Sunday, May 1, 2016

The Best Albums of the 21st Century

In my days as an American academic, a grade of 94% was the sign of a true "A"--anything below was really an "A-" (or "A minus") and indicated achievement that was less than superior, less than complete mastery of the topic/subject matter. Thus, in my rendering of "The Best Albums of the 21st Century" I will be using my newly employed metric system and the grades that this system revealed to perform my rankings. My job is simple:  Gather all of the albums that earned a rating of 94.0 or better on the Fish scales and organize them on a page according to highest to lowest. Sounds easy, right? Let's find out. 

(P.S. It is pure coincidence that the number of albums listed below is 20, thus a Top 20. But that can [and will] change.)

1. BENT KNEE Shiny Eyed Babies

BENT KNEE’s lead vocalist, Courtney SWAIN, might be the bravest woman I’ve ever heard of. To be able to replicate even one of the amazingly intense vocal performances on this album in a concert setting would wear me out; I’d need at least a day to recover from singing just one of these intensely personal, emotional songs in the incredibly dynamic way that she does.
     Courtney SWAIN may be the most powerful, emotional vocalist I’ve ever heard. She sings with the emotional intensity of BJÖRK or a young ALANIS MORISSETTE, only amped up by ten. She has the vocal power of ETHEL MERMAN. She has, at times, the tone and timbre of NORA JONES, at others the quirk and tone of EDIE BRICKELL, the sass and vibrato of ERYKAH BADU, and still others the stylistic flair of ANNE PIGALLE. At all times she exhibits a fearless, devil-may-care attitude similar to NINA HAGEN and FIONA APPLE. Her lyrics possess a personal and intellectual style similar to RIKKIE LEE JONES. The band’s music expresses itself with an originality that I would compare to KATE BUSH or TOBY DRIVER, KING CRIMSON or JANE SIBERRY, with a sound and structural style at times similar to DEVOTCHKA and yet with the power packed intensity and dynamic range of EMILY AUTUMN. And the instrumental accompaniment seems to always, always match perfectly the mercurial approach of Ms. SWAIN’s vocal deliveries. 

I cannot remember being this excited about an album since I heard MAGMA’s MDK for the first time back in the summer of 2009. I feel like I could write paragraphs about each song they are each so diverse, so powerful, so fascinating, so unusual, so complex and driven by such an amazing collaborative effort! Instead let me wax rhapsodic about one song that epitomizes the unique and unusual product and effort that is BENT KNEE.
       Song 7 is entitled, “Sunshine.” Barely recognizable before the final stanza (which is repeated three or four times at the end of the song), this is actually a remake of a popular song that was written by Georgians Paul Rice and Oliver Hood around 1933, performed for years in the American South—mostly in Louisiana—by the Rice Brothers Gang but only first recorded in August of 1939 by The Pine Ridge Boys (Marvin Taylor and Doug Spivey) though the February of 1940 version recorded for Decca Records by Jimmy Davis (later governor of Louisiana) and Charles Mitchell was what brought popular attention to it. When it was then covered four times in 1941 by no less than the likes of Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Mississippi John Hurt, and Lawrence Welk, “You Are My Sunshine” became permanently embedded in American popular culture. The song has been covered numerous other times — so often, in fact, that according to Wikipedia it is "one of the most commercially programmed numbers in American popular music.” Originally performed in a country or folk music style, “Sunshine” has, over time, been adapted into many musical styles—and is most assuredly familiar to most every natural-born American. But, I will go out on a limb here to declare that most Americans have never heard this song in the form or with the power or intention that Bent Knee now gives it. With Courtney Swain at the helm, the band give “Sunshine” a feel of desperation and longing and regret and vengeful anger at an act of perceived betrayal the likes of which I have never heard before. Ms. Swain sings it with a kind of jilted young girl crazed mournfulness that is entirely unsettling and yet emotionally engaging to the listener. As in many of these songs, there are multiple moments in which I find chills of emotional resonance racing through my bodymind. 
     The song opens with 40 seconds of instrumental upbuild as first muted electric guitar calmly yet ominously strums a simple, muted chord. Then piano adds a repeated single note, then cymbal play mimics the edgy, tense syncopated rhythm before bass and violin join in with their tension-building contributions, coming to a near-frenzied mini-crescendo before utterly disappearing—leaving behind the one constant throughout the song: an unsettling two- and sometimes three-note chord being picked by Ben Levin’s plastic pick on his slightly-muted electric guitar. Soon Courtney enters with her voice singing the first verse in a plaintive NORA JONES-like voice while occasionally hitting a piano chord to provide a little harmonic fill to the otherwise eerily spacious background soundscape. After Courtney stops singing the first verse, the violin, drums and bass make a very brief dramatic appearance before just as quickly dropping out to allow the spacious emptiness to present Courtney’s singing of the second verse. (The renowned chorus is skipped—saved for the end).
     At first she sounds quite positive and upbeat—even seductively innocent--but then her tone switches subtly but unmistakingly for the last sentence: “...but if you leave me, to love another, you’ll regret it all someday,” she sings in a slightly ambivalent, yet perceptively menacing, even threatening, tone. 
     Piano, pounding toms, creepy violin and thumping bass immediately take center stage before Courtney’s reverbed voice enters from the background with “ooo”s that create an unsettling, ghost-like effect—all in the space of 22 seconds!
    Silence—save for the constant plucking of the same muted electric guitar notes—and then the girl comes at us again—each time feeling a little less in control, as if she is coming a little more unglued with each verse. The addition of some well-placed, well-timed high-pitched squeals from the violin coupled with Courtney’s purposeful use of off-key, sliding vocal notes only add to the effect of showing us that this girl is losing her grip, is going psycho, as she sings, “You once told me you really loved me and no one else could come between, but now you’ve left me to love another,” and when she sings the final line of this, the third verse, holding the last word for 20 seconds before turning it into a vehicle for her unbridled shrieking, “you have shattered all my dreams,” I believe her! I get chills! Every time! And I find myself wanting to get as far away from this psycho murdering bitch as possible! 
    The full band has been supporting her while she shrieks and shrills with some brilliant play that Robert FRIPP would be proud of and then just as suddenly, at 3:16, they disappear. We are once again, left alone, with that eerie single-note guitar picking and all of that empty space—and this time for an extended wait of 12 long seconds! When Courtney finally enters for the final chorus—sung in a high octave fragile, whispery, wavering, single, though, eventually, sliding note—she is accompanied by the sound of a snapping of a guitar string! “Twank!” Incredible!  
     As she reaches the final words of the chorus, “Please don’t take my sunshine away,” the full band joins in pumping out their jam at full decibels over which Courtney goes straight into a second singing of the chorus, this time in a full belt Emily AUTUMN-like voice. As the last strains of her descending hold of “awa-a-a-y” fade, the sound of the band morphs into a frenetic, “Day in the Life” type of psychedelic cacophony. But wait! They’re not done! They all come together in a PORCUPINE TREE-like metal chord-pulsing support of Courtney’s last SCREAMING run through the chorus, each instrument pounding out their loudest possible sound in perfect synchronization with each syllable of the lyric, finishing early with, “how much I love you—“!
    Wow! What an incredible, exhausting journey. All in just five minutes and twenty seconds! And if you watch the YouTube videos of the band’s live performances you can see how totally engaged and into the song each band member is. This is why I can’t believe that Courtney or the band can do more than one song per concert performance: they give SO MUCH to each SONG performance that I can’t imagine digging deep to do it again for one much less ten to twenty more songs! It must be exhausting! And how I would LOVE to be in the same room for such a performance. There are not many bands I would pay or make the travel effort to go see, but this is one of them. Maybe the only one. 
     And the most amazing thing of all is that every single song on this album is equally powerful, equally well-designed, orchestrated, impassioned, and produced as “Sunshine”!! There may be songs that I don’t give 10/10 ratings to but there are none that don’t deserve it for effort alone!
The album opens with a brief Broadway/Billy Joel-like piano-based song, 1. “Shiny Eyed Babies” (1:47) which serves as a vehicle for Courtney’s singing which, for some reason, reminds me of the unapproachable ETHEL MERMAN. (9/10)
2. “Way Too Long” (4:59) is a powerful song which reminds me a lot of Alannah MYLES’ 1990 Grammy Award-winning heavy rock, Annie WILSON/HEART-like hit version of her country song “Black Velvet”—in voice, pacing, and musical style. (9/10)
3. “Dry” (6:07) is an awesome and beautiful song presented in a wild, frenetic torch song style that reminds me of Trevor HORN’s Zang Tum Tum molding of French chanteuse, ANNE PIGALLE (1985 Everything Could Be So Perfect). (10/10)
4. “In God We Trust” (5:21) sounds like a great JANE SIBERRY (or perhaps k.d. lang) song—this is so quirky progressive like a song from Jane’s brilliant masterpieces of progressive rock music, The Walking or Bound by the Beauty albums (1987 and 1989, respectively). A great lyric that makes an awesome commentary on modern society. (10/10)

