Saturday, October 4, 2014

Top Albums of the Year 2013, Part 2: Highly Recommended

Other Albums from 2013 Worth Listening To

Below you will find a somewhat-ordered catalogue of the album releases from 2013. 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. (Thank you New Prog Releases @ http://newprogreleases.blogspot.com/.) 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.




HAMMOCK Oblivion Hymns

Gorgeous, uplifting, one might say "healing," music from these American composers of modern electronic chamber music. Though the structures and effect are definitely Post Rock, I can't help but think of this music as a step forward in the evolution of the Prog Electronic subgenre.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marc Byrd / composer, performer & producer
- Andrew Thompson / composer, performer & producer
With:
- Timothy Showalter / vocals (10)
- Phil Madeira / accordion
- Love Sponge Orchestra / strings

1. "My Mind Was a Fog... My Heart Became a Bomb" (5:23) all waves and washes. Gorgeous! (9.5/10)
2. "Then the Quiet Explosion" (6:43) strings and female choir! Wow! The effect is cathedralesque! ANATHEMA taken to the next level; the kind of music that makes prog the best! (10/10)
3. "Turning Into Tiny Particles... Floating Through Empty Space" (4:02) (/10)
4. "Like a Valley With No Echo" (8:10) (/15)
5. "Holding Your Absence" (5:42) (/10)
6. "Shored Against the Ruins... Drowning In Ten Directions" (3:43) (/10)
7. "I Could Hear the Water at the Edge of All Things" (5:40) (/10)
8. "In the Middle of This Nowhere" (5:33) (/10)
9. "Hope Becomes a Loss" (8:45) (/20)
10. "Tres Dominé" (3:07) (/10)

Total Time 56:48

Bonus tracks as download from bandcamp :
11. Sleep (6:32)
12. Cathedral (6:18)
13. Hiraeth (6:53)

An album that is difficult to rate on a song-by-song basis as the whole feels necessary to the parts--the overall effect is so transformative. 





HAKEN The Mountain

While I’ve listened to all of the Haken releases so far, and have been very impressed with the musicianship and compositional skills of the band, this is the first album in which I feel that the boys aren’t just trying to “show off”—in which they aren’t trying to purposely wow and dazzle. The slowed down compositional approach allows a more broad-spectrum emotional side of the band to be exhibited—which is what I’ve needed to feel engaged, drawn into the music. Both Aquarius and Visions are albums of impressive music, but The Mountain is the first I’ve liked well enough to actually buy.

     The impressive YouTube video for “Pariedolia” (10:51) (9/10) is what got me into really giving this album a serious listen. (Link is to YouTube "Official Video.") What makes me critical of this album, however, is the fact that virtually every song sounds familiar. “Atlas Stone” (7:34) (9/10) as excellent as it is, keeps reminding me of ANATHEMA, NEMO, Jem Godfrey’s FROST* and AMPLIFIER’s Octopus; “Cockroach King” (8:15) (9/10) seems like the band’s foray into ‘heavy’ GENTLE GIANT and 10CC territory; “In Memoriam” (4:17) (8/10) brings me again to FROST*, ANATHEMA and STEVEN WILSON’s recent more stuff (especially the vocals and lyrics); “Because It’s There” (4:24) (7/10) out Moon’s MOON SAFARI, but, in the end, it’s just Moon Safari, isn’t it? “Falling Back to Earth” (11:51) (9/10) has a cool combination of heavy metal and jazz in a MAD CRAYON/RIVERSIDE kind of way (excellent vocal, btw); “As Death Embraces” (3:14) (9/10) returns to a very STEVEN WILSON/RADIOHEAD kind of minimalist form (with better vocals, I must admit); “Pariedolia”, as awesome as it is, could easily come from a PORCUPINE TREE album, and; “Somebody” (9:01) (8/10) plays out just like an ANATHEMA song, despite the silly “I wish I could have been somebody” vocal rondo section. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been enjoying this album—as a whole and as individual songs come up on my iPod shuffle. Sometimes I just get a little frustrated with the lack of originality or lack of innovation in today’s music. 

86.67 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of progressive rock music.






MOTORPSYCHO Still Life with Eggplant

I’ve never quite fallen under the spell of Motorpsycho but after last year’s sophisticated rock opera, The Death Defying Unicorn, and hearing that Reine Fiske had been lured on board for this one, I couldn’t resist.

1. “Hell Parts 1-3” (9:47). The first “part” of this song—which contains a multi-layered harmonized vocal--reminds me very much of an amped up CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG circa 1970. Around the 4:50 mark an instrumental section begins which reminds me very much of the work of EDGAR WINTER GROUP and around 1973. The third part, beginning at the 7:15 mark, is a stripped down, funky instrumental section set up to support a kind of HENDRIX-like solo guitar display by Reine Fiske. Okay song with nothing particularly ground-breaking or earth-shatteringly engaging. (16/20)

2. “August” (4:53) opens with a CREAM-like intro before settling into a kind of Southern Rock groove. The bridges between the first two vocal-supporting A Sections are interesting and unusual—kind of Zappa-like. The guitar solo section is also entertaining though it’s nothing better than anything the Allman Brothers did. (8/10)

3. “Barleycorn (Let It Come/Let I t Be)” (7:19) begins auspiciously like the TRAFFIC song of its namesake. The vocals enter with a whispery approach and are then amplified and multiplied as the singers wind up for the “Let it come, Let it be” chorus section. The second A Section is quite magical with the play of the slide guitar, more animated drums, and heavier sound. By far the best sound of the album so far. Nice guitar solo against this same storm-like musical background until the 5:00 mark when things back off and quite down for a bit. But then, instead of the expected reappearance of vocals the guitar solo continues and the band starts building toward a crescendo and then the vocals rejoin! Awesome song with some great spacey sounds working their way in and out throughout and some really nice multi-layered vocal work. (13.5/15)

4. “Ratcatcher” (17:10) begins with about 90 seconds of some spacey-echoed guitar pickings and arpeggios before the bass, keys, and guitars kind of go off each in their own “tuning” directions. Then suddenly with a burst at the 2:15 mark, the band bursts forth in full song unison (somewhat reminiscent of the sound and style of the final two songs on The Death Defying Unicorn). A vocal section begins before the song wanders off into a prolonged “solo” in which two guitars explore their psychedelic freedom over some awesome jazzy support from the drums and bass. Both guitars are quite interesting to follow but I find myself drawn more to the drumming and bass playing each time I listen to this section. At 8:40 the song begins to sound like everybody is coming back together but instead a more Neil Young-styled guitar solo ensues in the left channel while the right channel’s guitarist plays a more chord-oriented support role. At 10:55 Fiske signals his return to the fold and soon the vocals rejoin—all this going on over the awesome play of the rhythm section. At 12:15 the shout of “Ratcatcher!” signals the end of that section. Everything slows and winds down like a dying watch until the 13:35 mark where first a single guitar picks out a little melody, then the second guitar joins in and the more subdued drums and bass rejoin, this time in support of the right channel guitarist’s extended though quite mellow solo. Again, I can’t help but tune into and enjoy the subtle playfulness of the bass and drums during this section. The song’s final 90 seconds are left to the heavily effected psychedelic soundings of the two guitarists. Cool song kind of in the vein of country-mates MY BROTHER THE WIND, except with a bit more structure and, of course, vocals. (27/30)

5. “The Afterglow” (5:57) is a fairly gentle rock song sounding incredibly similar to some of the acoustic guitar-based vocal sections of Toby Driver from the 2001 MAUDLIN OF THE WELL albums Bath and Leaving Your Body Map. Even the chord sequences from the second section in which the whole band has come together are SO moTW! (though there is a little RADIOHEAD-like guitar play going on with it.) At 3:20 the rhythm and sounds take on a much more 70s CREAM-like feel before falling back into a kind of CSN& Y/ YOUNGBLOODS/ALLMAN BORTHERS music style and sound (including some cowbell!). Nice guitar solos beginning around the 3:30 mark. The vocals from the 4:45 mark on are screamy in a BECK Odelay-kind of way. I like this song very much. (9/10)

Though there are no songs that really knock my socks off on this album, it is a solid, creative, melodic, and enjoyable listen—especially as one gets past the more mundane first two songs.

86.47 on the Fish sclaes = B/four stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.  Recommended to all music lovers.  
  



ARABS IN ASPIC 2 Pictures in a Dream  

This is an album which overtly fits into the realm of stoner rock/psychedelia. What has really impressed me with this album is the production--the sound quality and layers of subtleties woven into the fabric of each song. I compare this music to that of HYPNOS69, QUANTUM FANTAY, and SAMSARA BLUES EXPERIMENT, among other, but find the music to be much more thoughtfully constructed and more creatively engineered.

1. a) "Rejected Wasteland" b) "Pictures in A Dream" (6:05) opens the album with some awesome sound combinations, evolving into a kind of HYPNOS 69 sound, but then showing their multi-dimensionality and song-writing maturity with some awesome codas, bridges and cadenzas. The song's "b)" section starts out as a kind of blues-rock jam before taking on a GRAND FUNK/NEKTAR-like shift progression. Love the vocals! Outstanding! (9/10)

2. "Let U.S. Pray" (5:18) though this politically-oriented song starts out like a BLACK SABBATH/LED ZEPPELIN song, at 1:20 it devolves into an interesting, creative and original song with great team vocal work--almost KHAN-like. At 3:12 an awesome scream-vocal introduces an awesome instrumental section. Again I can't help but compare this song to the work of KHAN on my favorite Canterbury album--their only album--Space Shanty. (10/10)

3. "You Are Blind" (5:41) begins loudly before settling back into an acoustic guitar based standard blues rock song. By 1:50 it has turned into a full-blown LED ZEPPELIN song, though more with the vocal harmonies of early BLUE OYSTER CULT, CREAM. At 3:40 the new section even directly references "Stairway to Heaven" and some other ZEP, HEMDRIX, and BEATLES songs. Well done tribute! (8/10)

4. "Felix" (3:04) streams in on the psychedelic synth from the previous song as a simple blues rock chord progression is established with "House of the Rising Sun"-like guitar arpeggios. The Clapton-imitating lead guitar is understated until he starts to soar at the 1:40 mark. Clever and catchy lead melody hooks. (9/10)

5. "Hard to Find" (3:01) travels into early Metal territory, the Farfisa-like organ giving it a MOODY BLUES/BLACK SABBATH quality and sound. Great RAY MANZEREK keyboards at the beginning of the instrumental section at 1:44. Great chunk of nostalgia. (9/10)

6. "Difference in Time" (2:46) again reminds me of a cross between early BLUE OYSTER CULT and LED ZEPELLIN--with a little ROBERT WYATT thrown in there. Good CREAM/ARGENT-like blues rock with a tinge of Canterbury. (8/10)

7. "Lifeguard at Sharkbay" (5:09) is an interesting song with a split personality. The instrumental second section is set up to showcase the Clapton-esque guitar skills. Section three speeds things up like a great URIAH HEEP song. Section four brings it into arena- anthem territory. It all adds up to a kind of a CORUS STONE jam setup song. (8/10)

8. "Ta et steg til siden" (2:53) starts right off into blues rock territory like a classic CREAM or BLUE OYSTER CULT song--and stays there. Solid but . . . proggy? (7/10)

At this point the album is starting to wear on me as being more imitative of classic 1970 blues rock and less of what proggers got hooked onto.

