Sunday, November 13, 2022

Top Albums of the Year 2000, Part 2: The Near-Masterpieces

 Somewhere beneath the level of timeless masterpiece status lies a group of albums whose quality and merit deserve categorization of something like "near-masterpiece." These are albums that have either achieved a Fishermetric score of between 90.0 and 87.0 or whose high points or quality level make it remarkable enough to remain affixed in my memory.

From the Year 2000, you will find below eight (8) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  


4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67)




5. TAAL Mister Green

Loïc Bernardeau and Sébstien Constant expressing their life-in-music, music as a celebration of life point of view with intricately constructed and very dynamic and cinematic compositions through top notch musicianship. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Anthony Gabard / guitar, backing vocals
- Sébastien Constant / keyboards, backing vocals
- David Dosnon / bass, backing vocals
- Loïc Bernardeau / drums, percussion, lead vocals
With:
- Hélène Sonnet / flute, backing vocals
- Vincent Boisseau / sax, clarinet
- Mathias Curit / trombone
- Fournier Brothers / violin, cello
- Sandrine Piat / backing vocals
- Vanessa Ferjoux / backing vocals

1. "Barbituricus" (15:16) nice gentle prog music gradually becoming cabaret-theatric, on the verge of Theater of the Absurd. A wonderful, creative composition with stellar performances across the board, this song explores all speeds and dynamics, as well as several styles, despite its overall somber mood. The finish reconfirms the fact that this is a theatric production. (27.5/30)

2. "Coornibus" (8:41) opening with a very Ravel "Bolero"-like feel despite the more acoustic folk instrumentation used. After two minutes the guitar and flute lead us into JETHRO TULL territory an intricate, fast-paced weave. But then at the end of the fifth minute we are taken down a more aggressive metallic alley before coming out into a more classical roundabout (think Tchaikovsky ballet music). Flute and strings then lead us into a brief, delicate classical passage followed by bombastic prog motif before reverting to classical via piano which then is overwhelmed by aggressive guitars and rock formats. This is like Trans-Siberian Orchestra only performed by truly classically-trained and classically-oriented minds and musicians. Not the prettiest or most melodic (or sensical) song ever, but displaying some very fine musicianship as well as creative compositional inclinations. (17.75/20)
   
3. "Flat Spectre" (12:34) another classically-informed song construction with a notably jazzier flair and swing. Once again, the over-reaching arch of the song is quite theatric--taking us through many moods via many dynamic and instrumental combinations. Though I disapprove of some of the keyboard sounds used (dated "Nineties" computer keyboards), and I get a little tired of the abrasive saw-like sound employed by the lead guitarist, I can do nothing but praise the musicianship--especially that of the drummer. The classical style here imitated (or adapted to rock "orchestra") is more Gypsy-carnival flavored than previous compositions. Again I cannot help but make comparisons to TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA. Interesting choice to simplify the structure in the eleventh minute for the build up to the fiery guitar solo, Again: so theatric! (21.75/25)

4. "Ragtime" (2:40) I feel that this is just as much klezmer/Romansch as it is 1920s jazz--but, then, it's also a very modern rock interpretation. Great clarinet play. (4.25/5)

5. "No Way!" (1:24) as if a recording of an anti-Mr. Green street demonstration from inside the (safe) confines of one's own kitchen/home. 

6. "Mister Green" (4:35) in the spirit of life-theatre bands like Les Negresses Vertes, Loïc Bernardeau and Sébstien Constant are here expressing their life-in-music, music as a celebration of life point of view. (8.75/10)

7. "Mister Grey" (4:33) militaristic drum play anchors this piece that feels like it could come out of Les Miserables or some such French historical context. This gives my gut reaction a further reason to think that this band is a successor to ÄNGLARGÅRD and predecessor to Spanish band KOTEBEL. (8.75/10)

8. "Aspartamus" (7:33) such a great title! Slow footsteps of a singular man in dress shoes is followed by the band's launch into full drama of a film noir like mood and stop and go (run and wait/listen) pattern. At 2:10 there is a total switch in music--as if we've switched to the view of an entirely different scene (of the movie)--and again at 2:56--this time into a more forward-moving "countryside chase scene" like feel (with a little "Trip to the Fair"-like eerie keyboards thrown in there for good measure). The ghost-haunted pause in sixth minute is mysterious and inexplicable (except for the sake of suspending outcome and, therefore, tension) but I like it: it conveys an interesting mood and effect. (13.5/15)

9. "Super Flat Moon" (11:35) opens as if a purely 1960s Wes Montgomery or Django Rienhardt/Sephane Grappelli jazz piece, only amplified and embellished by rock instrumentation (metallic electric guitar). Various familiar themes and motifs are explored as the music shifts direction even more quickly and frequently than any of the previous songs. (How does this represent a "super flat moon"?) Again: cinematic theatricity seems the rule with the flow of this composition as we move through so many different, disparate, and seemingly unconnected landscapes--including the extended free-form and eerily spacious middle section. Weird but wonderful! Great drumming! (18/20)

Total Time: 68:31

I have to admit that this dynamic, very theatric music is highly entertaining--and usually quite engaging! Such wonderfully dextrous musicianship from all band members (and guests). Well done, TAAL! You have done much to expand the lexicon of progressive rock music!

89.07 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of dextrous, cinematic progressive rock music--something every so-called lover of progressive rock music should lend an ear to.




6. PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element - Part 1

As creative and innovative as I've ever heard Prog Metal get, we have here one of the most highly acclaimed PM albums of all time. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Gildenlöw / lead vocals, guitar, string arrangements, co-producer
- Johan Hallgren / guitars, backing vocals
- Fredrik Hermansson / keyboards, grand piano, samplers, string arrangements
- Kristoffer Gildenlöw / bass, backing vocals
- Johan Langell / drums, backing vocals

With String Ensemble (1,4,5,8,12):
- Mihai Cucu 
- Petter Axelsson 
- Camilla Andersson
- Gretel Gradén 
- Johnny Björk

- As These Two Desolate Worlds Collide:
1. "Used" (5:23) this song is all over the place, it's beautiful and abrasive, it's complex and it's simple, and yet it works! (9.5/10)

2. "In the Flesh" (8:36) with tinges of classic rock, jazz, pop, and theatre, this one was not what I was expecting in the Prog Metal realm of possibilities. The song starts out surprisingly sedate and uniform but slowly, subtly grows in power and complexity--until the heart-wrenching vocal and piano/acoustic guitar and crashing dénouement final 90 seconds. I am speechless. (18.5/20)

3. "Ashes" (4:28) decent musical drama; perhaps a little too simple and straightforward. (8.5/10)

4. "Morning on Earth" (4:34) a very theatric vocal opening that never really lets up--remains an incredibly sensitive, emotional Broadway-like piece to the very end. Shocking! (9.5/10)

- It All Catches Up with You When You Slow Down:
5. "Ideoglossia" (8:29) quickly establishes a break-neck pace, yet the thickness of the sound never becomes impenetrable or oppressive; I can always easily distinguish every instrument, in fact, every string and note from every instrument. The second song that reminds me of the mixed-media territory that was blazed by bands like SAGA and LINKIN PARK. The flaw here, in mo opinion, is that feeling of disconnect I get between the verses and the chorus--as if two rather distinct and not-so-well matched songs have been glued together rather haphazardly. There, however, some incredible moments, unmistakable power and emotion, and peak individual performances. (17.75/20)

6. "Her Voices" (7:56) Bonny Tyler? At least until 1:45; then we get a LINKIN PARK-like bridge before returning to the plaintive vocal and style of the opening. Viking chorus at 3:00 tries to take us out of the pretty, almost convincing Daniel Gildenlöw to give up the pretty singing style, before leading us into a JC Superstar Judas/torture passage for a couple minutes. The weakest song on the album for me. (12.75/15)

7. "Dedication" (4:00) more tender, delicate singing and music? Again, I was not expecting so much schmaltz. It's pretty, and theatric, but less Prog Metal than I ever expected. Tensions rise at the two-minute mark, but, alas! it's just a tease as they remain unrealized. Still, a kind of cool, creative song.(8.75/10)

8. "King of Loss" (9:46) another song in which tensions are held in check despite little leaks here and there until the LED ZEPPELIN-like breakout at 3:30. Finally! I guess I'm getting used to the incredibly subtle razor's edge that this band and especially the vocals of Daniel Gildenlöw live on. (17.5/20)

- Far Beyond the Point of No Return:
9. "Reconciliation" (4:24) another collage of SAGA-like mood swings and JC Superstar themes and motifs. (8.5/10)

10. "Song for the Innocent" (3:02) for 90 seconds, this is pretty like GENESIS' "Afterglow," but then a "Comfortably Numb"-like breakout and guitar solo happens. Powerful but seriously too close to "the original." (8.75/10)

11. "Falling" (1:50) a bluesy ROY BUCHANAN-like guitar solo over synth washes. (4.25/5)

12. "The Perfect Element" (10:09) nice opening to bring us in with a promise of something more "normal." As the music builds, a story as if from a murder crime scene is told beneath, and then it breaks into full exposition around the two-minute mark. Cool, gorgeous, powerful motif in the fourth minute "chorus." This is then followed by a kind of return/refrain of musical themes from the album's opening song. Heavy bass and Mellotron work well in the next section, but then at 4:35 everything drops away for some guitar arpeggi, strings, and choral "ahh's" while multiple voices singing in and around plead their cases with varying degrees of emotion Around 6:20 we reach peak power but then, just as quickly, everything falls away and we run along at an even pace for a stretch before the ninth minute's beautiful choral vocals above the driving music. At 9:25 guitars and keys disappear leaving only the drums and effects to finish. Good song, not great, but typical of the the dramatic emotionality of the whole album. (17.5/20)

Total Time 72:37

I'll say one thing for this album: it comes at you hard, with an authenticity and identity that is unlike others of the Prog Metal sub-genre; there is innovation, there is texture, there is drama, there is abrasive and beautiful--often paired together--and there is almost constant surprise. The fact that there is so much theatre and so many highly emotional motifs--and so few Devy Townsend-like "walls of sound" power chord passages from the bass and guitars--is still shocking to me.

