Sunday, April 14, 2013

2011 Releases, Part 3: Other Highly Recommended Albums

Other Albums from 2011 Worth Listening To:

Below you will find a somewhat-ordered catalogue of the album releases from 2011. 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.

WHITE WILLOW Terminal Twilight

Now this is what prog is supposed to sound like! Great ambience, great representation on all instruments, great shifting textures and mixes, great production. I am amazed by the clarity of each instrument's recording in the mixes. Beautiful. One of the best aural headphones experiences I've had this year. Reminds me of a Peter Gabriel or Kate Bush recording with its clarity and definition. I love the sound of this bass player's playing. I love the sneak in appearance by one-of-a-kind vocalist Tim Bowness (he always adds so much to anyone's song, IMO) on the gorgeous (love the flute, piano and STEVE JANSEN-like drums) "Kansas Regrets." I love the female vocalist's tonal quality--and the BJORK-like enunciation. I love the understated individual performances which yield wonderful ensemble performances (not-unlike PINK FLOYD). I love the dreamy, eerie, almost surreal, lazy sounds and flow to "Red Leaves" (kind of PÄATOS-like). The 13-minute "Searise" reminds me of a RENAISSANCE epic--with a little of the heavier side of PÄATOS mixed in. And, try as I might, I'm unable to pick out any direct influences! They sound familiar, symphonic, yet kind of original--though at times I hear MAGENTA and Hogarth-era MARILLION.

86.25 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. I just love this album! It's one of my top albums of the year. My only complaints: a bit monotonous with the album's over-all tempo; I wish (as I always do) for some vocal harmonies. Still, a great listen start to finish--one that I will come back to again and again.

Five star songs: "Natasha of the Burning Woods" (6:29); "Hawks Circle the Mountain" (7:10); "Kansas Regrets" (4:40); "Red Leaves" (8:40); "Searise"(13:11), and; "A Rumour of Twilight" (2:34).

Four star songs: "Snowswept" (4:12); , and; "Floor 67" (9:55).

SOLUS3 Corner of the World

Five stars from Ivan Melgar is something worth following up on--and I did. Found Corner on Bandcamp and have been listening to it three times over now for the past two or three hours. This is awesome stuff--eclectic in the truests sense of the word as SOLUS3 has drawn from so many musical styles and influences to make this album of amazing music. I'd have been more prone to place this one in the space/psychedelia category, though. It is so wonderful to hear the harp being used more and more in prog (also prominant in Frequency Drift and SKE's releases this year), and here it is an essential and usually central instrument of all arrangements--though the interplay between harp, bass and drum are truly the most compelling and interesting element to these jazzy spacey jams. 

1. "Unfold" (9:46) is so SOUIXIE AND THE BANSHEES (her unparalleled cover of Disney's The Jungle Book's "Trust in Me") BRAINTICKET, Popol Vuh, Amun Düül II, and, now Vespero. (18/20)

2. "Tricked by a Monster" (9:26) Many times on this LP am I tickled to hear some Reggae sounds: here the bass, occasionally guitar chords or percussives. Guest singer Jemma Freeman brings so much Donna Summer-like soul to this space jam. Awesome trip! (18/20)

3. "Lollardy" (4:15) takes us on a totally different trip: an industrialized harp-bass and trumpet trance dance; part "Blade Runner Blues," part 21st Century Miles Davis, part Celtic funeral march, this is a song unlike any you have ever heard. (9/10)

4. "Corner of the World" (6:42) returns us to a kind of Reggaed SOUL II SOUL jam--just as S2S used to do to us, it's filled with cameo appearances of all sorts of totally unexpected instruments, sounds, tricks. As a matter of fact, the only thing fairly 'normal' in this song is--surprise!--the rather straightforward drumming! Love the wild harp playing around 4 minutes in! (7/10)

5. "Porn Jam" (4:46) again brings me back to BRAINTICKET--especially the voice of pleasure and ecstacy Krupa here pulls off. Etheric and angelic, yet sultry and very sexual. Weird horn/synth at 3:00 kind of 'ruins the mood' a bit. Nice groove from the bass, drum & harp rhythm section. (8/10)

6. "Reich" (7:54) is my favorite. It is mesmerizing and hypnotic yet the bass and harp inter-playing are so fascinating. Very Celtic-New Age yet entirely jazz-fusion--especially thanks to surprises at 3:00 (Japanese koto-sounding harp section) and synth-saw at 5:00. (There is an unfortunate period where rapid percussive beat land harp and bass lose their entrainment. Just enough to 'awaken' the listener from his/her blissful transport. Quite reminiscent of the amazing ENO/LARAAJI Ambient 3: Day of Radiance album. (14/15)

7. "Pumori" (11:01) reminds me of a beautifully drawn out, free form version of Jazzmaster 4 PAUL HARDCASTLE & HELEN ROGERS' "Emerald Starldust." Love the "Shhh!" and "You can go to bed now" after the 9:00 mark. Outstanding fade out/end. (18/20)

Wow! What can I say! A totally unexpected trip (four times continuously now!) The only thing missing is the pleasure den. Oh, well. Great music, great creativity, great album. Not sure this is a prog masterpiece, though it is a masterpiece of progressive creativity.

86.67 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; an excellent expression of eclectic progressive rock music; not quite a masterpiece yet delightful for its unexpectedness.


Another great KE album! Karda Estra has such a refreshing way of leading the listener down unexpected yet beautiful paths with their odd and unexpected chord and key shifts. I hope they keep putting out new music forever! This one finds Richard et co. working with a few more outsiders, which renders this collection of songs a bit more outside of the 'typical' KE Gothic-medieval sound (e.g. Eve, Vovoid Dracula, Weird Tales) and more like their 2005 release, The Last of the Libertine. The result, however, is a much more catchy, melodious and even 'poppy' KE album. There are songs that feel jazzy like KOOP, complex pop like BURT BACHARACH, several straight out of the STEVE HACKETT school of prog snippets ("snippets" because most of these songs are less than 4 minutes in length--with several less than two!), along with a few from the more 'classic' KE sound repertoire. All in all, it's a lighter side of Richard and the gang--one that makes for very pleasant background music as you cook or read.

Album highlights:  "Transmissions" (3:24) (9/10), "Girl in a Spaceship" (live sample) (9/10), "Sea of Tranquility" (9/10), "Invaders from Venus" (live sample) (9/10)--heck! I like them all! A great album to play straight through.

86.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a wonderful addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you like clever, refreshing chamber prog.

TUNE  Lucid Moments 

Combining the psychobabble of a mentally ill patient and his doctors with finger-tapping guitar stylings, an accordion, and a rhythm section that sounds like countrymates RIVERSIDE make for an interesting and often beautiful ride. It is unfortunate that some of the album's best songs are rendered unplayable to the public because of the use of profanity by the psychologically challenged story 'character.' Guitarist Adam Hajzer is quite talented in his use of finger tapping techniques. The bass and drums are quite solid together, giving the music that powerful RIVERSIDE feel. The vocalist reminds me so much of BELIEVE's original lead vocalist, Tomek Rozcki. The story being told is quite interesting and entertaining if times a bit awkward because of the accented English. (Shouldn't this angry man be spouting his vitriole in his native tongue?) But my favorite part of the music--and what makes this a highly recommended album from 2011--is the brilliant incorporation of accordion. I just wish there was more!

Favorite tracks:  the opener, "Dependent," (6:06) (9/10) which begins like a trip through a JOHN MARTYN or STANLEY JORDAN guitar piece, but then builds behind the brilliant accordion and dramatic bass and drums play; #4 "Lucid Moments" (6:35) (9/10) in which the accordion has some wonderful moments key and central to the music and the lead guitar shows some of his OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ licks; #7 "Cabin Fever" (6:35) (8/10) which begins with some great sensitive accordion play before building into a powerful song with awesome guitar leads and vocal lines, albeit violent, and; the album's finale, "Dr. Freeman" (5:21) (8/10) which has some beautiful solo electric guitar work accompanying most of the song's first half in which a recorded dialogue between a psychiatrist and his patient is playing. The frenzied final ninety seconds is highlighted once again by some excellent aggressive lead guitar work in the TMV/OR-L style.

Overall quite an enjoyable listen but one that leaves me wanting so much more from the accordion!

85.56 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a wonderful addition to any prog lover's collection of progressive rock music. A good album recommended especially to fans of RIVERSIDE, VOTUM, RETROSPECTIVE and other Polish prog rockers.