5. “I’m Still Here” (5:08) opens with a very spacey, ambient feel as only treated keyboards provide the background for Courtney to sing over. Then at 1:50 things shift—music and vocal style. Then at 2:10 we get to the meat of the song, a tom-tom-based rhythm with all kinds of high-pitch keyboard and violin notes are screeching away above Courtney’s voice. At 3:15 a new, more prog-like pulsing rhythm-and-bass-led section ensues to play out to the end as Courtney sings in a high crystalline voice, over and over, “I’m still here!” Very KATE BUSH-like in this extraordinary song arrangement. (10/10)

6. “Dead Horse” (5:18) opens with an ALANIS MORISSETTE “Thank U”-like staccato piano chord sequence being bounced about. Courtney’s vocal even sounds like it could be Alanis. A very scratchy, distorted sound is given to all keyboard sounds until at 1:40 an orchestrated clear rock sound is presented. The Alanis MORISSETTE comparisons continue—though, once again, there is a strong presence of JANE SIBERRY within.
     The keyboard and drum interlude mid-song is so cool and so beautiful. This is so Jane! The piano and steady background synth washing that fill the final 75 seconds are gorgeous! And haunting! (10/10)

7. “Battle Creek” (5:43) opens with a bluesy treated PINK FLOYD “Wish You Were Here”/“Pigs—Three of a Kind”-like guitar before Courtney’s quiet, almost background voice begins to sing. The song is constructed so unusually, so ingeniously, again, very much like a KATE BUSH or BJÖRK song and yet with so much more emotional dynamism. Times ten! It’s brilliant! (10/10) 

8. “Untitled” (2:01) starts “Side Two” much in the same way that the title song started “Side One”—with a brief piano-based “show tune” showcasing Courtney’s more classical side—this one sounding a little more like a stark 1920s/30s KURT WEILL/BERTOLDT BRECHT lieder. (9/10)  

9. “Sunshine” (5:20). Shall I recap?! STAY AWAY FROM CHICKS LIKE THIS!! (12/10)

10. “Democratic Chorale” (1:42) is another late-night solo-piano bar-styled piano-based GERSHWIN-like jazz song complete with background television (or radio) noise. (10/10)

11. “Skin” (5:59) opens with a couple of soft piano chords before a frenzied violin plays a high-speed, high-pitched arpeggio, repeated over and over. The first half of the song is a powerful rock song in the tradition of hard female rocker JOAN JETT but at 3:12 Courtney sings, “Everything went wrong” and the rock music stops and a KING CRIMSON “One More Red Nightmare”-like sound and vibe ensues. Violin screeches a low-end note that throws all key-tuning out and off. Keys, industrial-sounding drums, build until they suddenly give way to a jazzy piano-bar like piano solo. Awesome song! Totally unpredictable and ingenious. (10/10)

12. “Being Human” (6:28) is the first song I ever heard by the band—a live YouTube video of a live performance at Hand Forged Works. Hearing that opening line, “I imagine your dead body lying in my bed,” and then “You never liked the thought of being human anyway,” and “Death is one more option to explore” had me hooked even before the incredibly powerful music of the full band kicks in. I love this arrangement, this music! And when Courtney fills a space in the music at the 1:45 mark with a shrieking, “But it feels like PAIN!” she kills me! 
     Amazing, amazing song that rivals even “Sunshine” for Song of the Year! Every instrument is worth studying, all of their contributions are so amazing! And listen to the way in which the guy running the sound board (Yo! Vince!) will play with the effects on Courtney’s voice. Mid-song! Amazing! And then the band plays in ambient mode for the song’s last minute. (11/10)

13. “Toothsmile” (7:23) opens with a cheesy organ over which Courtney sings a gorgeous, emotional BJÖRK-like vocal. For the first half of the song the other band members add a variety of odd orchestra-like sounds and incidentals to the song. But then a dramatic PETER GABRIEL (“3”)-like power section takes over—over which Courtney’s treated voice continues to belt away. Then, at the 4:30 mark Courtney’s heavily treated speaking voice starts to chant out what seems like a list or poem or spell or something deranged as the band winds down its tempo very slowly in a kind of slow portamento or as if the electric equipment is slowly using up the last of its battery power. (10/10)  

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

This album is no joke! This is the best album of 2014 and the best album of the 2010s (so far)! I have never heard such a powerful and refreshing album. And there is so much to hear! Each time I listen I hear tons of new things—incredibly clever nuances and incidentals. And GREAT production! This album will most certainly take its place in my Top Ten All-time Favorite albums. The only question is where?

2. HOMUNCULUS RES Limiti all'eguaglianza della parte con il tutto

A band of Italian virtuosi from Messina, Sicily, who signed on with the AltrOck Productions stable. This is their debut album from 2013 and an album that ranks #3 on my list of All-Time Favorite Albums. In a style that is the most completely extrapolated from the fun and upbeat jazz-rock style of the 1960s and 70s that we've come to call the Canterbury Style of progressive rock, Dario D'Alessandro, David and Daniele Di Giovanni, Frederico Cardaci, Giovanni di Martino, Domenico Salamone and Dario Lo Cicero, otherwise known as Homunculus Res, perform wildly unpredictable and humorous music that definietely evokes that light, airy, happy-go-lucky feelingthat is so often associated with the Canterbury Scene of such bands as THE SOFT MACHINE, CARAVAN, SUPERSISTER and Italy's own PICCHIO DAL POZZO. All songs on Limiti all'eguaglianza della parte con il tutto (but one) are short (less than four minutes in length) and quirky in the Soft Machine/Matching Mole style. There is great keyboard and synthesizer work throughout and the drumming and rhythm section hold so tight as each and every song incorporates amazing and unexpected whole-band syncopation, tempo and key shifts throughout. The laid-back vocals of composer and Casiotone virtuoso Dario D'ALESSANDRO are awesomely soothing. The album spreads the keyboard credits among four people, though live they most often have just one or two musicians performing those duties. The album also credits AltrOck ubiquity, Paolo "SKE" BOTTA among the guests who made significant contributions. 

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

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

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

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

3. 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.


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 masterpiece of progressive rock music and my current pick for ALBUM OF THE YEAR!

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

4. PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel

In this 2009 release from Polish band, PROGHMA-C, self-proclaimed “musical evolutionists, I have found my favorite metal album of all time. Most songs feel as though I’m hearing the rhythm section of TOOL with lead guitar work akin to U2’ s THE EDGE Evans, keyboard work reminiscent of VANGELIS in his 70s, 80s, and ambient/New Age soundtrack era, and some of the most diverse vocal stylings I’ve ever heard on an album—coming from lone vocalist extraordinaire, Piotr 'BOB' Gibner. Gibner’s screaming/growling is actually fitting, melodic, and easy to decipher; his narration on “FO” is awesome, and his versatile singing voice crosses between that of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN, MR. BUNGLE/FAITH NO MORE’s MIKE PATTON, and DEPECHE MODE’s DAVID GAHAN.

