Thursday, June 23, 2022

Top Albums from the year 2010, 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 2010, you will find below 3 albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  




4.5 Stars; Excellent Additions to Prog World





16. T Anti-matter Poetry

A very interesting and different --almost retro-80s--production whose music pleasantly updates and enriches some of the more sophisticated technologically-driven 'pop prog' from the Continent the 80s (PETER SCHILLING, KRAFTWERK, NENA, FALCO come immediately to mind. The DAVID BOWIE/PETER MURPHY-like voice and vocal presentation also does much to add to the charm of this music, but, on its own, this well-crafted and performed CD is a very nice find. The first three songs are all outstanding with 3. "Phantom Pain Scars" (14:15) (29/30) expertly weaving so many racing instrumental melodies behind (or perhaps, in front of) the least-Bowie-sounding vocal on the album that I feel I'm hearing the counterpoint of a symphony or big band. The mood-setting opener "The Wasted Lands" (9:38) (18/20) has many PINK FLOYD qualities to it--TV samples, lead guitar, mood. "Scavengers and Hairdressers" (10:22) (18/20) is definitely straight out of the 1980s PETER MURPHY catalog--musically and vocally. Love the domineering low end of this song! The fourth song, "I Saved the World" (7/10) again sounds like the way PETER MURPHY could almost go ambient, but ends up sounding most like a good MOBY song. Song five, the almost fifteen minute "The Rear View Mirror Suite" (14:42) (24/30) covers a lot of prog territory using a lot of very subtle instrumentation and musics. The sixth and last song on this 65 minute journey, the title song (8:14) (9/10), keeps up the very high compositional, melodic, and performance standard of the rest though also hovers mostly in the side of more delicate music, as do the last two.
     Overall, a very, very enjoyable journey that never failed to keep my attention and which draws me back in as soon as I hear a few chords of any of its songs. Definitely a musician to watch--though no listener would be disappointed if they start here.

87.50 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of prog music and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you're into 'progress' in the world of melodic progressive music.




17. MR. GIL Skellig

I really wanted to love this album! After reading the review by Tarcisio Maura earlier in the year, my excitement was high. Mirek Gil is my favorite guitarist of the last twenty years, and the Polish prog scene one of the most interesting and engaging during that same period. However, though, yes, Mirek is present--very present--and, yes, his distinctive wailing guitar sound is present--sometimes in triplicate--still, there are too many times when he disappoints: holding back, it seems; when you expect him to let loose in one of his frenzied, emotional solos, he just . . . doesn't. The solo in song 6, "Druga pólnoc" and the intro to song 7, "Czas i ja" are the only two times he comes close to letting go. A lot of time and effort is spent establishing repetition and melody/hooks with his lead guitar time; too much time and effort are spent showing restraint, trying to exhibit some kind of cool control, when I just want him to go shit crazy! (as we all know he can.) Luckily, the songs continue to grow on me--again, as his songs tend to do. I guess I was just disappointed at first listen because I wanted so much more. (I really was more enamored of the drumming and vocals in Polish.) During the second and third listens I must admit I heard much more of the beauty of the arrangements (mostly layered acoustic and electric guitar riffs), the melodies and harmonies, the vocals (I love singing in one's own native language).
     As I mentioned, the drumming (kudos Wojtek Szadkowski)--and often intertwining bass playing--are among the most consistently interesting themes of this album. And, Gil's guitar riffs are good; it's just that they could be . . . better! And, though I miss the lead guitar and keyboard interplay, I must say that the absent keyboards are not missed. (This aspect of the album gives it a feel similar to that of David Gilmour's second solo album, About Face.) Every successive song seems a bit better, a bit more close to the Mirek Gil we know and want; it's just that the emotional highs are rarely there. More in the drums or vocals than the lead guitar work.

1. "Skellig" (8:46) The opening song is beautiful, inviting, captivating; Gil's acoustic and lead guitar work are bold and beautiful, simple and almost cocky, the vocals very engaging. The bass and electric guitar rhythm section kicks in very effectively at the 2:50 mark. At the 3:50 mark the chorus first ensues with vocals and electric guitar lead dancing a very beautiful duet. The second chorus is followed by a lovely, long, vintage, if subdued, Gil solo. Backed by background choir and wonderful work from the rhythm section--who, fittingly, get to close out the song. (18.5/20)

2. "Mnie tu już nie ma" (5:10) is a beautiful, emotional, perhaps sad filled with lots of simple instrumental subtleties, like upper register bass play, harp-like acoustic guitar picking, delicate cymbol play, and lots of creative traveling across the toms. Here Mirek chooses to use his lead guitar to provide a very steady (one might say, repetitive) background for some stellar drum and bass playing. In fact, this song seems to have become a set up to display the excellent drum and bass play.  (9/10)

3. "Otwieram drzwi" (5:57) is the first song to really show a little of Gil's old heavy/neo prog roots--more use of thumping bass and electric power chords with a touch more volume on his lead. The vocal work here shows some weakness in the ability to deliver the higher end power; he seems to excel at the delicate, more ballad-like singing. Once more I find myself more drawn to listen to the drum work. The lead soli begin with a brief one at the 4:00 mark which is notable for the layering of two different tracks playing over one another. Trouble is, none of these soli "go anywhere." (8/10)

4. "Rzeka" (3:20) is a short, very standard rock song--sounding very similar to MIKE & THE MECHANICS' big hit, "In the Living Years." Nothing special here. (7/10)

5. "Odmieniec" (9:20) tries to rock out in a kind of BAD COMPANY "Ready for Love" way but the best part of the song are, in fact, the very delicate vocal section that precede GIL's first guitar solo and the soli themselves which finally, nearly, live up to expectations--yes, he ALMOST lets go. It's killing me: It's like listening to/watching ROBERT FRIPP: waiting and hoping that emotion will for once win out over mental planning and technical execution; he gets close but never quite leaves that seat on his stool, can't quite let himself go--show his human side. Too bad. Still, this is a pretty good song--and the solo is still better than 90% of the others out there. (18/20)

6. "Druga północ" (5:36) is a peppy song with perhaps the album's best vocal--with a very melodic vocal chorus, and some fun acoustic, rhythm and lead guitar work. Another set of classic, catchy lead guitar riffs to hook you in, and here we get to again experience Gil layering his guitar leads (and some pretty decent ones, too). Excellent song. (9/10)

7. "Czas i ja" (5:14) an instrumental, the best song on the album, where Gil finally gets moving, and his guitar is screaming, but it never reaches the heights we know he could go to. Again: the drums and bass deliver big time. (9/10)

Love the singing and Polish lyrics, drumming bass, and acoustic guitar work, and, of course, the distinctive--you might say, trademark--sound of Mirek Gil's lead guitar. Disappointed in the lack of innovative or "progressive" elements in the music. Happy to hear Mirek Gil under any circumstances; just wish he could have been a little more emotional and less mental/scientific in his playing.

4(-) stars. A good album. (Recommendation: Give it 3-4 listens before judging it completely.)

Post-edit: This is one album that has stayed on my radar and seems to have grown in my appreciation and esteem over time. I think it's due to the uniquely wonderful singing, melodies, and guitar of Mirek Gil. He may not be soaring to the heights of other solos but his solos are still better than 90% of all guitarists out there.

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




18. COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE The Sirens Sound

COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE The Sirens Sound is a june 2010 "EP" release (approx. 34 minutes) from Hamburg, Germany duo Martin Grimm and Chris Burda. CUTE's contribution to the Math/Post Rock genre is significant, IMHO, because of the integral and, in this genre, unusual role of keyboards/synths and because both band members are drummers/percussionists. Their songs are also quite amazing for their very engaging melodic and harmonic constructs. This EP is, again IMHO, their by far their best effort to date--and one of the most enjoyable and pleasurable Math/Post Rock albums I've ever heard.
  