9. "VI Motes Sikkert Ighen" (6:48) opens with some bombast quite reminiscent of classic BLACK SABBATH. Nice song structure, chord progressions, and development. The sparse beginning to the vocal section at 1:48 sets up a pretty classic, almost RPI, section. This one, for some reason, feels less imitative of elders and more original (despite the less-than- exciting drumming in the first four and a half minutes). Great NEKTAR-ish dream-freakout section beginning at the 4:45 mark. Too bad it ends?goes back to the kind of dragging, dramatic vocal section. Still, I like that for the first time the band is displaying something creative and original. (9/10)

10. "Prevail to Fail" (3:22) is an electrified acoustic guitar strummed song with some alternating vocalists kind of treading CHICAGO and STYX ground. I like this second vocalist! He sounds quite impassioned. The quirky synth soli and vocal harmonies make for a very pleasant, catchy, almost poppy tune. (10/10)

11. "Pictures in A Dream" (acoustic version) (3:23) the acoustic version here really brings out the LED ZEPPELIN, URIAH HEEP and even CROSBY, STILLS AND NASH influence on this band. (8/10)

A very enjoyable listen by a group of well-polished stoner-rock imitators, but it is in the band's more original stuff that I find myself drawn back for repeated listens.

86.36 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a very nice contribution to progressive rock music.




SCARLET STORIES Scarlet Stories

Once in a while--maybe once every two or three months--an album will come down the progstreaming pipe that really hooks its talons deep into my mind. Such is this new release from Scarlet Stories. I have really been enjoying this 45-minute long "EP" which I discovered through progstreaming.com and, later, bought on bandcamp. Bare-bones music from this Dutch duo with a definite prog orientation. Mostly just acoustic guitar (Bram te Kamp) (sometimes treated) and one powerful female vocalist in Lisette van den Berg. 

1. "Beauty Killed The Beast" (5:59) starts out like a coffee house rag à la Rikkie Lee Jones or Edie Brickell, gets a little more in your face with the first chorus, then, after cycling through a couple more times, at 3:30 there is a little change as both guitar and vocal get more aggressive. The least proggy of all the songs on the album. (7/10)

2. "Nostalgia in A Closed Mind" (6:31) (live version here) is a mesmerizing, hypnotizing piece of music despite its incredibly bold and powerful vocal. The lyric "Only nostalgia" will haunt me ( in a great way) for the rest of my life! (10/10)

3. "Resurrection" (6:13) my second favorite song on the album starts with multiple acoustic guitars doing some really nice picking and strumming. Lisette's entry is soft, touching, but by the time she gets to the "revenge is sweet" lyric things have gotten quite powerful. There is a sharp and unexpected shift at the four minute mark in which the guitars start playing different pickings and Lisette's singing unveils a new melody--which then plays out to the end. (9/10)

4. "Craving" (7:15) starts out with the guitar(s) picking at a much more rapid pace. Lisette soon joins in with a more conversation-like, stoccato vocal & melody. The "craving" chorus arrives like a stop-and-serve. The transition back into the A section is also a bit awkward--as if the A and B themes were forced together.
     In the third repetition of the "craving" chorus Lisette's voice has a strength which reminds me strikingly of FREQUENCY DRIFT's extraordinary vocalist on the Ghosts... album, Antje Auer. I love the guitar work in the last two minutes with Lisette's far off vocal notes in the background. (8/10)

5. "Girl on A Mushroom Cloud" (5: ) a softly picked acoustic guitar sets up the quick arrival of a more delicate vocal--again in the stylistic vein of Antje Auer. At 1:15 the first chorus is interesting for its strummed guitar and Bram's vocal harmonies. After the second time through the B section Lisette begins reciting a poetic section in her speaking voice. When she finishes, the guitar begins to strum aggressively and is eventually joined by Lisette, also singing quite aggressively, but then the song winds down rather gently. Storm over. (9/10)

6. "When The World Was Asleep" (4:46) begins with some very spaciously picked acoustic guitar notes mixed in with harmonics. At the one minute mark Lisette fills a pause with a very soft, delicate voice. As the song goes along Lisette's vocal styling becomes more similar to previous songs save for her use of more sustained notes here and there. A very slow, spacious, (almost plodding) but soul-filled song. (8/10)

7. "The Murder of A Chimera" (4:59) begins like a Broadway interlude song--you know, the one where the female protagonist is down-and-out, alone, confused, about ready to give it up but then gets some hitherto wellspring of motivation to press forward. (9/10)

I wish more bands, singers, and songwriters had the courage to record (and publish) music like this! 

85.0 in the Fish scales = B/four stars; one of my personal favorite albums of the year.




FROMUZ Sodom & Gomorrah

It seems that long-time band leader Albert Khalmurzaev is finally getting his name vaulted to the top of the marquee: "Music by Albert Khalmurzaev." What is most interesting to me is that this is the most melodic music I've heard from this band (I'm a proud owner and lover of 2008's Overlook, 2010's Seventh Story, and 2011's Quartus Artifactus). Whereas all of their previous work has breathtaking musicianship and highly interesting and unusual song constructs, this one plays and feels like something quite theatric--as if meant to accompany a film or stage production. Of course, it makes sense that this work should be theatric as it is a conceptual music drama of the famous Biblical story of Lot and Sodom and Gomorrah. Powerful and very 'visual', this music 'tells' a story very powerfully, very strongly, with great ability to suck in and carry the listener along through its 53 minutes without losing his/her attention. The Dick Dale-like "Folly or Fob" teases the listener with vocal samples--making one realize that there are, in fact, no vocals on From.UZ albums--something I, personally, would love to see them attempt to change in the future. Aside from this one flaw--a flaw that is very seldom allowed to stay in one's mind for very long so mesmerizing and pleasing are the instrumental performances and melodic hooks and twists, respectively--this is a highly engaging album of nd I don't know what happened with the band from 2011 to now, but the band has definitely made that final leap from what I considered a band of incredible musicians stuck in some on-the-verge music to a band of maturely restrained musicians performing the amazing compositions of an amazingly gifted visionary and composer. Congratulations From.UZ: This is the breakout album I've always been convinced that you were capable of and for which I've been waiting since I first heard Overlook five years ago.

Favorite songs: the incredibly powerful, "The Blindness, Wife's Prayer" (5:07) (10/10); the awesomely mood-setting opener, "Intro" (3:12) (10/10); the gorgeous yet eerily tense, "Prologue (3:24) (9/10); the surprisingly electro-poppy (like ABC or The Blow Monkeys), "City" (2:06) (9/10); the AETHER-like, "Lot" (4:54) (9/10); the appropriately busy and theatric, "The Orgy" (4:17) (8/10); the mesmerizing trip-hoppy, "Black Feast II" (3:42) (8/10); the appropriately dramatic, "The Escape" (2:04) (8/10), and; the finale, "To The Flames" (3:41) (8/10).

84.24 on the Fish scales = This is a 4 star album that I'm recommending for the fact that it's melodies stay with me after I'm done listening and for the fact that it gets better with each listen. Bravo, UZ! Bravo, Al K! Another addition to the pantheon of great albums from 2013!




STEVEN WILSON The Raven That Refused to Sing (and Other Stories)

Steven Wilson may have finally done it:  He may have created an album that will stand, years from now, among the classic prog masterpieces of the 1970s. Though extracting many, many sounds, riffs, stylings, and themes from past masters, M. Wilson has woven together quite a tapestry of mature, masterful artistry.

1. The opening song, “Luminol” (12:10), starts out part POLICE “Synchronicity” and part YES “Close to The Edge” (though, to be most accurate, more like WOBBLER’s “L6 Bealtaine”). Once established, in high gear I am more reminded of YES’ “Tempis Fugit” from Drama. Throughout the song it is the drumming that most attracts my attention, though the organ play is also pretty cool.
     The soft section at 4:50 is very nice—especially the FRIPP/BACHMAN electric guitar flourishes and, later, the flute play. From the 8:35 mark on they might as well be singing, “But I fear tomorrow, I’ll be crying. Yes, I fear tomorrow, I’ll be crying…” (à la Greg Lake on KING CRIMSON’s “Epitaph”), but the final two minutes again excels with its return to its original RTF “Duel of The Jester and The Tyrant (Part I)”/POLICE pace and outstanding collective instrumental performances.
     Like 2009’s “Time Flies,” this is a great song despite its derivative sounds and parts. (9/10)

2. “Drive Home” (7:27) begins exactly like a FOCUS/JAN AKKERMAN song (from Mother Focus? Or from Focus Con Proby?) before becoming pure Steven Wilson: plaintive singing voice, acoustic guitar, piano, light drums—a lot like “Lightbulb Sun”-era PT. Incredible melodies (including the AMERICA “I Need You” acoustic guitar picking foundation), great teamwork and sound mixing. The orchestration and clarity of mix make this a beautiful and powerful song despite its bucolic pace and soft-jazz feel. (9/10)

3. “The Holy Drinker” (10:13) has an incredible RETURN TO FOREVER Romantic Warrior/Music Magic-era sound to it—including synth work reminiscent of Chick Corea, bass work reminiscent of Stanley Clarke, drumming reminiscent of Gerry Brown, and sax work reminiscent of Joe Farrell. Once the vocal section arrives the song has taken on a much more heavy element—kind of AYREON, THE TANGENT and NEMO-ish. I hear Andy Tillison-like keyboard play, Theo Travis’s flute, and Keith Emerson-like organ play. The final section feels very ELP-like. Good song. (8/10)

4. “The Pin Drop” (5:10) has an interesting OCEANSIZE feel to its first couple minutes—especially interesting considering the word “pin” is in the song title. Once the soprano sax solo takes charge, the song takes on a different feel—through the chorus, but eventually returns to the opening themes with multiple voices singing as if in some Mother Goose fairy world. The chorus section “Love learned…” is stellar, and the “I am tired of struggling…” bridge section is equally awesome. Really, with “Luminol,” this is a standout song for me. (9/10)

