is truly more of a conductor than an instrumentalist? Still, there is no doubt that when Francesco and his Yugen-mates get together to create music, they are fearless. On Death by Water the listener is treated to artistic expression of the highest order:  modern in that dissonant, discordant way, yes, but still highly engaging and interesting. I find it mesmerizing. 

90.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; A-/B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. 





20. PLINI Handmade Cities

Wonderful atmospheric and sometimes-djenty instrumental jazz-prog fusion from Down Under--composed and performed by Aussie legend and multi-instrumentalist, Plini, with some tremendous help on drums and bass from virtuosi Troy Wright and Simon Grove, respectively. Listening to this work repetedly never seems to shake my tendency to compare this music to that of Canadian father-son fusion artists, Dean and Taylor Watson:  the album starts and ends with more metal-influenced music like Taylor, and is filled with fine jazz-rock fusion in the middle.

1. "Electric Sunrise" (5:05) opens with layers of acoustic guitars strumming slowly on layers, which are then joined at the 1:10 mark by several electric guitars and bass. What an opening! At 1:44 the music shifts drastically into singular djenty guitar and space. That's it! But then the full number of tracks previously layered together join in for a melodic 'chorus' hook, but then it's back to sparse djenty guitar with a little electric jazz-fusion lead accompaniment (and then takeover). The song gets toward the end it gets a little heavy-handed walls of sound-ish but then it ends with the same opening soundscape. (9/10)

2. "Handmade Cities" (4:45) sounds like an extension/variation on the themes, sounds and styles of the opening song. In the second minute things shift more into 'it's own' territory with some awesome lead guitar soloing. Then, at 2:15, things quiet down temporarily with some slow guitar chord strums, but then the rest of the tracks slowly build up from heavy potential to loud kinetic energy to full-blown djent by 3:15. Lead guitar melody hook keeps it all together in this slightly confusing, cacophonous section. Still, a great song. (9/10)


3. "Inhale" (4:57) a very atmospheric song that immediately won me over and remains my favorite song on the album. Kind of reminds me of ANTOINE FAFARD's great recent stuff. (9/10)


4. "Every Piece Matters" (3:40) more laid back musical foundation with some astounding guitar and keyboard (MIDI-ed?) leads and including some chorale vocalise toward the end. Another top three song. (9/10)


5. "Pastures" (7:34) solid jazz-fusion composition in the style and sound of some of Dean Watson's beautiful music. (9/10)

6. "Here We Are, Again" (2:37) opens as a cute little effected guitar and keyboard duet before keyboard-generated orchestra and choir brings it into a Post Rock-like crescendo. (9/10)


7. Cascade (6:00) is certainly a song that showcases Plini's guitar prowess, but it also satisfies in the way that it fits modern prog soundscapes and constructs. Great piece! (9/10)

Total Time 34:38


90.0 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music, (rated down slightly for it's EP-like brevity). Definitly an album I recommend all prog rockers to check out for the wonderful production and multi-track layering accomplished here.





21. THE ARBORIST Acrylic Road


The Columbia Gorge has certainly infused Carson Schnackenberg with some magic; this is an amazingly gorgeous album. With a shoegaze sound base, Acrylic Road sounds like a kind of cross between Neige's ALCEST (without the growls, instead with the vocal styling of Swede Fredrik Larsson) and France's KLONE.

1. "The Fifth Acre" (5:15) is an instant classic, shoegaze with excellent vocal and upbeat sound and pacing. One of the best songs of 2016!! (10/10)

2. "Acrylic Road" (4:59) opens with heavily treated almost oriental-sounding piano chord progressions providing the song foundation before Carson's airy vocal joins in. The song begins to have a kind of STEVEN  WILSON feel to it. Later piano soloing, COCTEAU TWINS' Simon  Raymonde-like rolling bass play, and brief guitar soli, all mixed into a frequently morphing, fluctuating flow make for a very pleasing listening experience. (9/10)

3. "The Lost Continent of Mu: Part 1" (3:19) features an instrument sounding like the Japanese shamisen in the lead role for the first two minutes as the orchestral sounds eventually and gradually swell around. The final minute redirect toward a kind of harp-supported orchestral build and crescendo. (9/10)

4. "The Lost Continent of Mu: Part 2" (8:01) nice post rock structure and sound--at times quite similar to Japanese band MONO. (8/10)

5. "Aphonic" (7:44) is built on a simple Harold Budd-like treated piano chord sequence. It starts quietly but then breaks through at the 2:30 mark to make its impact. The problem comes with trying to sustain interesting music over the course of a long 7:44. (9/10)

6. "The Valley Beneath the Waves" (featuring Yala Rhone) (9:58) starts off kind of generic neoclassical--not unlike the piano-based work of Taiwan's Jesy Chiang's CICADA project--but the airy vocal takes it in a whole different direction--kind of OWL CITY-like. At 1:27 it begins to slowly build in variations and intensity. Nice work from co-vocalist (Yala Rhone?) in the third minute. Nice lead guitar work in the seventh and eighth minutes and then a gorgeous ambient outro over the the final two and a half minutes. (9/10)

It is difficult to find flaw with this album. I'm not sure if it's "proggy" enough, but it is. On a par with and above--way above--many other one man self-produced projects.

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


22. CORIMA Amaterasu

Wonderful modern Zeuhl with very strong presence of classical, jazz, and folk themes and instrumentation. 

Line-up:

Andrea Calderón - violin/vocals
Paco Casanova - keys, synths, organ, vocals
Patrick Shiroishi - saxophones, guitar, glockenspiel, vocals
Ryan Kamiyamazaki - bass
Sergio Sanchez Ravelo - drums


1. "Tsukutomi I" (6:44) starts out quite pretty then gets downright kelzmer! Yet, this is good, modern Zeuhl! (9/10)
2. "Tsukutomi II" (10:36) opens with some gentle foundation music supporting a nice soprano sax solo. (9.5/10)
3. "Tsukutomi III" (2:31) the finale of the three-part suite almost sounds like an overture from a late-1960s Broadway rock opera--heavy on the Hammond. (8/10)


4. "Amaterasu I" (3:45) Zeuhl classical piano?!! (9/10)
5. "Amaterasu II" (3:31) slowed down and spacious but just as ominous with violin, saxophone and female voices mirroring each other. (9/10)
6. "Amaterasu III" (4:53) again presents the Klezmer sound masked in JANNICK TOP/UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA-like female and male vocals. (8.5/10)
7. "Amaterasu IV" (2:34) sounds like it could have come straight off of a 1970s JEAN-LUC PONTY album! Great drumming. (8/10)
8. "Amaterasu V" (6:12) very standard Zeuhl in the Magma tradition (8/10)
9. "Amaterasu VI" (8:02) which is then continued in the album and suite's final song. (8/10)


89.86 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. It's so difficult for me to not like the intense spiritual feelings evoked by true Zeuhl music like this. This is the best Zeuhl album of 2016 that I have heard.





23. COLIN TENCH PROJECT Hair in a G-String (Unfinished But Sweet)

Colin is feeling nostalgic! 

Line-up / Musicians:


- Colin Tench / acccoustic & electric guitars, piano, synthesiser (3,7,9), drum programming (3), percussion (6,10,12), vocals (10), arranger & producer

With:
- Peter Jones / lead vocals (1,6,7,14), clarinet (6), saxophone (1), piano & voice actor (15)
- Phil Naro / lead vocals (2,3,12,14)
- David Knokey / rhythm guitar (13)
- Steve Gresswell / keyboards (1,3,7), piano & orchestration & percussion (1)
- Marco Chiappini / piano (2), keyboards (10)
- Stef Flaming / keyboards (3), bass (13), percussion (1)
- Pasi Koivu / synthesisers & organ (8)
- Kelly Brown / keyboards (12)
- Ian Beabout / flute (9)
- Petri Lindström / bass guitar (1,3,5-8,12,14)
- Gary Derrick / bass guitar (2,10)
- Stephen Speelman / stunt bass (3)
- Angelo Hulshout / fretless bass (7,14)
- Victor Tassone / drums (2,10), percussion (10,12)
- Oliver Rusing / drums (3,7), percussion (3)
- Jay Theodore McGurrin / drums (6,14)
- Robert Wolff / drums (8)
- Gary Hodges / drums (12)
- Sean Filkin / tambourine (8)
- Gordon "Gordo" Bennett / orchestration (strings, horns, basses) (5-8,14), triangle (14), full orchestra arrangements & orchestration (16)
- Tina Sibley / violin (12)
- Kirsten Weingartner / violin (12)
- Ned Horner / violin (12)
- Aleksis Zarins / violin (12)

1. "Hair in a G String (The Opening) Part 1" (6:25) is a very dramatic opening (an overture?) with quite theatric music supporting Peter Jones' eventual narration singing drawing us into the story (album). It's like the narration of the experience of writing and listening to a concept album 'show.' How self-aware is this writer/narrator/composer/performer! One of my three favorites from this album. (9/10)

2. "Can't See It Any Other Way" (4.36) a little in the countrified vein of the early EAGLES or GEORGE HARRISON/BEATLES-like tune. A well-recorded and -constructed homage to the music of the past but a little too over the top for me. (7/10)


3. "Hair in a G String (The Hairy Part) Part 2" (6.04) continues the "suite" theme that began with the album's opening song. This one feels very cinematic, like a lot of the Corvus Stone stuff. Very Spaghetti Western like (except for the drums--which are rather lame) with at least three distinct parts, the third of which is completely old-school SANTANA. (8/10)


4. "The Mad Yeti" (2:54) is a guitar instrumental with at least three or four tracks devoted to acoustic guitars. Not far from an Anthony Phillips piece. I like to imagine Colin sitting by a fire in the fireplace while recording each of these tracks. (8/10)


5. "The Sad Brazilian" (7:20) This happens to be one of my favorite songs on the album--as much for the wonderful use of orchestra and piano as for the wonderfully cinematic soundscapes painted herein. Even Colin's electric guitar flourishes are contained and restrained, yet they pack the perfect punch. (9/10)


6. "And So, Today" (4:12) is a beautiful tribute to four rock'n'roll greats that passed away in 2016. Great encrypted lyrics delivered with such beauty and respect from singer Pete Jones. Another of my three favorite songs here. (10/10)


7. "Hair in a G string (I'm Going Down) Part 3" (10.09) opens like a classic ROY BUCHANAN song, orchestra and all. Then, at 1:10 the guitar sound choice shifts into sustained overdrive to give it a more modern sound. At 2:25 there is a shift in mood to more Southern Rock--over which the theatric vocals of Pete Jones are delivered. The dreamy "feels so good" part at the five minute mark is pretty--as are the guitar and keyboard solos that follow. Accordion's presence gives the song a little beer hall feel. The song is starting to feel more PINK FLOYD/DAVID GILMOUR-esque here in the seventh and eighth minutes. 
     Unfortunately, I find the premise that trimmed pubic hair is more desirable than the alternative to be a sad reflection of our paranoid, over-sanitized, youth-obsessed first world society. (9/10)


8. "Lisa Waltzes Back In With No G-String" (3:53) is a solid instrumental with another Spaghetti Western cinema feel to it--(this time especially the drums). (8/10)


9. "Lisa's Entrance Unplugged" (3:09) An oddly titled song for such a beautiful medieval folk song. One of my three favorites.  (10/10)


10. "Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Screwed" (7:32) The title here refers to the many themes from old classic rock songs that Colin here borrows and varies, including the BEATLES-esque opening upon which the song is founded. (As I said in the opening to this review: "Colin is feeling nostalgic.") To my ears, it is the Eagles, Pink Floyd, and The Beatles that are most represented in the collection and juxtapositions of the riffs I hear. Quite probably Colin means this as another tribute to the recently deceased heroes of rock history. Colin puts on display some wonderfully emotional guitar and melodic wizardry in his expression of these familiar themes. (9/10)

11. "La Palo Desperado (5:54) is pure Spanish guitar play--as if King Henry VIII's court with his first wife, Isabella of Spain. Nice concert material--though perhaps a bit drawn out. (8/10)


12. "A Beautiful Feeling" (5:58) sounds like a hit crossover song from the mid-70s--could be from Glenn Campbell, Charley Rich, Leo Sayer, Ronnie Milsap, the early Eagles or even The Greatest American Hero or Grease. Actually a pretty good song! Let's get it some AM radio airplay. (9/10)


13. "Dnieper Summer Day (1:38) is a multiple acoustic guitar piece that though essentially Spanish in its feel, purports to have something to do with Russia--though it's really a variation on The Eagles' "Hotel California" chords and melodies. (8/10)


14. "Part 4b (7:56) is stable rock set up for a humorous vocal drama between musicians, composers, lyricists, and singers. They really do camp it up! IT sounds like it could come out of a music studio version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. For the first three minutes it's quite fun, then it gets weird/silly in a Tim Burton-kind of way (despite Colin's excellent guitar soloing). Then, at 5:28 it threatens to become a heavy metal song, only it doesn't. The vocals disappear and Colin goes on doing his bluesy electric lead solos (in multiple channels/tracks). The orchestra joins in at the end in a kind of Quadrophenia kind of way as the narrator brings the comicopera to an end. Entertaining! (9/10)  


15. "Part 4b Redux (0:23) is a brief dance hall version of the chords and comedy of the previous song.


There is so much nostalgia present in this album I wonder what Colin is going through (on a personal level). I appreciate his commitment to and reverence of these heroes and influences of his. Where Colin's music here lacks in comparison with his last Corvus Stone albums is in the up-front show of virtuosic flair in the electric guitar department. The man is an electric guitar god, so why not exploit it! I mean, there are only so many albums that one can put out in a lifetime (unless you're Buckethead, Sun Ra, John Zorn, or the Acid Mothers Tempe), so let's flaunt it! For posterity! 
     One last thing:  While I get Colin's rather clever pun-manship with potty humour topics, I'm not necessarily a big fan:  There's always a little too much implied misogyny (or male locker room attitude) involved for my comfort. Still, the man is nothing short of a genius! And a mega talented one, at that!

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





24. INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE Warm Spaced Blue

Warm Spaced Blue is the band's sophomore release from a group of young Italian virtuoso musicians who are drawn to create progressive rock music in the tradition of their RPI forefathers. Here is a band that has fulfilled the promise shown in its debut album. Ingranaggi della Valle burst onto the prog scene in 2013 with their amazingly mature concept album, In hoc signo. That album served notice that seriously talented musicians in Italy of a new generation were desirous of creating serious progressive rock music. Whatever reason impels them to do this is unknown to me. I just know I am exceedingly happy that they do. 
     
Line up:

- Davide Savarese / vocals, glockenspiel and dry Rhodes MkV on "Ayida Wedo"
- Mattia Liberati / Hammond B3, Mellotron M400, Mellotron M4000, Fender Rodhes Mk V, MiniMoog, MiniMoog Voyager, piano and backing vocals
- Flavio Gonnellini / electric guitars and backing vocals
- Alessandro Di Sciullo / electric and acoustic guitars, Moog Minitaur, Mellotron M400, Mellotron M4000, Roland TR 808 and TR 909, Akai MPC Touch, Korg Kaoss Pad KP 3, electronics, backing vocals.
- Marco Gennarini / violins and backing vocals
- Antonio Coronato / electric bass
- Shanti Colucci / drums and percussions
With:
- Fabio Pignatelli / electric bass and bass effects (1)
- Florian Lechter / narrator's voice (2)
- Paolo Lucini / traverse flute solo (6)
- Stefano Vicarelli / modular synthesis (5)


1. "Call For Cthulhu: Orison" (9:24) opens up this album with a wonderful display of the growth and maturity these musicians have achieved--especially in the compostitional department as the band here uses much more use of space and slower development than In hoc signo. I have to admit to being rather surprised that the band chose to open with what is, for all intents and purposes, an instrumental like this (the first seven minutes) as the voice of lead singer Davide Savarese is one of the things I look forward to most. Still, a great song with a great sustained buildup and climax. (9.5/10)

2. "Inntal" (10:34) opens slowly, almost delicately, even as the song moves into full-band mode, but the dynamic build up is there, they're just taking their time. By the break and ensuing slow down at 2:25 they have established a solid foundation--one that was considerably lighter than what follows as a dark, heavy YUGEN-like feel emerges with the second section. As things amp up, Mellotron vocals and violin taking leads. The meaning and significance of the recording of spoken German in the sixth minute is lost upon me, as is the vocal that follows, but it flows. Nice guitar solo in the ninth minute. Great drums throughout, as usual. (This guy is a god!) (9/10)


3. "Call For Cthulhu: Through The Stars" (3:13) opens with ominous sounds of distorted, heavily treated bells and organ which are eventually joined by slow treated/distorted piano notes. More ambiguous than scary. (I don't know what their intended effect was.) (7.5/10)

4. "Lada Niva" (8:49) a complex song that displays this band's amazing compositional skills (as well as drummer Shanti Colucci's extraordinary skills). the only flaw with this song is that the vocal feels somehow unfinished. Untreated, it feels as if it should have a little something to help it fit into the song. (10/10)


5. "Ayida Wedo" (5:52) opens with what sounds like a fast paced electronic sequence which is quickly joined by heavily riffing guitars, bass, and drums before Mellotron signals a change. Everything drops down to bass and drums before unhurried electric piano and electric guitar arpeggi join in. This is the drummer's showtime. (And he is impressive!) Then at 2:30 things quite down again for a little bridge from the vibes before a new set of instruments--synths and heavily treated guitars--take over the previously established melody (and add some really beautiful stuff to it). (It's still the drummer on display, though.) Another quiet interlude at 4:20 sets up the final run--which includes a repetitive bass and synth sequence playing steadily while the drums and other incidentals add their wildness. Interesting and cool song in a NOT A GOOD SIGN way. (9/10)


6. "Call For Cthulhu: Promise" (6:44) a surprisingly simple and emotional beginning to the album's final song (the drums don't even appear until the 1:30 mark!) with acoustic guitar and organ supporting Davide's plaintive vocal. It's trying to be eery but it's failing (for me). It's also like it's trying to be a Zeuhl song. 
     After the soundscape really fills up around the 3:40 mark it finally begins to succeed in expressing the heaviness of its theme. And then there are some subtle shifts starting at the five minute mark--little individual inputs, each admitted one at a time, which turn the song's mood into a more positive, hopeful feel. The ending section saves the song! (8.5/10)


89.17 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. Not quite fulfilling the promise and potential shown in their debut but I do consider this a step forward. I look forward to seeing/hearing more vocals and dynamic variation in the future (and as much Shanti Colucci as possible, of course!).




