Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The Top Albums of the Year 2010, Part 1: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2010
(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 20 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.  

2010 offered some awesome new music from artists practicing quite a wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has albums representing no less than ten sub-genres. Another excellent year in terms of quantity and quality, I have on my List eight (8) "minor" masterpieces, and 11 near-masterpieces of progressive rock music. 

The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. AMOEBA SPLIT Dance of the Goodbyes
2. FUNIN Unsound
3. CICADA Over the Sea/Under the Water
4. BROTHER APE A Rare Moment of Insight
5. DOMINA CATRINA LEE Songs from the Breastbone Drum
6. GIFTS FROM ENOLA Gifts from Enola
7. VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow
10. FOURTEEN TWENTY-SIX Lighttown Closure

11. MR. GIL Skellig
12. IL TEMPIO DELLE CLESSIDRE Il Tempio delle Clessidre
13. CICCADA A Child in the Mirror
14. MY EDUCATION Sunrise
15. JAGA JAZZIST One-Armed Bandit
16. MYSTERY One Among the Living
17. DUNGEN Skitt I Allt
18. T Anti-Matter Poetry
19. YUGEN  Iridule
20. UNIVERS ZERO Clivages

21. FROGG CAFÉ The Bateless Edge
22. ARANIS RoqueForte
23. ANATHEMA We’re Here Because We’re Here
24. SUNWRAE Autumn Never Fall
25. ALGERNON Ghost Surveillance
26. RATIONAL DIET On Phenomena and Existences
27. MOULETTES Moulettes
29. KHATSATURJAN Disconcerto Grosso
30. THE TEA CLUB Rabbit

Honorable Mentions:
HYPNOS 69 Legacy
ALCEST Écailles de lune
ARGOS Circles 
ELEPHANT9 Walk the Nile

The Reviews

5 star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34)

None for this Year

The "Minor" Masterpieces
(Ratings 93.33 to 90.0)

***** Album of the Year for 2010! *****

1. BROTHER APE  A Rare Moment of Insight

This is the best Brother Ape album yet--and, because of its consistently high content and performances, one of my Top Ten of 2010. One thing this album has that previous Brother Ape albums perhaps lacked is GREAT production--sound is mixed VERY clearly (though the drums are often given a bit too much volume.)

1. "Juggernaut Now" (7:27) [13.5/15] and 3. "Ultramarathon" (7:49) [13.75/15] have a distinctive JIMI HENDRIX EXPERIENCE sound and feel to them--(except for the wonderful TREVOR HORN-like voice)--which makes sense since this is a three-piece rock band with a very active drummer. The whelm of MAX BERGMAN's frenetic pace and style (sounding a lot like KEITH MOON sans cymbol mania) takes some getting used to, but once past that you have some pretty amazing songs here. Some BLUE OYSTER CULT-like guitar riffs in "Ultramarathon" give it a varied feel, while the calming vocal and wild drumming continues to provide the tension to make the glue holding the song together.

2. "Chrysalis" (5:34) slows things down a bit and presents an almost DEPECHE MODE-OCEANSIZE marriage of sound. Cool song. I love that all of this album's songs have so many subtleties to be extracted from the music with each successive listen. [8.5/10]

4. "Seabound" (6:03) has a bit of a feel as if FLEET FOXES or MOON SAFARI's vocal harmonies were singing over YES's "Turn of the Century." Very nice, quite nostalgic, song that keeps growing on me as time passes. Very nice acoustic guitar work. [10/10]

5. "Instinct" (6:52) is my favorite. It has a lot of atmospheric sounds floating behind the drums: keys, vocals, even bass are very etheric. Great vocal melody lines (and, later, harmonies) and awesome lead guitar solo around the 4:00 mark. Love the spacious outro. [15/15]

6. "Echoes of Madness" (9:06) is a great upbeat song with some very catching vocal hooks and chord progressions while constructed like a classic RUSH song. I really love the Alex Lifeson-sounding guitar sounds (the strums!) here--including the LIFESON-like solo beginning at the 4:30 mark. Great vocal performance (including the BUGGLES-like distant echo). Again, it's the little, subtle extras (the acoustic guitar work is awesome!) that make this song--and album--so amazing! [18.25/20]

7. "The Art of Letting Go" (7:23) has a very emotional presentation and vocal performance. The way it builds--from plaintive STYX-like piano & voice to full blown ROBIN TROWER-like rocker--is, to me, reminiscent of many moments of the best of LED ZEPPELIN's sounds and style(s). Amazing instrumental section beginning at 4:45, repeated again as the slowly fading outro in the last minute!  [15/15]

8. The album wraps up with the gorgeous acoustic guitar piece, "In a Rare Moment" (3:33).  It's a beautiful song quite reminiscent of something ANT PHILLIPS and MICHAEL HEDGES or ERIK SATIE might have collaborated on. [10/10]

Excellent musicianship, beautiful song constructions, tons of layers of subtle sonic atmospherics, along with the very catchy, gorgeous TREVOR HORN-like vocals make this album one of my favorite discoveries of the past year.

94.54 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music receiving my HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION. Bravo, Brother Ape! EVERYBODY: CHECK THIS ONE OUT! You won't be disappointed!

2. AMOEBA SPLIT -- Dance of the Goodbyes 

They're not from County Kent, they're not even English, but the Canterbury forms and sounds here, often subtle or slightly adapted, are undeniable and quite enjoyable. Someone in the band is even caring enough to provide many of the Daevid Allen pixiness with talking diatribes beneath the music and backwards or otherwise effected guitar tracks beneath the other music as Allen and Steve Hillage were fond of doing.

Line-up / Musicians:
- María Toro / vocals, flute
- Ricardo Castro Varela / Hammond, Mellotron, piano, Mini-Moog, arrangements
- Alberto Villarroya López / guitars, bass, composer
- Pablo Añón / soprano, alto & tenor saxes
- Fernando Lamas / drums
- Gastón Rodríguez / guitar (3)

1. "Dedicated to us, but we weren't listening" (3:50) opening with some GONG-like effects and then adding some melodic ALLAN GOWEN- or STEVE MILLER-like keys, smooth RICHARD SINCLAIR-like bass, and PYE HASTINGS- or PHIL MILLER-like guitar and you've got yourself a melange of Canterbury Scene musicians making . . . quirky Bohemian Canterbury jazz!? (8.75/10)

2. "Perfumed garden" (9:43) opening with the breathy voice of María Toro is, I must admit, a bit of a surprise--a welcomed one, as it turns out. The closest thing I can come up with this music is today's INNER EAR BRIGADE or REGAL WORM. There is SANTANA-ness to the instrumental section in the fourth and fifth minutes, but then the music breaks down into a slow, smokey torch singer lounge jazz not unlike ANNE PIGALLE or KOOP. But the flute-led instrumental section following María's vocal is Canterbury, pure and sublime. However you categorize the music of this song, let's all agree on one thing: it's gorgeous! (19.5/20)

3. "Turbulent matrix" (10:47) the superlative music that all artists Canterbury would be making today if they were to do it all over again. This is a gorgeous piece of fun, melodic, quirky, even flawless jazz. Incredible arrangements, tight cohesion, and fantastic drumming, all built over two piano chords! (20/20)

4. "Blessed water" (12:26) opens with sensitive, plaintive solo piano before Mellotron, bass, and the delicate voice of María Toro enter, continuing the same emotive pattern and theme, the music has a bit of ANNIE HASLAM-JON CAMP RENAISSANCE feel to it, even into the slightly built up instrumental section--which quiets down for the arrival of the alto sax--who lays down a beautiful solo. María gets the next turn, this time with flute, over some psychedelic guitar play and JOHN TOUT-like piano. A slightly heavier force enters as ELIANA VALENZEULA-like vocal passage of María's plays out. There follows a nice medium-yet-insistently-paced section over which electric guitar and saxophone perform very nice solos. The bass, drums, and piano are so smooth, so together! Everybody starts pushing the intensity up one notch at a time so that in the eighth minute things are peaking just before a ninth minute lull in which María returns to a sensitive SARA ALIANI (LAGARTIJA)-like voice, but hen she finishes the band launches immediately into a full-on blues-rock exposition in support of the electric guitar. Remember THE DOORS?! Big 'tron choir supports the next section as the song plays out over the final two minutes much like CARAVAN does in the orchestra-supported second half of "L'auberge du Sanglier/A hunting we shall go/Pengola/Backwards/A hunting we shall go (reprise)." Brilliant! Brings me to tears! (24/25)

5. "Qwerty" (0:49) did we mention that María plays a mean flute? Fun uptempo Canterburified jazz. (5/5)

6. "Flight to nowhere" (23:39) (44/50)
- I. Endless magic spell -- those could be considered GONG-like sounds and effects in the opening section with a similar STEVE HILLAGE guitar effect to the lead guitar as the music falls into step, but as soon as María begins singing I am once again brought back into the realm of torch singer lounge jazz. Magic spell indeed!
- II. A bleeding mind -- I don't really know where one section begins or ends but suffice it to say that a musical passage with crazed multi-languaged or clipped vocal dispersals lying beneath the music begin and continue over a span that I'm guessing might be representative of "a bleeding mind."
- III. A walk along the tightrope
- IV. Bubbles of dellirium

Total time 61:14

92.88 on the Fishscales = A/Five stars; one of the best Canterbury style albums I've ever heard or reviewed, old or new; a true masterpiece of joyful, creative, amazingly well composed, performed, and recorded music.

3. FUNIN Unsound

1. "Unsound" (6:55) is so out-of-the-ordinary in its 'world music' approach to instrumentation and voice as to defy comparisons (though Mariuz Duda's opening to LUNATIC SOUL does come to mind). Eerie and yet breathtakingly gorgeous. I love the way this builds, like a Post Rock song, then crescendos leaving behind a kind of BJÖRK/Inuit choral part and a more techno/house final 1:30. (15/15)

2. "Everythings" (5:31) outrageously gorgeous--though COLDPLAY-like poppy--from the start, this one is just so catchy and upbeat that I can't help but wonder why (or maybe that) it was a major international hit. (10/10)

3. "Wonderland" (4:01) is a wonderful pop-jazzy KOOP/BJÖRK-like paced song. (9/10)

4. "Tornado" (4:02) is even more BJÖRK-like sonically, musically and vocally. Wonderful, hip-swaying music with a gorgeous vocal arrangement. It may be very similar to the Icelandic queen's sound and style, but it is masterful and fun! (10/10)

5. "Last Day" (4:08) This song has a bit of the mysterious BARK PSYCHOSIS sound and feel to it in that it is a stripped down, very basic musical landscape over which Marit Elisabeth Svendsboe displays her remarkable vocal uniquities(8/10)

6. "Inch of Me" (6:29) is highlighted by it's second half:  the amazing piano, double bass, strings, and, later, 'Latin dance' percussion. Almost a DIANA KRALL song, The Look of Love era. (9/10)

7. "Indestructible" (3:31) is another song completely unique to FUNIN. Part LAURIE ANDERSON, part JON HASSELL, part NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, this is one unusual yet starkly beautiful 'folk' song. (10/10)

8. "Rocking Chair" (2:43) is another song showcasing singer Marit Elisabeth's versatility. Part BILLY HOLIDAY, part NINA HAGEN, part Gypsy or Arab folk singer, this is to be heard. (8/10)

9. "Machine" (6:57) is an amazing, edgy techno/industry song displaying some quite unusual vocal skills (or editing!) and ending with a classic piano/string quartet! (14/15)

10. "Skywalkers" (5:12) starts out a lot like COWBOY JUNKIES/LAURA NYRO before going BJÖRK Vespertine and then, with 2:20 addition of the male voice, back to a Cowboy Junkies or DUNCAN SHEIK feel. Awesomely odd and unusual! (9/10)

92.73 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music--one that is truly pushing the boundaries of music into future possibilities. 

