Sunday, December 14, 2014

Top Albums of the Year 2014: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2014
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. The first is merely a list consisting of a Top 20 with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. However, the ensuing "Reviews" are ordered according to my personal, more objective judgment as to their quality, that is, the "best" albums of the year. Here I have tried to order the albums reviewed according to my personal determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums.  

2014 saw the arrival of some beautifully refreshing music from many artists, most of whom were, once again, relatively new to the Progressive Rock music scene. The resurgence seems to be continuing. Again, the most exciting trend is the increase in the number of quality new studio releases in Prog World coming from a whole new generation of young artists. Another interesting trend taking more prominence is that of albums filled with short, quirky, often jazzy, "pop-prog." For my awareness of these trends, I am profoundly indebted to the website, New Prog Releases (, a site that I only discovered this year and whose service of daily posting the new releases in the prog world has become my number one, go-to resource for finding and listening to new music. As a result I have been able to become aware of and listen to the music of over 100 new releases from 2014.
2014 was a very good year for progressive rock music as I have on My Favorites List three (3) masterpieces, twelve (12)"minor" masterpieces,  and eight (8) near-masterpieces. 

The Rankings
(My "Favorites")

1. BENT KNEE Shiny Eyed Babies
2. SEVEN IMPALE City of the Sun
3. ANTOINE FAFARD Ad Perpetuum
4. KANT FREUD KAFKA No tengas miedo
5. FAUN Luna
6. AALTO Ikaro
7. MOTORPSYCHO Behind the Sun
8. UT GRET Ancestor's Tales
9. JAKOB Sines

12. JERZY ANTCZAK Ego, Georgius
13. SYD ARTHUR Sound Mirror
15. HUMANA PROG Flori, Frutti, Farfalle
17. TAYLOR WATSON (A)Synchronous
18. HOMÍNIDO Estirpe Lítica
19. MONO The Last Dawn
20. SYNDONE Odysséas

21. CIRRUS BAY In Search of Joy
22. MAGIC BUS Transmission from Sogmore's Garden
23. DISTORTED HARMONY Chain Reaction
25. MARGIN Psychedelic Teatime
26. DAVE BAINBRIDGE Celestial Fire
27. FEM Sulla bolla di Sapone
28. NOMADS OF HOPE Breaking the circles for a while
29. KAYO DOT Coffins on Io
30. PHI Now the Waves of Sound Remain

Honorable Mentions:
31. FREDDEGREDDE Brighter Skies
32. AGORÀ Ichinen
33. ATOMIC APE Swarm
35. SUNN O))) and ULVER Terrestrials
36. ALEX CARPANI 4 Destinies
37. HELIOPOLIS City of the Sun

The Reviews

5 star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.33)

 ***** Album of the Year for 2014! *****

1. BENT KNEE Shiny Eyed Babies

BENT KNEE’s lead vocalist, Courtney SWAIN, might be the bravest woman I’ve ever heard of. To be able to replicate even one of the amazingly intense vocal performances on this album in a concert setting would wear me out; I’d need at least a day to recover from singing just one of these intensely personal, emotional songs in the incredibly dynamic way that she does.
     Courtney SWAIN may be the most powerful, emotional vocalist I’ve ever heard. She sings with the emotional intensity of BJÖRK or a young ALANIS MORISSETTE, only amped up by ten. She has the vocal power of ETHEL MERMAN. She has, at times, the tone and timbre of NORA JONES, at others the quirk and tone of EDIE BRICKELL, the sass and vibrato of ERYKAH BADU, and still others the stylistic flair of ANNE PIGALLE. At all times she exhibits a fearless, devil-may-care attitude similar to NINA HAGEN and FIONA APPLE. Her lyrics possess a personal and intellectual style similar to RIKKIE LEE JONES. The band’s music expresses itself with an originality that I would compare to KATE BUSH or TOBY DRIVER, KING CRIMSON or JANE SIBERRY, with a sound and structural style at times similar to DEVOTCHKA and yet with the power packed intensity and dynamic range of EMILY AUTUMN. And the instrumental accompaniment seems to always, always match perfectly the mercurial approach of Ms. SWAIN’s vocal deliveries. 

