Friday, September 28, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2001, Part 3: Other Highly Recommended Albums

Other Albums from 2001 Worth Listening to:

Below you will find a somewhat-ordered catalogue of the album releases from 2001. These are albums that I have determined to be good or interesting enough to recommend to you, the reader, for your own exposure, awareness, and/or exploration; these are albums that were not, in my opinion, good enough to belong on my "Masterpieces" page, but which, I thought, deserved some credit and attention. 
     You will find that some of the albums below are reviewed or commented upon, while many have nothing but cover, artist and title, lineup of musicians and songs list. This variance is usually due to a lack of time and a lack of willingness or desire to give each and every album the time and energy necessary to write a review. This is done without any intent of disrespect; the albums have been included because I think them worthy enough to have others try them out and form their own opinions.




PALLAS The Cross & The Crucible

A band that I've not familiarized myself with much but here impresses. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Alan Reed / vocals, acoustic guitars
- Niall Mathewson / guitars (electric, acoustic, nylon, Thai 3-string & Roland VG-8 electronic processor), tambourine, co-producer
- Ronnie Brown / piano, synths (Korg Triton & X5R, Roland D50 & JV1080, EMU Orbit, Proteus 2), sampler, Yamaha W7 DAW
- Graeme Murray / bass & fretless bass, Moog bass pedals, electronics & Fx, backing vocals, co-producer 
- Colin Fraser / drums, drum machines (Alesis & Roland)
With:
- Gill Main / vocals (2,6)
- Laura Harrow / vocals (4,8)
- Alastair Taylor / backing vocals (2,6)
- Claire Bleasdale / backing vocals (2,6)
- Laura Sinclair / backing vocals (2,6)
- Trevor Gray / backing vocals (2,6)

1. "The Big Bang" (3:07) cinematic instrumental (orchestral) intro. (4.25/5)

2. "The Cross & The Crucible" (9:05) a challenging song to define and describe: not fast paced but driven; not boring but not really engaging; not dissonant but not really melodic. The most interesting parts of the song are the church-like choir chanting in the seventh minute and the distant church bells. Strong rhythm track from the bass and drums. (17.25/20)

3. "For The Greater Glory" (7:38) opens and sustains a kind of LED ZEPPELIN "Immigrant Song" feel. Lots of theatric vocalizations and nice background synth work. For a time it almost feels as if it comes right out of Peter Gabriel's Passion soundtrack music for The Last Temptation of Christ. Gotta admit: it's pretty powerful and effective! A top three song, to be sure. (13.5/15)

4. "Who's To Blame" (4:43) acoustic guitar, joined by fretless bass, and then whispery vocal of Alan Reed. In the second minute joined by drums, more movement from the bass, and more keys--but basically it's the same song. The chorus is jarringly horrible! Too bad! This had promise. Nice vocal work in the delicate lull of the fourth minute by Laura Harrow--but then, yech! back to that chorus! (8/10)

5. "The Blinding Darkness Of Science" (6:46) atmospheric synth and vocalise gently fill the sonic space until the second minute when the fullness of a heavy prog band enters with all the delicacy of a bull in a china shop. Another horrible chorus. Nice instrumental passage in the fifth minute with great electric guitar solo. Too bad about that chorus! (12.75/15)

6. "Towers Of Babble" (8:09) picked oddly-tuned 12-string opens this in a "Turn of the Century" kind of way before big shock wave of full band entry occurs in the second minute. Church organ enters in the fourth minute and eventually takes over for an awesome solo. At 4:25 new motif begins with guitar and bass harmonics and Rumpelstiltskin-like vocal performance before unleashing a searing guitar solo. Good vocal chorus before great synth solo. Complex band manoeuvers before chorus and choral input and mandolin. Very interesting song--worth many more listens. Another top three song. (13.25/15)

7. "Generations" (6:05) slow-strummed guitars joined by tin flute and Robert Plant-like vocal. I like that it stays acoustic through the second verse. Even with the unleashing of full force at the 4-minute mark it's still great--still restrained (not over-the-top heavy prog). A top three song for me. (8.75/10)

8. "Midas Touch" (11:11) narrated in a Orson Wells Edgar Allan Poe-like fashion. At 1:15 the band kicks in with a very basic, almost spacious soundscape over which Alan Reed sings in a forced delicate voice. The chorus allows Alan to reach for his usual near-metal power. The guitar is soloing a lot between and behind the vocals. (Reminds me of some 1980s hair band.) Interlude in the fifth minute in which vocalise of Laura Harrow plays before Peter Gabriel-like theatric voice of Alan Reed takes over. At 6:15 bass and drums burst back in prepping the listener for synth washes and a soaring lead guitar solo. Nice multi-synth work by Ronnie Brown follows. Recreation of penultimate section of YES' "Awaken" follows in the ninth minute before giving way to sensitive electric piano solo for the final 90 seconds. Great performances, just not the most attractive or engaging song. (17/20) 

9. "Celebration!" (7:22) arpeggiated electric 12-string guitar is joined by bombastic PRINCE "1999"-like full-band motif. At 1:10 it takes a turn into a busy weave of several rather discordant threads. It's like RUSH and EDDIE MONEY. At 2:50 there is a left turn into MARILLION territory. Even when Alan begins singing again, it feels like Rothery and Fish are trying something new. At 4:05 it turns anthemic with big voices and big choral shouts of things likte "one day," "one world," "one dream" and the like before sliding into a kind of finish to "Feed the World (Do They Know It's Christmas?)" and then "1999" again. Interesting smorgasborg. All in all, it kind of works! (13/15)

Total Time: 63:40

86.25 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--highly recommended. I look forward to my journey of getting to know Pallas better.




OPETH Blackwater Park

At this stage of their career, Mikael Åkerfeldt and company were a little heavier, a little harsher, a little more ensconced in the world, sounds, and stylings of metal music. As a matter of fact, much of the music is not so very far removed from the metal of the 1980s. Some of the differences include: the influence of moving bass string chords or "djent" guitar sounds and playing styles; the different lead guitar sounds used here--they are a little more evolved from those used in the 80s; Mikael's use of death metal growls; the way the drums are recorded, and; the greater presence of the machine gun bass drum play. Also Opeth shows a tendency to the use of longer song forms with multiple style formats incorporated within each--as is put on display right from the start on 1. "The Leper Affinity" (10:21) (16/20).


2. "Bleak" (9:16) is well described through its title. Actually this is quite a boring, monotonous song that never seems to go anywhere memorable or worthwhile. (14/20)

The two best songs are by far and away 3. "Harvest" (6:02) (10/10) and 4. "Drapery Falls" (10:55) with its wonderfully memorable multi-instrument-played melody carried through to the end (20/20).

The title song (12:08) is also quite a nice composition--it's performances quite powerful. (22/25)

5. "Dirge for November" (7:54) starts out quite masterfully--with many delicate nuances to feed the soul--but then at the 2:30 mark a heavier but still melodic and fairly straightforward chord progression leaps out and yet does not push away. Fairly simple and innocuous--until, a minute more in, Mikael's growls infiltrate and darken the overall timbre. The song regains points for returning to a beautiful end section filled with delicate nuances of beautiful guitar work. (13.5/15)

6. "The Funeral Portrait" (8:44) is fully steeped in harsh metal stylings--especially with Mikael's demonic growls entering from nearly the beginning--even though the rhythm patterns established from the start remain pretty straightforward and consistent. An interesting THIN LIZZY-like guitar section takes over the very middle of the song before Mikael tries to take back center stage with his disturbing vocalizations. Not a bad song. (16/20)

     As everyone recognizes, I will here reiterate: Mr. Åkerfeldt has quite a lovely voice when he's singing in his normal voice. I am glad that he eventually moved away from this aggressive, abrasive style of music--though I recognize the talent and skill involved in creating music such as is present here.

85.77 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; an excellent display of finely crafted prog metal songs; not quite a masterpiece progressive rock music but perhaps one of Prog Metal.




PICCHIO DAL POZZO Camere Zimmer Rooms
 
I get it: three languages to express the idea of boxed-off containers for human consciousness. What is more challenging for me to digest is the fact that the music on this 2001 release all come from the late 1970s. After listening to it, this makes more sense (despite the remarkable quality of sound). The band was evolving from it's easy-going, melody-infused "Canterbury style" debut to a more AREA-like jazz. Is this because Demetrio Stratos was demanding this type of evolution for bands in the 70s--because he was arguing, publicly, that music should be created for political and social change?