4. GIFTS FROM ENOLA Gifts from Enola

These guys have come a long way from "From Fathoms"--and it's only been a year! The unexpected twists and turns, use of effects, and mice melodic themes make this a much more mature and adventuresome collection. One thing I don't quite understand--and this seems to happen quite a lot in this genre--is the seeming appearance of synthesizer or keyboard parts when no keyboards or keyboard players are mentioned.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andrew Barnes / guitars
- Nathaniel Dominy / bass
- CJ DeLuca / guitar
- Jud Mason / drums

1. "Lionize" (8:23) begins with a rather straightforward Math Rock feel--very low end-dominant. A shift at the 2:15 mark travels into more Grunge-like territory--until at 2:43 the main melody themes are introduced. At 3:18 a distant high octave guitar riff is enteredbefore we return to main theme again. At 4:05 the pace drops off and the song floats into a very distorted sea of At 5:25 a lead guitar takes off and soars to goose-bumping heights! 6:30 shift to 6:45 punk/metal chops until an odd break of canned 1920s jazz floats around--as if over loudspeakers at the pavilion of the local town square. The heavily distorted bass throughout this song is just excellent. (18/20)

2. "Dime and Suture" (6:09). The shifts and changes in this song just keep you guessing--keep you interested and amazed. For some reason, the heavy guitars never seem to disturb or overwhelm the ears and the vocals screamed as if from 100 feet away are also very fresh, interesting and effective. Even the song's decay (some might say, 'demise') is fascinating and entertaining. (9.25/10)

3. "Alogas" (7:37) begins with a very PREFAB SPROUT sounding jazz guitar chords over synth wind and echoed synth sputtering. A very catchy, melodic jazzy-pop theme (think XTC joined with STYLE COUNCIL) begins at the :30 mark and continues for some very enjoyable two-and-a-half minutes before a different CURE/MEET DANNY WILSON theme and pace begins. All the while the jazzy guitar chord strumming plays--until the 5:05 mark when more familiar, though somehow 80s synth glossyed, Post Rock playing style takes over to build to a typical frenzied finish. (15/15)

4. "Grime and Glass" (7:39) begins, again, with a much more industrialized "80s meet Grunge" feel to it. A lot of MY BLOODY VALENTINE twang bar guitar playing and having some surprisingly upbeat and melodic sections to it. I like the development of this song more and more as you get into it--including the (as now typical) off-beat slowed down section with the recorded voices from some television infomercial or talk show (I can't quite make out what's being said)--but the best part of the song is the 2:51 to 3:35 music motif followed by the television talk section. (13.25/15)

5. "Rearview" (7:24) begins with a persistent industrial/grunge sound to it--not unlike early NINE INCH NAILS. At 1:38 it switches gear, slows down and the guitars weave a very pretty melody--which is yielded for another grungy section at the 2:55 mark. 3:25 and we're back to slow/soft--almost like a setup for TED NUGENT or LYNYRD SKYNYRD Southern rock ballad. Low, haunting singing  enters over (or is it 'under') this, before giving way to some radio/spoken sample (computer talk--like the computer-enhanced voice of Steven Hawking) which then leads to a very mathematical section of off-tempo chords and smash-drumming whose last chords then decay and die in the 40-second glory of their instrument feedback sounds. (13.75/15)

Total time: 37:04

Again, innovative and unpredictable song construction and layering with some extremely pleasant melodies somehow woven into some very heavy Post Rock guitar/bass power chords. I don't usually like this much 'abrasive' guitar sound, but these guys are really interesting! They even had me humming along several times!

92.33 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a masterpiece within the Math/Post Rock genre, however, its length (37 minutes) and fact that this subgenre seems doomed to low expectations and limited potential because of its limiting styles, structures, and instrumentation leads me to reserve super high praise. Still, this is DEFINITELY a great addition to any prog lovers music collection!! Highly recommended!

5. IL TEMPIO DELLE CLESSIDRE Il Tempio delle Clessidre

Though not the world debut of the talents of keyboard wizard Elisa Montaldo, this is the first project in which Elisa is one of the band's leaders and principle songwriters. Taking their title from a song title from the "classic" 1970s album, Zarathstra by ITALIAN rockers MUSEO ROSENBACH, and then cue in the vocals of Stefano "Lupo" Galifi from that same legendary band (MUSEO ROSENBACH) and you get some idea of the musical inspiration and course planned out for their collaboration.   

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stefano "Lupo" Galifi / lead vocals
- Giulio Canepa / guitars
- Elisa Montaldo / piano, organ, keyboards, concertina, vocals, Fx
- Fabio Gremo / bass
- Paolo Tixi / drums
- Antonio Fantinuoli / cello (5)
- Max Manfredi / narration (7)

1. "Verso l'Alba" (2:52) opens with some very familiar sounds from 1970s RPI music: deep organ arpeggi, synth, guitar tone and drumming style all seem to be intentionally replicating the past. (4.5/5)

2. "Insolita Parte Di Me" (7:21) layers of amazing keyboards replete with many melodic themes and motifs and some great singing. (14/15)

3. "Boccadasse" (5:21) complex heavy rock like URIAH HEEP mixed with LYNYRD SKYNYRD. with a strong vocal performance over it. (8.5/10)

4. "Le Due Metà Della Notte" (5:19) (8.75/10)

5. "La Stanza Nascosta" (5:10) piano and Lupo's solo voce until cello joins in for the second verse. What a pianist! At 3:30 arpeggiating electrified acoustic guitar joins in and then dramatic entry of spacey Mellotron chords. Wow! (9.25/10)

6. "Danza Esoterica Di Datura" (6:13) wind and footsteps in bubbling stream precede the breakout of a heavy RPI theme which then disappears as Mellotron-rich textures fill behind demonic heavily-edited voices. This is then replaced by soloing piano in the third minute, which then ends at 3:16 with the brief return of the heavy 1970s RPI theme, but then continues until 4:20 when the heavy full-band ensemble take off in a wonderful weave for the rest of the song. Wonderful song with a nightmarish, Tchaikovsky feel to it. (9.5/10)

7. "Faldistorium" (6:02) bass, cymbals, and wavering synth notes open this one before 0:45 when full band presents a jazzy weave for the first motif. When the guitarist starts to solo at the end of the second minute, it sounds so 70s RPI! Mellotrons drench the soundscape over the next minute of bridges before Lupo begins whispering conspiratorially over the Hammond- and church-organ-based heavy rock foundation. Very, very cool song! (10/10)

8. "L'Attesa" (4:36) very heavy organ- and riffing electric guitar open this one before backing off into a softer concertina-based section to pave the way for Lupo's impassioned vocal. (8.5/10)

9. "Il Centro Sottile" (10:40) filled with (I think) intentional discordancies, the drums, bass, and Mellotrons bely simplicity and calm while the chords used and instruments out front display uncertainty and insecurity. Stunningly brilliance piano play in the fifth and sixth minutes before a wonderful instrumental part sets up the next vocal section. The piano and guitar chords and full bank of female background vocals give it such a classic feel. Then, all of a sudden, at the seven-minute mark we seem to switch gears and directions into a softer, more cohesive section, but the vocal and music eventually, subtly, turn back to the 8:23 an angular theme like the one used off-and-on in "Danza esoterica di datura" enters and morphs into an eerie carnival atmosphere for what appears to be the end (an extended blank section closes the song for the final minute.) Not sure of the significance of this last emptiness, but the song as a whole still packs quite a punch. Amazing! (19.5/20)

10. "Antidoto Mentale" (3:49) very melodic full-band foundation for Lupo to sing a pop power ballad-like vocal. There are even full bank of female background singers in the chorus parts! Powerful. (9/10)

Total Time: 57:23

92.27 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of retro RPI and one of the most amazing expositions of prog keyboard mastery you're likely to hear. 

6. VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow

Upon first listen to this album I didn't think it was as good as the three live albums I own by VESPERO: Foam, Liventure #19, and Liventure #21. But, I was wrong. Yes, I miss the wordless singing of Natalya Tujrina, otherwise this studio album is an amazing accomplishment of collaborative creativity.

1. “Daphne” (5:22) starts the album off with a fast paced jam in which the mix of synths are used very creatively and in which the drumming is mesmerizing, captivating. (9/10)

2. “Percious" (8:32) has a very slow, spacey beginning but eventually picks up. Around 4:30 it feels like the drummer gets lost!? The music slows and thins at 4:50 with only pluck-echo-guitar and cymbol play for a while. At 6:30 it picks back up with some jazziness--and with some awesome 'trumpet'-sounding violin! (18/20)

3. “Amaryllis” (7:29) starts slow but builds quickly until at 1:40 things really kick into high gear. Great searing guitar solo but, by 3:30, the band sounds a bit discombobulated. Perhaps going a bit too gang-busters. This is soon coorrected. 4:30 sees a shift to interweave of arpeggios by guitar, bass, and keyboards played against a very fast drum beat. At 6:30 there arises a discordant screaming guitar (reminds me of TODD RUNDGREN on 1973's Todd's "In and Out the Chakras We Go") (8/10)

4. “Gao Zült” (5:51) starts with drum brushes! Guitar,  synths, violin join in in a PORCUPINE TREE way and play together for a minute and a half before bass and fuzz guitar take over against new frenetic drum patterns. The drummer is going so fast with such a syncopated line while the spacey background keyboard wash tricks you into hypnotic sleep--until 3:00 when 'harmonica/accordian' sound and countrified electric guitar. Then at 4:10 a real Mexican fiesta sound/beat takes over. A real hodge-podge of interesting time signatures. Ends with Gypsy-ish violin solo playing over same Mexican rhythm. (7/10)

5. “Tall Tree” (7:31) begins with a slow, hypnotic violin. An unexpected key change at the 1:25 mark brings us into a "White Rabbit" chord progression. Here there is INCREDIBLE drumming! The guitar lead takes over at 3:38. At 5:23 there is a return to the ambience of the intro section and brief violin solo until 6:12 when an arpeggio weave paves the way for the return of the screaming electric guitar. Another key shift at 6:51 until at 7:11 the electric guitar bottoms out to fade. (10/10)

6. “Punto Fijo” (8:03) starts at a frenetic pace with a kind of "Rasta-punk" feel/beat. The guitar takes the melody, but from behind--from a floating place in the background! At 1:30 there is a long pause/interlude of synth noises, drones and echoed guitar 'Frippisms.' At 3:40 enters tympani and violin. From 4:50 wah-ed guitar strums join in until 6:00 when a GILMOUR-esque "slide" guitar solo takes over. Again: the drum playing is absolutely fascinating here! (10/10)

7. “Pavane Lacryme” (4:24) is a pretty little song with treated guitars à la ROBIN GUTHRIE. Synths, violin solo and jazzy drums. (9/10)

8. “Seagulls Sing (When it Rains)” (6:47) opens with an X-Files-like modulated synth playing eerily over jazzy cymbol play and guitar and violin harmonies. The drumming--especially the cymbol play--is fascinating. A  female voice joining in at about the 2:30 mark  is a beautiful and welcome touch. Turns jazzy with nice 'flute' and, later, synth soli. That drummer! (10/10)

9. “Aurora Borealis” (9:16) opens with a great, driving ELOY/"Blade Runner Main Title"-like keyboard bass-line around which all other instruments jam (violin, synths, awesome percussion). Again, the drums and percussion (and violin) are fascinating to follow. At 8:20 a distorted guitar enters, followed by the fadeout of all other instruments. Interesting way to end a song and album! (20/20)

As I said above, it took repeated listens for this excellent album to grow into me. And boy has it! This is a masterpiece of creative, experimental jamming. Kudus to all involved. Thank you, drummer Ivan Fedotov, for an amazing ride. Sample live versions of "Tall Tree" and "Seagulls Sing (When it Rains)" here.