I cannot remember being this excited about an album since I heard MAGMA’s MDK for the first time back in the summer of 2009. I feel like I could write paragraphs about each song they are each so diverse, so powerful, so fascinating, so unusual, so complex and driven by such an amazing collaborative effort! Instead let me wax rhapsodic about one song that epitomizes the unique and unusual product and effort that is BENT KNEE.
       Song 7 is entitled, “Sunshine.” Barely recognizable before the final stanza (which is repeated three or four times at the end of the song), this is actually a remake of a popular song that was written by Georgians Paul Rice and Oliver Hood around 1933, performed for years in the American South—mostly in Louisiana—by the Rice Brothers Gang but only first recorded in August of 1939 by The Pine Ridge Boys (Marvin Taylor and Doug Spivey) though the February of 1940 version recorded for Decca Records by Jimmy Davis (later governor of Louisiana) and Charles Mitchell was what brought popular attention to it. When it was then covered four times in 1941 by no less than the likes of Gene Autry, Bing Crosby, Mississippi John Hurt, and Lawrence Welk, “You Are My Sunshine” became permanently embedded in American popular culture. The song has been covered numerous other times — so often, in fact, that according to Wikipedia it is "one of the most commercially programmed numbers in American popular music.” Originally performed in a country or folk music style, “Sunshine” has, over time, been adapted into many musical styles—and is most assuredly familiar to most every natural-born American. But, I will go out on a limb here to declare that most Americans have never heard this song in the form or with the power or intention that Bent Knee now gives it. With Courtney Swain at the helm, the band give “Sunshine” a feel of desperation and longing and regret and vengeful anger at an act of perceived betrayal the likes of which I have never heard before. Ms. Swain sings it with a kind of jilted young girl crazed mournfulness that is entirely unsettling and yet emotionally engaging to the listener. As in many of these songs, there are multiple moments in which I find chills of emotional resonance racing through my bodymind. 
     The song opens with 40 seconds of instrumental upbuild as first muted electric guitar calmly yet ominously strums a simple, muted chord. Then piano adds a repeated single note, then cymbal play mimics the edgy, tense syncopated rhythm before bass and violin join in with their tension-building contributions, coming to a near-frenzied mini-crescendo before utterly disappearing—leaving behind the one constant throughout the song: an unsettling two- and sometimes three-note chord being picked by Ben Levin’s plastic pick on his slightly-muted electric guitar. Soon Courtney enters with her voice singing the first verse in a plaintive NORA JONES-like voice while occasionally hitting a piano chord to provide a little harmonic fill to the otherwise eerily spacious background soundscape. After Courtney stops singing the first verse, the violin, drums and bass make a very brief dramatic appearance before just as quickly dropping out to allow the spacious emptiness to present Courtney’s singing of the second verse. (The renowned chorus is skipped—saved for the end).
     At first she sounds quite positive and upbeat—even seductively innocent--but then her tone switches subtly but unmistakingly for the last sentence: “...but if you leave me, to love another, you’ll regret it all someday,” she sings in a slightly ambivalent, yet perceptively menacing, even threatening, tone. 
     Piano, pounding toms, creepy violin and thumping bass immediately take center stage before Courtney’s reverbed voice enters from the background with “ooo”s that create an unsettling, ghost-like effect—all in the space of 22 seconds!
    Silence—save for the constant plucking of the same muted electric guitar notes—and then the girl comes at us again—each time feeling a little less in control, as if she is coming a little more unglued with each verse. The addition of some well-placed, well-timed high-pitched squeals from the violin coupled with Courtney’s purposeful use of off-key, sliding vocal notes only add to the effect of showing us that this girl is losing her grip, is going psycho, as she sings, “You once told me you really loved me and no one else could come between, but now you’ve left me to love another,” and when she sings the final line of this, the third verse, holding the last word for 20 seconds before turning it into a vehicle for her unbridled shrieking, “you have shattered all my dreams,” I believe her! I get chills! Every time! And I find myself wanting to get as far away from this psycho murdering bitch as possible! 
    The full band has been supporting her while she shrieks and shrills with some brilliant play that Robert FRIPP would be proud of and then just as suddenly, at 3:16, they disappear. We are once again, left alone, with that eerie single-note guitar picking and all of that empty space—and this time for an extended wait of 12 long seconds! When Courtney finally enters for the final chorus—sung in a high octave fragile, whispery, wavering, single, though, eventually, sliding note—she is accompanied by the sound of a snapping of a guitar string! “Twank!” Incredible!  
     As she reaches the final words of the chorus, “Please don’t take my sunshine away,” the full band joins in pumping out their jam at full decibels over which Courtney goes straight into a second singing of the chorus, this time in a full belt Emily AUTUMN-like voice. As the last strains of her descending hold of “awa-a-a-y” fade, the sound of the band morphs into a frenetic, “Day in the Life” type of psychedelic cacophony. But wait! They’re not done! They all come together in a PORCUPINE TREE-like metal chord-pulsing support of Courtney’s last SCREAMING run through the chorus, each instrument pounding out their loudest possible sound in perfect synchronization with each syllable of the lyric, finishing early with, “how much I love you—“!
    Wow! What an incredible, exhausting journey. All in just five minutes and twenty seconds! And if you watch the YouTube videos of the band’s live performances you can see how totally engaged and into the song each band member is. This is why I can’t believe that Courtney or the band can do more than one song per concert performance: they give SO MUCH to each SONG performance that I can’t imagine digging deep to do it again for one much less ten to twenty more songs! It must be exhausting! And how I would LOVE to be in the same room for such a performance. There are not many bands I would pay or make the travel effort to go see, but this is one of them. Maybe the only one. 
     And the most amazing thing of all is that every single song on this album is equally powerful, equally well-designed, orchestrated, impassioned, and produced as “Sunshine”!! There may be songs that I don’t give 10/10 ratings to but there are none that don’t deserve it for effort alone!
The album opens with a brief Broadway/Billy Joel-like piano-based song, 1. “Shiny Eyed Babies” (1:47) which serves as a vehicle for Courtney’s singing which, for some reason, reminds me of the unapproachable ETHEL MERMAN. (9.5/10)
2. “Way Too Long” (4:59) is a powerful song which reminds me a lot of Alannah MYLES’ 1990 Grammy Award-winning heavy rock, Annie WILSON/HEART-like hit version of her country song “Black Velvet”—in voice, pacing, and musical style. (9/10)
3. “Dry” (6:07) is an awesome and beautiful song presented in a wild, frenetic torch song style that reminds me of Trevor HORN’s Zang Tum Tum molding of French chanteuse, ANNE PIGALLE (1985 Everything Could Be So Perfect). (10/10)
4. “In God We Trust” (5:21) sounds like a great JANE SIBERRY (or perhaps k.d. lang) song—this is so quirky progressive like a song from Jane’s brilliant masterpieces of progressive rock music, The Walking or Bound by the Beauty albums (1987 and 1989, respectively). A great lyric that makes an awesome commentary on modern society. (10/10)

5. “I’m Still Here” (5:08) opens with a very spacey, ambient feel as only treated keyboards provide the background for Courtney to sing over. Then at 1:50 things shift—music and vocal style. Then at 2:10 we get to the meat of the song, a tom-tom-based rhythm with all kinds of high-pitch keyboard and violin notes are screeching away above Courtney’s voice. At 3:15 a new, more prog-like pulsing rhythm-and-bass-led section ensues to play out to the end as Courtney sings in a high crystalline voice, over and over, “I’m still here!” Very KATE BUSH-like in this extraordinary song arrangement. (10/10)

6. “Dead Horse” (5:18) opens with an ALANIS MORISSETTE “Thank U”-like staccato piano chord sequence being bounced about. Courtney’s vocal even sounds like it could be Alanis. A very scratchy, distorted sound is given to all keyboard sounds until at 1:40 an orchestrated clear rock sound is presented. The Alanis MORISSETTE comparisons continue—though, once again, there is a strong presence of JANE SIBERRY within.
     The keyboard and drum interlude mid-song is so cool and so beautiful. This is so Jane! The piano and steady background synth washing that fill the final 75 seconds are gorgeous! And haunting! (10/10)

7. “Battle Creek” (5:43) opens with a bluesy treated PINK FLOYD “Wish You Were Here”/“Pigs—Three of a Kind”-like guitar before Courtney’s quiet, almost background voice begins to sing. The song is constructed so unusually, so ingeniously, again, very much like a KATE BUSH or BJÖRK song and yet with so much more emotional dynamism. Times ten! It’s brilliant! (10/10) 

8. “Untitled” (2:01) starts “Side Two” much in the same way that the title song started “Side One”—with a brief piano-based “show tune” showcasing Courtney’s more classical side—this one sounding a little more like a stark 1920s/30s KURT WEILL/BERTOLDT BRECHT lieder. (9.5/10)  

9. “Sunshine” (5:20). Shall I recap?! STAY AWAY FROM CHICKS LIKE THIS!! (12/10)

10. “Democratic Chorale” (1:42) is another late-night solo-piano bar-styled piano-based GERSHWIN-like jazz song complete with background television (or radio) noise. (5/5)