88.59 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music regardless of whatever sub-genre it may fall into; definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.    




7. SYMPHONY X V - The New Mythology Suite

Line-up / Musicians:
- Russell Allen / vocals
- Michael Romeo / acoustic & electric guitars, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements, co-producer
- Michael Pinnella / keyboards, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements
- Michael LePond / bass
- Jason Rullo / drums, percussion

1. "Prelude" (1:07) bombastic operatic choral opening. (4.5/5)

2. "Evolution (The Grand Design)" (5:21) full speed guitar and bass play over steady drums with synth and organ interplay woven into the mix--as if separate or below the guitar-dominant metal music. Vocals vary from solo to group conveyance systems, always mixed within the sound instead of forward or up front. The keyboard play is as impressive as the other instruments. The performances are impressive; the sound mix is nowhere near what I'd like to hear. (8.75/10)
 
3. "Fallen" (5:51) interesting but nothing really new here. (8.5/10)

4. "Transcendence (segue)" (0:38) (4.5/5)

5. "Communion and the Oracle" (7:45) nice instrumental electric piano and guitar weave (with the later addition of synth strings) to open before turning into a KANSAS "Wayward Son"-like song--but it works. (13.5/15)

6. "Bird-Serpent War / Cataclysm" (4:02) slow train chugging start before establishing a synth wash-carpeted metal complexity within which Russell Allen sings. Great guitar riffing. The full-choral chorus reminds me of a theme from AYREON's "Isis and Osiris." Cool guitar soloing in the third minute followed by Moog-y synth solo. The creepy/effective church organ really comes to the fore in the final minute. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

7. "On the Breath of Poseidon (segue)" (3:02) organ and synth strings and synth horns give the opening of this one a Star Wars kind of cinematic feel. Just after the 1:00 mark, we jump full throttle into prog races before bottoming out into a more sedate and melodic finish. (4.25/5)

8. "Egypt" (7:04) classic anthemic 1980s power metal of the highest caliber. A little bit of Middle Eastern themage in the fourth minute with a very cool, almost laid-back soundscape for the solists to do their magic over in the fifth and sixth minutes. A top three song for me. (14/15)

9. "Death of Balance / Lacrymosa" (3:42) top notch exciting instrumental for the first half before turninginto a BRIAN MAY/QUEEN-like version of Mozart's Requiem's "Lacrymosa." (9.5/10)

10. "Absence of Light" (4:59) full-on 80s power metal. (8/10)

11. "Fool's Paradise" (5:48) more full-on 80s power metal. Great execution but just a revamping of all old themes and styles--even the fun harpsichord solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)

12. "Rediscovery (segue)" (1:25) synth soling over guitar arpeggi and synth washes. (4.25/5)

13. "Rediscovery (Part II) - The New Mythology" (12:01) djenty guitar riffing but this one proceeds so much more conservatively--as if it really is meant to be an overture/finale with full summation on display. Classic 80s metal vocals of the highest quality. Great keyboard use: Hammond alternating with synth banked strings and then the soloing. Great finisher for the album. (22.25/25)

Total Time 62:46

Though their sound comes out of the 1980s power metal scene, the band has done an admirable job modernizing those sounds and chops. The music is impressively complex--especially the vocal arrangements--though lead singer Russell Allen sounds way too much like 80s metal icon . Where the album is lacking, in my opinion, is in the sound engineering professional mixology department. 

88.52 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you've got some affinity for metal and those 1980s sounds. 




8. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

There are times on this album in which one feels as if one is listening to an historically accurate portrayal of the malaise and disease of Industrial humanity as rendered unto music. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- David Bryant / guitar
- Efrim Menuck / guitar
- Roger Tellier-Craig / guitar
- Mauro Pezzente / bass
- Thierry Amar / bass
- Aidan Girt / drums
- Bruce Cawdron / drums
- Sophie Trudeau / violin
- Norsola Johnson / cello
With:
- Alfons / horn (1-i,3-iii)
- Brian / horn (1-i,3-iii) 

CD 1 (45:08)
1. "Gathering Storm" (22:32) the worst of the four, this one starts off slow, with annoying repetition, before congealing into a tension-filled volcano that erupts with a Kmart blue light special and post-apocalyptic crime scene. Interesting, to say the least. Engaging? Hardly. Compositionally, mathematically--as a study in modern counterpoint and dissonance--this might be interesting, but for someone who likes engaging melodies and harmonically pleasing music, listening to this is sometimes an exercise in torture tolerance and self-mutilation--for cutters and burners, not supporters of sanity and sanctuary. (37.5/45)
- i) Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, Like Antennas to Heaven.
- ii) Gathering Strom
- iii) "Welcome to the Barco Am/PM..." L.A.X. 5/14/00)
- iv) Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way

2. "Static" (22:36) The best of the four. (44/45)
- i) Terrible Canyons of Static - great ALIO DIE-like soundscapes (10/10)
- ii) Atomic Clock - industrial clock sounds
- iii) Chart #3 - televangelist over Vivaldi (5/5)
- iv) World Police and Friendly Fire - the longest section, very contemplative and floaty. Reminds me of Kronos Quartet/Mogwai's work on Clint Mansell's soundtrack for The Fountain (which came six years later) only it gets better in the second half (despite the Aerosmith "Dream On" climax). (19.75/20) 
- v) [ ...+ The Buildings They Are Sleeping Now] quite the atmospheric industrial post-apocalyptic soundtrack. Very Eno-esque. (9.25/10)

CD 2 (42:15)
3. "Sleep" (23:17) (37.5/45)
- i) Murray Ostril: "...They Don't Sleep Anymore on the Beach" - an elderly man's recounting of the Coney Island of his youth
- ii) Monheim - a sleepy piece of music turns more plaintively active around its halfway point and then frenetic in the final third while retaining the plaintive lead melody from the second section. (21/25)
- iii) Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III/3rd Part - opens delicately, slowly, as if pensively, before drums and layers of electric guitars are added. Feels more like a post-punk anthem waiting for its words/narration. The second half, with its second go-round of the build-and-crescendo formula is a little smoother, more rock conforming, with a much more "civilized" peak and Americana finish.(16.5/20)

4. "Antennas to Heaven" (18:58) a bizarre collection of what I'd call "Sam Shepard Scenes from Americana." It's interesting, at times fascinating, but overall not what I would normally choose for enjoyable listening music. Perhaps this hodgepodge of ... stuff would be better suited as background music for a podcast or Ken Burns documentary. (35/40)
- i) Moya Sings "Baby-O"
- ii) Edgyswingsetacid
- iii) Glockenspiel Duet Recorded on a Campsite in Rhinebeck, NY)
- iv) "Attention... Mon Ami... Fa-Lala-Lala-La-La... 55 St. Laurent)
- v) She Dreamt She Was a Bulldozer, She Dreamt She Was Alone in an Empty Field
- vi) Deathkamp Drone
- vii) Antennas to Heaven

Total Time 87:23

I will offer my compliments to the BRIAN ENO/EDGAR FROESE/JOHN ZORN-like composers who were somehow able to realize their artistic vision in these musical renderings. What a tough road that must have been!

88.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a major signpost in the development of the Post Rock movement but only a near-masterpiece in the grand scheme of the evolution of progressive rock music.




9. COLDPLAY Parachutes

Coldplay?! Another Indie-pop group/album on the list? This album was such a complete winner, so refreshing in Y2K, and remains such a favorite, again, played start to finish, that it needs to be recognized for its contribution to the pantheon of great albums. For many (including my daughters' generation), it'd be hard to imagine a world without Coldplay. This album, however, remains my favorite of theirs.

My favorite songs include "Shiver" (9/10), "Spies" (10/10), "Sparks" (10/10), "Trouble" (9/10), and my absolute favorite Coldplay song, "High Speed" (4:13) (10/10). Also great are:  "Don't Panic" (2:16) (9/10); "Everything's Not Lost" (7:16) (8/10), and; "Yellow" (4:29) (8/10).

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music recognized for its whole-album consistency, fresh sound from a (then) new group, and fine use of space and subtlety.




