Sunday, November 4, 2012

Top Albums of the Year 2006, Part 3: Other Highly Recommended Albums

Other Albums from 2006 Worth Listening To:

Below you will find a somewhat-ordered catalogue of the album releases from 2006. These are albums that I have determined to be good or interesting enough to recommend to you, the reader, for your own exposure, awareness, and/or exploration; these are albums that were not, in my opinion, good enough to belong on my "Masterpieces" page, but which, I thought, deserved some credit and attention. 
     You will find that some of the albums below are reviewed or commented upon, while many have nothing but cover, artist and title, lineup of musicians and songs list. This variance is usually due to a lack of time and a lack of willingness or desire to give each and every album the time and energy necessary to write a review. This is done without any intent of disrespect; the albums have been included because I think them worthy enough to have others try them out and form their own opinions.


The wonderful debut album from this Danish-Swedish collaboration of Krautrock revivalism.

Five star songs:  4. "Falling Stardrops" (15:46) (29.5/30); 1. "Faked It All the Way" (6:21) (9/10); the space reggae 5. "Grab a Cab" (7:16) (9/10); 

Four star songs:  the ultra-spacey 6. "Moonhead" (2:30) (8/10); 2. "Consumed by the Goblin" (14:51) (24/30); 3. "Osc Bolero" (5:22) (8/10), and; the jazzy neo-Berlin School playground, 7. "Sundown" (17:39).

ESTRADASPHERE Palace of Mirrors

A "opera" from California's talented kletzmer rock band.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jason Schimmel / guitars (acoustic, electric, lap steel), fuzz bass, organ, keyboards
- Kevin Kmetz / shamisen, guitar
- Adam Stacey / piano, Rhodes, clavinet, tack piano, organ, synth, melodica, accordion 
- Timb Harris / violin (2,4,5,11,13), trumpet (4,5,7,11), electric & slide guitars, mandolin, percussion
- Tim Smolens / electric & acoustic basses, surf guitar, keyboards, harmonica
- Lee Smith / drums
- Shelley Phillips / English horn (2)
- Sarah Hart / violin (2,4,13)
- Kaethe Hostetter / viola (2,4,13)
- Aria DiSalvio / cello (2,4,13)
- Dan Robbins / double bass (2,9)
- Mike Shannon / drums (2,5,9)
- Issac Anderson / orchestral percussion (2)
- Shashona Brooks / vocals (4,5)
- Jennifer Cass / harp (4,5,12)
- Charlie Gurke / baritone sax (4,5,7,11)
- Luke Kirley / trombone (4,5,7,11)
- Scott Harris / bass trombone (4,5,7,11)
- Robin Anderson / trumpet (4,5,7,11)
- John Thomas / tuba (4,5,7,11)
- William Winant / glockenspiel (4,5), timpani (4,5,11)
- Ben Blechman / violin (5,11)
- Elena Doroftei / viola (5,11)
- Renata Bratt / cello (5,11)
- Fabrice Martinez / violin solo (7)
- Aaron Seeman / accordion (7)
- Relu Merisan / cimbalom (7)
- Eric Lesch / French horn (9)
- Joel Ford / sax (9)
- Mark Sowlakis / clarinets (12) 

1. "Title (0:33)
2. "Palace of Mirrors (3:40)
3. "A Corporate Merger (8:14)
4. "The Terrible Beautypower of Meow (4:01)
5. "Colossal Risk (4:36)
6. "The Unfolding Pause On The Thresholdm (4:16)
7. "Smuggled Mutation (4:43)
8. "Six Hands (1:08)
9. "The Debutante (2:40)
10. "Flower Garden of An Evil Man (6:12)
11. "Those Who Know... (5:16)
12. "Palace of Mirrors Reprise (6:16)
13. "The Return (6:19)

Total Time: 57:54

RED SPAROWES Every Red Heart Shines Towards the Red Sun

Great Math Rock and one of the coolest album concepts EVER! Did you know that as part of Chairman Mao's changes he decided to implement from his 1958 book, A Great Leap Forward, he endorsed the extermination of millions of sparrows because they were eating so many of farmers' freshly-planted seeds? The thought behind this was that a higher percentage of germinating seeds would lead to greater agricultural yields and therefore make farming more efficient and feeding his nation's huge population successful. Little did he or his counsellors know that one of sparrows' favorite foods was locusts and that with the loss of the locusts' main natural predator his country's crop losses (from locust infestations) over the next two years would cause the deaths due to starvation of between 30-50 million people!

The song titles used on this album are apparently direct translations from a personal recounting of the devastation caused by many of the campaigns started by Mao Zedong's Great Leap Forward.

