Monday, December 31, 2012

Important Albums from the 1990s

The following albums, in my opinion, helped to set the stage for prog's 'comeback,' that is, I beleive that the 1990s represents a renascence of progressive rock music--both in terms of a rekindling of the spirit of innovation and experimentalism that brought on the first prog revolution in the late 60s, but also because people were waking up to realize how much they liked the "progressive rock" music of the 1970s that they wanted to emulate or create "prog rock" themselves (the Neo-prog groups). It should be noted that several "sub-genres" of progressive rock music that did not exist in the 1960s or 1970s made their appearance and rise in the 1990s. These include: Post Rock/Math Rock, Experimental/Post Metal, and Technical/Extreme Prog Metal.

AFTER CRYING Overground Music (1990)

This debut album from Hungary must be heard to be believed--so rich and mature are its constructs and performances. Steeped in classical training and traditions, the band also shows the influences of Phase Two King Crimson, Keith Emerson, Frank Zappa, big band-era jazz, as well as Hungarian folk and "Minimalist" classical traditions. The heavily accented (though surprisingly similar to John Wetton) male vocals are often derided and criticized, but, if you can get past this, the music here is quite heavenly. Plus, the female vocals (as rendered by Judit Andrejszki) are sublime and quite top notch/professional. But it's the unusual piano-strings-&-brass/woodwinds uses that really make this album--and this group--stand out from all other music being done at the time (or maybe of all time). Complicated symphonic structures within a rock (though some question its "rock" foundations--quite justifiably as there is little drum-and-bass rhythm foundation and guitars are totally absent) format. Quite remarkable.


This is my favorite Dead Can Dance album of all-time. I think this is due to the fact that it's instrumentation is more acoustic, more Euro-centric (not that I don't love other world musical traditions), and more "authentic" in terms of the instrumentation and song choices. As a matter of fact, since many of the songs here (all of Side One?) are "covers" or Brendan and Lisa's interpretations of classic mediæval and Renaissance songs (even chant!), I guess "authentic" is the appropriate, and operative, word here. As a representative of the Prog Folk sub-genre, I am much happier when a band is closer to folk than prog (electric) and rock (band formatted) and I am never happier than when ancient and old music forms and styles are attempted--especially when they are successfully rendered--as they are here.

Favorite songs:  "The End of Words" (5/5); the brief hurdy-gurdy joy, "Mephisto" (5/5); "Wilderness" (5/5); the mesmerizing, "The Garden of Zephirus" (5/5); "The Arrival and The Reunion"(4.75/5); the gorgeous Celtic weave that is "As the Bell Rings The Maypole Spins" (9/10); "Saltarello" (9/10); the gorgeous multi-Lisa-voiced, "The Promised Womb" (8.75/10); "Fortune Present Gifts Not According to the Book" (8.75/10); "The Song of Sybli" (8.5/10), and; "Radharc" (8.5/10) and "Black Sun" (8/10).

It's funny how I often find the songs on which Brendan singing the lead vocal among my favorites but not so here. I guess his long-sustained, reverbed notes don't lend themselves so well to the ancient European traditions.

89.74 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a near-masterpiece of Prog Folk as well.

OZRIC TENTACLES Erpland (1990) and Jurassic Shift (1993)

Producing albums since 1985, Ed Wynne and company (aka OZRIC TENTACLES)'s 1990 and 1993 albums, repectively, achieved the blend of quality production, recording, composition, and performance to elevate the band into the pantheon of 'significant' progressive rock musicians. Categorized a "psychedelic/space rock" band because of their jam band instrumental approach and heavy reliance on synths, "world" percussives, rhythms, instruments and sounds, and Ed Wynne's guitar soloing, the Ozrics are so much more. The reputation of their live concerts seemed to draw similarities to those of PHISH, GROBSCHNITT, or THE GRATEFUL DEAD. Jurassic Shift is my favorite OT album, a 4.5 stars, near masterpiece of progressive rock music, containing the title song, "Jurassic Shift" (11:05) (20/20) one of the best songs of 1993.


Singer/guitarist/song-writer Kevin Shields and engineer Alan Moulder team up to produce one of the most eye-opening and sound-busting albums of the 80s and 90s--one that influenced so many now superstars. The 'hit' "Soon" (7:01) (16/15) sounds as fresh and innovative today as it did in 1990 (also on the EP, Glider).