25. ULVER ATGCLVLSSCAP

Have I mentioned before that I LOVE ULVER?! I love the creative, adventuresome, unpredictable, ever-evolving spirit that is this band. To me, this is an essential feature of the most creative bands/artists—the willingness and drive to constantly try new things, the curiosity and fearlessness to experiment with new media and new styles and new techniques. I don’t know if it’s driven by a desire to grow, by insatiable curiosity, by envy and respect of other musical styles, or the mental discipline to always try to test oneself, but Ulver seem to constantly reinvent themselves. (Which is one of the reasons that Ulver should be the poster-child for the campaign to get ProgArchves to let go of the system of categorizing a band/artist into one and only one sub-genre—forever and ever—based upon a one-time decision-making process.) While many reviewers of this album are citing a turn in direction toward a German Kosmische Musik influence coming through on this one, I would go a bit further and urge people to consider the influence of the entire career of Holger Czukay—soundscapes and radio sampling being the special focus. Garm and mates must be huge fans. The life-work of ambient music pioneer Brian Eno is also heavily drawn upon here, no doubt. 

Line-up / Musicians:


- Daniel O'Sullivan / bass, guitar
- Ivar Thormodsæter / drums
- Ole Alexander Halstensgård / electronics
- Kristoffer Rygg / electronics, percussion, voice
- Tore Ylwizaker/ keys, electronics
- Anders Møller / percussion
- Seth Beaudrealt / audiovisuals
- Jørn H. Sværen / voice

1. “England’s Hidden” (7:39) opens with sample recordings of church/cathedral bells ringing (how Brian Eno!) over which an odd glockenspiel arpeggio and some Beatles-esque dissonant string orchestra chords are sustained into slow crescendo. As the strings take the fore and begin playing in real chord sequences, the bells and glock fade away. I am strongly reminded of Eno’s Discreet Music album as well as some of the Fairlight CMI work Peter Gabriel incorporated into his 1982 eponymously titled album (also called “Security”). Truly an awesome, stunning, masterful song. (10/10)

2. “Glammer Hammer” (4:49) opens as a bleed over from the previous song before taking on a kind of X-Files theme played by U2 and THE CURE. Cool, awesome, moving song. The break at the 2:15 mark is so creepy as they engineer the tunings of the sounds/instruments before entering into a heavier rock phase of the song—one that is very familiar to those of us who have heard a lot of Ulver’s discography. Awesome song with some awesome drumming and a great build up to the contrasting pastoral ending. (10/10)

3. “Moody Stix” (6:44) has a kind of Asian feel and sound to it, with many percussives, tuned and untuned, contributing to the mix in the first minute. The arrival of electric guitar power chords, deep heavy bass, and heavily treated psycho-babble from the lead guitar cannot quite offset the kind of circus atmosphere created by the percussives and drum kit—the later of which become more dominant as the song progresses to its end. 
     This could be a great contribution to a soundtrack to a film scene. (8/10)  

4. “Cromagnosis” (9:48) is a two-part, two-tempoed song, the first very psychelic yet engaging in a lilting Kosmiche kind of way, the second more like a driving WHO or MOTORPSYCHO song. It is great. It all works—bongos and all. (9/10)

5. “The Spirits that Lend Strength Are Invisible” (3:16) bleeds over from “Cromgnosis” like an interlude the band need to tune instruments and reconfigure keyboard and computer programs. About 1:40 in some heavily treated percussives and then a little later some pitch-modulated synth sounds play over the base-line mix. Very ENO/Ambient, Apollo era-esque. (8/10)

6. “Om Hanumate Namah” (7:42) is pure Kosmiche Musik complete with awesome chanting, Edge EVANS guitar style, and some great drumming a la Vespero. Awesome and enthralling! (10/10)

7. “Desert/Dawn” (8:34) is dominated by the immense palette of a church organ though simple bass, drum and multiple synths play their weave over the top in a Math Rock kind of way. (8/10)

8. “D-Day Drone” (9:21) has an apocalyptic Shadows of the Sun-like feel to it with multiple synth washes and tympanic-bass laying solid foundation of doom and ominosity for a Holger CZUKAY-like radio sample of some traditional Persian-like instrument played over the top by a synthesizer. During the second half the organ takes over as provider of base/background while radio voice samples take over for the lead instrument. (9/10)

9. “Gold Beach” (4:52) continues the theme of peaceful organ-play over which radio samples are slipped in and out. Don’t know why, but this song really gets me. So cool, so relaxing. In a David SYLVIAN kind of way. Awesome chord progressions used by the organ. (10/10) 

10. “Nowhere (Sweet Sixteen)” (5:56) is a more “normal” song in that it has an ABACAB structure and traditional four-piece rock band lineup. I find the song most interesting for reminding me how much I like the vocal talents of bandleader Kristoffer Rygg. (How does he hold that note for so long in the fifth minute?) More Post Rock in the ANATHEMA-style—though I really like the way the drums are recorded. (8/10)

11. “Ecclesiastes (A Vernal Catnap)” (9:01) is  a treated piano and heavily synthed background over which someone is reading for the first 3:30 in what I presume to be Norwegian while in the second half Garm sings the English version of the New Testament’s famous verses from Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3, verses 1-8. Over bongos. Kind of cool but unnecessary (though I love the parenthetical title). (8/10)

12. “Solaris” (2:12) is a very odd and edgy ambient piece with a strings-synth chord sequence and female operatic singing providing the background within which a heavily oscillated volume controlled instrument (or instruments?) of undetermined name (drums?) weaves its railroad-like melody into the mix. Fascinating in a Baroque music listening quiz kind of way. (9/10)

I have to agree with several of the reviewers who have already made their judgement over this album that it is one of the best Ulver albums I’ve ever heard—certainly one of the most interesting and intriguing. Too early to know if this will be considered one of their masterpieces but we’ll certainly know by next December.

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

*Note: There is controversy surrounding the fact that the music produced for this album was culled from many hours of many live concert tapes from the past few years. The tremendous studio time spent producing this album, in my opinion, renders it virtually a non-live album. All of music has been manipulated into states and forms that are new fabrications, new studio versions, of pre-recorded music. Thus, I have decided to include it in my catalog of studio releases.





26. GADI CAPLAN Morning Sun 


Eclectic fare from world traveller guitarist Gadi Caplan. Some songs are folk, some world (Indian), some pop, some jazz, a little infusion of Canterbury style, a lot of instrumental, several with pleasant vocals. A very pleasant journey. I found myself thinking of Roy Harper's Stormcock throughout my first listen to this material. Successive listens have slowly revealed the surprisingly wide diversitty in sounds and styles covered on this album--though throughout Gadi's electric guitar sound choices are always unusually clear, crisp, and concise--kind of like those of Roy Buchanan or Blue Öyster Cult's "Buck Dharma" Roeser in the 1970s.

Line-up / Musicians:


- Gadi Caplan / Guitars
     With:
- Danny Abowd / 

1. "Hemavati" (3:42) is a wonderful horn-backed soft rock instrumental with beautiful, sensitive guitar play performing the lead in a way that is, to me, reminiscent of blues legend Roy Buchanan. (9/10)

2. "Island" (5:33) is a gorgeous little folk song in the style of 1990s STEVEN WILSON/ PORCUPINE TREE--one that makes you appreciate more the genius of SW in that time period. (9/10)


3. "Good Afternoon" (2:25) the only song on the album that I don't absolutely love, it's more in an acoustic blues style though quite reminiscent of some of HARRY NILSSON's songs, it continues to dsiplay Gadi's extraordinary skills in vocal arrangements, lead guitar play, and production. (7/10)


4. "Vivadi Swara" (5:39) opens as a pure ROY BUCHANAN song with acoustic guitar and synth providing sparse background support for the sensitive lead electric guitar work. At 1:38 the song opens up with strummed acoustic guitar, full band support and Gadi's whispery, jazzy lead vocal. I hear a little George Harrison in this one. Such stellar songwriting and production! A true gem! (9/10)


5. "Morning Sun" (4:14) a sparsely constructed folk song that truly feels like it came out of the mucis catalog of 1970s HARRY NILSSON or the introspective side of ROBERT WYATT or JEFF BUCKLEY. Extraordinary and beautiful! I love the wooden flute play, too. (10/10) 

6. "La Morena" (5:46) opens gently but with vocals joining in almost immediately. The vocals are very beautifully executed--quite like Coldplay's CHRIS MARTIN. I love the BEATLES-like contribution of the violin and Gadi's finishing vocalizations. (9/10)


7. "The Other Other Side" (5:14) from my very first listen this song has been my favorite. A bit more dynamic and electric than the previous six songs, this one also has a little more diversity in way the accompanying instruments are presented. Sounding slightly PINK FLOYD-ish, slightly Hawaiian, though mostly Harry NILSSON and STEVEN WILSON-ish, this one has the gift of an extraordinary vocal and an awesome bluesy guitar solo in the final minutes. (10/10)


8. "Lili's Day, Pt. 1" (2:49) opens with quite an different, synth-dominated trip hoppy sound and feel--here bringing to mind some of the work of some of the early Post Rock bands (like Tortoise and Bark Psychosis). Great groove! (10/10)


9. 
"Lili's Day, Pt. 2" (2:28) continues the Post Rock sound with its great guitar weave while adding a Dick Parry-like breathy sax to take the lead. (9/10)

10. "Lili's Day, Pt. 3" (1:50) sees a shift in the music starting with the eery militaristic drumming, minor chord synths, and more sustain-effected guitar lead. (8/10)

11. "Lili's Day, Pt. 4" (2:37) shifts into a more straight rock mellow outflow with the violin and strings synths taking the dominant lead in presenting the melodies. (8/10)



89.09 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is a type of clear, clean, simply constructed song production I wish there was more of in this day and age. Beautiful. Do check it out:  Highly recommended.




27. THE MERCURY TREE Permutations

Quite different and refreshing syncopated prog in the OCEANSIZE and quirky TODD RUNDGREN/STEVEN WILSON and even TOBY DRIVER vein of song and melody construction, this is very interesting and refreshing music to listen to, to study. The enigmatic lead singer can sound as dissonant and chromatic as avant/RIO singer ELAINE DI FALCO or he can burst forth into his death metal growls or he can sound as pure of voice as TEARS FOR FEARS' Curt SMITH. I really like this!

Line-up / Musicians:


- Ben Spees / guitar, keyboard, voice
- Connor Reilly / drums
- Oliver Campbell / bass, voice
- Aaron Clark / space guitar
- Tony Mowe / alto and baritone saxophone 

1. "Symptoms" (6:59) opens the album with an edgy weave of instrumental sounds and rhythms--though there is a bit of a djenty base to it all. Once the vocal's odd melody and odd sound enters and establishes its place, the song takes off in a PROGHMA-C kind of full-speed ahead way. Heavily distorted guitars, heavily echoed vocal, this could be straight off of a KAYO DOT album. The rapid fire guitar and keyboard arpeggi in the fifth minute are replaced by a new section of Bill NELSON-like quirky-odd vocal melody. The two sections alternate into the sixth minute, shift key and scales, taking on somewhat more of a DEVY TOWNSEND sound and feel through to the end. Unusual, perhaps even unique song. (8/10)

2. "Exhume The Worst" (4:56) is a very odd sound and feeling "love song." PORCUPINE TREE would have loved to created this one. Some interesting and odd almost BEACH BOYS background vocals end the chorus section before the song returns to a chunkier bassed version of the opening. At 2:30 we hear the vocalist's first scream/growls. The multiple guitar leads interwoven in the fourth minute's instrumental section are fascinating--so unusual! Odd, edgy song that I'll probably end up loving more than I do now. (8/10)


3. "Permutations" (10:42) Opens with some vascillating keyboard notes and "tuneless" guitar notes before the vocal talks to us. Acoustic guitars and spacey keyboards enter and establish an odd rhythm and pacing before layered voices contribute a kind of rondo of the repetition of a lyrical phrase. At the two minute mark plucked strings bring in a dissonant series of rising and falling arpeggi while an almost punk-like bass and GG vocal harmonies sing over the top. Djenty lead guitar solo ends and leaves us in a vacuum into which the "tuneless" guitar notes return. Vocals. At 4:30 we actually hit a very beautiful section--vocally and soft minor key instrumental weave--which builds and builds into a very violent crescendo at 5:30 and is then sustained for 30 seconds before returning to the "beauty" melodies of a recapitulation of the "vacuum section." Interesting section with reversed lead guitar at the end of the seventh minute leads into heavy weave over which a more dissonant vocal harmony is sung. The djenty rhythm section is danced within by the rapid-fire "plucked strings arpeggi until at 8:53 everything quiets down into a MAUDLIN OF THE WELL-like acoustic section with breathtaking beauty, both vocally and melodically. Gradually electric walls of sound build around the falsetto vocalizations before playing out to the song's end. Wow! What an odd, interesting ride! (9/10) 


4. "Ether/Ore" (4:08) has such an odd electro-pop percussive foundation over which treated and untreated vocals, saxes, keys and guitars play--an odd weave--kind of early TODD RUNDGREN-esque while at the same time being again somewhat near the Bill NELSON/BE-BOP DE-LUX zone. Brilliant but odd as shit! (9/10)


5. "Placeholder" (4:32) familiar piano and bass chords give this a bit of a jazzy feel but the vocals are so TOBY DRIVER-like! I am thinking that this is by far the most accessible yet psychedelic of all songs thus far. A really cool, odd, yet gorgeous song. Gabriel RICCIO (THE GABRIEL CONSTRUCT) would love this one. The yelled near-rap in the final minute sung over the long drawn out angelic vocals in the background is awesome. Maybe my favorite song of the year! (10/10)


6. "Unintelligible" (5:06) has some of the feeling of ZA! and OCEANSIZE in its rappiness. (9/10)


7. "Sympathesizer" (4:42) has some cool full-wall of sound foundation (not unlike those used by Terria-era Devin Townsend) over which all kind of odd and creative sounds and instruments are added. (9/10)

8. "Seek And Release" (5:46) shows some RADIOHEAD influence. And OCEANSIZE. Again, yet another song that develops in a hitherto uncharted territory, unpredictable and utterly surprising and exciting. (9/10)

9. "Prometheist" (9:00) has a Post Rock-with-oriental-instruments sound with Bill NELSON like vocals and, later, angular, djenty bass and guitars. Then there is a CARDIACS kind of sound and feel. But then this could be a KARNIVOOL or VOTUM song! How hard to pin! This is so weird!
      Absolutely awesome guitar and bass parts in the sixth and seventh minutes! The last 90 seconds play out in a kind of spacey, latent-power play--one is never sure whether or not the band is going to leap back out into dynamic decibelia! (9/10)


10. "Deep Five" (10:32) employs some King Crimson basics that have become widespread throughout prog world in the last 30 years over which a deceptively emotional, beautiful and understated vocal establishes itself. This singer is a special force! And the vocal harmonies are equally amazing. 
     The polyphonic instrumental weaves in the fifth minutes are quite wonderful--as is the keyboard and bass'n'drum section that follows. Gamelan like percussives and buzzing synths and synth water sounds play in the soundscape over the steady, insistent drums and bass. This is heaven!! What an awesome way to close out this revelatory album. Brilliant!! (10/10)

Even though I am blown away by this fresh new music, I have a feeling that this is a real grower--that it will climb in my esteem with each and every listen. Really cool stuff! Heavily recommended to all prog lovers. This is one gift that will keep on giving for a long, long time! Check it out! This one is pushing the envelope--in all directions!

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




28. ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique

A brilliant and totally fresh smorgasborg of avant jazz/jazz fusion song stylings from French composer/musician Arnaud Bukwald. The journey that Arnaud takes one on through the songs on this album is quite nostalgiac as there are familiar sounds, riffs, and stylings in virtually every song. And yet, the music is totally fresh, new, and unpredictable. The compositions and arrangements work very well throughout.