5. “The Watchmaker” (11:43) begins with a kind of ANTHONY PHILLIPS/GENESIS Trespass-era feel (because of its 12-string guitars, no doubt). (The link I've provided is to live concert footage of the song.) The vocal enters giving the song more of an AMERICA feel—doubly so when the multi-level vocal harmonies are used.  The background pastoral flute solo is more like that of John Hackett on his brother Steve’s first solo album, Voyage of the Acolyte. Yes, this feels strongly as if it is a Hackett/early Genesis reproduction.
      The upbeat turn treads more into the realm of WOBBLER’s last album, Rites at Dawn—a carbon copy of the basic elements of  “L6 Bealtaine” without the amazing vocal and vocal harmonies. The piano-led second part introduces some new themes and instrumental combinations along with some excellent multi-layered vocal harmony work—part Moody Blues, part CSN&Y, part The Association—followed by some awesome sax, bass, and drum soli. Chris Squire-familiar bass riffs precede a psychedelic, mellotron-enriched section a bit like UTOPIA’s “Still We Are Here” part of “The Ikon”—evolving more into something like “The Ikon” finale with its own finale.
     “Watchmaker” is an awesome recreation/imitation of some of the best delicate songwriter-singers of the 70s, though, IMHO, not nearly as good as WOBBLER or BROTHER APE. Still, this a very pretty song of sensitive instrumental play and vocal work. (8/10)

6. “The Raven That Refused to Sing” (7:57) is, to my mind and ears, the album’s weakest song—and also its least derivative of the past masters. It has more of a RADIOHEAD-Post Rock/Math Rock construct and feel to it, which is, in fact, IMHO, its downfall in that I’m always waiting for some big denouement or dramatic shift. Instead, it slowly—very slowly--builds around a very odd, persistent, RADIOHEAD-like piano chord progression, eventually crescendos and then dies. (7/10)

This is an album of reprocessed, reused, recycled and repurposed musical sounds, riffs, ideas—mostly from the 1970s. Though it is an excellent production of very well constructed and incredibly well performed songs, it really is all too familiar. BUT, I recognize and value the fact that someone with an incredible reverence for the music of the past has made an incredible effort to meticulously weave together splices and bytes from the past into new songs. Genius? Yes. Masterful? Yes. A masterpiece? Perhaps. Raven et al. is definitely my favorite work from Mr. Wilson since Fear of A Blank Planet—and much better than Grace for Drowning. And definitely one of the best albums I’ve heard from Y2K13. Though it seems too early to judge whether or not this will go down as a “classic” or “masterpiece” I have to admit that it has the feel of a classic masterpiece—one that will be played, remembered and perhaps even revered years down the road.

83.33 on the Fish scales = solid four stars. Outstanding production, performances, consistency, maturity and memorability make for an excellent addition to any progressive rock music collection.




VIENNA CIRCLE Silhouette Moon

A band of serious songwriters who manage to pull together quite a little gathering of eclectic sounds (and influences?). The use of orchestra is well done, the simple-yet-intricate song structures and instrument use and play is all highly commendable. I’ve been quite enjoying this album for a little while and think the album’s sole “epic,” “Dreams Presage” belongs in the pantheon of classic prog epics.

1. “Strangers” (1:43) is an innocuous little intro dittie. (3.5/5)

2.    “Envy” (2:22) is a very cool, deceptively complex little dittie. Female b vox, strumming acoustic guitars and arppeggiating piano accompany a very melodic vocal, until el. Gtr screams out a wicked solo between the first B and second A section. (5/5)

3.   Dreams Presage” (13:20) begins with about half a minute of flute to introduce the main melody before the full band joins in. At 1:19 a heavy prog with orchestra enters adding some drama and tension. Things quiet down with muted guitar arppeggios before a sax solo takes us through some light and heavy background themes. Then at 3:14 a new synth-led, flute-backed section recapitulates the original theme. At 3:50 all sound and themes drop away to leave a piano, seagulls, and some echoed guitar notes to set up the vocalist. A very pretty section. This song has a very nice, maturely complex feel to it. At 6:25 bass and synth “bees” lead the song to a shift to a more Wild West folk melody behind the simplified flute melody. A return at 7:20 to the vocal section, this time with a little more instrumentation to give it a little more power—to which the vocalist responds in kind. Nice use of orchestra to back the heavier sections. A slightly divergent vocal section begins at the nine minute mark, morphing into a simple song structure with some nice vocals harmonies working totally in sync. Kind of a lull—extended a bit too long for my tastes--in this otherwise exceptional song. AT 12:05 the song returns to full power though with an interesting dichotomy of acoustic/orchestra-like instruments playing along with and in equal power to that of the heavier electrified rock instruments. Odd sudden ending—which seems to bleed into the next song. (27/30)

4. “Scarlet Dance” (3:14) uses the same chord progression from the previous song in a blues-rock format—with a talk-tube modified lead guitar playing its blues riffs throughout the song. Nice portamento synth solo from 1:45 to 2:32. Pretty good song that, again, bleeds into the next song. (8/10)

5. “Woven Wings” (6:26) is a very different song from the previous in that it feels more acoustic and folk oriented—kind of reminds me of the Swedish band, RITUAL. Light, positive, and hummable. It definitely gets into your brain and stays there for a while. AT 2:18 acoustic guitar riffs are doubled up by electric guitars and the song shifts into heavier mode. Flute and picked acoustic guitar join in the mix giving it a very JETHRO TULL feel. Very melodic and almost poppy—though filled with plenty of quirks, subtleties and structural shifts—all of which makes it downright proggy. (9/10)

6. “Ballad of Night” (6:33) begins with a very familiar pop sounding piano chord progression (BONNIE RAIT?) before taking a MOON SAFARI-like turn with full band and sax.  The second time it launches into the heavier, orchestra-supported full-band chorus section it sounds very much like the GOO GOO DOLLS’ classic hit, “Iris” (which is pseudo-prog, right?) The delicate instrumental part in the fifth minute is quite nice, using space and single notes and hits to great effect. Then the “Iris” section returns and plays out as an instrumental to the end. (8/10)

7. “Sea” (3:36) is a soft, spacious psychedilia song in the vein of LED ZEPPELIN’s “The Ocean” from  Houses of The Holy. Nothing very special here. (7/10)

8. "Eternity” (2:43) is another brief song—an instrumental--that packs a lot into a short time. Beautiful use of orchestra to accompany a kind of U2 “With or Without You” beat and sound—at least until the electric guitar begins its solo. (4/5)

9. “Together” (5:46) begins with voice and piano performing the melody line simultaneously. A kind of BEATLES “Eleanor Rigby” feel creeps in until the blues-rock electric guitar lead enters (around 1:30). Synth flute in the background is a bit incongruous. Then at 2:47 a drum flurry introduces a kind of folk rock section quite similar to the early AMERICA sound (though the guitar play isn’t nearly as intricate or layered as that amazing band was known to do). The song kind of shifts and plays out very much like a GEORGE HARRISON song. Nicely done, if you like that sort of thing. (8/10)

10. “Departure” (3:23) ends the album with an instrumental worthy of a Donnie Darko or Titanic-like soundtrack: piano, distant female voice, full orchestral participation (love the lower register brass!) and, RADIOHEAD/DOVES-like guitars. (10/10)

A wonderful effort from these masters of delicate intricacies and lilting melodies. 85.24 on the Fish scales = four stars. An excellent addition to any prog rock music collection despite being a bit more crossover/prog-related than neo/symphonic.




LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO Sensitivitá

This is a young Italian group with a great, powerful sound--as good as anything that came out of RPI in the 70s. And what a voice in singer Alessio Calandriello! Though there is a ton of 70’s-like RPI power here, my review’s references are, unfortunately, more weighted to the more familiar world of English symphonic rock.

1. “La citta di dite” (6:46) has some great sounds and dynamics but is a bit inconsistent, confusing and, ultimately, wayward in its meanderings. (12/15)

2. “Sensitivita” (12:22) the instrumental jam beginning at 3:20 is an awesome whole-band production—though the synths/keys are pretty outstanding. At 5:15 things calm down significantly giving Alessio space for some sensitive and powerful singing. At 6:21 we are treated to a brief bass- and electric guitar-led section. The mellotron-acccompanied vocal section beginning at 7:30 is quite powerful—with drummer Andrea Orlando really shining from here on out. The instrumental build-to-crescendo in the ninth minute is awesome! Very GENESIS-like, though the classical piano chord hits in the background remind me of RENAISSANCE’s John Tout.  Very strong song, well organized and never meandering or lacking for power and emotion. Definitely one to go back to over and over. (22/25)

3. “Tenue” (3:31) shows the band turning its piano-jazz bar side out for viewing. Slowed down and almost jazzy, this one uses a lot of unusual treatments/effects on the vocal, drums, guitar, and other instruments which, unfortunately, seems to give it a feel as if it is aimlessly searching for its sound groove. (7/10)

4. “Chiusa 1915” (7:04) begins with some wonderful keyboard, piano, and electric guitar weaves until suddenly, at 1:15, it all stops to become a sparse piano-accompanied vocal (great vocal and melody lines!) As the rest of the band gradually rejoin all is right again—a very nice song to accompany Alessio’s amazing voice. Nice soli intermittently interjected from electric guitar and synthesizer. Very And Then There Were Three… familiar at the 3:30 mark. Like the bass-line and other unexpected changes from 4:10. Kind of SYLVAN-like. 4:50 back to the “The Lady Lies” sound again. Very catchy melodies and chord progressions throughout—a very mature neo-prog song creation in the vein of NINE STONES CLOSE, KNIGHT AREA or MYSTERY. (13.5/15)

5. “Tensegrita” (7:18) begins a bit cheesy-bombastically with electric guitar over electric piano and rhythm section. Odd carnival-like instrument at 1:00. This song is personality challenged—kind of like an I AND THOU creation—syrupy and over-melodic with almost too-clichéd hooks and melodies. Again, Tony Banks’ influence from c. 1978-9 is incredibly strong here. Ultimately, this one fails to deliver because it fails to bring itself together in a cohesive, sensible fashion—though it certainly seems to be trying! (12.5/15)

6. “Pauvre misere” (7:49) once again begins with some over-the-top neo sounds and structures. What was once a lovely, refreshing ride is beginning to get old and feeling a bit forced. It is only when Alessio’s voice is allowed to take center stage that all is right. Odd shift in style and sound at 2:20. Are they trying to go jazz, eclectic or avant-gard? It does tighten up a bit for a while before another shift showcases Alessio the Crooner—later to turn to Alessio the Broadway singer. Strings at 5:30 usher in a nice instrumental section with some clever time and key changes and interesting though subtle instrumental soli—to fade! (12.75/15)

7. “La temperanza” (10:38) begins with some acoustic instruments weaving in an almost neo-classical fashion. The YUGEN/AltrOck influence shows on this one. Great harmonies of multiple melody lines. At 3:11 Alessio and the band take on a kind of “Get ‘em Out by Friday” mantle. At 5:02 things turn a little dirtier—SYLVAN-like! Very cool! At 6:15 sparse background electric guitar arpeggios (à la GENESIS c. 1971) opens up a quite lovely section. Definitely my favorite song on the album and one of the best epics of 2013. (18.5/20)

I don’t know how well the band worked on the various songs on this album but there are several, like the title song and the last song, that just feel like they are much more well worked out, more complex, and much more mature.


This band, this album, are definitely a very positive find for me. Considering they are considered a “young” band, I will look forward to following their growth and development throughout their career(s).