SEAL Seal (1991)

Though Trevor Horn and Seal's first hit single, "Crazy" (5:57) (11/10) was released in 1990 (and is the best song of 1990), it was 1994's Seal II that would be the one to earn them a landslide of music awards around the world, this 1991 album is the one that introduced us to the dynamic crossover team of producer/technical master, Trevor Horn, and a voice/composer-in-a-million, Seal. Need I say more?

PAT METHENY Secret Story (1992)

After years of composing and performing through the PAT METHENY GROUP and many collaborations (Jack DeJohnette, Charlie Haden, Ornette Coleman, Gary Burton, Lyle Mays), Pat goes out on his own. Though he's still using some of his steady friends to help complete his vision (Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby, Paul Wertico, Nana Vasconcelos, Charlie Haden, Danny Gottlieb, Will Lee, Mark Ledford, and Armando Marcal), many times he completes all or most of a song's parts on his own. And then, of course, there is the amazing collaboration with Jeremy Lubbock and the London Symphony Orchestra. Absolutely stunning. 
     World music (themes from Cambodia, Japan, Italy, and other folk traditions are present),  more straightforward jazz pieces, solo guitar with the accompaniment of only The London Symphony Orchestra, and some songs that definitely belong in the prog pantheon of greats--especially the epic "The Truth Will Always Be" (9:16) (21/20) which is the best song of 1992 and probably my favorite Metheny song of all-time--certainly housing the most emotional electric guitar work I've ever heard from him (and Pat Metheny is, in my opinion, a master of conveying emotion through his very technical, cerebral guitar playing and synth-guitar sounds). If there is only one Pat Metheny album that you ever try (and with all the wonderful songs available in the Metheny repertoire, this would be a true shame), I would recommend that it be this one.

An absolute 5 star masterpiece of always beautiful, emotional, and nearly flawless music.

AFTER CRYING Megalázottak és Megszomorítottak (1992)

The second album from this amazing neo-classical group from Hungary. They're back with the same cast as on Overground Music, the band has added more use of drums/percussion and have now included synthesizers and organ into their play. Less emphasis on piano, less employment of vocals, this has a bit of a darker complexion to it. I like the fact that After Crying evolves from album to album--hate coming in with expectations for 'more of the same.' New instruments, new listenings and new influences yield new ideas, growth and development. As others have pointed out, AC have continued to grow in confidence with regards to letting space and time spread out, letting their ideas percolate and develop slowly, thoughtfully, and, often, emotionally.

Favorite selections:  the sublime DAVID SYLVIAN/jazz-tinged title piece (11:45) (23/25); the avant monastic chant-orchestral "A kis hös" (3:31) (10/10); the modernized folk étude, "Végül" (2:29) (4.5/5); the atmospheric folk song, "Nokturn" (1:58) (5/5), and; the subtley-slow developing soft jazzy epic, "A gadarai megszállott" (22:14) (39.5/45) = 91.11 on the Fishscales.

I consider this another masterpiece, essential for the singularity of this band's unusual approach and high quality product during a time of relatively sparse contributions in the field of symphonic rock. Yet, despite saying this, I stand firmly by the notion that this 1992 album stands as tall and as beacon-like now as it did then. Another desperate shout: "Look what music can do!"

ANGLAGARD Hybris (1992) and Epilog (1994)

This is a band that is really difficult for me to categorize because, if you read the reviews of these two albums (released in 1992 and 1994, respectively), you would come away thinking that this had to be a Neo-prog band! Witness all of the comparisons to the "classic era" "greats"--the songs, styles, and musicians that litter the literature. Also, notice the credit heaped upon Anglagard for almost single-handedly 'rescuing' or at least 'causing' the "rebirth" or "renaissance" of progressive rock! 
     To me, these two albums show a technical and eclectic approach to music composition and performance which is more homage to the 70s than new or refreshing. The music is so cerebral and technical, especially on the debut, Hybris, that it conveys very little beauty (melody) or emotion (attachment). 
     If you want to experience the heart and soul of the incredible virtuoso musicians that make up Anglagard, I recommend that you listen to the mature, more humane music that comes out in the band's reincarnated form with 2012's Viljans Ôga, while the more sedate and spacious Epilog remains my favorite from the band.