Line-up / Musicians:
- Aldo De Scalzi / vocals, Hammond & Galaxy organs, guitars
- Paolo Griguolo / guitars, clarinet, vocals
- Claudio Lugo / alto & soprano saxophones, flute
- Roberto Romani / tenor saxophone, flute
- Andrea Beccari / fretless bass, flute
- Aldo Di Marco / drums, percussion
With:
- Roberto Bologna / guitars
- Giorgio Karaghiosoff / tenor saxophone, flute
- Francesco Tregrossi / acoustic guitars 

1. "Il Presidente" (9:37) surprisingly dense, jazzy, and discordant at times, there are still some strains of the old Canterbury style they began with--especially the humor--but the melodies are sometimes too fleeting or obscured by the rest of the music. I do like the Demetrio Stratos inference in the ninth minute. (17.5/20)

2. "Il Mare d'Irlanda" (6:20) murky (like the sea?) from heavily treated guitars and gentle 80s-sounding (flanged) rhythm section with echoed choral vocal leave an odd impression: as if the band was thinking about going the direction of smooth jazz or even techno-pop. The dreamy-ness of the song is more akin to their 1976 debut album but it's a very dated sound--and very simple, subdued instrumental performances. (8/10)

3. "La Cittá" (13:12) automobile horns, doorbells, dishes clanging around, vacuum cleaner, radio dialing, voice sampling, smooth Fender Rhodes play. That's the summary of the opening two minutes of this one. When Aldo begins singing it is with a force and that is quite reminiscent of that of Demetrio Stratos--like he's trying to express a political opinion or sociological criticism. The song's melodies, vocal and lyrical approach, and aggressive approach to jazz rock sound as if lifted right out of AREA's 1970s albums. The problem I have with hearing AREA-like music in the 21st Century is that Area did it already--and they did it incredibly well. Could Picchio Dal Pozzo have gone the direction of Area? Perhaps, but did we really need another band trying to take up their torch--could there possibly be anyone up to the task? I don't think so. Demetrio was unique, a one-of-a-kind phenomenon; any imitation is only that: imitation--and this does feel so imitative. 
     Still, nice tight performances from all involved (especially drummer Aldo Di Marco) but a little too repetitive and, when no vocals are going on, too jazz-like. I miss the Canterbury. Here there is more Area jazz fusion and, despite my well-known adoration for Area, there was only one Area. 
     The dreamy final 90 seconds is weird; maybe it would fit if I knew what the lyrics are trying to say. (21.75/25)  

4. "Pinguini" (13:42) a more complex jazz like Dave Stewart was trying to do after his stints with Uriel/Khan and Hatfield and the North--like the more serious jazz tidings of National Health and Bruford, though far less concise and circumscribed. There is still humor but in a way that virtuosi might try it: with their instruments. The crazy sixth and seventh minutes are backed by some awesome keys and bass (and very Dave Stewart-feeling keyboard playing). Then, in the eighth and ninth minutes, we get into more quirky motifs (and instrumental sound choices) that preview the 2011 arrival of Palermo's Homunculus Res. At 10:00 there is a sudden and total shift to solo grand piano with Aldo's treated vocal singing an emotional, plaintive lyric. Then sound experimentation is the name of the game for the lead instruments over the next two minutes. Weird but I get it! Experimentation with new and alternative voices for musical expression. (26.5/30)

5. "Il Fantasma d'Irlanda" (0:40) 

Total Time: 43:42

The Picchio Dal Pozzo releases after their debut all seem to degrade their initial Canterbury sound that came from their 1976 debut, and this one continues this trend. There are moments of melody, moments of humor, moments of genius, but overall there is too much experimentation here--the band trying on other band's "clothes"--for my tastes. Like most prog lovers, I am, however, appreciative of this long lost and very telling glimpse into the development and evolution of one of Italy's most talented bands.

86.75 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an interesting and worthy addition to any prog lover's music collection.




FLAMBOROUGH HEAD Defining the Legacy

Line-up / Musicians:
- Siebe-Rein Schaaf / lead vocals, keyboards 
- André Cents / guitar
- Edo Spanninga / keyboards
- Marcel Derix / bass
- Koen Roozen / drums

1. Defining The Legacy (11:15)
2. House Of Cards (9:16)
3. Garden Of Dreams (12:35)
4. Assassin (9:07)
5. Impulse (11:17)
6. Bridge To The Promised Land (6:37)
7. Mind-sculpture (7:58)

Total Time: 56:10

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




ANGE Culinaire Lingus

Christian Décamps is back with his best Ange release since the 1970s. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christian Décamps / lead vocals, synth, piano (2,5), acoustic guitar (3,9), narrator (9), producer
- Hassan Hajdi / electric & acoustic (9) guitars, banjo (4), lead & backing vocals (8)
- Tristan Décamps / keyboards, piano (2,7), programming (1,4,10), kazoo (4), lead (7) & backing vocals
- Thierry Sidhoum / bass, double bass (4)
- Hervé Rouyer / drums, percussion, tambourine (3), drum programming (6)
With:
- Caroline Crozat / vocals (1,5,10,11)
- Gilles Pequinot / violin (3,10), bagpipes (3), recorder & jew's harp (10)
- Thommy Emmanuel / guitar (12)
- Claude Demet / guitar (12)
- Dan Ar Braz / guitar (12)
- Norbert Krief / guitar (12)
- Serge Cuenot / guitar (12)
- Paul Personne / guitar (12)
- Jean-Pascal Boffo / guitar (12)
- Jan Akkerman / guitar (12)

1. Jusqu'Où Iront-Ils (8:55)
2. Cueillir Les Fruits Du Sérail (6:03)
3. Adrénaline (4:02)
4. Farces Et Attrapes (2:40)
5. Culinaire Lingus (5:05)
6. Les Odeurs De Cousine (5:51)
7. Intérieur Nuit (3:28)
8. Univers Et Nirvana (3:51)
9. Gargantua (5:25)
10. On Sexe (6:32)
11. Cadavres Exquis (10:27)
12. Autour D'Un Cadavre Exquis (11:34) *

* Bonus track

Total Time: 73:53

B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.





ANTIMATTER Saviour

Talented and creative musician Michael Moss gets together with former Anathema bass player/songwriter Duncan Patterson to create an impeccably sounding experimental trip hop album with all-female lead singing.

Lineup / Musicians:
- Michael Moss / acoustic & electric guitars, bass, keyboards, lead (10) & backing vocals
- Duncan Patterson (ANATHEMA) / bass, acoustic & electric guitars, keyboards, programming
With:
- Michelle Richfield / vocals (1-4,6,8)
- Hayley "Mags" Windsor / vocals (5-7,9)
- Robert Magoolagan / lead guitar (9), co-producer
- Brian Moss / sampling
- Les Smith / sampling
- Danny Cavanagh (ANATHEMA) / guitar & vocals (11)
- Jenny O'Connor / vocals (11)

1. Saviour (3:05)
2. Holocaust (4:19)
3. Over Your Shoulder (4:38)
4. Psalms (3:40)
5. God Is Coming (5:27)
6. Angelic (4:32)
7. Flowers (5:10)
8. The Last Laugh (5:04)
9. Going Nowhere (8:33)

Total time 44:28

B/four stars; a gorgeous sounding collection of experimental music pushing the boundaries of what is, or could/should be, progressive rock music.




SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM Grand Opening and Closing

Producing some of the funnest, funniest, darkest, scariest, quirkiest, most unusual, and complex music in modern progressive rock, one can only scratch one's head at the genius, lunacy, and chaos that must be on exhibition during this band's brainstorming and practice sessions. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nils Frykdahl / 6- & 12-string guitars, Tibetan bells, autoharp, vocals
- Carla Kihlstedt / electric violin, percussion guitar, autoharp, harmonium, vocals
- Dan Rathbun / bass, electronics, Fx, autoharp, slide-piano log (9), vocals, co-producer, mixing
- David Shamrock / drums, piano
- Mario "Moe!" Staiano Jr. / percussion, marimba, timpani, guitar
With:
- Frank Grau / drums (7)
- Michael Mellender / guitar (10-12)
- Matthias Bossi / drums, percussion & vocals (10-12)

1. "Sleep is Wrong" (6:35) a song whose music reflects the adolescent petulance of its title perfectly. I wonder how it worked out . . . when (and if) they grew up. (9/10)

2. "Ambugaton" (5:38) the amount of tension one can exude with simple, spacious chromaticism. The intro of this instrumental reminds me of PRESENT or UNIVERS ZERO while full-on ramped up belly of the song reminds me of LIQUID TENSION EXPERIMENT or BRUFORD-LEVIN UPPER EXTREMITIES. (8.75/10)

3. "Ablutions" (6:05) this more delicate ("fragile" might be the better word) is otherworldly eerie like a YUGEN or --at least until the three minute mark when the Stygian chorus "chimes" in. Weird but genius for creating a mood--and amazingly performed--especially by vocalist Carla Kihlstedt. (9/10)

4. "1997" (4:48) almost "straightforward" death metal! Not their strong suit; this kind of music places the band back in the categorical range of "normal" for emotive metal bands. Luckily, there is the passage in the fourth minute in which they shift to an odd time signature. (8.5/10)

5. "The Miniature" (0:59) chamber music! Gorgeous! I'd like to hear more of this side of the band's talents on display! (5/5)

6. "Powerless" (9:30) with an opening that sounds like a microphone was left on in a piano stringing factory, we are prepped for another doom-and-gloomer. But, man! are these guys talented musicians! (and creative song-crafters.) I think they've out angulated Fripp and the Crim as well as Danny Elfman and his Tim Burton soundtracks! And I love that they didn't have to use death metal growls to convey it (other than in the one-word choruses). Unfortunately, it does drag on a little bit too long in several places. (17.5/20)

7. "The Stain" (6:46) The descending chromatic scale used for this vocal--over a "musical" palette of very sparsely "decorated" industrial noise--does not work for me. The staccato Crimsonian interplay between the instruments also fails to engage me. This song is best described as an exercise in disharmony and disciplined turn-taking. (12.75/15)

8. "Sleepytime" (10:16) Another delicate attempt at Elfman-ish creep and sinister, the beginning section is simply too long, the middle "bridge" too drawn out. When the music does finally reach full scale at the end of the sixth minute, it is slightly dragged down by the continuation of the vocal chorus from before. The final 90 seconds is the best part of an otherwise disposable, sub-par song. (16.25/20)

9. "Sunflower" (7:52) eight minutes of playing around with the acoustics of a hammered dulcimer (and a couple of bells). An unfortunate way to end an album that started so dynamically. (10/15)

Total Time: 58:29

81.75 on the Fishscales = C/3.5 stars. Were it not for the descending disaster of the final two songs, this would be a near-masterpiece of adventurous and exciting progressive rock musical expression. Thus, I urge you to check it out for yourselves as the first half of the album is certainly something extraordinary. 




GLASS HAMMER The Middle-Earth Album

Fred and Steve try a familiar subject using, for them, some unfamiliar musical styles.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Fred Schendel / guitars,mandolin, keyboards, winds, percussion, vocals
- Steve Babb / bass, keyboards, percussion, vocals
With:
- Walter Moore / vocals
- Brad Marler / vocals
- Susie Bogdanowicz / vocals
- Felicia Sorensen / vocals
- Sarah Snyder / vocals
- Thomas Hammett / vocals
- David Luther / vocals
- Jamie Watkins / backing vocals
- Tim Starnes / violin
- Bob Stagner / percussion (11)

1. "Elrenn and Endereth" (2:33) boistrous, rollicking Prog Folk in the most fairy-Celtic form. (4.25/5)
 
2. The Old Troll (1:56) 
3. "The Old Troll and the Maiden" (5:58) a bawdy old troubadour song: courtly male voice and "harpsicord." Very clever; very convincing. (8.5/10)

4. "Dwarf and Orc" (3:53) using an unusual "live" sing-a-long form, Fred & Steve keep it loose and friendly. Nice work with the traditional instruments (flutes/ocarina, bassoon, hand drums), boys! (9/10)

5. The King's Beer (2:41) 
6. The Ballad of Balid Longbeard (4:11) 
7. The Man in the Wood (3:27) 
8. Mirkwood (2:12) 

9. "As I Walk" (2:34) a minstrel-like love song performed to Katharine Blake perfection by chanteuse extraordinaire Susie Bogdanowicz. Kerry Minnear-like clavichord introduced with the second verse. Then harpsichord and mandolin during the chorus. Extraordinary work! (5/5)

10. The Last Ship (2:41) 
11. Mithrandir (This Fading Age) (5:08) 

12. "Sweet Goldberry" (4:41) more in line with their other Neo Prog work, thick chunky bass leading the rock ensemble format. Great use of the harpsicord sound. (8.25/10) 

13. No Crown for Balin (3:07)

Total Time: 45:16

on the Fishscales = 



Albums from 2001 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated



MOSTLY AUTUMN The Last Bright Light 

The much touted voice of Heather Findlay and the guitar play and compositional skill of Bryan Josh, and yet there is much more male lead singing, and a whole lot of familiar folk/Celtic folk or standard rock/R & B song structures. The brilliance is too little and too far between. Album highlights: the beautiful environmental advocacy folk song, "Eyes of the Forest" (9/10) and the Celtic folk song, "Shrinking Violet" (8/10). The rest is just cinematic melodrama or folk or rock rehash.




DEVIN TOWNSEND Terria

Unfortunately, three GREAT songs ("Tiny Tears" [19/20], "Nobody's Here" [14/15] and "Earth Day" [18/20]) does not a masterpiece make. The rest is music that I don't care if I ever hear again. Yet Devin sure does have a following out there. Other than the hilariously entertaining Ziltoid the Omniscient, I don't get it. His over-the-top HEAVY guitar sound never changes (is he using the same chord throughout?) and it's hard to figure out if he ever takes his music or lyrics seriously or is it all just meant to be tongue-in-cheek. Does he really want us to recycle or is he just melodramatizing the environmental cry? Does he really like being alone or is he just being facetious?

Is this album really "essential"? I'm not even sure it's "an excellent addition." It may be a good album--or perhaps its just "for collectors only"? 2.5 stars for me. Recommended only for the above three songs.





MAGENTA Revolutions

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christina (Murphy) Booth / lead vocals
- Rob Reed / electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, vocals, bass, tambourine, producer & mixer
With:
- Steve Reed / lyrics & concept
- Chris Fry / lead guitar (CD1: 8-10, CD2: 13)
- Martin Shellard / lead guitar (CD2: 8-12)
- Andy Edwards / lead guitar (CD1: 7)
- Tim Robinson / drums
- Tim Short / percussion

CD 1 (41:05)
- Children Of The Sun (19:00) :
1. i) Spirit Of The Land (4:22)
2. ii) The Journey (4:34)
3. iii) The Battle (5:02)
4. iv) Thanksgiving (5:18)
-
5. Opus 1 (0:51)
- The White Witch (20:23) :
6. i) Overture (0:41)
7. ii) The White Witch (6:27)
8. iii) The Plague (4:17)
9. iv) Reflection (4:53)
10. v) The Spell (4:37)

CD 2 (55:25)
- Man The Machine (24:56) :
1. i) Man and Machine (1:11)
2. ii) War (5:34)
3. iii) Rememberance (5:00)
4. iv) The Watchers (3:53)
5. v) Lightspeed (4:08)
6. vi) First Contact (4:54)
-
7. Opus 2 (1:16)
- Genetesis (21:48) :
8. i) The New Age (4:49)
9. ii) Renewed Purpose (4:45)
10. iii) A New Life (5:02)
11. iv) The Search For Faith (5:23)
12. v) The Creed (2:08)
-
13. The Warning (7:17)

Total Time: 96:30




THE FLOWER KINGS The Rainmaker

Line-up / Musicians:
- Hasse Fröberg / lead & backing vocals
- Roine Stolt / guitar, keyboards, lead & backing vocals
- Tomas Bodin / keyboards
- Jonas Reingold / bass
- Jaime Salazar / drums
- Hasse Bruniusson / percussion
With:
- Ulf Wallander / soprano saxophone