85.43 on the Fish scales = A solid four star album; an excellent addition to any prog music lover's album collection.





DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS In Extremis

“Featuring 
Peter Banks, Tony Levin,
 Colin Moulding (XTC), 
Billy Sherwood,
 and Rick Wakeman” is definitely enough to pique anyone’s curiosity—and I’m glad it did cuz within In Extremis are some real gems for songs. While DAYS WITHOUT STATIONS are officially made up of Oscar Fuentes Bills and Sepand Samzadeh, and the contributions of the above artists—especially Levin, Sherwood and Banks—are worthy of superlatives, it is truly the core of Bills and Samzadeh that deserve the greatest praise here.

1.   No Cause for Alarm (Overture) (3:51) opens the album with some appropriate bombast (especially considering the lineup). However, in my opinion, it is the orchestral work that steals the show on this instrumental. The bass, drums, and rhythm guitar work are a bit too choppy and disintegrated—as if the players are reading their parts from song sheets from two or three totally different songs. It is the keyboard work and orchestration that make this interesting and keep it flowing and coherent. As a matter of fact, I would go so far as to call the drum contributions here a total negative—they are quite distracting.  (7/10)

2. “In Utero” (5:10) is basically a soundtrack piece that uses synths and orchestral instruments as a set up and support for one long and totally awesome electric guitar solo. I love the muted trumpet “background” play. (9/10)

3. “Visionary” (10:40) is the album’s first epic and one heck of a song. Here we are treated to some amazing drumming, awesome lead and harmonized vocals, incredible melodies, brilliantly cohesive band play, and awesome solos. The synth solos in the third and fourth minutes are gorgeous—though it is the bass and drums to which I am constantly drawn to pay attention. Around the five minute mark the chorus melody is getting a bit repetitive and boring, but we are, fortunately saved by another foray into solo world. The next section of vocals (harmonized and then multiple vocal lines woven together) is brilliant, beautiful—all the while an awesome lead guitar is soloing in the background! Intense! Then at 7:10 everything drops out to leave a vascillating synth wash decaying away until a pretty arpeggiated piano begins a chord sequence to support a banjo/dobro-like instrument’s solo. This is pretty much prog heaven! (20/20)

4. “Blackfoot” (10:05) is an instrumental that begins with slow, rhythmic, dramatic piano play. The piano is then joined by lead guitar and bass and drums in an equally dramatic, equally powerful fashion. Basically the song is one long set up for some rather extraordinary soloing—first by the lead guitarist (though the supporting drum play is certainly quite impressive as well) to the four minute mark, at which point there is an ominous shift in power to bass play (on Chapman Stick) and a fuzz guitar lead. The drums continue to impress me so much! At 5:30 a very easy going piano solo is given space (and us some breathing room) before some awesome synth soloing begins in the beginning of the seventh minute. At 8:10 a slide guitar screams to the fore letting loose on one heck of a solo—goose bumps galore! This is simply one astounding, perfect prog epic—despite being an instrumental. (19.5/20)

5. “The Man Who Died Two Times” (4:11) is a song in which I find the singing, pace and melody awkward and, to me, too poppy--especially considering its subject matter. It almost sounds like a weak (or tongue-in-cheek) ASIA imitation. (6/10)

6. “Waltz in E Minor (Dedicated to Peter Banks)” (2:06) is a classical piece composed for and performed by some chamber strings. Nice piece. (4/5)

7.  “Eggshell Man” (11:58) is a pretty good song with lots of pleasurable sounds, instruments, and themes which, unfortunately, fail to congeal and flow into a cohesive whole and fail to draw me in very deeply. The first 4 minutes actually feel exactly as if they came from a BIG BIG TRAIN song from any of that band’s past four albums. The fifth minute is also quite like BBT except for the drums. But this is no BBT facsimile, as evidenced by the sitar in the sixth minute, the organ in the seventh minute, the Russian-like speeding-to-crescendo section in the ninth minute, and then the crashing drums, Russian folk guitar strumming and big synth solo in the tenth minute. (20/25)

8.  “In Extremis” (21:03 ) begins almost like a MIKE OLDFIELD piece—“Incantations” or “Hergest Ridge.” When the vocals eventually join the music it begins to take on a BIG BIG TRAIN/PINK FLOYD feel—which is only exaggerated when the solo guitar takes over in the eighth minute. The organ-held lull at 8:25 is effective as breathing space after that crescendo of percussives and electric guitar. By 9:30 the song has leveled off and a nice vocal section leads us slowly into a long instrumental section in which keyboards and dueling guitars are blaring away at the highest caliber of emotion and melody—for five and a half minutes! The final three minutes are made a bit bombastic by the domineering drum play/sound but it also contains some outstanding weaving of melody lines from both the instrumentation and the voices—including some great vocal harmonizing. (36/40)

Despite some average songs or parts of songs, the highs of this album are among the best stuff I’ve heard this year—“In Utero,” “In Extremis,” and, especially, the 10-minute ‘twins’:  “Visionary” and “Blackfoot.”

86.79 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover’s music collection.



RIVERSIDE Shrine of New Generation Slaves

I am thankful that Riverside decided to back off from the abrasively heavy direction that Anno Domini High Definition was taking them. I am not sure that I'm up for yet another modern group paying homage to the masters and masterpieces of the 1970s.

1. "New Generation Slave" (4:17) takes too long to develop, Mariuz singing in English blues slang feels weird. At 2:05 shifts into second gear. Effects on Mariuz' voice is too much. Song too steeped in old field (Led Zep/Uriah Heep) (7/10)

2. "The Depth of Self-Delusion" (7:40) why is Mariuz so obsessed with these odd voice treatments & modulations when he's got such a great natural voice?! This song does absolutely nothing new or exciting for the first three minutes. It's when the softened, glockenspiel and cello section arrives that it starts to get a little interesting. At 4:17 a cool section with strummed electric guitar takes over, but neither the vocal nor the lyric deliver the much-hoped-for knock out punch. The LUNATIC SOUL-like acoustic guitar to end is nice, just not sure this is Riverside. (8/10)

3. "Celebrity Touch" (6:47) begins with a very Led Zepellin feel and sound (is that John Bonham on the drums?). When Mariuz' heavily treated/distorted voice enters I find my heart dropping. Disappointment. Cheezy 60s organ solo at 1:20. At 2:22 the song transitions into a very nice keyboard-driven section for about a minute. The A Section returns and tries to drive the song'even after one of Mariuz's great screams at 4:08'but doesn't quite take it (maybe we needed Bonham to step up a little more). A nice guitar solo at 4:40 fades into a softer version of the B Section. It turns a little too ALAN PARSONS PROJECT "Eye in the Sky"-ish until the final 40 second's build to end. (8/10)

4. "We Got Used to Us" (4:11) Okay. I'm ready to forget this is Riverside, to listen as if each song is a brand new band trying to present brand new music. What a great melodic song. A cross between LUNATIC SOUL and JOHN LENNON. The soloing guitar appearing almost blues-like in different sections of the song is welcome and warm. It works. This is a pretty, even beautiful song. I even keyed into the lyrics enough to know that there is a pretty cool message here. (9/10)

5. "Feel Like Feeling" (5:18) Devo? What is that opening riff and rhythm about? I like the treated guitars'almost psychedelic. Though the vocal starts out like a standard M. Duda effort, there are a few changes in style and delivery that are surprisingly fresh. Still, this is not really a new or modern song'more of a throwback into the 80s. All out Led Zep for the final ninety seconds. (8/10)

6. "Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)" (8:26) begins like something out of a soundtrack to a French film'or something from Lebowski's Cinematic. A really pretty song with one of Mariuz Duda's most sensitive vocals ever. Very dreamy. These guys are mellowing with age! No metal here! Love the gamelan-like synth arpeggio that joins at the three minute mark. Truly a stunning vocal performance! At 4:00 begins a section that is part Spaghetti Western, part KRAFTWERK electronics, which then evolves into a kind of brooding U2 meets emotional. The ensuing soprano sax solo is delightful surprise. Amazing! So odd, so fresh. It works! A masterpiece for the ages! (10/10)

7. "Escalator Shrine" (12:41) starts out with a very intriguing bluesy-jazz feel to it--kind of JEFF BECK-ish and at the same time The song stays subdued until the 3:50 when it begins to build in a 70s kind of way with a 70s kind of guitar solo. At 4:35 there is a complete shift, as bass, pace and organ lead the way into a URIAH HEEP-like song in over drive. Keyboard solos over this very tightly performed section. At 6:24 there is another, albeit brief, shift into an ELP Tarkus-like section (even down to the effected vocal). The everything quiets down to a very PINK FLOYD "Wish You Were Here/Eclipse" cover section. Nice, clever song of masterful performances but, in the end, Riverside are adding nothing new to prog world, they are, in fact, instead raising their arms in praise (and defeat?) to the masters that have come before them. (8/10)

8. "Coda" (1:39) is the brief album closer'the acoustic guitar arpeggios from Suzanne Vega's "Small Blue Thing" over which Mariuz Duda gives a very familiar Mariuz Duda vocal performance. (8/10)

Are all bands in the 2010s going to be trying to replicate, regurgitate or recreate the masters and masterpieces of the 70s? I worry. I love the music and sounds of the 70s. I relish and feel excited for the artists who are pushing the envelope and leading "progressive rock" in a forward, progressive direction. I hope today's new artists aren't giving up on the possibilities of "new" or "fresh" or "innovative." I believe that there are new sounds and new musics out there yet to be discovered, yet to be heard by even we old-timers.

Consequently, this is not an essential masterpiece of progressive rock music; it is an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection--very melodic and accessible, if familiar and seldom ground-breaking.

Four stars.

P.S. For those of you interested, the 'Deluxe Specal Collectors' Edition contains a second disc with two wonderful almost Electronic, almost dance songs: 'Night Session, Part One' (10:44) and 'Night Session, Part Two' (11:33).




RESONAXIS Hymnarium

Another gem destined, I fear, to obscurity were it not for the benevolence, brilliance and imagination of the boys at progstreaming.com. Bravo, Sunhillow! You are a god!
     Pairing David Drury’s church organ play with Brooke Shelley’s female choral/operatic vocals seems natural—for church music. But then you mix in the standard rock instrumentation (drums, electric bass and electric guitar) and you get an unusual and challenging mix. The choice to creating prog/goth rock was made and, though the organ and vocal can at times feel separate from the electric side, overall the church- and medieval-feeling melodies and sounds mix extremely well with the rock elements. I must admit that I half expected the clichéd Captain Nemo/Phantom of The Opera ‘crazed organ’ sound (it’s there a few times, like in “Wachet Auf”) but, no! The organ is often actually rather quiet or in the background—not even as prominent as Rick Wakeman used it in the YES-classic, “Awaken.” The electric guitar is, surprisingly, the one instrument that is, unfortunately, mixed as if ‘outside’ the rest of the band, otherwise Resonaxis has managed the formidable achievement of making their odd mix of instruments feel quite natural and perfectly suited for one another.