11. “Skin” (5:59) opens with a couple of soft piano chords before a frenzied violin plays a high-speed, high-pitched arpeggio, repeated over and over. The first half of the song is a powerful rock song in the tradition of hard female rocker JOAN JETT but at 3:12 Courtney sings, “Everything went wrong” and the rock music stops and a KING CRIMSON “One More Red Nightmare”-like sound and vibe ensues. Violin screeches a low-end note that throws all key-tuning out and off. Keys, industrial-sounding drums, build until they suddenly give way to a jazzy piano-bar like piano solo. Awesome song! Totally unpredictable and ingenious. (10/10)

12. “Being Human” (6:28) is the first song I ever heard by the band—a live YouTube video of a live performance at Hand Forged Works. Hearing that opening line, “I imagine your dead body lying in my bed,” and then “You never liked the thought of being human anyway,” and “Death is one more option to explore” had me hooked even before the incredibly powerful music of the full band kicks in. I love this arrangement, this music! And when Courtney fills a space in the music at the 1:45 mark with a shrieking, “But it feels like PAIN!” she kills me! 
     Amazing, amazing song that rivals even “Sunshine” for Song of the Year! Every instrument is worth studying, all of their contributions are so amazing! And listen to the way in which the guy running the sound board (Yo! Vince!) will play with the effects on Courtney’s voice. Mid-song! Amazing! And then the band plays in ambient mode for the song’s last minute. (11/10)

13. “Toothsmile” (7:23) opens with a cheesy organ over which Courtney sings a gorgeous, emotional BJÖRK-like vocal. For the first half of the song the other band members add a variety of odd orchestra-like sounds and incidentals to the song. But then a dramatic PETER GABRIEL (“3”)-like power section takes over—over which Courtney’s treated voice continues to belt away. Then, at the 4:30 mark Courtney’s heavily treated speaking voice starts to chant out what seems like a list or poem or spell or something deranged as the band winds down its tempo very slowly in a kind of slow portamento or as if the electric equipment is slowly using up the last of its battery power. (15/15)  

100 on the Fish scales = five stars; a true masterpiece of progressive rock music.

This album is no joke! This is the best album of 2014 and the best album of the 2010s (so far)! I have never heard such a powerful and refreshing album. And there is so much to hear! Each time I listen I hear tons of new things—incredibly clever nuances and incidentals. And GREAT production! This album will most certainly take its place in my Top Ten All-time Favorite albums. The only question is where?

2. SEVEN IMPALE City of The Sun

An impressive album of refreshingly unique music that crosses many sub genres, including space-psychedelia, symphonic, heavy prog,  avant-jazz and experimental/post metal. Wonderful vocals, very tight interplay among all band members with no one member or instrument really standing above any other--though the presence and performance of the saxophone is highly notable. This is complex music played so tightly. And the astonishing 14-minute epic, "God Left Us for A Black Dressed Woman," must be heard to be believed.

1. "Oh My Gravity" (9:49) starts as a jazzy stop-and-start piece that picks up in intensity in the second minute before shifting to a melodic ballad in the vein of the heavier side of FROGG CAFÉ. The male vocalist sounds to me like something between RADIOHEAD's THOM YORKE and TODD RUNDGREN. Around the six minute mark the spiraling, swooning music sounds a lot like some of the louder stuff from MOTORPSYCHO's The Death Defying Unicorn. This feel continues into the seventh minute when organ and horns take turns embellishing the staccato music. The bare-bones, bluesy final 45 seconds is bizarre but so cool! A powerful and surprising opener to this unusual album. Very high marks for compositional prowess and instrumental performance. (19/20)

2. "Wind Shears" (6:32) opens in a very psychedelia/spacey 1960s way. Then at the one minute mark it settles into a jazz groove with first sax and then jazzy guitar and Hammond organ filling the lanes over the rhythm section. Clavinet is added for a GentleGiant-like bridge before a polyrhythmic KING CRIMSON "Discipline"-like weave appears to support a brief ghost-like vocal. At 3:20 the sound gets much heavier over the same arpeggiated weave, nearly drowning out the still-soloing sax and organ. This is just like TOBY DRIVER (Kayo Dot/Maudlin of the Well)! At 4:05 things get quiet and sparse again, with the music vacillating from soft and delicate to heavy and abrasive. A very melodic kind of psychedelic big band section plays out for the final minute. Again, bizarre but so cool! (9/10)

3. "Eschaton Hero" (8:29) opens with some guitar, keys & sax riffs repeated over latin percussion. At 1:00 everything settles down into another quiet section with a delicate vocal in Stian Økland's upper register. Beautiful chorus/bridge at 1:47 gives way to an unpretentious bass solo before settling back into the delicate vocal music. Same awesome bridge at 2:49 leads into a heavy section into jazzy chaos--all performed over the most simple, calm drum play. At 4:52 it gets even heavier as it plods along for a minute in support of a fuzz guitar solo. Finally the drums start to play--to match the frenzy of the rest of the band--then everything stops so the band can yell "Yay!" Then a variation on the previous frenzy picks back up until 7:05 when everything settles back down into the soft groove of the initial vocal section for a dirty sax solo before letting Stian finish the song out in his high voice.  Well conceived and performed, just not my favorite. (18/20)

4. "Extraction" (6:34) begins with another odd intro of two or three parts before settling into the vocal support section--which begins heavily before falling into another RADIOHEAD-like bluesy section. At 2:20 a neat Hammond section leads back into the heavy full band section that opened the vocals, then, again, drops off for the beautiful support of a multi-voice-supported section. At 3:45 a very smooth, stripped down electric guitar solos, until there is a full return to explosiveness at 4:20. A bouncy "O Yo Como Va"-like Hammond section at 4:40 gives way to a kind of Latin weave before falling back into the heavier rock weave from the first vocal section to end. (9/10)

5. "God Left Us for A Black Dressed Woman" (14:12) opens with another KC "Discipline"-like weave that morphs and flows, polymorphs and grooves for two and a half minutes before decaying into a simplified form for a bluesy ROBERT PLANT-like vocal section. This song's amazing vocal performance could also be compared to some of the finest MATTHEW PARMENTER/DISCIPLINE works. Some incredibly powerful sections in this song--especially the multi-voice vocals in the eleventh minute and the following heavy full-band part. A very DISCIPLINE-like soft section then ensues with a slow build to an awesome crescendo and frenzied finish.
The song evolves, shifts, twists and turns and surprises throughout. Again there are several parts that remind me of MOTORPSYCHO's Unicorn. Without question this is one of the best prog "epics" of the year! (30/30)

Aside from the above references to Motorpsycho, King Crimson, Radiohead, Toby Driver, Matthew Parmenter/Discipline, the overall impression this album leaves me with is similar to that of DIAGONAL's eponymously titled debut album from 2008. SEVEN IMPALE's City of the Sun is a wonderful collection of masterfully composed, executed and recorded songs. 