KINGSTON WALL (1992), II (1993), Tri-logy (1994)

On 28 June, 1995, Finnish singer-songwriter Petri Walli climbed to the top of a church tower in Helsinki and jumped to his death. The incredibly talented leader of psychedelic progressive rock band Kingston Wall was 26 years old. To hear Petri's catalogue of songs is truly a religious experience. His little known three piece band sounds as if it was the reincarnation of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, twenty years after Jimi's death. The first Kingston Trio album is a bit raw and show the band (and Petri)'s lack of maturity in all categories--songwriting, playing, and studio recording techniques. The second album, II, came out just a year later but shows extraordinary growth in all areas. This is one jaw-dropping album. The third album, yet another year down the road, was much more studio processed, as opposed to the "plug-in and push record" approach to the previous two albums. Tri-logy thus has a much more experimental sound to its psychedelia--but is no less brilliant. Fellow band members say that they could feel as if Petri was on a mission--that his suicide shortly after made perfect sense with the way he approached the recording of Tri-logy. The lyrics of several of the album's songs even give portend to his choice to leave the planet early, of his own accord. What an amazing talent was lost. Thankfully, we have these three albums as testament to his gifts.

CYNIC Focus (1993)

At the time of this album's publication it was like none other that had ever come before it. It is my belief that  Focus  contributed more to the formation of the new genre of extreme technical metal than any other. The arrangements and performances are so technically challenging and yet at the same time mind-bogglingly tight as to leave my jaw on the ground and shaking my head over and over and over again.  Focus' pacing and vocals may not be to everyone's liking but one cannot help but appreciate the skill and vision of these musicians (who came from other bands such as DEATH to make this one-off). Again, there can really be no argument that this 1993 album contributed to the "progress" of music.

PENDRAGON The Window of Life (1993)

1. "The Walls of Babylon" (10:50) (17.25/20) 
2. "Ghosts" (8:02) (13/15) 
3. "Breaking the Spell" (9:18) (17/20)
4. "The Last Man on Earth" (14:46) (27/30) 
5. "Nostradamus (Stargazing)" (8:23) two minutes of sensitive guitar soloing before the full song kicks in. Too 80s Brit Pop sounding (especially in singing style, diction). (16/20)
6. Am I Really Losing You? (4:47) big guitar hook is stolen from YES's Soon. (8/10)

85.43 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid contribution to the prog lexicon and a nice step forward toward the Neo Prog top tier.


The album that gave birth to a new sub-genre of music:  The name "Post Rock" came from some discussions which followed music critic Simon Reynolds' use of this term during his review of Hex. He was using the term to describe the new style of  music being produced around 1994 of which Bark Psychosis was one group. To my ears this music sounds just like the music DAVID SYLVIAN was doing ten years before with his string of albums, 1984's Brilliant Trees through 1987's Secrets of the Beehive, especially the vocal stylings and syncopated drum tracks--plus the keyboard/synth work is amazingly reminiscent of RICHARD BARBIERI's work and the guitar parts in "Absent Friend" are Fripp-Sylvian-ish. (So, I have to ask:  Where was Simon Reynolds when Sylvian and friends were collaborating on their 1980s ground-breaking and, apparently, ahead-of-their-time music?)
     While the album is definitely full of scaled down, slowed down, trip-hoppy, acid jazzy, ambient rock, it is also a collection of widely different songs. Most people will recognize in the album's last song, "Pendulum Man" (9:54) (10/10), as a perfect example of the prototypical Post Rock song. I particularly love the album's chamber-trip hoppy-jazz number, "The Loom" (5:16) (a sure tip of the hat to the amazing stuff DAVID SYLVIAN and his drummer-brother, STEVE JANSEN were doing ten years before) (9/10). "Big Shot" (5:21) (10/10) is beautiful and mesmerizing. "Fingerspit" (8:22) (10/10) is, however, the jewel in the crown. Over eight minutes of seemingly random unstructured free form atonal jazz music with many unexpected sounds, noises, and samples thrown in--just because they could.

LANDBERK One Man Tells Another (1994)