1. "The Great Leap Forward Poured Down Upon Us One Day Like A Mighty Storm Suddenly And Furiously Blinding Our Senses" (8:10) (13.5/15)

2. "We Stood Transfixed In Blank Devotion As Our Leader Spoke To Us, Looking Down On Our Mute Faces With A Great, Raging, And Unseeing Eye" (10:01) (16/20)

3. "Like The Howling Glory Of The Darkest Winds, This Voice Was Thunderous And The Words Holy, Tangling Their Way Around Our Hearts And Clutching Our Innocent Awe" (11:24) (14/20)

4. "A Message Of Avarice Rained Down And Carried Us Away To False Dreams Of Endless Riches" (7:56) (13.5/15)

5. "Annihilate The Sparrow, That Stealer Of Seed, And Our Harvests Will Abound; We Will Watch Our Wealth Flood In" (8:07) (12/15)

6. "And By Our Own Hand Did Every Last Bird Lie Silent In Their Puddles, The Air Barren Of Song As The Clouds Drifted Away. For Kill" (1:45) (4/5)

7. "Millions Starved And Became Skinnier And Skinnier While Our Leaders Became Fatter And Fatter" (10:01) (18/20)

8. "Finally As That Blazing Sun Shone Down Upon Us Did We Know That True Enemy Was The Voice Of Blind Idolatry; And Only Then Did We Begin To Think For Ourselves" (8:03) (13.5/15)

While I must admit that I do not enjoy the music from this album as much as At the Soundless Dawn or The Fear Is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer, I give Red Sparowes mega kudos for one of the cleverest song and album titling concepts ever.

83.60 on the Fish scales = very good three star album; an excellent addition to any prog rocker's music collection.

NEXUS Perpetuum Karma

Let me begin by admitting: I did not particularly care for the voice of Mariele Gonzales. My introduction to NEXUS was on the Colossus Magazine/Musea Records collaborative effort entitled Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. Their contribution to Odyssey was one of the three or four best. So, I started going back into their other music. Metanoia came first. I was so turned off by the vocals that I did not pursue any further Nexus music for two years. (I have now become adjusted and a big fan of Mariele's powerful voice.) Then I read the reviews of Perpetuum and decided to try it. My first impression was less than favorable:  Too bombastic (the same reason I've never been able to get into ELP). Over the past few months I have given  Perpetuum Karma several dedicated listens (it takes 70 minutes of attentive listening).
     I am now won over. I am truly impressed with and full of praise for Lalo Huber's keyboard work and with the guitar playing of Carlos Lucena. Huber may be the most impressive keyboard player in current prog rock. The songs sometimes go on without making any truly memorable melodies or themes (thus, the "symphonic" label it truly deserves), and the drums do somehow feel somehow weak (especially in comparison to the keys and gtrs), but I like the vocals (what little there are). And the vocals, believe it or not, actually add a LOT to the songs. 

 I love "En ese viento" (6:44) (10/10) and "Del abismo al sol" (9:53) (18/20). I very much enjoy the first two songs, "Mirar hacia el centro" (17:30) (30.5/35) and the title song (the 'Keith Emerson tribute'), "Perpetuum Karma" (14:59) (26.75/30), as well as the YES-influenced, "Cruces y sombres" (14:02) (26/30), which leaves, IMO, only one weak song.

83.33 on the Fish scales = four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lovers' music collection.

PÄATOS Silence of Another Kind

My second favorite Päatos album, due primarily to the presence of two amazing songs:  the politically charged indictment of the G. W. Bush presidency, "Shame" (4:33) (10/10), and the incredibly smooth and powerful jazzy "Your Misery" (drummer Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm's favorite) (5:33) (10/10). Also great are:  5. "Is That All?" (6:49) (8/10) and 8. "Not a Sound" (7:25) (8/10).

82.22 on the Fish scales = solid four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.

MONO You Are There

(Formerly) My favorite of the MONO albums (before I heard the amazing The Last Dawn), I very much admire their overall approach to the Math Rock/Post Rock sub-genre: full of power and emotion, thick atmospheres with stellar instrumentalism. The guitar is especially powerful for its out-of-the-ordinary "soloing" feel as the pick or fingers rapidly, rhythmically pluck a single string while a single note sustains an then slides up or down the same string. Very talented. Drums entering at the high 'crescendo' parts are strong and yet do not overpower the guitars. Electric guitars in these parts are often very distorted.

Favorite songs include 1. "The Flames Beyond the Cold Mountain" (13:29) (26/30) and my favorite Mono song, 4. "Are You There?" (10:25) (18/20). The gentle and atmospheric, 2. "A Heart Has Asked for the Pleasure" (3:43) and 5. "Remains of the Day" (3:41) are also beautiful if simpler (8/10), and 3. "Yearning" (15:38) and 6. "Moonlight" (13:04) simply take a few turns that lose me (14/20).

81.66 on the Fish scales = sold four stars; You Are There is an excellent addition to any prog lovers' music collection.


Another great showcase of lead singer (and soon to go solo) ANNEKE VAN GIERSBERGEN but a far cry from the music that earned this band the Experimental/Post Metal categorization. One incredible song, 4. "The Waking Hour" (5:38) (10/10) and a few other pretty good ones, including:  13. "Farewell (reprise)" (7:57) (13.5/15); 2. "In Between" (4:44) (9/10); 6. "A Noise Severe" (6:06) (8/10); 10. "Box" (4:43) (8/10), and; 11. "The Quiet One" (2:16) (4/5), highlight this album. Unfortunately, however, there are several almost poor/boring songs offered here.