91.82 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.


Line-up / Musicians:
- Tony Levin / Chapman Stick, vocals
- Michael Bernier / Chapman Stick, vocals, drums
- Pat Mastelotto / drums, digital devices

1. "Soup" (5:44) (8.875/10)
2. "Hands, Pt. 1" (3:06) (8.667/10)
3. "Hands, Pt. 2" (3:33) (8.75/10)
4. "Hands, Pt. 3" (2:06) (4.5/5)
5. "Inside the Red Pyramid" (4:45) (8.667/10)
6. "Fugue" (5:49) (9.25/10)
7. "Sasquatch" (5:43) (9.25/10)
8. "Scarlet Wheel" (5:19) (9.75/10)
9. "Firebird Suite, Pt. 1" (2:55) (4.125/5)
10. "Firebird Suite, Pt. 2" (4:11) (8.75/10)
11. "Firebird Suite, Pt. 3" (3:12) (8.667/10)
12. "Firebird Suite, Pt. 4" (3:03) the passage made famous by YES concerts. (8.75/10)
13. "Relentless" (6:00) (9/10)

Total Time 55:26

A real surprise! I guess I was expecting something with a harder edge; something with not much variety, melody, or accessibility; a lot of technical show and monotonous sound. But, NO!! It's not. There is plenty of melody! There is variety! There is beauty! There are plenty of interesting sounds and lyrics. And, of course, there is also the technical wizardry and compositional complexity galore one might expect from Tony Levin and ... anyone he chooses to sidle up with. 

While I love the Crimson-esque (Adrian Belew-era) sound/feel of "Soup," "Hands," "Sasquatch," "Firebird Suite," and "Relentless," (7-8/10 all) I love more the un-Crimson sound of "Inside the Red Pyramid," "Fuque," Sasquatch," "Scarlet Wheel, and "Firebird Suite" parts 3 & 4. 

Great disc! And not just for lovers of King Crimson, Tony Levin, or Chapman stick. This is a great prog album. 

91.77 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. It's Tony Levin, man!

8. DOMINA CATRINA LEE Songs from the Breastbone Drum

In the great tradition of OREGON, SHAKTI, RY KOODER, and PAT METHENY, Domina Catrina Lee offers up some incredible fusion of jazz and rock using her guitar and a computer program (MIDI Just Intonation) to midi perform and program a full array of instruments representative of the jazz, classical and world music traditions. This is an absolutely gorgeous, emotional, intellectual, and astounding musical accomplishment. It simply must be heard to be believed and appreciated. 

1. "Songs from the Breastbone Drum" (6:28) is a gorgeous introduction to the supreme composition and performance talents of Here using acoustic guitar, oboe, piano and drums/tabla/percussion to showcase a melodic piece of world jazz. (10/10)

2. "Fire Naked Prelude (1:20) uses acoustic guitar in two channels in a very RY COODER way. (8/10)

3. "Fire Naked Boom" (5:19) sounds like a PAT METHENY/FRANK ZAPPA/HIROMI UEHARA/JONI MITCHELL/WEATHER REPORT collaboration. Funny, loose, jazzy, displaying extraordinary instrumental skills, it works as a kind of performer's showcase. (8/10)

4. "Suite I: Ballad of the Forgotten (Threnody for Vincent Van Gogh and Nikolai Tesla)" (5:27)
is a powerful and beautiful tribute to the misunderstood. Much of the time it sounds like the instrumental first half of PAT METHENY & LYLE MAYS' classic "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls." (10/10)

5. ""Suite II: Scarborough Fair" (3:36) while the 'woodwind' plays the melody of the traditional English folk song, piano accompanies the emotional soloing of an acoustic guitar. Powerful. (9/10)

6. "The Story so Far" (3:43) starts with some synth wash and soft piano notes before kicking into a modern jazz combo supporting one of the best ALLAN HOLDSWORTH impersonations I've ever heard. Amazing! Simply must be heard! (8/10)

7. "The Shape Shifter Suite I: Two Spirit" (6:12) starts off like a WILL ACKERMAN/STEVE REICH song with those familiar layers of guitar arpeggios and other percussive instruments. 'Violin' takes over the lead melody for a bit, before giving way to some brilliant acoustic guitar soloing. The intricate weave of background instrumental support again makes this song sound like a long lost PAT METHENY GROUP song. But it's not: it's the work of one person! Amazing! (10/10)

8. "The Shape Shifter Suite II: Invocation" (5:43) begins more like a PAUL McCANDLESS/PAUL WINTER GROUP song before shifting to a pure JOHN McLAUGHLIN acoustic jazz piece à la 1970's My Goals Beyond. (10/10)

9. "'Even the Outsider' Suite: i) Borealis" (4:25) begins as if PAT METHENY, STEVE TIBBETTS, WILL ACKERMAN and MICHAEL HEDGES were all sitting down together to play. For two and a half minutes the instruments meander around as if searching for a common thread until an 'oboe' comes in to unite them. Solo acoustic guitar follows as support instruments keep the loose 'street jam' going in the background. Exciting tension, but no real 'show' ever seems to come out of it. (8/10)

10. "'Even the Outsider' Suite: ii) Climbing in Rainfalls" (5:16) picks up on a theme from part i and actually begins to jell into a song. Woodwinds and acoustic guitars trade lead soli as sensitive percussives, synths, and acoustic guitars provide the background matrix. A gentle, peaceful melody carries the day, though some of the background instruments seem to be trying to convey some tension and discord. Interesting song! (9/10)

11. "'Even the Outsider' Suite: iii) Even(in)g the Outside" (9:56) carries the Suite combo forward into a much more PAT METHENY realm of upbeat, positive melodies and rhythms. A very complex song filled with wonderful mood, key, and melody shifts and tons of subtleties that are delightful to discover with repeated listenings--something I highly recommend! Quite an emotional ride by this sensitive song-writer. (20/20)

12. "By Her Side" (6:28) begins with 'piano' introducing some very LYLE MAYS-like riffs. Acoustic guitar and double bass join in, eventually bringing forth a song in the vein of some of PAT METHENY's more gentle acoustic GROUP stuff--or like JOHN McLAUGHLIN's 1993 Bill Evans tribute album, Time Remembered. Virtuoso guitar playing and amazingly perfect 'piano' accompaniment. (10/10)

Each time I listen to this album I am absolutely astounded at the level of emotional subtlety conveyed through this computer-generated music! This is one of the top two or three jazz fusion albums I've heard from the 21st Century! Unfortunately you are very unlikely to hear this album as it was self-produced and has not met with enough acceptance nor reviews to catapult it into the limelight it deserves. Find Domina on the Internet and ask for her music. You won't regret it!

90.90 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive music and one of the most amazing accomplishments of solo artistry I've ever heard!

9. CICADA Over the Sea/Under the Water

Is a young Taiwanese "ambient/neoclassical/post rock" chamber ensemble consisting of a female piano player, Jesy Chiang (the main composer), a male acoustic guitar player, and three female strings players (violin, viola, cello). They play what appears to be in the Post Rock/Math Rock style, though, in reality they are probably a little more of what might be considered "neoclassical." Absolutely beautiful, heart-wrenchingly emotional songs, beautiful compositions. Definitely one of my favorite albums and new discoveries of the year.

Album highlights: three heart-wrenchers: 4. "Farewell (in a pretentious way)" (6:00) (10/10); 5. "...Till the Day We Meet" (5:41) (9/10), and 6. "Finally...We're Still together" (3:54) (10/10)

Also great:  the unexpectedly beautiful, yet playful, 2. "Fly" (2:44) (9/10), and; the slightly country-and-classical (if that's possible)-sounding but beautifully orchestrated opener, "Over the Sea, Under the Water" (6:42) (8/10).

90.0 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive music.

10. CICCADA A Child in the Mirror

It's been quite a struggle trying to hear and/or acquire a copy of this album or its music. But, the persistently high ratings and reviews lead me to persevere--and I am very glad I did. My first listen was appreciative ("a lot of JETHRO TULL riffs," I remember thinking), but I knew this child in the mirror was no simple kid, so I took my time, let it percolate, let the music get familiar, before trying to comment on it. I immediately knew we had a collection of very intricately constructed songs performed by very skilled "classical" chamber musicians. Repeated listens caught me thinking of WOBBLER, THIEVES KITCHEN, ALAN STIVELL, and even a little bit of NIL, GENTLE GIANT, THE CHIEFTANS, HAPPY THE MAN, GRYPHON, DIXIE DREGS and even some Southern or Country Rock. Such an odd yet intriguing mix, no? I only hope/wish that this album gets the listens and attention I believe it deserves.