1. “Kana” (9:05)
opens with some odd electro/world sounds before an awesome mix-meter rhythm section settles in. The treated vocal has a very cool TED NUGENT feel to it until the growling begins. Around 1:30 the music switches to muted guitar/bass rhythm with ‘BOB’ Gibner’s vocals taking on quite a Maynard James style and feel. But it’s such an awesome combination! The “chorus” is really a full-frontal return to the opening themes. Then in one of the band’s trademark surprise twists, the lead guitar stars doing some Edge/Adrian Belew like playing. With the return to the B section I notice for the first time the David Gahan timbre in BOB’s voice. Such an awesome voice! At 4:22 another unexpected turn occurs with an almost POLOICE “Synchronicity” section—definitely a jazzed up, ANDY SUMMERs-like lead section. 5:05 we return to the original rhythm but broken down to such sparse sound with snare, hi-hat and guitar doing their syncopated odd metered rhythm. Then at 6:03 enter the eerily echoing and slow decaying slow guitar arpeggios—like something from an Eno Ambient album—and yet the metal rhythm section continues! This is simply incredible music! These guys truly are innovators and “musical evolutionists.”  I urge all of you to at least listen to this first song—it’s available on YouTube (as are all of the album’s songs as well as the album as a whole). (10/10)

2. “FO” (6:40)
opens with some awesome Edge-like guitar play before Gibner’s slightly treated voice begins reading/reciting a narrative in English. At 1:28, the music breaks, some odd percussives fill the space, then we return to the odd-metered syncopation and vocal narration for a little while longer, until at 2:08 the growl-screams take over. Then, surprise!—at 2:42 a soft, beautifully sensitive voice similar to that of MARIUZ DUDA takes over the singing. But this guy is better! He has such amazing control and the ability to do some shockingly subtle things with his vocal instrument! At the four minute mark we are treated to a bare-bones breakdown of the rhythm while a BLADE RUNNER-like horn-synthesizer slowly shifts its pitches while at the same time At 5:14 all but the drums disappear while a series of slowly strummed chords fill the center while odd spacey synth noises float around behind and around. Incredible song! Incredible ending! Another song I URGE you to listen to! (10/10)

3. “Spiralling To Another” (9:31)
opens with some very spacey, etheric guitar play before the familiar syncopated, mixed-metered rhythm section establishes itself. Gibner’s voice enters with his Mariuz Duda sound—yet so much more sensitive and emotional. At 2:52 it gets heavy and the growling crashes into the field—but it never detracts or overwhelms the incredible music going on and lyrically can still be understood. Guitar chords strummed singly Then the music seems to ‘get stuck’ as guitar notes, bass line, cymbol play and choppy vocal play. A return to rapid rhythm sets up for guitarist Parweł 'SMAGA' Smakulski to do his awesome EDGE EVANS stylings. At 7:22 the full-force barrage of rhythms and growl/screams returns while SMAGA continues his trance-like guitar strumming. At 8:20 the music turns full metal, feeling like a TOOL song playing into infinity—then it stops! Another awesome song. While not quite as good as the first two, it too deserves a (10/10) in my opinion. (The other two should be turned up to eleven.)
4. “Spitted Out” (1) (3:20)
establishes itself with another heavy complicated rhythm—this one sounding/feeling quite like a FAITH NO MORE song. At 1:30 the vocalist enters with his growl/screams. 20 seconds later he switches to more normal screaming, again, not unlike the rap-styling of FAITH NO MORE’s MIKE PATTON, before returning to growls. (8/10)
5. “Spitted Out (Out)” (3:57)
is the album’s second (part? or version?) with this title. It starts out with a completely different sound—establishing a kind of KING CRIMSON “Discipline” weave amongst its musicians. Slowing down, breaking it down, speeding it up--the band toys around with the riffs and beat before letting the SMAGA break out with a proper metal electric guitar lead (the album’s first!) Though nothing earth-shattering, the guitarist’s confidence with bending the song’s key to his chormatically shifting scales is noteworthy and admirable. (9/10)
6. “So Be-live” (5:48)
opens with a fade in with electric (Fender Rhodes?) piano and jazzy bass and drums and finger icked electric guitar parts weaving into a slow and methodic tapestry. The whispery voice used by BOB is quite perfect for the litl and fluidity of the music. At 2:04 the music shifts toward the now more familiar TOOL-like rhythm structures. BOB’s “Duda voice” gives this section a very RIVERSIDE-like feel. But then--surprise!--the distinct shift to the DAVID GAHAN voice occurs as synth playing portamento in the background toys with the song’s mood in a VANGELIS-kind of way. Then—wow!--growl/screams take over and add an amazing intensity to this incredible song! (10/10)
7. “I Can't Illuminate with You” (2:29) 
opens with what sounds like a sustained note being bowed on the lowest ranges of a stand-up double bass. As the intro plays out it becomes evident—with the help of all the other BLADE RUNNER_llike “future”/space sounds—that the note is coming from a Vangelis-like synthesizer. The song, it turns out, is actually an intro to the next song, as it seamlessly bleeds into and becomes…

8. “Naan” (8:57)
opens with another syncopated mixed-meter rhythm but this time the VANGELIS-like keyboards and playful JAN AKKERMAN-like rhythm work of the lead guitar pronounce something new and fresh. At the one minute mark all instrumentation merge into a 30-second single chord. Awesome. Then BOB’s sensitive Duda Voice enters to break the spell. The ensuing music scape is TOOL-like yet flittering about are the EDGE-like guitar effects. The vocals which follow are unmistakably DEPECH MODE-like. What an amazing vocal talent!! And an amazing lyric! So powerful! Not Duda, Gahan, Keenan, or Patton could hold a candle to the light of this singer! At 6:28 there is a shift into a discordant chord sequence with a whispered voice and syncopated snare and bass section. At 7:25 the music has evolved inot full band paly again, with BOB’s “Maynard voice” taking over. Echoed growls belnding into the cymbol play are the last vocals to be heard in this one. Awesome! Again! (10/10)
9. “Army Of Me” (Björk Cover) (6:33)
opens with waxing and waning synth note—(sounds like a Prophet 5)
before the standard Proghma-C/Tool rhythm track establishes itself. Then the vocal is introduces—understated and delicate—before an absolutely stunning multi-tracked vocal chorus is unleashed on us. Alternating back and forth from controlled single voice to , passing through empty spaces and synth-solo-dominated sections, we are treated to a song whose original version is both lost to me and immaterial. This is an awesome song no matter who wrote it! (10/10)

I don’t think I’ve ever given out so many 10/10s in a review before, but that's how highly I think of each song—and is a reflection of how much I enjoy listening to this entire album. Probably my favorite driving CD during the past four months. I do want to mention how incredible I think the mesmerizing and yet tight is the work of drummer Łukasz 'KUMAN' Kumański and his cohort on bass, Michał 'VASKI' Górecki; they carry out the complicated, sometimes breathtaking rhythms flawlessly. Mega kudos, boys.

96.67 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece. This is one of those times that I wish I could post a rating of 6 stars—to indicate something incredibly special. The band claim that their music is intended to contribute to “Enhancing the palette of our musical universe.” I for one think that they are succeeding in this capacity. This is fresh stuff!  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to ALL progheads!

The Greatest Show on Earth

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

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

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

6. LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO La notte anche de giorno

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

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

II. “Madre Antica” (20:08) (10/10)
7. “Il Paese Ferito” (5:52) opens with heavier, more ominous tone and mix of instruments. At the one minute mark the tempo and rhythm changes—to which piano and flute add a jazziness. Violin, synths and electric guitar interplay until at 2:00 Alessio’s voice enters and the music shifts to sound like a the narration to a bar room movie scene. At 3:00 piano, bowed double bass, and violin carry forward the pastoral late night debauchery feel with Alessio singing within the instruments’ storytelling. At 3:50 drums and organ enter and change the tempo into a kind of stop-start. At 4:25 electronic keys and guitars enter play with a two-steps forward, one step back ascending chord progression. At 5:15 there is a shift to more PINK FLOYD-like guitar chord and fretless bass with violin accompaniment until the song bleeds into the next. I like the kind of classical music structure and feel of this one. (9/10)
8. “Cavanella” (3:09) seemlessly shifts the music to a more upbeat mood with Alessio’s easy-going vocal leading throughout, though his speed and style changes four different times before the instrumental section at 2:20 shifts into another different time, rhythm and style before settling into the next song. (9/10)
9. “La staffetta” (4:01) (10/10) opens with a nice weave of synths and violin before Alessio comes in to continue telling us the story of the Ancient Mother. He gets quite emotional, powerfully so, at the end of the first minute. A brief break allows everyone to recharge before coming back full force, letting Alessio and the violinist take their turns. The music turns quiet at the end of the third minute, allowing the entry of a jazzy piano —who takes us solo into the suite’s finale:
10. “Come Statua di Dolore” (7:06) opens so cool, so confidently. It’s like the band knows they’ve had you and they’re saving the best for the end—the enravelling, the dénouement, the dessert. And what a dessert it is! A chapter straight out of the best of the Masters. Perfect instrumental work, perfect melodies, perfect chord changes, perfect choices in instrumentation. GENESIS, PFM, CURVED AIR, at their absolute best! The violin is definitely on front display—along with Alessio’s voice, of course. What a way to end an absolutely brilliantly crafted album! (10/10)
My biggest disadvantage in reviewing this album is that I don’t know Italian and I have thus far been unable to find translations into English for the lyrics or even a synopsis for the stories being told. If I do eventually find what stories are being told, I will amend my review. 
96.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. ALBUM OF THE YEAR 2015!