A late comer as it was only released in December, this album is as haunting as it is beautiful, as unique as it is masterful, as stunning as it is stark, as amazing as it is emotional. Prog folk at its absolute best. Finnish folk at its most captivating. I don't know Finnish but, frankly, one needn't in order to comprehend the mood and emotional message of these remarkable songs. And though the album captures an overall vibe, each and every song has its own unexpected uniquity; all the songs here have a surprising variety.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tyko Saarikko / vocals, guitar, harmonium
- Ilmari Issakainen / piano, bass, drums, backing vocals
- Jaakko Hilppö / backing vocals
- Jussi Lehtinen / backing vocals
- Tuukka Tolvanen / backing vocals, mixing
- Janina Lehto / flute
- Paula Lehtomäki / viola
- Elisa Ollikainen / cello
- Heikki Hannikainen / double bass

1. "Saivon Kimallus" (3:40) (9/10) 
2. "Pojan Kiiski" (6:46) (14/15)
3. "Uloin" (8:08) (/15)
4. "Pienet Purot" (4:18) (/10)
5. "Sateen Soutu" (3:06) (/10)
6. "Haaksi" (9:14) (/20)
7. "Surunuotta" (5:43) (/10)
8. "Savoie" (3:02) (/10)
9. "Vuoksi" (6:08) (/10)
10. "Paluu Joelle" (5:02) (/10)
11. "Sees" (4:26) (/10)
12. "Siniset Runot" (10:30) (/20)

Total time 70:03

KATE BUSH 50 Words for Snow

While I've been enjoying this album and with it Kate's more minimalist song-delivery style, I must admit to not feeling that the songs are as creative or envelope-pushing as some of her previous work (Never ForeverThe DreamingHounds of LoveThe Sensual World). There are a few of her expected "gimmicks"--like her son Bertie's narration and singing in 1. "Snowflake," the choral work singing 2. "Lake Tahoe" in the song of that name, the Himalayan choral singing the chorus in 4. "Wild Man," Elton John's strong and equal presence in the emotional duet about two souls re-encountering each other over and over without really fully connecting, 5. "Snowed in at Wheeler Street," the jazzy drum and bass play in the epic, 3. "Misty," and then, of course, Steven Frye's recitation of Kate's list of 50 terms for snow in the song, 6. "50 Words for Snow." Kate's piano playing and singing are exquisite--as are the orchestral arrangements and performances, masterfully mature and infinitely emotional, but the songs are sometimes lacking something . . . je ne sais quois to really bring them into the realm of classic masterpieces. I think they are masterful--expressions of a songwriting master, and I personally find them incredibly powerful and deeply engaging, but I'm not sure the average prog lover will prize them equally. It is for this reason that I think the album deserves three and a half stars, rated down to three because it probably is, in fact, "Good, but non-essential" and not an "excellent addition to ANY prog rock music collection. But for Kate lovers, it is probably worthy of 4.5 stars--a wonderful presentation of emotional songs from one of music's all-time masters.

1. "Snowflake" (10:04) (20/20)
2. "Lake Tahoe" (11:25) (19/20)
3. "Misty" (13:32) (25.5/30)
4. "Wild Man" (7:17) (12.5/15)
5. "Snowed in at Wheeler Street" (8:05) (12.75/15)
6. "50 Words for Snow" (8:31) (13/20)
7. "Among Angels" (6:49) (12/15)

85.0 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a solid contribution to the glories of progressive rock music, a wonderfully beautiful listening experience.

EDISON’S CHILDREN In the Last Waking Moments

This experimental collaboration of MARILLION roadie Eric Blackwood and Marillion stallwart and bass guitarist PETE TREWAVAS has produced some absolutely gorgeous atmospheric The Wall-era PINK FLOYD-like Crossover prog. Great keyboard work fills every song and some pretty darn good guitar playing and singing, too. There is some kind of thread of repeated themes and sounds throughout the album. Overall the album has a kind of ART OF NOISE plays with PINK FLOYD and Hogarth-era MARILLION, with a more soulful IAN ANDERSON performing the vocalese. This is an album full of very catchy, engaging sounds, hooks, chords and lyrics and amazing production value.

Album highpoints: the gorgeous #5, "A Million Miles Away (I Wish I Had a Time Machine) (5:01) (8/10), the vocal on #6, "Outerspaced" (3:14) (8/10); the gorgeous #7, "Spiraling" (5:01) (10/10); the all-out rockin' #11 "Lifeline" (3:17) (8/10), and the regurgitative #12 "Fallout (of the 3rd Kind)" (4:01) (9/10), and; the beautiful epic, "The Awakening" (15:33) (29/30) (a preview of things to come on The Last Breath Before November).

83.57 on the Fish scales = solid four stars; an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Not really very innovative or ground-breaking--it's all really very familiar, albeit, gorgeous, music.

SEAN FILKINS War and Peace and Other Stories of Love and Hate

I like Sean Filkins' voice. BIG BIG TRAIN's The Difference Machine is one of my favorite CDs of the Naughties. I like this album pretty well. I agree with a few other reviewers that it's a bit bombastic, at times a bit drawn out or overextended, and overall fails to really explore any new territory, however, it does contain some stellar moments and one song that, IMHO, deserves to be launched straight to the pantheon of prog epic masterpieces: Epitaph for a Mariner.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Sean Filkins / lead & backing vocals, acoustic & electric rhythm guitars, ebow guitar, keyboards, sitar, percussion, blues harp, didgeridoo
- Lee Abraham / acoustic & electric rhythm guitars, keyboards, bass, slide guitar (5), co-producer
- Gary Chandler / acoustic & electric guitar solos (2)
- Darren Newitt / guitar (3,6)
- John Mitchell / guitar solos (4,5)
- John Sammes / keyboards, arrangements
- Dave Meros / bass (2)
- Gerald Mulligan / drums

1. "The English Eccentric" (8:47) is is interesting for the way it feels heavy with out being really heavy at all. (It's the excellent bass playing.) A different vocal timbre from Sean with nice b-vox harmonies. "The cracks in the pavement..." section, with its standard power chords, is a bit overblown (despite some nice bass work). And there is a very pretty, medieval-ish section after the "Her father said..." line. Pretty good wah-ed guitbox solo to the end, too. (8/20)

2. There are outstanding parts to "Prisoner of Conscience, Part I: The Soldier" (19:22) (the flute and sitar intro section; the use of mandolin and acoustic guitars in the second section; the organ in the third section; the heavier, bass-led "I Don't..." section; and, the climax with excellent [John Mitchell?] guitar solo from 15:30 to end), but then there are parts that are, well, bombastic and overblown ("mist of sudden fear" and follow-up sections [12:30-14:38]--including the spanish guitar part). (8/40)

3. "Prisoner of Conscience, Part 2: The Ordinary Man" (11:02) has the unfortunate disadvantage of starting with a synth and synth bass foundation that sounds like it's been lifted straight out of JOURNEY's "Don't Stop Believin'," and, unfortunately, it doesn't get much better from there--almost "too proggy"--(like some Tangent, Flower Kings and Glass Hammer.) The piano-backed middle "So fragile...time stands still..." section helps--until the JOURNEY-like lead guitar (John Mitchell? really poorly mixed; IMO, not the right sound fit for this part) enters. A true neo-prog song. (6/20)

4. The topical theme suggested by the title "Epitaph for a Mariner" (20:53) conjures up comparisons to BBT's The Underfall Yard--which is unfortunate, because the lyrics and their emotional presentation were where I personally found flaw with Underfall. However, that is where the comparisons should end. The first three sections--one instrumental sans drums with female 'siren' singing, the second including a brief recorded voice of a sailor, the third an ANT PHILLIPS--like 12-string with synth wash section over which Sean sings his heart--is absolutely gorgeous. The fourth section gets heavier, with an awesome slide guitar floating around in the background, yet retains the intense emotion and fresh-feeling to it--and delightfully peaks with a spine-thrilling slide solo. Together with this being by far Sean's best vocal performance on the album, this song alone warrants the purchase, listen, and Top 10 standing of this album. (37.5/40)

5. "Learn How to Learn" (7:28) uses a really strange effect on Sean's lead vocal--which is especially noticeable in the quieter sections. The song's overall similarities to YES' "I've Seen All Good People" is rather enjoyable--including some rather esoteric, New Age lyrics I much prefer the move into the spacey, sitar w/tabla second/final section to that of "Your Move." (12/15)

Total time: (68:36)

A masterpiece? No. But a solid 4 stars. Admittedly, I came into this listening experience with some doubts, but I come away a believer. Sean & Company are for real!

An excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

UNEXPECT Fables of the Sleepless Empire

Not quite as innovative or stunningly fresh as 2006's In a Flesh Aquarium, this is still a music that is so unique, so intricate and layered, filled with such amazing instrumental (those voices, too!) performances that I can rate it nothing less than "essential." As noted by previous reviewers, this is a step forward, a maturation of the songwriting and skillful performing abilities of the band members. Amazing work. More immediately accessible than IaFA, too. (That was one crazy album!) But still out there--WAY out there. What's in the water and air in Quebec to produce such amazing music/musicians and creativity? Pick this one up, you 2011 naysayers. It's an earful--and then some! (P.S. "In the Mind of the Last Whale" has got to be one of the most poignant, emotion-packed, spot-on renderings of post-industrial--post-human?---Earth.)

Album highlights: 1. "Unsolved Ideas of a Distorted Guest" (6:55) (10/10); 2. "Words" (5:58) (10/10); the middle section of # 4, "Mechanical Phoenix" (6:56) (8/10); the title of #6, a kind of amped up B-52s, "Unfed Pendulum" (7:55) (8/10); 7. "In the Mind of the Last Whale" (2:59) (10/10), the hillariously humerous 'operatic' "Silence This Parasite" (5:19) (8/1), and; 9. "A Fading Stance" (2:06) (9/10).

4.5 stars, rated down for the fact that this abrasive, amphetamine music is NOT for everyone. Metalheads, avant/RIOers, doomers, and lovers of gypsy rock will like this. A lot.