1. “Chop suey” (2:15) opens the album on a wild and crazy percussive journey with xylophone and drums leading flutes and synths along like lemmings over the cliff. Then a jazzy JERRY LEE LEWIS-like piano section ushers in vocals, horns, psychedelic electric guitar lead and drums for about 30 seconds before a toilet flush signals the end and exit. (7/10)

2. “Dedicated to Hugh” (3:10) (Hopper? or the same ‘Hugh’ of Robert WYATT’s 1972 dedication on his first MATCHING MOLE album?) Ça m’est égal, for in the end this is a truly wonderful instrumental tribute to all Canterbury artists of the late 60s and 1970s—so perfectly composed and performed. (10/10)

3. “Mars caravan” (3:06) opens with a voice sample from a 1950s-60s film about alien/(Martian) before turning into a kind of film score soundtrack to a credits roll or film montage of alien visuals. Very dramatic, even melodramatic, à la ENNIO MORRICONE or someone else of that ilk. (8/10)

4. “Gran Torino” (3:39) ventures into the funk jazz fusion found in a lot of late 60s early seventies film and television themes (especially Black exploitation and disco-era cinema.) Very catchy, dance-groovy. (9/10)

5. “Time and space” (2:11) opens with heavily spaced flute and then Fender Rhodes piano play before a vocal (!) from a very deep GREG LAKE-like voice. The second minute turns into quite the upbeat 70s television theme song. Very fun song! (10/10)

6. “Fairy Tales” (10:23) opens with its first two minutes feeling very much like a section out of ELP’s “Tarkus.” The next section shifts gears and moods into feeling like GENESIS’s “Watcher in the Sky mixed with Mike Oldfield’s tubular bells. Then, at the end of the fourth minute we get to hear the sounds of birds, woodsy-lumberjack sounds, and then crackling sticks over the fire next to the babbling brook. This is then replaced by the gradual fade in at the 4:50 mark of strummed mandolin, harp, and woodwinds, before a more rollicking orchestrated section bursts in at 5:48:  double bass, orchestral strings, tympani and orchestral percussion—which are soon joined by a jazzy horn section but the, just as quickly, all is dropped in favor of an extended section of some strum-play on the strings inside a piano. Slowly a mysterious organ enters in the background before tribal drum play and piano percussives play over the top. The final 45 seconds of the song engage a Moog synth solo played with tubular bells and church organ. 
     Not all of Arno’s influences/references are clear to me. He’s told me that Cyrille Verdeaux, Art Zoyd, Gong, and Ange are among his all-time favorites—all of whom are not as familiar to me as they could be—thus I suspect that some of the references I miss are from nods to those bands. (9/10) 

7. “Cirrus sequence” (9:26) opens with a combination of STEVE HOWE acoustic guitar harmonics play with David Gilmour “Wish You Were Here” blues guitar lead and synth play common to TANGERINE DREAM work taking turns and then woven together. Clever and awesome! 
     After the 3:40 mark, the Wish You Were Here” section ends and an eerie, spacey “screaming alien howler monkey” section plays out over the same crackling fire noises from the previous song to the end of the song. Again, I am disappointed to say that this reference is lost upon me. But it is unique and interesting. (8/10)

8. “Téton effrayant - sauerkraut” (16:57) is a tribute to the Kosmische Musik (aka “Krautrock”) happening in the musk schools and hippie ashrams in Germany in the late 60s and early 70s. Bands like CAN, ASH RA TEMPEL, NEU!, AMON DÜÜL, and even FAUST can be heard in this one. The shifts in the play of the rhythm section in this one are particularly noteworthy and fascinating. You can tell Arnaud gave great attention and love to the details of this one. Synths, percussions, saxes, and effects all play such critical roles in the weave of this one. It is hypnotic as well as trippy (like a circus-like acid trip). The Kraut rock fathers would be proud! 
At 8:10 there is a break leading into another GENESIS-like organ-synth and martial drum-led “Watcher of the Skies” section before the previous Kosmische rhtythm reestablishes itself to support various independent appearances from Keith Emerson synth, Mellotron, 
Another break at 10:30 yields a very airy-empty space wash out of which a “rocket takeoff” rising synth not appears and leads us into a very spacey, Berlin School of Electronic Music section. Could be straight out of any of TANGERINE DREAM, Manuel GöTTSCHING or the KLAUS-meister’s 1970s masterpieces. Brilliant! Masterful end with avery slowly decaying synth sequence. My favorite song on this wonderful album! (10/10) 

88.75 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and excellent addition to any prog lover’s music collection.




29. DISEN GAGE Snapshots

Awesome instrumental prog from Russia from this band of seasoned veterans and their guests. This is a very eclectic album in that, as the title infers, each and every song incorporates a completely diverse style. It's like you mixed the Eastern European folk-filled good humour of FARM MARKET with the funky side of VESPERO. Oft times one hears music themes that sound quite cinematic, with others riding the pulsating groove of a kind of Jamaican Krautrock ("Memories"), 
or a purer representative of the Kosmische Musik tradition ("Trip"), while others are flavored with the bounce of folk traditions ("Foolery" and "Me"). Throughout this album the bass play is a standout for its thick and melodic funky-jazzy grooves, while the drums are tight and supportive, and the guitar work skillful and expressive. The contributions of the guests (vibes, synths, saxophone, voice) are notable and helpful (like VESPERO's Arakady Fedotov on spacey synths during "Trip")

Line-up

Konstantin Mochalov: guitar
Nikolai Syrtsev: bass
Eugeny Kudryashov: drums
Sergei Bagin: guitar and synth (1, 2, 7, 8)
   With
Feodor Amirov: synth (1)
Vladimir Rusinov: guitar (3)
Kamille Sharapodinov (The Grand Astoria): guitar (4)
Gini Ruggero: sax & voice (6)
Arkady Fedotov aka Ark Vespero (Vespero): synths (7)
Alexander Kuzovlev: guitar (7)


Total time 48:31

1. "Me" (5:27) plays as if Carlos Santana or Jeff Beck played on a Russian folk song--at least until the nice little bass solo at 2:40--which then sets up the great explosion into heavier jazz rock territory. Quite fun, creative, and well done. (9/10)

2. "Them" (10:45) is perhaps the most cinema soundtrack-sounding song on the album--even through it's several shifts and turns. Bass play, fuzzy, distorted guitar leads, and xylophone-like keyboard are standouts. (9/10)


3. "Chums" (5:09) opens with a Spaghetti Western distorted guitar riff and sparse drum play. Then solo lead guitar enters presenting a kind of CHET ATKINS sound. The rolling guitar strums at the two-minute mark bridge to an out and out Country-Rock fusion in which two guitars-one clean and Atkins-like and the other dirty and -like--are kind of loosely dueling while also masterfully supporting one another. Great song! Some nice, familiar melodies in that second half. (9/10)


4. "Memories" (5:15) displays a bit of a Rastafarian side to the band--mostly in the bass line--while the drums and guitars are more rock n roll. The song gets more psychedelic and spacey as it travels with two guitars soloing against each other at the same time in the end. (9/10)


5. "Foolery" (4:49) has a corny, folk-like beat with an incongruous fuzzy guitar and chunky bass. The weakest song on the album--though fans of Eastern European folk might really dig this one. (8/10)


6. "Equilibrium" (7:05) sounds like 
a jazz & funked up Math Rock tune in which the bass play is its most adventurous though it may stand out a bit at times from the rest of the band's weave. Sax and male voices humming are featured in the second half. (9/10)


7. "Trip" (8:06) is the true Kosmisches song on the album as guest Arkady Fedotov's space synths steer us into distant galaxies start to finish despite the influences and suggestions of the others. Great job by drummer Eugeny Kudryashov in keeping the ship on course. There is even a little uncredited trumpet (sample? synth?) snuck into the journey in the seventh minute. (9/10)

8. "Hangover" (1:55) is an awesome little weave of complex bass play, melody-establishing fuzz guitar and syncopated hard hits of piano chords to seal off the album's end. Nice! (9/10)

88.75 on the Fishscales = 4.5 star album; great performances on solid compositions throughout this near-masterpiece of instrumental music.






30. THENCE We Are Left With A Song

The mystery of this album--and the reason it has taken me so long to write my review of it (even though I've been loving its songs for several months)--lies in its categorization. Is it Neo Prog like MYSTERY, EDISON'S CHILDREN, Thomas Thelen's T, RIVERSEA, or NINE STONES CLOSE, is it Crossover like TONY PATTERSON, Heavy Prog like KARNIVOOL and VOTUM, Experimental/Post Metal like ANATHEMA and STARE AT THE CLOUDS, Space Rock/Psychedelic like NOSOUND and MEMORIES OF MACHINES, or perhaps even Post Rock? Such is the enigmatic sound that these two guys--yes two guys--create. I think the "Experimental/Post Metal" subgenre that they have been assigned at ProgArchives is the best fit as they really do sound like ANATHEMA and STARE AT THE CLOUDS.

Line-up:

Juha Sirkkiä - Vocals, keys, guitar, bass
Erno Räsänen - Drums, percussions


1. "I Burn The Day, The Ghost" (8:18) sounds like the music that would be produced if two of the 21st Century's best bands came together to produce a song, Australia's KARNIVOOL with Sweden's BROTHER APE. The "strings" are mixed a little too loudly, in my opinion, and the voice a little too buried into the mix. Otherwise, a great song. (9/10)

2. "No One, Anyone, Be Someone" (6:06) sounds as if NoSOUND's Giancarlo Erra were singing for MYSTERY or KARNIVOOL. Like the previous song, I feel that the 'strings'--as wonderful as they are (great, lush arrangements)--are mixed too loudly and the vocal too far into the mix--where it is getting buried--which is partly due to volume levels and part to the distortion effect through which it is run. (8/10)


3. "Abundance" (6:59) opens with electric guitar strumming what sounds like the same three chord progression that makes up the foundation of one of the COCTEAU TWINS' greatest songs of all time, "Pink Orange Red." A wonderful, heavily-sustained electric guitar lead covers the second half of this two-minute 'intro' section. From there on out the song has a feel of with a great chunky bass, solid drum foundation, and unobtrusive background synth washes over which Juha sings in another heavily-treated vocal (One that is, happily, not drowned out by the collective wall of sound created by the other instrument). The song could easily be mistaken for a great song from RIVERSEA, MYSTERY or TONY PATTERSON. (9.5/10)


4. "It Is Truth That Liberates" (4:24) opens with a little (as it turns out, foundational) computer synthesizer sequence that makes one expect the possibility of a PAUL OAKENFOLD/Ibiza-like electronic trance song. But, no, a heavy prog rock song forms over the top. Great keyboard 'strings' arrangements and a pretty good chord progression and vocal make this a solid and powerful song--though it could use a little more variation and development. (9/10)

5. "Pursue" (10:46) sounds like an odd, soft-but angular KING CRIMSON song--especially with the screaming, infinite-sustained, ROBERT FRIPP-like lead guitar throughout. The development, chord structure and vocal/vocal melody are all lacking a bit. Already before the song is half over the music has built, crescendoed and decayed into a soft, spacey piano and synth interlude. A DICK PARRY-like soling saxophone joins in for the seventh minute for a nice two-minute solo while the band joins in again at the seven minute mark. At 8:00 lead guitar takes over for the sax (for an awesome GIANCARLO ERRA-like solo) as the music continues beneath in a gorgeous ANATHEMA way. Great second half . . . can't make up for an average first half. (9/10)
6. "Oars In Our Hands" (7:43) a beautiful Post Metal synthesizer 'strings' arrangement permeates and founds this song and the second half is truly remarkable, but the opening half is less than winning, less than engaging. (9/10)
7. "Life Will Get You Eventually" (7:53) the same Post Metal sound and form with the usual gorgeous synthesizer 'strings' arrangements. One of the album's better vocals and some very strong bass and drums supporting the wall of sound up top. Perhaps a bit monotonous (especially after the previous six songs). (8.5/10)

Very solid drumming, very mature and accomplished synthesizer 'strings' work throughout and some pretty good guitar play, as well. The vocals could be better (or less treated) and the often-underdeveloped or one dimensional song constructions could be improved upon, but these guys definitely have a strong future ahead of them. A band to watch!!!  


88.57 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and an excellent addition to any progressive rock music lover's album collection.




31. VESPERO Lique Mekwas

Finally, Vespero gets back on track to fulfill the amazing potential that they had shown through the Naughties with their Liventure live albums and especially through their wonderful 2010 studio album, By the Waters of Tomorrow. Every move the band makes here shows maturity, confidence and sensibility. Great melodies, great changes of pace--even in the middle of songs--not as much reliance on the psy-reggae rhythms of the recent past. It's a long disc coming out at 75 minutes but it is very rewarding listen--no fluff, all substance and intrigue--and with an awesome story being told in concept album form. Guitars, keys, bass, sax and violins are all strongly present with the prominently featured creativity of master rhythmatists, Ivan Fedotov and Alexander Timatov. This could be a masterpiece. Let me get to know it better.

Line up:

Ivan Fedotov – drums, percussion, wave drum
Alexander Timakov – percussion, wave drum
Arkady Fedotov – basses, synths
Alexander Kuzovlev – guitars, electric piano (1, 4)
Alexey Klabukov – keys, synths, noise box «Cacophonator» (1)
Vitaly Borodin – violin
   With
Pavel Alekseev – tenor saxophone

1. "The Course Of Abagaz" (16:18) opens with bass rapid harmonics play which quickly turns into some awesome rapid firm bass and rhythm guitar lines to support soaring sustained guitar notes performing the leads for the first three minutes. Tenor sax takes front and center over the next two minutes before giving way to more electric guitar. 
     The awesome rhythm section sustains its breakneck speed throughout the first seven minutes of this long song--it sounds kind of like a SANTANA jam--which could be a problem in monotony were it not for the various soloists performing their interesting expositions.
     At the seven minute mark all instruments stop save for the spacey sounds produced by keyboards and flanged and other treated instruments. What sounds like a Mellotron (but is more likely a heavily treated violin) and Reggae-ish bass establish themselves as the new leads in this cool, slowed down section. PINK FLOYD and HAWKWIND come to mind here--especially as the synths take more of the foreground presence. Violin, guitar and sax solo at the same time, weaving their melodies into the spacey soundscape. What a trip!
     At 13:36 the music slows and a guitar signals a return to the SANTANA-like jam of the opening. Distorted keyboard has the first solo before echoed sax takes a brief turn, but it is the keys that carry it home to the end. Great song. (9/10)


2. "Ras Dashen" (9:31) opens slowly, establishing a nice laid back groove with bass and congas and other hand percussives, with some HACKETT-esque volume pedal controlled soloing over the top for the first two minutes. Violin gets the next turn as guitar and keys establish some spacey weave beneath. Then its tenor sax in the fourth minute. Pause in the middle of the fifth minute allows a recalibration and then return to original pace only this time with full drum kit, staccato bass play and muted guitar chords providing that foundational weave for first keyboard solo and then violin. Drums get to shine a bit in the final two minutes. Probably my favorite song on the album. (9/10)


3. "Oromoo’s Flashing Eyes" (10:00) opening with a nice little moving groove within which spacey synth noises and violin get to weave their sounds. In the third minute the song stops and restarts with drums and rhythm section establishing a new somewhat polyrhythmic direction (syncopated drum beats) over which tenor sax takes a turn. By the time the screaming electric guitar takes over the lead in the fifth minute the whole-band rhythm has again congealed into an insistent and unified thrum. Violin and guitar take turns with soli as the foundational music massages and hypnotizes the listener. (9/10) 


4. "Abyssinian Ground" (8:20) is perhaps the odd song on the album as the folk melodies and odd rhythms and unorthodox time signatures force one to wake up and take notice. Who said Russians don't concern themselves with rhythm or time? Vespero are here proving them wrong. (9/10)


5. "Isidore’s Prophet" (10:23) long and steady but not enough change, development or nuance. (8/10)


6. "Follow The Fitawrari" (8:49) has nice development with sax, violin, synths and incredible bass play. There is an awesome spacey section in the sixth minute. The seventh minute puts some PERCY JONES-like bass play beneath the jazz guitar lead. (9/10)

7. "The Emperor’s Second Self" (11:39) has a very nice slow pace and development from the eerie, spacious opening to the end of the sixth minute. Up to that point all instruments seem to be floating around in their own daydreams. Then the instrumental threads congeal and weave into a cohesive expression. By the 8:00 mark the music is beginning to sound like a meditative/breathworks jam intended to take both listener and musician into altered states of consciousness. Beautiful and awesome! (9/10)

Overall, an awesome excursion into the spacey, rhythmically massaging world of Kosmisches Musik--done in a jazz fusion style!


88.57 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of prog rock and an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.




32. GRAVITY SAYS_I Quantum Unknown

An awesome blend of electronica and folk traditions coming out of Greece. Nikitas Kissonas and I agree--this is one of the most interesting and enjoyable--even hypnotic--musics coming out of the Peloponnese.

1. "More Than A Matter Of Instinct" (6:18) opens the album with some sonically manipulated synth sounds and organ. Rolling bass lines (two!) accompany the Tangerine Dream like music that forms as the Brendan Perry/Dead Can Dance-like voice of Manos Paterakis enters and lulls us into hypnotic submission--as does the music that fills the spaces between the vocal verses. Nice use of horns/trumpet in balance tandem with santur and synths for a three-way solo weave during the instrumental section of the song's final two minutes--and then the excellent electric guitar work in the final minute. Great song! (9/10)  

2. "Of Woe / Migratory Birds" (9:45) opens with santur and a little VANGELIS/Blade Runner-like soundscape before the soothing voice of Manos Paterakis enters. Around 1:30 the whole band joins in to establish an interesting rhythm over which Manos and other instruments play. Cool shift at the 3:12 mark establishes multiple layers of both instruments and voices. Guitar solo in the mid-section. I love the santur base. Another shift at 6:12 leads to a more Post Rock sounding section over which trumpet solos until things speed up and the electric guitar takes over. At 7:30 things revert to 1980s techno-pop synth sounds over which Manos (in layers) sings. Interesting song! I'm not sure if the unusual flow really works, though. (8/10)  

3. "Dowser" (3:16) simple droning synth with syncopated hand clapping form the base for the heavily treated voice of Manos Paterakis to sing over. After the first verse the music shifts, filling with more sounds from a few more instruments (synthesizer/keyboards). After the second verse multiple tracks of both guitars and trumpets join in. Cool effect! (9/10)                                

4. "An Ivory Heart" (5:16) opens with a brisk pace in an almost Latin style of horn-supported music. A quiet interlude sets in before an interesting drum rhythm pattern sets up for Manos' doubled-up vocal track. Man this guy sounds like Brendan Perry! Fun upbeat song with neat instrumental section in the fourth and fifth minutes. (9/10)                       

5. "Every Man" (6:11) opens with acoustic classical guitar solo which is joined at the 0:40 mark by other acoustic instruments and strings. It almost has a Greek folk feel to it--but the lyric "every man for himself" seems a bit out of character with a folk song. I love the piano-guitar duet in the middle. Unfortunately, the vocal and lyric seem to bring the song down a bit. Could be so much more powerful. (8/10)                            

6. "Quantum Unknown (Riveted Eye)" (9:46) opens kind of experimental ambient soundscapes in the vein of RYUICHI SAKAMOTO in his collaborations with sound engineers CHRISTIAN FENNESZ and ALVA NOTO but then turns into a kind of low key DEPECHE MODE song--complete with DAVID GAHAN-like vocals--at least, that is, until the 4:25 mark. Then we return to spacey synthetic soundscapes with some cool throbbing bass lines over which the exotic sounds of the santur eventually solo. The final two minutes revert back to very cool, very eery computer-manipulated synth sounds. Definitely my favorite song on the album. (10/10)

88.33 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. This one has such a refreshing and near-perfect blend of traditional folk instrumentation with modern computer-synthesized technologies. Definitely worth checking out! Highly recommended.