7. SETNA Guérison

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

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

8. PÄATOS Timeloss

Päatos is a Swedish band formed in the early 21st Century by two former members of Landberk and Morte Macabre, bassist Stefan Dimle and guitarist Reine Fiske, and two relative newcomers in husband and wife Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm, the drummer, and cellist/vocalist Petronella Nettermalm, respectively. Timeloss is their debut album and, unfortunately, the only album in their catalogue to include axeman extraordinaire Fiske.
Päatos is another band I've been fortunate to stumble in the past year. After listening to streams, samples and making a few experimental MP3 purchases, I decided to buy the band's first album, Timeloss. Not a bad song on the disc, though the two ultra mellow ones, "Hypnotique" and "Happiness," do not get the same frequent play as the others. What really sold me on this band, aside from the dreamy voice of Petronella Nettelmans, were the drums. "Teá," "Sensor" and "Quits" have some absolutely stunning speed and subtlety--reminding me of STEVE GADD with a little more power (when he wants to). Drummer Richard "Nuxflux" Nettelmans (Petronella's husband) shows amazing restraint and never seems to be trying to steal the limelight from the others--though his every flourish and syncopation surprises and almost defies belief. Such confidence, free-form creativity, and facility!

1. "Sensor" (5:15) begins like a soft 70's jazz piece, but at 48 seconds in it kicks into high gear rock and roll. (Listen to those drums!!) Though perhaps Petronella's weakest vocal performance (she's strangely mixed into the background with the overall effect as if she's singing from inside an isolation tank!) At the 2:57 mark the tempo slows into a Yes/Genesis moment as the mellotron surges forward (Did I mention Päatos uses mellotron?) followed by a guitar solo which then carries the music back into it's fast tempo as the band jams to the song's sudden conclusion. (10/10) 

2. "Hypnotique" (8:36) accomplishes just what the title declares. It is a long, very soft piece in which Petronella's voice, combined with her husband's soft jazz drumming, lulls one into submission. But, not unlike Pure Reason Revolution's Dark Third, this CD really shines with its layers of very interesting and rewarding subtleties. For example, at the 2:40 mark the music just cuts out, leaving the listener with a rather nice piano and flute interlude. When 55 seconds have passed, Nuxflux sneaks his way back in with a little flourish on his Zildjian before reestablishing the song's original jazzy rhythm, thereby cueing the start of the guitarist's very pleasant and somewhat "raw" guitar solo. Eventually, after the mellotron has snuck into the background, at about the 5:40 mark, the flute reappears to take over the guitar solo's melody line. Then, just as suddenly, the music stops for a brief cello solo before giving way to a brief return of Petronella--this time with a bit more of a forceful presence--until the song finally devolves into another all-out band jam to it's conclusion. A song that has grown in my esteem tremendously over time. (9/10)

3. I absolutely love "Teá" (5:50) because of its native language vocals. Swedish has never sounded so beautiful! But, again, pay attention to the subtleties in this song: piano and DRUMS! The guy is amazing! (10/10)

4. "They Are Beautiful" (7:48) begins very Genesis "Entangled"-like before a double bass and tympanic percussion rhythm set the tone for another of Petronella's mind-massages. Hypnotic guitar and mellotron and with the surprise appearances of several sneaky, snaky reed instruments alternating with an electric guitar's note- and volume-play make for a very interesting and unusual song.  Again: Headphones are highly recommended. This is another song that has grown tremendously on me over the years. (9/10)

5. "Quits" (14:49) gets a lot of grief from reviewers--especially prog reviewers--but I think this song is brilliant--very reminiscent of Ben Watt of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL's "Walking Wounded" phase. Drum machines and programs? What about all of the obviously live play Huxflux is doing? Man, the percussion work on this song alone make it a near masterpiece! And, no, I don't care if he's using synthesized or acoustic percussives. I love his guts and creativity! The synth work is also so interesting. Richard Barbieri meets Ben Watt meets Mr. Bill Bruford! And let me not forget to give this bass player his due: he does an awesome job tying husband and wife into the same cohesive piece. Awesome music. (And don't forget the horns! Amazing fun on the trumpets! Great devolution into Joni itchell/Weather Report/King Crimson-esque chaos! I love it!) (10/10)

Awesome band. Awesome album. Awesome jams at the end of each song. I forgot to mention that for PÄATOS' first album, they sported former LANDBERK and MORTE MACABRE genius guitarist REINE FISKE, one of my favorite two guitarists of the 21st Century. Sadly, Reine did not continue playing with Päatos. (But check him out on DUNGEN and THE AMAZING albums!)

96.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a true prog masterpiece. Timeloss' only flaw is its length: a very old-fashioned 39 minutes!

9. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Dream of the Magic Jongleur

Thanks again to Sunhillow and Does anyone recognize how lucky we are to have The Psychedelic Ensemble in our lives? Three top notch albums in three years--and all conceived, composed, performed, and produced by one guy! Has there ever been a solo composer/performer who has produced music of this quality? And people: This Is The Best of all the Psychedelic Ensemble releases. It is utterly astounding! Time after time I am blown away by the emotion, the virtuosic performances--on many instruments--and the incredible clarity and engineering of this production. There are many times on this album that I am hearing an instrument solo, duelled by another, then a third! a FOURTH! even a fifth instrument gets into the act--all playing top notch riffs, talking to each other through the fire of their instruments. Astounding! Amazing!

God! I hate these reviews and the inability to get my excitement and enthusasm across. This, not "Shattered ..." or "Visions" or "Grace for ..." or "Ghosts" or SKE is the Album of the Year 2012!! Certainly the year's Best Album That Nobody's Ever Heard! There is no keyboard player on the planet that can compare to this guy's power and versatility.

The album opens with a cacophony of beautiful world sounds: bells, sitars, church organ, fuzz guitars and so much more, before it kicks into a great rocker with such a fullness of sound. "Overture: Into theNight" (9/10) is such a 'complete' well-thought out, well-constructed song (much like many of the BIG BIG TRAIN compositions of recent years)--which sets the stage for a whole album of absolutely TOP QUALITY music. The 5:54 mark gives the first real introduction to the ride you're in for: amazing soli, multiple instruments dueling (in this case like STEVE HOWE and RICK WAKEMAN in their finest hours).

The instrumental "The Quest" (9/10) begins with a STARCASTLE/ROBIN TROWER sound until the main themes are played simultaneously buy guitars and multiple keyboards. Love the 'bubble bass' sounding not unlike fretless master PERCY JONES. He even gets a solo (an awesome one at that!) at the 2:40-3:10 span. Return to STARCASTLE/YES sound. Awesome energy!

"The Secrets of your Mind" (9/10) opens with a bit slower pace but with exciting 'bubble' JACO PASTORIUS-like bass patterns. Vocals are rather high and etheric--somehow similar to JAMES TAYLOR--with some really well-constructed intricate harmonies. The long solo section has more laid back and layered approach to multiple instrumental soli--electric and acoustic guitars, electric and acoustic keyboards, GENIUS! Absolute genius!!

Next is the mind-bending church organ song, "The Benefaction of the Nobal Wizard" (5:06). This was my first experience while listening to this album of goosebump and awe. It starts simply, unassumingly. Then, suddenly a full organ chord is added. Then, second hand and bass pedals. The effect is humbling, truly humbling. Not unlike Wakeman's intro to Yes' "Awaken" combined with the the traditional Yes intro, Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite"--but with more emotion. (10/10)

"Listen to Me" (9/10) brings us back to Earth--but at fairly high speed--and with some incredible keyboard and guitar work--the level of instrumental performance has just been turned up to 11! Vocals are the ONLY weak point here--and they aren't bad! 