1. "Last Minute on Earth" (11:40) horrible, boring, bad singing (and not even Roine!), no melodies, no interesting parts except opening and closing 30 seconds, respectively. (15/20)
2. "World Without a Heart" (4:29) pleasant, melodic, but nothing to distinguish itself from any Eagles B-song. (8/10)
3. "Road to Sanctuary" (13:50) YES and stadium rock band (THE WHO, STYX, URIAH HEEP)-oriented heavy prog driven by the STEVE HOWE country-guitar sound. At least it's more interesting than that opener. Nice wah-ed guitar solo in the fifth minute. Love the Baroque segue in the sixth minute that turns dark and ominous. And then a Spanish guitar solo before we return to singing parts. A gentle 1970s-sounding delicate singing passage very gradually builds and finally turns full prog at 8:18.  (25.5/30)
4. "The Rainmaker" (6:02) storms and church pipe organ open this one. Long, sparsely populated three-minute Ravel "Bolero"-like slow build until Roine starts rock soloing on his electric guitar. At 4:30 everything drops away for fast-chop effected synth while another sinth does cheesy computer raindrop noises. A song that I actually like. (8.5/10)
5. "City of Angels" (12:04) (/25)
6. "Elaine (4:55) (/10)
7. "Thru the Walls (4:31) (/10)
8. "Sword of God (6:00) (/10)
9. "Blessing of a Smile (3:12) (/10)
10. "Red Alert (1:10) (/5)
11. "Serious Dreamers (8:59) )/20)

Total Time 76:52

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




SHAMALL The Book of Genesis

Line-up / Musicians:
- Norbert Krüler / performer, composer & arranger

CD1 - The Book Genesis (73:52)
1. The Book Genesis, Pt. 1 (2:22)
2. New Age Krautrock Symphony, Pt. 1 (3:50)
3. Thank You (8:06)
4. New Age Krautrock Symphony, Pt. 2 (3:57)
5. New Age Krautrock Symphony, Pt. 3 (6:25)
6. Garden of Eden (3:21)
7. Lava (2:51)
8. The Book Genesis, Pt. 2 (5:13)
9. On Higher Ground, Pt. 1 (6:36)
10. On Higher Ground, Pt. 2 (5:48)
11. Knock Me Out (8:52)
12. Tai Gin Seng (3:21)
13. Eastern Sunrise (8:02)
14. Addiction (2:22)
15. Psychosis (2:46)

CD2 - Operation Brainstorm (73:52)
1. Blue Lavender Moon, Pt. 1 (5:35)
2. Blue Lavender Moon, Pt. 2 (2:37)
3. Light Up the Dark (4:13)
4. The Other Side (1:31)
5. Operation Brainstorm (5:11)
6. Blue Lavender Moon, Pt. 3 (2:45)
7. Song for a Dreamer With an Ambient Heart (16:23)
8. Invisible View (6:49)
9. Ice and Fire (12:19)
10. Cold Fusion (5:41)
11. Celtic Frost (5:55)
12. New Age Krautrcok Sympony, Pt. 4 (4:50)

Total Time 147:41

on the Fishscales = / stars; 




PENDRAGON Not of this World

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nick Barrett / guitars, vocals
- Clive Nolan / keyboards 
- Peter Gee / bass
- Fudge Smith / drums
With:
- Tina Riley / vocals & backing vocals

1. If I Were the Wind (and You Were the Rain) (9:23)
- Dance of the Seven Veils :
2. Part 1: Faithless (4:09)
3. Part 2: All Over Now (7:30)
- Not of This World :
4. Part 1: Not of This World (7:20)
5. Part 2: Give It to Me (2:23)
6. Part 3: Green Eyed Angel (6:40)
-
7. A Man of Nomadic Traits (11:43)
- World's End :
8. Part 1: The Lost Children (10:46)
9. Part 2: And Finally... (7:13)

Total Time 67:07

on the Fishscales = / stars;




Top Albums of the Year 2000, Part 3: Other Highly Recommended Albums

Other Albums from Y2K Worth Listening to:

Below you will find a somewhat-ordered catalogue of the album releases from 2000. These are albums that I have determined to be good or interesting enough to recommend to you, the reader, for your own exposure, awareness, and/or exploration; these are albums that were not, in my opinion, good enough to belong on my "Masterpieces" page, but which, I thought, deserved some credit and attention. 
     You will find that some of the albums below are reviewed or commented upon, while many have nothing but cover, artist and title, lineup of musicians and songs list. This variance is usually due to a lack of time and a lack of willingness or desire to give each and every album the time and energy necessary to write a review. This is done without any intent of disrespect; the albums have been included because I think them worthy enough to have others try them out and form their own opinions.




OZRIC TENTACLES The Hidden Step


Do these guys ever make a bad album? I'm guessing not. This is one I'd put in my top 5 of theirs (along with ten others).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ed Wynne / guitar, synths, sampler
- Christopher Lenox-Smith / synths
- John Egan / flute
- Zia Geelani / bass
- Conrad Prince / drums, percussion

1. "Holohedron" (5:49) like a car driving through city traffic, this one is stop and go, at times squirting through traffic like Neo through the Matrix--matter of fact, this one has a bit of that sound and feel: as if the film The Matrix might have had a little influence on Ed and the gang. (8.75/10)

2. "The Hidden Step" (7:47) a synth opening that could rival anything by any Berlin School electronic artist, the rhythm section soon joins in to launch and steer them toward the Alpine roads. I'm not a super fan of the two bounce-chords coming from the keyboard while Ed thrashes and slices with his axe, but then a different autobahn-speed section takes over which Ed and the synth-master shapeshift and time-bend. Then things drop away and we're left skating here-and-there through a cosmic radiation storm, all the while the pulse of the Galactic Logos continues its organizing guidance from below. (13/15) 

3. "Ashlandi Bol" (6:04) opens with a Middle Eastern sounding synth performing a Middle Eastern-sounding melody around which the rest of the band joins forces to support and embellish. The song never really develops as one might think or hope--kind of meanders, starting and stopping several times without ever really developing a consistent theme or hook. (8.5/10)
 
4. "AraManu" (5:59) more Middle Eastern themes--even the sheep, goats, caravan and/or open air market place to set the mood (90 seconds of this before a drum beat or second instrument is even introduced). The main theme being established in the second and third minutes seems ominous--like the music for a scene from a spy novel set in the Arabian "third" world. in the fourth minute it's really just been a drum and synth arpeggio show, but finally some folk "flutes" join in as the background fill with space synths. In the end, this just feels as if it was meant for a cinematic scene. (8.25/10)

5. "Pixel Dream" (6:21) guitar and rolling bass line open this before drums and some background synths join in to fill the traveller's mix tape. Swirling organ takes the lead before morphing into a couple of other spacey synths before Ed takes off with his searing space-renting shooting star solo. Feels kind of SANTANAesque. (8.5/10)

6. "Tight Spin" (8:45) lots of computer glitch-type of sounds in the lead above the solid, driving rhythm tracks here. it's kind of cool (and different without the dominance of Ed's searing electric guitar). Sizzling acoustic guitar soloing with Arabian percussion in the final two minutes. Could be a popular rave party dance song. (17.75/20)

7. "Ta Khut" (7:05) opens with solo bamboo flute, wind chimes, and animal bells looped on fast-play. Pretty and cool. At the 2:45 mark djembe, acoustic guitar, and sitar-like Middle Eastern stringed instrument take over before being joined by bass, hand shakers, and the same bamboo flute to create some very authentic sounding Middle Eastern soundscapes. It feels like a montage and not really acomplete song, but it's still good. (13/15)

Total Time: 47:50

86.39 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.