 Landberk is a Swedish band who produced three (technically, four) studio albums in the 90s:  Riktigt Äkta and Lonely Land (the English version of Riktigt Äkta) in 1992, One Man Tells Another in '94 and Indian Summer in '96. While some categorize Landberk as Heavy Prog, I feel that their music is quite a bit more varied than that. The band uses space and delicate instrumentation quite often (try "Mirror Man" or "Valentinsong" on One Man Tells Another)--perhaps even the majority of the time--and rarely hits the heavy power chords one usually associates with heavy prog.
     The things that make Landberk most significant in my mind is that they had a far-beyond their years output of music of a very consistently high level of likability. Also, Landberk was the world's first introduction to two outstanding individual contributors to progworld:  guitarist Reine Fiske (one of my five favorites of the New Era, who later joined MORTE MACABRE, PAATOS, DUNGEN, and THE AMAZING) and bassist Stefan Dimle (founder of Sweden's Mellotronen store, Stockholm's Mello-Club and the Melloboat rock festival. He was also a founder/member of  both MORTE MACABRE and PAATOS). 
      The presence of drummer Jonas Lindholm on the band's final two albums was a major improvement over the original drummer, but, sadly, Jonas has not continued to play with other bands since Landberk. Wonderful singer, Patric Helje, developed a very powerful style once the band switched to singing in English instead of their native Swedish. He has a style and range not unlike a cross between THE CHURCH's Steven Kilbey, U2's Bono, ICEHOUSE's Iva Davies, and perhaps even TALK TALK's Mark Hollis and DAVID SYLVIAN. Sadly, Patric, along with proficient keyboardist Simon Nordberg, is another immensely talented musician who seems to have left prog world after the breakup of Landberk. 
    A 4.5 star album, One Man Tells Another is notable for its amazingly nuanced instrumental performances (especially Reine Fiske's jaw-dropping guitar genius) and its use of space and harmonics to convey deep emotion, and singer Patric Helje's impassioned vocals--in English. Also contained herein is the incredible song, "Tell," IMO, the Best Song of 1994.

COLLAGE  Moonshine (1994)

COLLAGE's Moonshine is full of very memorable music. There are many 'hooks' that haunt the listener hours and days after walking away from it. Containing some symphonic elements, this masterpiece of NeoProg has a few shortcomings, namely the vocals are, at times, weak, and some of the keyboards that were 'leading edge' technologically in 1994 are almost embarrassingly out-dated today. Still, the bombastic music, rare treat of frequent synthesizer-electric guitar interplay, and defining appearance of the screaming, infinite-sustain Mirek Gil guitar sound (which is, IMO, one step above that of the Master, Steve Hackett--whose "Spectral Mornings/Every Day" sound Gil was so obviously inspired by).

1. "Heroes Cry" (6:40) What a memorable, bombastic introduction! And it all begins with the album's major strength (Gil's screaming guitar) and weakness (vocals). At 1:10 the poppy bridge and chorus first appear. At 3:50 we get our first treat to the talented keyboard player as he echoes himself before engaging in the playful chase-and-duel pattern so often explored with Gil's guitar. (Could it be that Gil's soli are, in fact, improved and enhanced--his efforts augmented--by the challenge and presence of the keys?) Prog doesn't get much better that this, folks! A very memorable, haunting song. (9.25/10)

2. "In Your Eyes" (14:04) opens with the dated synths to about 1:00 when piano and acoustic guitar interplay take over to back the vocal. At 2:36 a very Hackett-esque guitar riff leads to a very Wind & Wuthering feeling section of chords and acoustic guitar. 4:30 sees the arrival of a very high, squeaky guitar solo; at 5:30 the song shifts dramatically, till, at 6:25 the song shifts back to the Hackett-esque, Spectral Mornings feel. At 7:10 we see a return to previous themes until at 8:35 the song takes another completely different shift with sequencer, synthesizer, and bass taking over until 9:10 when Gil's screaming guitar rejoins. A vocal highlight occurs at the 10:25 mark with an electric guitar supported "here tonight" peak, followed at the 11:30 mark with a low register key & synth solo over some very nice drum work. Tempo picks up again at 12:00 until a stop at 12:45. Whereupon the song plays out with the very enjoyable interplay of keyboard and electric guitar. (26.5/30)

3. "Lovely Day" (5:11) uses piano and synthesized strings to establish a slow, almost poppy mood for the first three minutes. The 3:05 mark sees the most interesting development of the song with piano arpeggios followed by some electric guitar-keyboard 'gunfire.' Otherwise, a not very memorable song. (6/10)

4. "Living in the Moonlight" (4:43) A favorite among proggers, undoubtedly for it's Hackett-like, Please Don't Touch feel as well as its lyrical content. Gil's guitar work is rather subdued and moved more into the background. The "when I feel silence" sees the song shift into a higher gear of intensity, and then higher again when Gil begins his Hackett-esque solo--which he makes his own beginning at the 3:10 mark. (8/10)

5. "The Blues" (7:17) The highpoint of the album. Gil's guitar screams out the defining melody from the first note and climbs, with the help of some wonderful band support, to an amazing beginning song solo before dropping away at the 0:54 mark in lieu of the vocal  section--a great vocal dislay, with very powerful delivery of some powerful lyrics. Great full-band interplay and support throughout this amazing song. 4:35 begins the Mirek Gil display. This is the song where he leaves Hackett in the dust and establishes his own ascendancy. Great drum and key support. I do not think that this song could be improved upon. A song for the ages. (15/15)