The all-too-brief "Stones to Flowers" (10/10) brings us back to the BEATLES/MAMAS & THE PAPAS 60s before gently fading into a dreamy BBT-like vocal collage.

"Magicking" (2:30) presents a beautiful, sensitive, virtuosic acoustic guitar duet. Somewhat reminiscent of "Mood for a Day" but moreso of Brother Ape's gorgeous BILL EVANS-like "In a Rare Moment" from 2010's In A Rare Moment of Insight. (10/10)

"The Riddle" (7:56) puts speed and multi-instrumental soli back in our faces in a BIG way! My favorite song on the album, it is full of such hauntingly beautiful melodies--every vocal, instrument's sound, instrumental solo is of such high adrenaline pumping value that I don't think even JAN AKKERMAN could do it better! Once in a rare eon you wish there was a rating number higher than 10! This is it; my 11/10 for 2011/12! Amazing song. I've listened to it over and over--and have had such joy trying to imagine playing all of the soli, imagining the level of extreme genius that could compose and perform at such a high level. TPE simply cannot be human! (10/10)

Then--GET THIS--"The Riddle" is followed by a truly rare and amazing song of deft skillmanship:

The bass performance on "Dream and Premonition" (4:22) is jaw-dropping in a JACO PASTORIUS way. A song if you heard you would not soon forget! (10/10)

The vocal harmonies and guitar and flutes on the JETHRO TULL-like "Strange Days" (6:38) is wonderful. Not unlike 2010's CICCADA release, like getting a fresh dose of great TULL! (9/10)

The album's closer, the 11-minute epic "The End of Days: Epilogue" (9/10) is interesting for its emotional Richie Havens-like lead vocalist, high paced frenetic drumming (à la BROTHER APE), and of course, amazing interplay of what seems like an infinite number of keyboards and guitar. Great BIG BIG TRAIN feel to it.

94.54 on the Fish scales = a five star album; A TIMELESS MASTERPIECE. (No arguments accepted.)




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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11. ULVER Shadows of the Sun

My first Ulver album and what an album! Definitely one of the best collections of songs, start to finish, from this, the 21st Century. And though this is a dark and pessimistic concept album, it does an amazing job of conveying the despair and hopelessness of our role as perpetrators and victims of planet Earth's demise. The use of piano, tympanic drums, Oslo Session String Quartet, deep breathy vocals, synthesizers and even trumpet and theremin all help to impart the heavy, tragic mood exquisitely, even beautifully, if that is possible. I am ever awed by the wonderfully unexpected and subtle turns and twists within each and every song--including the "extra" 2 minutes of recorded silence at the end of the album's last song (after the world and/or life on the planet has been extinguished). Though an inattentive listen may leave the listener thinking the album is just one song and one mood, the attentive head-phoned listener is privy to a very artful and intimate experience. The first song, "EOS," sucks you into the album experience like light into a blackhole, the other songs entertain as you fall in, as light begins to fade, and the last song, "Whatever Happened?" spits you out on the other side, into a fresh, new universe. A lot to ponder; a lot of responsibility in their message. Fantastic album. Definitely a classic of our time, for the ages; a masterpiece. My favorite album of 2007. Sorry to fans who look forward to my play-by-play song list but this is a true flow-through experience; the album is a whole that, IMHO, should not be dissected--though I will say that the album ends as strongly if not more strongly as it begins.

1. "Eos (5:05) The mood setter! (10/10)

2. "All the Love" (3:42) Trumpets! (10/10)

3. "Like Music" (3:30) How true! (9/10)

4. "Vigil" (4:27) So emotional, so gorgeous! (10/10)

5. "Shadows of the Sun" (4:36) Awesome piano. (9/10)

6. "Let the Children Go" (3:50) Percussion! (10/10)

7. "Solitude" (3:53) Yes! The remake of the Black Sabbath song! (8/10)

8. "Funebrae" (4:26) How deep will this tragedy go? (9/10)

9. "What Happened?" (6:25) One incredible end song--perhaps the greatest of all-time! (10/10)

94.44 on the Fish scales = 5 stars, a masterpiece of progressive rock music.

12. ANATHEMA Falling Deeper 

Though I only own Anathema's music catalogue from Natural Disasters to the present, my feelings with regards to their music has remained fairly constant. I love their sound, I love their spiritually-minded lyrical messages, I love the flow and feel of their records, I just find their song-writing style too boring and repetitive: a song's opening riff or chord sequence is played start to finish with nary a flutter or flourish, ad nauseum; they're Post Rock/Math Rock's staunch poster child! But here, on Falling Deeper, the band may have stumbled upon their music's true purpose, it's best delivery style, it's most powerful presentation: the orchestrated soundtrack. Every song on this album is incredibly rich, hypnotically engaging, and lyrically sparse--all of which allow for a much more varied and deepened listening experience. Plus, the flow of this album's songs has an even tighter weave, each song seeming to be but a single 'movement' within the context of the whole. Try out "Sleep in Sanity" (3:51) (10/10), "J'ai fait une promesse" (4:23) (10/10), "Alone" (7:16) (10/10), "We, the Gods" (3:03) (9/10), and "Sunset of Age" (7:20) (10/10)

Bravo, Anathema! In my opinion, this is how all of your music should be presented.

94.44 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music, one of the most deeply engaging albums I've heard in a long time--an album I want to listen to over and over--especially for the opening and closing songs: masterpieces for the ages.

13. FAUN Renaissance 

On this their third major album release, FAUN puts on display their continued experimentation with electronic support to the moods of their medieval and Gothic-tinged story telling. This seems to be the directional flow that Germany's prog folk masters have chosen since their more acoustic start on 2002's Zaubersprüche.

1. "Satyros" (3:34) The album opens with a very festive yet sacred sounds of multiple female voices harmonizing in Renaissance/mediæval fashion over some hard driving hand percussion and fast moving "ancient" instrumentation. (10/10)

2. "Da Que Deus" (3:54) opens with similarly layered harmonies of multiple female voices but moving at a bit slower a pace than the album opener. Nice recorder and harp solos are given space between the vocal sections. (10/10)

3. "Tagelied" (5:01) opens with strummed lute and deep heart-beat thrum drum establishing a deep penetrating effect before the male lead vocal enters with female background vocal support coming from far back in the mix. There is an ominous, almost scary feeling conveyed through the music and singing of this song. Beautiful wooden flute solos are interspersed between the vocal sections. A brilliantly constructed song. (10/10)

4. "Rhiannon" (3:31) is an instrumental reel that opens with some treated/synthesized and acoustic hand percussives weaving together with bagpipe, bazooka, and other instruments all moving together at breakneck speed. (9/10)

5. "Sirena" (5:11) opens with some sequenced rhythms playing quietly, well behind the harmonized vocal "ooooo-aahhs." The Arabian-tinged droning medieval troubadour music that develops would probably be better were I to have an understanding of the lyrics. (8/10)

6. "Königen" (6:25) opens with some Arabian-sounding female voice panning around in the far background as arpeggiated harp plays in the foreground. Set to a slow tempo of computer-sequenced electronic drums and hi-hat, a single female voice enters to carry the lyric over a beautiful, rather simple melody line. Very little embellishments to the vocals or recorder solis. Pure and simple, the story must be quite powerful in order to have been given this very simple arrangement. Again, I wish I knew the language so I could better appreciate the story of the Kings. Lovely song! (9/10)

7. "Iyansa" (4:51) is another droning simple piece with mostly solo female voice singing the lyric. Hypnotic. (9/10)

8. "Rosmarin" (6:45) returns to the more woven textures of the earlier songs, including the vocals, which start out with just Oliver singing but soon add the female harmonies (interestingly, in a lower register!) Hurdy gurdy, bouzouki, bagpipes, and hand bells and shells weave nicely to form a solid support for the vocals and in-between soli, until at the four minute mark everybody stops and a series of synthetic sounds take over in a quiet interlude before percussive and single-note instruments are slowly added back into the mix. At 5:40 an electric guitar power chord surprises and is repeated every few seconds to the end of the song as a single voice whispers repeatedly "es come der tar" or something like that. Wow! What a surprise! Awesome song! (10/10)