1. At just under ten minutes, "The Sirens Sound" (9:54) begins the album with an electronic loop, quickly joined by a heavily treated piano (de-trebled) riff which soon yields to a slow moving synth. The treated piano riff and synth wash alternate with each other until the 3:00 minute mark when drums and guitars slow it down, heavy it out, and take over. The synth buzz eventually rejoins with new guitar arpeggios playing over the top of the rest of the music until the drums and heavy guitar chords suddenly drop out at the 4:30, only to rejoin at the 5:00 mark to build the song into one amazing wall of chaotic, mentally-disturbing sound. Awesome! Then they staccato stop and start the music several times before rejoining in the cacophony of beautiful sound. At 7:30 another hiccup reprieve before the whirling synth drone climbs to the top and makes you question your sanity. The last minute is a gradual dismantlement of the layers to fade. What a trip! One of the best Post Rock songs ever! It may be my favorite! (20/20)

2. "Grade Seperation" (sic) (4:45) begins with organ and bouncy, pop sounding synths and drums before the guitars come crashing in at the 1:00 mark. Some rather SIGUR RÓS sounding interludes make up the quiet breaks between waves of thrashing guitars and cymbals. A bit too repetitive and predictable. (7/10) 

3. "Violet Skies" follows some pretty standard-sounding rock guitar power chord progressions--almost punk-like at times--mete out a more familiar sound. Unfortunately, this familiarity is also the weakness of the song. (6/10)

4. "Beware/lost" (4:57). An awesome uptempo song with very catchy layered synth melody lines and single string guitar strumming and cymbals leading the way. Vibrating/vibrato bass notes are also very engaging. (10/10)

5. "A Different Complexion," at 8:50, is the longest song on the album, begins with cowbell and meaty bass before piano, sustained electric guitar notes, treated snare and other percussion noises join and carry the melody and intricate harmonic weave. Except for the cymbal work, it has a definite KING CRIMSON feel to it, and is very hypnotic and pleasant. (18/20)

A band definitely worth checking out. All their back catalog--which only begins last year--is outstanding, including Systembreakdown (2009) and Find a Place to Be Safe (Jan 2010). The Sirens Sound is their best. A very emotional and engaging album. Were it longer and not without two weak songs I would rate this with five stars. 4(+) stars.

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





Top Albums of the Year 2009, 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 2009, you will find below 7 albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  



4.5 Stars; Excellent Additions to Prog World




11. PRESENT Barbaro (Ma non troppo) 

Impeccably performed and recorded compositions that are both intricate and complex in a way that is more similar to modern classical music than progressive rock music (like Änglagård, Kotebel, All Traps on Earth, Yugen, and, of course, Univers Zero), the music contained here is remarkably engaging despite the angular rhythms and chromatic scales used. Still, there is enough of a lack of "grooves" and  melodic "hooks" that I would have trouble recommending this for casual listening (less so for "A Last Drop" as there are some basic elements of groove and melodic hook throughout this one). I understand that "casual listening" has never been a signature of progressive rock, so perhaps I should lighten up my judgment, I just don't find myself interested in returning to this music (whereas I am so inclined with the works of the above-mentioned bands). Thus my lower than average rating for this album: it's based on accessibility and popularity over longevity

1. "Vertiges" (16:38) filled with a lot of nuanced and fast changing motifs, this is truly a masterpiece of composition and performance without being memorable or very likable; I appreciate it's brilliance without ever wanting to return to it. (26/30)

2. "A Last Drop" (11:26) the most engaging composition on the album due to its "groove" and melodic "hooks." And yet, it is long... (18/20)

3. "Jack The Ripper" (16:41) One of the more captivating musical renderings of the legend of and mood created by the White Hall murderer (especially the "slasher" work of the viola and electric guitar). But, is musical representationalism enough to merit high marks? Is this "perfection" of songwriting? (27/30)

Can an album be a masterpiece of modern Avant garde/RIO music without being a masterpiece of progressive rock? If it's possible, this is one of the albums one would use to make your case.

88.75 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a boundary-pushing masterpiece of avant garde/Rock-in-Opposition music.




12. GAZPACHO Tick Tock  

While a pleasant listen, this album needs careful, attentive listening to be truly appreciated--which, then, becomes its downfall: When not listened to carefully, this album can become very boring, the lead singer's voice can become very tedious and whiney. So: if you have the time, sit down, put on the headphones and enjoy a very well put together album; If you aren't going to be able to concentrate and give it your fullest attention, better to avoid it and wait for time when you can. All songs are good, though the "Tick Tock" trilogy is my favorite (if you can listen to it in its entirety) and "Winter Is Never" is nice. Nice subtle effects and shifts in sound and mood, even if the vocals get a little monotonous. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jan-Henrik Ohme / vocals
- Jon-Arne Vilbo / guitar
- Thomas Andersen / piano & keyboards
- Mikael Krømer / violin, mandolin
- Kristian Torp / bass
- Robert Johansen / drums
With:
- Kristian Skedsmo / accordion, flute, mandola

1. "Desert Flight" (7:39) (11.625/15)
2. "The Walk" (13:41) (26/30)
3. "Tick Tock" (22:24) (43/45)
4. "Winter Is Never" (4:55) (9/10)

Total Time: 48:39

88.625 on the Fish Scales = B=/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music; an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Not the highs of Night, but not the lows either. 




13. TOE For Long Tomorrow

This is an interesting and enjoyable album that has a lot of the King Crimson Discipline sound and stylings that I love, especially songs 2, 3, 12, and 13. Though categorized Post Rock/Math Rock, it is far more that that, for in it I hear snippets that remind me of ALGERNON, IVY, KOOP, PAUL SIMON, JONI MITCHELL and many others. But most of all I hear DRUMS! AMAZING drumming!

The first song is a brief 39-second sonic introduction that bleeds directly into the brief "Shoushitsu tenyo fue" (2:40) (9/10) which is, in effect, an introduction and set-up for the album's third song (and, IMO, crown jewel). Arpeggio

3. "After Image" (3:59) featuring female vocalist Harada Ikuko reminds me of an awesome upbeat song from IVY or FIONA APPLE. (10/10)

4. "Esoteric" (4:15) is the album's first song to fully fall under the familiar/more usual Post Rock/Math Rock formats--and it is an excellent one! Sitar, arpeggiated acoustic and electric guitars, and amazing drumming! This is like MASERATI at its best! (10/10)

5. "Say It Ain't So", with the vocals of Dry River String's Hoshikawa Yuzuru (3:42), sounds like it wants to be pop and maybe even rappy. It's laid back, very repetitive and uses multiple tracks for its vocals. (8/10)

6. "Two Moons" (4:11) begins rather delicately, involving a synth, glockenspiel an acoustic and an electric guitar interweaving polyrhythmic melody lines. Until the bass and drums arrive at the 1:49 mark. Then we have a full-out jam! Kind of reminds me of ALGERNON. (8/10)

7. "Mosikiiton wa mou kikoenai #1" (2:32) (9/10) is a very cool piano over tuned and electronic percussion intro/variation for the next song,

8. "Mosikiiton wa mou kikoenai #2" (2:20) in which drums, bass and acoustic guitars play a more prominent role. Together the two variations rate a pleasant KOOP-like (8/10)--lacking enough development and change to make me reach for the replay button. This one is the drummer's song!