6. "Wings in the Night" (11:12) takes the first 2:25 to establish itself (fairly weakly) before finally letting some energy show (briefly). The song rather lacks from consistency--bouncing from quiet to dynamic and back again over and over while the vocals go on trampling over all parts indiscriminately. At the 7:10 mark Mirek Gil is finally set free--and boy! does he soar! The final four minutes of the song nearly make up for the floundering first seven (even if there are several moments where one might think you were in Steve Hackett's Spectral Mornings). (17.75/20)

7. "Moonshine" (12:50) begins as if playing Phil Collins' "I Don't Care Anymore" until at 0:46 Gil steps in and lifts it into another world--his own. Still, it takes three and a half minutes until the song finally establishes a consistent self identity--which it does, at a very high level, too. (22/25)

8. "War Is Over" (5:27) is vocalist Robert Amirian's rather pop-anthem contribution to the album. Very simple structure and repetitive lyric make for a somewhat disappointing song. The only real progginess comes in the song's end when Amirian's accordian ushers us out of (the) Moonshine. (7.25/10)

9. (Bonus Track in 2003 remaster) "Almost There." This is a GREAT song. Too bad it wasn't on the original release (instead of "War Is Over"), otherwise this may have helped earn the album the five star rating it feels like it deserves. I LOVE how the vocals, keyboards and bass pace this song. Powerful! For once Amirian's lyrics (repetitive as they are) and delivery work! They provide a great vehicle for an all-out band jam?which could easily (and even happily) have ended at the 3:05 mark. But it doesn't! Instead, we are treated to one more minute of bass and drums pounding beneath Mirek Gil's superlative, screaming guitar and Robert Amirian's (background) vocal screams. Wow! (10/10)

88.75 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock of the Neo kind. Even without the bonus song, "Almost There," the album is a definite four star "classic"--and excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. With it . . . ?

PÄR LINDH PROJECT Gothic Impressions (1994)

The debut album from Pär Lindh and his co-conspirators, their brand of Neo Prog is quite refreshing in that their aim is definitely to recreate a kind of ecclesiastical epoch of music with their church organs and choir banks of voices. The participation of three of the Änglagård crew (Anna, Johan, and Mattias) make this more interesting.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Magdalena Hagberg / vocals
- Pär Lindh / keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, producer
- Jocke Ramsell / electric guitar
- Ralf Glasz / vocals
- Mathias Jonsson / vocals
- Camerata Vocalis / chorus vocals
- Björn Johansson / Classical guitar, bassoon, tinwhistle
- Roine Stolt / acoustic guitar
- Jonas Endgegård / electric guitar
- Lovisa Stenberg / harp
- Anna Holmgren / flute
- Johan Högberg / bass
- Mattias Olsson / drums, percussion

1. "Dresden Lamentation" (2:06) a fitting tribute to the victims of the 1945 firebombing. (4.5/5)

2. "The Iconoclast" (7:04) I like the beginning and chamber/choral end of this but not so much the middle (don't really like the lead male singer's sound or style). (12.5/15)

3. "Green Meadow Lands" (7:24) flute and harpsichord open this. Quite lovely. Nice male vocal with tubular bells and rock ensemble. In fact, the Änglagård trio have quite a big presence on this one. A litttle nod to King Crimson in the fifth and sixth minutes despite the Mike Oldfield-like lead guitar. (14/15)

4. "The Cathedral" (19:33) one of my ten favorite long-playing epics of the 1990s. (38/40)

5. "Gunnlev's Round" (2:50) a delightful little pastoral piece done in a baroque style. (5/5)

6. "Night on Bare Mountain" (13:50) never a big fan of this piece by Mussorgsky, this version is performed stylishly but does nothing for me. (26/30)

90.91 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Quite an impressive debut!

Total Time: 52:54

STANLEY CLARKE (with Al DiMeola & Jean-Luc Ponty) Rites of Strings (1995)

One of the most beautiful jazz fusion collaborations I've ever heard. What makes this 1995 studio album so special is that it is an all-acoustic trio. Without drums. So unusual in the jazz idiom. To me on a par with Miles' Kind of Blue and the three record albums from Bill Evans, Scott La Faro and Paul Motian's Village Vangard sessions. Still better is 1994's Live at Montreux DVD from the trio plus keyboard artist, Monte Alexander, which prompted the trio to record a studio album together before going off on their own paths. Stanley Clarke is jaw-dropping amazing.