While I find myself quite liking all of the album’s songs, the standouts for me are:

The graphic lyrics and catchy melodies of “Monsignor Loss” (4:47) (8/10), the FRIPP-like guitar arpeggios and harmonized male and female vocal weave throughout “Hymn 8” (4:00) (9/10), “Wachet Auf” (4:07) (8/10), “Deathdamp Allemande” (3:50) (8/10), the STEROLAB-like “Circles” (3:24) (8/10), the almost blasphemous church/sacred feeling, guitar infused, “Mysterium” (5:06) (9/10) (beautiful vocal!), the vocal melody and performance of “Chorus Angelorum” (8/10), the guitar and organ work in “Dustward” (4:25), and the awesome electric guitar chord play (including a 50 second solo intro) and amazing second voice harmonizing in a very church-like way on “Akasha” (4:55) (9/10).

Church pipe organ, operatic female voice, rock drums, metal guitars, and Zeuhl-like bass—now that’s what I’m talking about! Reminiscent of DAARGARD, UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA, early NIGHTWISH, DARK SANCTUARY and even a little Rick Wakeman (“Awaken” et al.) this music, albeit sometimes raw and unpolished, is a big breath of fresh air for me. I’m a sucker for crystalline soprano voices, organs and church- derived or imitative music. 

I would love to see some more intricate and adventurous organ play from this maestro—who is obviously well-esteemed if he was the inspiration for Brooke’s desire to put together a record. His play is solid and presents a wonderful and unusual backdrop to the music here (except on “Akasha”), but there are really no flashy soli or intricate weaves of multiple keyboard lines. One can only hope that in the future . . .

In the meantime, this is a solid four star effort: an excellent addition to any prog lover’s music collection!



FISH A Feast of Consequences

On this new release Fish displays a broad palette of musical styles while throughout showing his extraordinary skill as singer-storyteller. What I find myself liking throughout is how Fish's singing has strongly carried a torch started by Peter Gabriel. In fact, he may be better now than Gabriel ever was. The album has a lot of the same feel as Gabe's first solo album. My beef with this album is that there is a lot of music here that really wouldn't fall into a prog category, more like classic rock. I count four songs that are proggy (5, 8, 9, 11), three that are pseudo-proggy (1, 6, 7) and four that are not proggy at all (2, 3, 4, 10), and no real standout masterpieces, IMHO. Also, Fish seems pretty stuck on two themes in particular: environmental disaster and war, though his lyrical compositions are incredibly poetic. As a matter of fact, that is another feature that distinguishes Fish's music from almost all others on PA this year: the mature, sophisticated poetic quality of his words, delivery and images is so far beyond anyone else (at least those speaking in English, my most familiar language).

01. "Perfume River" (10:58) is notable for its three parts, beginning with bagpipes, some wonderful singing, and an energetic strumming acoustic guitar-driven section in the second half. (8/10)

02. "All Loved Up" (5:07) sounds like a TOM PETTY AND THE HEARTBREAKERS or JOHN COUGAR MELLENCAMP song, pure rural bluesy rock. (6/10)

03. "Blind To The Beautiful" (5:12) continues the MELLENCAMP/TOM PETTY trend on the softer end of the spectrum. A beautiful, heartfelt vocal performance. (7/10)

04. "A Feast Of Consequences" (4:29) is the third and probably most obvious of the MELLENCAMP/TOM PETTY genre. The female and background vocal supports are nice touches but fail to make this song a winner for me. (5/10)

05. "High Wood" (5:26) starts out as a sensitive, beautiful IAMTHEMORNING-like song up to the 2:10 mark when it kicks into PETER GABRIEL sound and style. It's eery-powerful in the chorus section, especially "the circle is unbroken." Like the use of spoken German at the end. Definitely one of the three best songs on the album. (9/10)

06. "Crucifix Corner" (7:25) opens very delicately with another stunning vocal performance. Again it kicks into drive with its 80s classic rock B and C parts. (7/10)

07. "The Gathering" (4:30) opens with a festive county fair sound and feel to it before turning into a kind of Celtic folk anti-war song. I hear a lot of ROBERT WYATT in this song-- especially in the way the horns are used. Also some J TULL. Unfortunately, this song has probably the least effective vocal on the album. (7/10)

08. "Thistle Alley" (6:08) sounds just like it came off of PETER GABRIEL's first solo album. Great delicacy in the instrumental play is offset with the raw and powerful insistence of the vocal performance. Great effect of the drums and bass with sparse guitar interplay. Another of the three best songs on the album. (9/10)

09. "The Leaving" (4:59). By the time you get to this song you start to realize that Fish is using one formula in the construction of his songs on this album: delicate, soft two-minute sparsely intstrumentalized intros shifting into a more standard pulsing rock formats for the remainder of the song (with sometimes a return to the delicacy of the intro for the final 15 or 30 seconds). An interesting guitar solo in the fourth minute. Another familiar PETER GABRIEL-like song and vocal in this one. The use of chamber strings is a highlight of this one for me. (8/10)

10. "The Other Side Of Me" (6:09) opens with some very familiar GENESIS-like guitar and piano. Deep, breathy-voiced Fish soon joins in with what I feel is the most powerful lyric and vocal performance on the album. I love the effect of the double-lined vocal from the 1:50 mark on and the excellent background voices in the "First person singular" chorus. The rise an octave at the 2:50 mark is also masterfully effective. Unfortunately, this is not a prog song but more of a country rock piece, again in the form used so effectively by JOHN MELLENCAMP, ROBBIE ROBERTSON, GUY MANNING and VAN MORRISON. (8/10)

11. "The Great Unravelling (6:32) begins with the riff from EMINEM's well-known "Lose Yourself" song. The riff is soon joined by a great and varied PETER GABRIEL-esque vocal performance. Another awesome lyric. Also great use of female vocalist (whom I assume to be Liz Antwi) as a foil/partner and CLARE TORREY-like vocal "instrument." Great instrumental performances throughout. This is the last of the three good truly prog songs on the album. (9/10)

75.45 on the Fish scales = A 3.5 star album, really, that is probably best defined by the "Good, but not essential" category but I am awarding four stars due to the outstanding vocal and poetic lyrics.




KARDA ESTRA Mondo Profondo





THE GATHERING Afterwords

Listener beware: four of the songs on this album are re-mixes or re-worked versions of songs released on the previous year's excellent album, Disclosure.

For those of you still mourning the departure of golden voiced Anneke Van Giersbergen, let me tell you: as any of you who have ever listened to OCTAVIA SPERATI can attest, Norwegian Silje Wergeland is no vocal slouch. She has precise control of her ‘instrument’ even in her nuances and subtleties. Unfortunately, in my humble opinion, Afterwords does not take full advantage of Silje’s considerable gifts. However, I do quite enjoy the variety of creative adventurousness that The Gathering musicians/songwriters are taking on the songs represented here. There may, however, be a bit too much variety here, leaving me asking the question, “Who are The Gathering, really?

Five star songs: “Echoes Keep Growing” (6:52), S.I.B.A.L.D.” (4:32), “Afterwords” (4:01), “Tuning In, Fading Out” (3:52), and “Gemini III” (4:OO).

Four star songs: “Areas”(3:31) and “Sleep Paralysis” (3:15).

A 3.5 star album marked up on the strength of the first half of the album. For the best version of the modern The Gathering, get 2012's wonderful release, Disclosure.




JOHANNES LULEY Tales from Sheepfather's Grove

This one is tough to give a rating to because it sounds SO MUCH like a few other albums/artists (JON ANDERSON's Olias of Sunhillow, ENYA, MIKE OLDFIELD, and YES/STEVE HOWE) and yet it has such great sound, compositional facility and production.

Favorite songs:  I like the acoustic guitar work on 7. "The Fleeting World" (8/10) and the first and last thirds of 3. "Guardians of Time" (8/10); 6. the ADIEMUS-like multiple drum rhythms and the deep bass chord pulse on "Give and Take (Part 2)" (8/10); and the lead guitar on the album's best song, 10. "Voya" (9/10), sounds EXACTLY like mid-70s Steve Howe, start to finish, note for note, sound/style for sound/style!

This is a solid four star album, maybe even higher, despite the familiarity. It's because, IMO, Luley has taken the sounds, styles and feeling of the above-mentioned artists, merged them, and produced music that is BETTER than the original artists.

Though I love and miss MOTH VELLUM, it is nice to hear music still coming from at least one of its members. Also:  Cool artwork on the album cover.



SKY ARCHITECT One Billion Years of Solitude

 
Listening to this album every day for the past three weeks has not changed my initial opinion, though part of my motivation for so many repeat listens was due to the fact that I really wanted to rate this album higher. It's just not meant to be. The album is bookended by two epics--both of which rank among my favorite songs of the year--but the other songs in between fail to rate as highly--they lack anything really special to attract me back in. The two epics, however, "The Curious One" (18:06) (34/35) and "Traveller's Last Candle" (12:43) (22.5/25) are intriguing for their fresh and rather unique flow--including the blending of some quite unusual styles, from THE TEA CLUB to TANGERINE DREAM to AMPLIFIER to ANUBIS to world music and to I'm-not-sure-where, but it's fun. A group I discovered with their debut and knew I wanted to keep an eye out for their next works--which I have--and I'm glad I have. They have grown and improved. It's just that there's still room for more. (Improvement, that is.)

Solid 4 stars. Give a listen; see what you think!



THE WORM OUROBOROS Of Things That Never Were




HUMBLE GRUMBLE Guzzle It Up!





UNIT WAIL Retort

The sophomore album from these young and ambitious Zeuhl-meisters. The dark CRIMSONian tone is still here, but the band has cleaned up the schizophrenic soundscapes and matured quite a bit in the compositional department, employing more multiple themes per song than before. Though interesting and creative sonic explorations continue for the bass and keyboards players, not so much for Franck's lead guitar. Still attracted to shorter song formats, the band has included their first longer song ever in the finale, "Aqua Permanens."