9. "Last Night (Album Version)" (4:56). By this time into the album I am looking for a little more variety. The one-note-at-a-time Kool-and-the-Gang synth is starting to get on my nerves, the interwoven tuned-percussion and acoustic guitar leads are getting a little old, the bass and drumming are the only things still keeping it interesting. (9/10)

10. "Goodbye (Album Version) featuring Toki Asako" (7:06) establishes another IVY-like groove using acoustic guitars and rolling COCTEAU TWINS-like bass before the vocalist and drummer get engaged. Again, the drummer is stealing the show! At the four minute mark ends a peak and things settling into a bit of a mellow, more simply and controlled section-- though the drummer apparently has difficulty with this mode, as he seems to always sneak in, or bulldoze his way into . . . taking over! I think the rest of the band shows admirable restraint in the face of his "lead" though I also believe the drumming is what makes this music work on such a high level. (10/10)

11. "You Go" (3:35) begins like one of DAVID BYRNE's Brazilian-influenced or PAUL SIMON's South African-inflluenced songs of years ago. The drummer is held a bit farther back in the mix on this one--and shows more than his usual restraint, though even in quiet restrained mode he continues to shine and attract the attention of the listener. (8/10)

12. "Our Next Movement" (4:48) begins with a very blatant folk drum style--large African hand drums and other hand percussives. Saxes play around in the background--as if I'm reminded of JONI MITCHELL's "Dreamland" from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. The random sax play, bass play, and replacement of hand drums by drum kit reign this jazzier tune in a bit. Horns come together in a bank format as guitars pick in their arpeggiated KING CRIMSON way. I like the looseness of this one. (8/10)

13. "Long Tomorrow" (5:18) displays the same controlled "Discipline"-like weave of electric guitars, drums, and bass as the album began with. I like the bass being a bit more forward in this one. Static-screeching synth enters around mid-point. Finishes in a much more PostRock/Math Rock way. I can't explain why I like this time of "controlled chaos" so much-- that KC "Discipline" weave--but I do. (9/10)

Though this album often threatens to slide into background music, it is definitely one of the best Math/Post Rock albums I've ever heard--one that I will play again and again. I look forward to the growth and maturation of this great little combo.

88.46 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars: An excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




This is an album that I liked from the start, every song was listenable and diverse. Now, after the twenty-somethingth listen, I can say that I know and like this album very much. A near masterpiece, with lots of theatric vocals, very competent playing from all of the musicians, and some sound songwriting. The album's weakness is two-fold: 1) it relies on old hooks from classic soli or chord progressions (mostly from PINK FLOYD and GENESIS, some YES)--and not just as "hats off" tributes to those bands, and; 2) many sections of songs are rather simply constructed (i.e. do not really take virtuosic competence in order to perform them--not unlike MUSE, THE DEAR HUNTER or AIRBAG). However, the longer songs have a very nice diversity of sounds, tempos and moods in them and are the highlights of the album. A great album, excellent for any prog lover's collection. Not a masterpiece, though. Not sophisticated or emotional enough. Close, though. Definitely an album that deserves more listens--more attention.

Album highlights: 2. "Leaving Here Tonight" (4:42) (10/10); 6. "The Bond of Mutual Distrust" (9:36) (17.5/20); 8. "Flying/Falling" (2:54) (10/10), "The Collapse' (12:10) (22.5/25); 4. "The Waterfall" (5:26) (9/10), and; "Disinfected and Abused" (17:38) (31/35). (The sample provided is a medley "preview" released to promote the album.)

 88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music (and, IMHO, much better than 2011's A Tower of Silence).




15. AIRBAG Identity

What at a nice surprise! While some reviewers are displeased at the sameness of this collection of songs, I am pleased by this consistency. IMHO, there are three pieces that I would nominate for that pantheon of greatness known as 'classics' in "Safe Like You," "Colours," and "Feeling Less." Plus, for DAVID GILMOUR lovers, you have not one but two amazing 'Gilmour' solo in "Steal My Soul." A collection of very pleasant, very listenable, and memorable Neo Prog songs.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Asle Tostrup / vocals, producer & mixing
- Bjørn Riis / guitars, vocals
- Jørgen Grüner-Hagen / keyboards
- Anders Hovdan / bass
- Joachim Slikker / drums
With:
- Beate Schei / backing vocals (5)

1. "Prelude" (5:11) slow, soporific PINK FLOYD-ish instrumental. (8/10)

2. "No Escape" (5:45) Emotional. Reminds me of PINEAPPLE THIEF. Masterful support keyboard work. Love, love that atmospheric final minute. (8.25/10)

3. "Safe Like You" (7:58) The best song on the album and one that has haunted me and remained an all-time favorite ever since my first listen back in 2009. Heart-wrenching. Incredible keyboard layering and textures. (15/15)

4. "Steal My Soul" (8:02) for DAVID GILMOUR lovers, there are two amazing 'Gilmour' soli here. (12.5/15)

5. "Feeling Less" (5:05) great song, lyrics, performances, balance, and emotion. (9.25/10)
6. "Colours" (8:07) great slow-paced song that builds up to some amazingly emotional guitar-over-synths work in the final two minutes. (14/15)

7. "How I Wanna Be" (7:04) very eerily emotional opening. (13/15)

8. "Sounds That I Hear" (7:26) previews of the more dominant PINK FLOYD-like sound we'll hear on future Airbag releases. Very nice, subtle instrumental work--especially Hammond organ and strumming acoustic guitar. (12.5/15)

Total Time 54:38

While some reviewers are displeased at the sameness of this collection of songs, I am pleased by this consistency. The engaging quality of these songs is of a very high and consistent level. IMHO, there are three pieces that I would nominate for that pantheon of greatness known as 'classics' in "3. Safe Like You",  "6. Colours", and "5. Feeling Less". 
Overall I agree with other reviewers:  There are no "new" innovations or complicated structures or time signatures on Identity; instead, what you have is a collection of very pleasant, very listenable, and memorable neo-prog songs in the same melodic vein as classic PINK FLOYD.
     I would like to point out, however, that the supporting keyboard work by Jørgen Hagen is perhaps the finest I have ever heard on any album. It's subtle. It is never flashy--never draws attention to itself--yet I doubt whether the other artists' contributions--or the album as a whole--would have come off half as good as it did without his work. Amazing. What Ricard "Nuflux" Nettermalm is to 21st century drumming Jørgen Hagen is to the keyboard.

88.09 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Neo Prog and an excellent and enjoyable addition to any prog lover's music collection. Definitely one of my favorite albums of the year 2009!

P.S. Does anybody else out there think that the keyboard work on this album is masterful in the way it fills space, fills the background with such gorgeous yet subtle chords and washes?




16. YVES POTIN/JAZZCOMPUTER.ORG Out Of The City

French jazz guitarist Yves Potin has contributed another sophisticated and thought-provoking contribution to Prog World in this decidedly cooler, more unsettling collection of soundscapes. While Yves instrumental and computer prowess is undeniable, the music here is quite dystopian and bleak. I shouldn't be saying that as if it's a bad thing, it's not--it's just the reality of the way things are progressing--especially on the human-disrupted surface of our planet. In that respect, the music presented here is quite powerful in its representation and reflection of the harm and chaos we have wielded upon our Mother. Ridley Scott and Vangelis would be quite appreciative of this music.