IONA Another Realm 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Joanne Hogg / vocals, piano, keyboards
- Dave Bainbridge / piano, keyboards, acoustic & electric guitars, bouzouki, autoharp, producer
- Martin Nolan / Uillean pipes, low & tin whistles, vocals
- Phil Barker / bass, electric upright bass
- Frank Van Essen / drums, percussion, acoustic & electric violins, viola, glockenspiel, vocals
- Wytze Valkema / shofars (13)
- Debbie Bainbridge / vocals (5)
- Evie Bainbridge / vocals (5)

CD 1 (44:14)
1. As It Was (2:41)
2. The Ancient Wells (7:22)
3. Another Realm (4:26)
4. Clouds (6:45)
5. "An Atmosphere of Miracles" (15:35) :
- i. When We See Beyond
- ii. Intimacy
- iii. An Atmosphere of Miracles
6. Let Your Glory Fall (7:25)

CD 2 (51:17)
7. Ruach (6:20)
8. Speak to Me (3:30)
9. And the Angels Dance (6:02)
10. Foreign Soil (4:50)
11. Let the Waters Flow (5:25)
12. Saviour (5:04)
13. The Fearless Ones (5:41)
14. White Horse (11:09)
15. As It Shall Be (3:16)

Total time 95:31

Astounding beauty. Memorable melodies. Mature, virtuosic performances. My disappointment with this album lies in the 'new' overt Christian message in Joanna Hogg's lyrics/message. On all previous IONA albums the lyrics have been more poetic, allegoric, the Christian message present but not so blatant, not so 'in-your-face.' Before, the poetry and imagery were able to blend in with the music. On Another Realm the band's music definitely plays secondary support to the lyrics' Christian message.

Favorite songs:  the VAUGHAN WILLIAMS-like instrumental, "Rauch" (6:21) (10/10), the simple, straightforward, folk-poppy "Speak to Me" (3:30) (10/10); the incredibly gorgeous, incredibly powerful closer of disc 2, "As It Shall Be" (3:17) (10/10); four star songs:  The East-meets-West spiritual "The Fearless Ones" (5:42) (8/10); the slightly-oriental (RYIUCHI SAKAMOTO)-sounding "Saviour" (5:07) (8/10)

A solid four stars though a disappointment when compared to previous IONA and IONA-related issues.

Italian keyboard specialist Paolo Ske Botta--also of FRENCH TV and YUGEN--has composed and performed some wonderful avant-prog songs with the help of several of Europe's AltrOck Productions premier avant-garde musicians--including YUGEN and KURAI members Francesco Zago (the mastermind!), Mattia Sign', Valerio Cipollone, Favio Ciro Ceriani, and Maurizio Fasoli (also of NICHELODEON), Nicolas Nikolopoulos (CICCADA), and Strasbourg's CAMEMBERT members Pierre Wawrzyniak and Fabrice Toussaint, ) This music is so difficult to describe, change for change, layer by layer, instrument by instrument because THERE ARE SO MANY! Changes, layers, themes, melodies, and instruments. Not quite as wildly discordant as YUGEN or UNIVERS ZERO, there are many more melodious and harmonious parts to SKE's music--complete with many of the unpredictable twists and turns of avant compostions.

1. "Fraguglie" (6:06) KING CRIMSON meets BILL BRUFORD's Earthworks meets ERIS PLUVIA meets CICCADA meets MILES DAVIS meets RUSH meets BRAND X meets KITARO! This song has it all!! (10/10)

2. "Denti" (5:11) has slower, heavier, almost cinematic feel to it. The presentation of specific and repeated melody lines makes this song feel nearly symphonic. A song with teeth! (8/10)

3. "Carta e burro" (4:57) ("paper and butter"?) is a fairly simple, almost nursery rhyme-like song which interweaves the wordless vocals of Roberta Pagani as an added instrument. The song has a lot in common, sound-wise, with Bill Bruford's early EARTHWORKS albums (sans batterie!) (10/10)

4. "Scrupoli" (4:12) has trouble drawing the listener in, emotionally, yet is filled with interesting and often delightful twists and turns. (7/10)

5. "Delta" (5:06) begins with an absolutely gorgeous foundation of arpeggios and melody lines by the woodwinds. The second section--almost an interlude--includes children playground noises in the background over which guitar arpeggios play very TOBY DRIVER-ish for a while. (10/10)

6. "Scogli 1" (2:13) tuned percussion, electric piano (and, later, other synths), bassoon and electric guitar dance around one another in an avant-KING CRIMSON exercise in polyphonic arpeggio weaving. Reminds me of a classical etude. (7/10)

7. "Sotto sotto" (5:35) feels like a slowed down continuation of "Scogli 1"--making it quite beautiful--including some beautiful Robert Fripp-like guitar sounds and riffs'in a kind of AFTER CRYING masterpiece. (10/10)

8. "Mummia" (5:24) brings the listener back into the realm of cinematic soundscapes. It is replete with tension and up- and down-tempo sections. Not my favorite but perfect for a 'mummy movie' and the song closest to 'mainstream' symphonic (or neo-) prog. (8/10)

9. "Scogli 2" (2:33) the second 'rock' or 'stumbling block'--though, IMO, rather more like an 'etude or variation' from the X-Files soundtracks. (8/10)

10. "La nefazia di multaulti" (6:29) is another song that tries to use the vocal talents of Roberta Pagani--but this time it doesn't work. Roberta is often off-key and her melody lines are too often following another instrument (usually synth) note for note, making her presence redundant. Plus, the song seems to lack vision and focus. IMO, this is the weakest song on the album despite some breathtakingly beautiful passages (3:45-4:45). The vocals are kind of like a failed version of Burt Bacharach's soundtrack to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. (6/10)

11. "Scogli 3" (1:30) (8/10) opening piano arpeggios usher the listener into the best of the three Scogli variations. Organ emerges to take over the center section before woodwinds take us out--and into the album's finale,

12. "Rassegnati" (7:09) an at-times almost eclectic/heavy prog (think KING CRIMSON on its raw side) end to the album--and what an album it is! (8/10)

83.33 on the Fish scales = a solid four star album. This is one for the ages! Melody and technique; harmony with dissonance. Check it out! (Sample link is to a 3:35 long album "teaser.")

OPETH Heritage

The Steven Wilson-Mikael Åkerfeld collaboration steps up a notch--infiltrating the Opeth world. The band this time finds themselves occupied with Satan and his influence.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mikael Åkerfeldt / electric & acoustic guitars, Mellotron, grand piano, Fx, vocals, producer
- Fredrik Åkesson / electric guitars
- Per Wiberg / Hammond B3, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzer, grand piano
- Martin Mendez / bass, upright bass
- Martin Axenrot / drums, percussion
- Joakim Svalberg / grand piano (1)
- Björn J:son Lindh / flute (7)
- Alex Acuña / percussion (7)
- Charlie Dodd / sound Fx (6)
- Steven Wilson / Fx & vocals engineering and mixing

1. "Heritage" (2:05) pensive piano intro! Not what one expects from an Opeth album! (4.5/5)

2. "The Devil's Orchard" (6:40) SW atmospherics! Let the change be pronounced! (8.667/10)

3. "I Feel the Dark" (6:37) (8.75/10)

4. "Slither" (4:00) (8.667/10)

5. "Nepenthe" (5:37) interesting use of tension-filled space and a variation on a famous Jimi Hendrix guitar riff overlain by an awful vocal. (8.5/10)

6. "Häxprocess" (6:58) the most sophisticated, SW-sounding song yet. The second half is nice with the Spanish guitar and Mellotron. (13.5/15)

7. "Famine" (8:32) orchestra pit flutist warming up, glass clinking in the wind, odd vocal noises, Arabian percussion, Again far more spacious, drawn out, and atmospheric than anything I ever expected from this band. When the bass, drums, and riffing electric guitar finally to arrive, the strangely effected vocal makes it all seem out of place, incongruent. (I'd hate to think that this was a cerebral decision: that it was intentional.) Gets heavy for a bit after the halfway point--kind of like some 1970s metal (Sabbath comes to mind)--but then becomes spacious and tense with organ and distant drum and cymbal, distant vocal, and flitting flute. (Is this obsession with the satanic now mixed with the sound stylings of Black Sabbath what is meant by the album title, "Heritage"?) Odd piano and vocal noises to the end. (17.25/20)

8. "The Lines in My Hand" (3:49) such odd effects and mixing used for the individual instrument tracks. They each sound as if they're existing--performing--in different environments while somehow still all patched in to be able to hear one another. (8.667/10)

9. "Folklore" (8:17) pretty standard rock (with more really odd vocal fx decisions) that turns good in the final quarter--gets movin' and groovin'. (17.25/20)

10. "Marrow of the Earth (4:19) multiple guitars--electric out front, classical and acoustic steel string slightly behind--performing together like a multi-tracked CHET ATKINS song. Brushed drums and organ join in for the final quarter. Pretty. (9/10)

Total Time 56:54

Fascinating album! How many times can a band re-invent themselves? Like Conor above, I was immediately impressed with the drumming on this album. It is absolutely stunning. And, overall, I have to say that this is my favorite Opeth sound (though I am by no means now a fan or convert). I love the keys, am blown away by all musicians' skills and touch, actually really enjoy the vocals, but agree that the music seems to never really go anywhere. There is so little structure and/or point to each song's development as to leave me wondering--after almost every song--what were they trying to do there? These are not so much songs as impressionist pieces, or, better, Zen pieces: every moment could and does lead to something raw and unexpected. More RIO/Avant, to my ears. I am more reminded of YUGEN, HENRY COW, and UNIVERS ZERO (and maybe a little JETHRO TULL??--even ZAPPA) here than anything else. Still, this is a very interesting album--one that I will return, I'm sure--which is more than I can say for Still LifeBlackwater Park, or Damnation--all of which I appreciate; I just don't feel the desire to revisit them very often. 