1. "A Child in the Mirror" (4:38) is another instrumental, here mixing Renaissance instruments/styles with TULL's Thick as a Brick/Passion Play era sounds/styles (and riffs!), yet also contains some kind of indescribable YES-like quality to it. I absolutely love the acoustic guitars and recorders in this song. (9/10)

2. "Isabella Sunset" (6:09) starts with piano and violin before drums, bass, flute and electric guitar join in--Baroque to rock in an instant! The vocal melody and lyric very much has the same feel as that of NIL or THIEVES' KITCHEN where the female singing is really just another instrument in the (very complicated) weave--here a beautifully trained operatic folk singer--often even mimicking the melody line of another instrument. A pretty song with, again, some very intricate songwriting construction. I hope the group continues to explore more multi-voice harmonic weaves as there are near the end of this one as I much prefer this kind of vocal weave to those barbershop quartet/Beach Boys-like ones of MOON SAFARI. Great outro. (8.75/10)

3. "Ena Pedi Ston Kathrefti" (6:01) is a beautiful jazz-folk song sung in Greek that has a melody that wiggles its way into your brain and won't let go. Beautiful folk vocal over jazzy, almost avant garde music. (9/10)

4. "A Storyteller's Dream" (7:09) is a beautiful song--yet another (mostly) instrumental--with a very strong grounding in folk traditions--not unlike THE PENTANGLE or ALTAN. For me, probably the album's most emotive song. I love the organ solo with strumming acoustic guitars and mellotron mid-song which builds into quite a jam! 10/10 IMHO, stands shoulder-to-shoulder with any of the all-time great prog-instrumentals. (15/15)

5. "Raindrops" (4:16) has a very pastoral, folk feel to it, with flute, acoustic guitar, bassoon, electric piano (?) and voice constantly weaving in and out of each other's melody lines. (8.5/10)

6. "An Endless Sea" (5:28) is a piano and acoustic guitar song that opens like a RENAISSANCE song from the 70s. When Evangelia's vocal enters it is only briefly before a shift in the song dynamics takes it into a little heavier, more insistent rock domain. At 1:50 everything calms down and returns to the folk-rock base that it opened to. Beautiful flute play (in lieu of a vocal for the second verse)! Interesting song bouncing back and forth--almost like a conversation being held between the folk and rock elements of the band. (8.75/10)

7. "Epirus--A Mountain Song" (4:58) begins with piano, clarinet and voice setting an almost chamber music-like scene. They are later joined and embellished by acoustic guitars, drums, electric bass, and electric guitar in a kind of IONA-like slightly amped up rock version of a folk song. I like the male background vocals on this one. More of this in the future would be nice. Pretty song. (9/10)

8. "Elisabeth" (7:09) is another instrumental tune that begins like an acoustic folk song before turning classical chamber music--perhaps even Renaissance music. Surprisingly, it goes to heavy rock power chords near the two minute mark, then digresses back to its pastoral yet intricate and sophisticated acoustic weave. Back and forth several more times--which, surprisingly, works really well--kind of like AFTER CRYING or some YES and KING CRIMSON. Some nice segues and added instruments (cello, organ) spice it up and keep it from getting too repetitive, predictable or boring. Halfway through, the back beat falls into a very standard Country and Western beat--which again works! (13/15)

9. "I Stigmi--The Moment" (3:14) is a very classy folk-jazz-classical chamber piece with keys, electric guitar, and woodwinds noodling around over a standard C&W bass & drums back beat. The guitar picking even seems to come right out of Nashville. I love the fact that Evangelia Kozoni's vocals are being sung in her native Greek. (9/10)

10. "A Garden of Delights" (8:24) has a very Greek JETHRO TULL beginning to it. The near-operatic vocals of Evangelia Kozoni change this--as does the very catchy chorus, giving the song much more of its own identity. Music and lyric/vocal together lead us on a journey quite like a classic Greek play--full of many twists and turns, trying to get us to see sense and joy against the backdrop of a very arduous life of pain and struggle. Quite a journey! Quite a powerful, convoluted song! A true example of what I'd call classic progressive rock. (13.5/15)

90.0 on the Fish scales = A-/4.5 stars. It is, IMHO, a near-masterpiece of  progressive rock music--and a wonderful debut. This is a sound I hope to hear a lot more of in the future.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Top Albums for the Year 2009, Part 1: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2009
(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.  

     2009 offered some absolutely breathtaking new music from artists practicing quite a wide variety of styles. My Favorites List has albums representing no less than nine sub-genres. An excellent year in terms of quantity and quality, I have on my List two (2) full masterpieces, 11 minor masterpieces, and 16 near-masterpieces of progressive rock music.
     2009 also happens to be the year in which I returned to progressive rock music after a self-imposed 15 year hiatus (my focus was on family, raising two daughters). With the introduction of the Internet to my life I found myself astounded and delighted at the discovery of web-sites dedicated to progressive rock music! Thanks to the Uzbekistani one-man production calling itself ProgressoR ("The Battle Station on the Virtual Rock Front Supporting the Progressive Rock Movement" @ http://www.progressor.net/), Prognosis (https://www.proggnosis.com/), Sea of Tranquility (https://www.seaoftranquility.org/), New England's ProgressiveEars (now defunct), and, especially, the immense, amazing, and vibrant community at ProgArchives (http://www.progarchives.com/), I have been able to discover and hear over 100 albums released in 2009--from which I have derived these lists.  

The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel 
2. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second
3. GA'AN - Ga'an
4. THE BOX D’après le horla de Montpassant
6. MAGMA Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré
7. TOE For Long Tomorrow
8. AIRBAG Identity
9. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples
10. AISLES In Sudden Walks

11. ARCANE Chronicles of the Waking Dream
12. BEARDFISH Destined Solitaire
13. BIG BIG TRAIN The Underfall Yard
14. KOTEBEL Ouroboros
16. iNFiNiEN iNFiNiEN
18. CIRRUS BAY A Step into Elsewhere
19. GAZPACHO Tick Tock
20. PINKROOM Psychosolstice 

21. THE CHURCH Untitled #23
22. CASPIAN Tertia
23. KARNIVOOL Sound Awake 
24. ANUBIS 230503
25. YVES POTIN Out of The City
26. WOBBLER Afterglow
28. PRESENT Barbaro (Ma non troppo)
29. IZZ The Darkened Room
30. RISHLOO Feathergun

Honorable Mentions: 
LEPROUS Tall Poppy Syndrome 
DELIRIUM Il nome de vento
KARDA ESTRA Weird Tales 
MONO Hymn to the Immortal
SUBSIGNAL Beautiful and Monstrous  

The Reviews

5 star Masterpieces
(rankings of 100 to 93.34)

***** Album of the Year for 2009! *****

1. PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel

In this 2009 release from Polish band, PROGHMA-C, self-proclaimed “musical evolutionists, I have found my favorite metal album of all time. Most songs feel as though I’m hearing the rhythm section of TOOL with lead guitar work akin to U2’ s THE EDGE Evans, keyboard work reminiscent of VANGELIS in his 70s, 80s, and ambient/New Age soundtrack era, and some of the most diverse vocal stylings I’ve ever heard on an album—coming from lone vocalist extraordinaire, Piotr 'BOB' Gibner. Gibner’s screaming/growling is actually fitting, melodic, and easy to decipher; his narration on “FO” is awesome, and his versatile singing voice crosses between that of MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN, MR. BUNGLE/FAITH NO MORE’s MIKE PATTON, and DEPECHE MODE’s DAVID GAHAN.

1. “Kana” (9:05) opens with some odd electro/world sounds before an awesome mix-meter rhythm section settles in. The treated vocal has a very cool TED NUGENT feel to it until the growling begins. Around 1:30 the music switches to muted guitar/bass rhythm with ‘BOB’ Gibner’s vocals taking on quite a Maynard James style and feel. But it’s such an awesome combination! The “chorus” is really a full-frontal return to the opening themes. Then in one of the band’s trademark surprise twists, the lead guitar stars doing some Edge/Adrian Belew like playing. With the return to the B section I notice for the first time the David Gahan timbre in BOB’s voice. Such an awesome voice! At 4:22 another unexpected turn occurs with an almost POLOICE “Synchronicity” section—definitely a jazzed up, ANDY SUMMERs-like lead section. 5:05 we return to the original rhythm but broken down to such sparse sound with snare, hi-hat and guitar doing their syncopated odd metered rhythm. Then at 6:03 enter the eerily echoing and slow decaying slow guitar arpeggios—like something from an Eno Ambient album—and yet the metal rhythm section continues! This is simply incredible music! These guys truly are innovators and “musical evolutionists.”  I urge all of you to at least listen to this first song—it’s available on YouTube (as are all of the album’s songs as well as the album as a whole). (20/20)

2. “FO” (6:40) opens with some awesome Edge-like guitar play before Gibner’s slightly treated voice begins reading/reciting a narrative in English. At 1:28, the music breaks, some odd percussives fill the space, then we return to the odd-metered syncopation and vocal narration for a little while longer, until at 2:08 the growl-screams take over. Then, surprise!—at 2:42 a soft, beautifully sensitive voice similar to that of MARIUZ DUDA takes over the singing. But this guy is better! He has such amazing control and the ability to do some shockingly subtle things with his vocal instrument! At the four minute mark we are treated to a bare-bones breakdown of the rhythm while a BLADE RUNNER-like horn-synthesizer slowly shifts its pitches while at the same time At 5:14 all but the drums disappear while a series of slowly strummed chords fill the center while odd spacey synth noises float around behind and around. Incredible song! Incredible ending! Another song I URGE you to listen to! (10/10)

3. “Spiralling To Another” (9:31) opens with some very spacey, etheric guitar play before the familiar syncopated, mixed-metered rhythm section establishes itself. Gibner’s voice enters with his Mariuz Duda sound—yet so much more sensitive and emotional. At 2:52 it gets heavy and the growling crashes into the field—but it never detracts or overwhelms the incredible music going on and lyrically can still be understood. Guitar chords strummed singly Then the music seems to ‘get stuck’ as guitar notes, bass line, cymbol play and choppy vocal play. A return to rapid rhythm sets up for guitarist Parweł 'SMAGA' Smakulski to do his awesome EDGE EVANS stylings. At 7:22 the full-force barrage of rhythms and growl/screams returns while SMAGA continues his trance-like guitar strumming. At 8:20 the music turns full metal, feeling like a TOOL song playing into infinity—then it stops! Another awesome song. While not quite as good as the first two, it too deserves a (18.75/20) in my opinion. (The other two should be turned up to eleven.)
4. “Spitted Out” (1) (3:20) establishes itself with another heavy complicated rhythm—this one sounding/feeling quite like a FAITH NO MORE song. At 1:30 the vocalist enters with his growl/screams. 20 seconds later he switches to more normal screaming, again, not unlike the rap-styling of FAITH NO MORE’s MIKE PATTON, before returning to growls. (8/10)
5. “Spitted Out (Out)” (3:57) is the album’s second (part? or version?) with this title. It starts out with a completely different sound—establishing a kind of KING CRIMSON “Discipline” weave amongst its musicians. Slowing down, breaking it down, speeding it up--the band toys around with the riffs and beat before letting the SMAGA break out with a proper metal electric guitar lead (the album’s first!) Though nothing earth-shattering, the guitarist’s confidence with bending the song’s key to his chormatically shifting scales is noteworthy and admirable. (9/10)
6. “So Be-live” (5:48) opens with a fade in with electric (Fender Rhodes?) piano and jazzy bass and drums and finger icked electric guitar parts weaving into a slow and methodic tapestry. The whispery voice used by BOB is quite perfect for the litl and fluidity of the music. At 2:04 the music shifts toward the now more familiar TOOL-like rhythm structures. BOB’s “Duda voice” gives this section a very RIVERSIDE-like feel. But then--surprise!--the distinct shift to the DAVID GAHAN voice occurs as synth playing portamento in the background toys with the song’s mood in a VANGELIS-kind of way. Then—wow!--growl/screams take over and add an amazing intensity to this incredible song! (10/10)
7. “I Can't Illuminate with You” (2:29) (5/5) opens with what sounds like a sustained note being bowed on the lowest ranges of a stand-up double bass. As the intro plays out it becomes evident—with the help of all the other BLADE RUNNER-like “future”/space sounds—that the note is coming from a Vangelis-like synthesizer. The song, it turns out, is actually an intro to the next song, as it seamlessly bleeds into and becomes…