1. "Stress" (5:12) Though the power as a support of some tense, deep-in-the-night scene is undeniable, this one is a little too soundtrack-like and less the kind of music that you'd want to play without something theatric or visual to go with it. (Are there videos to any of your songs, Yves?) Virtuosic modern jazz-rock fusion guitar play (in a JERRY DE VILLIERS, JR. kind of way). (8.5/10)

2. "Anguish" (4:22) is like standing in a big city train or bus station and trying to fathom the surrounding chaos. Amazingly affective. (9/10)

3. "Stoned and Blurred" (5:26) unfortunately uses the same guitar sound and arpeggiated chord from the previous song to introduce the theme over the stark industrial soundscapes established by the computer synths.  (9/10)

4. "Inverted Twilight" (8:06) Disc Two of Gone to Earth! Awesome job of replicating the ambient soundscapes that David Sylvian created on that awesome album! (12.75/15)

5. "Those I Left Behind" (9:17) More from Disc Two of Gone to Earth! This time with similar guitar parts to the ones that David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, or Bill Nelson added to those ambient landscapes. Add the fretless bass, water drums, and Steve Jansen-like percussive rhythms to the final section and it's a perfect Sylvian replica! (17/20)

6. "Cold Bright and Quiet" (9:09) reminds me of the music from Vangelis' 1995 album, Voices. Spacious, deeply engaging and magically hypnotic. Though the lead instruments are nothing but hand percussives and a kalimba-like or kalimba-MIDIed vibraphone, it is eminently effective. The bass and synth washes could be higher up in the mix. (18/20)

An aural masterpiece in its representation of mankind's self-created troubled times, this is music that you don't want to listen to if you're already depressed. I commend and laud Yves' efforts and skills, but this is one of his discs that I'll probably not return to very often. (But then, you never know!)

87.35 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music though this is probably a true masterpiece of progressive electronic music.




17. THE APPLESEED CAST Sagarmatha 

A seasoned Post Rock/Math Rock band from Lawrence, Kansas, THE APPLESEED CAST creates, for the most part, melodic, engaging music of the highest realm of the Post Rock--including one of the exceptional groups that uses effectively lyrics and vocals. One of my favorite Post Rock/Math Rock albums.

Album highlights: 1. "As the Little Things Go" (8:15) (9/10); 3. "The Road West" (8:08) (10/10); 6. "Raise the Sails" (6:27) (9/10), and; 9. "An Army of Fireflies" (4:28) (9/10)

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


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

Top Albums of the Year 1994: Masterpieces and More

Though Prog Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century, I have decided to go back and "fill in" the years upon which the 21st Century is built upon, and not just the "classic" years of 1967-76. Each year will be given its own page, containing reviews of the albums I determine are worthy of recognition (both positive and negative). As usual, these pages will be works in progress, to which I'll be adding information as it comes my way.



Five Star Masterpieces 
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34) 



None



The Minor Masterpieces
(Ratings of 93.33 to 90.0)



ÄNGLAGÅRD Epilog (1994)

A second album of dense and challenging music from Sweden's virtuosic quintet of prog revivalists. While the quality of the musicianship is unrivaled, and the compositions clever and complex, there are, like in its predecessor, Hybris, many passages that prove a bit too dense of challenging. Luckily, there are many more melodic, accessible and even spacious moments on Epilog which is why this album has always pleased me more than Hybris. I listen to all of these songs--and to this album--way more than any other Änglagård album (though not as much since All Traps on Earth released A Drop of Light).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jonas Engdegård / guitars, Mellotron (2.1)
- Tord Lindman / guitars
- Thomas Johnson / Hammond organ, Mellotron, keyboards, piano (2.1)
- Anna Holmgren / concert flute
- Johan Högberg / bass
- Mattias Olsson / drums, cymbals, percussion
With:
- Åsa Eklund / voice
- Martin Olofsson / violin
- Karin Hansson / viola, double bass, treble recorder
- Jan Christoff Norlander / cello
- Johan Brand / vibes & bass (2.1)

1. "Prolog" (2:00) Mellotron & flute are joined by acoustic guitar and then strings. (4.25/5)
2. "Höstsejd (Rites of Fall)" (15:32) (27/30) 
3. Rösten (The Voice) (0:14)
4. "Skogsranden (Eaves of the Forest)" (10:48) 
(19/20)
5. "Sista Somrar (The Last Summer)" (13:10) 
(23.5/25)  
6. "Saknadens Fullhet (The Fullness of Longing)" (2:00) solo grand piano recapitulates the melodic theme of the opener, "Proglog." Way more beautiful, stark, and powerful. (5/5)

Total Time: 43:44

92.65 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




LANDBERK One Man Tells Another (1994)

 Landberk is a Swedish band who produced three (technically, four) studio albums in the 90s:  Riktigt Äkta and Lonely Land (the English version of Riktigt Äkta) in 1992, One Man Tells Another in '94 and Indian Summer in '96. While some categorize Landberk as Heavy Prog, I feel that their music is quite a bit more varied than that. The band uses space and delicate instrumentation quite often (try "Mirror Man" or "Valentinsong" on One Man Tells Another)--perhaps even the majority of the time--and rarely hits the heavy power chords one usually associates with heavy prog.
     The things that make Landberk most significant in my mind is that they had a far-beyond their years output of music of a very consistently high level of likability. Also, Landberk was the world's first introduction to two outstanding individual contributors to progworld:  guitarist Reine Fiske (one of my five favorites of the New Era, who later joined MORTE MACABRE, PAATOS, DUNGEN, and THE AMAZING) and bassist Stefan Dimle (founder of Sweden's Mellotronen store, Stockholm's Mello-Club and the Melloboat rock festival. He was also a founder/member of  both MORTE MACABRE and PAATOS). 
      The presence of drummer Jonas Lindholm on the band's final two albums was a major improvement over the original drummer, but, sadly, Jonas has not continued to play with other bands since Landberk. Wonderful singer, Patric Helje, developed a very powerful style once the band switched to singing in English instead of their native Swedish. He has a style and range not unlike a cross between THE CHURCH's Steven Kilbey, U2's Bono, ICEHOUSE's Iva Davies, and perhaps even TALK TALK's Mark Hollis and DAVID SYLVIAN. Sadly, Patric, along with proficient keyboardist Simon Nordberg, is another immensely talented musician who seems to have left prog world after the breakup of Landberk. 
    A 4.5 star album, One Man Tells Another is notable for its amazingly nuanced instrumental performances (especially Reine Fiske's jaw-dropping guitar genius) and its use of space and harmonics to convey deep emotion, and singer Patric Helje's impassioned vocals--in English. Also contained herein is the incredible song, "Tell," IMO, the Best Song of 1994.

A much-overlooked gem from the 90s--predating, as has been pointed out, the sounds and stylings that were soon to make Radiohead, The Gathering and Porcupine Tree popular favorites. Though I agree that this album shows a marked evolution in the band's development--less overt are the influences of KING CRIMSON (except maybe "Kontiki"), VAN DER GRAAF GENERATOR ("Valentinsong") and GENESIS--I do still feel some newer influences from different groups. On this album I am flooded with reminders of TALK TALK, THE CHURCH, and even U2.