33. AMPLEDEED BYOB

A band inspired by prog rock tradition, Ampledeed are three young men schooled in art schools of California who have an undeniably rich and creative connection. While this album, their second, shows tremendous growth it also shows tremendous potential. There is some greatness ahead if these guys choose to continue to work together and hone their skills (especially on the sound/engineering side). And this "criticism" is of a truly wonderful, memorable album!

Line-up / Musicians:


- Aaron Goldich / Vocals, Keyboards
- Max Taylor / Vocals, Keyboards, Bass
- Luis Flores / Electric and Acoustic Guitars, Vocals
     With:
- Isaac Watts / Drums, Vocals
- Aaron Munoz / Bass
- Allie Taylor / Vocals
- Lisa Vitale / Vocals
- Colin Kupka / Tenor Sax
- Cody Farwell / Bass

1. "Triple Cancer Moon" (6:45) opens with the weird sound effects that might accompany a classic Canterbury song but then opens, musically, with some awesome TOE-like Post Rock weave, but then just as quickly shifts with three layers of vocals (two female, LISA VITALE and ALLY TAYLOR, and one male) and several more shifts in tempo and style. Awesome! My favorite section is the third minute with its syncopated band play and the interesting male vocals that preceed the return of the two dialoguing females. At 3:45 we are then treated to the introduction of a must seductive hook in the form of a moving synth arpeggio (not unlike several of Tony BANKS' portamentos on The Lamb Lies Down on Broadaway). Curiously, the sixth minute becomes quite prog-like before it slows down to some very King Crimsonian ending. Amazing opener! (10/10)

2. "My Plane" (3:29) sounds like it could come straight off of an ECHOLYN album. The organ play in the third minute is the highlight for me. (8/10)

3. "You're a Libra . . . and She's a Bitch" (5:42) is very prog symphonic in the CIRRUS BAY vein with awesome faux British vocal (biting sarcasm!), guitar, drums and piano, but the song puts up front and center the band's need to grow in terms of engineering and keyboard/computer sound choices and effects. (8/10)

4. "Garden Gnomes" (4:24) opens like a lost GENESIS song, but then turns out to sound most like BILL GILLIAM's wonderfully melodic, keyboard-led work with CIRRUS BAY. Great electric guitar work from Luis Fiores but one of the weaker, less dynamic constructs on the album. Also, the weakest vocal/lyrical-musical match on the album. Still, these guys have so much potential! (8/10)

5. "Monolithium" (7:10) opens with some Russian-sounding solo classical piano play. Cymbals crash and bass joins in before the male voice(s) join in. Despite the song's slow pace it has a very comfortable, engaging harmonic and melodic construct. At 2:30 the tempo increases in a kind of TOM POWERS way before settling into another pleasant BILL GILLIAM/CIRRUS BAY-like instrumental groove. The little Latin rhythm incorpration at 4:30 is clever (and could go further, IMHO) as is the gradual bridge used to slow the song back down at 5:20. The final minute reminds me a lot of THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE. Nice job. Definitely memorable. (9/10)

6. "I Will Not Wait" (3:34) with lead vocals handed off to ALLY TAYLOR sounds very much like a song from a THIEVES' KITCHEN album. Ally's AMY DARBY-like voice is quite impressive; no wonder she has a burgeoning solo career launched and on its rise. (9/10)

7. "On My Mind the Gap for Kids " (1:18) is a nice electric keyboard solo.

8. "Steve Lied" (2:52) sees the band fall back into a little Echolyn-tinged Neo Prog. It's nice. Pleasant. Melodic. Has Interesting vocals and lyrics. But somehow misses. (8/10)

9. "The Space between Your Face" (5:10) is one of my favorites. It reminds me of 2014's FREDDEGREDDE release. Man these guys can sing! Such buttery voices! And I LOVE the HOMUNCULUC RES-like Casiotone-like synthesizer keyboard used on this one. Great piano, bass, and drums weave! Man these guys have talent and potential. (10/10)

The totally funked up Canterbury-oriented, 10. "The Greatest Gatsby" (9:46) is awesome! An instrumental of epic proportions with great work on piano and other keys (bass, too), drums. Great construction, complex but not mind-bendingly so. (9/10).

11. "Muffin Man" (6:59) sounds like it is intended to be a tribute to America's only other true Canterbury band, The Muffins. The song has VINCE GURALDI-like chord progressions and nice vocals and drum work--and even some special effects worked into the song (beneath Luis's nice HACKETT-esque guitar solo in the sixth minute)--giving it a kind of GENESIS feel to it, before it returns to solo piano chord play for the final 45 seconds (which lends further confirmation to my notion that the true leader and backbone of this band is its keyboard player, AARON GOLDICH). A song that really grows on you. (9/10)

I like the complex weaves the multi-instruments create throughout the album and I especially like the diverse approaches to styling the male vocals. I am very excited to follow these talented young musicians as their talent is undeniable. I think that more experience with the sound/engineering side and even more time together will serve these artists very well. The future is incandescent for AMPLEDEED!

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




34. SIGNAL TO NOISE RATIO Work in Progress

Very cool psychedelic electronica from a young trio of very creative, multi-talented musicians from Poland.

1. "Zanim" (3:37) is an odd little ditty with a kind of pop circus feel to it with multiple keyboards and drums seeming to wander each in their own directions beneath the vocal (in Polish) of Przemysław Piłaciński--which is the thread that holds the whole piece together. Kind of like AFTER CRYING meets FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE. Przemysław has a very nice voice--not unlike that of DEAD CAN DANCE's Brendan PERRY. (8/10)

2. "Korkarlen" (5:58) is a kind of cinematic avant-RIO instrumental with shifting and tempos and moods. (8/10)


3. "Entropia" (15:26) opens like a of an Indian raga with a drone sound providing the background foundation for the solo saxophone and solo synth that alternate over the top. in fact, it's not until the 4:35 mark that a percussion instrument or bass line join in. The song continues to maintain an Indian vibe though much more in the German Kosmische style of psychedelic expression and albeit a very eerie, almost disturbing expression. (Thus the title!) At 8:50 the third section begins over which another very pleasant vocal from Przemysław Piłaciński ensues. Again I am reminded of AFTER CRYING's vocal delivery style (
Tamas Gorgenyi?). 
     This is truly an excellent song that would stand head to head with the best of its 1960/70s inspirateurs even if it is not very upbeat or hippie-happy-go-lucky. (10/10)

4. "Duchy Elektrycznosci (remix)" (4:11) has a very early-1980s feel and sound to it--as if some early English or French techno band were getting together with KRAFTWERK. The organ, electronic drums and rolling bass line get me! (9/10)


5. "Ludzie-muchomory" (11:35) opens with spoken word over throat vocals and organs which gradually play out to make way for a long, slow, hypnotic organ, synth and rolling bass-based Kosmisches jam. (9/10) 

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. A very cool album of refreshingly ecclectic music that I highly recommend to y'all progheads.





35. ANTOINE FAFARD Sphère

 He's back! Bassist extraordinaire Antoine Fafard returns with another stellar Jazz Fusion album--this time using drumming legend GARY HUSBAND (LEVEL 42, ALLAN HOLDSWORTH, JOHN McLAUGHLIN), along with long-time collaborator JERRY DE VILLIERS, JR on guitar. Though I truly appreciate the creativity in the song performances coming from such virtuosi of their respective instruments, the album does come up a little short of the heights of Antoine's previous album, Ad Perpetuum (2014).

1. "Reminiscence" (5:56) is a nice, even paced song quite reminiscent of Antoine's last album, Ad Perpetuum, except for the more open turn-taking of the bass solo. Nice keyboard solo from Gary Husband in the fifth minute. Not a bad song, just not anything really new. (8/10)

2. "Renaissance Man" (5:16) starts out sounding like a slowed down version of the previous song. The title may refer to Gary for his dual role as percussionist and keyboard track artist. He is truly extraordinary at both. (8/10)


3. "Facta Non Verba" (5:51) a commendable song for Jerry's attempts at going outside his usual style and breakneck speeds. The stop-and-start rhythm construction is okay for a while, but it gets old. (8/10)


4. "Fur & Axes - Part II" (5:05) opens with some sounds and chords that hold a lot of potential--unresolved angst. The band manages to retain some of this tension over the opening discourse, and even into the first shift, but then at 1:30, when everything quiets down, it is lost; it becomes soft and pretty, even comforting; the tension cannot be regained--even despite Jerry's best efforts in the third and fourth minutes. Still, I'd like to hear more songs like this one. (9/10)    


5. "Still Invictus" (7:58) my favorite song on the album. It has great variety shifting right and left, using multiple paces and chord foundations. I get quite a thrill hearing the opening and then following all of the instruments throughout the course of this great song. (10/10)

6. "Cherishing" (4:33) ventures into more atmospheric jazz a la EBERHARD WEBER. This is the kind of variety that I like to here more of from Antoine. Really nice drum and piano work from Gary. I especially like the feeling that the drum is not the rhythm keeper but a lead instrument--really cool! (10/10)


7. "No-Brainer" (5:19) is a little more laid back, world music/jazz oriented (I like the Latin AL DI MEOLA feel to it) though the drumming feels like the same old same old. Excellent fretless bass play (and soli!) with some really nice JAN HAMMER-like synth soloing as well. Even Jerry's Holdsworth-like solo is welcome (cuz it comes late in the song--and cuz it duels with Gary's synth), but the key to this success is, IMO, due to Antoine's restraint on the bass in the second half of the song. (9/10)  


8. "Celestial Roots" (6:00) has an edgy, bluesy, almost raunchy CORVUS STONE-like feel to it (though the drumming is, once again, same old same ole). Even Antoine's solo in the second & third minutes is 'different'--more earthy. Solid song but nothing that leaves me wanting more. (8/10) 


9. "Bubonic Groove" (6:06) opens with a polyrhythmic weave of syncopated arpeggi similar to KING CRIMSON Discipline music. The rhythm guitar strums that enter after 30 seconds sound like Andy Summers (THE POLICE) and then Jerry De Villiers' guitar--and, later, Gary Husband's synth soloing--takes one out of KC thinking altogether and back to jazz fusion world. I feel as if I am listening to Jan Hammer, Jean-Luc Ponty's long time bass player (Ralphe Armstrong comes to mind but it could've been Randy Jackson), and Allan Holdsworth together. The song fails to rise to the heights that the beginning of the second minute seems to promise. It seems that the breakdowns in song flow or group weave in order to make room for soloists--which is the traditional jazz way--works against Antoine's music for some reason. Great bass solo at the end of the fourth minute/beginning of the fifth. (9/10)

Where Sphère comes up short is in fresh sounds. As amazing a guitarist as Jerry De Villiers is (I think he is better than the man to whom he is most compared, Allan Holdsworth), one begins to become innured to his one guitar sound. (I have the exact same problem with Allan Holdsworth.) I am thankful for his attempts to temper and vary his sound and style but I think the music misses the counterbalancing inputs of the keyboards and saxophones that Antoine's previous album had. Gary Husband is a great drummer--a great drummer--but, let's face it, any drumming would be a let down when compared to Vinnie Colaiuta's drumming of the last album--which is, in my opinion, one of the greatest whole-album performances by a drummer that I have ever heard.

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





36. SEVEN IMPALE Contrapasso

The future of progressive rock music is in excellent hands if it stays in the hands of young rockers like Norway's Seven Impale. 2014's City of the Sun was undeniably one of that year's best albums, but this one is better! Far more adventurous, experimental, confident (if that's possible), and bold. The band's infatuation with computer, electronic and radio-like sounds (sometimes in a way quite similar to the work of Holger CZUKAY in the 80s) is one area in which they have really branched out. The other would be in the variety of styles, sounds, and effects used for Stian Økland's vocals. Both of these changes are, to my ears and mind, very positive and only help prove the growth and adventurous nature that the band is going through. Growth--and change--is GOOD!

Line-up

Stian Økland - vocals and guitars
Fredrik Mekki Widerøe - drums
Benjamin Mekki Widerøe - sax
Tormod Fosso - bass
Erlend Vottvik Olsen - guitar
Håkon Vinje - keyboards

1. "Lemma" (8:59) has a very pretentious feel of melodrama not unlike that of DISCIPLINE or BLACK SABBATH--only here, with Seven Impale, I take it all tongue in cheek--all for fun; for the band's amusement as well as ours. 
    Musically, the song is a perfect vehicle for the melodrama taking place but then, out of the blue, there is a wonderful shift at the 6:15 mark which feels like it is a saving grace for all of the bombast that has come before. Awesome stuff! I love it! Great song! (10/10)

2. "Heresy" (7:16) opens feeling familiar in sound to City of the Sun though the melodic movement is more jazzy. When the vocals enter the 'old' Seven Impale is cast aside and we are brought into a world that is more farcical, more Tim Burtonesque. The song quickly develops into a storytelling vehicle in the same vein as MOTORPSYCHO's The Death Defying Unicorn, only compacted into a single, seven minute song. At the three minute mark there is the "Doldrums/Flotsam/Sculls in Limbo"-like interlude, followed by a spirited return to full dynamic force a minute later.

     If I hadn't heard TDDU I might give a little more credit to Seven Impale here--though their intent may just have been to show the world that an entire 80-minute rock opera could be adequately fit into a seven minute song. (8/10)

3. "Inertia" (9:09) opens with some eerie piano, bass, guitar noises, with drums before sax shows up to throw everybody in line with a nice staccato rhythm progressing over a cycle of several key changes. The vocals on Contrapasso, overall, are quite different than their debut--quite a bit more diverse and using quite a variety of effects--which I like. The band's growth, adventurousness and confidence must be very high.

     A very nice elongated REINE FISKE-like guitar solo in the third and fourth provides a buffer between the first and second vocal verses. The next instrumental interlude is awesome. In some ways similar to both "God Left Us for a Black-Dressed Woman" and, again, Motorpsycho's The Death-Defying Unicorn, and yet completely its own. Here is where I notice that this album includes a much greater presence and use of spacey keyboards, effected instrumental notes (from piano, percussives, synths or guitars Excellent song. A top three and probably my favorite full-length song on the album. (10/10)

4. "Langour" (7:39) opens like a djenty song from LEPROUS or even MOTORSPYCHO--even when the organ, saxes, synths and vocalized melody join in. At 1:45 things quiet down into an ominously spacious, pregnantly potentialized jazz song. Stian Økland's familiar voice enters fifteen seconds later with the force and presence of JIM MORRISON. At the three minute mark the music stops and we are left with only an irritating high pitched squeal and some wobbly guitar notes picked individually and intermittently. The vocal finish sounds almost like church choir-like--and then, to top it off, a church organ and tubular bells-like keyboard enter to finish the song! Theatric and wonderful! (9/10)


5. "Ascension" (1:37) uses a guitar (and, later, harmonizing piano) to spaciously recreate the arpeggio that formed the main melody for the instrumental exit jam from their last album's epic masterpiece, "God Left Us for a Black-Dressed Woman." Perfect title! Awesome idea! (10/10)


6. "Convulsion" (5:05) is, as the song's title indicates, a vehicle for the conveyance of some heavy stoner rock sonic convulsions. The echoed and delayed multiple-voice vocal delivery and shifts in song direction and style every minute or so also plays into the health-threatening feel of this music. The fourth major shift, into a kind of TOBY DRIVER postlude of psychedelia is odd and unexpected but effective when paired with the phrenetic predecessor and the typical end of peace and calm that follows a convulsive attack. I really like the tight, compressed feel of the first two thirds of this song. (9/10)


7. "Helix" (9:16) opens with synth bass and drum time kept on a hi-hat. The group vocal that joins in creates another KAYO DOT-like sonic environment. While not as starkly earth-shaking as the typical Toby Driver delivery, there is an effective mood conveyed here--one that feels as if it is slowly building in potential energy ready to be released in some kinetic explosion. Then, at the four minute mark, things quiet down (the calm before the storm?) for about a minute before, yes, the caldera blows. Hoarse, screaming vocals add the icing to the cake, until, just as suddenly, at the six minute mark everything settle back into a quiet, resting mode--though the melodies and chords interjected by the bass, keys, and saxes are quite ominous--quite filled with warning of more doom impending. Even the piano interlude in the eighth minute holds so much warning. Again, it's like the calm before the storm. But then, oddly, the music switches to solo treated organ and the crescendo never recurs. Until the opening of the next song... Not a bad song, it just feels unresolved and incomplete. (8/10)  


8. "Serpentstone" (7:20) opens quite heavily and then downshifts into a really nice, full-band ominous groove. This groove turns into a nice multi-layered instrumental section in which synths, saxes, and guitars are weaving within a deep, dark subterranean tapestry. A great vocal takes over. Again I must reiterate how remarkable it is that the effects and stylings of Stian's voice are so different from City of the Sun. Cool song! One that I know will continue to grow on me with repeated listens. (9/10)


9. "Phoenix" (11:14) opens almost like a 1970s hip-hop rap with a bouncy melody line in the low end while chopped and echoed vocals from some British television comedy show (or shows) play along with. The vocal sample track comes to an end at the three minute mark as a female voice says, "This is just freaking me out," which is then immediately followed by a deep male voice laughing, "Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!" The odd carnival-ish hip hop synthetic rhythm continues while sax and other instruments join into the mix. It all seems so until 5:25 mark when heavy bass, guitar, and drum riffs enter and establish dominance. When synths join the song takes on a bit of a JAGA JAZZIST Starfire 

sound/feel to it. The final two minutes find the song meandering into the realm of space-radio wave soundscapes. Interesting. This one, I have to admit, does not please me. I feel as if the band has almost wasted some of my time--11:14 of it, to be precise. Too bad. (6/10)

My long-lasting question after listening to Contrapasso a couple of times is:  Are the boys intentionally showing off their influences? And, if so, are they doing so out of respect or out of an attitude of "anything they can do we can do, too (. . . if not better)???