10. WHITE WILLOW Sacrament

An oddly engineered album of fine prog songs from these adventurous Norwegian prog revivalists--their third, lead singer Sylvia Erichson's second with the band. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Sylvia Erichsen / vocals 
- Jacob Holm-Lupo / electric, acoustic & classical guitars, keyboards, bass, vocals (4), co-producer
- Brynjar Dambo / keyboards & glockenspiel 
- Ketil Vestrum Einarsen / flute, recorder, melodica, keyboards
- Johannes Sæbøe / bass guitar 
- Aage Moltke-Schou / drums, percussion, glockenspiel
With:
- Øystein Vesaas / wordless vocals (1), co-producer, mixing
- Simen E. Haugberg / oboe (1,3,5)

1. "Anamnesis" (9:11) a very gentle, spacious opening with a wonderful reminder of the talents of singer Sylvia Erichson. Such a delicate pastoral weave as this is such a welcome change from the usual prog bombast. Sylvia's nearly a cappella folk performance in the fifth and sixth minutes confirms how folk-based this music is. Even when it gets amped up at the end of the sixth minute it still retains a folk rock feel to it. The church organ YES-like section building and developing in the eighth minute is quite well done. Impressive! (17.75/20)

2. "Paper Moon" (6:44) weird sound engineering, weird vocal on this NeoProg song but I like the instrumental section in the fourth minute and the clarity given each track. (8.75/10)

3. "The Crucible" (7:32) opening with anachronistic folk guitar, flutes and recorders, and more traditional street-performing percussion instruments is a brilliant move. The collective weave is right in line with that "mediæval" or old folk sound that I think the band was going for. Flautist Ketil Vestrum Einarsen even leads with some melodica in the third minute before music ramps up into the more rock realms of prog rock. Despite the pulsing Genesis foundation over the course of the final four minutes of this, the wind instruments and pseudo wind synthesizers and other keyboards maintain a kind of folk conversationality to the lead instruments on the top. The music moves into a summatory motif for the song's final 30 seconds. Interesting finish--a little inconsistent with all that had transpired leading up to that point. (13.25/15)

4. "The Last Rose of Summer" (3:23) acoustic guitar and flute performing a very relaxing folk duet are suddenly joined by the very pleasant (very Anthony Phillips-like) doubled up voice of Jacob Holm-Lupo. Definitely a folk song. Beautiful. Jacob is joined by the lovely voice of Sylvia Erichsen to sing the lyrics in beautifully harmonized fashion. Lacking the melodic and lyrical hooks to make this a classic, it is, still, quite lovely--beautifully composed and performed. (9/10)

5. "Gnostalgia" (10:18) another gentle, oft-times ethereal folk-rock-like song and soundscape quite reminiscent of the work being done at the same time by prog folk band IONA. Gorgeous multi-reed led instrumental passage in the bucolic sixth minute with flute and oboe weaving in and out of each other's melody lines so perfectly. Unfortunately, it is the vocal passages taht are the most incongruous in the song, often upsetting the perfect pastoral tapestry and mood set down by the instruments. At the eight minute mark the band amps things up a little with the drums and foundational instruments like bass and Mellotron--a bit like Änglagård here. The carefree, quiet, lilting final minute is quite a nice send off. (17.5/20)

6. "The Reach" (10:59) ominous bass drone and flute melody build as Sylvia recites the "Ring-a-ring of roses" nursery rhyme in a crazed, voice. As soon as she finishes, the band launches into a rather jazzy rock direction while flute soars into the sky like a playful, active bird. At the three-minute mark everything shuts down to make space for Sylvia's still-scary recitation of some other dark poem. The next instrumental foray is more blues rock oriented with Hammond organ dominating the foundation as Sylvia sings in a low tone a new and different poem. A weird song that covers a lot of musical territory in the apparent effort of presenting some rather somber literary passages. Theatric and exploratory if nebulous in intent. (17.25/20)

Total Time: 48:09

An album I like far more than my rating scores would seem to indicate. The subtly folk-infused weaves are magnificent. What I think is lacking are the melodic or dynamic hooks and and heights that one would hope for in order to make it (or any song) particularly memorable. 

87.89 on the Fishscales = B+/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




11. EVERON Fantasma

Pompous heavy prog, almost on the metal and/or 1980s "classic rock"vein. Nice clean sound production and enough space to hear everything--which is nice.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver Philipps / vocals, keyboards, piano, lead guitar, co-producer
- Ulli Hoever / guitar
- Schymy / bass
- Christian Moos / drums, percussion, co-producer & mixing
With:
- Axel Ruhland / violin (5,6)
- Raffael Sacher / cello (8)
- Tom Locher / classical guitar (8,11)

1. "Men Of Rust" (6:20) opening with a Iona-like near-Celtic Prog rocker, there is a great reverb effect on the prominent grand piano. The sound is so clear and clean! Great use of frequent changes of temp and motif with very smooth and comfortable/believable shifts--a feat which can only come with mature songwriting and highly proficient musicianship. I'm not quite as impressed with the vocal or vocal melody choices. (8.75/10)

2. "Perfect Remedy" (5:19) straightforward ballad with great melodic hook and catchy, pleasing music. Oliver's vocals work very well in this style and medium. (8.75/10)

3. "Fine With Me" (3:33) opens heavy and abrasive like a great BLUE ÖYSTER CULT or URIAH HEEP song. Oliver's voice here sounds quite different--nearer to Geddy Lee and Ozzie Osbourne than previously. Everything on this song is working. Great prog song. My first top three song. (9.25/10)

4. "A Day By The Sea" (5:47) 
some fine anthemic music with awesome textural and mood change in the mid-section and three different tempo shifts. My favorite Oliver Philipps vocal performance on the album and a top three song for me. (9.25/10)

Fantasma Suite: (55.5/65)
5. "Right Now..." (2:04) a sound that seems to combine RUSH and late-1970/early 1980s YES. (4.5/5)
6. "... Til The End Of Time" (5:16) …turns more AC/DC w/Brian Ferry singing, though a little more sophisticated on all levels. (8.25/10) 
7. "Fantasma-Theme" (0:38) computer-piano solo. 
8. "The Real Escape" (4:24) cello, classical guitar, and synth strings provide the foundation for three quarters of this vocal ballad. (8.25/10)
9. "Whatever It Takes" (2:10) repeat of Fantasma piano theme, this time with band support and vocals. Sounds more like a finale. (4/5)
10. "Battle Of Words" (3:42) solo computer-piano opens this one before YES-like rhythm section joins in. At 0:49 the music shifts slightly before the addition of STEVE HOWE-like lead guitar--which really picks up and shines over the course of this pleasant instrumental. (8.75/10)
11. "May You" (4:33) Oliver and piano open this delicate song, singing softly in a JOHN WETTON-like voice. (How chameleonic is this man?) Ballads on heavy prog/prog metal albums always feel a little out of place to me--and this one is very much like a Disney anthem. (8.5/10)
12. "Ghosts-Intro" (1:52) could be a Paul Speer or Chris Spheeris New Age piece. (4/5)
13. "Ghosts" (5:55) another RUSH- and THOMAS THELEN-like anthemic ballad. Great guitar solo featured in the sweet spot of the song. Nice. Great last impression to leave the listener with. My final top three song. (9.25/10)

Total Time: 51:45

While I love the sound production on this album--this despite the use of some of those dated 1990s keyboards that I never liked--the musical style choices and vocals don't always hit the mark for me--and the "Fantasma Suite" is just one big splat--totally lacks meaning, cohesive flow, or redeeming features to me.  

87.14 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection and something even more attractive to someone that loves the sounds and styles of those 1980s power rockers.




12. PORCUPINE TREE Lightbulb Sun

Herein contains STEVEN WILSON & Company's most consistently interesting, melodic, diverse and engaging song collection (album). These songs are not as heavy as later PT will produce and not quite as Floydian as previous. In my humble opinion, this is the perfect Steven Wilson/PT album. Yes, it's poppy. It's light.  It's full of simplicity and beauty. The obvious replication of the styles and sounds of older musicians is one way in which Wilson excels--above ALL others--and yet, he manages to make everything sound original, modern, his own. I especially like the songs that harken back to the pop-psychedelic sounds of the 60s ("How Is Your Life Today", "Four Chords that Made a Million", and "The Rest Will Flow"), the STEVE HILLAGE-like "Shesmovedon", the haunting NEIL YOUNG/CSN&Y-like "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recylced", the bass work, treated piano chords, 'sitar' work, and BLACK SABBATH-like middle section (You go, RICHARD BARBIERI!), and GILMOUR-like guitar work at the end of "Hatesong", the RENAISSANCE "Midas Man" 12-string strums, amazing vocals, and Frippertronics of "Where We Would Be", the mood setting jazzy electric piano intro, slow, ominous buildup, PF vocal harmonies, strings, delicate jazz guitar and emotional GILMOURian lead guitar work, and amazing synth work of Richard Barbieri, and the heavy bass line and powerful drumming in the heavier instrumental section on "Russia on Ice", and the BEATLES-esque strings and ending Enossifications on "Feel so Low".

***** 5 stars: "Lightbulb Sun" (5:31), "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled" (4:48) (10/10); "The Rest Will Flow," "Where We Would Be," "Russia on Ice" (13:04) /25).

**** 4 stars: "How Is Your Life Today," "Four Chords that Made a Million," "Shesmovedon," "Hatesong," "Feel So Low."

This is a near masterpiece of beautiful 'psuedo-', proto- and crossover prog. Highly recommended. In my opinion, an essential addition to any music lover's collection. 