1. "Time" (3:41) begins with a kind of U2/SIMPLE MINDS intro before settling into a POLICE- like vocal section. Singer Patric Helje's amazing chameleon-like voice hits some high notes in the chorus reminding me of some of DAVID BOWIE's greatest moments. Great drumming from Jonas Lidholm on this one (as throughout the album). There is also some very intricate, fast guitar picking/play in here. (8.5/10)

2. "Kontiki" (7:18) starts out with a repetitive pulsating organ chord and a vocal that sounds a bit like Adrian Belew. It then evolves into a very soft, slow moving song with lots of sensitive subtleties of guitar, keyboards and cymbols which eventually build for the climactic final two minutes of "heaviness." Definitely some KING CRIMSON shining through with this one. (12.5/15)

3. "Mirror Man" (5:57) is the first of this album's great songs--and the first to display a sound rather unique to Landberk. I love the jazzy SWING OUT SISTER strut from 2:13 to 2:59. The highlight for me, aside from the delicate guitar throughout, is the jazzy last 1:30--especially when Reine's guitar goes into scratchy feedback. Plus Helje's final phrase and note. (9/10)

4. "You Are" (6:03) is the first song I've heard from Patric Helje in which I hear quite distinctly the voice of ICEHOUSE's lead singer, IVA DAVIES. Great atmosphere--not unlike that of ICEHOUSE--beginning at 1:30. I love Reine Fiske's traveling guitar feedback: cycling back and forth from channel to channel during the third minute. Then it comes front and center (with some harmonics floating around behind) for a very cool yet delicate solo. Startlingly sudden ending! (9/10) 

5. "Rememberance" (6:35) sounds like a walk through the realm of Steven Kilbey's THE CHURCH with the syncopated drumming style of STEVE JANSEN. The bass is so mesmerizing on this one--and Patric Helje's vocal is so smooth and powerful! I love the additional percussion in the second B section. Quite reminiscent of PETER MURPHY's song "Roll Call." (9.25/10)

6. "Valentinsong" (9:38) is so delicately nuanced (it predicts much of Reine Fiske's influence and contributions to PAATOS's first album, Timeloss) that I could listen to it over and over. Space and harmonic sustain and decay are the champions of this song. (18/20)

7. The album's real jewel, however, is the finale: "Tell" (8:36) Beginning with such raw, exposed guitar conveys such tremendous emotion. When Stefan Dimle's bass enters toward the end of the second minute, and then Fiske turns to those slow, distorted chords! And then the entrance of the 'tron! Then guitar feedback like only Hendrix ever mastered! I tell you people, Reine Fiske is an absolute genius! Then the amazingly catchy BONO/KILBEY-like vocal sucks you in even deeper (as if that was even possible!). At 5:27 we are treated to a section of raw emotion that has even more impact! I mean: How much adrenaline can a body produce in the space of six minutes?!! But wait! The final minute gut-punches you again with a pause (Is it over?) and then play out with keyboard wildly perambulating around the sonic horizon. (21/20. Best song of 1994, IMHO!).

I've grown accustomed to favoring the band's final album together as their masterpiece, but this one is, to my mind and ears, also worthy of that designation. I get so enmeshed in the work of astounding genius Reine Fiske that I might find it difficult to be more objective about the value of Landberk's contributions to the world of (progressive) music. But, again, this album is so engaging, so emotional, so inimitable, and such a glowing example of the fact that there is/was a Prog Renaissance going on in the 1990s that I can only bump this 4.5 star album up to masterpiece level.

92.63 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of atmospheric progressive rock music. 




KINGSTON WALL III - Trilogy

On 28 June, 1995, Finnish singer-songwriter Petri Walli climbed to the top of a church tower in Helsinki and jumped to his death. The incredibly talented leader of psychedelic progressive rock band Kingston Wall was 26 years old. To hear Petri's catalogue of songs is truly a religious experience. His little known three piece band sounds as if it was the reincarnation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, twenty years after Jimi's death. The first Kingston Trio album is a bit raw and show the band (and Petri)'s lack of maturity in all categories--songwriting, playing, and studio recording techniques. The second album, II, came out just a year later but shows extraordinary growth in all areas. This is one jaw-dropping album. The third album, yet another year down the road, was much more studio processed, as opposed to the "plug-in and push record" approach to the previous two albums. Tri-logy thus has a much more experimental sound to its psychedelia--but is no less brilliant. Fellow band members say that they could feel as if Petri was on a mission--that his suicide shortly after made perfect sense with the way he approached the recording of Tri-logy. The lyrics of several of the album's songs even give portend to his choice to leave the planet early, of his own accord. What an amazing talent was lost. Thankfully, we have these three albums as testament to his gifts.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Petri Walli / guitar, lead & backing vocals
- Jukka Jylli / bass, backing vocals
- Sami Kuoppamäki / drums, percussion
With:
- Kimmo Kajasto / synths
- Sakari Kukko / saxophone (13)
- "Peter & Pan" (?) / didgeridoo, jew harp
- Carl Käki-Motion / voice (10)

1. "Another Piece Of Cake" (3:48) amazing guitar and great drumming over a kind of standard song. (9/10)
2. Welcome to the Mirrorland (3:46) (/10)
3. "I'm the King, I'm the Sun" (4:56) feels very PINK FAIRIES-like with vocals and synths. (8.5/10)
4. The Key: Will (1:07) (/5)
5. "Take You to Sweet Harmony" (3:24) opens with spacious spaceyness like a PINK FLOYD song, but then with the mystical almost-spoken vocal it turns kind of Reggae … except the guitar. Wow! Can Petri wail! I don't really like the song, but the guitar pyrotechnics are undeniable and so worth listening to! (8.75/10)
6. Get Rid of Your Fears (2:56) (/10)
7. When Something Old Dies (1:21) (/5)
8. Alt - land - is (5:12) (/10)
9. Party Goes On (4:25) (/10)
10. Stüldt Håjt (8:59) (/20)
11. "For All Mankind" (6:17) drone and didgeridoo open this one as amazing lead guitar riffing and Animal-like drumming slowly fade in as if coming from the Underworld or somewhere equally nefarious. (How else could a guitarist be this good, this dynamic, this confident?) Add to this a great vocal with amazing lyrics and you get my favorite song on the album and my favorite Kingston Wall song of all-time (this despite it being rumored to have been Petri's suicide note to the world). (10/10)
12. "Time" (7:07) slow Petri down and he could definitely be the reincarnation of one Jimi Hendrix. Jaw-dropping guitar play on this bluesy Band of Gypsies-like song. (13.25/15)
13. "The Real Thing" (18:02) 
(34/35) = 9.71

Total Time: 71:38


The Kingston Wall experience is all about hearing, trying to make sense of, the astonishing and mesmerizing guitar play of Petri Walli. Though he committed suicide shortly after the release of this album and the Petri-ordained breakup of the band, Petri is among the greatest guitarists I've ever had the privilege of hearing. Another reason that I am so grateful for the Internet/WorldWideWeb and the music database of ProgArchives:  otherwise, I would have never heard of this band or this extraordinary artist.

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




BARK PSYCHOSIS Hex (1994)

The album that gave birth to a new sub-genre of music:  The name "Post Rock" came from some discussions which followed music critic Simon Reynolds' use of this term during his review of Hex. He was using the term to describe the new style of  music being produced around 1994 of which Bark Psychosis was one group. To my ears this music sounds just like the music DAVID SYLVIAN was doing ten years before with his string of albums, 1984's Brilliant Trees through 1987's Secrets of the Beehive, especially the vocal stylings and syncopated drum tracks--plus the keyboard/synth work is amazingly reminiscent of RICHARD BARBIERI's work and the guitar parts in "Absent Friend" are Fripp-Sylvian-ish. (So, I have to ask:  Where was Simon Reynolds when Sylvian and friends were collaborating on their 1980s ground-breaking and, apparently, ahead-of-their-time music?)
     While the album is definitely full of scaled down, slowed down, trip-hoppy, acid jazzy, ambient rock, it is also a collection of widely different songs. Most people will recognize in the album's last song, "Pendulum Man" (9:54) (19/20), as a perfect example of the prototypical Post Rock song. I particularly love the album's chamber-trip hoppy-jazz number, "The Loom" (5:16) (a sure tip of the hat to the amazing stuff DAVID SYLVIAN and his drummer-brother, STEVE JANSEN were doing ten years before) (9/10). "Big Shot" (5:21) (10/10) is beautiful and mesmerizing. "Fingerspit" (8:22) (19/20) is, however, the jewel in the crown. Over eight minutes of seemingly random unstructured free form atonal jazz music with many unexpected sounds, noises, and samples thrown in--just because they could.

on the Fishscales = / stars; a masterpiece of its sub-genre and a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.