87.78 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. Not quite as consistently high as their debut album but I definitely like the fearless exploratory nature of the band's energy here--and I hope the mixed reviews are not enough to discourage the band from continuing to experiment, take risks and grow. 





37. BENT KNEE Say So

As I feared, Bent Knee's previous album, 2014's Shiny Eyed Babies--a masterpiece for the ages and one of my all-time favorite albums (#3)--has made it difficult for any future Bent Knee efforts to compare much less exceed the standards they set previously.

1. "Black Water Tar" (3:29) a top three song from me and a real grower as one listens repeatedly. (9/10)

2. "Leak Water" (4:41) the first of three or four consecutive songs that use a rather annoying violin/guitar scrape/pluck to establish a stark soundscape as well as a straightforward metronomic time signature. The song is good, the lyric interesting, but Courtney and crew may have taken this one too far (length, that is.) (9/10)


3. "Counselor" (5:51) this song has the impact, intensity and compositional cleverness that I expected to come from Bent Knee's "next" project. All band members are working at their highest capacity, full potential, on this one. 
And the lyrical content is uncomfortably edgy-awkward--just what I expect from Ben and Courtney. Fresh and innovative. Awesome! (9/10)

4. "Eve" (9:12) just never gets up and going--or takes too long to do so. BK's first attempt at an epic is a disappointment. (8/10)


5. "Transition" (0:49) is an awesome Dave Fiuczynksi-like guitar exercise in Asian microtones.


6. "The Things You Love" (6:12) seems to have some structural foundation in what feels like Chinese or SE Asian (Cambodia?) melodies--which is, to me, very much its strength. The gentler side of Courtney's voice matched with the strength of the large chorale work is an awesome trick--though the sections in which Courtney sings in her delicate voice are perhaps a bit too long. (9/10)


7. "Nakami" (5:20)
 contains a story and melodic sense fitting for stage and screen. A very welcome change of pace and style. I love the Japanese instrumental and melodic choices that are foundational to the song's first three minutes, but I LOVE the shift that occurs at 3:15 to the song's end. Stupendous! (10/10)

8. "Commercial" (3:44) represents the title quite well. There are lots of rapid fire bytes and bits, micro-tones, and discordant, chaotic, disruptive, disturbing--things that are so inherent to the basic fabric of modern society. (8/10)


9. "Hands Up" (5:40) is lyrically quite clever yet musically quite straightforward and rather unexceptional (by Bent Knee standards. This song reminds me of the songs from their debut album--trying to do much but somehow just not hitting the mark, not synchronized or hitting on all cylinders). (8/10)


10. "Good Girl" (6:43) is a slow, grungy, methodical, and spacious song which highlights the amazing musical chemistry and sympathy between Bent Knee co-founders, guitarist BEN Levin and vocalist CourTNEY Swain--and the work in the mixing room by VINCE WELCH is nothing short of astounding. This band is so talented! (9/10)


Some of my general impressions after listening to these songs over the past few weeks are conjuring up some of the (few) negative comments I've read by reviewers of Bent Knee's previous work, particularly the reference to the dynamic rollercoaster that the band subjects the listener to: it is sometimes difficult to stay with the band with such frequent and sudden vacillations between extreme loud and extreme soft; it requires a listener to be a) myopically focused on the music (to no other distraction) and b) incredibly tolerant of such dynamism. Whereas with Shiny Eyed Babies it is almost natural and joyful to remain so focused, with this album it is . . . more work; the journey that Shiny Eyed Babies took me on was so engaging, so exciting, so energizing, emotional, and authentically personal that it has never been an issue to tune in, give my full attention, and stick with it. I want to. I can't help myself. From start to finish. This album offers no such pull, no consistent bond of affection and awe--well, maybe some awe, but not the excitement and empathic connection.

Awesome album cover and design!

Later addendum (7/31016):  It's been a couple months now that I've spent with Say So. My appreciation and enjoyment of all of the songs have increased however I will not change any of my ratings for I am of the same opinion as to their place among the scale. This album, while polished and intricately detailed in its construction, is not the shocking, bare-bones masterpiece that Shiny Eyed Babies was.

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




38. WHALEPHANT KaMMA

Line-up
Nickolay Inshakoff - composer, sound producer, violin, keyboards, synthesizers
Ilia Yartsev - clarinet, synthesizers.
Veronika Chagrina - guitars
Dmitry Sokolov - bass-guitars
Anna Kuryachaya - drums
Ekaterina Bakanova - vocals
Elizaveta Yartseva - violins, violas
Aleksey Zlenko - cello
Ivan Shcherbakov - didjeridoo
Ivan Kalugin - vocals (11)
Choir - "Klass-Centre" school


1. "Kamma" (7:22) opens with a slowly building "I Know What I Like" type of soundscape before chaotic guitar, synth and piano notes and chords start being added. At 1:30 a more organized multi-instrumental weave of arpeggi construct the foundations of something nice. Violin and fretless bass play a little over the top of this in the third minute. I like this section! 
     Then electric guitar and synths take a turn--returning the song into unstructured chaos before hard-hitting piano chords establish a rhythm which is then picked up by electric guitar metal power chords. The band tries to sync into structure with the guitar, drums percussion, strings all contributing, but it's not really until the electric guitar switches over to lead solo at the 5:30 mark that the song feels like it floats and flows instead of struggles and claws. Interesting song! (7/10)

2. "Windrose" (8:27) opens with synth, didjeridoo and then piano and acoustic guitar arpeggi supported by drummer's cymbal play. Piano, viola and clarinet take on the harmonic weave in the next section. The song is in no hurry to build, climax, or transition, yet the weave becomes more interesting--especially as the instruments begin to occupy a fuller spread, octavely. Synth takes on the lead at the three minute mark, spacey, eery, and really not intending to bring one down, just weird. the musical weave continues to be noncommittal emotionally, with almost medieval simplicity and alternating major and minor chord and key changes. At the five minute mark the song tries to go a little King Crimson funk with some descending bass chord arpeggi and Robert Fripp like sustained lead guiar notes. Then at the six minute mark guitar and saxophone take over the two lead rolls (descending chord progression and lead solo, respectively). In the song's final minute we are reacquainted with the opening section only in reverse: didgeridoo with piano and acoustic guitar arpeggi and, then, giving away to solo synth to close. (8/10) 


3. "Stars On The Cloth" (5:05) opens with guitar and band playing in a kind of ballad instrumental support as vocalist Ekaterina Bakanova enters with a kind of DIDO/SALLY OLDFIELD performance. Nice performances by piano, voice and clarinet. I like the Latin, almost bassa nova feel. (9/10) 

4. "On The Wing" (4:06) opens with a pulsing straight time beat with support from strings and chunky bass (in the lead!) Within the almost Steve Reichian/Phillip Glass strings arrangements, the bass, synths, acoustic guitar and each have fun with being the lead instrument. Good but still not great--not exciting and emotive. (8/10)


5. "Love Of Dragon" (4:50) Ekaterina Bakanova returns for another DIDO-like vocal performance over a simple, almost YUGEN-like sparse soundscape. At 1:10 Ekaterina strikes into some upper octave operatic vocalise before returning to sing with the now-full band filled soundscape. At 2:15 the song breaks down to allow acoustic guitar, viola and clarinet to create a rather beautiful little weave over which the operatic vocalise return. Annoying electric guitar "wimpy metal" chords try to accompany but the acoustic instruments are far more effective, pleasing. (8.5/10)


6. "Daskuul" (6:26) opens with breathy organ-like synth before cymbals, bass, and keyboard bass join in. By the time the two-minute mark comes around, the song has built up into a fairly full development--and, at 2:30, there is actually the announcement of a chord progression! The song then devolves back into the simple rolling structure of the second minute before again bursting into a kind of 'chorus' of a repeat of that exciting chord projection from the 2:30 mark. 
Ekaterina Bakanova's vocalise talents accompany these mini-crescendos. The third 'verse' allows an Arp-like synth to solo for over a minute. Nice song despite its simplicity and lack of much development. (8/10)
 
7. "Fragile Creatures" (5:43) opens with some distorted synth play before Vangelis-like electric piano notes join in. Electric guitar, clarinet, strings and heavier rhythm section enter with an instistent if slow and spacious support for 
Ekaterina Bakanova's sassy, jazzy English vocal. The 'chorus' section is the most interesting for the complicated weave of all of the transitioning instruments behinds Ms. Bakanova's crystalline vocal. Multi-tracked voicing in the fourth minute is nice as the rest of the instruments continue wending and weaving in their own ways. Electric piano solo in the fifth minute is diminished by the 'cheap' sound of the chosen instrument. The almost classic/neoclassical finale weave is the best part of the song. (8/10)

8. "Stay" (5:06) opens with muted distorted electric guitar, piano, and drums before Ekaterina Bakanova's full-operatic vocal enters--at first with effected voice but then clear until the 'chorus' in the first part of the second minute. Though the song and musical sound continues to suffer from lack of modern or top-tier sound engineering, the song is clearly an indication of the tremendous potential for this band. The way electronic and acoustic instruments are woven within each other is successful, almost masterful! The slow developing viola-piano 'duet' in the fifth minute is also refreshing and successful. One of my three favorite songs on the album. (9.5/10)

9. "Thunderstorm" (3:35) was my favorite song from the very first time I heard it. Acoustic guitar work reminiscent of Giancarlo Erra and AKT blended within strings, reeds and simple percussives gives it a Latin almost Jobim or Francesco ZAGO feel to it. All of the instruments, their fairly defined and concise rolls worked into a tight weave are brilliant realized. (10/10) 

10. "Musicbox" (3:09) opens with a few fast flourishes of piano arpeggi mixed in with multiple clarinets and string section (viola, violin and cello) which are eventually joined by drums and chunky bass. Very cool neoclassical rock song. (9/10)


11. "Childhood" (7:01) opens with synth-generated flutes mixed with string instruments for the first minute. Then piano takes over the lead as the strings fall into support. Nice, Windham Hill/Americana feel to it. Then, suddenly, at 1:42, all drop back to allow empty space for the entrance of the beautiful voice of male child soprano, Ivan Kalugin. A very classical sounding performance ensues--not unlike the voice of the vocalist featured in the 1980s BBC series "The Choir"--despite the joining in of a rather relaxed rock band for the course of the rest of the song. (9/10)


12. "Vakuum (3:45) opens with a treated organ-like synth playing church-like chords. It's like the music you hear while waiting for the seating to finish in a church before the service can really get started. This eventually develops into multiple synth lines with treated piano and keyboard bass line worked in. Gradually everything fills and shifts into a more full soundscape. Very cool! Much better end to the album than the more chaotic "unfinished" feel of the opener. My final top three song of the album. (9/10)

87.50 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of eclectic progressive rock music. This band has so much potential!!! 






39. iNFiNiEN Light at the Endless Tunnel

iNFiNiEN is back! This new release, the band's third album, comes from Philadelphia quartet iNFiNiEN. Thanks to the leadership of experienced torch singer, CHRISSIE LOFTUS--who took some time in the early 2010s to try other genres of music (including a solo album of piano-based soft-jazz vocal covers, Young Hearts)--and guitarist/songwriter Matt Hollenberg, what we have here is another jazz-leaning, progressive rock album from eminently creative and competent instrumentalists in the vein of JEREMEY POPARAD's AXON-NEURON and the funky jazziness of North Carolina's UNAKA PRONG. This a much better produced album than both their 2006 debut, How to Accept, or their eponymously titled 2009 album. Though the debut has a bit of that raw, excited sound that is so often captured in an album of fresh energy of a new collaboration, this one has some of that raw AMANDA RANKIN-like force in it. The band membership has remained fairly solid over those ten years with only virtuoso bass player, Jordan Berger, not being in the lineup for the first album.

Lineup:
Jordan Berger: Electric and Upright Bass, Background Vocals, Additional Percussion
Tom Cullen: Drums and Percussion
Matt Hollenberg: Guitars, Bulbul Tarang, Tabla, Moog Minitaur
Chrissie Loftus: Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Organ and Additional Percussion 


1. "Brand New" (5:48) a pleasant, very melodic, tempo-shifting song with orchestral support that puts on display from the very start the band's foundation in intricately layered, well composed and executed jazz rock. Lead vocalist Chrissie Loftus uses a softer, breathier approach on this one than on most of the other songs here. It's very sexy. Me like! Awesome song! (10/10)

2. "AYA" (6:47) a funky (clavinet), almost RUFUS-like song that has an unmistakable similarity to the vocal stylings and musical eclecticism of Courtney Swain and BENT KNEE for its first half. The second half goes heavier like Moorea Dickason MOE-TAR feel and sound to it. (9/10)

3. "Oasis" (3:01) there's almost a BASIA joy and feel in the vocal here as well as some very pretty melody-making over some very complex constructed and performed music. (9/10)

4. "Off The Tracks" (7:41) despite the great Tony Levin-like bass play here and some truly incredible instrumental performances, this song seems to be a rehash of old music. (8.5/10)

5. "Bottom Of The Food Chain" (5:57) a gorgeous song with another powerful vocal from Chrissie.(9/10)

6. "Light At The Endless Tunnel" (9:17) opens almost Klezmer then turns quirky world (Indian)  metal. (8/10)

7. "Love For Yourself" (6:11) a very jazzy, piano-based AXON-NEURON-like avant song with some very odd and eclectic stylings pulled into one song. I hear Brazilian samba, Jefferson Airplane, STEELY DAN, Amanda Rankin, Rikkie Lee Jones, and so many more. Love the final chorus and end! Very cool! (9.5/10) 

8. "Worth The Wait" (2:48) an instrumental that opens with almost Richard Clayderman-sounding piano play before some really superb guitar, bass, drum, and flute work join in. Kind of like FOCUS meets JOE SAMPLE. (8.5/10)


9. "If I Were A Song" (1:39) opens with Chrissie singing with an orchestra as her only accompaniment. Déjà vu Linda Rondstadt 1984. (8/10)


10. "If You Were A Song" (7:50) flowing out of the previous song, the Latin-tinged jazz-rock ensemble joins in while preserving the Cole Porter torch song feel. Nice! I can really understand the BENT KNEE comparisons with this one. The uptempo instrumental section in the middle almost has a YES-like quality to it, while the final three minutes remind me more of THE MARS VOLTA if it were led by a female vocalist. (9/10)

11. "Existence" (4:47) opens with an upbeat bass-led jazzy pace and sound. When Chrissie's voice appears it reminds me of some kind of Afro-beat pop music. (8.5/10)

Total Time 61:46



87.27 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. This is an album of songs from some true song master craftsmen--musically, lyrically, instrumentally. A must hear!



40. MYRATH Legacy

Awesome metal from Tunisia. Accessible, bombastic, passionate, skillful, well-produced, this music will definitely get you pumped up! Constructed a bit like a Broadway show (it even opens with an overture-like instrumental), it has the plus of being totally energizing and very well polished. At times the performances get to feel as if they're a little SPINAL TAP-over-the-top--especially in the vocal department--but the many instances of Middle Eastern music inputs really add something to awesome to this music--making it very engaging. The rock/metal foundations of the music (drums, guitars, vocal stylings) can get a little cliched in a 80s "hair band" kind of way. In fact, it's the orchestral-like keyboards and traditional Middle Eastern sounds and stylings that make this album as good as it is for me. Singer Zaher Zorgatti is uber-talented--singing in both the English language with its rock/metal traditions as well as in other languages (probably Arabian) with their vocal traditions' stylings. His lyrical pronunciation is impeccable and very much appreciated. If there is a weakness in the album it is probably in the unwavering high energy of the music. Even the gentler side of the band as expressed in songs like "Through Your Eyes" and "I Want to Die" (two of my favorite songs) are often so "big" and bombastic in their production as to be quite overwhelming. Listening through the entire album in one sitting is a taxing, draining experience; the constancy of their musical approach is a bit numbing and, eventually, disengaging. Plus, there is the afore-mentioned undeniable sound and style similarity to 80s hair bands like Guns'n'Roses, Skid Row, Mötley Crüe, Def Leppard, and Faith No More.


Favorite songs: 6. "Through Your Eyes" (5:37) (10/10); 4. "Nobody's Lives" (5:43) (10/10); 8. "I Want To Die" (4:39) (9/10), and; 2. "Believer" (4:32) (9/10).

87.27 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection; an album that is interesting for the influence and input of Arabian sounds and stylings.





41. AMOEBA SPLIT Second Split

A greatly anticipated second album from Spanish instrumental Canterbury Style jazz artists whose 2010 debut album, Dance of the Goodbyes, caused quite a stir in this old heart. The music here on Second Split is definitely on the jazzier side of things--much like Dave NEWHOUSE's MANNA/MIRAGE project from late in 2015. At times I'm hearing riffs from the DAVE BRUBECK/PAUL DESMOND age ("Sundial Tick" 4:48] [9/10]) and others more of a jazz-rock mode in the vein of CHICAGO or BLOOD, SWEAT & TEARS--especially in the arrangements for the horn section. And then there are the uses of odd/funny-sounding instrumental effects and/or shifts within the music. This is truly a entertaining and mercurial album--as is each song--taking twists and turns that the listener couldn't possibly foresee--yet none are wasted or superfulous, all serve to explore new ideas, new rhythms and combinations of sound and harmony. 