8. “Naan” (8:57) opens with another syncopated mixed-meter rhythm but this time the VANGELIS-like keyboards and playful JAN AKKERMAN-like rhythm work of the lead guitar pronounce something new and fresh. At the one minute mark all instrumentation merge into a 30-second single chord. Awesome. Then BOB’s sensitive Duda Voice enters to break the spell. The ensuing music scape is TOOL-like yet flittering about are the EDGE-like guitar effects. The vocals which follow are unmistakably DEPECH MODE-like. What an amazing vocal talent!! And an amazing lyric! So powerful! Not Duda, Gahan, Keenan, or Patton could hold a candle to the light of this singer! At 6:28 there is a shift into a discordant chord sequence with a whispered voice and syncopated snare and bass section. At 7:25 the music has evolved into full band paly again, with BOB’s “Maynard voice” taking over. Echoed growls blending into the cymbal play are the last vocals to be heard in this one. Awesome! Again! (19.25/20)
9. “Army Of Me” (Björk Cover) (6:33) opens with waxing and waning synth note—(sounds like a Prophet 5) before the standard Proghma-C/Tool rhythm track establishes itself. Then the vocal is introduces—understated and delicate—before an absolutely stunning multi-tracked vocal chorus is unleashed on us. Alternating back and forth from controlled single voice to , passing through empty spaces and synth-solo-dominated sections, we are treated to a song whose original version is both lost to me and immaterial. This is an awesome song no matter who wrote it! (10/10)

I don’t think I’ve ever given out so many 10/10s in a review before, but that's how highly I think of each song—and is a reflection of how much I enjoy listening to this entire album. Probably my favorite driving CD during the past four months. I do want to mention how incredible I think the mesmerizing and yet tight is the work of drummer Łukasz 'KUMAN' Kumański and his cohort on bass, Michał 'VASKI' Górecki; they carry out the complicated, sometimes breathtaking rhythms flawlessly. Mega kudos, boys.
96.52 on the Fish scales = a five star masterpiece. This is one of those times that I wish I could post a rating of 6 stars—to indicate something incredibly special. The band claim that their music is intended to contribute to “Enhancing the palette of our musical universe.” I for one think that they are succeeding in this capacity. This is fresh stuff!  HIGHLY RECOMMENDED to ALL progheads!

2. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second

Up to hearing this album I had never heard of maudlin of the Well. Nor had I ever heard any Kayo Dot. But the hype for Part the Second (a free-off-of-the-Internet album) lured me in--for an amazing journey. That music--NEW music, like this--can be conceptualized, played, and performed at such a high level of mastery, (especially Mia Matsumiya's virtuosic violin playing), is, for me, so uplifting and hopeful. I was beginning to think that music would never get out of the ABACAB paradigm and never allow the mix of classic "orchestral" and "rock" instruments. But here we are. Thank you Toby Driver (and the donor/fans who pushed for this music).

Let me start by saying that "Excerpt from 6,000,000,000,000 Miles Before the First, or, theRevisitation of the Blue Ghost" (10:56) (20/20) and "Laboratories of the Invisible World (Rollerskating the Cosmic Palmistric Postborder)" (11:50) (25/25) (the album's first and last songs) are two of the most amazing songs I've ever heard in my life. Even after fifty listenings I find myself awed by these two creations, picking up new and defferent nuances and phrases. The three songs in-between ("Another Excerpt: Keep Light Near You, Even When Dying" [5:59] [9/10], "Rose Quartz Turning to Glass" [7:30] [13.5/15], and " Clover Garland Island" [8:18] [16/20]) seem to belong together, kind of like a suite, tied together by the strong presence of violin and cello--which are breathtaking in both beauty and virtuosity.

I cannot but help agree with those who have christened this LP as new classic, a true masterpiece. It is difficult for me to imagine even the possibility of a "better" album coming out this year.

94.21 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece, a classic, one of the greatest "progressive" rock albums ever made.

The Minor Masterpieces:
(Ratings of 90.0 to 93.33)

3. GA'AN Ga'an

 I've been listening to this album for months now at first with utter amazement and now with total respect and admiration. That a group of young musicians from Chicago would latch on to the Zeuhl sound to such a degree as to create this amazing and refreshing album of upbeat, beautiful music is astounding but that they could actually add something quite significant to the Zeuhl lexicon is even more astounding. This is a collection of songs that, like the MAGMA discography, has a flow and continuity which makes it feel cohesive, comprehensive and conceptual. And, as I said, with their unique use of keyboards (including lots of mellotron!), excellent drumming, and wonderful operatic vocals from Dominique Ga'an has added something new, fresh, upbeat and positive to the world of Kobaia. In fact, that may be what makes this album so listenable, so entrancing, and so addicting is its lighter, upbeat, 'optimistic' feel and sound. Though in reality I would have trouble telling one song from another--this is because I have never listened to them in isolation from one another; I always listen to the album start to finish--it just flows that way and once you start you just want to keep going till it's over! So, as I said, it's hard to distinguish one song from the next, I know that each song has its unique individuality. For example,

1. "Chasmaeon" (7:01) has its awesome mellotron "Gregorian Chant" opening before TANGERINE DREAM keyboards join in. From 2:15 to 3:00 the full complement of instrumental structure is gradually put on display: keys, drums, guitar arpeggi, and Lindsay Powell's incredibly gorgeous voice. Then, beginning at 4:10 the pace is awesomely doubled, slowed down, doubled again, back and forth throughout the rest of the song in this amazing play on the listener's emotions. The bass, drums, mellotron Gregorian chant, and Linday Powell lead chant is rising and falling, twisting and turning, taking us on this rollercoaster of Zeuhl heaven. This must be Nebëhr Gudahtt's life after death place! (15/15)

On 2. "Living Tribunal" (8:12) the mellotron voices are turned into the upper "female" octaves while the more vibrated, slow picked bass and militarized dance drumming take over three minutes to prep us for Lindsay's plaintive call--and mesmerizing is her summons! She is my siren! I will willingly do your bidding, Zeuhl Princess! Enter electric guitar to mirror and amplify Lindsay's hypnotic call all the while drums, bass, and keys maintain a constant thrum of insistent support. This is prog heaven, to be sure! Chicago! These are 'kids'--a new generation of prog devotees! Hallelujah! Towards the end the drums and especially the bass begin to embellish their play. Awesome! (15/15)

3. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 1" (5:00) opens, again, with keyboard chord hits most familiar to us from the 1970s work of TANGERINE DREAM before very quickly being joined by the bass and drumming so familiar to us from the Zuehl world. High octave keys and wildly motive bass play are the highlights to the first half of this song as Lindsay's gorgeous mid-octave chanting stays mostly in the background. (8/10)

4. "I Of Infinite Forms Pt. 2" (6:06) flowing continuously from the previous song, there is a noticeable shift in style and tempo, but it is really only a bridge before the song builds back into a more tightly woven version of the tapestry of the Part 1. Where the difference really begins to show is with the addition of tubular bells (!) and Lindsay's more frenetic insistent chanting. Mid song the rhythm section virtually drops out for a bridge in which Lindsay and the tubular bells take center stage. By 3:40 a new rhythm and sound has been established that is more keyboard centered and keyboard dominant while LIndsay and the rhythm section pretty much maintain their style and melodies if slightly slowed down. Amazing drumming in the last minute! (9/10)

5. "Servant Eye" (6:31) opens as if on a continuous thread from previous songs--kind of a melding of the opening song with the previous one. A brief bridge of "Gregorian Chant" mellotron chords at 0:45 allows for a complete transition into a new vocal chant pattern and a new keyboard arpeggio foundation. Then at 2:00 occurs another shift--establishing whole new pace and rhythm pattern from the rhythm section while also introducing a more "angelic" voice mellotron chord sequence pattern while Lindsay's vocal almost disappears for a while. In the final two minutes the bass and lead female chant step forward to take the lead while the pace behind quickens to a rhapsodic frenzy! Awesome! (9/10)

6. "Vultures Of The Horn" (7:16) is perhaps the most maturely structured, least frenzied and tempermental song on the album which makes it seem more sedate and less emotional yet the keyboard, drum and vocal work are incredible for their display of subtle mastery. (13.5/15)

I honestly cannot say that there is another Zeuhl album I've ever felt this kind of affinty and attachment to since I first heard MDK. Eskaton, Xing Sa, and Universal Totem Orchestra are the only others that come to mind as having the kind of fresh beauty that I feel from Ga'an. As raw as it is for its being a debut record, this is without a doubt one of the premier Zeuhl albums I've ever heard. And from a group of young musicians from Chicago!! Bravo! I am so excited to see a new generation of artists latching onto and carrying forward the Zeuhl torch!

92.67 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a wonderful example of essential Zeuhl coming from outside of France.

4. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples

This is the third of RICCARDO PRENCIPE's neo-medieval folk fashioned music presentations. This album sees a definite step forward in the compositions' leanings toward folk and medieval music and away from straightforward neoclassical music. For me, this pays off with The Stones of Naples feeling like the most accessible and most enjoyable Corde Oblique album yet. Plus, The Stones of Naples enjoys the benefit of vocal contributions of no less than six woman, each of outstanding voice, including: Caterina Pontrandolfo (familiar to us from the previous album, Volontrà d'arte) on songs 1, 6 and 10; Floriana Cangiano on songs 2 and 9; Claudia Sorvillo on songs 4 and 11, Monica Pinto, Geraldine Le Cocq and Alessandra Santovito on songs 7, 5, and 3, respectively.

     Because of this last fact, I will add that more than either of Riccardo's previous two Corde Oblique albums, this one is much more song/ballad oriented. You have to travel eight songs into the album before you get to an instrumental, and, again, unlike the previous albums, this one has much more of a medieval folk feel to it. This album contains songs of such consistently high standards that are all so enjoyable that I prefer to not single out any songs that I like more than any others (though, between you and me, I find myself swooning with absolute bliss during this string of five songs: "Flower Bud," "Flying," "Like an Ancient Black and White Movie," "La città dagli occhi neri," and "Nostalgica avanguardia"). Let's just say from the album's opening notes and song to its last you are in for a real treat.