94.44 on the Fish scales = A/five stars; a veritable masterpiece of progressive rock music. A near-perfect album that I can't see giving anything less than five in that it is a treasure for the ages! Perhaps the best album of 2014!

3. ANTOINE FAFARD Ad Perpetuum

This is an amazing album of jazz fusion very much in the vein of the BRUFORD albums of the late 1970s or the JEAN-LUC PONTY albums of the early 1980s, but more polished and way more more accessible. Composer and band leader Antoine Fafard is an accomplished jazz bass player, but here he has garnered the loyalty of some extraordinary musicians to help realize his music:  preeminent drummer Vinny Colaiuta and guitarist extraordinaire Jerry De Villiers, Jr. In fact, the drumming throughout this album is so amazing, so breathtaking, so far beyond all other drummers and yet (not so much as to distract or detract from the other fine musicians, that) I have to proclaim that this is one of the finest recorded exhibitions of studio drumming that I have ever heard. Perhaps the best!
     Three amazing musicians all at the top of their game (four including sax player Jean-Pierre Zanella) ... playing a set of beautifully composed and flawlessly executed songs. No disrespect to the Townsends, father and son, or Mr. Holdsworth but, when the virtuosity is there, there is nothing like a band of live musicians. A lot of the songs remind me of Jaco Pastorius Weather Report, Percy Jones Brand X, and Jeff Berlin Bruford--with a little bit of Joni Mitchell, Pat Metheny, Bill Bruford's Earthworks, and Hiromi's Sonicbloom thrown in there.
     This may be a bit premature, but I'm going to go out there and say that this is one of Jazz Fusion's all-time top 10 albums! It is that good! What a jaw-dropping concert experience this would be!

Favorite songs: ALL!! (Even the "nutty" one! ["D-Day" (5:20) (9/10)]) Unfortunately, the only sample available on YouTube thus far is this documentary of the making of Ad Perpetuum. I'll link you to more as it gets uploaded.

Here they are! They're starting to come out: the very Jean-Luc Ponty/Randy Jackson era-like "Eternal Loop" (5:22) (9/10)

94.0 on the Fish scales = Without hesitation: this is a five star album! A masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the best jazz fusion albums of the 21st Century. Check it out! NOW!

The "Minor" Masterpieces
(Ratings of 93.33 to 90.0)

4. KANT FREUD KAFKA No tengas miedo

No tengas miedo is a conceptual "symphony" which comes as the result of the inspiration and coordination of one man, one mind, Barcelonan Javier Herrera. On this album Javi is principally the drummer, keyboard player, as well as composer and technical wizard. The music is inspired by a "Light out of Darkness" myth--a variation on the Demeter-Persephone mother-daughter dynamic--the story of which is printed within the album's liner notes. In it, Adah and her mother, Dama, inhabit of a world of darkness. this is, in fact, the only world either have ever known. Yet Adah, emerging adolescent that she is, is unsatisfied; she is curious to see what other 'options' are 'out there.' Ultimately, Adah's defiance of her mother's rules, expectations and commands result in the irreparable destruction of their once-loving relationship--as well as in unstable psychology within both women. A powerful, if tragic, story set to powerful music.

1. "Principio" (7:44) begins quite dramatically, quite cinematically, building and mounting tension for the first two minutes before giving way to a solo piano exposing a arpeggiated theme to be repeated throughout the rest of the "symphony." At 2:45 a full scale prog electric ensemble and theme bursts forth, with the introduction of a nice melodic theme from Moog and later electric guitar. Then at the 4:30 mark the whole mood and sound shifts toward that of a kind of cinematic jazz with a rock fusion ensemble performing within the horns and orchestrals of what sounds like a full orchestra (but I think is a synthesizer)--which reaches full crescendo before collapsing for the final 15 seconds into a kind of piano-jazz dénouement recapitulating its theme from the song's third minute. Cool song. (14/15)

2. "Dama" (12:34) opens with a solo piano establishing itself with a ballet-like arpeggiated play before settling into some chord play which establishes a melodic theme to be heard throughout the remainder of the symphony. The themes and moods here are presented slowly, gently, sweetly woven together--I think, to connote the beautiful of the mother-daughter relationship that has transpired up to this point. Some of the ANT PHILLIPS 12-string guitar arpeggios in the song's eighth minute, and, a soon, the discordant electric guitar solo and decaying drum and synth play, hint at the discord and wildness welling up from within the "insatiably curious" pubescent daughter. Mother (flute) tries her best to comfort her daughter with words in the order of "the way things have always been." Which work for a little bit. The classical guitar and oboe play of the final 75 seconds indicate that a peaceful harmony has been restored. Beautiful mostly bucolic song. (23/25)

3. "Viajes" (7:52) opens with minor-keyed cello and horns and before falling into a kind of jazzy-classical, relaxing, if slightly unsettling, piano and synth theme. This reminds me of the kind of piano theme music popularized in the 1970s by many artists--performing both original works and covers of well-known pop tunes of the day. Think Claude Bolling or Michel Legrand with a little Jean-Pierre Rampal.
     Flute, and later, "orchestra" are added in the third minute. At 2:30 flute and mellotron give way to thumping bass, floating ARP synth, funky rhythm guitar, and solid supporting jazz rock drums. Awesome section! Great CHICK COREA-like jazz piano work. Reminds me of KOTEBEL.
     Some very nice Hammond organ play ensues at the 4:15 mark before some rather insistent electric guitar chord repeats itself to interrupt the flow and restore the opening pastoral theme among flute and clarinet. In the seventh minute a sequence of rather heavy guitar chords reasserts its influence, setting loose some awesome synth and organ dueling over heavy jazz rock rhythm play. Nice song with some great prog power to it. (13.5/15)

4. "Antítesis" (16:02) opens with odd 'horn-gong,' 'Hammond-scrape' and mellotron before piano and flute restore their now-familiar theme from the two previous songs--woven a little more intricately, thanks to "harp," strings, and mellotron. Excellent and gorgeous section!
     At 2:28 a very-KOTEBEL-like theme and sound ensemble establish an awesome melodic theme over a catchy odd-tempo rhythm. Ear-catching bass play throughout this section. Gorgeous jazz guitar solo in the fifth minute. Then all things quite down for a chaotic bit of cymbal and electric piano interplay before a string quartet section restores harmony and beauty, if in a sad minor key, for a little while. Piano, electric piano, and woodwinds play with the tension in quite the ANTHONY PHILLIPS way. Beautiful work--then transitioning into and combining classical, to jazz-rock is extraordinary--breathtakingly beautiful--giving one hope for a positive resolution to the story's conflict.
     At 10:30, a kind of Eastern Peter Gabriel Passion-like 'animal horn' signals a shift of the struggle into an ensuing overdrive. Many of the album's themes are here pitted against and woven within one another using a vast array of acoustic and electric instruments. At 13:30, everything shifts into a fast-paced rhythm as solo synth and electric guitar take turns exerting their powerful voices--mother and daughter. But listen to that bas and drum play beneath it all! Awesome!
     Then everything stops (is the feud over?) for the final 30 seconds as classical guitar, flute, and then piano repeat their beautiful themes of peace and harmony. But what an awesome ride! My favorite section of the "symphony." (29/30)