PORCUPINE TREE The Sky Moves Sideways (1995)

Serving notice to the world of the genius of STEVEN WILSON and his new band, Porcupine Tree with JAPAN's RICHARD BARBIERI on keyboards, COLIN EDWIN on bass, and CHRIS MAITLAND on drums. Incredible sound engineering.
1. "The Sky Moves Sideways - Phase 1" (18:37) (40/40)
2. "Dislocated Day" (5:24) the heavy side of PT. (8.5/10)
3. "The Moon Touches Your Shoulder" (5:40) great second half. (8.75/10)
4. "Prepare Yourself" (1:54) a guitar solo coming off of the spillover from "Moon." (4.25/5)
5. "Moonloop" (17:04) spacey jam that turns into an homage to NASA moonwalks before going TD-Crimson-blues jam. Hypnotic. (31/35)
6. "The Sky Moves Sideways - Phase 2" (16:46) (30.75/35)

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


QUIDAM Quidam (1996)

A Neo-prog or Prog Folk group and 1996 album that help push further into the public eye notice that Poland has something to contribute to the the lexicon of prog. Quidam is a contemporary of COLLAGE and, in fact, used some Collage members to help give a few songs a boost, yet the band's sound has much more of a folk flavor to it. Also, female lead singer, Emila Derkowska, is much more reminiscent of the CLARE TOREY-ANNIE HASLEM type of prog singers from the 70s than the more operatic female metal singers of the 21st century prog metal groups, thus, I would venture to categorize Quidam, like their Collage countrymates, as Neo-Prog-ites. Wonderful use of flutes, oboe, cello, and recorders with truly stellar flute-guitar interplay. The keyboards used and recording techniques often sound a bit dated.

1. "Sanktuarium / Sanctuary" (8:57) incredibly delicate, superlative instrumental interplay in the instrumental sections. (18.25/20)
2. "Choćbym / Even Though..." (7:05) emotional vocal and electric guitar mirroring with a "Great Gig in the Sky"-like finish. (14/15)
3. "Bajkowy / Like A Fairytale" (3:42) an upbeat jaunt with the fairies, using acoustic instruments like recorders, acoustic guitars, piano, and multiple female vocals. Drums, electric bass and electric guitar solo make it prog folk. Delightful! (9/10)
4. "Głęboka Rzeka / Deep River" (8:03) New Age keys and flute open this one before switching gears to a real rocker. (12.5/15)
5. "Nocne Widziadła / Night Visions" (7:21) over-dramatic with dated keys. Most notable for "Great Gig in the Sky"-like vocalise over the traditional instrumental section of the song. (13/15)
6. "Niespełnienie / Unfulfilled" (9:44) (17/20)
7. "Warkocze / Plaits" (4:07) Incredible vocal & melody over a rather simple, straightforward song. (9/10)
8. "Bijące Serca / Beating Hearts" (1:53) beautiful electric guitar & cello duet. Piano, too. (4.75/5)
9. "Płonę / I'm On Fire" (14:09) piano and flute duet opens the first couple minutes before screaming Mirek Gil-like guitar leads rich, polished bombast. Nice mix of delicate and heavy in the instrumental mid-section--with a very catchy melodic hook conveyed by the screaming lead guitar. (26.75/30) 

124.50/140 = 88.92 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Neo Prog music and an amazing debut. 

LANDBERK Indian Summer (1996)

The wonderful final album from these Swedish masters of atmospherics and emotion, this album is a bit more polished and pop-oriented than their previous effort, One Man Tells Another. "Why Do I Still Sleep" (7:55) (10/10) may be the second best song of 1996, and "Humanize" (6:09) (10/10), "I Wish I Had a Boat" (5:41) (9/10), and the hard-drivin' "Dustgod" (5:04) (9/10) aren't far behind. An album full of catchy, haunting melodies that you'll find yourself humming long after the music has stopped.