Line-up / Musicians:
- Franck W Fromy / guitars
- Philippe Haxaire / drums
- Adrian Luna / bass
- Emmanuel Pothier / synths
- Vincent Sicot Vantalon / keyboards 

1. "Kakodeamon" (3:40) great opener! What a pace! Let's me know how these guys have grown: far more cohesive King Crimson-influenced Zeuhl. (9/10)

2. "Peregrinatio" (4:11) kind of a continuation and variation on the opener with more synth and lead guitar inputs and more prominent "lead" bass. Mellotron is much more prominent--and ubiquitous--on these songs than on Pangaea Proxima. (8.5/10)

3. "Tertium Comparationis" (3:33) It's like that bass is talking to us! Electronica synth and Fripptonian guitars. After 90 seconds there is an unexpected quieting while TOBY DRIVER-like effected lead guitar plays some notes in the background. Then Mellotrons drench the scape as we return to the opening weave. Interesting. Perhaps this is where Toby got some of his impetus for turning back to 1980s techno-soundscapes. (8.5/10)

4. "Concupiscentia Effrenata" (3:28) sounds like a mix between OZRIC TENTACLES and some of jazz-rock fusion's more adventurous keyboard explorers (Herbie Hancock, Jan Hammer, Chick Corea, Edgar Winter, Moogy Klingman). Very jazzy. A top three song for me. (8.75/10)

5. "PumaPunku" (5:35) very CRIMSON-like. (9/10)

6. "Numinosity" (4:03) surprisingly sedate and straightforward (for a King Crimson-inspired song).  (8.25/10)

7. "Agathodeamon" (4:07) love the 1970s-like harpsichord hits! Very cinematic with it's long start-n-stop first half and brief passages into fifth gear--like a car chase scene. (8.5/10)

8. "Coincidentia Oppositorum" (3:47) (8/10)

9. "Fixatio" (4:20) I still get a kick out this band's use of the "harpsichord" sound--especially when the music turns so dark and CRIMSON-like as it does here. Then there's the Jaco Pastorius tribute in the middle. (8.25/10)

10. "Aqua Permanens" (6:46) more harpsichord! More cerebral, methodic and NIL-like in its Zeuhlishness. I like the Jaco display in the middle of this one much more than on the previous song.  (13/15)

Total Time 43:07

I don't know why, but bass and drummer Adrain Luna and Philippe Haxaire, respectively, are much more tame in this collection of songs than on the band's debut. As a matter of fact, the entire album's collection of music seems more sedate and controlled (and Mellotron-dominated) than the display of wild on-the-edge  reckless abandon that Pangaea Proxima put forth. It's as if the band recorded the songs of Retort after the one night of wild amphetamine abuse explored on Pangaea Proxima.

I really have trouble rating this next to its predecessor as they are two completely different animals, wild and tamed--and yet only one year apart!

85.48 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; another very nice contribution to the 21st Century Zeuhl renaissance and a nice show of growth and maturity from this energetic, creative band. Highly recommended for lovers of Zeuhl and 2nd incarnation King Crimson (1972-5).  




LEAFBLADE The Kiss of Spirit and Flesh

Danny and Sean are back with another solid effort of ANATHEMA-like Prog Folk. I'm glad: I love the voice and vocal arrangements these guys put out there.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Cardoso / drums, percussion
- Danny Cavanagh / bass, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, keyboards
- Sean Jude / acoustic guitar, classical guitar, poetry, vocals
- Kevin Murphy / bass

1. "Bethlehem" (8:28) Good song with the final minute being the highlight for me. Interesting lyrics. (16.75/20)
2. "The Hollow Hills" (6:47) (12.5/15)
3. "Sunset Hypnos" (5:23) cool NEIL YOUNG- and DAVE MASON-like feel. (9/10)
4. "Fuchsia" (2:37) nice little classical guitar duet. (4.5/5)
5. "Oak Machine" (8:01) an absolutely stunningly beautiufl and haunting song with amazingly sensitive multi-track vocal harmony from Sean. (14/15)
6. "Thirteen" (6:54) (12.75/15)
7. "Beneath a Woodland Moon" (4:40) (8/10)
8. "Portrait" (10:56) an attempt at a kind of liturgical Gentle Giant vocal arrangement for the first four minutes, then the electric rock instruments enter and change everything (thought there is still a SIMON & GARFUNKLE sound and feel). At the six-minute mark it slows back down for a bit--very pretty--but then goes full ANATHEMA at 7:10. The repetitive vocal and two-chord fabric that ensues goes on for a full two minutes before finally breaking at 9:00. Classical guitar over ANATHEMA atmospherics sets up a section with some very delicate, breathy slow vocals--just a few words recapitulating the opening motif and lyrics--to the end. Gorgeous finish. The rest is kind of all over the place. Still, a good song and a great ending to the album. (17.5/20)

Total time: 53:46

85.45 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid album of atmospheric Prog Folk that is certainly recommended for all lovers of the sub-genre. Sean Jude's voice and vocal arrangements alone are worth checking out.




NECROMONKEY Necroplex



SUBMARINE SILENCE There's Something Strange in Her Little Room

1. "Prologue" (0:45)
2. "Rebecca's Theme" (1:50)
3. "About Rebecca" (4:24) (7/10)
4. "Childs at Play" (4:07) (8/10)
5. "Evening Comes" (0:50) (9/10)
6. "Mr. B" (2:25) (9/10)
7. "The Game" (3:30) (8/10)
8. "Passing Strange" (2:43)
9. "Back in Her Room" (4:18)
10. "Rebecca's Tears" (2:15)
11. "Sleepfall" (1:11)
12. "The Final Wish" (5:47) (9/10)
13. "Epilogue" (1:22)
14. "Conversazioni Notturne al Vittorlale" (1:38) (9/10)
15. "Portrait of Rebecca" (1:26)
16. "Lion of Symmetry" (10:47)



NO MAN'S LAND Unprotected

A nice collection of songs from a well-established but under-exposed band from Greece.

1. "Moribundo Part II" (8:11) a nice psych jam with flute and guitar, trumpet and male vocalise tag-teaming over a bass and drums groove. (13.25/15)

2. "Flame" (13:07) is very hypnotic with its rolling rhythms, echoed and heavily chorused electric guitar picking breathy flutes and vocals. The trumpet makes it something different, special. A little reminiscent of THE DOORS, VESPERO and QUANTUM FANTAY. Nice piece. (20.5/25)

3. "A Brave Face" (9:02) is a very cool groove song with many stellar solo and collective weave instrumental moments, riffs and sections. (18/20)

4. "Permian Vacation" (4:40) (7.75/10)

5. "Unprotected in The World" (7:41) has a kind of 60s/70s psychedelic blues rock feel to it with a Morrissey-like vocal. (12.75/15)

85.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; rated up for being interesting and refreshing enough for return visits.



BIG BIG TRAIN English Electric, Part 2

Well-crafted songs--maybe a little too well thought out and over-produced. There is a lack of 'high' or 'electric' moments in these songs though there is plenty of beauty and mastery. Memorability and freshness are missing. Kind of like a GENESIS post-"Mama" album. Polished but not as good as last year's English Electric, Part 1.

4 star songs: "East Coast Racer" (15:43), "Curator of Butterflies" (8:44) and "The Permanent Way" (8:29).



RHúN—Fanfare du chaos

This album has provided me with the nearest thing to classic MAGMA that I've ever experienced. There are also quite a few moments in which I am reminded of PRESENT and the other French and Belgian RIO artists. Heck, there are also a few moments that I swear I'm hearing the jazzy orchestral sounds of BURT BACHARACH and Hollywood movie soundtracks!

1. 'Toz' (9:24) opens with the power and sound just like MAGMA (except for the piccolo). The crazed saxophone and electric guitar soli and the movie soundtrack interlude at 3:45- 4:15 are a little beyond anything I've heard from Magma, but otherwise this is an awesome song right out of Neb'hr Gudahtt's iPod playlist! (18/20)

2. 'Intermud' (2:59) is an interlude instrumental purely from the realm of classical chamber music. Here brass and woodwinds exchange and intermingle minor and dissonant chord structures. It is quite interesting and not as distant or depressing as the usual modern chromatic chamber stuff. (8/10)

3. 'Dunb' (8:54) opens with a bang as multi-level and multi-layered vocals chant over the throb of a full band of bass, military drumming, horns and woodwinds. The delicate flute-led interlude at the 1:40 mark provide quite a contrast to the power and insistence of the opening 100 seconds. Kind of like yang and yin, masculine and feminine. A return to power and drive is introduced by electric guitar before a male baritone voice takes off running-- everybody else trying to keep up, fuzzy, chunky bass and soprano chorale the most persistent. The 4:45 mark is where I'm hearing the distinct orchestral sounds of Burt Bacharach--followed by a kind of Michel Legrand/Debussey theme. The warrior chorus takes up their march again at 6:10 but find themselves intermittently distracted or slowed by the soprano sirens, woodwinds, and piccolos. Interesting song! (17/20)

4. 'Bumlo' (5:32) sets into motion with a rolling bass line supported by a much more jazz- oriented ensemble, sounding like until at the 1:30 mark the music falls away and a more chaotic, cacophonic free-form jazz--complete with Ornette Coleman-like sax solo--takes over. By the fourth minute the song has evolved into a more structured Zeuhl song, but this finds itself intruded upon by an interloper from the California surfin' music of the Fifties and Sixties! Dude can sing like Bill Haley or Buddy Holly! (8/10)

5. 'Mlues' (6:15) opens with a sustained chord straight from some Miles Davis song from the Sixties. The evolution from there is definitely shaped by 1970s jazz fusion. I'm especially reminded of the music of the film music for the Balck 'sexplotation' films of the 70s as well as some of Freddy Hubbard's experimental stuff (until the male vocals enter). The high speed frenzy after the 5:30 mark to end is more reminiscent of some of the early hard rockers--those who later earned the title of Heavy Metal artists. (7/10)

6. 'Ih' (8:15) opens with a psych-jazz sound, a very cool, very sophisticated sound and feel as if from a very intense scene of a 1970s murder crime film. At 2:30, as the female vocalist and new bass, guitar, and woodwind riffs take over, the soundtrack feel continues--as if the stealthy chase of the protagonist intensifies, gets closer to the criminal danger. The tension only thickens with dynamic shifts from 4:45 to 5:15. Then a chaotic loud period ensues--as if confrontation is at hand--followed by another bizarre chase scene (capture, unconsciousness, drugged, delusional awakening, and death??) Awesome song. Awesome mood setter. (18/20)

Definitely an awesome album of top notch Zeuhl. Papa Vander must be proud! 

84.44 on the Fish scales = B/a solid four star effort; highly recommended for the adventurous prog lover and a real prize for the Zeuhl lover.



PRODUCT Aether

Interesting, unusual and well-conceived and produced prog on the folk-jazz/pop spectrum with the theme of the magic of Harry Houdini. The deep voice of the lead vocalist has a timbre reminiscent of Leonard Cohen or the lead singer from Major Parkinson or even the late Nick Talbot from Gravenhurst. Well worth the exposure.




LOST WORLD BAND  Solar Power

A talented group of musicians whose songs can be quite proggy and sophisticated but often tend toward simple and syrupy--especially when vocals are involved. For example, while the opening song, an instrumental entitled "The Voyage" (5:58) (9/10) remains polished and sophisticated--very much an eclectic- or fusion-type of prog song--very much like a FROM.UZ or KOTEBEL song--the second song, "Metamorphoses" (3:42) (7/10) revolves around a very simple (and strangely recorded/effected) vocal with some very simply constructed support music--until the ending instrumental jam. Also, there is something about the recording/engineering of Lost World Band's albums that seems to feel unpolished or home-made. For example--especially around the mix of the differently effected individual instruments. (I find myself especially bothered by the recording effects used for the vocals and the internally microphoned 'acoustic' guitars.) This could be a masterpiece of progressive rock music were it not for a few recording and qualitative inconsistencies. Granted, these may be entirely personal, but I'm wondering if others will find such poppy songs as "Facing The Rain" (3:56) (7/10), "Nothing" (3:13) (8/10) and "Your Name" (4:04) (6/10) a bit too cheezy and less than up to the standards of the other instrumental songs.