1. "Clockwise" (9:03) three songs in one--all three excellent and enjoyable. (9/10) 

2. "Sundial Tick" (4:48) opens with a melody line as if from a classic 1950s or 60s Broadway musical (Porgy and Bess' "Summertime" comes to mind before the "Take Five"-like tempo and style take over). Three different melodic themes seem to rotate through the song with different harmonic structures explored by the big band each time. (what is that synth sound at the three minute mark?) Truly an exceptional and intricate though fun song. (9/10)
 
3. "The Book Of Days" (2:25) opens with chamber string quintet before what sounds like two vibraphones join in. How cool! The double bass and violin morph into more café jazz sound as the vibes continue and, eventually, take over. How clever! (9/10)

4. "Those Fading Hours" (8:34) opens with a dirty electric piano creating some chords and arpeggios before strings engage to add intermittent and constant accompaniment--violin becoming the first main melody maker (alternating with the flute). Has a very MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA feel with a lot of pent up, potential energy feeling ready to explode on us. Incidental "noises" from the organ and other keys only adds to that feeling that at any minute things are going to break loose. The synth solo that begins at 3:30 seems to open this door--and then a fuzzy electric guitar-sounding keyboard takes over and seems to unleash a little of the spirit of the Mahavishnu himself. Despite the loosening up of the belt for the rest of the band, the ensuing horn play seems to keep things in check--but no! the instrumentalists are suddenly all trying to solo at the same time! But what happens! The band shuts down at 6:45 leaving space . . . out of which emerges an acoustic guitar and moog synth making animal (or insect) mating calls as the infant children laugh their end-of-the day laughs. What a marvelously odd song! I love it! (10/10)

5. "Backwards All The Time" (8:22) opens as the most straightforward jazz song yet, but then at the 0:45 mark, it morphs into a classic 1970s jazz rock fusion confabulation--a cross between JEFF BECK's "Freeway Jam," DEODATO's "Super Strut," ALAN PARSONS PROJECT's "I Robot," and CHICAGO's "I'm a Man"!!! Weird and wonderful! The dual alien synth and piano soli in the fifth minute are just too weird for me. Then they're back to jazz with a trumpeter in the lead. (There's that "Summertime" theme again!) Then, at 6:20, the hammond takes over and brings it back into jazz rock territory. Such a chameleonic song! Not sure if it all works but it is brave and adventurous! I think it suffers a bit from lack of a coherent, consistent flow--too many stories being told here. (8/10)

6. "About Life, Memories And Yesteryears" (8:12) opens quite sedately, as compared to all of the previous songs, with long sustained melody solos coming from keyboard 'flute' and 'saxes.' REally horns eventually join in as a bouncy, churchy hammond organ plays in the back right channel. Chunky keyboard fuzz bass takes over as electric piano and drums take front and center at the 4-minute mark. Horn section is soon added. Perhaps the weakest song on the album if only for it's lack of catchy melody. I mean, it's not till the 6:40 mark that the first likable melodic hook is presented, before that it's all about (I think) displaying all of the things the keyboards can do. (7/10)

86.67 on the Fishscales = a 4.5 star album; B; highly recommended as an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection.





42. UNAKA PRONG Margot

A fascinating journey through funky, bluesy, jazzy, yet progressive rock music from Boone, North Carolina. Trumpeter Nic Pressley is so fun to listen to! And I love how the rest of the instruments are recorded to sound as if you are among them, on stage. Awesome! Chris Pope's vintage keyboards are gorgeous and always up front and center. The vocals are awesome and hilarious in a kind of Robert Wyatt way. The dual guitars of Mike Welsh and Daniel Stevenson are so nicely constructed--as if Paul Weller was playing with Radiohead or . . . Paul Weller! The drums are recorded so warmly that you might as well be sitting in drummer John Hargett's lap.

Favorite tracks:  4. "Crunch Berries" (6:16) (10/10); 2. "Clifford" (4:54) (9/10); 7. "Hella (for Coleman Christopher)" (6:15) with its rap (9/10); the jazzy instrumental opener, 1. "PTB" (4:52) (9/10); the hilarious and memorable ALLMAN BROTHERS-like "Road Rash Blues" (4:50) (8/10); the awesome Canterbury styled epic, 8. "Little Animal" (11:14) (10/10); the STYLE COUNCIL-like jazz funk of the instrumental 9. "The Truffle Shuffle (featuring Cameron Cook)" (7:35) (8/10); 5. "Anxious Summer" (3:45) (8/10). 


86.67 on the fish scales = a very solid  4.5 star effort for this group of newbies; a highly recommended contribution of eclectic/crossover progressive rock music. One of the great things about this album is that it's a real grower:  it gets fresher and more fun with each and every listen. I can't wait to hear how what direction(s) they choose to develop.





43. GLASS HAMMER Valkyrie

Using a more open space, 'live' recording style, this band of American veterans has produced what is, in my opinion, their best album ever. The sound here is quite similar to that of their magnum masterpiece they contributed to the 2005 Colossus Magazine/Musea Records production of Odyssey:  The Greatest Tale. I have not actually contributed many reviews to Glass Hammer releases because they have never really connected or resonated with me before. (Their NeoProg bombast is usually so cheezy and over-the-top Yes-imitative as to not feel worth my time--especially since I do not generally like to give poor reviews--[unless a bubble needs bursting]. Until now, Glass Hammer was free to go about doing what they do [imitate Yes] and I would respectfully leave them alone).

Line-up
Steve Babb - bass guitar, keyboards, lead and backing vocals
Fred Schendel - keyboards, guitars, lead and backing vocals
Kamran Alan Shikoh - electric, acoustic & classical guitars
Aaron Raulston - drums
Susie Bogdanowicz - lead and backing vocals


1. "The Fields We Know" (7:37) opens familiarly but then enters into Olympus with the multi-voiced chorus. Despite the presence of oft over-used and domineering Hammond organ and Rickenbacker bass, the boys use the two in different enough ways to allow the melodies and music to feel fresh and not bombastic. (9/10)

2. "Golden Days" (6:20) Though I like all of the vocal contributions to this album, having Susie Bodganowicz on lead vocals certainly does make for an improved sound. Great melodies and key/chord progressions throughout. (9/10)


3. "No Man's Land" (14:20) opens with a rather long introduction (nearly three minutes) containing some beautiful instrumental soundscapes and chord progressions before the music shifts into a more syncopated stop-and-go section in which tuned percussion and acoustic guitars are given some of the spotlight. A minute later chunky bass, Hammond organ, Steve-Howe-like guitar sounds and riffs and synth washes help support Susie's lead vocal during the first verse. The chorus is more of a collective, male-dominated affair, but then Susie regains the lead with the second verse. The song gets a little funky and a little predictable in the second half--especially in the use of the organ. The vocals get mixed up quite a bit, but then those Hammond runs come in and kind of remind us of why prog died out in the 70s ("too much of that organ" my daughter would say). (8/10) 


4. "Nexus Girl" (2:58) is a very modern sounding little instrumental that opens with some great keyboard work supported by some kind of techno-trip hoppy computer-programmed drums. Again, some extraordinary ear candy in the form of the chord progressions, melodies and solos from the lead instruments (synths, MONO-like tremolo electric guitar). Great song! (9/10)


5. "Valkyrie" (5:54) opens in a very Neo Prog fashion with BIG instrumental intro (including Wurlitzer-sounding church organ) before everything quiets down to support a vocal that is interesting for its muted effect for the first verse. The second verse allows the vocalist(s) to go unmuted. Nice melody--which is eventually taken over by Ms. Bogdanowicz. Nice! (9/10)


6. "Fog Of War" (8:23) finds the band, unfortunately, reverting to YES-imitation (Drama's "Tempus Fugit" and others comes to mind immediately). A lead vocal by Susie Bodgonowicz does much to distract us, but then a male takes over in a temporary RUSH-like passage. Back to YES for the fifth minute. Well executed and just original enough to be a total ripoff, but, still . . . Yes was Yes, this is now. (7/10)


7. "Dead And Gone" (9:56) for the first 3:35, this is a fairly simply structured and instrumented song over which Susie Bogdanowicz sings a gorgeous plaintive lyric about soldiers (as metaphor for ) But then the ELP-like Hammond bombast enters and threatens to take over. Luckily, this is fairly short-lived, until a GENESIS-like section takes over for a Steve Babb's brief turn at lead vocal. By 6:30 we're back to the simplicity and beauty of the first section. Some of the instruments do crank up their volume and intensity a bit in the eighth minute before a heavier, funky, effected instrumental section takes over before another brief Steve Babb vocal. Then, at the nine minute mark the music shifts to fast, more ELP instrumental bombast. I guess it's hardwired in these guys by now . . . (8/10) 


8. "Eucatastrophe" (3:30) opens with the arpeggiated chords that ended GENESIS' "Cinema Show" before shifting into a gentle acoustic support for Susie Bogdanowicz' gorgeous lead vocal--which is sung mostly in the upper registers with her head voice. At the two-minute mark begins an instrumental onslaught led by Hammond organ and Rickebacker bass to end the song. Odd and incongruous--earning it's marks for the gorgeous first two minutes. (9/10)



9. "Rapturo" (6:12) opens with a couple of bell-like synth notes being played percussively while echo-y piano emotionally fills some of the lower end spaciousness. Really pretty! And then at the 2:25 mark drums, synths and Susie Bogdonowicz's gorgeous, almost angelic vocal fill the cathedral skies. The end of the depression is always uplifting but at the same time scary cuz you never know when 'the Dark One' will return. Thank god this one did not venture into Yes-land. If anything, it stayed in Post Rock territory! Gorgeous and powerful song! (10/10)  

Total Time 65:10
86.67 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; a near masterpiece of prog rock music.






44. RESINA Resina

One of the best psychedelic rock albums I've heard all year, these guys have all the heart and soul, all the effects, and all the engineering tricks, but they could use a lot more practice and experience. 

Line-up
Nicolas Rodríguez - Drums
Rodrigo Águila [Frodo] - Guitar
Jorge Camus - Synthesizer, vocals, harmonica
Pablo Ihnen - Bass

1. "Atalaya" (2:09) awesome, eery, atmospheric opener using synths, crowd samples and strummed Russian balalaika. (10/10)

2. "Locus I" (6:55) a hard-driving bluesy psych rock song containing some samples about cybernetics. Awesome synth play and lead guitar soloing. The tightest bass playing on the album. (9/10)

3. "Mantrip" (8:46) opens with slow bass arpeggio and multiple echoing guitars and cymbals floating around in the soundscape. Treated harmonica enters in the second minute. In the third everybody clicks into a groove that climbs one chord at a time into the heavens. Great droning synth in the bottom end and great guitar play at the top. At 4:10 we get ... vocals! Freaky, almost ritualistic vocals from a horse-voiced man (keyboardist Jorge Camus.) Guitars, synths, and harmonica are all soloing wildly after that. Awesome! My only complaint would be the too-repetitive bass line over the course of the last five minutes. Still, a
 top three song for me. (9.5/10)

4. "Talkin' Wee' Frog" (6:05) this is one weird-ass song--a great jam in the LED ZEPPELIN/ERIC CLAPTON tradition that employs chirping frogs as one of its instruments. Again, the bass line gets a little worn out, and the male voice sample played through the middle of the song is sometimes difficult to understand (as well as laughable for its inclusion), but, in terms of a jam song, this is another great one! (8.5/10)

5. "La Cueva" (7:09) a solid slow jam with an unusual vocal and some great synth and guitar interplay. Again, the bass line tends to get a little old after a while. (I know it holds the song's flow and momentum but some shift or variation would be nice.) One of my least favorite songs on the album. (8/10)

6. "Los Monumentos" (9:32) opens with some wind-synth sounds, a couple of organ chords, odd percussion sounds (reversed) establishing a beat before strummed guitars and pulsing bass join in. Things amp up and form a nice driving rock groove until Jorge's heavily treated vocals start at the 4:12 mark. The effect on the voice is a bit incongruous and cheap sounding, but the guitar play keeps me going. At 6:42 things breakdown to allow more space for guitar interplay. Jorge returns to singing during this scaled down section--which then takes to the end. (9/10)

7. "Locus II" (9:25) opens with some synth washes and tribalistic drum play on the toms. Another fairly cheezy bass line is established before the lead guitar starts to scream. (I do like this guitarist ["Frodo"]'s choice in sounds and styles.) In the fourth minute the bass player finally starts to get brave and go outside the proscribed groove. Then Jorge Camus begins to sing--more over synth washes and strummed guitar, bass and tribal-sounding drums. I like this vocal. It's soothing yet still sounding pagan priest-like. Nice lead guitar riff is established and repeated and played with next. Really like this lead and guitar sound. Another top three for me. (9.5/10)

8. "Esporas" (9:47) opens as a kind of bluesy psychedelic Spanish song, taking a little while to establish its groove and flow. As a matter of fact, one might say that the opening four minutes are a bit embarrassing for their awkward simplicity (except for the guitar play). This is the weakest song on the album. If it weren't for the guitar and flute play, this would be a throw away. (6/10)

9. "Doppelganger" (8:31) sounds a bit like a VESPERO song with simpler drum play. The keys are awesome, guitar adequate, and vocals surprisingly good. Still, this is one of my three least favorite songs on the album. (8.5/10)

Total Time 68:19

The bass player here needs to either up his game or be replaced, the drummer needs to practice more and work harder, the vocalist needs to get more experience, but certainly keep the guitarist and synth/keyboard players! A band with some serious potential!

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





45. LOST KITE Remains

The Swedish family Carlssons, Stefan and David, father and son, both multi-instrumentalists, put together a very nice album of pastoral symphonic prog nearly in the vein of the gentler, more melodic (and acoustic) side of solo STEVE HACKETT (especially Voyage of the Acolyte) and ANTHONY PHILLIPS.

1. "Rise" (7:25) is a wonderful, moody jazz-folk opener that sounds a bit like the PAUL WINTER CONSORT. (9/10) 

2. "Where Swallows Fly" (10:08) opens a little like the music that ADAM PLACK (NOMAD) did for Deepak Chopra's Gift of Love CDs, but then turns into a Voyage of the Acolyte/VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR/Thomas THIELEN type of psycho-spiritual adventure. Fairly simple--the wildest it gets is in the synthesizer solo in the eighth minute--it is, nevertheless, beautiful and powerful. The acoustic guitar-based final two minutes adds to this mysterious, haunting song. (9/10)

3. "Up And Down The Gravelpit" (4:01) In the opening minute, bass, Spanish guitar and fine drumming play at a fairly intense weave. When everything kicks into full gear it is odd to remark that the song has a bit of an ELP and JTULL sound and style to it. Mellow flute play, strummed guitars and some tenor sax and synths dominate the fully amped up mid-section. Nice song! (9/10)

4. "Selma By The Window" (2:45) opens with some odd scraping noises which then yield to some nice Spanish classical guitar play (a duet). A nice breath of fresh air! (9/10)

5. "Old Limp Duck" (1:58) woodwind and Spanish guitar seem to carry on from the last song. A song Anthony Phillips would be proud of! (8/10)
 
6. "Goat Island" (3:52) opens with strummed guitars and multiple woodwinds weaving a nice Ant Phillips-like piece--one that one half expects the voice of Ant or Phil COLLINS to come in on à la "God If I Saw Her Now." The heavily chorused electric guitar strums create a discordant counterpoint to the beautiful melodies established in the first minute and the flute finale is sublime. (8/10)

7. "Ma Fourmi Noire" (3:41) opens with sounds like radio static before strummed electric guitar and synthesized woodwind enter to establish a mood and melody. The sad, minor key melody is again quite reminiscent of those created by Anthony Phillips in his early solo and solo guitar work. In the third minute a very strong TONY BANKS-like theme and style establishes itself and then runs counter to the previously established melodies. Very interesting! (9/10)

8. "Off-season Shores" (1:24) is a very pretty little acoustic guitar-tenor sax duet. (9/10) 

9. "Prayer" (2:03) opens with a very strong STEVE HACKETT guitar sound being picked on the electric guitar as synths join in with their solo establishing melody lines. In the second minute the synth play is replaced by church organ. Pretty cool! (9/10)

10. "Remains" (8:14) opens with rock drums, bass and heavily distorted electric guitar arpeggi before settling down to allow the entry of the whispery male vocal. Distorted guitar kicks back in to amp things up but then recedes again to allow the vocal to creep us a bit. I'm not really liking this one. It feels like rock 101, nothing challenging or nuanced.

     Some nice clear guitar chords and fretless bass in the fifth minute bring me into the music a little, but then it gets heavy in an awkward almost pretentious way and I'm put off again. Just not a great song--could use more development and nuance--a lot more. (6/10)

11. "Winter's Presage" (3:05) seems to replicate the melody of the previous song with acoustic guitar before fretless and clean electric guitar work their way into the mix. A pleasant weave grows before three tracks of soloing electric guitars join in. While THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE makes this happen masterfully, the Carlsson family do not. (8/10)

12. "Dark Woods-Dawn Meadows" (11:50) opens with some oddly-tuned old 12-string guitar strum-hits while various woodwinds weave in and out of the mix. The 12-string approach is so Ant Phillips! All of the synth and woodwind sounds only add to the mediæval sound/feel of this song. Oh, to be a traveling troubadour! How exciting, how theatric! 

     At the beginning of the song's fourth minute an organ, bass and drums/percussion turn up to dominate the sound in a kind of ELP way--though still, somehow, retaining most of that mediæval feel. Perhaps this is the scary part of the journey--through the robber-infested woods! 
     A soft, tubular bells-led minute in the seventh of the song precedes an awesomely infectious section of the eighth minute--one in which the bass-led rhythm section drives one on in a merry, happy-go-lucky way while the woodwinds and 12-string gallop and galavant around in the mix. The synth roles may be the best of all! This is prime Ant PHILLIPS! And what an awesome end! Easily the most mature and developed song on the album--an epic worthy of the name--and one for the ages! (10/10)

13. "Seven Waves Apart" (3:08) closes the album with a song that opens with delicate piano and guitar play--another father-son duet, it would seem--and this one perhaps the best on the album. Very interesting melodies are worked into an almost adversarial though conversational weave. Great song! Great expression of the spirit of this band. (10/10)

An excellent album--though I can see lots of room for growth. 86.1 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; B; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.