5. "Hombre" (10:56) opens with sea waves over which the piano chord theme from before the SATIE-like variation of the solo arpeggiated piano theme return. Acoustic guitar and mellotron orchestra join in before the electric bass and drums complete the ensemble in a laid back song of healing and rejoicing. Oboe and then, at the 3:20 mark, that insistently repetitive electric guitar chord, disrupt the mood of harmony and beauty with a dose of the reality of the tense situation as the daughter reconfirms her independence with her act of defiance. Various and familiar themes ensue and continue to "battle it out" in true TONY BANKS/GENESIS form (including some truly remarkable PHIL COLLINS-like drumming beneath an awesome jazz/ERIC GALE-like guitar solo) until the final mellotron orchestral minor chords finally fade out in their unresolved, tension-laden forms.
     The way the three-minute ending ploddingly winds down is not my favorite part of the "symphony," but it's still good--and does make sense to me:  it is consistent with the story content. I guess I just want a slightly different story ending--like one in which the mother can accept and detach from trying to control her daughter. Or one in which the daughter can prove her "adult" independence without her mother showing such signs of ego-driven immaturity, with instead, praise and adulation. (18.5/20)

How anyone could not see the symphonic structure of this album to me indicates that those persons had not given their true attention to the entirety of this beautiful and powerful piece of musical theater. When coupled with a familiarity with the accompanying story, it is clear to me that this album of music is a masterful musical expression of one artist's literary inspiration. Though it may truly be a 4.5 star album, I am elevating this one into my pantheon of prog "masterpieces" due to its exceptionally well done realization of literature as music.

93.33 on the Fish scales = A/five stars; a masterpiece. One of five best albums that I have heard from 2014.


Very creative, whimsical, and engaging storytelling--with amazing voice talents and great diversity of musical styles. Not only can Peter act (and tell a story), he can play! Lots of instruments! Well!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Jones / vocals, keyboards, talkbox, drum programming, guitar, saxophone, whistle, sarod, zither, melodica, bells, percussion
- Mark Wardle / flugelhorn

1. "Overture" (4:32) bombastic prog instrumental (8.25/10)

2. "Spring" (0:34)

3. "The Isle Of Witches" (11:03) nice storyteller's intro followed by mood-setting keys (Mad Nemo organ) until the sixth minute when a heavy low-end plodding theme opens and then is supported by some very dark-pirate-like voices (some treated by vocoder, etc.). Then the witches have a turn to speak and have their own theme. It turns out that conflict and resolution are mysteriously comeby as nothing in the dialogue, singing, or music would lead me to believe that such had happen--as wonderful as the music and voice acting are. Odd song to try to rate. (17.5/20)

4. "Summer" (0:29) Indian sarod. He's good!

5. "Tigers In The Butter" (14:54) I definitely hear the roar of tigers in the jungle-pastoral opening. Some very Banksian and later GENESIS sounds in the instrumental build. Vocals begin with multi-voiced chorus. This is very UNITOPIA-like. Lead vocal is very reminiscent of 80s confident PHIL COLLINS--almost Tarzan-like. Nice Andean flute solo followed by fuzz guitar solo followed by chorus and UNITOPIA finale with awesome lead guitar solo. (27.5/30)

6. "The First Lament" (7:40) distant flute playing over low hum and occasional zither notes. Wooden flute moves forward and begins its plaintive solo. Quite a mood being set here! (Kind of like The Last Samurai--before the fight in the fog.) Piano hit indicates a new section. Electrified acoustic guitar plays its own sad melody before the sonicscape fills out and lead electric guitar takes over. Very New Age jazzy before the drums and low end really amp up with the now-wailing guitar. Nice instrumental. Accomplishes exactly what the title says it will. No wonder Colin Tench took a shine to this guy! (13.5/15)

7. "Autumn" (0:30) fireworks, park band, and footsteps in the dry leaves.

8. "The Merry Vicar" (6:40) organ in a kind of "Baba O'Riley" opening, turns heavy, before turning vaudevillian in a theatric Peter Gabriel way. Very entertaining. Very British. After the singing/theatrics ends, piano turns classical, but then we get a very GENESIS passage with Banksian synth solo, but then it turns heavy & eerie again for a stint before revolving back into the vicar story. What an actor! And composer, to boot! (9/10)

9. "A Visit To Chigwick" (8:50) down-home folk guitar with kitchen percussives opens this before a beautiful RICHIE HAVENS-like voice joins in. Wow! This is amazing! I'd swear I was listening to Richie singing and playing his own tune! The music switches into a bouncy GENESIS-like passage with accordion and acoustic guitar soloing over the top! Wow! Muted narration lets us know that we're observing soldiers on parade. Amazing! The best early Genesis mock up I've ever heard! With even more flare and sophistication of Nursery Cryme-era Genesis! I never thought I'd say this: I've finally heard someone take the creative, theatric genius of PG-era Genesis and take it further! (20/20)

10. "Winter" (0:45) Christmas music with children's outdoor voices and footsteps in the snow.

11. "Don't Let Go, Feels Alright" (13:32) a little "Mad, Man Moon" feel turns heavier, sad, as piano,  voice, and then saxophone over "orchestra" belt out their emotions. When lead guitar takes over it sounds as if it's letting up, over, but the, surprise! There's six more minutes left! Back to a little RICHIE HAVENS-like music for the next lyrical section. Peter is definitely pulling on some heartstrings here! This is rather amazing! Another calming coda leads to a zither passage over which Richie/Phil sings but then quits, leaving the zither, piano and electric piano do the work until background choir voices sing a chorus. I am truly stunned. Drained and weepy. Nice job, Mr. Jones!I am hard-pressed to think of a better, more complete, more effective song in recent history. (30/30)

Total time 69:29

93.15 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a truly remarkable musical listening experience--one that I HIGHLY recommend for any and ALL PROG LOVERS!


A very thick, deep album of instrumental music--one that needs to be listened to repeatedly and carefully in order to really hear and appreciate its gifts. This is even better than the only other album of theirs I own, Morbus, which I highly rated.