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




13. FATES WARNING Disconnected

Heavy prog, almost on the metal and/or 1980s "classic rock"vein. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ray Alder / vocals
- Jim Matheos / guitars, additional keyboards, sequencing, Fx
- Mark Zonder / drums
With:
- Kevin Moore / keyboards
- Steve Tushar / additional keyboards, sequencing, Fx
- Joey Vera / bass
- Laurie Matheos / voices
- Amy Motta / voices
- Bernie Altman / voices
- George Hideous (?) / voices
- Fidel Horrendous (?) / voices
- Arthur Letsgoberg (?) / voices

1. "Disconnected (Part 1)" (1:16) ominous, portentous opening. (4.25/5)

2. "One" (4:23) the opening sounds like 1970s/80s metal--Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Blue Öyster Cult. When the vocals enter it becomes even more SABBATH-like. Solid performances but very little ground-breaking in the sound or music structures. (8/10)

3. "So" (8:07) cool Blade Runner-like opening turns LOVERBOY-like at 1:10. At 1:37 things stop for vocal entry. Now the song gets interesting--especially with the excellent chorus. Where it feels deficient is in the choice for pacing: it's just a little too slow. (I know: he's tired.) (13/15)

4. "Pieces Of Me" (4:24) A little more energy in this one but, again, there really is nothing new or refreshing here besides a little sonic play with the guitar in the quiet of the third minute. (8/10) 

5. "Something From Nothing" (10:58) fairly simple and straightforward--nicely melodic--but hits all the right buttons to be awesome. (17.75/20)

6. "Still Remains" (16:11) firing on all cylinders, this one rocks like a RUSH classic. (27/30)

7. "Disconnected" (Part 2) (6:07) finishes like an end, bookending the album in a perfect way. Classic Kevin Moore keys beneath the recorded voice passage in the second and third minutes. Great subtle transition in the fourth minute with some techno-support. I have to admit that, with this length,  I was rather surprised that there are no vocals. But, still, it's great. (9/10)


Total Time: 51:26

The album has nice clean sound production and enough space to hear everything--which is nice, but I'm not a big fan of the lead vocals--Ray Alder's competent and confident but there's really nothing special here. The highlights for me are the two epics: the spacious, atmospheric "Something from Nothing" and the more melodic though more neo-oriented, "Still Remains," on which I can really hear the Kevin Moore contributions.

87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




14. THE GATHERING If_then_else

THE GATHERING is a band from The Netherlands that has been putting out albums since 1992. This, their sixth, and fifth since vocalist-extraordinaire Anneke van Giersbergen joined them. They started out as a "refined" Death Metal band, but the band has been mellowing, adding more space, synths, acoustic instruments and ambient pacing on recent albums--and giving way for the front and center focus on their extraordinary vocalist. 

What a way to open the 21st century! What an album! What unexpected variety! From heavy ("Shot to Pieces" [7/10] and "Colorado Incident" [7/10]) to dreamy ("Herbal Movement" [10/10], "Morphias Waltz" [9/10], and "Pathfinder" [8/10]), loud to subtle soft (often within the same song!)--and so EMOTIONAL! Such beautiful vocals! In my opinion, this is the best of THE GATHERING's contributions to the music world. Superlatives are necessary to describe the likes of "Rollercoaster" (8.5/10), "Amity" (9/10), "Beautiful War" (8/10), "Analog Park" (10/10), "Saturnine" (9/10) and especially my favorite Gathering song of all-time, "Herbal Movement" ("makes everything hazy"--and gives me the feeling that I, too, had taken the hookah.) I can't say enough about the inclusion of synths, classical acoustic instruments, and alternating heavy-yet-subtle and sublime-yet-heart-wrenching themes within individual songs (like "Rollercoaster," "Beautiful War," and "Saturnine"). I love this album. A prog masterpiece? I think nearly so. There is a lot of experimentation with sound and effects but the overall effort is not one that truly challenges musical form and constructs. Still: Highly Recommended! Anneke's 'breakout' album--that is, the Gathering album on which her voice becomes the lead, the center, the most important talent and instrument on display. 

86.67 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars. A near-masterpiece of prog and one of my favorite albums of Y2K.




The Rankings of 2000


1. KBB Lost and Found
2. IONA Open Sky
3. DOVES Lost Souls
4. CABEZAS DE CERA Cabezas de Cera
5. TAAL Mister Green 
6. PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element - Part 1
7. SYMPHONY X V - The New Mythology Suite
8. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
9. COLDPLAY Parachutes
10. WHITE WILLOW Sacrament

11. EVERON Fantasma
12. PORCUPINE TREE Lightbulb Sun
13. FATES WARNING Disconnected
14. THE GATHERING If_then_else
15. RADIOHEAD Kid A 
16. THE FLOWER KINGS Space Revolver
17. OZRIC TENTACLES The Hidden Step
18. TRISTEZA Dream Signals in Full Circles 
19. DEADWOOD FOREST Melodramatic 
20. CAFEINE Nouveaux mondes 

Honorable Mentions:
CHROMA KEY You Go Now 
ULVER Peredition City 
DON CABALLERO American Don 
STEVE WALSH Glossolalia
ECHOLYN Cowboy Poems Free
STEVE & JOHN HACKETT Sketches of Satie

Top Albums of the Year 2001, Part 2: The Near-Masterpieces

  Somewhere beneath the level of timeless masterpiece status lies a group of albums whose quality and merit deserve categorization of something like "near-masterpiece." These are albums that have either achieved a Fishermetric score of between 90.0 and 87.0 or whose high points or quality level make it remarkable enough to remain affixed in my memory.

From the Year 2001, you will find below 12 albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation plus one Special Mention.  


4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67)



8. PEKKA POHJOLA Views


Pekka's final contribution to humankind finds the genius going back to his truth, to his soul. Though this is mostly jazz-rock fusion, there is a lot of jazz and smooth jazz-pop here as well.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Pekka Pohjola / bass, keyboards, composer, arranger & producer
With:
- Sami Saari / vocals (2)
- Kim Lönnholm / vocals (2)
- Pemo Ojala / vocals (2)
- Markku Kanerva / guitar (2)
- Seppo Kantonen / piano, keyboards
- Tapani Rinne / soprano sax (1)
- Jukka Perko / alto sax (3-5) solo on 3
- Pentti Lahti / alto & baritone sax (3,5)
- Manuel Dunkel / tenor sax (3,5)
- Teemu Salminen / flutes (2,4)
- Teemu Matsson / trumpet (2-5)
- Verneri Pohjola / trumpet (2-5)
- Markku Veijonsuo / trombone (2-5)
- Ilmari Pohjola / trombone (2-5)
- Jari Valo / 1st violin
- Jukka Pohjola / 2nd violin
- Teemu Kupiainen / viola
- Tomas Djupsjöbacka / cello (1)
- Timo Alanen / cello (2-5)
- Laura Hynninen / harp (1,2)
- Mika Kallio / drums (3-5)
- Reino Laine / drums (3)
- Anssi Nykänen / drums (2), fills on 3,5
- Tapio "Mongo" Aaltonen / percussion

1. 'Waves" (6:56) gorgeous soprano sax in the lead over piano and orchestra. (14/15) 

2. "The Red Porsche" (5:00) funk-jazz from the 1980s--clearly inspired by the Ghostbusters soundtrack. (8.5/10)

3. "Metropolitan" (14:05) opening very much like an AFTER CRYING classically-influenced piece, piano and Pekka's bass take over the second and third minutes--though jazz horns play a very strong role as well. I'm reminded of several 1970s television and film soundtracks as I listen to this. At the five minute mark a kind of "Birdland" bass and layered horns take the lead. These horn arrangements are pretty cool--very sophisticated. Strings are also nice. The old-fashioned big band feel only gets stronger as the piano takes the lead soloist position. At 11:20 things return to the AFTER CRYING orchestral motif of the opening. (26/30)
 
4. "Views" (7:34) pretty and well composed but a little too saccharine/syrupy for me--more "jazz lite" than progressive rock or even Jazz-Rock Fusion. (12.75/15)

5. "Us" (11:32) easily the most unique, refreshing, and nonderivative song on the album (which is GOOD), I can definitely hear some of the idiosyncratic tastes for melody and rhythm that seems common to all Finns in this excellent song. By the time we're deep into the fifth minute I'm feeling a very strong PAT METHENY GROUP vibe. This is really awesome! Fun and upbeat and makes me want to dance! Then at the 6:00 mark all but piano and occasional space synth flourish support an excellent jazz bass solo. Things amp up for a little bridge just before the eight-minute mark before we get another shift--a downshift into. This is such a delightful song! Though the congealment of the final ninety seconds again brings me back to 1970s film scores (think Arthur or St. Elmo's Fire), it's still wonderful to hear. (19.75/20)

Total Time: 45:37

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of jazz-rock fusion from one of the old masters! 




9. BUBBLEMATH Such Fine Particles of the Universe

My introduction to this band was in the form of their 2017 masterpiece, Edit Peptide. What was remarkable about Edit Peptide was that it was first album release by the band since their 2003 debut! Apparently, the band members had quite a bit of trouble getting together to play, write, record, edit, and package their next album, but I'm glad they did.

Such Fine Particles of the Universe is a great album in its own right, though looking back through the lens of their sophomore release one can see how much their compositional and lyrical ideas have progressed since then. All of the songs are very cleverly worded, titled, and performed. Some of the music here is very melodic like CHEER-ACCIDENT [1. "Miscreant Citizen" (8.75/10), 2. "Be Together" (9.25/10), 6. "TV Paid Off" (8.5/10), 7. "Help Yourself to a Neighbor" (8.25/10), 11. "Potential People" (8.75/10), and 12. "Cells Out" (9/10)] while others are more avant-garde and comedic as if inspired by KING CRIMSON, Frank Zappa, Devo, or THE CARDIACS [3. "Dancing with Your Pants Down" (9/10), 4. "She's No Vegetarian" (10/10), 8. "Forever Endeavor" (4.25/5), 9. "Heavenly Scared So" (8.5/10), and 10. "Your Disease Is Nicer" (5/5)] or a combination of the two [5. "Doll Hammer" (8.75/10)] As a matter of fact, I'd say the King Crimson sound palette and Cardiacs singing-lyric style get stronger and more pronounced as you go through the album. 