87.29 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection. Nice job, OPETH. Check this album out. It really is worth it.

SUNCHILD As Far As the Eye Can See

Line-up / Musicians:
- Antony Kalugin / vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitar, percussion, co-producer
- Olya Chernova / vocals
- Victoria Osmachko / vocals
- Andrey Kobylyanskiy / electric, acoustic & nylon guitars
- Roberto Diaz / electric guitar (1)
- Sergey Kovalev / accordion (bayan), vocals, Fx
- Vasiliy Ivanov / flute (7,8)
- Misha Sidorenko / alto saxophone (1,4,6)
- Helen Bour / oboe (1-7)
- Alexandr Pastukhov / bassoon (1,5,7)
- Max Morozov / viola (1-3,5,7-9)
- Daria Maiourova / violin (1,2,5,7-9)
- Oksana Podmaryova / cello (1,4,5,7,9)
- Oleg Prokhorov / bass
- Vanya Rubanchyuk / drums
- Vadim Samosyuk / drums (5)

1. "Stars of Cardiff Bay" (15:25)
2. Ring of Eternity (6:38)
3. Seven Kings (5:19)
4. Mirrors (4:56)
5. Gordian Knot (4:51)
6. Rising (4:51)
7. March of Fate (6:27)
8. Visionary Sights (6:18)
9. As Far as the Eye Can See (7:45)

Total Time 62:30

Wow! More great music from 2011 yet revealed! This is part great neo-prog, part theatric rock opera (reminds me of a very, very toned down kind of UNEXPECT, if you can envision that), part eclectic-world music. What this is not is boring music: the myriad tempo and mood changes are so unexpected and out-of-the-blue as to always keep me interested--kind of like From.UZ or The Mars Volta. Plus, there are many interesting musical instrument choices (though, in this age of computer programmed composition one can never know what is authentic and what is played on keyboard--and Kalugin is, after all, a master keyboard artist). Favorite songs include: "Ring of Eternity" (9/10), "Stars of Cardiff Bay" (8/10), and the title song (8/10). Though Kalugin's vocal stylings are eerily similar to both COLLAGE/BELIEVE's Tomek Rozycki and TFK/TRANSATLANTIC's Roine Stolt, there are many other co-vocalists who add quite a bit of spice to each song. Another great release from 2011, The Year of Prog! 

Highly recommended.


Line-up / Musicians:
- Sel Balamir / guitars, vocals, producer & mixing
- Neil Mahony / bass
- Matt Brobin / drums
- Charlie Barnes / piano
- Tom Knott / trumpet
- Rose Kemp / vocals (1,4 CD2)
- Mike Vennart / backing vocals
- Claire Lemmon / backing vocals
- Denise Johnson / backing vocals
- Kemal L. Freaktide / voice of Satan

1. The Runner (3:38)
2. Minion's Song (5:51)
3. Interglacial Spell (6:25)
4. The Wave (7:00)
5. The Octopus (9:17)
6. Planet Of Insects (5:49)
7. White Horses At Sea / Utopian Daydream (8:55)
8. Trading Dark Matter On The Stock Exchange (11:33)

1. The Sick Rose (8:58)
2. Interstellar (10:18)
3. The Emperor (6:40)
4. Golden Ratio (5:16)
5. Fall Of The Empire (8:29)
6. Bloodtest (5:18)
7. Oscar Night / Embryo (7:44)
8. "Forever And More" (9:23)

Total Time 120:42

Some really great, though very dense (as in, 'very interesting; requiring a lot of the listener's attention') music covering nearly two hours! Wow! How luxurious would that be to be able to sit with headphones for a two hour musical journey! But, music of this calibur--production value, sound quality and compositional skill on par with the likes of PORCUPINE TREE, RIVERSIDE, ANATHEMA, PHIDEAUX and LUNATIC SOUL--may be worth it! As a matter of fact, if you're a fan of the above listed bands, you'll find a lot of sounds, riffs, and and structures to be very similar to each of those. Nice MARIUSZ DUDA-like vocals and beats throughout, lots of post-2002 PORCUPINE TREE heaviness, many of the subtleties for which PHIDEAUX is known and loved, and frequent reminders of the Post Rock feel of ANATHEMA and LUNATIC SOUL. Overall, though, I'd place thses guys--and particularly this album--in the category of 'RIVERSIDE/PORCUPINE TREE 2006;' probably better than In Absentia and head and shoulders with Second Life Syndrome. Well done. No weak songs. Just . . . a lot of music. 

Four stars; definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

A surprising and sometimes unsettling listening experience from an avant group that definitely pushes boundaries in its employment of odd, theatric vocals over fairly simple, almost minimalistic folk/tango musical constructs. Experimental music at its oddest. Think of UNIVERS ZÉRO writing and performing a Allan Ginsberg or other Beat poet's work on a small, smoky stage, black and white the only colors under stage light. Female vocalist, Carolina Restuccia, most often sounds like BJÖRK singing in a Japanese Noh. Interesting but not a familiar or comfortable style (at least to these untrained, Western, ears). Fascinating, mesmerizing music that needs many listens to truly come to terms with. Do I like it? I'm still not sure. Ask me after another 20 listens. I would, however, recommend this album for the brave and open-hearted listener--one who likes to explore new, unfamiliar, and unusual musics. Like UneXpect, I very much respect and am in awe of these composers and performers. Unlike Factor Burzaco's first album, which felt more musically 'normal' and whose music provoked some interesting reactions, II is really an emotional experience delivered through music. The music, to my ears, of II is much more integrated and cohesive, i.e. all sounds, structures and musicians contribute integrally to the whole. 

1. "Beginning" (1:51) gentle marimba, background horns, a male voice speaking as if in narration or in thinking out loud, and Carolina Restuccia's rapidly interjected syllables--what an amazing introduction to this group, this album. (10/10)

2. "Progressions" (4:53) is the most 'normal' and rockish song on the album--and my least favorite! (6/10)

3. "What" (2:23) begins as if the band is tuning. A very open-space sound--as if in a grand cathedral. Beautiful and powerful. (4/5)

4. "InMemorian" (5:39) begins with a vocal that sounds almost like chant--or a girl trying to memorize some facts for a test--and then, church music. Woodwinds 'blow' dissontant, sustained notes. The intermittent bursts of dynamic energy from the percussion department are most interesting for the delicate sections which immediately follow. (9/10)

5. "Guantanabu 1" (7:07) has a mesmerizing tuned percussion riff repeating itself over and over in a minimalist way while the same male voice from the album's first song whipers rapidly, while alternating with an operatic/liturgical voice. (7/15)

6. "Guantanabu 2" (1:38) is full of industrial sounds blended into something like Genesis's "The Waiting Room." (6/10)

7. "Guantanabu 3" (4:15) is probably my other least favorite song on the album mostly because of its abrasive bass work. (7/10)

8. "Straviko" (5:59) begins with Carolina's Björk-like voice, only she alternates farther into weirdness and classically trained singing styles--often within seconds of one another. She is fearless, uninhibited, pure Zen singer. It's a wonder the other musicians can match her, yet the music also darts all over the place. It is a stark and warm song, an spiritual and soulless song; it is one of the most bizarre yet fascinating songs I've ever heard. Truly avant garde. Astonishing that it is only in the final 30 seconds that a straightforward beat and driving message are ever established. If only I knew what message the lyrics were trying to convey, my opinion might be better informed. (9/10)

9. "Before the end" (0:32) is a brief piece with bassoon soloing over sound and musical incidentals.

10. "Mereditika" (7:34) is a beautiful soundtrack-like piece of mood-setting music--like something that should come from an ALFRED HITCHCOCK movie. Cool song. (9/10)


NOSOUND's multi-instrumentalist mastermind, Giancarlo Erra and NO-MAN's vocalist extraordinaire, Tim Bowness, united again--as they were for two songs on NoSound's 2007 masterpiece, LightDark--this time for an entire album of ambient Post Rock. Guest appearances by the likes of Robert Fripp, Steven Wilson, Colin Edwin, Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm (PAATOS), Peter Hammill, Julianne Regan (ALL ABOUT EVE), Jim Matheos (OSI, FATES WARNING), and trumpeter Aleksei Saks.

Favorite tunes: the trumpet accompanied and Fripp-infused "Lost and Found in The Digital World" (5:12) (9/10); the ambient neoclassically-tinged "At the Centre of It All" (7:26) (9/10); "Before We Fall" (5:11) (8/10); "Change Me Once Again" (5:55) (8/10); "Warm Winter" (5:33) (7/10), and; "Something in Our Lives" (4:09) (7/10). 

A pleasant album of nice songs in the typical Tim Bowness style. The guest performances make it worthy of the added effort in attentiveness.

