Friday, September 28, 2012

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.


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
- 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) 


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)

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.


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
- 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


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
- 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


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
- 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.)


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

More diluted lushness and monotonous vocals of the Genesis and then there were three ilk.

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
- 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, but certainly nothing that NeoProg lovers should be shouting about.  

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
- 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. 

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