Favorite songs: the Fripp-sounding guitar and 70s RETURN TO FOREVER-sounding, "Detached" (3:42) (except for the 'acoustic' guitar) (9/10); the COPELAND-ish "At The Waterfront" (3:09) (9/10) with its excellent interplay between violin and piano; "The Voyage," and; "Swept Off" (4:35) (8/10).

A 3.5 star effort rated up for the excellent instrumental work--especially violin and keyboards.



WILLOWGLASS Dream Harbour

While I have to agree with other reviewers that Andrew Marshall's instrumental compositions are maturing--and that his more-showcased flute playing has definitely improved--I still find the song elements, sounds, and stylings too derivative of (mostly) classic and Neo-GENESIS. The mysteriously separated two epics at the start of the album, "A House of Cards" (Parts 1 and 2), are, in my opinion, too disjointed and all over the place--they lack flow and sense-making shifts and turns--and are, again, often incorporating sounds and riffs too close to something from a classic 70s Genesis or Jethro Tull (or even 2000s Nektar: "Heaven") song. Steve Unruh's contributions are wonderful; he has a presence that shouts "prog elite."

Line-up / Musicians:
Andrew Marshall - Electric & acoustic guitars, 12-string guitar, classical guitar, keyboards, bass guitar, bass pedals
Hans Jörg Schmitz - Drums, percussion
Steve Unruh - Violin, flute, guitar

1. "A House Of Cards Pt.1" (20:43) too derivative, contrived, and cerebrally composed and executed; not enough flash and flair (except when Mr. Unruh steps up front and center). (31/40)

2. "A Short Intermission" (1:35) like a true theatrical intermission! (4.5/5)

3. "A House Of Cards Pt. 2" (9:08) after the slightly TANGERINE DREAM-sounding opening, a JTULL-ish passage bursts forth with fiery violin and flute taking turns with the "Watcher"-like organ soloing. Unfortunately, the solos outclass the foundation (which becomes tedious). At least Andrew is being forced out of his (Genesis) comfort zone a little by his new collaborators. (16/20)

4. "Interlude No. 2" (2:05) classical guitar of the Spanish ANTHONY PHILLIPS kind. (4.5/5)

5. "The Dream Harbour" (7:17) a near-perfect Neo Prog song (though too-blatantly imitative of GENESIS ["take a little trip with Father Tiresius"]) Great three-part intro with flute, arpeggiated 12-string/harpsichord and Mellotron. This then gets expanded nicely in the third minute by drums, violin, electric guitar and organ before regressing into a organ and electric guitar duet. The main theme returns with the full band at the 5-minute mark while flute, synth, and violin trade turns at the lead. (13.25/15)

6. "Helleborine" (2:15) you just can't go wrong with Satie-esque alternating major and minor seventh cords. Then add Mellotron and flute soloing above. Heaven! (5/5)

7. "The Face Of Eurydice" (7:36) has some excellent parts but also lacks from feeling a bit disjointed and inconsistent. There are some keyboard passages that incorporate sound choices that sound like Keith Emerson or Rick Wakeman. The "Fly on a Windshield" passage in the sixth and seventh minutes is too blatant for me. (12.75/15)

82.86 on the Fishscales = B-/four stars; I will give this album a four star rating because of the wonderful tradition of bucolic soundscapes that Mr. Marshall is championing--and for the fact that he is doing a very fine job of it. Keep on trying, keep on growing, Andrew, your masterpiece is coming.




BELIEVE The Warmest Sun in Winter

Another solid album of melodic rock from a team of seasoned, gifted songwriters. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Karol Wróblewski / vocals
- Mirek Gil / guitars
- Konrad Wantrych / keyboards, backing vocals
- Przemysław Zawadzki / bass 
- Vlodi Tafel / drums
With:
- Satomi / violin (6,8)

1. "The End" (1:48) (4/5)

2. "Beginners" (8:05) interesting mix of bass (very far forward) and Mirek Gil's guitar (deeper in the mix). Then it becomes an acoustic guitar-based song when Karol enters to sing! Odd but interesting stylistic mix. Mirek gets to lay down a raunchy solo in the sixth minute before he starts to let loose--but then never quite gives way--never quite goes beserk (as we all know he can). (12.75/15)

3. "The Warmest Sun In Winter" (5:35) (8/10) 

4. "Words" (5:44) (8/10)

5. "Unborn/Turn Around" (8:06) Great sound palette; there are moments where it feels like Przemysław and Mirek are getting ready to turn this into a RIVERSIDE-like romp, but hey don't. Big disappointment. I don't get this soft, whispery approach to singing from Karol. (11/15)

6. "Please Go Home" (4:51) with its wonderful, highly emotional story, lyrics, Satomi violin, and vintage Mirek Gil guitar playing. Finally, a great Mirek gill power start! (9.25/10)

7. "Heartless Land" (10:53) vintage Karol helps make this one a winner. (18/20) 

Total time 45:02

My complaint about The Warmest Sun  is that Believe's music is sounding less and less like prog--even Neo Prog--and more and more like A-B-A-C-A-B pop ballads. Also, while Mirek Gil's signature electric guitar sound remains, the fire and creativity of his soli are, IMHO, diminishing. If you look at his more recent output, the last two MR. GIL albums, and the last two BELIEVE albums, there are so few times that he really lets loose or hits any orgiastic moments. And yet, I must admit, I remain glued to any song with him in it waiting, hoping--which says a lot for the allure, power and magic of this gifted musician/songwriter. While the singing of Karol Wroblewski continues to get stronger, the songs seem more and more to be vehicles for his mellifluous voice--which may not be the best match for the heavier prog sound that Believe has cultivated. Still, this album is a grower--it gets under your skin the more you listen to it--especially and I'm thankful to be able to give a shout out for two songs in particular which satisfy my prog yearnings: "Please Go Home" and the first 12 minutes of the two-part finale, "Heartless Land."

83.53 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; rated down for being too formulaic and less explosive than I'm looking for from this ensemble.




CAMELIA'S GARDEN  You Have a Chance

This album reminds me of a HARRY NILSSON album with some vocal tendencies toward IAN ANDERSON. While the band uses some instruments typical to progworld (like synthesizers, mellotron, organ and woodwinds) I don’t find much to warrant this as prog (the STYX-like “Dance of The Sun, The Remark, Birth of The Light” (6:16) (8/10) being the exception) and even the “folk” element is rather slippery--the “Some Stories” bookends, “Clumsy Grace” and, maybe, “’til The Morning Came” might qualify. The proggiest parts of this album, outside of the above mentioned “Dance…,” occur in parts of the instrumental song, “We All Stand in Our Broken Jars” (5:33) (8/10), and the brief symphonic part of the piano solo song, “A Safe Haven” (3:40) (8/10), the synthesizer in “Knight’s Wow” (4:00) (7/10), and, of course, the GENESIS passage in the second half of “Mellow Days” (9:39) (8/10). The vocals—and their harmonies—are nothing remarkable—except for their similarity to Harry Nilsson. The guitar and ukelele play is overly repetitive. The album is well recorded and engineered and it has a very nicely packaged product. However, I find too little here to satisfy my prog sensibilities.

3.5 stars rated down for lack of originality and lack of true progginess.



WALRUS Walrus

"Polar Kraut" Rock! Awesome new instrumental project from an ad hoc Swedish band that includes accomplished Swedish film music composer Matti Bye on the organ, two of his long-time associates in the world of soundtrack, cellist Leo Svensson and bassist Kristian Holmgren, and two drummers simultaneously playing the same drum kit (from opposite sides), Mattias Olsson (Anglagard, White Willow) and Henrik Olsson (Mattias' 17-year old son?).

Krautrock is alive and flourishing! Walrus gives us another wonderful testament to the revitalization of the Krautrock sub-genre of progressive rock, though this 33 1/2 minute offering is hardly an LP’s worth of tunes. Bass, organ, synths, cello and two drummers are typical contributors to the music here.

1. “Tromso” (7:14) is constructed very much in the vein of CAN with a steady, hypnotic bass and guitar beat, playful drumming and lots of incidentals—samples (radio & computer/electronic noises), percussives, cello, voices, Farfisa organ—and a humorous Monty Python-esque ending. (12/15)

2. “Signals” (8:58) begins very slowly, heavily. The slow pattern of bass, background organ (and hiss) and seemingly random viola notes make for a very mysterious, ominous feel. The drums enter in the third minute and soon after a synthesizer, which turns into an organ, to ‘liven’ things up a bit for a minute or so. A bare bones section ensues for about a minute until everything hypes up into a fast pace (delightful!) while keyboards beep and swirl around in the mix for a while. At 6:50 the cymbol and bass play speed up but then move to a lower volume while things get stripped down to return to the slow-down, though more jazzy feel of the opening pace. A good song, with interesting experimentation in meter and sound level. (16/20)

3. “Spitsbergen” (14:09) is the album’s longest song. It starts with a very spacey synth and echo-plexed bass with creative percussion play for the first two minutes. At 3:37 the song shifts gears with a big chunky bass and full drum support kicking into a driving pace. They are joined by a modulated synth and arpeggiating organ and treated electrified cello. The constant building, climbing of scales and then dropping back to start over are highly engaging and always hopeful (for the listener seeking resolution). In the ninth minute things get stripped down to simplified levels—lots of staccato notes and spaciousness—with the occasional jarring interjection of a sustained low bass chord. At the 10:58 mark things pick back up again into the swirling, throbbing world from the earlier B Part. Almost ANEKDOTEN-like! (Especially with the presence of a mellotron.) The song winds down with the final 75 seconds being very slow and airy. (25/30)

4. “Static” (3:06) is an austere bass and drum song peppered with synthesized and percussive sounds while an oriental-sounding echoed cello arpeggiates some odd oriental-sounding chords or scales. Kind of cool! (8/10)

Overall an engaging if brief journey into some quite cinematic songspaces.

3.5 Stars.



COSMOGRAF The Man Left In Space

A nice sounding, well-produced album of songs in a PINK FLOYD-like vein of sounds and stylings--conceptually as well as in the extensive integration of samples/spoken threads in between and in the background. Sometimes a the similarities are a bit TOO close to classic PF stuff, IMHO. The performances are rather good if often quite strikingly similar to Waters (voice), Gilmour (guitar leads), Wright (particularly organ) and even Mason (not in volume or clarity, though), and the production is pristine if somewhat lacking in the desirable but all-too-elusive weave of harmony and nuance. What is lacking for me is anything new and memorable: Repeated listens of the album and its songs in their individuality leave me underwhelmed, even absent from reaction; I am not drawn back to the music or album and when I hear the songs again I feel neither excitement or familiarity. Not that I feel as though I've wasted my time. It's a pleasant listen. No more, no less.