3.5 stars rated up for consistency and excellent production.

NEAL MORSE Testimony 2

Line-up / Musicians:
- Neal Morse / vocals, keyboards, guitar, percussion, producer
- Alan Morse / vocals (3)
- Dave Meros / vocals (3)
- Nick D'Virgilio / vocals (3)
- April Zachary / backing vocals
- Debbie Bressee / backing vocals
- Mark Pogue / backing vocals
- Matthew Ward / backing vocals
- Mita Pogue / backing vocals
- Paul Bielatowicz / guitar (2,12)
- Steve Morse / guitar (16)
- Chris Carmichael / cello, viola, violin
- Eric Brenton / electric violin solo (3)
- Kenny Barnd / violin (10)
- Jim Hoke / saxophone
- Mark Leniger / saxophone solo
- Randy George / bass

CD 1 (78:20)
- Part 6:
1. Mercy Street (5:12)
2. Overture No. 4 (5:25)
3. Time Changer (6:08)
4. Jayda (6:05)
- Part 7:
5. Nighttime Collectors (4:26)
6. Time Has Come Today (4:55)
7. Jesus' Blood (5:26)
8. The Truth Will Set You Free (8:07)
- Part 8:
9. Chance of a Lifetime (7:02)
10. Jesus Bring Me Home (4:59)
11. Road Dog Blues (3:07)
12. It's for You (5:42)
13. Crossing Over / Mercy Street (reprise) (11:46)

CD 2 (36:52)
14. Absolute Beginner (4:41)
15. Supernatural (6:12)
16. Seeds of Gold (25:59)

Total Time 115:12

Much heavier than I expected! I'm not a Neal Morse (or SPOCK'S BEARD) fan, but I must admit that this album is better than my expectations. The sheer volume of high quality music and performances may bear this one out to be a 'masterpiece'--one for the ages--though to my mind this one is still a bit too KANSAS-like to vault it into such esteem. I have no problem with Neal's Christian message--as I have no problem with the despondent Goth messengers. This is just good music with emotion-filled vocal performances. The fact that Jesus and Christianity are what inspire Neal to deliver such performances is immaterial--we're just lucky his muse is so very strong.


Line-up / Musicians:
- Diego Américo / vocals
- João Fadel / electric & acoustic guitars
- André Fadel / keyboards, piano
- Diego Porres / bass, producer
- Casimiro Araújo / drums

1. Prolusion (1:23)
2. Pact (7:18)
3. Unique Verse (6:36)
4. Metasong (4:36)
5. Shine (7:12)
- Enigma :
6. I. Psique Door (0:52)
7. II. Sunset (4:40)
8. III. Infinite Night (3:06)
9. IV. Loom In The Sky (1:30)
10. V. Labyrinth Lake Mind (1:52)
11. VI. Cryptic Wars (2:12)
12. VII. Sunland Island (1:21)
13. VIII. Secret Dive (3:32)
14. IX. Before (3:34)
15. X. Offhand Funeral (2:01)
16. XI. In (2:34)
17. XII. Life Party 2 (3:49)
18. XIII. Speranza (2:52)

Total time 61:00

A little heavier than I like, but this is definitely an album of stellar performances and creativity! "Shine" (9/10) is my favorite, though the "Enigma" suite (8/10) is great, too. Nice to see that Latin America is coming to prog life! The future of prog looks very good if bands like this one, Haken, Camembert, Aisles, Airbag, Sean Filkins, Sanhedrin, Ciccada, Frequency Drift, My Brother the Wind, Karfargen, Sunchild, Unexpect, Fen, Autumn Chorus, etc., etc., ETC. keep popping up (out of nowhere!) What a year was 2011! Can '012 (or any year) top it?! It's tough to imagine!

4 stars--excellent addition to anyone's prog collection.

HUMBLE GRUMBLE Flanders Fields

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jonathan Callens / drums, backing voices
- Jouni Isoherranen / bass, backing voices
- Gabor Humble Vörös / guitar, voices
- Pol Mareen / saxophone
- Pedro Guridi / clarinets, backing voices
- Pieter Claus / marimba, vibraphone, percussion
- Lisa Jordens / backing voices (3,5,6,7,8)
- Hanneke Osterlijnck / backing voices (3,6)
- Joriska Vanhaelewyn / backing voices (2)
- Juan Carlos Torres Iturra / Spanish voices (5)

1. Sirens Dance
2. Aging Backwards
3. Flanders Fields
4. Sleepless Night
5. Horny
6. Little Bird
7. Duck on a Walk
8. The Greatest Kick of the Day
9. Never Lose Your Mind
10. Love Song
11. Purple Frog

More fun and fresh music from AltrOck Productions. These songs are much more straightforward folk/jazz--there's a 1940s/50s feel to this music--and clever English lyrics and quirky vocal presentations in the vein of Continent-lover Cole Porter and Brit Porter-lover Joe Jackson. Also a bit of a Rockabilly feel of the music  à la Stray Cats. Fun but, like Rockabilly, not for everybody, so adventure into this album with an open mind and open heart, prepare to be entertained and surprised while at the same time given a twinge of nostalgia. Excellent songwriting which reminds one that "they just don't write songs the way they used." Except, here there are some!

3.5 stars rated down ("good, but non-essential") because this music will not be everyone's cup of tea. If you like flamboyant, Porter-esque, Broadway show tunes, definitely check this out. Fans of Edgar Winter, The Cardiacs, Paul Weller, and Frank Zappa will probably enjoy this a lot.

STEVE HACKETT Beyond the Shrouded Horizon

STEVE HACKETT is still a songwriter of great diversity of styles--all of which are on display in this album (as Steve is want to do on all his studio albums). 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steve Hackett / acoustic & electric guitars, vocals, harmonica, co-producer
- Amanda Lehmann / vocals (1,6,8 & 2.7), guitar (5,6)
- Roger King / keyboards & programming, co-producer
- Benedict Fenner / keyboards & programming (2.3)
- Rob Townsend / saxophone & whistle & bass clarinet (1,4-6,8)
- John Hackett / flute (9), vocals (7)
- Richard Stewart / cello (4,7,9,10 & 2.5)
- Christine Townsend / violin & viola (2.5)
- Nick Beggs / bass, Chapman Stick, ukulele
- Dick Driver / double bass (4,7,10,13 & 2.5)

1. Loch Lomond (6:49)
2. The Phoenix Flown (2:08)
3. Wanderlust (0:44)
4. Til These Eyes (2:41)
5. Prairie Angel (2:59)
6. A Place Called Freedom (5:57)
7. Between the Sunset and the Coconut Palms (3:18)
8. Waking to Life (4:50)
9. Two Faces of Cairo (5:13)
10. Looking for Fantasy (4:33)
11. Summer's Breath (1:12)
12. Catwalk (5:44)
13. "Turn This Island Earth" (11:51)

Total Time 57:59

I find Beyond the Shrouded Horizon, overall, perhaps the most accessible prog studio album Steve has done in about 30 years. Save for the Sketches of Satie album, IMHO, you have to go back to the Voyage of the Acolyte/Spectral Mornings/Please Don't Touch/Defector/Cured period to find as appealing and accessible a studio album as this one. (All of his live albums are great). He is still as gutsy and yet quirky a songwriter as he was 30 years ago. And an ubertalented guitarist.

Bravo, Steve! Thanks!

P.S. On the bonus CD I LOVE the cover of SOLUTION's saxophonist, Tommy Barlage's song "Divergence"--made famous by FOCUS's inclusion of it on Moving Waves' epic "Eruption" as part 6, "Tommy"--and by JAN AKKERMAN's inclusion of it on virtually all his solo live albums. Very cool! Would love to hear Steve and Jan Akkerman play/do an album or song together.

LEPROUS Bilateral

Line-up / Musicians:
- Einar Solberg / vocals, keyboards
- Tor Oddmund Suhrke / guitar
- Øystein Skonseng Landsverk / guitar
- Rein Blomquist / bass
- Tobias Ørnes Andersen / drums
- Ihsahn / vocals (4)
- Vegard Sandbukt / trumpet (4,10)

1. Bilateral (4:00)
2. Forced Entry (10:20)
3. Restless (3:30)
4. Thorn (5:47)
5. Mb. Indifferentia (6:33)
6. Waste of Air (5:32)
7. Mediocrity Wins (6:07)
8. Cryptogenic Desires (2:45)
9. Acquired Taste (5:13)
10. Painful Detour (8:18)

Total Time: 58:05

Probably the most accessible and melodic example of 'tech-extreme metal' (if in fact this album can still be categorized as such) I've heard since NEGURA BUNGET's 2006 masterpiece, Om. The songs are theatric--at times stage-like--and the lyrics quite comprehensible (with out crib sheet) and sung at a pace more akin to QUEEN or A PERFECT CIRCLE, instead of the frenetic psycho-pace of UNEXPECT. I am enjoying this album ten times more than Tall Poppy Syndrome--though I appreciated the skill and freshness of the latter. I still feel the fresh and unusual approach to song delivery of this band--and the skill of the performers--especially Einar's vocals. 