I am not going to back down from the admission that this is a masterpiece of Krautrock. Where others have shied away, I am putting it out there. From the very first listen to my most recent twenty-somethingth I hear the very special quality of this music. The reverence for the musics of the past is obvious but Electric Orange have gone further:  they have added to the lexicon of Krautrock, even perfected it. The advantage of modern recording equipment and techniques adds a quality to this album that no Krautrock album from the 1970s I've ever heard has. Then this group of amazing musicians had the maturity and temerity to not only take turns featuring various instruments and musicians over the course of this 79+ minute long album but using time and space to slowly develop their ideas and slowly build each song's "sound palette." I love music like this! I love it when a theme or riff is beaten to death, given time to get into your head, get under your skin, take you into other worlds. And this is precisely what each and every song of this album does for me:  takes me into other worlds, sometimes into altered states of consciousness. The journey of a listen to the whole album is well worth it--almost unavoidable because of the mesmerizing, hypnotic effect of the music.

I urge everyone to give this a listen--but, please, not just ten seconds of each song. Let the album play while you cook, work on the computer, or read in bed. That way you'll have the chance to experience the music sucking you into its spiraling web. I can only imagine the pride the forefathers of Krautrock might feel upon hearing this album; the fact that the ground that they paved made this album possible must be humbling. Try "Suite Beef" (13:54) (29/30) as a sampler.

92.5 on the Fish scales = A/5 Stars; an unquestioned masterpiece of progressive rock music. One of the best albums of 2014.

7. MOTORPSYCHO Behind The Sun

My fourth foray into Motorpsycho territory and, so far, my favorite. The excellent harmonized vocals present on almost all the songs are awesome—reminiscent of several of the best rock bands of the early 1970s. The foundational instrumental performances are as solid as ever but they are now enhanced, expanded upon by lots of mellotron and, of course, the always welcome contributions of guitar wizard Reine Fiske.

1. “Cloudwalker (A Darker Blue)” (6:06) is a good mid-tempo rocker with great bass, good harmonized vocals, and some catchy guitar riffing but lacks something to pull me in deeply. (8/10)

2. “Ghost” (6:38) opens with a bit of a Country/Western or Southern Rock like SWANS sound, with an unusually delicate vocal like a cross between Larry Lee from THE OZARK MOUNTAIN DAREDEVILS or Wayne Coynes of THE FLAMING LIPS. A pretty song, once again, the song never seems to catch into third gear (a problem I have noted in the past with regards to Motorpsycho songs). (8/10)

3. “On a Plate” (4:09) opens with a repetitive 70s rock sound and feel (GRAND FUNK RAILROAD and BLACK SABBATH)—which continues with the joining in of cowbell and vocals. This one goes on just long enough to get under your skin. Solid. Great sound recording and production. (9/10)

4. “The Promise” (4:40) presents the power of the psychedelic hard rockers of the 70s with the awesome clarity of 21st century recording technology. Great drumming and guitar leads. (Is that a Farfisa I hear?) (9/10)

5. “Kvæstor (incl. Where Greyhounds Dare)" (7:09) is a hard driven’ instrumental that opens with an robotic/industrial sound before a barrage of drums enters and fills the waves. Droning organ and Southern Rock (à la THE ALLMAN BROTHERS) riffing guitars join in and then the guitar soloing goes shit crazy! shredding at searing speeds, at times in tandem with another guitar (or echoe/delayed) or keyboard. At the four minute mark the continuously traveling drums are left virtually alone save for screeching pitch bending of strings (violin or saw?). The song eventually kicks back into its original Allman Brothers riff until the band gets stuck, like a robot  on repeat, to fade. Awesome song! (13.5/15)

6. “Hell, parts 4-6:  Traitor/The Tapestry/Swiss Cheese Mountain” (12:21) opens with some wonderful mellotron intro before giving way to some equally awesome guitar picking. The gentle vocal stylings (layered two or three times) from “Ghost” return. Some great chord progressions and key changes lead into an heavier electric guitar strum bridge to instrumental guitar jam section—two electric guitars taking turns and/or playing with and over each other. Then, around 4:25 things quiet down, mellotron and organ and saw playing along with softly picking acoustic guitars. The song begins to climb out of the delicate mellow section around 7:05 and finally returns to the beginning section at 7:45. At 8:09 full power is unleashed with a turgid interplay of multiple guitars (electric and acoustic) and mellotron—which plays out to the end. Prog heaven! (24/25)  

7. “Entropy” (7:23) opens like a CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG song (“Déjà Vu”) before CSN & Y-like vocal harmonies join in. Gorgeous! Beautiful electric guitar slides around along with the vocals, though more in the background. Amazing song. Stunningly beautiful. Makes me miss the 70s. And Yoshimi. (15/15)

8. “The Magic & The Wonder (A Love Theme)” (4:41) opens with an awesome guitar, bass, and drum combination. Second guitar and keys come in to fill the song’s palette, setting it up for wonderful vocals—psychedelia from the realm of three- and four-part harmony. Wonderful exchange of guitar soli by the two leads in the third minute! Just enough unexpected twists and turns throughout to make this one fresh and fantastic! (10/10)

9. “Hell, part 7:  Victim of Rock” (7:36) The hard driving music I became so familiar with on Death-Defying Unicorn, coupled with an awesome psychotic encounter with a pitch modulator in the middle, and some great BUDDY GUY-like guitar shredding, makes this an incredible high energy finale. (14/15) 

92.08 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Too bad the album starts out a little weakly or it’d be vying for my favorite album of 2014 for consistent beauty and seven (7) five star songs.