79.23 on the Fish scales = a four star album; nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.

THE D PROJECT The Shimmering Lights 

One of multi-instrumentalist and composer STEPHANE DESBIENS's project albums, Stephane is definitely a fan of all genres of prog rock, as evidenced in this album's highly eclectic draw. One great song: the title song (8:54), which is like three great songs in one--JFK and more--all in nine minutes. (20/20)


Line-up / Musicians:
- Angel Ontalva / guitar, co-producer
- Victor Rodriguez / keyboards
- Amanda Pazos / bass
- Txema Fernandes / drums

1. Lupus in Fabula (5:22)
2. Field of Mars (2:54)
3. Bigas (7:46)
4. Sacrifice (4:45)
5. Vestals (4:19)
6. Head of the Winner (7:17)
7. End: On a Lance (4:54)
8. Reliqua Tempora (3:43)
9. Minus Nihilo (4:49)
10. Hydra (3:59)

Total Time 49:48

Albums from 2006 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated

PFM Stati di immaginazione

With this PFM "comeback" album the group has decided to forego vocals, yes, that's right, this is an all-instrumental album. And an excellent, melodic one, it is! Every song is great if not really very memorable. More like background music. Still, great keys, great violin, great electric guitar soli, great bass play and solid drumming. A much jazzier PFM than I knew from the 70s. Kind of a "smooth jazz."

Line-up / Musicians:
- Franco Mussida / electric, classic and acoustic guitars
- Patrick Djivas / bass, fretless bass, plastic flute
- Franz Di Cioccio / drums, percussion
- Lucio Fabbri / violin, keyboards
- Gianluca Tagliavini / keyboards, Hammond organ, Moog
- Iaia De Capitani / video concept
- Marco Anelli / video editor

1. "La terra dell'acqua" (8:17) (17.5/20)
2. "Il mondo in testa" (3:58) (8.5/10)
3. "La conquista" (6:29) (8.25/10)
4. "Il sogno di Leonardo" (6:44) (8.25/10)
5. "Cyber Alpha" (4:28) (8.75/10) 
6. "Agua Azul" (3:53) (8.5/10) 
7. "Nederland 1903" (3:23) (8/10) -14.25
8. "Visioni di Archimede" (9:00) (17.75/20)

Total time: 46:14

Best songs: 1. "La terra dell'acqua (8:18) (9/10); the jazzy 3. "La conquista" (6:29) (8/10); the melodic, strings-on-display, JEAN-LUC PONTY-like 6. "Aqua azul" (3:53) (8/10); the pretty, folksy "Nederland 1903" (3:23) (9/10), and; the FOCUS CON PROBY-like, "Visioni di Archimede" (8:59) (8/10).

85.75 on the Fishscales = B/a four star achievement; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collectionl; NOT a five star masterpiece.

DELUGE GRANDER August in the Urals 

Dan Britton is ambitious and uber-talented . . . BUT his engineering/production talents are, shall we say, lacking. On all his albums (ALL OVER EVERYWHERE, BIRDS AND BUILDINGS). The vocals are abysmally recorded/effected and mixed. The brilliant instrumental performances remind me of some of MIKE OLDFIELD's work (especially the universally acclaimed Ommadawn) in that there are often moments of extreme noodling for the sake of noodling:  instrumental displays purely to show that he can, rather than for the true need or aggrandizement of the song. This is annoyingly obvious even on my favorites, including: the NEKTAR Down to Earth-like, "The Solitude of Miranda" (7:18) (8/10), the somewhat GENTLE GIANT-like, "A Squirrel" (8:44) (7/10) and the VDGG-style mega epic, "Inaugural Bash" (26:56) (8/55).


Though I like this sub-genre of prog, it is one which tests me within the ratings system: I find it difficult to award straight-up instrumental Post Rock/Math Rock five stars or "masterpiece" status. The only times I've found myself doing so are when the artist and/or particular album offers something really new or different within the subgenre--e.g. the vocals of SIGUR ROS's Agaetis  Byrjun, ULVER's Shadows of the Sun,  and AUTUMN CHORUS's The Village to the Vale, or the synths and melodies of GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT's All Is Violent, All Is Bright. I've been close to offering five stars to favorites by COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE, DATURAH, RED SPAROWES, CASPIAN and GIFTS FORM ENOLA, but the 'monotony' of the genre's structures and sound base has kept me from doing so--despite the continued presence of songs and albums by these groups on my regular playlists. The same goes for my reaction to RUSSIAN CIRCLES: creative bass playing and guitar looping effects, great sound and energy, but, alas! they sound like--dare I say it--every other Post Rock/Math Rock band. Five star songs are "Carpe," "Enter," "You Already Did."

1. "Carpe" (9:01) (/20)
2. Micah (8:03) (/15)
3. Death Rides a Horse (5:46) (/10)
4. Enter (7:54) (/15)
5. You Already Did (8:14) (/15)
6. New Macabre (5:18) (/10)

Total Time 44:16Line-up / Musicians

- Mike Sullivan / guitars
- Colin DeKuiper / bass
- Dave Turncrantz / drums

- Rob Lowe / piano, Mellotron

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