A strong four stars--perhaps even in line for some recognition for Top 10 of 2011 status

MAGIC PIE The Suffering Joy

Line-up / Musicians:
- Eirikur Hauksson / lead vocals, vocal melodies arrangements
- Eirik Hanssen / vocals
- Kim Stenberg / guitars, guitar synth, vocals, arrangements, producing & mixing
- Gilbert Marshall / keyboards, vocals
- Lars Petter Holstad / bass
- Jan T. Johannessen / drums, percussion
- Maria Bentzen / backing vocals (1-4,7)
- Lene Monge Stenberg / voice (8)

1. A Life's Work - Part I: Questions Unanswered (1:16)
2. A Life's Work - Part II: Overture (3:32)
3. A Life's Work - Part III: A Brand New Day (2:28)
4. A Life's Work - Part IV: The Suffering Joy (17:09)
5. Headlines (9:29)
6. Endless Ocean (3:11)
7. Slightly Mad (9:48)
8. Tired (15:21)
9. In Memoriam (8:39)

Total Time: 70:53

A group I've followed with interest for several years now. Like TRANSATLANTIC, SPOCK'S BEARD, THE FLOWER KINGS, THE TANGENT and KARMAKANIC, Magic Pie seems to have some very high standards of technical proficiency and can create some awesomely complicated songs that are fun to listen to (and pretend to be able to play). BUT, also like the above listed, they seem to be doing, saying, or offering anything really new that YES, RUSH, IRON MAIDEN and other classic rockers haven't already said. It just seems a lot of show and not enough magic, melody and heart (though these guys may be a step up [a baby step] from the aforementioned groups. I particularly enjoy "Headlines," "Endless Ocean," the acoustic guitar (always the acoustic guitar work!) on "Slightly Mad" and "TIred" (as well as the vocals) and "In Memorandum." 

3.5 stars graded up for consistency of the level of composition and performance.


A very pleasant collection of mellow acoustic guitar and piano-based songs written and performed by golden-voiced Laurel Canyon singer and multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Wilson (formerly collaborator and background vocalist to Elvis Costello, Chris Robinson, Phil Lesh, Erykah Badu, Benmont Tench, Gary Louris, Vetiver, Dawes, and others. The album starts incredibly strongly, with one of my favorite songs from 2011, "Gentle Spirit" (6:28) (10/10), and then follows with a folk-AMERICA-feeling anthem "Can We Really Party Today?" (6:41) (9/10) before the excellent Crosby, Stills, Nash and America-like "The Fish (Schindleria Praematurus)" riff-borrowing "Desert Raven" (7:58) (9/10) plays, but then the quality and freshness of the music begins to slide drastically. While songs 4 & 5, "Canyon in The Rain" and "Natural Rhapsody," are still pretty decent, the following eight songs are quite mediocre and repetitive.

Nice music, a three star album rated up for the opening four or five songs.  

TRURL Don’t See Me Rabbit 

Alter ego of GLASS HAMMER's accomplished keyboard artist, Fred Schendel, "Trurl's" first album is actually something Fred had created back in 2004-6 but only decided to publish in 2011 thanks to A collection of very prog-oriented instrumentals well-worth checking out if sometimes a bit over the top or 'prog-by-the-numbers.' Still, highly creative and enjoyable music from a prog lover and very talented composer-musician.

3.5 stars rated up for consistency and true prog nature.

Albums from 2011 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated

DISCIPLINE To Shatter All Accord

This is one band with an unfortunate case of split-personality. While their (few) studio albums present some great music, IMHO, there is always something lacking--something 'second rate'--in the engineering/production of those albums. In concert, live, the band brings an energy, a sound, a rawness, an emotional immediacy, a here-and-now type of feel to their music which is so much more, so much bigger, so much more vibrant and engaging, so much more powerful--the word 'devastating' even comes to mind--than their studio recordings. Front man Matthew Parmenter's show, his body language, his engagement in the act of embodying the persona of his lyrical message is so powerful--the Parmenter-audience connection is so necessary for the full effectiveness of his music, that the studio albums pale in comparison. A Discipline/Matthew Parmenter studio album is like seeing a two dimensional painting on a museum wall. A live performance--even a live album--is like experiencing a fifth dimensional out-of-body wet dream.
      I'm glad Discipline decided to try to 'preserve' studio versions of some of their long-time (and hitherto un-studio-recorded) live favorites. Unfortunately, for those of us who have gotten used to seeing MP/Discipline perform them live, these are static silhouettes of the live versions.

1. "Circuitry" (6:18) (7/10)

2. "When the Walls Are Down" (7:31) (7/10)

3. "Dead City" (5:17) (10/10)

4. "When She Dreams She Dreams in Color" (13:42) (9/10)

5. "Rogue" (24:05) (9/10)

3.5 stars; a nice addition to a prog lover's music collection.

AIRBAG All Rights Removed

I have to admit to being a bit disappointed with this album. The band has moved far too close to PINK FLOYD--to the point of duplication, or at least sounding as if they were offering alternative versions or extended remixes of old PF classics. And Asle's amazing voice has been mixed far too back--amplifying its STEVEN WILSON timbres and singing style. I like the fact that the band has explored the longer, more extended song formats--and applaud their amazing replication of the PF/PT sound. But, 2009's Identity was such a wonderful album filled with amazingly rich textures, great vocals, awesome lead guitar solos, incredibly emotional chord and melodic progressions, and perhaps the best 'background' keyboard playing I've ever heard on ANY album. The band may be more mature, more polished, but their originality is, IMHO, a bit lost in the direction they've chosen. Still, FLOYD did some amazing music, and few have done it as well while truly being able to create 'original' songs that we all wish Pink Floyd had done (more of).

Lineup / Musicians:
Asle Tostrup / vocals, programming, producer
- Bjørn Riis / guitars, keyboards, vocals
- Jørgen Grüner-Hagen / keyboards, programming
- Anders Hovdan / bass
- Henrik Fossum / drums
- Vegard Sleipnes / backing vocals & percussion (3)
- Solvor Maike Vermeer / backing vocals (4,6)
- Karl Joakim Wisloff / violin (5)

1. "All Rights Removed" (8:59) sounds like Steve Wilson's "Time Flies"--I mean almost exactly! The Floyd-imitation layers, sounds and structures are so precise it's scary! As talented as singer Asle Tostrup and guitarist Bjørn Riis are, it is constantly the unexpected keyboard subtleties from Jørgen Grüner-Hagen that take my breath away. (16.75/20) 

2. "White Walls" (5:19) sounds as if it comes straight from The Wall. (7.5/10) 

3. "The Bridge" (6:20) is just too derivative/familiar for me; the trick is getting old. (7/10) 

4. "Never Coming Home" (9:00) has more of the Identity sound and feel . . . only, with the layers of Gilmour guitars (DSotM). (15/20)

5. "Light Them All Up" (3:01) is an instrumental that comes out of the bleed-over from the previous song. All keys and astronaut samples, the song is saved by an eerie keyboard background over which an Eastern European-sounding viola solos. (7/10)

6. "Homesick I-III" (17:21) starts like another STEVEN WILSON-pays-tribute-to-PINK FLOYD song. Even the electric guitar kick in at the 1:20 mark are right out of Animals. But then, zoiks, an original (Airbag) section sneaks in from 2:10 all the way till a Richard Wright-like Hammond organ checks in at the 4:05 mark--followed by a fairly nice, NON-Gilmouresque solo. Synth washes with Floyd-like effects from 5:50 til 7:25 when a jazzy bass-line takes over, joined by cymbol play and R Wright's keyboard sound from "Welcome to the Machine" soloing to 9:05. Slow, methodic bottleneck electric guitar solo takes over (on a "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"-kind of  solo) as background rhythm section gains in strength, volume and urgency. Great section!! Ends in quiet key washes at 11:25 before Gilmour's other "Shine on..." axe sound enters with, I swear, the duplicate tempo, instrumental support, and chord structure as "Shine on..." Oddly builds into a strumming crescendo at 13:40 before quieting down again at 14:05. Delicate electric guitar picking while synth solos in the background/R channel. Very interesting diversion. But, no! The guitar arpeggios from "Shine on... Part Two" enter... and are inverted! To fade. Interesting song. Obviously a tribute to "Shine on You Crazy Diamond." Nicely done. (29/35)

Well made, extraordinarily performed. Unlike WOBBLER's Rites at Dawn, there just isn't enough truly original ARIBAG music here to prompt me to jump and shout.

76.42 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; a beautiful homage to Pink Floyd but too much is just derivative replication.