Another big difference between this album and Edit Peptide is the brevity of these songs--only two songs longer than five minutes and several barely around the three minute mark.  

My top Three Songs:  the hilarious 4. "She's No Vegetarian" (10/10); the incredibly tight weaves of 2. "Be Together" (9.25/10), and; 12. "Cells Out" (9/10).

89.91 on the Fishscales = B+4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of clever, very witty, truly progressive rock music.




10. KOENJI HYAKKEI Nivraym

They're back! and with a line-up that includes not one or two but three new musicians. Brace yourself! (And please, anyone with any kind of heart conditions: Proceed with extreme caution!)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nami Sagara / vocals
- Jin Harada / electric & acoustic guitars
- Kenichi Oguchi / keyboards
- Kengo Sakamoto / bass, vocals
- Tatsuya Yoshida / drums, vocals
With:
- Keiko Komori / soprano sax, bass clarinet
- Taku Yabuki / keyboards
- AH / vocals

1. "Nivraym" (5:40) I'm sorry, but as virtuosic as these instrumentalists/vocalists may be, I cannot hear this song without thinking that their whole Zeuhl shtick is mostly tongue-in-cheek. Crazy but how can you not appreciate the skills and confidence involved in creating and performing this music? (9.5/10)

2. "Becttem Pollt" (5:21) powerful and dramatic if a little too uniform and one-dimensional. (8.75/10)

3. "Lussesoggi Zomn" (10:26) I think they hired NINA HAGEN for this one! Simple sparse notes from piano and bass with Nami going crazy. The band coalesces into a fast-driving heavy rock ensemble for the second and third minutes as Japanese versions of Kobaia take on a variety of crazed and crazy forms. Definitely Zeuhlish. I wonder what Christian Vander thinks. Guitar solo is more rock-like than Zeuhl, but it is short-lived as band slips into several different Zeuhl motifs before we have a chance to integrate what we've just heard. Incredible confidence to practice, perfect, and record this piece of complex music. (Though it is not perfect: there are performance flaws. But, what do you expect for a band's first effort with this lineup--three new members?) Several sections are over-extended a bit, but, otherwise, this is mind-boggling stuff. Nami Sagara is a force! (17.75/20)

4. "Vissqaguell" (5:31) several tracks are very heavy on the distortion (I think intentionally), and the pace of this one is amazing. It makes Christian V. & Co. really seem slow and old! There are so many incredible exploits here: vocally, keyboards, drums and bass, guitars. How does one write such material? (8.75/10)

5. "Mederro Passquirr" (6:23) a little more grounded in Western styles (drumming, synth sound choices, electric guitar work, straightforward bass), this one still shocks and surprises. What a keyboard player! At 1:20 things settle into an almost Broadway choral piece--with simple piano chords providing the main direction for the elaborate choral performances. This is more MAGMA-like familiar Zeuhl. I like it but it's not as exciting or innovative as the previous songs. Highly intricate vocal demands from the fifth minute on--almost Leonard Bernstein-like. (8.75/10) 

6. "Axall Hasck" (6:34) synths and Mellotron leading this one as more straightforward (though wickedly fast) bass, guitar, drums, voice, and sax try to keep up. It's like a race to catch the keyboard rabbit. Only the off-trail sax has a chance, veering in and out of the weave, until the half way point when everybody downshifts from overdrive to 5th gear--and then at 3:30 when there is another downshift into a kind of Latin rhythm while Nami solos. The keyboards' solos that follow are more human--though the bass, sax, and drums now begin to go off on their own crazed frenetic path--which only incites the synth to take the lead back across the finish line. (8.75/10)

7. "Maschtervoz" (4:10) are they tiring? Slower and more spacious--only the sax is in the usual zone of amphetamine. Nami and Jin and Kenichi are fairly subdued compared to their previous selves. It sure does showcase Keiko's sax, though. (8.25/10) 

8. "Gassttrumm (9:24) again, the reins are on as the band proceeds in a much more controlled, humanly pace--though still incredibly intricately constructed and performed. At the two minute mark there is a slight shift for searing synth solo before a shift into space Zeuhl with some wild drumming beneath the synth and vocal melody line. It's like a conversation between the synth and the drummer with the rest of the band providing support and context. Very cool! Now at the end of the fourth minute the bass gets a turn to let loose with the drummer. Another synth turn, bass and drums, synth, etc. all the while the vocalists At 5:20 there is a sudden right turn into macho Western man territory while bass, guitar riff, and drums support the soloing synthesizer player--this time with a much more familiar prog-like solo ripping up the soundwaves. Man this guy can play! With 90 seconds to play we shift back into a more breakneck straight ahead speed before another oddly computer-like epithet and then an unexpectedly  cohesive finish. Amazing song. (18.5/20)

9. "Vallczeremdoss" (4:49) more controlled whole band weave opens this one--until the second minute when the choral vocals enter--then things go time wonky--nothing staying the same for more than a measure or two. How do they do it? How does a whole band stay on course with this kind of intricacy?  And then what follows--the voices trying to keep up with the instruments--is simply unbelievable! (9.75/10)

Total Time: 58:18

89.77 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an absolutely astonishing display of compositional brilliance with nearly as astonishing performances. In fact, that would be my only criticism of the music on this album: sometimes it just seems too much of a stretch for any human to perform to perfection! Still, an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. Just be prepared: you're heart- and breathing rates will be elevated for quite a while during and after listening to this album!  




11. PÄR LINDH PROJECT Veni, Vidi, Vici

Line-up / Musicians:
- Magdalena Hagberg / vocals, violin
- Pär Lindh / grand piano, harpsichord, church organ, Hammond organs, Mellotron, Korg & Roland synths, Fender Rhodes, Therminovox, bass (5), co-producer
- Nisse Bielfield / drums, vocals, co-producer
With:
- John Hermansen / guitar
- Jocke Ramsell / guitar (10)
- Jonas Reingold / bass
- Marcus Jäderholm / bass (10)
- Niklas Blixt / horn
- Eric Ullman / bassoon
- Jens Johansson / flute

1. "Adagio" (0:56) "strings" á la Wolfgang Amadeus. (5/5)
2. "Veni, Vidi, Vici" (7:56) powerful drumming but too much Emersonian bombast. (13/15)
3. "Gradus ad Parnassum" (13:55) (26/30) 
4. "Tower of Thoughts" (5:01) power drums, bass, Mellotron, and piano create the opening for this before Magdalena enters sounding like HEATHER FINDLAY or CHRISTINA BOOTH. Impressive fretless bass play. Speed changes and power chords are interdispersed before a new motif is introduced in the third minute by the organ and piano. Were it not for the proportion of classically-informed keys, this song could come straight off of a MAGENTA album. (8.75/10)
5. "River of Tales" (3:12) solo classical-styled piano ballad supporting Magdalena (and Nisse)'s voices. Beautiful on all counts. (9/10)
6. "Juxtapoint" (4:16) two chord synth intro which is quickly joined by active drums and bass. The keys, drums, and bass all show off a bit before slowing down to support Magdalena's vocal. The recording sound here is a bit out of balance--maybe the "jusxta"position that Pär Lindh is trying to "point" out. Amazing guitar speed of the soloist in the fourth minute. For me, the drums here are just too over-the-top--otherwise, this is a pretty good song. (8.75/10)
7. Le Grande Chambardement (2:13) 
8. Adagio con flauto et clavicembalo (0:54) 
9. "Hymn" (4:55) a beautiful, church-like choral vocal arrangement opens this song before church organ and solo female vocalist take over. Chorale chorus with stark violin solo precedes full-rock combo with thumping bass and drums backing a synth solo. Violin gets the next solo over the full rock arrangement before synth closes out this section, yielding to the returning female vocalist and her organ and choir support. Excellent song! (9.5/10)
10. "The Premonition" (7:34) now we've moved into RICK WAKEMAN territory--complete with the flaws that Rick has become known for in his too-stereotypic composing and soloing styles. The performances are all impressive, there's just too much bombast--several times it even makes me cringe. Once the music settles into a pocket, after the first round of vocals, it has a great sound and mix for the keyboard and guitar soli. The Hammond organ soli here sound more like KEITH EMERSON than Wakeman--and the alternating church organ give it the feeling as if Keith and Rick were duelling a bit. "Orchestral strings" get the next solo in the smooth seventh minute. Despite the bombastic opening, this one is quite nice--and memorable. (13.25/15)

Total Time: 50:52

Overall, the more aggressive prog approach--especially the hyper drums--don't work as well for me. Also, the sound/engineering mixing is off on a few songs. In my opinion, the best material on this album comes from Pär Lindh and Magdalena.

88.81 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music--not quite up to the brillance or clarity of Mundus Incomperatus or Gothic Impressions but still worth your time and attention.