1. "La quinta ricerca" (3:13) opens the album with Riccardo's lute serving notice that this is going to be music that feels like it comes from five hundred years ago. When sublime singer Caterina Pontrandolfo joins in with the accompaniment some other medieval instrumental accompanying her the ancient resolve is affirmed. An orchestral finale is unexpected but wonderful. (10/10)

2. "Venti di sale" (5:29) is opened with solo grand piano for the first minute--laying down some gorgeous introductory work--before vocalist Floriana Cangiano and a full force folk ensemble rush into the void with some quite dynamically diverse music--both acoustic guitars, violin, and hand percussion, and modern (fretless bass and drums). Lacking a memorable melodic hook to make this total ear candy. (9/10) 

3. "Flower Bud" (5:46) a stunningly gorgeous song with just the music but then you add the incredibly sensitive vocal of Alessandra Santovito (in English!) and you get bliss, utter bliss. The start of that string of five songs of Olympian perfection. (10/10)  

4. "Flying" (5:44) is a gorgeous remake of an ANATHEMA song (from 2003's A Natural Disaster), with the crystalline pipes of Claudia Sorvillo delivering the vocal--though she is later beautifully doubled (by another vocalist?). The rock drumming and piccolo-like arpeggio notes from the classical guitar in the final minute and a half are sublime! (10/10)

5. "Like An Ancient Black & White Movie" (2:10) opens with delicate piano, strings and Riccardo's classical guitar setting up a dreamy mood for yet another stunning vocal (the third one in a row in English!) this time by the ethereal KATE BUSH-like voice of Geraldine Le Cocq. (10/10) 

6. "La Città Dagli Occhi Neri" (5:44). Caterina Pontrandolfo, voice of the opener, returns to sing this one in Italian, accompanied by Riccardo's lute and bass. Though it feels like she is singing in a relaxed, even lazy fashion, her slight rasp and gently trilling vibrato are sheer perfection here. Drums and rock instruments join in for the final 1:10 as Caterina sings some non-lexical vocables with the violin. (10/10) 

7. "Nostalgica Avanguardia" (5:14) a gentle, almost religious-feeling song as sung by Monica Pinto in Italian. The music becomes almost Gypsy fast while Monica continues to sing with what feels like respect and reverence. (9/10)

8. "The Quality Of Silence" (1:48) is a nice little instrumental duet between Riccardo and pianist Luigi Rubino. (8/10)

9. "Barrio Gotico" (7:16) sees the return of Floriana Cangiano to the vocal mic as Riccardo and a simple Spanish folk ensemble supports. Riccardo on guitar, hand percussionist Michele Maione also on board. Well performed but a little long-winded and monotonous--though the final two minutes sounds like primo soundtrack music to a classic Italian Spaghetti Western. (8/10)

10. "Dal Castello Di Avella" (3:58) Caterina Pontrandolfo returns to the vocal helm for the third and final time with a song brimming with feelings of love and nostalgia. This woman could sing anyone into peace, calm, and, dare I say it, love. The spiritual intentions behind her singing remind me of American spiritual singer, SHAINA NOLL. An eminently simple song--just Caterina and Riccardo--but one that comes across as utter perfection! (10/10)

11. "La Gente Che Resta" (3:24) opens with solo clarinet before a fully-scored folk troupe gather behind him in support of another Claudia Sorvillo vocal effort. The clarinet interplay behind and with the vocal is quite magical but the song lacks any memorable melodies. (8/10)

12. "Piscina Mirabilis" (2:56) is a nice little solo classical guitar piece from Riccardo to close out the album. Nice. (9/10) 

92.50 on the Fishscales = a five star masterpiece of progressive rock (folk) music.

5. MAGMA Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré

It has only been one year since my initiation into the world of Kobaia and Zeuhl. CHRISTIAN VANDER's world astounds me. His attention to detail and heart-felt all-out effort is nothing short of amazing. Some of the words that come to mind when trying to convey the spell of MAGMA's music include "otherworldly," "operatic," "ecstatic," and "ritualistic." While many reviewers write praise of Magma's disciplined and virtuosic instrumentalists, I am ever blown away by the vocal performances and choir arrangements. This is especially the case throughout "Ëmëhntëhtt-RéII" (22:24) (42.75/45)--one of the best--if not the best--example of Vander's genius I've had the good fortune of hearing. I'm having trouble assigning this album an overall rating because, as some other reviewers have said, it doesn't seem to have enough "new" music or show enough of the group's "progress." It does, however, amply display the steadfastness, sharpness, and enthusiasm of Vander and crew in their commitment to this musical vision. In terms of "Best Album of the Year" and boldly going where no music has gone before, Vander and Toby Driver will have to duke it out for a while to see who really comes out on top.

10/15/2010 edit: The MAGMA album I keep turning to when I want to hear them (their best) is MDK. It seems still so fresh, raw, and seemless. Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré, while so polished and amazing because it's a 21st century composition with revitalized and revamped cast, has faded some with time. Even the awesome and amazing "Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré II" has lost some of its initial luster. When I want to dance and scream, its MDK for me, thank you very much.

4/23/2016 edit:  Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré has regained some of its lustre--especially for the middle three pieces, II, III and the glorious IV. Definitely a masterpiece of Zeuhl, of Magma, of progressive rock music.

92.0 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.


Originally released in 2009 and then re-released with a slightly changed format by AltrOck Productions in 2015, Kansas City's uber-talented multi-instrumentalist, Mike Judge has created a fine collection songs that he virtually created tout seul save for a little assistance from WHITE WILLOW's Jacob Holm LUPO (on songs 2 and 8). This album is so incredibly rich, diverse, and layered that it has taken me months to get to know it, get familiar with it, and even begin to contemplate organizing my thoughts and feelings into a review. Even now, with my umptieth listen, I am still uncovering gems of sound and style within each and every song. There are so many styles woven into this album--into each song--that it's very difficult to describe. This might be considered a Canterbury style album in its melodic, almost poppy jazz rock sounds and arrangements and biting, clever lyrics, but . . . it's not really. For a one-man band I have to say the the bass play, drumming, keys, vocals, lyrics, and, especially, guitar play are all top notch. And the sound production and mixing is superlative.

Five star songs:  the GONG/Canterbury-like 7. "With Joy We Espy the Sarcophagus" (6:22) (10/10); 4. "Whistling Wire" (4:39) (10/10); 1. "The Confidence-Man" (6:13) (9.5/10); 6. "Rayuela" (4:43) (9.5/10); 8. "Grimoire" (3:34) (9.5/10); 3. "Knives of Winter - Coronation Day" (7:23) (9/10); 

Four star songs:  2. "City of Narrows" (6:24) (8.5/10); 5. "Knives of Summer" (10:20) (8.5/10), and; 9. "Abrazo y Caminando" (4:11) (8/10). 

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

Check out it's wonderfully complex and mature songs, like "The Confidence Man," "Whistling Wire," and "With Joy We Espy the Sarcophagus."

7. BEARDFISH Destined Solitaire

A Swedish band whose Gentle Giant, Echolyn, and Frank Zappa influences are so pronounced that one often has to do a double check. Lead vocalist Rikard Sjöblom's unaccented American voice is a flawless clone of Brett Kull's (or THE TEA CLUB's MacGowan brothers or UNAKA PRONG's John Hargett).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rikard Sjöblom / vocals, keyboards, guitar (left speaker), accordion, percussion
- David Zackrisson / guitar (right speaker), percussion, backing vocals
- Robert Hansen / bass, backing vocals
- Magnus Östgren / drums, percussion

1. "Awaken the Sleeping" (6:01) quite the bombastic opening (an instrumental)--crash and banging away--before slipping into a GG klezmer-ish motif to mix things up. These two motifs alternate for a 90 seconds before a bouncy piano veers us toward more true ELP/Gentle Giant territory. Incredible performances from all musicians--and the sound/tracks are so clean and crisp! There's even some humor emanating from the keys before all goes Roger King synth wash. (9/10)

2. "Destined Solitaire" (10:53) great Gentle Giant music (on the heavy side) supporting Rikard's witty, angry Ozzy Osbourne/Greg Lake-like vocal performance. There are several totally unexpected stylistic twists and turns despite retaining a rolling GG feel. (17.25/20)

3. "Until You Comply (including Entropy)" (15:21) laid back GENTLE GIANT with Hammond open this one until Rikard's McGowan vocal takes us into the world and sound of THE TEA CLUB. There certainly are many flourishes coming from Rikard's keys that are more Keith Emerson than Kerry Minear. (27/30)

4. "In Real Life There Is No Algebra" (4:33) now traipsing into a territory that feels and sounds more like Frank ZAPPA, the band wear it well. This is even true of the lyrics and singing style. (8.875/10)

5. "Where the Rain Comes In" (8:29) two minutes of dynamic and diverse instrumentalism is mellowed just before Rikard's vocal begins. This feels like a mix of AMBROSIA and ECHOLYN. The  next instrumental segment sounds like a mix of GENTLE GIANT and FOCUS. Rikard's next brief vocal burst signals a switch into a more diverse, Latin-rhythmed instrumental passage. The half-talked vocal passage about (almost) getting a job is funny--and followed by a passage that kind of recapitulates all of the song's previous themes. (18/20)

6. "At Home... Watching Movies (1:53) Spanish flamenco music! With ELP-like singing! (5/5)

7. "Coup de Grâce" (9:49) an accordion-based instrumental song! Excellent melodies and dynamic and stylistic variety. A top three song for me. (18.75/20)

8. "Abigail's Questions (In an Infinite Universe)" (9:12) I hear some great ECHOLYN-like melodies and quirk on this one. The the Gentle Giant influences take a distant back seat. In fact, I'm more often reminded of NYC-based band FROGG CAFÉ over the long course of this one than I am of GG. My favorite song on the album. (19/20)

9. The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of" (10:40) Quite a striking THE MARS VOLTA feel and sound to this one. Great vocal performance--almost Donald Fagen-like--but mostly he sounds kind of like a BRUCE DICKINSON-CEDRIC BIXLER-CHILDISH GAMBINO blend! The GENTLE GIANT element comes storming to the front at the end of the fourth minute but then get pushed back by the TMV motifs at the five-minute mark. Another GREAT song. My final top three song. (18.5/20)

Total Time 76:51

A long album of intense, quirky, complex, though often melodic, songs. The highs are worthy of consideration for prog perfection, the lows are minor irritants.
Hearing the two Sleeping in Traffic albums back when I first joined PA I decided that this was a band not worth my time, but I've just listened to this album and I can't get enough! So, I went back into the band's earlier discography and all I can say is that Wow! has this band evolved, developed, gained confidence and SKILL since their early days. Their progression and development  since Sleeping in Traffic Part 1 has been astronomical! Even in one year, since Sleeping in Traffic, Part 2, I see tremendous growth in terms of skill, compositional sophistication, and the confident assimilation and synthesis of many of prog's toughest styles--including GENTLE GIANT and ECHOLYN, yet bringing an ease, melodic genius, and humour that is so winning. And singer Rikard Sjölom's voice has matured, gained confidence and ease, and offers such witty, sophisticated American English lyrics that I am simply blown away! There were actually five or six songs all vying strongly for my Top Three!

91.21 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars;  a minor masterpiece of sophisticated, eclectic, and virtuosic progressive rock music. Definitely an essential pickup for any prog lover!

