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
8. AGALLOCH The Mantle
9. PAT METHENY Speaking of Now  

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

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

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)


Line-up / Musicians:
- David Bryant / electric guitar
- Roger Tellier-Craig / electric guitar
- Efrim Menuck / electric guitar
- Mauro Pezzente / bass guitar
- Thierry Amar / bass guitar
- Bruce Cawdron / drums
- Aidan Girt / drums
- Sophie Trudeau / violin
- Norsola Johnson / cello
- Josh Abrams / double bass
- Rob Mazurek / trumpet
- Matana Roberts / clarinet
- Geof Bradfield / bass clarinet

1. "09-15-00 (Part One)" (16:26) (26/30)
2. "09-15-00 (Part Two)" (6:16) (8.667/10)
3. "Rockets Fall On Rocket Falls" (20:42) (38/40)
4. "Motherf**ker=Redeemer (Part One)" (21:22) (36.5/40)
5. "Motherf**ker=Redeemer (Part Two)" (10:10) (18.5/20)

Total Time: 77:56

91.19 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of both Post Rock and progressive rock music. My favorite GY!BE album.

3. 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. 


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.

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