Another 3.5 star album that I have trouble rating. I'll rate it up for the recommendation for others to give it a listen and decide for themselves. It's better than a Richard Wright solo album, but, IMHO, that's not saying much.



DIALETO The Last Tribe

An instrumental album from what I am led to believe is a seasoned band of veterans from Brazil, here adding a new instrumentalist to the group, “Touch Guitarist” Jorge Pescara. This touch guitar sounds and looks to me like a Chapman Stick™ but, whatever. The music here is very much in the vein of so many current and recent Dutch bands except maybe a little more bluesier. The music is interesting though, like a lot of blues, the recording has been performed such that every mistake made by each individual musician (and there are a lot of mistakes here) is right out in fornt and open.

1. “Windmaster” (6:26) opens the album with a nice series of notes from a guitar (though possibly it is the Touch Guitar) before the bass lines, drums, and pedal-volume-controlled lead guitar notes (though, again, it could be the pedal-controlled volume of the treble side of the Touch Guitar, if it has the double pickup plugs like my Chapman Stick™ had) all join in. At 1:50 the lead guitarist goes into a heavy solo—which lasts pretty much the full length of the song’s remainder. Every time I hear this song I find myself wondering, “Is this going to be a Post Rock/Math Rock album?” (8/10)

2. “Dorian Grey” (4:27) Nothing too complicated but strong, catchy riffs and melodies. The competent classic rock guitar solo is right where it should be. (9/10)

3.  “The Last Tribe” (1:56) the title song, brief as it is, starts off just like a varied version of song 6, “Tarde Demias,” before falling into martial pace to support another, albeit nice extended solo from the lead guitarist (this one having a second background lead shadowing it.)  (3.5/5)

4. “Lydia in The Playground” (5:20) poor sound recording (scratchy) on first lead guitar. Second lead is nice, great sound. Third lead is also nicely played, recorded well. Rolling “Fretless-like” bass throughout is ear-catching. (8/10)

5. “Unimpossible” (7:46) opens ploddingly, as if unsure what pace and style it wants to play—before settling into a very classic blues style. The effect is rather unsettling as it doesn’t really work very well---too late-night lounge like. Even when the drums join in and things get raunchy and the bass-line gets very interesting the song just never seems to get there. Not until the 6:35 mark does the guitarist finally deliver us from the hell of mediocrity. (11/15)

6. “Tarde Demias” (3:40) uses some echoing effects to very positive effect, and also uses several very catchy melody lines (bass and lead guitar). At 1:24 lead guitarist Nelson Coelho takes off on one of his solos, leaving the rest of the band to fend for themselves, which, again, they do not do so well. The solo is good. The band comes back together for a nice finish. (8/10)

7. “Vintitrels” (4:19) by now the blues rock format is overstaying its welcome. The music’s stark, sparsely treated sound is getting a bit old and grating. The drummer always seems to be following someone else, the bass (Touch Guitar) player is having trouble keeping time (let’s face it:  he’s no metronome, and by now we’ve discovered: he’s no Tony Levin. As a former Stick player, I can say that there is very little here that impresses me.) and the guitarist often seems to wander off into his own world. (As a matter of fact, perhaps each of the three instrumentalists can be accused of being guilty of such.) (7/10)

8. “Where Is It” (5:11) is perhaps the tightest, most Crimson-esque song on the album, which is a nice change and, by now, surprise. Lots of whole-group staccato rhythm and chord playing. The lead guitar solo beginning at the 3:35 mark is also one of his better soli—though, once again, as Nelson goes off into his own zone it seems that the rest of the band fragments and threatens to disintegrate. Fortunately, they come back together for the final 20 seconds. (9/10)

9. “Sand Horses” (4:07) finds the band travelling back again into classic rock time for some standard bass-drums & guitar jamming. Not quite Hendrix or Stevie Ray. (7/10)

10. "Chromaterius” (3:42) uses its first two minutes to let Jorge show us a little of his two handed Touch guitar skill. Dueling a little with Nelson makes it a little interesting, until the music switches over to a very heavy, very lumbering rhythm section and-–though this section contains what is easily the most impressive drumming and guitar playing on the album. (8/10)

Favorite songs: “Whereisit,” “Dorian Grey,” and “Windmaster.

Though the album has grown on me considerably upon repeated listens (the mistakes are less glaring/bothersome and more accepted as part of the musical presentation), the Last Tribe is, for me, a 3.5 star album, rated down for sometimes poor recording, for the band members’ timing inconsistencies, their breakdowns in ‘group weave’, and for their occasional lapses into each their own separate universes.



AYREON The Theory of Everything

This is an album that I picked up upon release, I don't know why, since I had not particularly loved any of AYREON's previous albums. I love his sounds, his collaborators, his ideas, but there was always too much--too much content, too much bombast, too much predictability, too much sound. BUT, I remember enjoying what I was hearing with this album. The problem came with its length and density: I simply did not want to invest the time in getting to know--getting to really know--this album the way that it seemed to be asking me to. So, I put if off.

Now it's time.





Albums from 2013 that Are, IMHO, Over-rated



COMEDY OF ERRORS Fanfare and Fantasy

Line-up / Musicians:
- Joe Cairney / lead & backing vocals
- Mark Spalding / guitars, bass, backing vocals
- Jim Johnston / keyboards, backing vocals
- Bruce Levick / drums
- John Fitzgerald / backing vocals, bass (10)

1. "Fanfare For The Broken Hearted" (9:06) (17/20)
2. "Something She Said" (7:17) YES with ART IN AMERICA's lead singer, Chris Flynn! I have to admit I quite enjoy the keyboard play on this one: great sounds contributed with great restraint and concision. A standout song for me. (13.25/15)
3. "In A Lifetime" (4:40) pretty intro. Stacato power cords announce entrance of singer. Can't avoid comparisons to some 1980s bands like LOVERBOY, RUSH, IQ, ANYONE"S DAUGHTER, and perhaps STARCASTLE. (7.5/10)
4. "Going For A Song" (8:33) More 1980s Neo Prog--following closely the sounds and formats emulating Tony Banks' GENESIS. (16.75/20)
5. "Merry Dance" (4:57) some Celtic themes employed here give it a different sound, until the techno-DEPECHE MODE palette and style take over when Joe starts delivering his vocal. Dated. (7/10)
6. "The Cause" (9:29) is Joe English? His accent sounds line he comes from Germany. A very engaging song from the start through to the chorus, but then in the fourth minute they switch gears--driving forward at a much faster pace with thicker textures. It's too much; they've lost me. Too bad. Those opening three minutes were prog heaven. Still, great musicianship throughout. Kudos to the bass player and lead guitarist. (17.75/20)
7. "Time's Motet And Galliard" (8:05) With a title like this I am expecting something mediæval or at least Gentle Giant-like. Instead I get a Monty Python synthesizer overture. This would be cool done with real voices and in a real church with period instruments. Halfway into the song we do finally get a little GG-like music and lyrics complete with a weave of multi-voice harmony vocals. Very MOON SAFARI-like. (11/15)
8. "Remembrance" (4:00) completely forgettable. (7/10)
9. "The Answer" (9:30) opens with great pace and layers of instrumental threads weaving in and out of each other. Then about 90 seconds in things smooth out into a very straightforward, one-dimensional ballad form. Nice chords and melodies even if it is more like a classic rock song. Then things shift and break back into that complex fast-paced intro for a brief instrumental section before dropping back into MOON SAFARI-mode with harmony vocals and simple music backdrop. A kind of "Watcher in the Skies" theme presents itself for the next instrumental foray. Pretty tight and proficient musicianship. One more drop into linear one-dimensionality for a bluesy guitar solo and the final singing verse by Joe Cairney alone. (17.25/20)

Total Time: 66:22

It's taken some time to get to know Fanfare & Fantasy before I felt sure of how to review it. Great sounds, incredible instrumentalists, pretty good vocalist(s), even okay lyrics, and fair production (the mixes often feel like separate tracks, the music lacks a cohesive "weave" or blending of the sounds). Where I find serious fault with this album--and all of its songs--is in the delivery:  Each song sounds and feels like a whole bunch of ideas that have been patched together and not always very seemlessly, smoothly or pleasantly. Each time I've listened to F&F songs either individually or within the entire album I come away remembering nothing. No melody sticks with me, no message, no particular passages--and during the listening I find myself thinking things like, "how impressive the soloists are," "how familiar this sound, riff or passage is," or "how curious this change is/how awkwardly this flows." While I like all of the songs, I have no favorites--there is none that stands out or that I will keep on my Best of 2013 playlists.

81.79 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; an album that I just can't rate up despite the talent of the band's musicianship. Here's hoping these talented folk are able to blend their skills and sounds better into more cohesive, tapestry-like songs in the future.




LA MASCHERA DI CERA Le porte del domain

When I first heard (and continue to hear) the opening song of this album ("Ritorno dal nulla" [8:40] [18/20]) I am wowed into thinking, "This is going to be an amazing album!" But, unfortunately, this is not the case. The rest of the album lags, drags, and fails to go anywhere new or extraordinary. Even if I new more Italian, the lyrics would not be enough to sustain my interest. (I hear this is a "sequel" to LE ORME's 1973 'classic,' Felona e Serona--an album that has never won my heart or appreciation despite many attempts.)

Really a three star album despite the wonderful opener.



FRIGHT PIG Into The Barnyard

Fun, funny, witty, and excellent mimickry! The band sounds like a refined Iron Maiden. As other reviewers have mentioned, the musicianship is top notch, the singing impressive, the compositions very fresh and interesting, full of unexpected twists and turns. Where I have a problem with this music is that it draws from a lot of the kind of metal and prog metal for which I do not/have never found an affinity. The acoustic and Spanish guitar parts are my favorite parts but then they usually get blended into or drowned out by the electric parts. And I also agree that this is one of the more impressive displays on the batterie I've heard this year. Great 'start' from what sounds like a VERY seasoned 80s metal band. I'll wait till the next one to see if this is a fluke, all a fun-in-cheek parody, or the work of some serious prog artists. 

Four stars.



MAGENTA The Twenty Seven Club

This is a decent album from some incredibly talented musicians who are, unfortunately, stuck in Drama-era YES, Duke/ABACAB-era GENESIS, and Please Don't Touch-era STEVE HACKETT. As a matter of fact, I can think of no more talented group of musicians, top to bottom, than Magenta; it's just a shame how unoriginal their music and sounds have become. But what mires this group in absolute mediocrity, in my opinion, is the banal, nebulous lyrics. I mean, were it not for the song titles, who would these songs refer to? The lyrics certainly don't make it obvious. Given some more poetic, meaningful lyrics it would be a wonder what Christina Booth could deliver. Given a severence from their 1979 musical mother, what wonders of originality could these virtuosic musicians create?

Four star songs: "The Devil at The Crossroads," "The Gift," "Pearl," and "Stoned."

A 3.5 star album rated down because it truly fits the "Good, but not essential" description.