9. "Das Tor" (8:13) opens with another deeply ominous electronic background industrial drone as a crazed female voice hums a simple nursery rhyme melody in the middle ground. Lisa takes up a simple melody alone for the first verse and then is joined by another female voice and some other instrumentation (violin, flutes, hand drums, electronic drums, harp). The song builds and builds, slowly but ever so powerfully, resolutely. Even the vocals begin to climb the ladder of octaves as the foundational rhythms and weaves plod along insistently, unrelentingly, beautifully. By the sixth minute the song is devolving into the opening mix, with those eery hums and now laughing children's voices carrying forward the disturbing feeling of this song. Incredible song. Incredible. (10/10)

FAUN here show their continued and increasing experiments with inputs from computer and electronic-generated support as contributed by electronic expert, Neil Mitra. For the most part it works--especially as a complement or takeover for the rhythm section. Oliver, Fiona and Rüdiger's contributions on ancient traditional instruments are virtuosic yet restrained and never overbearing--which puts a nice focus on the vocals of which the gorgeous voice of Lisa Pawelke seems to have taken greater prominence. I have to say that, so far, every FAUN album seems to be better than the previous one. (Too bad Totem did not continue this trend.) This album may be better than 2011's Eden but it has not yet won my heart to the extent that Eden has.

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

14. METHEXIS Suiciety 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

15. 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 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!

16. 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 fan response to 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 iamthmorning. (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" (:) 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 cvoice 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 confidnecee 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, this is a five star masterpiece of progressive rock music, essential for any prog lover's music collection. 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.


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.

 - 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
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.

18. FAUN Eden

 Eden is perhaps the best pure folk Prog Folk album I've ever heard. Every song is engaging and so well balanced between gorgeous melodies, amazingly coordinated and complementary instruments and voices interwoven in magical balance, plus there is a great warmth and mesmerizing quality to the recording and due to the fullness of the sound. There are many songs on Eden that are longer than the band has traditionally recorded, which, due to the mesmerizing weaves and melody lines, is something I enjoy tremendously. The drones, samples, and electronic contributions of computer whiz Neil Mitra are back with a vengeance (after a break from 2009's "acoustic" album, Buch der Balladen) and I have to admit that he's really found his perfect place in the mix: never overpowering but always present, helping to fill the field with warmth and emotion. Band-leader and lead male vocalist Oliver Sa Tyr has truly mastered his gentle but emotional instrument. Sometimes, haunting, others romantic and enticing, he sings as if the heir apparent to the God Orpheus. And the band has finally found in Margareta Eibel the right female vocalist to replace the superb soprano, Lisa Pawelke. Teamed with founding member Fiona Rüggeberg's professional alto voice, the two soar. Plus, Margareta comes with more instrumental diversity than Lisa had (hurdy-gurdy was Lisa's lone instrumental contribution) and Fiona has added a few new instruments to her spectacular repertoire. Eden sounds more full blood Celtic than previous albums but it is a sound that suits FAUN. If there is any "flaw" and I'm not sure if this can be considered a flaw considering the power and beauty of this album's songs, but this album represents quite a departure in linguistic choice as many songs and narrations are done in English, and far less of the songs are gathered from ancient and mediæval tongues as was done on Licht and Renaissance.

1. "Prelude" (2:04) sets the appropriate "ominous industrial" tone for the subject of this album, man's fall from Eden. A Neil Mitra masterpiece. (9/10)

2. "Lupercalia" (3:15) opens with ominous base note, synth wash and treated drums setting the stage for Fiona and MAgareta's perfectly timed, sacred/religious-sounding harmonies. Harp, haunting ghost-like background voices and intermittent bursts from a sonorous horn complete the spell cast by this masterpiece. (10/10)

3. "Zeitgeist" (4:03) opens with clock-like harp-bass lines and straight-timed drumming before Oliver's rather thin voice enters. Strings harmonics accompany a sample narration of environmentalist content. Bagpipe and hurry-gurdy play into the mix as well. Another display of Mitra's masterful electronic "glue." The lone acoustic harp accompanying Oliver's voice to song's end is brilliant. I just wish I understood German. (9/10)

4. "Iduna" (3:22) opens with a Celtic bagpipe and hurry-gurdy melody weave accompanied by a throbbing electronic bass line, clapping, and Oliver's bouzouki. Fiona and Magareta weave their voices into the lead vocal followed by "la-la-la-las." Trilling flutes also mix into the mid-song instrumental weave. Quite a rousing jam! (10/10)

5. "The Butterfly" (1:34) opens with Oliver and Fiona (and later Margareta's harp) weaving a very traditional (and familiar) sounding Celtic reel sans percussion. Gorgeous recording. (10/10) The melody line carries forward to become the basis for the vocal weave of:

6. "Adam Lay Ybounden" (4:37) is the album's first song sung in English. Here Margareta displays a high trilling in her vocal approach that is similar to that of early Elisabeth Fraser. Also, the vocal duet is unusual (for Faun) for its alternating timing and different style of harmonizing. The song's highlight is the whistle and bouzouki carried Celtic melody. (8/10)

7. "Hymn to Pan" (6:57) opens with gently picked bouzouki and sequenced percussion setting up for Oliver's low and confiding vocal (again entirely in English). Fiona's harmonizing background voice soon joins in as do full hand percussion and Fiona's wood flute. The song's instruments soften to the extreme as Oliver and Fiona continue singing the chorus. An African/Balinese-sounding marimba weave takes the fore as support to Fiona's flute and Oliver's delicate, almost-nervous solo voice. Amazing vocal performance! At the end of the sixth minute the support of the full band instrumentation rebuilds until again falling away as Oliver and Fiona finish the song's vocal. (10/10)

8. "Pearl" (5:05) opens with a Peter Gabriel computer sequence before Margareta explodes onto the scene with a LOREENA MCKENNITT-like vocal (in English). Full percussion, bagpipes, and strummed bouzouki fill out the rest of the band's contribution but this is Margareta's song to shine on. (10/10)

9. "Oyneng Yar" (5:34) tambourine-support is all Fiona needs to open this song with her awesome vocal. Oliver on nyckelharpa, Rüdiger and Neil laying down an awesome percussion weave, Margareta's hurry-gurdy (and background harmonies) and Fiona's flawless recorder play complete this full-bodied, full-spirited song. (10/10)

10. "Polska fran anderson" (4:37) is an instrumental that begins with a gorgeous three-part weave of Oliver's nyckelharpa, Margareta's hurry-gurdy and Fiona's high whistle. Somebody switches into harp (Margareta) while Oliver adds bouzouki (multi-tracking?) in continued support of Fiona and Oliver's solos and weaves. (9/10)

11. "Alba" (7:17) bouzouki and percussives provide background support for another one of Oliver's hypnotic vocals (in German). A quiet song that I wish I knew German for I know that the story being told is the key to really valuing this song. (9/10)

12. "Ynis avalach" (5:09) is another instrumental traditional Celtic weave with full percussion on display, full band playing at first at a rather hypnotic pace before picking up the pace significantly at the three-minute mark. Nice trick to shift into third gear for the last two minutes. (9/10)

13. "Arcadia" (7:16) opens with nyckelharpa, whistles/chalumeaux, hurdy-gurdy, big percussives and electronic drones, all blasting away in a powerful weave before yielding to the lovely and, again, different duet vocals of Fiona and Margareta. Margareta's echoed solo vocal in the second half of the song is almost religious ecstatic. Fiona later takes up the lead with Margareta's angelic soprano supporting her in such a protective way. Brilliant song--so well conceived and constructed. (9/10)

14. "The Market Song" (5:51) is a rather traditional folk song sung in English by Oliver and Fiona, at first alternately, and then in harmony. Some wonderful soloing from Fiona on her special transverse wooden bass flute (chalumeaux). Also kudos for the standing vertical violin (saz) solo and later bagpipe solos. The band really takes out all the stops on this one! (9/10)

15. "Golden Apples" (7:35) may be the most beautiful and most powerful song on this an album of many powerful and hypnotic songs. The finale is so deliciously and dangerously tranquilizing that I feel I must warn the reader/listener to be on his awares!
     Set up by a slow, methodically repeated harp arpeggio, soon Fiona is singing like the most seductive siren to grace these ears. I would definitely be tempted by her offer of this apple! Absolutely stunning, gut-wrenchingly emotional song! Neil and Rüdiger's contributions are also very important to this one--they just kind of sneak up on you. What an end to an incredible album! (10/10)

Without doubt one of the finest albums of this genre I've heard, it is also one a handful of albums that I've heard from my lifetime that leave me weak, drained, so well-satisfied and aurally coddled that I call it among my favorites.