THE FLOWER KINGS Space Revolver 

Probably my favorite Flower Kings album--mostly due to the presence of my favorite Flower Kings song, "I Am the Sun, Part 2" (10:39) (20/20). The presence of melodic master of the fretless bass Jonas Reingold is felt very strongly throughout this album. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Hasse Fröberg / lead & backing vocals, acoustic guitar
- Roine Stolt / guitar, bass, lead & backing vocals
- Tomas Bodin / piano, organ, Mellotron, synth
- Jonas Reingold / bass, fretless bass
- Hasse Bruniusson / percussion, voices
With:
- Ulf Wallander / soprano saxophone 

1. "I Am the Sun - Part One" (15:03) some nice melodies in the first seven minutes strung along for an interminable length. Once things leap into hyperdrive for the instrumental sections, there are some showy and silly jazz spots that make no sense to me. Excellent musicianship and creativity but . . . what was the point? (24/30)
2. "Dream On Dreamer" (2:43) delicate and spacious, with Roine's voice up front (in your ear) while Ulf Wallander performs on soprano sax beside him. (8.75/10)
3. "Rumble Fish Twist" (8:06) another jam based on an updated YES song ("Gate of Delirium" . . . again). Excellent instrumental skills on display but . . .  couldn't they start with something original? (12/15)
4. "Monster Within" (12:55) I love the church organ in the sixth minute and the Phantom-like vocal in the seventh, otherwise another waste of my time. (19/25)
5. "Chicken Farmer Song" (5:09) more upbeat and light (without being tongue-in-cheek) than the typical TFK fare. Nice vocal harmonies (prepping the world for MOON SAFARI). (8.5/10)
6. "Underdog" (5:29) never much a fan of TFK's attempts at down-home C&W music--even when it's infused with Led Zeppelin and Rick Wakeman riffs. (7/10)
7. "You Don't Know What You've Got" (2:39) a TFK attempt at DAVE MASON or PURE PRAIRIE LEAGUE. (4/5)
8. "Slave to Money" (7:30) dull with all parts completely borrowed. (11/15)
9. "A Kings Prayer" (6:02) once again, nothing very new, refreshing, or special here (even with the Trans-Siberian Express like fourth minute.) (7.75/10) 
10. "I Am the Sun - Part Two" (10:48) the jewel of the album and one of the 10 Best Mid-Length Prog Epics of the 2000s. (20/20)

Total Time 76:24

I have three complaints about TFK albums and songs: 1) quite often their songs seem too familiar--as if someone else has already done this (usually YES or GENESIS; sometimes LED ZEPPELIN or other classic rock masters); 2) their albums (and often songs) seem to go on so long--sometimes seemingly pointlessly; 3) Roine Stolt's voice is not one of my favorites. There are many Christmas themes used throughout. Why?

81.33 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; another decent album with exceptional musicianship on display with all of the The Flower Kings usual quirkiness and attempt at profundity, but, ultimately, it is a bit too 'all over the map' and underwhelming. But, for all you prog afficianados, "I Am The Sun - Part Two" is essential--one of the best mid-length prog epics of the decade.




TRISTEZA Dream Signals in Full Circles


1. "Building Peaks" (4:51) (8/10)
2. "Respira" (4:37) 
3. "City of the Future" (5:53) (10/10)
4. "Shitty Drifty" (3:46) 
5. "Auroura Borealis" (4:40) 
6. "I Am a Cheetah" (5:27) 
7. "Chiaroscuro" (6:22) 
8. "Are We People" (4:05) 
9. "Opiate Slopes" (5:37) 





DEADWOOD FOREST Melodramatic

All of the KING CRIMSON comparisons are well justified though this is the mellower, earlier KC we're comparing DF to. Odd retro-sound choices in the production room from ÄNGLAGÅRD's Mattias Olsson, which makes one think that one is listening to an album from the early 1970s. Weird, to say the least. The melodic sides are very GENESIS-like, the acoustic parts sound like MOON SAFARI.

1. "The Pioneer (6:48) 
2. "--- Yellow Line(1:39) 
3. "OCD (2:48) 
4. "King Of The Skies (7:31) the masterful organ play in this one wins me over. (9/10) 
5. "The City In The Sea (6:26) 
6. "Dry (7:01) 
7. "Stolen Smile (5:29) opens with a cool British funk sound/feel--until that first guitar chord shift betrays its progginess. Very PORCUPINE TREE-ish. 
8. "--- Blue Line (0:51) 
9. "The Ultraviolence (6:27) 
10. "Departure (2:35) is an acoustic guitar strummed folk ballad before turning into an computer synth pop experiment. Clever and unusual. (8/10)





TRIANGLE Square the Circle

Great Neo Prog music from The Netherlands. Not unlike the prime bands that popped up in the 1980s with a slightly unique presentation in the lead vocal spot. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Martijn Paasschens / vocals, keyboards
- Roland van der Stoep / guitars
- Jan-Willem Verkerk / bass
With:
- Paul van der Zwaal / drums 

1. "Foreword To The Elements Of Life" (6:34) With an awesome album intro, this song has quite an interesting rhythm pattern while exposing all of its players talents in a fairly complex weave within a fairly simple four-chord progression. To think that drummer Paul van der Zwaal--such an integral part of this weave--is not included as one of the members of the band is surprising. (8.667/10)

2. "Chasing The Shadows" (7:29) gentle electric piano solo exposition to open. At 1:14 vocals join in--equally delicate and quite impassioned. This continues until 2:59 when the full band explodes into the soundscape with a wonderfully groovin', melodic weave. Great bass and lead guitar work and interplay. And then interweave the solo piano: cool. The vocal(s) re-join at 4:40 but are considerably weaker than before when mixed with the dynamic YES 90120-era-like music. Weird break with bass continuing and long flange of guitar playing out is then taken over by solo piano, bookending the song the way it started. (13.25/15)

3. The Centre Shines (11:08) (/20)

4. The Saddest Show (10:28) (/20)

5. Amy (5:36) (/10)

6. Pygmalion (13:11) (/25)

7. Nature's Window (11:07) (/20)

Total Time: 65:41




STEVE HACKETT Sketches of Satie

I can't help myself here:  I am a sucker for anything by, covering or derivative of the work of French classical composer, Erik Satie. John and Steve's Hackett's renderings of some of Satie's best known pieces are wonderful, though at times I feel Steve's guitar support is either lacking emotion or evoking a very different emotion to that of his brother's flute. These are, truly, interpretations of Satie's music, though no doubt the sheet musics were the guides. To really feel the sublime power of these pieces I highly recommend viewing the 2003 DVD Hungarian Horizons which captures John and Steve's January 26, 2001 live performance before a Hungarian audience. There you can see and feel the chemistry working on all levels.

4.0 stars; rated down for it's more classical, less progressive rock nature. Too bad the sound engineering is poor.




PETER GABRIEL Ovo

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Gabriel / vocals, keyboards, piano (2,3,6,12), synth (2,6,11,12), Calliope organ (12), synth bass (5,7,9,10,12), synth guitar (10), dulcimer (3), tambura (2), percussion (1,4), African percussion (3,5), crotales (3,4), surdo, Peruvian drum, string arrangement (2,3,5,10-12), programming (10,12), producer
With:
- Neneh Cherry / rap vocals (1)
- Rasco / rap vocals (1)
- Emma Everett (Omi) / vocals (1,4,9)
- Iarla Ó Lionáird / vocals (2)
- Richie Havens / vocals (3,12)
- Paul Buchanan / vocals (10,12)
- Elizabeth Fraser / vocals (10,12)
- David Rhodes / guitar (4,7,10,12)
- James McNally / bodhrán (1,4,5), piano, accordion (5), whistle (4,5)
- Jim Couza / hammer dulcimer (5)
- Richard Evans / synth, guitar loops, 12-string guitar, hammer dulcimer, mandola, bass, flute, treatments, crotales, handclaps, shaker, drum programming
- Brian Wayne Transeau (BT) / chorus guitar (7), bass & string arrangement & drum programming (12)
- Ganga Giri / didgeridoo (1,4)
- Kudsi Erguner / ney flute (2)
- The Black Dyke Band / brass (5,6,10,11)
- James Watson / brass conductor (5,6,10,11)
- Elizabeth Purnell / brass orchestration (5,6,10,11) & arranger (10,11)
- Will Gregory / brass arranger (5,6,10)
- Electra Strings / strings (2,3,5,10-12)
- Jocelyn Pook / string arranger (2,3,5,10,11)
- Ravi Shankar / violin (2,11), vocals (2)
- Stuart Gordon / fiddle & viola (5)
- Nigel Eaton / hurdygurdy (4,5)
- Jim Barr / bass (1,4), 12-string acoustic guitar & double bass (12)
- Tony Levin / bass (6,10,12)
- Richard Chappell / drum program & treatments (1,3,4,7-9), acoustic 12-string guitar (10), bass (10)
- The Dhol Foundation / dhol drums (1,4,5,8,10)
- Johnny Kalsi / master dhol drummer (1,4,5,8,10)
- Manu Katché / drums (7,10)
- Adzido / drums (8)
- George Dzikunu / drums (8)
- Steve Gadd / drums (9)
- Hossam Ramzy / finger cymbals (1,4), tabla & crotales (4), percussion (4)
- Simon Emmerson / finger cymbals, bells & drum programming (5)
- Babacar Faye / Sabar drum (10)
- Carol Steel / congas & shaker (10)
- Assane Thiam / talking drum (10)
- Ged Lynch / drums (12)
- Markus Dravs / percussion (12)
- Jacquie Turner / percussion (12)
- Sussan Deyhim / voice (screams)