STEVEN WILSON Grace for Drowning

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steven Wilson / vocals, keyboards, guitars, autoharp (8,10,12), bass (2,5,8,11), piano (5-7,11,12), gong (6), glockenspiel (7), programming (10), harmonium (11,12), percussion (11), producing & mixing
- Markus Reuter / U8 touch guitar (4)
- Trey Gunn / Warr guitar & bass (4)
- Steve Hackett / guitars (7)
- Mike Outram / guitar (11,3.4)
- Sand Snowman / acoustic guitar (11)
- Jordan Rudess / piano (1,3,11)
- Theo Travis / soprano saxophone (2,4,7,11,3.4), clarinets (3,7,11), flute (7,11)
- Ben Castle / clarinet (2)
- Nick Beggs / Chapman Stick (2,7,11), bass (7,11), bass solo (4)
- Tony Levin / bass (3,12,3.2)
- Nic France / drums
- Pat Mastelotto / acoustic & electronic drums (4,10,3.2), additional production (4)
- London Session Orchestra / strings (4,5,8,10)
- Dave Stewart / choir (5,6,11) & strings (4,5,8,10) arranger & conductor
- Synergy Vocals / chorus (5,6,11)
- Dave Kerzner / sound design -coda (11)

CD 1 - Deform to Form a Star (39:41)
1. Grace for Drowning (2:06)
2. Sectarian (7:41)
3. Deform to Form a Star (7:51)
4. No Part of Me (5:44)
5. Postcard (4:29)
6. Raider Prelude (2:23)
7. "Remainder the Black Dog" (9:27)

CD 2 - Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye (43:26)
8. Belle de Jour (2:59)
9. Index (4:49)
10. Track One (4:16)
11. "Raider II" (23:21)
12. Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye (8:01)

Total Time 83:07

Influences, imitations, and similarities be damned, this album is a psycho-sonic journey with few rivals in this 21st century. The problems are the length--i.e., the time necessary to immerse oneself into this music is considerable (and total immersion is where it gains its biggest impact). I find the vocals to be seldom-exciting, the lyrics rather banal and straightforward, and I often feel 'disagreement' or disappointment with Steven's unexpected shift in music mode or mood or his choice of which instrument he chooses to introduce next. "Odd," I found myself thinking time and time again with the changes, shifts or instrumental choices--usually two or three times per song. This being said, I do have a feeling that this album will come out in the long run being regarded as a great if not classic album of progressive music. It's just so intense and its power lies totally in its subtleties--of which the whole thing is:  one big subtlety--except when he pops out from behind a closed door in one of those dark rooms of his mind to try to scare the shit out of you. Don't get me wrong: There is great beauty here; but it's more of the kind of beauty that people appreciate through the works of Edgar Allan Poe (sans Poe's poetic command of the English language--though Steven's music may be just as expressive as Poe's poetry). As for the fan favorite, "Raider II": I've never been a fan of King Crimson's Lizard; I am no fan of "Raider II."

Five star songs: "Deform to Form a Star" and "No Part of Me."

Four star songs: "Grace for Drowning," "Sectarian," "Raider Prelude," "Remainder the Black Dog," "Belle de Jour," "Index," "Track One," and "Like Dust I Have Cleared from My Eye."

Three star songs: "Postcard" and "Raider II."

Overall rating: 3.5 stars rated up for incredible production, sound, and effort.

EGONON Risveglio

One thing is certain about the composition and execution of this album's songs: There is nothing simple or easy here! Each song packs in so much subtlety and so many twists that the listener barely has time to get used to a groove or melody when it's gone. If I have one complaint about Risviglio it is that there seems a bit of a formula at work here: the blending of soft sensitive intro sections with heavier B sections and then peppering the song with quirky brief little C sections, pauses, cadences or bridges. I admire the band's bold and effective blending of instrumentation and vocals (even languages!) rock, classical, Indo-Arabian Italian, and of course heavier elements of rock and roll. Yet even at its heaviest, the instrumentalists seem incredibly sensitive to the delicacies of their sound, of their intentions. Influences could be as diverse as AREA, OSANNA, BANCO del MUTUO SOCCORSO, LUNATIC SOUL/RIVERSIDE, KING CRIMSON or even A PERFECT CIRCLE.

1. "Phosforo" (4:16). I like the muted vocals and muted trumpets of the A parts, the heavier B parts make it sound like Maynard James Keenan's PERFECT CIRCLE. (8/10)

2. "Lacrime di luce" (6:50) begins with samples from Italian television. Gorgeous acoustic guitars and mellotrons enter to set up alternating channel lead vocals. Has a bit of LUNATIC SOUL feel. Love the first two minutes. Flute and deep male voice mellotron introduce next heavier 'chorus' section. Cool to hear "heavy" parts done with acoustic guitars and mellotrons. Interesting pause near the five minute mark. Again, PERFECT CIRCLE are my best comparison/reference. (9/10)

3. "Risveglio" (4:28) begins with sitar and drone. At one minute mark enters drums, followed by electric guitar power chords, but sitar, acoustic guitars and Middle Eastern-sounding flutes accompany! Ensuing pause filled by percussive notes of a ChapmanStick with cello playing over. After another round of the harmonized vocal part a voice is singing in Arabian. Saxophone and female voice! What an odd song using such wildly disparate sounds, tempos, and incidentals! To great effect. (9/10)

4. "Alma senza virta" (4:38) begins with cello and woodwind, then deep male voice, adding rolling toms and Arabian violin-like instrument as it builds into a heavier song. At three minute mark is an odd little section of double bass, woodwind and hand percussion, before song returns to original B and A parts. (8/10)

5. "L'uomo libero" (5:24) begins with vocal, backed by piano and soft electric guitar arpeggios before cello/viola joins. Vocal harmonies are quite typical of RPI. Pause filled by trumpet and piano, then cello, piano and voice. A distinctively Spanish feel to this song's melody and singing--not unlike THE GYPSY KINGS. Beat piks up at 2:20 and transmutes into an almost BLUE OYSTER CULT-like section (saxes make it stand out on its own). Electric guitars backed by mellotron again fill the background. As singers belt it out. Another lull at 3:50 in which plaintive voice sings over repeated electric guitar arpeggios and soloing trumpet. FRIPP-like electric guitar supplants voice for a solo along with the trumpet to end. (8/10)

6. "Voglio essere piccolo" (4:06) begins interestingly but then bleeds into a very pop-sounding B section. But the chorus section is heavier. The following vocal section is one of my favorites on the album: whispers, pleadings, great acoustic guitars. Then back to the chorus. At 2:05 a GENTLE GIANT-like multi-vocal display begins, morphing into a heavier ARJEN LUCCASSON-like section. At 3:05 drums bring us back to the lighter acoustic guitar section. Three songs in a row in which the lead guitarist has chosen a very familiar ROBERT FRIPP sound--dating all the way back to the early 70s. (8/10)

7. "Golgotha" (4:55) is begun with the sound of wind and a distant trumpet echoing from far away. Guitars usher in the heavier rock sounds, which fall away when the emotional soft vocals begin. Keening sound of an oud seems to accompany throughout (except for avant jazz section at 3:30). One of the album's heavier songs, yet as quirky and unpredictable as the rest. (8/10)

8. "Khamsin" (1:32) constitutes a lone male voice singing what sounds like an Arabic religious song. Pretty.

9. "Maya" (3:55) begins with some very typical RPI vocals but played over unusual instruments: Arabian strings (oud et al.) and female chants, flutes, bass, acoustic guitar. This could be something from an album by BANCO, AREA or OSANNA. Chorus section is built around electric guitar power chords and saxophone bursts. Excellent bass play throughout this song. What a complex weave! The Arabian themes continue, complete with some female Arabian vocals before and while the song gets heaviest (3:00). Fade with female vocalist singing in that middle Eastern keen. (8/10)

10. "Rosso asfalto" (5:41) is one of the few songs here that starts out on the heavy side and then settles back into a softer section before building. Some fast-speaking lyrics at times feeling as if they are delivering a tongue-in-cheek message. (Red asphalt?!) Ends with a phone conversation. These last two could have easily been from an AREA album. (8/10)

11. "Tra la notte e l'alba (4:03) begins rather delicately, synth and FRIPP "Moonchild"-like guitar notes, before kicking into a more evolved version of KC, say the Larks Tongue era. Less quirks and tricks on this more straightforward rock song. Not a favorite of mine. (But, then, neither is Larks Tongue-era KC.) (7/10)

12. "Tutto cia che avevo era un'anima" (3:52) is another song which makes me feel as if the band is getting a bit tired of diversity, seeking more to settle into more straightforward rock formulae. A little LINCOLN PARK, anyone? Great cello, though! The laugh at the end says it all--and I couldn't agree more. (6/10)

13. "Sul lato caldo della strada" (3:52) begins with that ominous delicacy that just shouts "Just wait: the loudness is coming!" But when the electric guitars come it is with the unexpected accompaniment of female choir and the a chorus sung in English ("Over the rainbow...") Nothing new or unexpected here. (7/10)

14. "L'abito bianco" (4:35) begins with some chanting, as if mountain monks from Eastern and Western traditions were joined together. The song that comes out of this chanting harkens back to a LINCOLN PARK/KING CRIMSON/KINKS union. (8/10)

15. "Coda 43 km!" (2:03) begins with some voices talking as if their in a highway underpass or tunnel. Pulsing reverse squeezebox and echo-treated trumpet join in as cars pass by from both right and left. By 1:10 the musical instruments have left and we are left with just the sounds of the passing cars. And then nothing.

The inventive, complicated compositions here are played and recorded incredibly well but leave me with the feeling that all is one, all are the same, no one song or melody or hook stays in my mind, haunts me, draws me back. I listen to this album from time to time--particularly since it continues to be so highly rated here on PA--but it has never been a labour of love. This music is, for me, interesting more than engaging. I find myself amused and entertained by the musicianship, creative constructs, and unpredictable instrumental combinations, but fail to come away loving this music. Recommended to all for the unusual experience each will take away, but I would not call this an essential addition to any prog lover's collection. For some it may become essential (especially RPI lovers), for others excellent, for still others only something good--a nice experience once in one's lifetime. I am probably of this latter category: once I've posted this review it is unlikely that I will ever return to this album again.