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

19. KAYO DOT Choirs of the Eye

Kayo Dot is another monster project coming from the genius well-spring of creativity that is American Toby Driver. Kayo Dot is what has risen out of the 'ashes' of maudlin of The Well as it includes most of the former moTW members. It may, in fact, be more accurate to call Kayo Dot a natural progression of what started as maudlin of The Well.

I've just come to Choirs of the Eye after maudlin of the Well's Part the Second, after Kayo Dot's Blue Lambency, after Coyote, after Bath and Leaving Your Bodymap and I am STILL BLOWN AWAY!! Amazing music! Amazing vision and creativity! Amazing virtuosity! "Like nothing else you've ever heard"!
     Like other reviewers, "Manifold Curiosity" (10/10) is one of the most amazing songs I've ever heard by any band! Ever! This seals it for me: Toby Driver IS the future of 'progressive' music. He is pushing the envelope, finding beauty in places, sounds, and structures that no one--no one--has done before. Even from depression and suicide (Coyote).

1. "Marathon" (10:14) begins with such elusive, disparate soundings as to disarm the listener from being able to categorize it. Is this rock, is this metal, is this radio, is this jazz, is this classical? For the first two and a half minutes, all of it seems possible. Then, all of a sudden, the cemetery awakens: the coffins burst open and the voices of the dead begin shouting, playing their message, informing us of their pain, the enslavement of their addictions. Then at 4:40 the cacophony dissipates, the abrasive voices fade away and we are allowed to pass on, beyond, into a place of beautiful calm. we are, perhaps, transported into perhaps the Light, the Source, the safe and all-loving Space Between lives. Familiar, secure, yet unremembered and new. Toward the end, our guide, a former human himself, spews forth his perspective, his understanding of it all. We turn and find out that he is us; that I am he! (10/10)

2. "A Pitcher of Summer" (5:51) begins very much as Bath and Leaving Your Bodymap left off. Acoustic guitar and soft, floating voice, great use of space. At 2:40 the first notes of harsh distorted electric guitar strums seem to drive home the singer's point, after which the listener is left floating, in limbo, as if to try to process the message/information. 30 seconds to ruminate. Then guitars, dissonance, melody and harmony return all at once, all together, making the infinite emotional possibilities of major seventh chords seem small and limited! Amazing song! Awesome, powerful beauty! (10/10)

3. "The Manifold Curiosity" (14:30) opens uses pacing, electric guitar strumming and woodwinds to great, unusual effect. Gradually all fall away until we are left with the simple strumming of a single chord on an acoustic guitar. A rustle of paper introduces the reader to the writer's manifesto, "The Manifold Curiosity" which is then whisper sung in a very high register from a seemingly shy distance, until just after the five minute mark the reader takes a break and the orchestra enters to usher in its musical interpretation--avant rock-jazz-classical, yet quite poised and structured. At the seven minute mark an electric guitar is left to guide us, accompany the re-emergent reader(s), with its PAT METHENY-like arpeggios. Join in a (some?) upper register strings players, and the song becomes a serenade, a bed-time story, and, eventually (around 10:30), a cacophonous wake up call--no: a persistent nagging itch; the neighbor whose stereo is playing too loud, the rush hour traffic noise that you can't quite block out, the sudden but no longer avoidable realization that something has gone terribly wrong with the world, with our out-of-control society; the cancer that is eating away at your insides. It's out there. (11/10)

4. "Wayfarer" (10:43) opens with soft, dissonance coming from guitar, violin, and, eventually, voice. As if the violin is the butterfly flitting around the garden, the guitar the waiting spider in his web, and the voice is the wind and sun working their insidious, impersonal magic. Nearly halfway through the song the music comes together, amps up (gets backed by an organ!) as the singer moves forward, perhaps ending the deadly day. 6:00 (sunset?) and the stars begin to come out. A whole different set of instruments and sounds emerge from the twilight silence. A night time walk through the garden ensues--at first beautiful, then awesomely terrifying, jarring and awakening as the quietest, coldest, creepiest moments of night occur just before: Morning, with its majesty, simplicity, sultriness, constancy and mundane. (9/10)

5. "The Antique" (14:41) begins with strum and picking of the bass strings of a distorted (oddly- or un[?]- tuned) electric guitar. Towards the end of the third minute, other de-tuned stringed instruments begin to join the guitar. Then pitch-variant wind-whistled apparatus and drum kit join. Avant garde, Rock in Opposition at its most challenging. Is this what Robert Fripp referred to as "Cognitive Dissonance"? Not a melody or chord here makes sense; only rhythm and --until 6:15 when everybody comes together to drown out the death-growl vocals and screams of the angry/desperate vocalist. Scathing multiple guitar and piano soli duel (in different dimensions? alternate realities?) At the end of the tenth minute everything falls away to allow a HAROLD BUDD-like piano accompanying brush-kit drum and trumpet set the stage for healing and rebirth. The indecipherable, muted (like a trumpet gets muted) vocal that joins in is upsetting for the message that is blurred and goes unconveyed, uncomprehended. (Though, even the Internet provided lyrics bring little comprehension to this listener.) Not my favorite song but I can appreciate and perhaps understand the purpose. (7/10)

Despite the last song, this remains a highly, highly recommended, multi-layered treasure of musical experience. Every listen is different, revealing, awesome, amazing.

94.0 on the Fish scales = five stars; a TRUE masterpiece of PROGRESSIVE music!

20. MIDLAKE Antiphon

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

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

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

  21. ANTOINE FAFARD Ad Perpetuum

This is an amazing album of jazz fusion very much in the vein of the BRUFORD albums of the late 1970s or the JEAN-LUC PONTY albums of the early 1980s, but more polished and way more more accessible. Composer and band leader Antoine Fafard is an accomplished jazz bass player, but here he has garnered the loyalty of some extraordinary musicians to help realize his music:  preeminent drummer Vinny Colaiuta and guitarist extraordinaire Jerry De Villiers, Jr. In fact, the drumming throughout this album is so amazing, so breathtaking, so far beyond all other drummers and yet (not so much as to distract or detract from the other fine musicians, that) I have to proclaim that this is one of the finest recorded exhibitions of studio drumming that I have ever heard. Perhaps the best!
     Three amazing musicians all at the top of their game (four including sax player Jean-Pierre Zanella) ... playing a set of beautifully composed and flawlessly executed songs. No disrespect to the Townsends, father and son, or Mr. Holdsworth but, when the virtuosity is there, there is nothing like a band of live musicians. A lot of the songs remind me of Jaco Pastorius Weather Report, Percy Jones Brand X, and Jeff Berlin Bruford--with a little bit of Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, Bill Bruford's Earthworks, and Hiromi's Sonicbloom thrown in there.
     This may be a bit premature, but I'm going to go out there and say that this is one of Jazz Fusion's all-time top 10 albums! It is that good! What a jaw-dropping concert experience this would be!

Favorite songs: ALL!! (Even the "nutty" one! ["D-Day" (5:20) (9/10)]) Unfortunately, the only sample available on YouTube thus far is this documentary of the making of Ad Perpetuum. I'll link you to more as it gets uploaded.

Here they are! They're starting to come out: the very Jean-Luc Ponty/Randy Jackson era-like "Eternal Loop" (5:22) (9/10)

94.0 on the Fish scales = Without hesitation: this is a five star album! A masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the best jazz fusion albums of the 21st Century. Check it out! NOW! 

22. LIZARD Master and M

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

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

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

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

23. ODYSSEY "The Greatest Tale"

A 3CD prog epic from Finland's Colossus Magazine group and France's MUSEA Records.