1. The Story Of OVO (5:21)
2. Low Light (6:37)
3. The Time Of The Turning (5:05)
4. The Man Who Loved The Earth / The Hand That Sold Shadows (4:14)
5. The Time Of The Turning (Reprise) / The Weavers Reel (5:36)
6. Father, Son (4:56)
7. "The Tower That Ate People" (4:49) A great song but the extended version is so much better. (10/10) 
8. Revenge (1:30)
9. White Ashes (2:34)
10. Downside-Up (6:05)
11. The Nest That Sailed The Sky (5:06)
12. Make Tomorrow (10:02)

Total Time: 61:55




PARALLEL OR 90 DEGREES Unbranded

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Tillison / lead vocals, organ, synth, guitar
- Gareth Harwood / guitars 
- Sam Baine / piano, synth
- Ken Senior / bass
- Alex King / drums, electronic drums
With:
- Martin Orford / flute (4)

1. Gods Of Convenience (9:10) 
2. Migraine (8:19) 
3. "Unbranded" (8:36) if you didn't know or listen to the lyrics, this would be a very average song: musically, for the first 2:30, it just serves to support the vocal then the solos are less than stellar--seem just filler between the vocal sections. (16/20)
4. Shoulder To Shoulder (11:26) 
5. Space Junk (10:38) 
6. An Autopsy In Artificial Light (Afterlifecycle Part 2) (25:04) :
- i) Simmer 
- ii) Artificial Light 
- iii) Sitting Duck On A Carpark Floor 
- iv) Gears, Dandelions & Total Darkness 
- v) Afterlife Wot? (Part 3) 
- vi) The Five O'Clock Rush

Total Time: 73:13

An Andy Tillison project that I happen to like more than his other projects--solo, Tangent, or collaborations (Big Big Train). Still, there is something too borrowed/cheezy/neo about this music for me (as is the case for most AT contributions. If they were Canterbury style, it might be different, but the bombastic YES/ELP approach doesn't work well for me).





Albums from Y2K that Are, IMHO, Over-rated



SPOCK’S BEARD V

This 63-minute long "EP"is held in high regard by many in the prog world. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Neal Morse / lead vocals, piano, synths, acoustic guitar, co-producer
- Alan Morse / guitar, cello, sampler, vocals
- Ryo Okumoto / Hammond, Mellotron
- Dave Meros / bass, stand-up bass, French horn, vocals
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums, percussions, vocals
With:
- Kathy Ann Lord / English horn 
- Katie Hagen / French horn
- Joey Pippin / trumpet
- Chris Carmichael / violin, viola, cello

1. "At the End of the Day" (16:30) (21/30)
2. "Revelation" (6:04) (8/10)
3. "Thoughts (Part II)" (4:41) (7/10)
4. "All on a Sunday" (4:12) (7.5/10)
5. "Goodbye to Yesterdays" (4:40) (8/10)
6. "The Great Nothing" (27:18) (38.5/55):
- a) From Nowhere
- b) One Note
- c) Come Up Breathing
- d) Submerged
- e) Missed Your Calling
- f) The Great Nothing

Total time: 63:29

I find it derivative. "Revelation" (8/10) starts beautifully but then goes over the top. The two epics "At the End of the Day" (7/10) and "The Great Nothing" (7/10), 16:27 and 27:03, respectively, are just showy and pointlessly long. "All on a Sunday" sounds as if it wants to be a pop song in the vein of BEACH BOYS (and foreshadowing the later arrival of MOON SAFARI). But it just doesn't have the hooks. "Thoughts, Pt. 2" (7/10) is a GENTLE GIANT ripoff--as if to say "Look: We can do Gentle Giant!" Even the best song on the album, "Goodbye to Yesterday" (8/10) is a bit too cliched and nothing to really write home about. Technically talented, lyrically banal, unfortunately, playing music that is so familiar, so similar to "classic" groups and songs of the 70s as to be almost embarrassing. Spock's Beard, even with Neal Morse, has never produced an album that gets rotated into my play cycle. Not even a song. And this, their most highly rated album, is nothing more than a 3 star album to me.

72.0 on the Fishscales = D/2.5 stars.




SMPTe Transatlantic

A super group bringing together SPOCK'S BEARD's singer songwriter, NEAL MORSE, THE FLOWER KINGS' singer guitarist ROINE STOLT, DREAM THEATER's drummer MIKE PORTNOY, and MARILLION's PETE TREWAVAS only creates more of what they all came from: very talented musicians creating deriviative, unoriginal music and lyrics. The low-key and brief (in comparison to the album's three 16-plus minute songs) "We All Need Some Light" is the highlight for me. "My New World" also has some nice redeeming parts. A polished, pretentious show of old-style prog--called Neo-prog. (Not my favorite 'sub-genre.' Neo-prog doesn't seem to want to say much new, instead it seems to be good at repeating and paying homage to the sounds and artists of the past.)




DON CABALLERO American Don

Great drumming. 1980s King Crimson-like guitar stylings and weaves.

1. Fire Back About Your New Baby's Sex (4:42) (/10) 
2. "The Peter Criss Jazz" (10:35) (18.5/20) 
3. Haven't Lived Afro Pop (7:34) (/15) 
4. You Drink a Lot of Coffee For a Teenager (2:41) (/5)
5. "Ones All Over the Place" (9:00) (18/20)
6. I Never Liked You (4:59) (/10)
7. "Details on How to Get Iceman on Your License Plate" (5:35) (9/10)
8. A Lot of People Tell Me I Have a Fake British Accent (5:23) (/10)
9. Let's Face It Pal, You Didn't Need That Eye Surgery (5:09) (/10) 




IQ the Seventh House

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Nicholls / lead & backing vocals
- Mike Holmes / guitars, guitar synth, keyboards, producer
- Martin Orford / keyboards, flute, backing vocals, pre-production
- John Jowitt / basses, bass pedals (?), backing vocals
- Paul Cook / drums, percussion
With:
- Tony Wright / saxophone (4,5)

1. "The Wrong Side Of Weird" (12:24) poor rendering of sound--especially drums and bass. Nothing very exciting or fresh here. (19/25)
2. "Erosion" (5:43) keys sounds still stuck in the 90s. Nice lull and kick into full blast at 2:00--but falls flat after that. Excellent guitar solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)
3. "The Seventh House" (14:23) the jewel of the album and one of the best 50 LP Prog Epics of the 2000s. After an awesome opening third, it kind of grows stale, feels drawn out, and the finish does not live up to the promise of the opening. (26/30) 
4. "Zero Hour" (6:57) basic rock ballad, with all the elements of a nice 1970s or 1980s classic rock hit (except for the fretless bass right up in front). The attempt at an eerie middle instrumental section fails miserably. (11/15)
5. "Shooting Angels" (7:24) after Martin Orford's keyboard solo intro for the long intro, a double-thumping rhythm track gets laid out like a 1970s power rock ballad (think Loverboy). The mid-section interlude kind of repeats the opening with some other support and Peter Nicholls singing over the top. This is followed by a return to the double-thump rhythm motif while Mike Holmes plays a very restrained (and boring) lead guitar solo. (10.5/15) 
6. "Guiding Light" (9:58) Peter Nicholl's vocal melody is far too driven by Martin Orford's electric (MIDI-ed) piano beneath. In the third minute there is a little shift in which Peter and Martin's melody lines diverge (thank god!). This is nice (if quite GENESIS-like). At the 3:30 mark there is a radical shift into old rock motif for the bridge into a nice instrumental section (nice Steve Hackett-like lead guitar work). Nice finish (nice Peter Nicholls vocal). (16/20)

Total Time: 56:49

79.35 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; a solid assemblage of Neo Prog music--a fair addition to any prog lover's music collection.  