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BONDAGE FRUIT Bondage Fruit

The debut release from this high energy Japanese youth. Though this is definitely Zuehl (the vocals give it away), the tribal rhythms and prominent contributions of tuned percussives, violins, saxophone, strumming acoustic guitars, and really raunchy buzz-saw lead electric guitar give the music and sound an entirely different palette than Magma or the European Zeulers.   

Line-up / Musicians:
- Saga Yuki / vocals
- Aki / vocals
- Kido Natsuki / guitar
- Katsui Yuji / vocals, violin
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel, percussion
- Okabe Youichi / percussion
With:
- Namie Tokyo / vocals (4)
- Yen Chang / vocals (6)
- Hirose Junji / saxophone (9)

1. "Holy Roller" (3:54) tribalistic hand drums joined by scratchy electric rhythm guitar and then violin and voice. The vocals definitely have Zeuhlish feel to them, but the rest less so. (8.75/10)

2. "Arabia No Zou" (4:31) fairly simple, straightforward musical weave in which the wordless vocal weave switches from percussive "da-da"s to smooth "wee-ee"s and then to soul-operatic scatting of a solo woman. Interesting. (8.75/10)

3. "Kodomo No Torokko" (8:24) opens with fast driving, multiple layers of percussion and chunky bass which are soon joined by a choir of wordless vocalise establishing a very engaging series of melodies with harmonic support and counterpoint presenting in a verse and chorus format. Very cool! At 2:30 voices and bass take a break while violin takes the lead over cymbal play. Sounds like Charlie Daniels' "Devil Went to Georgia" or The Who's "Baba O'Riley" violin play over Laurie Anderson's "Blue Lagoon" tuned percussives. Voices join back in until the five minute mark when acoustic steel-string guitar takes a turn as the demon soloist. Voices join in during the seventh minute in a beautiful Paul Winter Consort kind of way. Simply an awesome, innovative song! (20/20)

4. "Rigo" (2:22) percussion and Bobby McFerrin-like voices create an odd, perky chordal weave before soprano female takes on the role as the breathy lead over the top. Halfway through the song stops and peeks through another door (vibes) before returning to the perky chords with horn added. (4.5/5) 

5. "Octopus-Command" (7:16) opens with multi-voice vocal weave that sounds like something Bobby McFerrin might have constructed, but then full band bursts in with same bass, snarey-drums, vibes, edgy guitars, and multi-voiced choir, all scatting along at breakneck speed with each other, each following the same melody lines--until the third minute when everybody drops out except for the bass--who meanders slowly, snail-like, through a lonely murk of silence. He sounds a lot like Eberhard Weber or David Darling. At 4:30 everybody comes shrieking (on behalf of the guitar and high-speed vocalists--who alternate screaching at each other, this is literally true). At 6:00 everybody cuts out for a brief interlude of high end xylophone before the band members all rejoin--this time at normal speed. Not as melodic as I like, but very impressive performances. (13.25/15) 
6. "Hiko Suru Ko" (6:45) opens with a weave, pace, structure, and vocalist and melody sounding very much like a song of theirs from the future. I love the hand drumming as the percussion/rhythmic foundation. Violin takes over the lead from the alto female voice in the second verse. Female voice rejoins in the third minute. both leads are smooth and fairly sedate. Acoustic guitars and bowed cello/bass become more prominent in the third section--and vocals get thicker with others joining alto. Next section has an Nassau N'dour-like African-sounding male singer. Very cool! Then other vocalists join in while song slowly fades. (13.5/15)  
7. "Kaku No Sakana" (6:15) gentle, based upon a simple acoustic guitar arpeggio other instruments add gentle almost incidental sounds to it. Nice and interesting but a little long and drawn out. (8.5/10)
 8. "Kinzoku No Taiji" (7:37) more full band frenzy on display, this time pursuing a more mid/alto range of pitches. Excellent drumming on display here as the chunky bass slides all over the fretboard, high and low ends. Violin, electric guitar, and single voice take the solos (and take their solos very seriously--and man do they cook!).  (13.5/15)
9. "T-Rex" (6:01) from the first note this one definitely presents itself like some kind of wild orgy of soloists. The only thing keeping it all together is the tribalistic drum pattern. When things "calm cdown" and move into more vocal-centered deliveries, it reminds me of P-We Yoshimi's OOIOO project. I actually really like the second half of this song: it's much tamer and more melodic and cohesive than the initial food frenzy. (9.75/10)

Total Time: 53:05

91.36 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and quite a debut of Japanified Zeuhl. 




PÄR LINDH PROJECT Gothic Impressions (1994)

The debut album from Pär Lindh and his co-conspirators, their brand of Neo Prog is quite refreshing in that their aim is definitely to recreate a kind of ecclesiastical epoch of music with their church organs and choir banks of voices. The participation of three of the Änglagård crew (Anna, Johan, and Mattias) make this more interesting.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Magdalena Hagberg / vocals
- Pär Lindh / keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, producer
- Jocke Ramsell / electric guitar
With:
- Ralf Glasz / vocals
- Mathias Jonsson / vocals
- Camerata Vocalis / chorus vocals
- Björn Johansson / Classical guitar, bassoon, tinwhistle
- Roine Stolt / acoustic guitar
- Jonas Endgegård / electric guitar
- Lovisa Stenberg / harp
- Anna Holmgren / flute
- Johan Högberg / bass
- Mattias Olsson / drums, percussion

1. "Dresden Lamentation" (2:06) a fitting tribute to the victims of the 1945 firebombing. (4.5/5)

2. "The Iconoclast" (7:04) I like the beginning and chamber/choral end of this but not so much the middle (don't really like the lead male singer's sound or style). (12.5/15)

3. "Green Meadow Lands" (7:24) flute and harpsichord open this. Quite lovely. Nice male vocal with tubular bells and rock ensemble. In fact, the Änglagård trio have quite a big presence on this one. A litttle nod to King Crimson in the fifth and sixth minutes despite the Mike Oldfield-like lead guitar. (14/15)

4. "The Cathedral" (19:33) one of my ten favorite long-playing epics of the 1990s. (38/40)

5. "Gunnlev's Round" (2:50) a delightful little pastoral piece done in a baroque style. (5/5)

6. "Night on Bare Mountain" (13:50) never a big fan of this piece by Mussorgsky, this version is performed stylishly but does nothing for me. (26/30)

Total Time: 52:54

90.91 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Quite an impressive debut!



4.5 Star Near-Masterpieces 
(Ratings 89.99 to 86.67)



AFTER CRYING Fold És Ég

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ferenc Torma / guitar, vocals
- Csaba Vedres / piano, synthesizer, vocals
- Balázs Winkler / keyboards, trumpet,vocals
- Péter Pejtsik / cello, bass, vocals
- Gábor Egervári / flute, spoken word
- László Gacs / drums, percussion
With:
- Béla Horváth / violin (?)

1. Manticore Érkezése I (1:50) (/5)
2. Manticore Érkezése II (6:37) (/10)
3. Enigma (1:25) (/5)
4. Rondo (3:40) (/10)
5. Zene Gitárra (3:20) (/10)
6. Leltár (4:02) (/10)
7. Cisz-Dór Koncertetüd (3:22) (/10)
8. Puer Natus In Betlehem (6:02) (/10)
9. Júdás (9:40) (/20)
10. Bár Éjszaka Van (7:06) (/15)
11. "Kétezer Év" (13:20) 
(29.5/30) = 9.833 

Total time 60:24


on the Fishscales = / stars; 




COLLAGE  Moonshine (1994)

COLLAGE's Moonshine is full of very memorable music. There are many 'hooks' that haunt the listener hours and days after walking away from it. Containing some symphonic elements, this masterpiece of NeoProg has a few shortcomings, namely the vocals are, at times, weak, and some of the keyboards that were 'leading edge' technologically in 1994 are almost embarrassingly out-dated today. Still, the bombastic music, rare treat of frequent synthesizer-electric guitar interplay, and defining appearance of the screaming, infinite-sustain Mirek Gil guitar sound (which is, IMO, one step above that of the Master, Steve Hackett--whose "Spectral Mornings/Every Day" sound Gil was so obviously inspired by).