8. KOTEBEL Ouroboros

Wonderful high-energy prog bordering on jazz-fusion from Spain's best. This album notes the loss of OMAR ACOSTA's amazing flute play as well as, sadly, the amazing voice of operatic singer CAROLINA PRIETO (thought she does perform on the bonus "live" performance of the epic "Mysticae Visones"), but the band still manages to produce mind-blowing songs, sounds, and play. Bassist-extraordinaire Jaime PASCUAL is really on fire throughout! And the PLAZA family father-daughter keyboard team (Carlos and Adriana) is really stepping up their game. The only thing lacking, IMHO, is a little more melody to keep the listener engaged.

Line-up / Musicians:
- César García Forero / guitar, keyboards (3)
- Carlos Plaza / keyboards, piano solo (3)
- Adriana Plaza / keyboards
- Jaime Pascual / bass
- Carlos Franco / drums, percussion
- Carolina Prieto / vocals (7)

1. "Amphisbaena" (7:28) faultless, virtuosic musicianship over this dynamic song. Some nice melodies to latch onto. (13.5/15)

2. "Ouroboros" (16:07) César Garcia Forero's guitar competing with both Adriana and Carlos's synths is stunning! Then piano and xylophone take over the battle with Jaime's bass and César's guitars joining in. At 3:45 César introduces the melodic hook around which all else is then built--picked up by Carlos during a spacey interlude before Jaime, César and drums rejoin. Things pick up and even get a little frantic in the fifth and sixth minutes before a real slow down in the seventh which turns into a kind of freaky walk through some kind of house of mirrors or eerie dark alley. When the piano leads the band back into a nice forward pace in the tenth minute, the new music has an interesting ELP jazziness to it--a circular piano theme that affects the whirlpool of music played by all of the other musicians over the course of the next four minutes. When the piano the big bass chords to bring it all to an end, the other band members have to stop and come to terms with their new surroundings of spaciousness. Guitar, Mellotron, and bass lead the way into a new Crimsonian weave to the song's ultimate and surprising end. Not the most melodic of song suites, this is more than made up for by the fact that there is the sense that a real story got played out here. Amazing! (27/30)

3. "Satyrs" (7:26) cool drumming and bass playing with abrasive and Hammond organ leading the way. The second minute sounds as if Robert Fripp was having one of his angular chord fests: "Which dirty/raunchy chords can I throw together to rile up the audience (and other band members)?" There's a real 1970s YES "Close to the Edge" feel to this music. I keep expecting in the frequent little pauses a bank of harmonized boices to sing, "Ahh!" Interesting, to say the very least. Let's call it, "The Solid Time of Change, II." At first I wasn't really liking this (the sound palette) but ended up loving it! (14/15)

4. "Simurgh" (13:09) a minimalist start with piano and percussion arpeggi repeating in an odd time signature while drums, bass, and guitar try to work their way into the weave. César Garcia Forero works in some of the catchiest melodies and lead guitar play to ever grace the Kotebel discography until the end of the fourth minute when a shift in pace and motif drives the music forward from the potent playing drummer Carlos Franco. Hard-hitting piano and bass accent and support Carlos' driving play while César picks up his lead deliverance of melody and fire. In the eighth minute, piano and bass really shine (Jaime is on fire!) within which we get a whole passage in which César's Allan Holdsworth-like playing meshes with the Plazas' keys and Carlos and Jaimie's drums and bass, respectively, giving it such a sound like something from the 1978-9 BRUFORD ensemble. Wonderful stuff! Great finish! (22.75/25)

5. "Behemoth" (7:40) slow, plodding start with deep low ends and ear-piercingly high piano and synth play open this for the first three minutes. Jaime's rolling bass play is so perfect for a lumbering beast, and the odd panning synths give it such a mysterious feel. In the fifth minute Jaime is pretty much given the lead while the rest "join in" and act as if following or attacking the beast. Occasional pauses make one wonder what is happening, but the classical-sounding piano play is so captivating and beautiful that one forgets (and, frankly, doesn't care), but then Jaime's personalized bass returns amidst curtains of synth washes and cymbal crashes while César and Carlos Plaza seem to portray the trail of destruction the beast (inadvertently?) leaves in its wake. Cool theme music for a Godzilla-like scene. (13.5/15)

6. "Legal Identity v1.5" (3:54) a repetitive BRUFORD "Hell's Bells"-like full-band weave of ripping-fast staccato notes is stripped down to piano only for a minute or so in the third minute so that Carlos' synth rapier can do its work. Back to the frenetic "Hell's Bells" weave for César to deliver not one but two stunning Allan Holdsworth-like soli. Not so melodic but impressive as hell playing. (9/10)

- Bonus track - Recorded at Gouveia Art Rock 2001 :
7. "Mysticae Visiones" (live) (16:23) an epic suite from the band's 2002 release of the same name, here we have César playing, as he does on the studio version, at his breakneck, frenetic speed, while Carlos Plaza's keyboard chord play supports. The presence of Adriana's piano, Carlos Franco's drums, and Jaime's virtuosic bass play give this such fuller dimension than the original. Then, of course, we are graced by the incredible vocal talents of Ms. Prieto as she mesmerizes like a siren with her vocalise. The following sections are noteworthy for their "normalcy" that is, their display of (relative) simplicity. In comparison to the compositonal complexity and instrumental difficulties of their more recent songs, one can determine just how far the band (and Carlos) have come in their musical and compositional evolution. Theere are parts that play out just like jazz passages, with the band pretty much setting up for other members' solos, sometimes playing some fairly simple and straightforward chord progressions--something the band post 2008 never does. Again, every part of this performance only holds light to the fact of the band's tremendous and exponentially expansive growth; what was a collective of fledglings in 2001 are now a celebration of virtuosi! 

Total Time 72:07

In my opinion, from 2006, with the release of Omphalos, to 2017, when the band released its fourth album, Cosmology, no band in Prog World released a quadrille of albums on as high a level as Kotebel, and though this album gets less return visits from me than Omphalos or 2012's  Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble, the quality of play from all musicians involved has never been higher than it is on Ouroboros.

90.91 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music--music that would be loved by any and all who like and appreciate complex, virtuosic performances in the same vein as BRUFORD, UK, ÄNGLGÅRD, and THIEVES KITCHEN. 


Rock Progressivo Italiano and prog lovers in general: You're missing some GREAT music if you haven't heard Predo! These guys can play. Discovered through the HIGHLY RECOMMENDED Colossus Project "Kalevala: A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic" I have been blown away by the freshness and clarity of this music. Recorded so cleanly, using so many sounds in such unusual combinations, and constructed with such nuance and unpredictability it is a true listening adventure. (Put on the headphones!) Lots of piano and acoustic guitars, crisp drumming, and bass playing that is so alluring as to constantly draw my attention from the rest of the ensemblature. One very noticeable element of Predo's recording is the wonderful and brilliant use of space within the music; they don't fill every second for the sake of filling space; they let the sounds, chords, and melodies seep, percolate and fill your soul. And the singing is in Italian!

1. “Re Schiavo--Part 1" (6:21) is, at times, somewhat on the rock edge, kind of  like SAGA, yet other times the bass and piano inerplay reminds one of a jazz CHICK COREA jazz concert. The drum playing is very solid, if mixed a bit in the background. (9/10)

2. "Preda--Part 1" (6:49) starts with a TONY LEVIN-esque funk bass line before turning into an intermittently hard rocking, sometimes 'lounge' feeling, sometimes JEFF BECK-feeling piece. Also has a SYLVAN "Force of Gravity" feel to it. Definitely defies eras and music styles. Love the bass playing (PINO PALLADINO-ish?) (12/15)

3. "Preda--Part 2" (6:07) begins with some heavy guitar riffing and steamy organ soloing playing over the same jazzy bass playing and solid drumwork from "Part 1" before segueing into some soli from some pretty unusual synth and guitar sounds. The three minute mark reintroduces a kind of 'light metal' theme over BRUFORD-esqu snare, then suddenly a lounge jazz piano shows up to solo over this driving theme. A brief, strange and unpredictable lull with some treated vocals appears just before the song exits with its original driving pace. Interesting song, to say the least! (8.5/10)

4. "Gabriel" (7:10) enters with a softer feel, piano lead, and moves quickly into a complicated and tempo-rolling vocal section. Here is where this group's compositional use of space, pause, and sustain really show itself. Brilliant. To my mind, this shows great courage, confidence and maturity. My favorite instrument of this group, Daniele Vitalone's fretless bass gets a very cool fusion solo (EBERHARD WEBER?) at the 3:50 minute mark before the song surprises with a brief foray into high energy guitar chords and solo. The song decays beautifully with synth and piano outro. Wonderful song-writing filled with many catchy, though often all-too brief melodies. Like a train ride in the mountains: alternating lulls and breathtaking views. (13.5/15)

5. "Xaonon" (8:30) is the song that really got me hooked on this group--one that haunts me to this day, ten years later; a real Neo-Prog-bordering-on-eclectic classic. The only thing missing are the English vocals (I keep expecting the song to evolve into a MOONGARDEN classic like "Round Midnight"). Begins with one and a half minutes of very fresh electronica before the rhythm section joins in. Kind of like OZRIC TENTACLES plays TANGERINE DREAM. Then the 3:00 minute mark introduces some 'light  metal' themes, sounding a lot like RIVERSIDE, before backing down to a kind of ARGENT-sounding organ-with-guitar and rhythm section. The changes in this song are so frequent, so unpredictable, and so delightful. These are some very disciplined musicians! (17.75/20)

6. "Isola di Sara"  (8:20) is another gem/highlight beginning with a surprising 'Buddha Lounge' like feel before spiking off into various unusual and unpredictable sound and tempo directions. Very difficult to describe; you simply must discover it for yourself. The 2:05 marks notes the all-too-brief introduction of the song's immensely engaging and melodic 'chorus.' The band is so tight, the vocals so moving! 4:00 4:20 an entirely Latin flavored acoustic guitar-led section 5:15 a segue into a more rocking variation on the chorus theme before bridging back to the true chorus--which then evolves into a brief and beautiful piano solo before down-shifting into a kind of lounge end which is not the end at all but merely a transition to some HACKETT-esque volume pedal notes fading out over the bass's ad libbing. Wow! What a beautiful ride! (20/20)

7. "Sovrano Dell'illusione--Part 1" (6:27) begins with some ELP/PFM-ish piano before stopping to make space for the second beginning--a very GENESIS-like mellotron-washed section. But this section too yields, ends, to allow the introduction of a very PFM-like acoustically accompanied vocal section. Absolutely gorgeous music, melody, and singing! The EMERSON-piano returns at the 3:35 mark to provide the base for the return of the vocals. Stunning songwriting! As good as any PFM high points that I've ever heard. 5:05 marks the emergence of a  beautiful synth sound soloing briefly before the music settles back to the vocal with piano/ acoustic guitar outro. (10/10)

8. "Sovrano Dell'illusione--Part 2" (10:45) uses electric piano and echoing bass to provide its initial ominous jazzy feel. Again images of EBERHARD WEBER's works are conjured until the 2:40 marks the introduction of some skillful EDDIE VAN HALEN-sounding guitar chord playing bursts onto the scene. It disappears for a gap of a few seconds during which a few strange sentences are uttered, then comes back with a vengeance as synths and guitar soli emote themselves. 6:20 change: Mellotron and bass pedals! Then another odd shift into distorted electric guitar arpeggios over which the very strange vocals re-emerge until the music and vocals suddenly shift, mid-stream, to a very dreamy, melodic feel, back to guitar arpeggios which literally fadeout as a SATIE-like solo piano takes over. What an amazing rollercoaster ride! Mellotron! Weird background noises! The end! Wow! (18/20)

9. The final song, "Re Schiavo--Part 2" (4:52) begins with a piano reiteration of now-familiar themes--again very SATIE--esque. New themes are introduced at 1:00, 1:10, and 1:15 as the vocals commence. Multi-voiced chorus harmonies precede a beautiful section in which a TONY BANKS-like synth solo performs over acoustic guitars, fretless bass, and quiet batterie--leading to the final, brief vocal recitation and piano fadeout. Beautiful. (9/10)

90.58 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Seriously, folks: Check out this album! MAD CRAYON need to be discovered and promoted. I bet their concerts would be amazing: Musically, kind of like the early Gabriel-era GENESIS shows without the theatrics. 