AFTER CRYING De Profundis (1996)

AFTER CRYING's 1996 releasee, De Profundis, is a monumental work of art. With it's small pieces intended to display the skill and artistry of its individual members, I am reminded of YES's Fragile. Yet, as so many reviewers have noted, there are definite signs of the influence of Robert Fripp and Keith Emerson. Most predominant, however, are the deep and rich traditions of Hungarian classical and folk music. As with many "Eastern European" music traditions, we "Westerners" sometimes have some difficulty hearing the 'beauty' or getting used to the 'melodies' of these musics. That is why repeated listening, attentive headphone listening, and background listening are all important--to, if you will, immerse oneself or imbue oneself in these sounds and textures. Such has been the educative approach which has led me to last night's 'breakthrough.' It all makes sense. It is truly beautiful, powerful, albeit,
at times, complicated music. With two short songs being among the most hauntingly beautiful songs I've EVER heard, I knew I had to keep listening to the rest of this music. I now champion five songs from this album to be included among the pantheon of all-time 'classics.' The first is the first song on the album:

1. "Bevezetés." A female choir chanting angelically from within a chapel/cathedral setting over an organ. Beautiful arrangement. (10/10)

2. "Modern Idök" is an orchestral behemoth with very theatric male voice singing in Hungarian.  (8/10)

3. "Az üstökös." A beautiful piano rondo. (9/10)

4. "Stalker" is one of the album's two epics, clocking in at over 12 minutes. Beginning with a very ominous rolling bass line accompanied by sporadic percussion and percussive guitar playing and strings until 2:20 when brass and woodwinds join in. At 2:50 an electric guitar takes over, playing over a fairly standard rock beat & rhythm section until gradually joined by the brass playing a very PHILLIP GLASS-like rolling part. The 4:55 mark sees a winding down to a quiet section: bells, organ, light cymbol play, and spoken word carry on until at 6:55 when a flute takes over with an airy melody. Then, just as you're lulled to sleep, all hell breaks loose at the 7:55 mark. Very CRIMSON-esque "Red"-like until the 9:23 mark when it just as suddenly stops. Instead, a FRIPP-like guitar solo struggles within its sadness and melancholy while a distant organ and the sound of a train traveling on its tracks serves as its only background. Amazing song! (9/10)

5. "Stonehenge" is a rather uninteresting cello solo not unlike some KRONOS QUARTET pieces. (6/10)

6. "Külvárosi éj" is one of the most stunningly beautiful, creative instrumental pieces I've ever encountered. Floating, shifting electric guitar arpeggios over which build tympani, cello, and trumpet into a weave of such intricacy and majesty--?! My favorite song of 1996! (11/10)

7. "Manók tánca" is a chamber music song built around a piano which later engages a drum kit. (8/10)

8. "Kifulladásig" contains an electric guitar playing in a kind of STANLEY JORDAN meets NARCISO YPES style. Not unlike something ROBERT FRIPP would do. It does have a quite beautiful mid-section sounding more like BRUCE COCKBURN beginning at the 2:00 minute mark. (7/10)

9. "De Profundis" is a four part epic of almost 12 minutes. The first part has a very medieval, chamber music feel--complete with minstrel-like vocals--while later adding piano. At the 5:00 minute mark, section B slows down the piano, bassoon, flute, cello--having a very GENESIS feel to it. Section C presents a MIKE OLDFIELD sounding guitar solo until at 9:55 we have a return to the beginning format and vocal. Wonderful song! Very pastoral and accessible. (9/10)

10. "Jónás imája"  begins a series of short pieces with one longer piece (the 8 minute "Esküszegök") in the middle. Like Fragile, these pieces seem to serve mostly to showcase the individual talents or experimental song structures of the group. This one contains a storytelling over electric bass harmonic arpeggios. (6/10)

11. "Elveszett város" contains oboe playing over a chamber orchestra. (6/10)

12. "Kisrasút" is a piano piece done in an almost DON PULLEN-plays-Ragtime fashion. (7/10)

13. "Esküszegök"  Very CRIMSON-esque electric rock band until the third section when brass and woodwinds are added. (6/10)

14. "40 masodperc" is 40 seconds of street noises and organ.

15. "A világ végén" A female voice singing over SUPERTRAMP-like keyboard, joined later by bassoon, then flutes with synthesized strings, then oboe. (7/10)

Giving this innovative and very progressive yet far-from-perfect album anything less than 'masterpiece' status is really difficult for me. Kind of like getting used to GENTLE GIANT:  it requires persistence and appreciation for the mathematical possibility of musical dimensions. Yet, most everyone agrees on the genius and virtuosity of GG. Were the same numbers able (or willing) to access AFTER CRYING, there might be greater appreciation for them.

PENDRAGON – The Masquerade Overture (1996)
Such better songs, such better constructs (especially with layer and sound palette), such better sound and production, even better vocals, and Nick is really coming into his own as a rising guitar master.