8. SYD ARTHUR Sound Mirror

This is prog? The umbrella of all that is considered prog seems to be growing exponentially. I'm not sure that is a good thing---especially when indie pop and psych pop bands seem to be taking over while postmodern chamber or classical music is being purposely ignored and/or expressly excluded. I imagine, then that it should only be a short time before some of my other favorite until-now non-prog groups are welcomed into the PA scene. Imagine bands like The Cure, Souxsie and The Banshees, doves, Tears for Fears, Bruce Cockburn, Jane Siberry, k.d. lang, Tame Impala, Grizzly Bears, ABC, The Art of Noise, Annette Peacock, Alanis Morrissette, Pearl Jam, Cowboy Junkies, Portishead, Massive attack, The Style Council/Paul Weller, The Buggles, U2, Gene Loves Jezebel, Jesus and Mary Chain, It's Immaterial, Aztec Camera, Simple Minds, The Blow Monkeys, Simply Red, The Isley Brothers, Earth, Wind & Fire, Love and Money, Love and Rockets, The The, Pete Shelley, Telepomusick, Air, Van Morrison, West Indian Girl, Perplexa, Whitesnake, Bon Jovi, XTC, Sting, The Police, Stereolab, Sade, Swing Out Sister, Annie Lennox, Seal, Cocteau Twins, Lush, Robin Guthrie, Violet Indiana, Mono, Olive, The Re-Flex, Psychedlic Furs, Robert Palmer, Pink Fairies, John Martyn, Peter Murphy, Pentatonix, Peter Frampton, The Payolas, The Ramones, Paramore, Evanescence, P.M. Dawn, OMD, Opus III,  The Mercury Program, Marconi Union, M & M (Martha & The Muffins), League of Gentlemen, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Love and Rockets, Icehouse, Linkin Park, Kitchens of Distinction, John Serrie, Jonathon Goldman, Ivy, Hans Zimmer, Grand Funk, Gino Vanelli, Elton John, George Michael, Funin, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Flaming Lips, Everything But The Girl, The Fixx, Emilie Autumn, The Dream Academy, Dead Can Dance, David Darling, Crosby, Stills & Nash (& Young), Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Melanie, Carly Simon, The Association, Coldplay, The Clientele, Clint Mansell, Clannad, The Cars, Bruce Springsteen, Boards of Canada, Berlin, Blue Öyster Cult, Astrud Gilberto, Sergio Mendez, Joabim, Astor Piazzolo, Art Lindsay, Animal Collective, America, Alan Stivell, Al Stewart, Kosmos, Ry Cooder, and so many, many others being included in your beloved Progressive Rock Archives! Prog Rock takes over the world (or at least the quirkier side of pop music scene)!

     That being said, I LOVE this album. The first eight of ten offerings are fully fantastic ear candy worming their way into my brain. I love the voice, the lyrics, the recording treatment/effects used on all the instruments, the b box, the presence and effect of then mandolin and violin, and the upbeat psych-pop, drugged-up, almost-Canterburian feel to the music. I have no favorites; I perk up at the sound of any of the first eight songs when they come across my ears, they're all five star efforts in my humble opinion and I can't seem to tire of any of them. I truly hope these guys get huge--at least get some of the recognition and income I feel they deserve.

92.0 on the Fish scale = A-/a five star album, a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music on which every song a melody or hook that won't let go. Probably My Favorite Album of The Year 2014. Check out their official videos for "Autograph" and "Garden of Time".

9. AALTO Ikaro

Prog Folk coming out of Finland. The blending of what sounds like Arabian and Indian instruments with the gut-stringed instruments and shamanic voices native to Finland, plus Didgeridoo, banjo, a kind of zither/autoharp, reed instruments, and "Tibetan" or "Tuvan" (or Sami? or some other Siberian tribe's?) vocal overtone singing make this more of a blending of ancient and sacred intercontinental indigenous traditions. Coming from North America, I am biased in that I think I am hearing First American rhythms and vocals, too--especially songs like the album's opener.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marko Niittymäki / mandolin, banjo, percussion, mandola, guitar, vocals 
- Petra Poutanen / vocals, kantele 
- Antero Mentu / guitar, sitar, tambura, vocals 
- Sampo Salonen / vocals, didgeridoo, doshpulur, percussion 
- Panu Ukkonen / clarinet, vocals 
- Kusti Rintala / drums, percussion

1. "Ikaro" (8:12) more native than folk? More sacred/ritualistic than festive/celebratory. Like something from a Robert MIRABEL album. (12.5/15).

     The second song, "Vapathaja" (7:30) presents with a jazzy Eastern European/klezmer sound. Sultry female lead vocalist, Petra Poutanen, the delicate acoustic stringed instruments, along with the virtuosic clarinet performance give it a bit more of an international flavor. Wonderful, delicate strings plucking throughout! (13.5/15)

3. Sitar-, doshpuluur- and mandolin-dominated "Heijestumia" (5:19) has quite a fun minstrel/troubadour feel to it, though is quite Indian-sounding. The "Tuvan" throat singing adds a mystical quality to the song's feel. (8.75/10)

4. "Kastepiesaroita" (4:16) and 5. "Kastepiesaroita II" (5:23) present as an ethereal pair of Eastern-spiced meditative songs. The first is dominated by an effluent, hypnotic female voice singing as if trying to lull the listener into a trance or some receptive state. (9/10) Part II continues the hypnosis using only instruments. (8.25/10)

6. "Sateentuoksuisia Unia" (4:55) is for me one of the albums high points. Beautiful melodies, almost a Cassandra Wilson feel to the banjo, baritone guitar, didgeridoo and hand drum foundation with some great vocals, lead and harmonies, throughout. (10/10)

7. "Metsätaloushöömei" (6:26) has quite a shamanic story-telling sound to it as male vocalist alternates between throat singing and pleasant tenor folk singing. The 'shout chorus' and female 'yodeling' take the song into even stranger territory. Ends like a front porch bluegrass jam straight out of the Ozarks! Not a song for the faint of heart! I like it! (8/10)

8. The album's closer--and its longest song at 10:39--"Kuun Tytär" is its best. Opening with didgeridoo, subtle background strings sounds and harmonics all playing over the syncopated rhythms of a hand drum. At 1:28 a clarinet enters, claiming the melodic lead with repetition of its simple ascending note sequence. At 2:10 the etheric, delicate voice of Petra Poutanen again graces us with its present. I wish I could find the translation to the Finnish lyrics here because they must tell quite a powerful little story. The song is mesmerizingly beautiful and haunting in a very MEDIÆVAL BÆBES kind of way. (20/20)

Total Time 52:41

Overall this is an interesting album of unusual and often beautiful, hypnotic, and joyful songs. I can't remember the last time I've ever come across such an eclectic blend of world instruments into the songs represented here. But it works! I have been listening to this album over and over for several weeks now and each listen only seems to deepen my immersion and enjoyment of them. I'm not sure this is a "masterpiece of progressive Folk music" but it is definitely worth checking out. If you're looking for something different, something out of the ordinary and entertaining, I would highly recommend that you check this one out.