1. "Heroes Cry" (6:40) What a memorable, bombastic introduction! And it all begins with the album's major strength (Gil's screaming guitar) and weakness (vocals). At 1:10 the poppy bridge and chorus first appear. At 3:50 we get our first treat to the talented keyboard player as he echoes himself before engaging in the playful chase-and-duel pattern so often explored with Gil's guitar. (Could it be that Gil's soli are, in fact, improved and enhanced--his efforts augmented--by the challenge and presence of the keys?) Prog doesn't get much better that this, folks! A very memorable, haunting song. (9.25/10)

2. "In Your Eyes" (14:04) opens with the dated synths to about 1:00 when piano and acoustic guitar interplay take over to back the vocal. At 2:36 a very Hackett-esque guitar riff leads to a very Wind & Wuthering feeling section of chords and acoustic guitar. 4:30 sees the arrival of a very high, squeaky guitar solo; at 5:30 the song shifts dramatically, till, at 6:25 the song shifts back to the Hackett-esque, Spectral Mornings feel. At 7:10 we see a return to previous themes until at 8:35 the song takes another completely different shift with sequencer, synthesizer, and bass taking over until 9:10 when Gil's screaming guitar rejoins. A vocal highlight occurs at the 10:25 mark with an electric guitar supported "here tonight" peak, followed at the 11:30 mark with a low register key & synth solo over some very nice drum work. Tempo picks up again at 12:00 until a stop at 12:45. Whereupon the song plays out with the very enjoyable interplay of keyboard and electric guitar. (26.5/30)

3. "Lovely Day" (5:11) uses piano and synthesized strings to establish a slow, almost poppy mood for the first three minutes. The 3:05 mark sees the most interesting development of the song with piano arpeggios followed by some electric guitar-keyboard 'gunfire.' Otherwise, a not very memorable song. (7/10)

4. "Living in the Moonlight" (4:43) A favorite among proggers, undoubtedly for it's Hackett-like, Please Don't Touch feel as well as its lyrical content. Gil's guitar work is rather subdued and moved more into the background. The "when I feel silence" sees the song shift into a higher gear of intensity, and then higher again when Gil begins his Hackett-esque solo--which he makes his own beginning at the 3:10 mark. (9/10)

5. "The Blues" (7:17) The highpoint of the album. Gil's guitar screams out the defining melody from the first note and climbs, with the help of some wonderful band support, to an amazing beginning song solo before dropping away at the 0:54 mark in lieu of the vocal  section--a great vocal dislay, with very powerful delivery of some powerful lyrics. Great full-band interplay and support throughout this amazing song. 4:35 begins the Mirek Gil display. This is the song where he leaves Hackett in the dust and establishes his own ascendancy. Great drum and key support. I do not think that this song could be improved upon. A song for the ages. (15/15)

6. "Wings in the Night" (11:12) takes the first 2:25 to establish itself (fairly weakly) before finally letting some energy show (briefly). The song rather lacks from consistency--bouncing from quiet to dynamic and back again over and over while the vocals go on trampling over all parts indiscriminately. At the 7:10 mark Mirek Gil is finally set free--and boy! does he soar! The final four minutes of the song nearly make up for the floundering first seven (even if there are several moments where one might think you were in Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings). (17.75/20)

7. "Moonshine" (12:50) begins as if playing Phil Collins' "I Don't Care Anymore" until at 0:46 Gil steps in and lifts it into another world--his own. Still, it takes three and a half minutes until the song finally establishes a consistent self identity--which it does, at a very high level, too. (22/25)

8. "War Is Over" (5:27) is vocalist Robert Amirian's rather pop-anthem contribution to the album. Very simple structure and repetitive lyric make for a somewhat disappointing song. The only real progginess comes in the song's end when Amirian's accordian ushers us out of (the) Moonshine. (7.25/10)

9. (Bonus Track in 2003 remaster) "Almost There." This is a GREAT song. Too bad it wasn't on the original release (instead of "War Is Over"), otherwise this may have helped earn the album the five star rating it feels like it deserves. I LOVE how the vocals, keyboards and bass pace this song. Powerful! For once Amirian's lyrics (repetitive as they are) and delivery work! They provide a great vehicle for an all-out band jam?which could easily (and even happily) have ended at the 3:05 mark. But it doesn't! Instead, we are treated to one more minute of bass and drums pounding beneath Mirek Gil's superlative, screaming guitar and Robert Amirian's (background) vocal screams. Wow! (10/10)

88.75 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock of the Neo kind. Even without the bonus song, "Almost There," the album is a definite four star "classic"--and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. With it . . . ?




DREAM THEATER Awake

Line-up / Musicians:
- James LaBrie / lead vocals
- John Petrucci / guitars, backing vocals
- Kevin Moore / keyboards, co-lead vocals (11)
- John Myung / bass
- Mike Portnoy / drums, percussion, backing vocals (7)
With:
- John Purdell / backing vocals (6), co-producer
- Duane Baron / backing vocals (6), co-producer
- Rick Kern / programming (11)
- Prix-Mo / Voice (5)

1. 6:00 (5:31) (/10)
2. Caught In A Web (5:28) (/10)
3. Innocence Faded (5:43) (/10)
- "A Mind Beside Itself" 
(35.75/40):
4. I-Erotomania (6:45) (/15)
5. II-Voices (9:53) (/20)
6. III-The Silent Man (3:48) (/10)
-
7. The Mirror (6:45) (/15)
8. Lie (6:34) (/10)
9. Lifting Shadows Off A Dream (6:05) (/10)
10. "Scarred" (11:00) 
(18.75/20)
11. Space-Dye Vest (7:29) (/15)

Total Time: 75:01


on the Fishscales = / stars; 



Other Excellent Albums
(Ratings of 85.0 to 87.66)



CITIZEN CAIN Somewhere But Yesterday

One of the most blatant and formidable interpreters of Peter Gabriel-era GENESIS, this is their most classic and well-lauded album. The music is very well constructed, very well produced, and performed with all of the subtlety and craftsmanship of Genesis or Fish-era Marillion.


Line-up / Musicians:
- George Scott "Cyrus" / vocals
- Alistair MacGregor / guitar
- Stewart Bell / keyboards
- Andy Gilmour / bass
- Nick Arkless / drums

1. "Jonny Had Another Face" (10:30) (17.25/20)

2. "Junk And Donuts" (9:19) (18/20) 

3. "To Dance The Enamel-Faced Queen" (10:24) (6/20) 

4. "Somewhere But Yesterday" (25:40) (41.5/50) 

5. "Strange Barbarians" (11:48) (22/25) 
Total time 67:41

85.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice contribution to the Neo Prog realm. The similarities of this music to that of the band that they are imitating are often a bit too blatant, almost plagiaristic, which begs the question: is this music redundant?