ECHOLYN Cowboy Poems Free

1. "Texas Dust (5:16) 
2. "Poem #1 (1:33) 
3. "Human Lottery (5:32) 
4. "Gray Flannel Suits (4:47) 
5. "Poem #2 (0:59) 
6. "High As Pride (6:45) 
7. "American Vacation Tune (5:18) 
8. "Swingin' The Ax (3:15) 
9. "1729 Broadway (6:01) 
10. "Poem #3 (1:50) 
11. "67 Degrees (5:21) 
12. "Brittany (6:34) 
13. "Poem #4 (1:30) 
14. "Too Late For Everything (4:33)




ARENA Contagion

I just have so much disagreement with this type of keyboard-enriched Rolling Stones-like music being included in the prog lexicon.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rob Sowden / vocals
- John Mitchell / guitars, backing vocals, co-producer
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals, engineer & co-producer
- Ian Salmon / bass
- Mick Pointer / drums

1. Witch Hunt (4:17)
2. An Angel Falls (1:13)
3. Painted Man (4:41)
4. This Way Madness Lies (3:35)
5. Spectre at the Feast (5:34)
6. Never Ending Night (3:23)
7. Skin Game (4:43)
8. Salamander (3:59)
9. On the Box (2:40)
10. Tsunami (2:38)
11. Bitter Harvest (2:52)
12. The City of Lanterns (1:22)
13. Riding the Tide (4:28)
14. Mea Culpa (3:46)
15. Cutting the Cards (4:57)
16. Ascension (4:34)

Total Time 58:42




ENSLAVED Below the Lights

Norwegian death metal artists are back with their sixth studio album release since their 1994 debut, Vikingligr Veldi.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Grutle Kjellson / vocals, bass
- Ivar Bjørnson / guitar, keyboards, Fx
- Arve Isdal / lead guitar
- Per Husebø ("Dirge Rep") / drums
With:
- Dennis Reksten / synth, Fx
- Inge Rypdal / lead guitar (7)
- Gina Torgnes / flute (4)
- Bjørgvin Tungrock Kor / chorus vocals (5)

1. "As Fire Swept Clean the Earth" (6:35) Gollum vocals! and then, later, deep mountain trolls. The music is so simple with it's two two-chord foundations alternating from start to finish. The Fripp-like lead guitar work in the final two minutes is nice. (8.667/10)

2. "The Dead Stare" (5:37) a little more dynamic fluctuation here but still hard to tolerate with those indecipherable vocals. (8.5/10)

3. "The Crossing" (9:11) acoustic guitars!? Oh. The metal walls of sound take over--again using two two-chord progressions (one major, one minor) as the sole basis for the entire song. The slowed down passage starting at the end of the third minute is actually quite nice. But then an old-fashioned two-chord metal passage is faded in during the fifth minute, bringing with it the growl vocals (the song's first vocals). A minute later the guitars shift to more spacious staccato strumming with normal human voice vocals before the music again shifts into a more of a swing rhythmic pattern. These last two motifs alternate back and forth over the next few minutes before turning to a rather hypnotic (and, actually, pretty) tremolo-guitar-based instrumental section for the ninth minute and finish. Parts of that were actually quite good! (17.5/20)

4. "Queen of Night" (5:59) opening with an odd acoustic guitar and flute duet, the music is quickly supplanted by metal (almost industrial metal) for some display of flashy lead guitar speed shredding. The vocals in the fourth minute have a monastic haunting feel similar to something from Blue Öyster Cult. But then we turn a corner into some very choppy stoccato and machine gun bas and guitar playing over which growl vocalist Grutle Kjellson does his thing. Pretty amazing speeds generated by that bass player! (8.75/10)

5. "Havenless" (5:35) Warrior-like men's group choir vocals over the metal guitar play opens this one before the growler takes over. The most schizophrenic song on the album, there are so many parts and dramatic vocal voices used that it is truly confusing. Interesting but just a little too weird. (8.5/10)

6. "Ridicule Swarm" (6:18) weird keyboard spacey ghostness opens this before the death metal stuff comes crashing in at the end of the first minute. Nice variation with the growls (in both duration and pitch) and nice drum play. Some kind of film voice sample in the background during the midsection is then followed by a "lulling" metal passage before the death metal stuff comes crashing back in. Definitely one of the more interesting songs on the album. (8.667/10)

7. "A Darker Place" (7:01) my brain hurts! Even the acoustic guitar mid-section and more 1980s heavy blues metal finish is more than my puny little vegetarian brain can take. (13/15)

Total Time 46:16

I finally decided to give these Death Metal artists a listen because I so respect and love Ivar Bjørnson for his Viking folk rock collaboration with Einar Selvik, the 2018 release, Hugsjá. but, in the end, I am, as usual, disappointed with the sonic textures presented in support of the death metal growls. Just not my cup of tea. Plus, the music is often far simpler than I expected (especially the drums--the bass is often amazing.)

85.0 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a mind-numbing album of metal music that may find fans within the fold but, to my mind, even there might find detractors for the sometimes simple music and not-so-very-impressive soloing on display. Perhaps the messages mean more to those fans, but, as we all know, I do not hear lyrics--and especially not in the death metal growl form. 

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2002, Part 1: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2002
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. The first is merely a list consisting of a Top Ten with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The ensuing Reviews are ordered according to my personal, more objective judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to my personal determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums.  

In my opinion, 2002 produced a rather weak collective of new studio music in the Progressive Rock world. In fact, I have been able to find one (1) full masterpiece,  two (2) "minor" masterpieces, and 11 "near-masterpieces" from this year. If you know of any albums that you think I have missed or overlooked (taking into consideration what you perceive my tastes to be) please share these with me.


The Rankings for 2002
(My Favorites)


1. PÄATOS Timeloss
2. THE FLAMING LIPS Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
3. QUIDAM The Time Beneath the Sky
4. DOVES The Last Broadcast 
5. SIGUR RÓS ( )
6. FAUN Zaubersprüche
7. BONDAGE FRUIT V - Skin
8. AGALLOCH The Mantle
9. PAT METHENY Speaking of Now  
10. PAIN OF SALVATION Remedy Lane

11. 35007 Liquid
12. IZZ I Move
13. THE FLOWER KINGS Unfold the Future 
14. GRAND STAND Tricks of Time
15. KENSO Fabulis Mirabilibus De Bombycosi Scriptis
16. LA MASCHERA DI CERA La Maschera di Cera
17. TAAL Skymind
18. FROGG CAFÉ Frogg Café
19. PORCUPINE TREE In Absentia
20. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Yanqui U.X.O.

Honorable Mentions:
TÉMPANO The Agony and the Ecstacy
PETER GABRIEL Up
MOTORPSYCHO It's a Love Cult
PARALLEL OR 90 DEGREES More Exotic Ways To Die
ULVER Lyckantropen Themes
HIDRIA SPACEFOLK Symbiosis 


The Reviews


5 star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34)


***** Album of the Year for 2002! *****



1. PÄATOS Timeloss

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

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

2. "Hypnotique" (8:36) accomplishes just what the title declares. It is a long, very soft piece in which Petronella's voice, combined with her husband's soft jazz drumming, lulls one into submission. But, not unlike Pure Reason Revolution's Dark Third, this CD really shines with its layers of very interesting and rewarding subtleties. For example, at the 2:40 mark the music just cuts out, leaving the listener with a rather nice piano and flute interlude. When 55 seconds have passed, Nuxflux sneaks his way back in with a little flourish on his Zildjian before reestablishing the song's original jazzy rhythm, thereby cueing the start of the guitarist's very pleasant and somewhat "raw" guitar solo. Eventually, after the mellotron has snuck into the background, at about the 5:40 mark, the flute reappears to take over the guitar solo's melody line. Then, just as suddenly, the music stops for a brief cello solo before giving way to a brief return of Petronella--this time with a bit more of a forceful presence--until the song finally devolves into another all-out band jam to it's conclusion. A song that has grown in my esteem tremendously over time. (18/20)