46. NOSOUND Scintilla

I have loved the soundscapes created by Giancarlo Erra since I first heard them with 2008's wonderful LightDark, but, I have to admit that with each successive release (or discovery--as in the back logue of Sol29) the NoSound sound began to feel old, stale, monotomous. Scintilla offers a bit of a change in direction for Giancarlo Erra and company--more emotional range expressed through sometimes more acoustic, more bare, less electronically filled soundscapes. I like this. A lot. In fact, next to LightDark this is now my favorite 

1. "Short Story" (2:24) simple and so sparse in its opening 50 seconds, yet simply gorgeous. When drums and other instruments join in it does spoil the established mood--especially the marching band-like Sigur Rós-like drums. (9/10)


2. "Last Lunch" (7:00) great empty atmospherics and awesome final minute with drums, bass, and distant vocal. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)


3. "Little Man" (4:38) opens with promise as a nice glockenspiel-like keyboard tinkles around, but then drums, guitar and voice enter and it becomes a very typical NoSound song. The chorus is nice and the following return to the simple innocence of the opening keyboard sound is reassuring. Really cool guitar/slide guitar solo in the fourth minute followed by a breakdown into wonderfully sparse simplicity to the end. (8/10)

4. "In Celebration Of Life" (5:34) opens very spaciously with slow, deliberate notes and chords from both electric piano and acoustic guitar. Piano, bass and drums add a nice foundation without taking away from the mood. Giancarlo and Vince Cavanaugh sing of the abundance of life before one of Giancarlo's searing guitar solos takes over. Kind of set up as an instrumental, this is the perfect NoSound song. (9/10)


5. "Sogno E Incendio" (4:44) is a wonderfully romantic song sung in Italian (grâce à Andrea Chimenti). To me, this exemplifies all that is unique and wonderful about Italian pop singers. I would like to hear Giancarlo sing in Italian. 
     I like the guitar tone chosen for the solo in the third minute and then the other screaming one for the finale. More! (9/10)

6. "Emily" (3:19) Though I like the drum, cello and trumpet synth work here, the song sounds weird, tired, and redundant. (8/10)

7. "The Perfect Wife" (7:27) opens with electric guitar arpeggi that sound like they're right out of some classic rock ballad. Then the typical slow-paced rhythm section joins in. Giancarlo sings in a quite, almost folk tone, but then the chorus amps things up--including multiple tracks of Giancarlo's vocal. Nice change up but, in the end, the song does nothing extraordinary. Piano and cello part is okay. (8/10) 


8. "Love Is Forever" (2:51) piano based with haunting synth working in the background as Giancarlo sings plaintively, maybe bitterly, between and within. Reminds me of Jacques Brel's "Ne me quitte pas." (8/10) 


9. "Evil Smile" (4:33) opens with two drum hits before acoustic guitar, bass, drums, voice and piano complete the ensemble. There's something special about this one that I can't put my finger on--something in the chord or key structure. Or perhaps it's just that more acoustic sound. (9/10)


10. "Scintilla" (6:27) opens with acoustic guitar and 'distant' synth and spacey electric guitar notes. Piano joins and the buzz-saw-like synth sound moves forward causing the soundscape to start to thicken. Singing does not commence until the two minute mark. Giancarlo's stark, untreated voice is front and center but kind of buried by the instruments--a very cool effect! Around 3:35 the voice starts to get a bit overpowered by the instruments but then, as if purposefully, the song switches to a foundation of arpeggiated piano chords--and Giancarlo is finished singing. Sadly, some marching band snares and fake sounding trumpets diminish the song's mood and beauty. Could've been great had they left it alone. (8/10)

A very good album offering a new, more stripped down sound for the NoSound fans.

86.0 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




47. N.y.X. The News

This has been a much anticipated (and delayed) album release due to the number of all-stars guesting on it--including Trey GUNN (song 7), Adrian BELEW (song 3) and Cuban jazz pianist, Ivan Bridon Napoles (song 6). Upon listening to it I am reminded of the work of Bill Nelson and his Be-Bop Deluxe--where Bill &Co. might have travelled had they continued in their 'futuristic' sound.

1. "Restless Slumber (At The Break Of Dawn)" (4:43) Heavy use of industrial/techno-beats and clever engineering tricks with elements of both jazz (particularly in the piano play) and ambient/electronic soundscapes. (8/10)

2. "Groundhog Day (Wakening, Dressing, Starting Up…)" (7:09) seering guitar shredding and 'crazed' TIM SMITH/BILL NELSON-like lead vocals make this a real standout. Plus, the bass line and techno drums keep us hoppin' along at a nice clip. Walt Nyx, Dannilo Pannico and Klod: you do impress! (9/10) 

3. "A Sarcastic Portrait (Editorial, Home and Foreign…)" (6:14) opens with some techno-synth drums, keys and, again, the slightly crazed David Bowie/Tim Smith/DEVO-treated voice. Adrian Belew's contribution is not really felt until the solo at the end of the second minute, but he's there. The atmospheric pitch-bent note play at the end of the third minute are hypnotic (which, I think, is the intended effect--so that they could shock us with the ) Beautiful acoustic guitar picked section opens up and plays through the fifth minute. The final minute is a more melodic, slightly calmer return to the opening section. Awesome song! Could've been done in the 80s! (9/10)


4. "Discord (Domestic Policies)" (7:20) opens with guitars, synths, and vocals sounding much like the 1980's DANIEL ASH-led, post-BAUHAUS band, LOVE AND ROCKETS. The second minute opens with a fuller, almost THE CHURCH or XTC sound. Nice! The vocal hits some moments that remind me of Bob Dylan, Donovan, and even the late Michael HUTCHENCE (of INXS). Surprisingly sedate and pretty song (in light of the previous three racous, punkie three). 
(9/10)

5. "The Paper (Titles & Subtitles)" (5:25) opens as a kind of dystopian soundtrack theme, very emotionless, ruminating and robotic. The background sound of British news anchor delivering the daily news in the second minute is later mixed with a second voice track of news delivery. Interesting! (8/10)
  
6. "Oscillations Du Chaos – Part III" (3:23) continue the theme and melodic sense of the previous song with different layers and sounds added (percussion, piano, old non-electric typewriter). (9/10)


7. "The Daily Dark Delirium" (12:52) opens with a PORCUPINE TREE Fear of a Dark Planet sound and feel. When vocalist Walt NYX and the "Popcorn"-like keyboard arpeggi enter it brings it more into the PETER SCHILLING domain. At 2:10 an insistent guitar strum enters (Trey Gunn?) and proceeds to take over. Man can the sound of that Warr Guitar take you places!

     Great sound engineering on this one! If there is a time when the quirky vocals of Mr. Nyx fail (or, perhaps they're just getting old--the novelty worn off) it is in the extended (and prolonged) vocal section in the fifth, sixth, and seventh minutes of this song. A little sampling of some CLASH, TALKING HEADS, FALCO, and LES NEGRESSE VERTES music and vocal stylings on display here.
      The spacey, DEPECHE MODE sound that takes over in the tenth minute reminds one of recent works of German solo artist, THOMAS THIELEN (known as "T"). I like this song a lot but it didn't really need to be a 13-minute 'epic.' (8/10)

I have to admit that this is a surprisingly refreshing listening experience--like going into a prog-minded development of the Euro-techno pop sounds and styles of the 1980s. As Adrian Belew would say, "I like it!"

85.71 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; B; highly recommended to any adventurous prog music listener.




48. ALI FERGUSON The Sequence of Moments

Very interesting cinematic prog from Scotsman Ali Ferguson (who previously worked with RAY WILSON in STILTSKIN). The album contains great hypnotic rhythms and lush sonic weaves, great lead guitar passages, nice vocals and collages of media samples that lure one inside and make one think and feel.

1. "Why Are We Whispering?" (10:23) opens with fully half of the song filled with voice samples of television clips on the theme of "there is no God"--which is the exact statement whispered at the 5:40 mark just before all hell breaks loose from the drums, deep, rolling bass, raucous David GILMOUR-like guitar playing off of the wonderful Arabic "prayersong" sung by some uncredited (?!) female vocalist. Great song. Very contemporary. (9/10) 

2. "Out Of The Dark" (7:42) synth pops and picked acoustic guitar open this song, setting the stage for the breathy voice of our composer to enter. Congas and other hand percussives soon join in to provide the rhythm track. Eventually, piano, cello, strings and female background vocals also join into the mix, enriching the sound palette but not really grabbing the listener yet. The voice samples beginning at 3:45 are what really attract my attention. The musical support becomes bare, and then drums kick in to pre-empt the arrival of bass and wonderful electric guitar lead. This is the kick the song needed--and what a guitar solo it is! Superlatives! Air guitarists across the planet will love this one! The slow build was a little drawn out, but the second half really paid off on this one. (10/10)

3. "A Sequence Of Moments" (8:46) with the opening phone sample of a wife putting her toddler daughter on the phone to say ,"Hi Daddy, I just wanted to know what time you're coming home," slays me! Then the peaceful washes of synths and electronic percussives supporting the breathy and emotional lead vocal: it's great! By the time the full band palette arrives I find myself feeling quite a bit that I am back in ALAN PARSONS PROJECT's I Robot album. The ensuing guitar solo reminded of (9/10)
 
4. "The Realisation" (5:55) opens with more spacey synth background sounds--over which the spoken voice of KERSTIE BARR philosophizes. Then a DAVID GILMOUR-esque blues guitar enters the spaciousness to eek out some beautifully textured notes. At the three minute mark Kerstie returns to continue her story. Like STEVEN WILSON's "A Perfect Life" I find myself fascinated and fully engaged. I don't know where the sci-fi passage being read is from, but it's got me locked in. (9/10)

5. "Is This Enlightenment?" (6:25) opens with a KLAUS SCHULZE-like programmed synthesizer sequence over which a tape of a television coverage of the 2015 Connecticut school shootings plays. Ali's distorted, whispery voice follows and mixes with other political tapes before a kind of buzzing-wind instrument segues us into a section that is founded in a trip-hoppy programmed rhythm track. More vocal news tapes follow before a nice Spanish guitar solo takes the lead. Arabic synth chord progressions fill out the background with a clay drum playing a calming rhythm beneath and then in the middle of the fifth minute a crescendo of multiple instruments crescendoes before things calm down and the religion-oriented samples return. Cool song! (9/10)

6. "Into Falling Stars" (6:23) employs the weakest vocal on the album--a breathy, too-heavily treated DAVID GIMOUR-like performance. The accompanying music is okay, a bit too slow, too spacious--almost bare. A nice two-part guitar solo in the second half isn't enough to save or boost this one. (7/10)

7. "All In The Winds" (9:05) opens with a very slow, spacey PINK FLOYD-like feel--all created by programmed keyboards. A "Wish You Were Here" solo electric guitar sound enters at the end of the third minute and then drums, bass and whispery female background vocals (KIM SHEPHERD) join in to accompany the whispery male lead vocal. At 5:07 a fast-paced "radio" drum loop enters and is eventually joined/matched by the "live" (fwd) rhythm tracks. Then the "Perfect Life"-like female spoken voice from song 5 ("Realisation"; KERSTIE BARR)) takes center stage. At the end of the seventh minute a DAVID GILMOUR "On the Run" -like slide guitar solo takes over the lead over the near-disco rhythm tracks. This quiets down into a fade at the end while bird song is heard. (8/10)

8. "The Lost Satellites" (8:44) opens with a little Berlin School of Electronic Music style programmed synth rhythm track while a tape of some dialogue with astronauts in space plays. One nice thing about the voice samples on this album which, quite honestly, puts Ali in a class by himself, is the wonderful clarity of all of the samples used: I can actually understand the radio, television, and spoken voice passages throughout. 
     When the song really kicks in it again feels like something off of STEVEN WILSON's Hand. Cannot. Erase.--especially because of the whispery female (Kim SHEPHERD) vocals mirroring Ali's leads. SW's album must have been quite an inspiration to Ali! 
     Nice laid back, almost MArk KNOPFLERish guitar solo fills most of a minute in the sixth and seventh minutes before accompanying in the background the play out of the vocalists to the end. (8/10)

9. "Above This Fractured Earth" (8:37) begins with yet another spacey musical accompaniment to a rather long sample of a child at play, in monologue. When Ali's breathy lead vocal enters we are well into the third minute; when his bluesy electric guitar takes up the lead we are well into the fifth minute. Okay song that is highpointed, for me, by the children's voices at the beginning. (8/10)   

Fresh Neo Prog with a relevant message; music to easily get sucked into, to get lost within, to help pass time in a very enjoyable way. There are no "bad" songs on the album, nor are there any weak ones. They are all strong, interesting and eminently engaging. I appreciate the space themes and the use of samples illustrating some of the things that are most beautiful and most ugly about the patterns and activities of our human race; Ali's points are poignant and well-taken.

85.55 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; B; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection; a very nice album--especially the first half. 





49. ETERNAL WANDERERS The Mystery of the Cosmic Sorrow

Pleasant synth-founded prog with a spacey sci-fi kind of feel and message to it. I find myself reminded of PINK FLOYD and TANGERINE DREAM at it's spaciest as well as ALAN PARSONS PROJECT and LISA GERRARD and MARTHA AND THE MUFFINS/M + M (because of the similarities of voice of Elena Kanevskaya to M + M singer Martha JOHNSON and Ms. GERRARD [though not quite as strong]). But, then, I also hear 80s techno pop/disco (e.g., the "Funky Town" themes in 2. the title song) and too many Neo Prog cliches in many of the sounds and riffs used.

The music is competently crafted and performed yet something is seriously lacking in the sound engineering department as mixes, levels, effects, and the blending of the instruments and voices are very inconsistent and variable--even within individual songs. Plus, this being a concept album, the musical styles and instrumental sounds should, I think, have more continuity from song to song. The drums are very, very well performed and recorded, whereas some of the computer keyboards and synths feel outdated or not of top quality (or not filtered/treated adequately in the engineering department).
     At the same time I love the ambition, dreams and drive these musicians have and only look forward to the growth and improvements that they will doubtlessly show in the future. I do believe that the band's affinity for leading edge science and science fiction is serving them well and that deriving their inspiration from such should be continued. At 90 minutes in length, this is an amazingly ambitious project (which is one of the reasons it has taken me so long to review despite my having the music in my possession for over four months now.)
     With no offense directed at any single member of the band, I have to admit that I find that Disc 2 presents quite an improved and more seemlessly engineered set of songs/music.

Line-up
 - Elena Kanevskaya - vocals, keyboards, samplers
 - Tatyana Kanevskaya - guitars, charango, backing vocals, samplers
 - Dmitry Shtatnov - bass, backing vocals, analog synths and effects
 - Sergey Rogulya - drums, percussion
      With:
 - Alisher Zvid - saxophone on Methane Rain, Space

CD1
1. "Message From Space" (3:50) opens the album with a lot of promise. (8.5/10)
2. "The Mystery Of The Cosmic Sorrow" (8:30) (7.5/10)
3. "Methane Rain" (8:18) (8.5
/10)
4. "Gamma Waves" (5:30) (8.5/10)
5. "Born To Suffer" (10:09) full of cliches and poor sound choices. (7/10)
6. "Silent World" (8:50) (8/10)
7. "Valley Of Oblivion" (6:03) (8.5/10)

Total time 51:10


CD2
1. "Following A Neutrino's Flight" (9:29) a modern classic of Berlin School electronica. (10/10)
2. "The End Of The Satellite Age" (23:26) a masterfully conceived and rendered soundtrack score! The computer-produced 'orchestration' is realized to perfection! Amazing! Kudos, Dmitry! (and Tatyana). Even the wild and quirky middle section is fitting and interesting. I am glad, however, for the return to more of a MIKE OLDFIELD territory for the final five minutes. Brilliant song! (10/10)
      I.  "Hard Times
      II. "The Great Dance
      III. "It Went The Wrong Way
      IV. "Brand New Program
      V. "Falling Down
3. "Space" (6:02) a fairly nice bluesy, Kate Bush-like tune with some great melodies, bass and sax play. (9/10)

Total time 38:57



85.5 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially the second disc.



50. THE WINSTONS The Winstons


The result of the effort of a trio of Milanese pop stars when they turn their efforts to the pop- and jazz-side of the 1960s and 1970s psychedelic, Canterbury Scene—most specifically the styles explored by Robert Wyatt. 