10. ARCANE Chronicles of the Waking Dream

A wonderfully theatric concept story rendered to Prog Metal/Heavy Prog music similar to KARNIVOOL, TOOL, and even  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jim Grey / vocals
- Michael Gagen / guitars
- Matthew Martin / keyboards
- Mick Millard / bass
- Stephen Walsh / drums
- Molly McLarnon / vocals (5)
- Anette Askvik / vocals (9)
- Daniel Johnston / narration as Acolyte Zero (10)

1. "Glimpse (3:36) sounds like an even more theatric version of TOOL and Maynard James Keenan. A little over the top, but a great start to a virtually seemless story exposition. (9.5/10)

2. "The Seer" (5:30) heavy prog carrying over the melodies from the opening song. Having been a long fan of fellow Aussies KARNIVOOL, I feel there are many similarities here to that later band. But vocalist Jim Grey is far more theatric and risk-taking than Ian Kenny--is more on a par with THAT JOE PAYNE--and may be even more talented than the Karnivool lead singer. The music is good, with lots of proggy time, theme, and stylistic variations, and the instrumental talents of the band members are very good, but there is something in the sound rendering that make the tracks seem a bit too clean, too separate, and too "constricted." But what a talent is this Jim Grey! (8.75/10)

3. "The Malice (7:21) Drums, bass, and keys shine the most for me on this heavy, at-time-brooding and dramatic number. Nice lead guitar and Hammond interchanges in the fourth minute, with the guitar sound and style beginning to sound more like AL DI MEOLA the further we get into the song. Great song! Jim Grey's That Joe Payne-like performance in the second half is worthy of all the superlatives you can come up with. (14/15)

4. "The First Silent Year" (1:19) cool effected organ with effected lead guitar soloing soul-fully over the top. (4.25/5)

5. "Secret" (7:18) "glockenspiel" takes up the main melody from the previous ditty before bursting into a oddly soft yet dynamic TOOL-like performance song. Jim Grey: Wow! A vocal performance for the ages. Intersting to hear Hammond soloing "metal"style within those power chords and then followed and teamed by searing electric guitar runs. Great ORPHANED LAND sound in the fifth and sixth minutes. Then a small children vocalising the main melody a cappella (!) before the band joins in! (13.75/15)

6. "Fading" (11:58) sensitive strumming around the electric guitar fretboard while Jim Grey sings in his most delicate upper register voice. So cool! Band with piano joins in to provide rolling, relaxing background for continued beautiful singing. At 3:30 the power chords begin to amp up the sound palette until the walls are fully built early into the fifth minute. Wow! I am so impressed by this band's capacity to support melody with its multi-varied musical textures! A wonderful song that somehow doesn't ever rise to the heights of its initial promise. (22.5/25)

7. "The Second Silent Year" (1:48) solo piano with a heart-felt Billy Joel feel to it. Nice exploration of other themes/motifs from the album. (4.5/5)

8. "May 26" (3:17) muted, scratchy guitar, bass, and drums weave a perfect triad of sequences while piano's upper register tinkles away as if in its own universe and Maynard Jim Grey sings a breathy vocal somewhere in the middle. Another surprisingly unique, original, and cool take on the heavy prog/prog metal sound palette. (9.25/10)

9. "The Third Silent Year" (2:29) (not present on my digital copy from Bandcamp of the album.)

10. "Asylum: Acolyte Zero" (13:04) opens with full-on walls of sound metal, once again conveying those Middle Eastern melodic sensibilities. Even when it moves into the rapid fire/machine gun guitar, bass, and drum playing in the second minute, it's still ORPHANED LAND/YOSSI SASSI I hear--even more pronounced int the stepped down 'scapes of the third and fourth minutes.  (21.75/25)

11. "Whisper" (1:45) the bookend finish to a great story rendering. Does a great job reminding us of the talents of this singer, Jim Grey. (4.5/5)

Total time: 59:25

90.40 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of wonderfully fresh-sounding heavy prog, one of my favorite prog-on-the-heavy-side albums of the Naughties and, in my opinion, an essential listening experience for any prog lover.   

11. AISLES In Sudden Walks

AISLES' second album, In Sudden Walks, is brilliant! It is symphonic, melodic, ethnic, emotional, well performed, well engineered and recorded, beautifully sung, and very fresh and new feeling--very much, I think, (like MAD CRAYON's beautiful Preda,) due to its ethnic influences. Three of the album's six songs clock in at around 10 minutes with a fourth at nearly 15--and all are of the highest caliber symphonic prog. Only one song--one of the shorts, "Revolution of Light" (4:41) (7.5/10)--falls short of the standard and feel set by the rest of the album.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rodrigo Sepulveda / guitars
- Felipe Candia / drums
- Alejandro Melendez / keyboards
- German Vergara / guitars
- Luis Vergara / keyboards
- Felipe Gonzales / bass
- Sebastian Vergara / vocals

1. "Mariachi" (9:59) a mini-television romance telenovela--complete with the grevelly voiced old man and tortured young nymphomaniac. The music, as fine as it is, seems so subordinate to the teleplay going on in front. It would not surprise me to find out that these guys were, in fact, studio musicians for the making of soundtracks for some of Peru's telenovelas. (17.333/20)  
2. "Revolution Of Light" (4:41) (7.5/10)
3. "Summer Fall" (9:56) (19.5/20)
4. "The Maiden" (9:28) (19/20)
5. "Smile Of Tears" (4:00) (8.75/10)
6. "Hawaii" (14:58) (27/30)

Total Time: 53:02

I love "Mariachi" exploitation of the overt sexuality so typical of Latin American television. "Summer Fall" (9:56) (19.5/20) and "The Maiden" (9:30) (19/20) should, IMHO, be in everyone's playlist of classic prog epics. Their multi-layered instrumental interplay is so pervasive and playful, with so many twists and turns yet with equally as many returns to very catchy melodic hooks, while all the while threaded together by some great, almost mythic, lyrics sung in absolutely beautiful vocal performances. "Hawaii" (14:58) (27/30) is often pacifying, calming, dreamy, though it too has its tempo and mood changes (in the second half). Overall, an incredibly enjoyable and engaging listening experience. Highly recommended!!

I quite agree with fellow reviewer Cesar Inca: this little gem was one that was sadly overlooked from among the 2009 harvest. But: It's not too late!

90.08 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of unique and melodic progressive rock music and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. Get it NOW!

12. WOBBLER Afterglow 

A short (at 37 minutes it is actually quite average for 1970s standards) collection of great modern melodic medieval prog rock in the tradition of FOCUS, JETHRO TULL, FRUUPP, GRYPHON, GENTLE GIANT, and ANGLAGARD ("The Haywain" [0:54] [4.5/5], "Interlude"[2:35] [4.5/5], and "Armory" [3:00] [9/10]) and great keyboard-based symphonic prog in the vein of ELP, LE ORME, BANCO delle MUTUO SOCCORSO, PREMIATA FORNERIA MARCONI and NEXUS ("Imperial Winter White" [15:01] [26.5/30] and "In Taberna" [13:09] [21.75/25]). The musicianship is outstanding--worthy of superlatives throughout--and the medieval-based songs are certainly like a breath of fresh air. Definitely a band to follow!

90.0 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of excellent prog compositions and performances.

13. BIG BIG TRAIN The Underfall Yard

As a big fan of BBT I was looking forward to this release as a step up even from The Difference Machine (which I rated a five star masterpiece). But, alas, despite amazing sound and engineering, David Langdon's astounding vocal arrangements and performances, the wonderful presence of XTC's Dave Gregory on guitar and sitar, Langdon's impressive and beautiful flute playing, the exciting and valuable contributions of cello, low brass (coronet, trombone, French horn, and tuba!) and mandolin, awesome solo appearances by Francis Dunnery and Jem Godfrey, and frequent GENESIS/ ANTHONY PHILLIPS- and YES-like moments, there is just something missing. I'm going to say it's the story line(s) and the way the lyrics cryptically or vaguely convey them. The lyricist (BBT founder/core member Greg Spawton) is apparently trying to wax nostalgic about the glory days of some important but nearly forgotten or obscured heroes from Britain's Industrial Age: engineers, architects, laborers, and the like. The problem is that the lyrics do not tell the story very clearly. Were it not for the artwork (wonderful paintings by Jim Trainer!), I would drown in the murky lyrics. What makes this worse is that the lyrical ambiguity transfers into the listener's inability to comprehend and fully feel the choice of musical delivery:  tempos, volumes, codas, bridges, and solos are all lost as to their significance in relation to the message trying to be delivered. Also, the music--as wonderfully performed, recorded, and constructed as it is (all deserving only superlatives)--is missing those emotional passages, key changes, and catchy melodies that hook the listener--as they did so well on The Difference Machine. The closest they come is with David Langdon's wonderful harmony vocal arrangements, his remarkable flute contributions, the ANT PHILLIPS/GENESIS-like acoustic guitar work throughout, and an absolutely stunning final two-and-a-half minutes to "Last Train" (6:28) (9/10) followed by the beautiful two-and-a-half minute intro to "Winchester Diver" (7:31) (9/10)

All the songs are very good, worthy of repeated listenings and many hours of enjoyment, but I continue to find myself asking "Why? Why use these musical constructs, Why these vocal harmonies, Why these dynamic solos--for the expression of these stories?"

Album highlights: "Evening Star" (4:53) (9.25/10) (What vocal arrangements! What a way to open an album!), "Master St. James of St. George" (6:19) (9.25/10) (my favorite song on the album), "The Underfall Yard" (22:54) (40.25/45) (a classic prog epic), and "Victorian Brickwork" (12:33) (21.75/25).

89.5 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; not a prog masterpiece, IMO, but very highly recommended. 21st century prog has few albums as accomplished and consistent as this.

A post note: This is one of the best sound engineered albums I've ever heard. Ever.