12. THE WATCH Ghost

More excellently composed, performed, and engineered GENESIS-imitative music from these very serious Italian artists.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Simone Rossetti / vocals, flute, arrangements
- Valerio Vado / acoustic & electric guitars, Fx
- Gabriele Manzini / keyboards
- Marco Schembri / bass, acoustic guitar
- Roberto Leoni / drums, percussion
With:
- Sergio Taglioni / piano, organ, synth, sound design
- Gino Menichini / keyboards, programming
- Simone Stucchi / arrangements, programming, co-producer

1. "DNAlien" (8:36) an excellent attempt at a variation of Foxtrot-era "Watcher" Genesis. (17.5/20)

2. "The Ghost and the Teenager" (8:38) perfect duplication of Genesis. (18/20)

3. "Heroes" (9:27) would be an instant Genesis classic. Love the ANT PHILLIPS-like outro/interlude.(18.25/20)

4. "Moving Red" (6:34) opens with a burst like "Get 'em Out By Friday" or one of the segments of "Supper's Ready." Impressive! (9/10) 

5. "Riding the Elephant" (3:38) some "new," non-Genesis sounds and stylings! An example of "What if Peter Gabriel had reunited with Tony, Mike, and Phil for some original material in the 1980s. Interesting. (9/10) 

6. "...and the Winner is..." (10:11) more "new" sounds with modern recording techniques used for recording "plug in" acoustic guitars and 1990s computer synth sounds in a "Supper's Ready" opening section-like opening. IT turns out that this is a very closely imitative, mini- , slowed-down, and modernized version of "Supper's Ready." The only real disappointment on the album. (16.5/20)

Total Time: 47:04

High marks are earned by imitation of Gabriel-era Genesis rather than the Brit's later music. If ever you wanted to hear "new" Genesis music from the 1971-75 period, this is both the band and the album to seek out. GREAT recording/sound engineering of technically perfectionistic compositions and performances. Drummer Roberto Leoni's playing is so crisp and enjoyable. Vocalist Simone Rossetti's duplication of Peter Gabriel's diction, range, and style is sheer perfection--remarkable. 

88.25 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of retro prog. This band deserves more credit for both the incredible detail to which their imitation goes as well as to the fact that their compositions are all totally original, not remakes.




13. JAGA JAZZIST A Livingroom Hush

Why didn't anyone ever tell me how good the older Jaga Jazzist albums were? When you read something like, "The BBC named it the best jazz album of 2002," you want to check it out.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andreas Mjøs / vibraphone, drums, marimba, percussion, keyboards
- Even Ormestad / bass, keyboards
- Harald Frøland / guitar, Fx, synth
- Ivar Chr. Johansen / piano, Fender Rhodes, organ, Roland Jupiter synth
- Jørgen Munkeby / flute & alto flute, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, keyboards
- Lars Horntveth / tenor & baritone saxophones, flute, bass clarinet, guitars, keyboards
- Lars Wabø / trombone
- Line Horntveth / tuba
- Martin Horntveth / drums, drum machines, percussion, keyboards
- Mathias Eick / trumpet, upright bass, keyboards
With:
- Jørgen Træen / keyboards, percussion, synth, electronics, production, mixing
- Frode Sævik / violin (4,9)
- Nils Olaf Solberg / viola (4,9)

1. "Animal Chin" (4:07) (8.75/10)
2. "Going Down" (5:20) My favorite song on the album. (10/10)
3. "Press Play" (1:16) (5/5)
4. "Airborne" (5:13) KOOP with orchestration. (8.75/10)
5. "Real Racecars Have Doors" (4:15) (8.5/10)
6. "Low Battery" (5:50) (8.5/10) 
7. "Midget" (2:32) (4.25/5)
8. "Made for Radio" (5:22) (8.5/10)
9. "Lithuania" (8:38) A top three song for me. (17.75/20)
10. "Cinematic" (6:22) totally experimental glitch editing á la Ryuichi Sakamoto, Carsten Nicolai, Christian Fennesz. Great if what you're wanting for your jazz takes place in the editing/production room and can't be replicated in a live setting (without computers). (8.25/10)

Total Time 48:55

Employing glitch technology is clever (it had to happen sometime, right?) but it's not, IMHO, the answer that jazz was needing.

88.25 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Jazz-Rock Fusion coming from the NuJazz sub-sub.




14. STEREOLAB Sound-Dust

I am a sucker for Stereolab's music. (1997's Dots and Loops sits at #3 on my list of All-time Favorite Albums.) Sound-Dust is my second favorite from the group. The addition of horns is great but the more sectioned up songs doesn't always work for me as some parts are gorgeous and hook the listener in while the next part might be totally off-the-wall weird.

1. "Black Ants in Sound-Dust" (1:58) (3.5/5)

2. "Space Moth" (7:35) with it's 1:40 woodwind- and horn-laced intro, the song finally kicks into gear but doesn't really hook the listener until its fifth minute--and later when the horns finally return (12/15)

3. "Captain Easychord" (5:33) the piano-based song has many tracks weaving in and out including horns, steel guitar, and, of course, multiple vocal lines but it rarely feels as if all cylinders are firing (7.5/10)

4. "Baby Lulu" (5:13) (10/10)

5. "The Black Arts" (5:13) a gorgeous, hypnotic, emotional song (9.5/10)

6. "Hallucinex" (3:56) opens quite nicely, one of Stereolab's non-intro song that hooks you in right from the start, and the horns and acoustic guitars and tuned percussions are excellent, but it never reaches the heights of some of the others (8.5/10)

7. "Double Rocker" (5:33) for its first 2:27 this song moves along like a slow time-piece: hypnotic and soporific, then it kicks into third gear with a great sound and weave (9/10)

8. "Gus the Mynah Bird" (6:10) great, slow fade-in intro, then awesome body with gorgeous vocals; even the ambient mid-song shift and second half is pretty cool (9/10)

9. "Naught More Terrific Than Man" (4:10) one of the prettiest and best Stereolab songs ever. (10/10)

10. "Nothing to Do with Me" (3:38) is made so special by the 'dialogue' of vocals between Lætitia and Mary. (9.5/10)

11. "Suggestion Diabolique" (7:53) starts out sounding like the rare sinister-sounding S'lab song but then shifts in the second minute into the hypnotic, beautiful, PSYCHEDLELC FURS-like "jouer" section. The song springboards back and forth from positive to negative, yin and yang. (12.75/15)

12. "Les bon bon des raisons" (6:44) really showcases the vocal symbiosis of these two amazing vocalists with it's Beatles-esue opening half melodies but then morphs into a kind of space-satire piece for the second half. (12.75/15)

87.69 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars, a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




15. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath

Companion release to Leaving Your Bodymap, I find it quite difficult to articulate why it is that I am more attracted to the former than to Bath. They both certainly have songs and sections that are totally mind- and soul-blowing. Bath may actually have sections that are more beautiful than those of Bodymap but I think Bath's lows are just lower.

1. "The Blue Ghost, Shedding Qliphoth" (7:57) starts the album off quite mellowly, very delicate acoustic guitar play, when drums finally come in, during the fifth minute, they are played with brushes. Saxes play gently. Beautiful guitar melodies. Quite a deceptive intro for what is to come at the 6:42 mark (and later--in the next song). A powerful song even though it is a bit drawn out. (15/15)

2. "They Aren't All Beautiful" (5:37) is pure doom metal, growl singing, screams, machine gun bass drum play, and loud metal guitar power chords. Still, the song is filled with many bizarre and very fleeting twists--acoustic, ambient pauses, and jazzy chord twangs. Not my favorite TD song. (6/10)

3. "Heaven and Weak" (7:43) begins mellowly, almost acoustic jazz-like, with a bass, acoustic guitar and jazz-style drum kit. MICHAEL FRANKS-like beautiful male voice enters at the 1:30 mark. Song gets amped up into heavy rock at the three minute mark and soon begins to sound a little FRANK ZAPPA-ish--even DEVIN TOWNSEND-like. Amazing guitar riffs at 4:30 introduce full-blown metal dance. Treated voice takes the lead at 5:34, song comes a little down, then a bridge/interlude of harmonics and snare and bass drum beating before everything escalates into full-blown space shredding. Cue DEVIN to close. (12/15)

4. "(Interlude 1)" (1:38) is a slighlty jazzy instrumental of two acoustic guitars with delicate wah-pedaled electric guitar lead taking the melody over the top. Nice song! (4.5/5)

5. "The Ferryman" (7:51) opens with some dramatic and ominous solo organ play. This gives way in the second minute to some very subtly played drums which are then joined around the 1:30 mark by some equally delicate guitars, strummed and soloed. Then at 2:40 the wall of metal comes crashing in--with three different metal voices: a growler, a screamer, and a couple of melancholy disembodied ghosts. The fourth voice, a female, is actually quite lovely if a bit pitchy. The reappearance of the organ--over/under the metal thrashing--is quite cool, and supports the ghostly feel of the voices quite nicely--and actuallly takes the metal edge off of the guitar play, bringing them down to almost "rock" level. The Harry Potter-like death voices in the watery cave in the final minute are a bit bizarre, but, I guess, very effective in perpetuating and completing that Charon/River Styx theme here. (12/15)

6. "Marid's Gift of Art" (3:42) sounds of water splashes and drips (carrying over from Charon's pole-work of the previous song) opens the song before a pleasant, laid back picked/strummed acoustic guitar and background electric fade in. The vocal (to a child?) begins around 1:20. The vocal mirrors the guitar work throughout. Nice trumpet and cello integration in the last half of the song. (8/10)

7. "Girl with A Watering Can" (8:45) opens with some beautiful folkish solo from a read instrument (bassoon?) before an equally beautiful band sets up a full, delicate foundation for the beautiful female voice (the "Girl"?) to join in around the 1:30 mark. The tempo seems to be being played with a bit as the girl sings her tale, yet the constant bass rhythm betrays the truth. Very interesting. A coda and bridge into a new section is accomplished with the use of a sequence of heavy guitar chords. The new stand on which the female singer pours forth her public voice is still quite lovely. At 5:30 a soft male voice takes over vocal lead, as if to tell his perspective of the Girl. At 6:20 a metal guitar and synth solo section are played out to great effect and emotional display. The final minute maintains that open pace while the soft-spoken male returns to sing about the girl's flower garden and his missing her. Great song! One of my three favorites on the album. (20/20)

8. "Birth Pains of Astral Projection" (10:35) opens with a guitar, bass and drum foundation which has a bit of an Old West flavor to it. Very soothing as if played next to the fire under the midnight stars. Gentle saxophone joins for a bit just before the two minute mark at the same time a single sustained and wavering note from an electric guitar screeches menacingly in the background. By 3:30 the song shifts into heavy metal mode (though ever retain some calmer, less frenetic quality to it) as the doom growl voices emerge. At 6:40 Toby and the beautiful music side comes back. Great guitar work (lead and rhythm) in the ninth minute. One of my other favorites. (20/20)

9. "(Interlude 2)" (2:13) uses the splashing in a bathtub for its rhythm track with acoustic guitar and horns. Nothing special and a little gimicky but okay. (4/5)

10. "Geography" (4:26) is acoustic guitar based with a straightforward Toby vocal and some Frippertronics-like electric guitar sliding around in the more dynamic parts. Nothing too extraordinary. (8/10)

A very good album with some great TD/moTW highlights, just not as mind-blowing as its sister album.