1. NATHAN MAHL "Chapter I: Of Longings, Suitors, Deities and Quests...: (24:07). Instrumental with excellent really enjoy the piano and electric guitar ‘dance' during the softer parts. Great seering guitar soli towards the end. Just a little too modern in effects and stylings for me-and not enough changes and variations in tempo and instrumentation. (Sample is a brief excerpt.) (8/10)

2. NEXUS "Chapter II: El Regresso--The Return" (27:50). Mostly instrumental begins with leadership of some great organ and drum work, filled with many engaging tempo and sound/mood changes, each as engaging and melodic as the one before. The few vocal parts are sung over a very quiet, peaceful section by the very pleasant voice of Lito Marcello, eventually turns to a jazzier section with Roye Albrighton-esque guitar intro turning Camel/Latimer-esque before reverting to more ELP-like sounds. The final ten minutes see the use of effects on vocals in imitation of Greg Lake's on "21st Century Schizoid Man" and some very entertaining theatrical stylizations a la Peter Gabriel at the end. So many shifts and changes all so surprising and delightful. LP Prog at its absolute finest. (10/10)

3. GLASS HAMMER "Chapter III: At the Court of Alkinoos" (21:32). A very polished, Broadway-like production. I love the use and interplay of the five vocalists. Outstanding harmonies. The opening section with piano and two female vocals is breathtaking before breaking into a "Watcher of the Skies" organ, pulsing bass and rhythm section a la "Apocalypse in 9/8." The use of electronic effects on Steve Babb's voice as Ulysses/Odysseus certainly distinguishes him and presents the anger and frustrations of his struggles. Absolutely beautiful ending dialogue & choruses before a magical instrumental fadeout with guitar solo searing away. Were it not for Matt Mendians' tendency to pulse the kick drum in a ProgMetal fashion, this would be one of the better jobs of trying to recreate a 70s drum sound. Overall excellent Kansas/ELP keyboards. And, still, an awesome job of putting a true theatric epic feel to the epic that begat all epics. One of the prog epics of all-time! (11/10)


4. XII ALFONSO "Chapter IV: From Ismarus to the Land of Death" (26:01). A very interesting instrumental which IMO pays homage more to the space-psychedelic beginning with an unusual yet enticing choral intro over Latin percussion. This stops to allow a spacey Camel/Nektar-ish section to develop before a bluesy organ is introduced to play over the psychedlia and waves which is then followed by a gorgeous Oldfield-like acoustic guitar serenade then moving into an Oldfield/Vangelis-like section complete with Tibetan gutteral chanting and industrial keyboard effects and some great Oldfield-ish electric guitar work. Everything stops to introduce what sounds like some kind of theme music from a Tim Burton movie, over which the Oldfield guitar work continues. Once Simba and the Oompa-Loompas depart, we a re treated to a pretty piano section reminiscent of Erik Satie, before the rock opera kicks it up into outerspace hyperdrive with a longsome pure Camel key and axe interchanges. Great, haunting finale and exit sections. Overall: Theatric with perhaps a bit too much Adiemus meets Mike Oldfield for my taste but I love the space music and awesome groove sections. This is still very good prog: (Sample is an excerpt from the intro.) (9/10).

5. SIMON SAYS "Chapter V: Minds of Mortal Men--Meander Tales" (25:40). These guys seem a bit too derivative to me; originality is lacking and the vocals (Daniel Fäldt) are just not 'tuned' (on pitch), engaging or emotionally believable. (Nor are the female harmonies, for that matter.) I always love their instrumentation choices and their skill is unquestioned, they just don't have enough 'new' to say, IMHO. The Andrew Tillison- and Tony Banks-like "Maelstrom" and "Mother of All Monsters" instrumental parts are pretty awesome, with interesting drum play and Hackett- then Latimer-like guitar, and the band/composition and even vocals capture the chaos and energy of the Scylla-Charybdis encounter very well. (8/10)

6. C.A.P. "Chapter VI: Sulle ali del sogno--Odissea: Libri XIV, XV, XVI" (28:15). Excellent representatives of PRI. Another truly winning theatric composition and performance "Primo Movimento" has one big message: These guys can sing! I'm listening to The Phantom or Les Mis!! "Secondo Movimento" is more instrument based though no less emotion-packed. "Terzo Movimento" begins with a Tangerine Dream feel (except for live drums) turning into a Nektar-like driving rhythm for fuzz guitar and key solos. Solo piano bridges into the organ backed interplay of the voices of Athena, minimoog, and Odysseus. "Quatro Movimento" portrays the emotional reunion of Odysseus and his son, Telemachus, with wonderful drama and force (thanks to some powerful Led Zeppelin rhythms). Wonderful piece. (10/10)


7. TEMPANO "Chapter VII" (24:14). Begins with quirky, often Crimson-esque rhythms and instrumental coloration with tragic-comic voices (Odysseus as the Beggar) before moving into an excellent slowed-down Floydian section with strong English male vocals (Pedro Castillo). Then back to Bruford-era Crimson music complete with treated vocals. A bluesy-vaudvillian Zappa-like section hangs on for a long time before breaking for a more Kansas-like final section in which acoustic guitar strumming backs some more strong English vocals. Very interesting piece worthy of repeated listening. (9/10) 

8. MINIMUM VITAL "Chapter VIII: Étranger en sa demeure" (22:22). Everything I read about this group refers to the Mike Oldfield electric guitar sound. That's for sure! While many musical styles and interesting things are going on in the rhythm and keyboard sections, every guitar solo renders one into Oldfield's Incantations album, which is too bad because these musicians are excellent and have a very interesting, rather-jazzy composition style. Scaled down "Third Movement [Penelope's Lament]" with its acoustic and electric guitar interplay is the song's highlight. "Fourth Movement [to string the bow]" just doesn't capture the drama of this scene, fades without conveying the tension of the moment before battle. (8/10)

9. AETHER "Chapter IX" (21:31). Wow! Now that's a beginning to companion a fight! Great composition with wonderfully engaging sounds and melodies. Amazingly rich and balanced mix of all of the instruments; no one is too dominant or too drowned out. If only the Aether sound was more in keeping with the theme of 70s instrumentation and effects. Still, they have a great sound, a powerful presence. Definitely a band I'll be seeking out now that I've heard them here. A wonderful finale to an amazing music collection (even though the vocals could be stronger). One of the best prog epics ever made! (11/10) (The audio link is to an excerpt from the song's intro.)


Will listen to over and over:
   Glass Hammer

Worth repeated listening:
   XII Alfonso

Still good Prog:
   Simon Says
   Nathan Mahl
   Minimum Vital


-- Glass Hammer--The Broadway-quality interplay of five vocalists is awesome.
-- C.A.P.--Like I said: these guys can sing! Kudos aeternal to Italia!
-- Nexus--Lito Marcello is excellent singing in Spanish
-- Tempano--interesting and unusual. More surreal than perhaps appropriate for The Odyssey, but fitting for their style of music.
-- Aether-good but nothing extraordinary.
-- Simon Says--Daniel Fäldt just doesn't hit the notes and is a bit too pretentious-as are so many Neo-Prog and Metal vocalists, IMO. Like other reviewers, I wish singers would sing in their own (beautiful) languages.
-- Minimum Vital--too dominated by instrumentation and Canterbury/Fusion structures.


Why are today's drummers, engineers, and producers so adverse to recording drums without the gating effects, letting the hits decay naturally? (Or how bout some Stomu Yamashtu or Narada Michael Walden flanged drums?!!)
-- C.A.P.--by far the best restraint in the use of purley 70s instruments and sounds (including the drums!)
-- Tempano--definitely mixing up a wide variety of 70s sounds and styles in interesting and not-too derivative a way.
-- Nexus--excellent Emerson-like keys, song structures, 'feel;' drums too NeoProg.
-- Glass Hammer--excellent keyboards, though a bit more American in feel than the Euro Prog that truly defined the genre.
-- Aether--Compositionally flawless. A bit too much use of modern technology.
-- Minimum Vital--flashes of 70s brilliance but more NeoProg, 80s Oldfield-Canterbury-fusion
-- Simon Says--uses all the NeoProg tricks and twists but not 70s enough, lacking their own distinctive sound.
-- XII Alfonso--not sure what era this one fits into. Defies categorization, IMO.
-- Nathan Mahl--too modern, ProgMetal

Even though the Fish scales rating system grades this a 93.33, I think this one of the most amazing demonstrations from the Naughties of exemplary progressive rock. As above: AN ESSENTIAL ADDITION TO ANY PROG LOVER'S COLLECTION!

No comments:

Post a Comment