MARILLION Brave

 While the sound of this album is very good--very lush--and I very much prefer Steve Hogarth's voice to Fish's, but the story is lost on me (cuz I'm not a lyrics guy) and the music does not represent, to my mind, the emotional impact that the story is supposed to convey. I love the idea, but I don't feel it delivers. Still, this is probably my favorite Marillion album.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steve Hogarth / lead & backing vocals, keyboards, percussion
- Steve Rothery / guitars
- Mark Kelly / keyboards, backing vocals
- Pete Trewavas / basses, backing vocals
- Ian Mosley / drums, percussion
With:
- Tony Halligan / Uillean pipes
- The Liverpool Philharmonic / cellos and flutes
- Darryl Way / orchestral arrangements (10)

1. Bridge (2:52) (/10)
2. Living With The Big Lie (6:46) (/15)
3. Run Away (4:40) (/10)
4. "Goodbye To All That" (12:26) 
(21.5/25) 
- i. Wave 
- ii. Mad 
- iii. The Opium Den 
- iv. The Slide 
- v. Standing In The Swing
5. Hard As Love (6:41) (/10)
6. The Hollow Man (4:08) (/10)
7. Alone Again Into The Lap Of Luxury (8:12) (/15)
8. Paper Lies (5:49) (/10)
9. Brave (7:54) (/15)
10. The Great Escape (6:29) (/10)
- i. The Last Of You 
- ii. Fallin' From The Moon
11. Made Again (5:01) (/10)

Total time 70:58


Favorite songs: "Bridge" (2:55) (10/10); "Brave" (7:56) (10/10); "The Great Escape" (6:30) (9/10); the first half of "Living the Big Lie" (6:46) (8/10); and "The Hollow Man" (4:10) (8/10). (I guess I like the slower, more melancholy side of Marillion and Hogarth.)

on the Fishscales = / stars;  3.5 stars rated up for wonderful production and effort.




Not As Good As Advertized



PINK FLOYD The Division Bell

Line-up / Musicians:
- David Gilmour / electric & acoustic guitars, e-bow (7), keyboards, bass, lead vocals, talk box, programming, co-producer
- Richard Wright / keyboards, piano, vocals (6)
- Nick Mason / drums, percussion 
With:
- Tim Renwick / guitars 
- Jon Carin / keyboards, programming, vocals 
- Bob Ezrin / keyboards, percussion, co-producer
- Dick Parry / tenor saxophone (6) 
- Guy Pratt / bass, vocals 
- Gary Wallis / acoustic & electronic percussion 
- Sam Brown / backing vocals
- Carol Kanyon / backing vocals
- Rebecca Leigh-White / backing vocals
- Durga McBroom / backing vocals
- Jackie Sheridan / backing vocals
- Stephen Hawkins / synthesized voice (9)
- Michael Kamen / orchestral arrangements
- Edward Shearmur / orchestrations
1. Cluster One (5:58) (/10)
2. What Do You Want from Me (4:21) (/10)
3. Poles Apart (7:04) (/15)
4. Marooned (5:28) (/10)
5. A Great Day for Freedom (4:18) (/10)
6. Wearing the Inside Out (6:48) (/15)
7. Take It Back (6:12) (/10)
8. Coming Back to Life (6:19) (/10)
9. Keep Talking (6:11) (/10)
10. Lost for Words (5:14) (/10)
11. High Hopes (8:31) (/20)

Total Time 66:24




Albums on the Fringe of Prog World




JON ANDERSON Change We Must (1994)

 IMHO CHANGE WE MUST is Jon Anderson's finest non-Yes piece of work. The use of classical orchestration, piano, choir, and some truly inspiring lyrics---which I believe are very near to the cumulative life's work of Jon's spiritual journey---make the music of this CD feel very close to the essence that is Jon Anderson. And Jon's vocals, as cited before me, among his best, come across as being so relaxed and effortless, so natural and sincere that they must be representative of the core of Jon himself. The true specialness of this music comes through in a personal story. When I first purchased this disc I played it round the clock for days. The first non-school day i had working around my house with my pre-teen daughters around brought about two separate, unique, and totally spontaneous events. My eldest daughter (8 at the time) asked for the lyric booklet. She sat on the couch reading, asking questions about the meaning while proceeding to memorize "Hurry Home" and "Change We Must." We played that disc for months. She even took it to school hoping that the school music director would pick up one of the two pieces for performance at a school concert. (To this day my daughter is in the school's choir, oboist in the band, and after six years of piano lessons, has taught herself to be proficient on flute, guitar, and percussion).
     My other daughter is a dancer. Born dancing, she has channelled that energy and passion into ballet. During that same Saturday of playing CHANGE WE MUST on constant repeat, I kept wandering into the living room to find my 7 year old dancing. Every song had something to say to her, but, again, it was "Hurry Home" and "Change We Must" that drew her in the most. To this day this CD gets full attention, full smiles, and welcome invitation to be played through and through. (It even led to the eventual introduction to and curiosity for Yes music---through "Hearts").
     IMHO, next to GOING FOR THE ONE, Jon's vocals are unsurpassed. The emotionality of "State of Independence" with its moving crescendo as the the Opio Singers join in engages the listener and preps him/her for a very unusual journey---one that is often surprisingly devoid of Jon Anderson's performing presence (due to the substitution of pianist Gwendolyn Mok and orchestral arrangements, yet satisfies on so many levels. The orchestral arrangements and Minimalist influence work! The instrumental performances are stunning---especially Mok, Sandrine Piau, the Opio Choir, bassist Steve Pearce, and guitarist Milton McDonald (outstanding "Change We Must" solo). Again, IMHO, the re-workings of "Hearts" and all four of the Jon & Vangelis pieces far surpass the originals. Most importantly, this is, IMO, an essential example of what Progressive Rock is all about: experimentation, collaboration, with virtuosic performances, all laying testament to the rollercoaster ride that is the human journey.


on the Fishscales = / stars; Though the CD does have lower points, still the lows exhibit progressive tendencies and creative courage to earn this CD four and a half stars; nearly a masterpiece; ages much better than many prog masterpieces.







SEAL II (1994)

A great album through and through with great songwriting and peformances by Seal and great engineering and production by Prog Lover, Trevor Horn.

1. "Bring It On" (3:58) (8.75/10)
2. "Prayer for the Dying" (5:30) (9.25/10)
3. "Dreaming in Metaphors" (5:52) (9.5/10)
4. "Don't Cry" (6:17) (9.5/10)
5. "Fast Changes" (5:42) (/10)
6. "Kiss from a Rose" (4:48) (9.25/10)
7. "People Asking Why" (4:45) (9/10)
8. "Newborn Friend" (4:05) (/10)
9. "If I Could" (4:16) (10/10)
10. "I'm Alive" (4:02) (/10)
11. "Bring It On (Reprise)" (1:15) (/5)


on the Fishscales = / stars; 









BEASTIE BOYS Ill Communication

Though never much of a fan or interest in rap, I do remember that every time I heard a Beastie Boys song I always found myself totally engaged by their music--by the interesting way in which they would merge together odd sound and stylistic combinations to make their totally unusual and refreshing support for their rap vocals. 

Favorite songs:





MASSIVE ATTACK Protection

The sophomore album from this band from Bristol more firmly established the ground-breaking complex editing and production sounds that they established with 1992's Blue Lines and which would eventually be labeled as "trip hop" music. The use of one of my favorite vocalists, Everything But the Girl's Tracey Thorn, was what got me interested, but it was the unusual and innovative ("progressive") sound they produced that kept me engaged. 

Favorite songs:




THE CRANBERRIES No Need to Argue

Dolores O'Riordan's Elizabeth Fraser (Cocteau Twins)-like vocal talents are what got me interested in this band, but the guitar- and reverb-rich aspect of their music proved equally engaging. This, their second album, is their most popular with the worldwide monster hit (no pun intended) "Zombie," but, to my mind, it is not as fresh and engaging--from a prog perspective--as their debut.




BUSH Sixteen Stone