Saturday, November 19, 2016

2015: Other albums worth checking out for yourselves





GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress

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

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



KARDA ESTRA Strange Relations





TOM DONCOURT The Moon Will Rise





LOOMINGS Everyday Mythology

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





YAK Quest for the Stones

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

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



GLASS HAMMER The Breaking of the World

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




SPOCK’S BEARD the Oblivion Particle




Fragmentropy

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

BEARDFISH +4626 - Comfortzone


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






IOEARTH New World 

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

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









THE DEAR HUNTER Act IV: Rebirth and Reprise









DAVE KERZNER New World






A FOREST OF STARS Beware the Sword You Cannot See




NIGHTWISH Endless Forms Most Beautiful



ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE Different  Creatures

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




TELERGY Hypatia

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




LEAP DAY From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter 2

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

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


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




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



UNREAL CITY Il paese del tramonto

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



POND Man It Feels Like Space Again

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




SYMPHONY X Underworld

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

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




ECHOLYN I Heard You Listening

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



WILLIAM D. DRAKE Revere Reach

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




COMEDY OF ERRORS Spirit 

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




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




BAROCK PROJECT Skyline

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

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




VESPERO Fitful Slumber Until 5 A.M.

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

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

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


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




PANDORA SNAIL War and Peace





GENTLE KNIFE Gentle Knife

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

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

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



AGUSA Tvá




IZZ Everlasting Instant




STEVE HACKETT Wolflight




ARENA The Unquiet Sky




ENSLAVED In Times




ROZ VITALIS Lavoro d’amore



ARGOS A Seasonal Affair

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

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




GRAND TOUR Heavy on the Beach

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

3.5 stars rated down for lack of originality.




DRIFTING SUN Trip the Light Fantastic

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



STATE URGE Confrontation

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

Three stars, no more.



RIVERSIDE Love, Fear and the Time Machine

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