1. "The Masquerade Overture" (3:03) impressive with "church organ" and operatic choir! (9.5/10) 
2. "As Good As Gold" (7:15) (13/15)
3. "Paintbox" (8:39) (18.5/20)
4. "The Pursuit Of Excellence" (2:37) a stolen Irish melody. (4/5) 
5. “Guardian Of My Soul” (12:41) (20.5/25)
6. “The Shadow” (9:55) (16.75/20)
7. “Masters Of Illusion” (12:51) (22/25)

86.87 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; Pendragon's ascendant moment: when they finally assert their presence among the top tier of the Neo Prog movement.

STEREOLAB Dots and Loops (1997) and Emperor's Tomato Ketchup (1996)

1997 and 1996, respectively, gave us two of Stereolab's breakthrough albums, one stylistically, the other popularly. While I enjoy EmperorDots and Loops is one of my all-time favorite albums (#5). The melodies, odd instrumental combinations, upbeat almost BURT BACHARACH feel to it, and the seemless flow of music--all four-to-five star songs--makes Dots and Loops one of the most unique and amazing albums ever made.

PÄR LINDH PROJECT Mundus Incompertus (1997)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Magdalena Hagberg / vocals
- Jocke Ramsell / electric & acoustic guitars
- Pär Lindh / piano, harpsichord, church organ, Hammond organs, Mellotrons, synths, percussion, 12-string guitar, producer
- Marcus Jäderholm / bass
- Nisse Bielfield / drums, percussion
- Singillatim Choir / chorus vocals
- Jonas Bengtsson / recorder
- Inge Thorsson / violin
- Michael Axelsson / oboe
- Aron Lind / trombone

1. "Baroque Impression No. 1" (9:10) heavier and rockin' than most of previous album's music. (19/20)
2. "The Crimson Shield" (6:38) a "baroque-folk" piece with harpsichord and Mellotron supporting the gorgeous vocal of Magdalena Hagberg. Reminiscent of Anthony Phillips' The Geese and the Ghost. (9.5/10)
3. "Mundus Incompertus" (26:43) one my Top 15 long-playing prog epics of the 1990s. 

Total Time: 42:34

93.125 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and a veritable masterpiece of the Neo Prog movement.

VOLARÉ The Uncertainty Principle (1997)

What?!! A Canterbury style album from a new group--their debut!--in 1999. What's more:  It's really good! Great keyboards and fuzzy guitars withs some awesome horn work as well ("Midnight Clear" [5:04]). Though less psychedelic than many releases from the peak era of Canterbury Scene, and perhaps a little tamer, more laid back and melodic than others, this is truly first rate, top notch Canterbury style instrumental jazz music! Check out the acoustic and electric guitar work in "One Minute of Thought..." (3:50), or just let yourself fall into the grooves and dreamy lulls of "...In Two Seconds of Time..." (8:12)--whichever song you choose I guarantee you you're in for a surprisingly pleasant ride. 

THINKING PLAGUE In Extremis (1998)

Though Thinking Plague had been producing albums since 1984, 1998's In Extremis seems to be the album that catapulted the band to the front of the public eye. Verily, the production, composition, and virtuosic performances are at such an astoundingly high level throughout the album, there is little wonder that this album has gained such appreciation. Categorized as "Rock-in-Opposition/Avant Garde Prog," some argue that this group also could fit into the Eclectic sub-genre because of it's King Crimson roots and similarities or into the Experimental/Post Metal as it's style and sound is/was such a precurser of such Experimental/Post Metal bands as UNEXPECT, NEUROSIS, and even MAUDLIN OF THE WELL and DEVIN TOWNSEND. In Extremis is my favorite Thinking Plague album and the one I would play to try to impress someone with their best yet most accessible work.

SIGUR ROS Agaetus Byrjum (1999)

I can think of very few albums in the last 20 years which feel and sound as if they come out of nowhere--are unlike anything else that came before them--are so unique that they stand out so starkly from the rest of music of the day. KARDA ESTRA's Eve, THE MARS VOLTA's De-loused in the Comatorium, ULVER's Shadows of the Sun, and MAUDLIN OF THE WELL's Part the Second are a few of the others that come to mind. Several songs on this 1999 album are to this date among the best ever made in the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre:  "Svefn-G-Englar" (10:06) (19/20), "Flugufrelsarinn" (9/10) and “Starálfur" (6:46) (9/10). "Ny Batteri" (8:12) (15/15) still never fails to leave me stunned/in awe every time I hear it.

A genre-defining album and gut-wrenching listening experience.

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