3.5 stars rated up for my appreciation of the talent and courageousness of its composers and performers.

ANUBIS A Tower of Silence

Line-up / Musicians:
- Robert James Moulding / lead vocals, snares (1), percussion (2,3), guitar (3), music box & tape Fx (6)
- David Eaton / Hammond, Mellotron, Farfisa (1,2), Moog (1,8), harpsichord (1,2), piano (1,7), electric piano & guitar (4), bass pedals (4,6-8), 12-string acoustic guitar (5), string machine (6-8), backing vocals
- Douglas Skene / electric, 7-string (1), classical (2), 6-string (4) & 12-string acoustic (5) guitars, vocals
- Dean Bennison / electric, 6-string acoustic (1), Leslie (2,3), 12-string acoustic (5) & slide (8) guitars, clarinet (5), guitar soundscapes (6), backing vocals, producer
- Nick Antoinette / bass, backing vocals
- Steven Eaton / drums, percussion, snares (1), backing vocals
- Martin Cook / flute (4), tenor saxophone (4,7)
- Katrina Shaw / additional vocals (8)
- Becky Bennison / additional vocals (8)

1. "The Passing Bell (Part I-VI)" (17:08)
2. Archway of Tears (5:45)
3. This Final Resting Place (8:28)
4. "A Tower of Silence" (9:57)
5. Weeping Willow (2:43)
6. And I Wait for My World to End (5:15)
7. "The Holy Innocent" (11:45)
8. "All That Is" (11:13)
i. Light of Change
ii. The Limbo of Infants
iii. Endless Opportunity

Total Time 72:14

I'm sorry, folks, but, IMHO this album in no way matches up to this band's previous effort, 230503. The music has much more of a straight-forward rock'n'roll sound and feel to it--like post-Secret Treaties BLUE ÖYSTER CULT or something. The lyrics and singing are flat and unemotional. The sound mix is horrible: the bass is too far back and muted/dull (despite having some very interesting lines)--it's very hard to hear them beneath the drums). Even the album's best song, the title track, "A Tower of Silence" (9/10) starts like some standard bluesy-rock JOURNEY ballad.

The 17-minute epic opener, "The Passing Bell" (21/35), starts with some interesting fire but turns out to not have much else to offer--has almost an A-B-A-C-A-B song structure, just spread out over 17:08!

"Archway of Tears" (7/10) begins with an interesting STRAWBS/GG/JTULL feel (harpsichord) but then falls into a straight rocker à la URIAH HEEP.

"This Final Resting Place" (7/10) again starts with promise but really never delivers: weak chorus (musically) very strange mix (voices way back, keys and bass way forward). It just doesn't ever develop, and, up until the last minute-and-a-half, behaves like another straightforward ABACAB rock song.

"Weeping Willow" (6/10) seems a poor imitation of that which MOON SAFARI is working on

"And I Wait for My World to End" (8/10) has a very similar to "Leaving Here Tonight" feel to it (it's the singing)--and has a very pretty and powerful chorus, but fails to 'state something new' when compared to their previous album (one of my 10 favorite albums from 2009). Is it my imagination or is Roger James Moulding trying awfully hard to be Roger Waters with a Freddy Mercury approach? 

"The Holy Innocent" (8/10) brings the album back to long-length (and, therefore, prog??) songwriting. A nice song, overall, with some emotional performances and lots of familiar sounds (from the 70s--mostly Floydian--like the Gilmour guitar solo in the fifth minute, the Dick Parry sax solo and ticking clock at the fadeout. I forgot: This is Neo-Prog!) Banksian keyboard chord progressions--the most 'out of character' part is in the way the drums are recorded and mixed--so loud and far to the front (especially the cymbols).

The album's closer, the eleven-minute "All That Is" (14/20) feels like it came from GENESIS' And Then There Were Three... A pretty song that fades from memory as soon as the next one comes on. (Nice keys and drum work.)

After reading the rave reviews for this album over the past month or so I must admit I had pretty high expectations for this one. I flat out disagree. 230503 is still Anubis' crowning achievement. Take a rest boys; next time come back fresh and really inspired.

3.5 stars rated up for the fact that this group really tries to produce good quality prog--be it neo or not.


Symphonic instrumental Neo Prog from prog emulator and veteran Fabio Zuffanti--this one completing the Vivaldian quartet of albums in the four seasons theme that was begun in 2002 with Springsong.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Fabio Zuffanti / bass, Moog Taurus bass pedals, acoustic guitar, tambourine, rainstick, tubular bells, composer, arranger, producer
- Luca Scherani / Mellotron, Hammond, Church organ, Minimoog, grand piano, Fender Rhodes, clavinet, Roland & Yamaha synthesizers, RMI keyboard, Farfisa, String Ensemble, sequencers , Yamaha CP80 electric piano, arrangements & conductor
- Matteo Nahum / acoustic, Classical, 12-string, electric lead & rhythm guitars
- Joanne Roan / flute
- Luca Tarantino / oboe
- Sylvia Trabucco / violin (quartet & solo)
- Alessandra Dalla Barba / violin
- Ilaria Bruzzone / viola
- Chiara Alberti / cello
- Maurizio Di Tollo / drums, congas, tambourine
- Fausto Sidri / didgeridoo, zills, darbouka, dumdum, cajón, djembe
- Roberto Vigo / sound designer, mixing

1. "Seasons's Overture" (10:51) (17/20) :
- i. Rite Of Summer
- ii. In The Rising Sun
- iii. The Last Shades Of Winter
- iv. A Church Beyond The Lake
- v. La Route Pour Finistére
- vi. Springtheme

2. "Glares Of Light" (7:25) pacifying chamber music lite until 2:50 when drums and bass enter in a slow waltz, but so little else changes until the entry of the Mellotron, electric guitar, and MiniMoog at 3:50. Pure schmaltz at its most cloying despite the seriousness of the composition and orchestra performers. (12.75/15)

3. "Evening Dance" (4:13) simple acoustic guitar arpeggiated chords and Wurlitzer organ are blasted back by electronic instruments at the end of the first minute, but then the whole mood is shifted with flute, strummed 12-string guitars, Wurlitzer and piano. Such simple music! Nice violin and flute in the final minute. Horrific finish with the electric guitar solo and Mellotron. (7.75/10)

4. "On The Sea" (4:20) Fender Rhodes, oboe and cello take this over from the previous song. Strings join in and then electric guitar bursts onto the stage with its rock accompanists, obliterating any dignity and decorum that had been established. The solo is so over-the-top! Return to Fender Rhodes for harp-like glissandi and oboe play. The oboe melody here feels stolen straight out of ANTHONY PHILLIPS' "The Geese and the Ghost" though the keys are not. (7.5/10)

5. "Under Stars" (3:17) specaking of Ant, we get a start of two angular 12-string chords being picked while incidental keyboard sounds are being tossed in from the side. Flute enters at the end of the first minute (and, soon, paired with oboe) to render the pastoral melody--which is then taken over by the piano while recording of Italian speaker plays. Then we return to the flute-and-oboe duet for the finish (delivered by the oboe). (9/10)

6. "Blackmountains" (4:07) no way! Who let this pass inspection? Awful guitar joined by nice percussion play and then horribly distorted MiniMoog above electric piano chords and then Mellotron-supported acoustic guitar picking. Flute takes up the lead melody while bass, hand percussion, and support beneath. Some of the Ottmar Leibert-like classical guitar runs feel so raw and improvised they don't even flow with or within the music! And then that odd ending (it just cuts out)! (7/10)

7. "Prelude Of An Elegy" (4:07) slowly swirling synth with straightforward rock and bass are soon joined by soloing old synth, Farfisa organ, and another percussive synth. Such a silly, simple base for this song: purely a set up for an incessant lineup of instruments to solo over. (7/10)

8. "Edge Of Summer" (5:40) I swear this music sounds as if the Genesis roadies got up on stage and started jamming with all of Tony, Phil, Mike, and Steve's instruments while the real band was off enjoying their pre-concert dinner at some distant restaurant. I mean, some of the talent and sound would rub off, right, just not the full thing. That being said, the guitarist does show some skill and talent; everybody else is just holding the line in support. (7.75/10)

Total Time: 44:00

I'm sorry but this album is so flawed, substandard, and redundant in production, engineering, and performance, respectively, that I cannot imagine giving it a "excellent" much less "essential" or "masterpiece" label. The chamber music songs ("Glares of Light," "Under Stars)" and the folk tune "Evening Dance" are beautiful, but "Season's Overture," "Blackmountains," "Prelude of an elegy," and "Edge of Summer" are so full of clichéd sounds, riffs, and motifs that I'm actually quite astounded that experienced ears find this "masterful" and "essential." Half the time I feel like I'm listening to New Age music from the 1980s or practice songs from the 1980s Genesis roadies. Every time the lead electric guitar enters and performs it feels so over the top, so melodramatic, so "been there, done that," (i.e. tired, old) that I'm almost repulsed. This might be pretty music, but "good" is all I'm willing to rate it. And I've been listening daily for over a month now feeling somehow insecure that I'm missing something--that there's something here that's NOT!

81.84 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; a good submission of Neo Prog.

No comments:

Post a Comment