87.6 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece of innovative progressive rock music rated down for its inconsistencies (one really bad song).




16. GREEN CARNATION Light of Day, Day of Darkness

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bjørn Harstad / lead guitar, EBow, slide effects
- Terje Vik Schei "Tchort" / acoustic & electric guitars, arranger, co-producing & mixing
- Endre Kirkesola / Hammond B3, synth, sitar, string & voice arrangements, co-producing & mixing
- Stein Roger Sordal / bass
- Anders Kobro / drums
With:
- Opera choir
- Childrens choir
- Synne Soprana / vocals
- Kjetil Nordhus / vocals
- Jan Kenneth T. / vocals
- Roger Rasmussen / screaming vocals
- Damien Aleksander / child's voice
- Arvid Thorsen / saxophone
- Bernt A Moen / string arrangements

1. "Light of Day, Day of Darkness" (60:06) A difficult song to review because it is not broken down into parts as many bands do (including commons-membership band In The Woods). I will have to say that there is very little in the first 24 minutes that wows me; it is all more simplistic and straightforward (and less engaging, less-charged) than I was expecting. The vocals and music are quite underwhelming. (My expectations come from my 2020 discovery of the band through their 2020 release, Leaves of Yesteryear). The instrumental section beginning in the 25th minute, however, is awesome; it's as if the band has finally clicked into full sync and full and enthusiastic engagement. Even the group vocals that follow are more spirited than anything that came before. Since the Bandcamp edition that I'm listening to won't let the album exist as one 60 minute song, has it split into two parts, I'd give the first half, (32:45) a score of (55/65)
The second half (27:20) opens with six minutes of minimalist Latin soundtrack mood music over which guest vocalist Synne Soprana vocalises Clare Torry style. Fellow metal band HYPNO5E used the same palette and style as these first thirteen minutes to great effect in their own 2018 masterpiece soundtrack Alba - Les ombres arrantes. At 13:11 a series of "church bells" signals a shift toward more thick metal-like walls of sound--as well as the first time we here this lead vocalist with his Greg Lake-like tone and presence. All instruments play in sync during the sixteenth and seventeenth minutes until some guitar effects and growlish-chorale vocals enter and take us deeper into the darkness. Porcessed lead vocal at the end of the eighteenth minute gives an eerie robot/machine-like effect. Then the sound palette suddenly shifts over the bass and drums to a Middle Eastern style wiht sitar, string synths, and operatic female vocalise. By the 20:00 mark, we have somehow seemlessly morphed back to metal (the appearance of the Hammond and slide guitar helps). Machine gun bass drum in the 22nd announces a kind of crescendo. A prolongedly slow start leads to a very entertaining and satisfying middle and sad, pull-on-your-heart-strings ending. I can't say this is great music but I like it; it's eminently listenable--and truly proggy. (50/55) 

Total Time 60:06

87.5 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




17. RADIOHEAD Amnesiac

It would seem here that Thom and company are trying to imitate, pay homage to, or evoke the experimental music of the 1960s BEATLES. They also seem to have become quite enamored of New Orleans music and jazz sounds, stylings, and motifs.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Thom Yorke / vocals, guitar
- Ed O'Brien / guitar, backing vocals
- Jonny Greenwood / lead guitar, piano, organ, orchestral arrangements (2,8)
- Colin Greenwood / bass
- Phil Selway / drums
With:
- The Orchestra Of St. Johns (2,8)
- John Lubbock / conductor (2,8)
- Jimmy Hastings / clarinet (11)
- Pete Strange / trombone (11)
- Humphrey Lyttelton / trumpet (11)
- Paul Bridge / double bass (11)
- Adrian Macintosh / drums (11)

1. "Packed Like Sardines in A Crushed Tin Box" (4:00) interesting start but then goes wrong. (8.5/10)

2. "Pyramid Song" (4:48) Excellent top to bottom--and very experimental. Love the Beatles-like orchestration. My favorite song on the album. (9.75/10)

3. "Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors" (4:07) playing with trip hop and glitch and scratch electro-editing. I like it! (8.75/10)

4. "You and Whose Army?" (3:11) almost retro 1950s blues turning into BEATLES piano-based psychedelia. (8.75/10)

5. "I Might Be Wrong" (4:53) electronic opening joined by BUSH-like guitar. It really goes nowhere else until 3:50 when all drops out and some interesting Bayou-bluesy electronica finishes it. (8.25/10)

6. "Knives Out" (4:14) interesting interplay from the three guitarists and nice vocal melodies. (8.75/10)

7. "Morning Bell/Amnesiac" (3:14) another song that contains elements that are very reminiscent of BEATLES music circa 1967. (9/10)

8. "Dollars & Cents" (4:51) guitar play like some of the early electrified guitars of the 1950s or 1960s with a bit of a jazz or bassa nova feel and rhythm to it. A top three song for me. I love the playfulness of the vocals and drums. (9.5/10)

9. "Hunting Bears" (2:01) Bayou blues. Not enough to make this one viable other than as an experimental interlude. (3.75/5)

10. "Like Spinning Plates" (3:57) highly experimental sound engineering over which Thom starts whining halfway through. (8.25/10)

11. "Life In A Glasshouse" (4:34) Dixie blues-house horns! Interesting. (8.5/10)

Total Time: 43:50

I appreciate all of the experimental melding of very old riffs and sounds with contemporary innovations in electronica, but often the songs feel quite monotonous to a lyric-deaf listener like me. 

87.38 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an interesting collection of songs meeting the usual Radiohead standard for experimentation and mood. 




18. SEVEN REIZH Strinkadenn Ys

Not quite the polished masterpiece that the few reviewers here on PA have raved about here, this one reminds me, qualitatively, of CIRRUS BAY's Stepping into Elsewhere in that there are some brilliant ideas, brilliant melodies, but not quite developed as far as could be taken. To be sure there are many absolutely breathtaking passages, but they often come over the top of rather banal, straightforward passages of rock chord progressions or steady backbeats (I hear a lot of GENESIS' ABACAB throughout this album's longer, rockier songs) over which the soli are then performed. The vocals and keys and folkier, 'non-rock' instruments are superb. The IONA, SALLY & MIKE OLDFIELD, XII ALFONSO and ALAN STIVELL--and even ENYA and CLANNAD--comparisons are quite understandable. I'd add not only GENESIS (big time!) but DUNWICH and even SURVIVOR. I consider all of the album's songs to be of at least 4 star quality (though the "ABACAB" similarities of "Mall eo monet de YS" are a bit too striking for my tolerance), with no less than seven songs earning 5 stars, but the album has too many spots of what I'll call 'simplicity' for me to give it an overall 5 star "masterpiece" rating. The stretch of diverse masterpieces that flow from "Hybr'Ys" (10/20), through the sublime instrumental "Kan KérYs" (9/10) the amazing eery Arab-sounding "Liñvadenn" (9/10), the VON HERTZEN BROTHERS-like "Tad ha Mamm" (8/10) and the gorgeous, gorgeous "Enora ha Maël" (10/10) are what make prog so special! Perfect captivation of the gambit of emotions of the human experience.

A beautiful album--highly recommended--especially for those who love melody and subtlety.