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

4. "They Are Beautiful" (7:48) begins very Genesis "Entangled"-like before a double bass and tympanic percussion rhythm set the tone for another of Petronella's mind-massages. Hypnotic guitar and mellotron and with the surprise appearances of several sneaky, snaky reed instruments alternating with an electric guitar's note- and volume-play make for a very interesting and unusual song.  Again: Headphones are highly recommended. This is another song that has grown tremendously on me over the years. (14/15)

5. "Quits" (14:49) gets a lot of grief from reviewers--especially prog reviewers--but I think this song is brilliant--very reminiscent of Ben Watt of EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL's "Walking Wounded" phase. Drum machines and programs? What about all of the obviously live play Huxflux is doing? Man, the percussion work on this song alone make it a near masterpiece! And, no, I don't care if he's using synthesized or acoustic percussives. I love his guts and creativity! The synth work is also so interesting. Richard Barbieri meets Ben Watt meets Mr. Bill Bruford! And let me not forget to give this bass player his due: he does an awesome job tying husband and wife into the same cohesive piece. Awesome music. (And don't forget the horns! Amazing fun on the trumpets! Great devolution into Joni itchell/Weather Report/King Crimson-esque chaos! I love it!) (28/30)

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

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




The "Minor" Masterpieces
(Ratings of 93.33 to 90.0)




2. PAIN OF SALVATION Remedy Lane (2002)

Beautifully produced theatric concept album from these Swedish metal masters. The band is here firing on all cylinders--now maturing to the point of realizing that sometimes "less is more."

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

1. "Of Two Beginnings" (2:24) great opener--sets the stage for the album's story to unfold. A little Michael Sadler SAGA in there, only taken further in heavy sonic landscape. (9.5/10)

- Chapter 1
2. "Ending Theme" (4:59) very dramatic portrait of someone under severe psychological stress. Brilliant restraint in the perfectly supportive music to Daniel's great vocal and taped voice acting narrative. (9/10)

3. "Fandango" (5:51) again a surprisingly restrained and almost spacious soundscape within which Daniel delivers an unusually staccato vocal. The chorus sections are so silky smooth. A powerful, masterful song with no over-the-top fluff, no bombastic soloing or extended passages, just perfectly arranged, represented, and executed music--with one more reminder that Daniel Gildenlöw is a vocal/theatric master. (9.25/10)

4. "A Trace Of Blood" (8:17) a bit of old school sound and construct (mix some 1980s metal with RUSH), the quiet passages have an almost Peter Gabriel piano base while the metal sounds are almost LOVERBOY or 1980s OZZIE OSBOURNE. Another great vocal performance from the ever-so theatric Daniel Gildenlöw. The first song to put single instruments on display--here lead guitars (both) and Not the greatest music--not as fresh or mature as the previous three--but Daniel's vocal/lyrical performances continue to impress and enchant. (17.5/20)
 
5. "This Heart Of Mine" (I Pledge)" (4:01) opens as if a soft jazz-pop song--could be Narada Michael Walden, Bryan Adams, or Ambrosia. Very (unexpectedly) pretty and sensitive (especially the vocal and guitar work). (8.75/10)
 
- Chapter 2 
6. "Undertow" (4:47) a surprisingly understated, thin opening soundscape for what builds into an absolute prog metal masterpiece. So simple yet so powerful! What an amazing journey--in such a brief period of time. Again: the sign of mastery. (9.75/10)

7. "Rope Ends" (7:02) great display of technical skill with its odd and shifting time signatures and polyphonic staccato polyrhythms. Great drumming that is never over the top or ostentatious. Not the best melodies--and not Daniel's most powerful vocal but a good one. (13.25/15)

8. "Chain Sling" (3:58) a song in which I can really see and hear the beauty that must be in the acoustic version--guitar and Daniel working together in perfect synchronization while the drumming matches them magically well. Surprising use of stage theater-like melodies in the vocals--drawing a bit from both folk and AndrewLloyd-Weber-like traditions. Another song that showcases Daniel's vocal talents but not my favorite. (8.5/10)

9. "Dryad Of The Woods" (4:56) soft, slow-picked reverbed electric guitar instrumental with bass and cymbal play to open this one. It's almost like a classical chamber étude! Piano and full rock soundscape settles in after 90 seconds whereupon it kind of slips into a bit of a cheesy smooth jazz mode. A little bit of an oddity--as if a song that satisfies a secret jazz/world music side of Daniel's personality. (8.5/10)
 
- Chapter 3 
10. "Remedy Lane" (2:15) nice little synth experiment with "distant" support from roto-tom percussion. (4/5)

11. "Waking Every God" (5:19) upper octave piano arpeggi and two electric guitars with awesome drum play opens this one, creating quite a (surprisingly) pretty four-chord soundscape within which Daniel and effected doubled-up vocalists sing. Vocally, this is a pretty powerful song. Packaged with such pretty music, it makes for a great song. I love when it gets a bit heavier in the fourth minute--just before laying out the support for the guitar soli. (9/10) 

12. "Second Love" (4:21) again I find myself surprised by the gambit of song styles this band delves into--here a gentle multi-voiced 80s-like power ballad. (Think POISON's "Every Rose Has Its Thorn.") It's nice, pretty, and well-executed--but gains points in the sincerity it projects. (8.75/10)

13. "Beyond The Pale" (9:56) a signature song for Daniel and crew--one that definitely portrays a metal mentality (this despite the surprising variety of song style choices presented over the course of this album). Again, there is a truly masterful construction and slow build with some very catchy stylistic flourishes and passages. Prog metal doesn't get much better--or much more emotive--than this. As well as the obvious Michael Sadler reference, Daniel is seems to be channeling a bit of Fish in certain places in this one. (19.5/20)

Total time 68:06

90.167 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music--one that should be in every prog lover's music collection. 




3. BONDAGE FRUIT  V - Skin 

If GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR went Zeuhl, the ever-evolving Zeuhl veterans have slowed things down, drawn them out, removed the vocals, and chosen to explore the sound that the space between percussive hits can occupy. Gone are the Crimsonian dynamics or Magma-esque constructs, welcome in the bluesy foundation of all rock 'n' roll, even to Zeuhl! Never before have the commonalities between Zeuhl and UNIVERS ZERO been so evident. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Kido Natsuki / guitar, mandolin, valiha, organ, co-producer
- Katsui Yuji / violin, sampler, co-producer
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass, cello
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, percussion
- Okabe Youichi / percussion, trap drum

1. "Skin" (29:27) Zeuhl takes a trip to the deep bayou of Louisiana. The music and the performances are still stunning, virtuosic, amazingly tight considering the pace and spacing. Drummer Okabe Youichi is especially impressive for his solid ability to adhere to this very challenging pace while continuing to display his virtuosity. Huge chills when acoustic guitar strums enter at 17:00; great chord progression.  Then, in the 20th minute, we return to awesome sparsity and restraint. Again, this drummer deserves to be credited with so much for this brave and spiritual performance. The finish is a kind of Post Rock coming together of all elements and instruments in a cacophonous anti-climax before solo bowed bass takes us slowly out.
     While not a real fan of Louisiana blues, I know when something special has been achieved, and this is special. I feel as if I have just been put through a religious ceremony. Wonderful stuff! (56.5/60)

2. "Frasco" (19:40) opens with the sound of a traditional Japanese stringed instrument called a "valiha" playing solo. Repetitive single muted electric guitar chord strum is repeated and somewhat arpeggiated while vibes, bass, heavily effected electric guitar, and hand percussion instruments play around above and beneath. Valiha continues to ejaculate riffs between those of a variety of electric guitar sounds and other instruments. In the seventh minute the electric guitar and violin begin to take over the main melody line and, as the other instruments all fall away, the musical fabric itself. By the halfway mark a kind of Japanified Latinized Mahavishnu Orchestra jam has been set in motion--violin and guitar, of course, taking the lead presentations. Interesting! The music then morphs into a more JEFF BECK-like jam with a fairly simple and straightforward melodic riff steering the course to the end. Nice but not my favorite stuff from Bondage Fruit. (34/40)

Total time 49:07

90.50 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of evolving Zeuhl and an excellent addition to the lexicon of progressive rock music. While the title piece is, in my opinion, a prog masterpiece, the second epic falls well short of these heights.