1. “Nicotine Freak” (4:32) starts out as a pure Robert Wyatt imitation—psycho-babble and all—and an amazingly accurate reproduction, at that. Organ, multiple voice tracks and a little intermittent background sax and electric guitar for the first two minutes. Then all hell breaks loose with the full band breaking into an awesome organ and bass pulse while the multiplicity of male vocal tracks play their weave over the top. Incredibly powerful second half! One of my top three songs for the album. (10/10) 

2. “Diprotodon” (4:09) is probably the most solid Canterbury sounding song on the album (except for the chunky bass). The Farfisa organ play is so fun, so nostalgic! Very much in the same spirit as the two recent HOMUNCULUS RES albums, if a little more reliant on the horns (saxophones) and bass. Another top three song. (9/10) 

3. “Play with the Rebels” (3:42) opens with flutes over organ and cymbal play. When the English vocal enters it takes on a kind of KOOP meets or Brit Pop like Eric Burden/The Animals, Rod Argent or Paul Weller or even Harry Nilsson late 1960s sophisticated intelligent pop feel to it. Aside from the Procul Harum-like organ, it is pure pop late 60s pop. Very, very good late 60s psychedelic pop. (9/10)

4. “…on a Dark Cloud” (7:53) opens like some kind of psycho journey until at 1:00 a pulsing STEREOLAB-like synth bass and Farfisa organ take the fore. Drums and horns begin their contributions at the 2:00 mark. At 2:37 another Robert WYATT-like vocal display takes center stage—only this time sounding more like John WETTON. The dominance of the heavy, chunky bass again takes us slightly away from Canterbury and more into King Crimson or even Zeuhl territory. (9/10)

5. “She’s My Face” (4:22) returns us to the late 60s organ-dominated psychedelic pop.  Sounds a little more emo than it needs. The carnival mood set at the 1:54 mark is cool but weird, but we are quickly turned back into a kind of WHO-frenzy with some BYRDS-like 12-string electric soloing. The song definitely grows on you. Could be a PAUL WELLER-like radio hit. (8/10)

6.  “A Reason for Goodbye” (6:01) opens with a kind of minimalist structure of bass arpeggio and sparse cymbal play while the male lead vocalist sings with a kind of combined Roger Daltry-Robert Wyatt-Joe Strummer form. The jazzy bridge in the middle of the fourth minute is a nice twist before the song simplifies for a return to the vocalist’s singing to Jennifer. The final 90 seconds has the band amping back up for a MOTORPSYCHO-like instrumental jam. (8/10)

7. “Dancing in the Park with a Gun” (5:17) is a definite Canterbury style song with a particularly direct social-political message. It is strongly imbued with the spirit of Robert Wyatt again. One of my top three songs of this album. Any song that uses the word “symmetry” is automatically held high in my esteem. Very psychedelic song. (9/10)

8. “Viaggio nel suono a tre dimensioni” (3:33) is an instrumental that opens and closes with a male voice speaking in Italian as if for radio/television or an advertisement. In between a kind of SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET frenetically paced round establishes itself. The bass play is fun, the swirling organ play, too. (8/10)

9. “Tarmac” (3:30) is a slowed down, bare bones piano-based dirge in which the Robert WYATT-like vocal performance exactly matches the melody play of the piano. So like Sir Robert’s solo work. Probably the weakest song on the album. Musically. (7/10)

10.“番号番号 (Number Number)” (6:11) is a very psychedelic take on the Canterbury style of music—with a Beatles/Doors influence as well. Apparently the lyrics for this song and 2. “Diprotodon” were written by Japanese artist Gun Kawamura (who did the album art) and sung in Japanese by Gabrielli and Dell-Era. The first half of the song drags on a bit, but the shift in tempo and style that begins with the bridge at 2:50 is awesome. Here is where the very distinct influence of The Beatles and The Doors can be felt. Good song. (8/10)

An album of refreshing mastery and creativity despite its draw from older music and artists. One of the few who has been able to synthesize older styles and sounds into a totally new and refreshing form. Very nice use of organ, jazzy drums and saxophone throughout. Kudos, Lino, Roberto and Enrico!

85.0 on the Fish scales = a 4.5 star album; B; a near-masterpiece of jazz-pop Canterbury-styled progressive rock music.



51. HELMUT RÓBOT Kowloon . . . Ciudad amurallada

Wonderfully engaging avant-prog from Argentina. I think it's the adherance to 1950's 'B' movie soundtrack music sounds and styles that makes this crazy music more accessible to me than the music of some of the bands to which they are most compared--MR. BUNGLE and SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM. 

Line-up
Luz Total - drums, glockenspiel (2), percussion (4,5, 6, 10, 11), synths (6), jaw harp (10)
Sir Pasto - piano, hammond organ, keyboards and synths
Un Conocido Ruso - electric bass and double bass
Hemoga Femeba - electric & classic guitar, mandoline (7), glockenspiel (1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12), synths (3), vocals

1. "Permuta Su Alma" (2:05) offers an adequate introduction to what is about to unfold--even the dreamy, stretched-out bow-play of the final minute. (8.5/10)

2. "P.I.S.O." (3:44) puts on display so many levels of information, so many influences, so many styles--all within the first 30 seconds! What follows is confusing and ingenious, sneaking in cheesy organ with metal guitars, solo jazz guitar with cheezy Arp synth and lounge rhythm section, vocals with accordion and Farfisa, odd vocals appearing out of nowhere and then disappearing just as quickly. (9/10)


3. "Contramano" (3:34) opens with drummer performing break-neck-speed snare rudiments  before spaces and shifts--all the while giving the feel of some old alien space invasion movie. Brilliant and stunning. (9/10)


4. "El Criterio Del Crímen" (3:45) a fascinating and crazy 'variation' on some classic movie themes like "Brazil." So well conceived and executed! (9/10)


5. "5 Pánico En La Ducha" (3:55) 
church and cheezy organ based mayhem in the best possible way! Even the drum sounds are manipulated to laughable perfection! Lacking a little in melodic appeasement. (8.5/10)

6. "La Gran Explosion" weirdly wonderful, with a great eerie musical base contrasted by some delightfully cheesy vocals. Has a band ever integrated so many 'classic' movie music themes into one song? (6:44) (8.5/10)

7. "Aragán" (3:39) with the influence of a distinctly Eastern European sound, not quite up to the standards set by FARMERS MARKET or ESTRADASPHERE. (7.5/10)

8. "Los Cobardes De Kent" (3:16) organ, brass, metalized Dick Dale guitars and vocals from . . . the seventh dimension, a definite soundtrack item from a 'classic' B-grade whodunnit. (8/10)


9. "Infernum" (3:43) piano and accordion precede a nice synth & horns foundation. Really cool music! Loses some of its melodic accessibility in the second minute before it shifts into a slowly plodding heavy section--over which the accordion is given a bit of a solo! Then all descends into decay to the end. (8.5/10)


10. "Jamon Fetichista" (4:17) smokey lounge jazz music with alien bug vocals open this one before it turns 180 and becomes fairly straightforward demonic spy movie soundtrack music. Full out death metal music finishes the second minute and spills over into the third. Ziltoid!?! Quiet ends the third minute , briefly, before more metal music returns with some odd foreign language movie voices over the top. Very weird. (8/10)


11. "Bufón" (3:19) heavier, metallic jazz sounds fill the soundscape, covered by many characters' odd vocals and voices (including some heavily distorted growls!) There is a very odd mid-song interlude of voices before more odd and quick-changing music assaults the senses. Obviously a very quick-changing movie, this one. Maybe a bit too weird and chaotic. (8/10)


12. "Lubbert Das" (6:53) returns us back to some more familiar soundtrack sounds and styles. The vocals and instrumental choices for this tapestry are quite laughable/entertaining. The second half is like a study in polyrhythm while the final minute of muted bass line is, again, hilarious. (8.5/10)

Total Time 48:54

Has a band ever integrated so many 'classic' movie music themes into one album? (I never realized just how rich the lexicon of 'B' movie soundtrack music was.) The album gradually becomes heavier, more metal music based as it goes along. I like the first half much better. Still, I am ever appreciative of the skill and talent necessary to pull off such complex, dextrous music. And the musical knowledge it takes to pull so many familiar themes, riffs, and sounds that are familiar to those of us who 'remember' the films of the 50s and 60s.


85.0 on the Fishscales = B; a solid four star album and one that I highly recommend everyone to check out as hearing is believing. 




52. ZHONGYU Zhongyu

Interesting Chinese-infused jazz rock in which leader Jon DAVIS alternates between traditional Chinese instruments, sounds, and melodies and his Chapman Stick while working with the extremely talented core of jazz fusion artists from the band MORAINE.

Line-up
Jon Davis: Chapman Stick, guzheng, Mellotron, ARP 2600
Dennis Rea (Moraine): electric guitar, resonator guitar
Alicia DeJoie (Moraine): electric violin
James DeJoie (Moraine): baritone saxophone, flute, bass clarinet
Randy Doak: drums, percussion

1. "Apple Of My Mind's Eye 2" (2:06) opens like a kind of modern, electrified, space-version of traditional Chinese sounds and music. Interesting! And cool! (9/10)


2. "Torture Chambers Of Commerce" (4:42) opens with an ominous KING CRIMSON Red-era-like feel. Electric guitar, Chapman Stick, and simple drums establish the foundational weave over which violin and flute play in tandem (in harmony). The foundational music is, of course, anything but simple as there is a distinctive polyrhythmic feel to their play à la "Discipline." It is amazing how cool the Chapman Stick is. (9/10) 


3. "Iron Rice Bowl Has Rusted" (3:45) opens with some very traditional sounding Chinese melody lines being play by guzheng, violin, and then flute, before drums and Chapman Stick bass join in to provide the foundation from which the three lead instruments can fly off on their own. At 2:05 a neat little double-time shift in rhythm carries the song into the realms of Americana. The final 45 seconds devolve back into jazz and then folk constructs and sounds, ending with just the guzheng. (9/10)  


4. "Hydraulic Fracas" (8:03) is perhaps the pinnacle of the album in its perfect synthesis of Eastern (flute and percussion rhythms) and Western (Chapman Stick) musical sounds and styles. Great melodies. Great effect of the volume pedal-controlled treble chords on the Stick. Great shift into the more Western prog/fusion side at the end of the fourth minute. One for the ages! (9/10)


5. "Tunnel At The End Of The Light" (4:05) opens with freestyling play from Stick's bass, flute, drums toms, and guitar while the hi-hat keeps everyone in time. At the very end of the second minute the band gels into a kind of variation on a main theme from the previous song, but then soon break apart and go off on their own psychedelic trips. And yet, somehow, they all merge pack onto the same page of sheet music at the 3:20 mark. Nice. (8/10)


6. "Apple Of My Mind's Eye 1" (2:02) opens with the odd (to the Western ears) sound and melodies of the Chinese guzheng. Joined by violin and bass clarinet, the ensuing weave is loosely (minimally?) conjoined and mutually supportive--yet lovely! (8/10)


7. "Half Remembered Drowning Dream" (5:20) opens as if the band is caught unawares of their being recorded as they are tuning. Around the 1:45 mark and again at the two minute mark things sound and feel as if they are starting to gel--but then don't! What an unusual song! Truly this "half-remembered dream" is chaotic, cacophonic and discordant but, perhaps, an accurate musical portrayal of the dream state. (8/10)


8. "Sleepwalking The Dog" (6:41) rises out of the continuous strains of the previous song to gradually take on a more familiar structure and cohesive sound. Chapman Stick provides a kind of background foundation for the violin, bass clarinet, Mellotron and drums to weave a spacey, psychedelic weave--until the violin is giving front and center, at which time the song takes on a kind of JEAN-LUC PONTY sound. The ensuing treated baritone saxophone solo is equally compelling--and then the two start to take turns--a duel! Both pushing the other to greater heights. Awesome! A fuzzed-out, mirrored double electric guitar solo follows over some ancient Mellotron. Cool section! Definitely the best song since "Hydraulic Fracas." (And a great title!) (9/10)


9. "Wanderland Wonderlust" (5:31) folk-country-sounding acoustic guitar picking opens this one until the guzheng and then flute arrive. The three-way weave is interesting and engaging--though I find myself wanting to listen to one instrument in isolation rather than the collective harmony. The Chinese melody line duoed in the second minute by the violin and flute and then worked into a weave with the guitar and guzheng is pretty--and evocative of olden days in aristocratic China. Nice performance. Unfortunately, the electric guitar power chords in the final 90 seconds don't really work (for me). (8/10)


10. "Cat Hair All Over It" (2:10) opens as a six-way free for all--both sides of the Stick, electric guitar, violin, saxophone and drums. Ornette Coleman is there in spirit. (7/10)


11. "MBBL" (5:17) bleeds straight out of the previous song with everybody dropping out to allow the Chapman bass and drums to establish their very jazz-styled foundation. Horns, violin and guitars take over the lead parts--mostly in a kind of big band group harmonic weave. Heavy electric guitar power chords introduce a new section--one in which the electric guitar takes over solo lead. The band's performance beneath the guitar lead is really cool! The lead's solo hits some real highs around 3:10 and sustain this engaging section for another 30 seconds before a bridge sets the horns and violin back into the driver's seat (of course, over that wonderfully tight and grooving rhythm section.) (9/10) 


12. "All Food Comes From China" (4:51) (As an organic produce farmer in Wisconsin, I have to disagree with this song title.) With an Indian raga kind of drone instrument in the background, Jon's guzheng establishes the song's melody and pace. He is eventually joined by the rest of the band--flute, electric guitar, violin and percussion. This is a very peaceful almost meditative song--despite the abrasive sounds used by the electric guitar, percussionist and guzheng. (9/10)

Total time 54:33

85.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; B; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




53. MATTHEW PARMENTER All Our Yesterdays

Another stellar collection of songs from DISCIPLINE leader/founder Matthew Parmenter--with probably the best recording/mix/engineering I've ever heard from a Parmenter/Discipline album. The power and emotion of Matthew's vocal performances are unsurpassed in modern music.

Even the Country/Western instrumentation of the second half of 1. "Scheherazade" (3:40) can't spoil the amazing vocal herein. (9/10)
 

2. "Danse du Ventre" (2:48) plays out an absolutely gorgeous chord progression from start to finish with Frippertronics, bass, tuned and untuned percussion accompanying the piano. (9/10)
 
3. "Digital" (3:39) opens with piano and sustained organ chords while Matthew sings. It feels like a classic PROCUL HARUM song or something of that late-60s ilk, even in the section section with the plucked strings and the third sect with acoustic and electric guitars (which remind me very much of THE STRAWBS). Beautiful, powerful vocals. A top three song for me. (9/10)


4. "I Am a Shadow" (3:51) opens with slow piano arpeggi and bass/bass drum hits as a plaintive MP sings. Programmed drums and guitar arpeggi join in in the first chorus. Odd deep bubbling synth sound in the last 90 seconds is embellished by synth strings and airy background vocals. Very nice if a little simple. (9/10)


5. "All for Nothing" (5:08) opens with some ominous, deep piano notes that are carried forward into the vocal section. Matthew enters with his classic deep voice, enticing us into his web of emotion. Here the old Peter Hammill comparisons cannot help but take place--though I am of the opinion that Matthew is a far more powerful and skillful vocalist than Mr. Hammill. This is the most powerful song, vocal, and my favorite from this album. (10/10)

 
6. "All Our Yesterdays" (4:12) is another stellar example of the Parmenter gift. Moody, and broody, we are treated to an almost Edgar Allan Poe-like journey on this one--delivered and carried almost exclusively by Matthew's voice and lyric--though the guitar solo beginning at 2:52 is truly wonderful. My other top three song. (9/10)


7. "Stuff in the Bag" (5:34) opens with a bouncy piano chord play that feels quite incongruous with the mood established by the previous songs--especially the last two. This is a song that feels like it came from the 1970s--an ELTON JOHN "Brown Dirt Cowboy"-era imitation. This is where the album begins to deteriorate in my esteem--though the production, sound and performance quality remains high, it is the song stylings that are a let down. And at 5:34 it seems to go on forever! (6/10)


8. "Inside" (5:41) beautiful piano chords and intermittent acoustic guitar chords accompany the opening vocal. Soft drum play, bass and organ join in for the chorus--and stay till the end. It's a pretty though simple song, reliant upon the lyric to keep us engaged (or not). The bass play is quite engaging--I like the levels it has in the mix--rather forward--whereas the congas that join in in the third minute are purely obnoxious they're so far forward in the mix--I actually find them detracting from my enjoyment of Matthew's truly wonderful vocal--at least, that is, until the 4:31 when Matthew shocks even me with one of the most heart-wrenching Todd-Rundgren-like vocal displays. Wow! (9/10)


9. "Consumption" (1:59) is a simple acoustic guitar accompanied song in a C/W-folk vein of delivery. Better upon repeated listens. (8/10)


10. "Hey for the Dance" (5:01) opens in classic MP/Peter Hammill fashion--even adding a second track of vocals to the lead in the second verse. Piano, cymbals, and accordion accompany this vocal (auto-duet) through the first two minutes until a full band sound crashes in giving it a definite Green Linnet/Scottish folk song feel. At 3:10 it would seem the song was ending but then a jazzy piano riff shifts the song into BILLY JOEL Turnstiles-era music (with a bluesy guitar solo) to the end). Weird, odd, incongruous. (7/10)

85.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; B; an excellent addition to any prog lovers music collection.


3 comments:

  1. Hey,

    I came here for your review of "Lighthouse" since I bought the album this morning, and I was blown away to see you review the Mercury Tree! Having known the lead singer and songwriter (Ben Spees) for almost 20 years and having a pretty significant history with the band's development, I can fill you in on a couple things.

    1) Dude's a major Porcupine Tree fan - he's the one who showed *me* Porcupine Tree 10 years ago. So any resemblances are fully intentional.

    2) He also has a very wide-ranging set of influences, very far beyond prog. When he started music under the name Electric Doormat in the late '90s/early 2000s, he was smitten with They Might Be Giants and XTC, making a lot of electronic-based stuff with accordion (Ben's a killer accordionist) and with rudimentary guitar. The longer his songwriting went on, the better he got at guitar to where he's this monster now...but his start was nowhere close to prog. I think it definitely helps his songwriting to be that omnivorous.

    3) One of the band's drummers, Mike Byrne, went on to be the Smashing Pumpkins' drummer for a few years recently.

    4) They can pull their songs off live - when I saw them a few years ago, even the other bands were commenting on-stage how en fuego they were.

    I haven't picked up their last couple albums because I used to get them for free as a friend of the band and I got lazy, but it sounds like I need to rectify that. There's no way I can be objective with it after all these years, but good music is good music.

    (I provided some acoustic guitar texture to one of his Electric Doormat songs, the Mercury Tree used to cover one of my songs regularly in their live shows, and last time I spoke to them they were interested in my collaborating with them. I really hope they remember and actually extend the offer. Ben also credits me with getting him interested in asymmetrical time signatures those many years ago - he revealed long after one of his songs that he'd written in 5/8 specifically to impress me. I'd had no idea, but it was a fine song.)

    I'll be checking out the other albums you reviewed, as your tastes seem to be impeccable.

    -Brandon Isleib
    Earth Dyed Red on Soundcloud and some other places

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Brandon! And now to find out that TMT was just in Chicago!-with my friend Gabriel Riccio and his band, The Gabriel Construct, opening for them! Wow!
      I hope my reviews are able to open your ears to some other bands! Thanks for the comment.

      Drew

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