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




19. TRANSATLANTIC Bridge Across Forever

An album and band whose imitative/derivative sound had repelled me for years has finally earned it's respect and admiration. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Neal Morse / vocals, piano, Hammond, Minimoog, Fender Rhodes, synth, addit. guitars, mandolin
- Roine Stolt / electric & acoustic guitars, Mellotron, additional keyboards, percussion, vocals
- Pete Trewavas / bass, Taurus bass pedals, vocals
- Mike Portnoy / drums, vocals
With:
- Chris Carmichael / violin, viola & cello (1,4)
- Keith Mears / saxophone (1)
- The "Elite" choir / backing vocals (1)

1. "Duel With The Devil" (26:43) : (42/50)
- i) Motherless Children - incredible opening two minutes, but then things become so derivative. At the end of the fifth minute the vocals begin. So much like ASIA. Fairly good melodies. Good performances though a bit loose and out-of-sync in places. (13/15)
- ii) Walk Away - at the seven minute mark this odd pseudo-acoustic, pseudo-folk JON ANDERSON-like song is inserted. It amps up for the chorus while trying to retain fairy melodies from its start before launching into a full-on prog assault of bombastic proportions--guitar power chords and Hammond on full display. (7.75/10)
- iii) Silence of the Night - at 11:35 everything slows down as if in a jazz porno dream. Talking wah-guitar soloing over wavering Fender Rhodes. Too sexy! And then add sax! Too much! And to come out of it with PINK FLOYD's "Eclipse" from Dark Side of the Moon is just too audacious, even impudent. (8.25/10)
- iv) You're Not Alone - at 15:53 we change channels and find ourselves bouncing along a 1970s pop hit by AMBROSIA or THE LITTLE RIVER BAND. (4/5)
- v) Almost Home - at 18:40 we have our final shift into a very TFK/YES-"Soon Oh Soon"-like steel pedal guitar solo before they launch into a Relayer-like instrumental passage. The vocal section that comes next is remarkable for it's "Elite" choir gospel-church-like backing vocals. This is wonderful! This is followed by a very TFK-familiar climax and finish. (9/10)

2. "Suite Charlotte Pike" (14:30) (29/35) = 82.86:
- i) If She Runs - opens with a fade in to a jam like something from a PRINCE concert. At the end of the second minute the band congeals into a rock tune to support a EAGLES/BEATLES-like vocal section. The finishing instrumental section is very BEATLES-ish (intentionally so). Odd with all of the band members' studio commentary included. (8.5/10) 
- ii) Mr. Wonderful - at 4:40 we move into more 1960s styles, mostly the BEACH BOYS, despite Roine Stolt's signature voice in the lead vocal spot. Pleasant. (4.25/5)
- iii) Lost and Found pt. 1 - a brief Richard Wright/PINK FLOYDian synth solo (4/5)
- iv) Temple of the Gods - at 8:25 we move into a more aggressive passage of BEATLES-medley mix. (3.5/5) 
- v) Motherless Children / If She Runs (reprise) - at 10:55 we move into a mellow reprise of the Motherless Children theme and lyrics from the previous song. Nice guitar solo in the thirteenth minute preceding the return to the opening theme of "If She Runs." As is typical of the Stolt projects, the finale is the best part. (8.75/10) 

3. "Bridge Across Forever" (5:33) Neal and piano. (8.5/10)

4. "Stranger In Your Soul" (26:05) (50.5/55):
- i) Sleeping Wide Awake - cheap synth strings intro precedes "Watcher of the Skies"-like entrance and beginning before Yes bass and ASIA-like synth bring us up and into the organ-dominated motif that precedes the vocals. The vocal section--which is shared alternately and, later, collectively, by Neal and at least two other members--is very nice: simple music that supports the nice melodies and stylings--until (8.75/10)
- ii) Hanging in the Balance - the jarring leap into thickness and heaviness at the six minute mark. This section is well constructed--though the drums feel out of sync with the sound of the rest of the music. (8.5/10)
- iii) Lost and Found pt. 2 - around 9:45 we move into this Southern rock-feeling passage, which decays into a pleasant little interlude of BEATLES-like pastoral bliss before jumping into a full-powered, bass-thumping instrumental section for an incredible solo from guitarist Roine Stolt. Weird then to go back to the BUGGLES-like vocal section. (8.75/10)
- iv) Awakening the Stranger - at 12:35 we descend into the crystalline waters piano with dreamy guitar, synth, and vocal incidentals in the background. At 14:15 this pretty section evolves into a very pleasant plaintive vocal performance from Neal over his piano. Great melodies, great nuanced support from the others. (10/10)
- v) Slide - This then moves seemlessly and magically into a multi-layered "strings" passage. These two passages make up the best "song" I've ever heard from TMPTE. (5/5)
- vi) Stranger In Your Soul - at 17:40 we slide into a new section in which there is a very impressive display of organ, bass, and drum mastery right off the bat. A PORCUPINE TREE-like vocal over jazzy drums and piano interrupts this temporarily, but the heavy organ-bass-drums motif reappears here and there to remind us that it's all part of the same song--and then by the 20-minute mark we are fully returned to it for a prolonged instrumental passage. Solos by synths, guitar, bass proceed to fill the next few minutes. At the end of the 22nd minute we return to the vocal motif, only with a little more power and thickness behind Neal's voice. (9.5/10)

Total Time 72:51

It sounds and feels as if the boys had a lot of fun playing the music on this record, but it also feels as if it was fairly easy to put together these songs--the motifs and styles of which have so many familiar predecessors and models.

86.67 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--but definitely worth it if only to hear the wonderful epic, "Stranger In Your Soul." 




Special Mention:



BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS The Sound of Surprise

An album of music that doesn't really fit into the "progressive rock music" category by any way, shape, or means, drummer extraordinaire Bill Bruford continues to gather young jazz musicians willing to push the boundaries of modern improvisational JAZZ--and here he's recruited a true power trio to help him realize his jazz-rock vision. You go, Bill!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bill Bruford / drums
- Steve Hamilton / piano
- Patrick Clahar / Tenor And Soprano saxophones
- Mark Hodgson / bass

1. "Revel Without A Pause" (7:33) pretty standard sax jazz. (13/15)

2. "Triplicity" (6:22) opening with one minute of wonderful solo Bill, the Latinized music that follows shifts into straight melodic jazz and back to Latin-rhythm base over an over, several times a minute, to great effect:  it's really cool and different! Definitely a rhythmist's song. And filled with great, lush melodies from all instrumentalists. Modern jazz at its most sublime! (10/10)

3. "The Shadow Of A Doubt" (6:07) awesome melody start that moves into a beautiful, emotional soprano sax led ballad format. Gorgeous. Definitely a saxophone player's song--and a masterpiece of such--but maestro Steve Hamilton's piano gets its time in the spotlight as well. Songs like this remind me of how wonderful jazz can be. (10/10)

4. "Teaching Vera To Dance" (8:14) this one opens with a long bass solo before exploding into an almost-funky little ditty. If there's a weakness in this song, it is, unbelievably, in the drums: they seem a bit off time and "tired." (Intentionally so?) Not as melodic or engaging as the previous songs, this is more like the cold modern jazz that I've become accustomed to since the 1980s--mechanical and lacking heart. (12.5/15)

5. "Half Life" (5:18) straight time from the drums and yet syncopation from the others! How unlike Bill! It does create a tension that builds interest and intrigue. Stylist switch to a swing at the 2-minute mark makes it even more interesting as piano and sax continue on as if nothing has changed. Nice LYLE MAYS-like piano solo in the fourth minute (which turns CHICK COREA-like towards the end) as Bill and bassist Mark Hodgson do interesting things beneath. Cool song! (9/10)

6. "Come To Dust" (9:56) meandering piano play at the beginning has a gorgeous JOE SAMPLE Carmel kind of feel to it. When the rest of the band joins in at the end of the second minute it keeps the pace at a very slow, introductory, and exploratory place. In the piano solo central to the song's middle I hear the heart-felt daydreaming of VINCE GUARALDI. Another exemplary jazz masterpiece. (19/20)

7. "Cloud Cuckoo Land" (6:05) more fairly standard jazz. Nothing too special or innovative here. (8.5/10)

8. "Never The Same Way Once" (7:22) This one has a very CHICK COREA/RETURN TO FOREVER feel to it (despite not having guitar or anything electric involved). The RTF/Chick sound, style, and pacing is so distinctive; this is quite a remarkable replication. Even the bass solo is pure Stanley Clarke! In the end, all I can say is, "Wow!" (14/15)

9. "The Wooden Man Sings and The Stone Woman Dances" (7:42) Bill finally lets loose--forgets all time constraints--and goes wild--but in a subtle way! Just listening to the high-hat play is enough to cause me to smile and, often, drop my jaw. Then to listen how synced in Bill's kick drum and Mark's bass are. Remarkable! On another run through I could hear how Steve's piano and Patrick Clahar's soprano sax have the same amazing entrainment going on. This band must have had a lot of fun playing with one another. Then there is the final two minutes of the song where Patrick leads the band on a rampage the likes of which Chick & Return to Forever could only achieve in their very prime. Great work, Patrick! (14/15)

Total Time: 58:46

Some pretty standard saxophone-led jazz peppered with the odd syncopation or unusual time signature, but impeccably performed and recorded. I'm not sure how this one sneaks into the "progressive rock" genre--I suppose only on the coattails of Mr. Bruford's name and legacy.

91.66 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of modern JAZZ--putting on display just the kind of subtle nuances that are needed to keep jazz fresh and "progressive" yet keeping the music accessible, memorable, and beautiful.

P.S. Very cool album cover! 



The Rankings for 2001


1. KARDA ESTRA Eve
2. HAMADRYAD Conservation of Mass
3. BJORK Vespertine
4. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Leaving Your Bodymap
5. TOOL Lateralus
6. NEXUS Metanoia
7. 
MOTORPSYCHO Phanerothyme
8. PEKKA POHJOLA Views
9. BUBBLEMATH Such Fine Particles of the Universe
10. KOENJI HYAKKEI Nivraym

11. PÄR LINDH PROJECT Veni, Vidi, Vici
12. THE WATCH Ghost
13. JAGA JAZZIST A Livingroom Hush
14. STEREOLAB Sound-Dust 
15. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Bath
16. GREEN CARNATION Light of Day, Day of Darkness
17. RADIOHEAD Amnesiac
18. SEVEN REIZH Strinkadenn Ys
19. TRANSATLANTIC Bridge Across Forever
20. BILL BRUFORD'S EARTHWORKS The Sound of Surprise

Honorable Mentions: 
PALLAS The Cross & The Crucible
OPETH Blackwater Park
PICCHIO DAL POZZO Camere Zimmer Rooms
NO-MAN Returning Jesus 
ANATHEMA A Fine Day to Exit