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


Another submission of quirky avant music that people are allowing to be included into the "progressive rock" genre with similarities to Humble Grumble, UneXpect, Atomic Ape, FreddeGredde, Major Parkinson, Utopianisti, Knifeworld, and even the modern Univers Zero. Like so many of today's bands it's as they're trying to pack nine minutes of music, story, and emotion into four minute songs. Is this the new prog?
     Of all these groups--which are all very talented, very tight, and very entertaining--this is probably my favorite. The album's format kind of runs in an alternating style: quirky instrumental alternated by emotional vocal ballad. The quirky music is fun and interesting--often 1980s KING CRIMSON/THE POLICE/ROBERT FRIPP/ANDY SUMMERS-like (as on "Who Are You?")--but it is the excellent vocals--especially those of Suzanne "Suz" Johansson--that lift this album out of the pool of run-of-the-mill avant prog artists.
     Suzanne's singing is extraordinary. Her variety of styles is dizzying. Suzanne can sing like Annie Lennox, Ruth-Anne Boyle (OLIVE), Siobhan De Mare (MONO, VIOLET INDIANA) as in "Who Are You?" (4:08) (9/10) or she can sing delicate background harmonies to RICHARD SINCLAIR-like male vocalist Mats "Lödder" Fredriksson as on the emotional folk noir heartbreaker, "As Hard As They Come" (5:22) (10/10) and the pastoral "Me and The Wave" (7:18) (10/10). Or she croon a lead like a 1950s torch singer à la Patricia Kaas, k.d. lang, or Anne Pigalle as on "In Too Deep" (6:10) (9/10). Another vocalist I find her styling versatilities comparable to is Marit Elisabeth Svendsbøe, formerly of the extraordinary experimental pop rock band from Norway, FUNIN.
     "Mood Swings" (5:19) (9/10) is very much in the Ruth-Anne Boyle/Annie Lennox department. On "The First Light" (5:33) (10/10) I could swear I was listening to the masterful artistry of Elaine di Falco (Thinking Plague, Yugen, Empty Days). Amazing song!
     There are several songs here that have very strong folk/traditional leanings, like "As Hard As They Come," the NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA-like "A Post Card from Copenhagen" (3:27) (9/10) and the blues-rock tinged "Me and The Wave," while others are very jazzy, including "You Got a Light, Mac?" (3:19) (9/10) and the hilarious, "Creepy" (1:44) (10/10), and others are comedie noire theatric like "Madame Else's Genuine Flea Circus" (3:33) (8/10), "Alfred The Clown and His Highly Trained Poodles" (3:45) (8/10), and the spy movie theme song,  "No, But I've Got a Dark Brown Overcoat" (2:08) (9/10).
     Overall, this is album takes the listener on quite a wild ride--like going through the amusement park's best spook house thrill rides. I have to say, though I'm not sure how prog this album is (though there are some Prog Folk and Canterbury moments), this is one of my favorite albums of 2014.

91.7 on the Fish scales = A-/a five star album; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Refreshing originality, outstanding vocal performances, as well as for its wonderful entertainment value. Definitely one of the most surprising and best albums of the year!

11. JERZY ANTCZAK Ego, Georgius

This is one of the greatest surprises from 2014 and definitely one of my Top 15 of that year. Were it not for a bit of a stumble with songs 6-8 ("Don't Need You," "Bottom of My Soul" and "The Gods of Our") this would be a virtually flawless play-through concept album. Opening with the world music electro-pop of "Naive" (5:59) (9/10) we get a kind of OMD sound before it turns more toward THE FIXX ("Stand Tall")--a sound that carries through song 2, "Bloody George" (3:03) (10/10). This is why Thomas likes this one so much! There are certainly a lot of PINK FLOYD sounds and riffs throughout Ego, Gerorgius and, like Floyd, none of the music is very complex and is often quite atmospheric. Also Floyd-like is the seemless flow from song to song.

     Breaking away from respected Polish progsters ALBION, guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Jerzy Antczak has created one of those albums that flows so perfectly from start to finish that one has no choice but to listen to it straight through each time. In fact, songs one through five bleed seamlessly one right into the next. It's awesome! Also, the album seems to start and end with its best clusters of songs. The music is at times quite atmospheric, acoustic, and full of samples and performances of folk and "world" instruments. In fact, I found myself thinking several times that this is where I had hoped MARIUZ DUDA was heading with LUNATIC SOUL. Jerzy's singing even sounds a bit like Mariuz's. This is better. Far better.

Favorite songs: the amazing COLLAGE/SATELLITE-like 12. "Waltz" (7:10) (10/10); the beautiful sequence of songs that builds up to "Nebayilhaye" 3-5. "Escape from.../Heaven/Nebayilhaye" (10:54) (20/20); 11. "Humid Tube" (2:56) (9/10); 1. "Naïve" (5:59) (9/10); 2. "Bloody George" (3:03) (10/10) and; "Mermaid's Song" (7:10) (9/10).

91.7 on the Fish scales = A-/a five star album; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.

12. UT GRET - Ancestor's Tale

From AltrOck Productions, Ancestor's Tale is melodic, at times Canterburian, Bruford/Annette Peacock/Earthworksish, King Crimsonesque, UZedish, Zeuhlish, and, always, perfectly AltrOck. Wonderful vocals. Wonderful presence up front of woodwinds (including didgeridoo!). Awesome interweaving of electric keys and mellotrons. From the album's opening a cappella vocal notes and ensuing woodwind weave ("Ancestor's Tale" [5:29] [10/10]) I knew I was going to love this music.

Album highlights:  "The Raw, The Cooked, and The Over-easy" (5:27) which sounds like it came from some classic Latin-influenced jazz album from the 1960s--at least until the amazing KING CRIMSONian shifts at the 2:50 mark and again later at the 4:45 mark (10/10); the COS/ANNETTE PEACOCK-like Avant-Canterbury-ish title song (5:24) (10/10) and the jazzy 4. "Salves Unmade" (5:56) (8.5/10); the mesmerizingly beautiful multi-instrumental weave of "Walk the Plank" (7:37) (13.5/15); the fun hyper-weave of "Hopperknockity Tune" (4:00) an instrumental which sounds like it could come from an EARTHWORKS or FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE album (9/10); the mesmerizing minimalist OCEANSIZE-like magic of "The Grotesque Pageantry of Fading Empires" (9:17) (18.5/20), and; the FOCUS-like piano and electric guitar duet work and John Wetton-like bass play of "Zodiac" (7:17) (12/15).

In the vein of last year's stunning AltrOck releases from FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE and EMPTY DAYS we have another adventurous and yet entirely accessible collection of fresh music.

90.80 on the Fish scales = A-/a five star album; a minor masterpiece that I'm praising for its diversity, daring, and freshness. One of the best albums of the year. (I'll post more YouTube links as they get uploaded.)

13. FAUN Luna

Another gem of prog folk music from Germany's folk masters, FAUN. Upon first listen I found high points that stood out for me, but after repeated listens I've come to love this entire album. Not quite as good as their masterpiece, Eden but back to that level (after 2013's disappointing Von den Elben). The spectrum of emotions this album takes one through is nothing short of remarkable. From nostalgia to haunted fear, celebratory joy to bitter sadness, the power of mutual support to the despair of isolation, there is nary an emotion left untouched. The romantically rhythmed ensemble piece "Cuncti Simus" is my absolute favorite.

Five/4.5 star songs:  "Cuncti Simus" (3:56); "Hörst du die Trommein" (3:23); "Walpurgisnacht" (3:50); "Buntes Volk" (4:17); "Menuett" (4:57); "Hekate" (4:16); "Blaue Stunde" (4:36);  "Frau Erde" (4:29); "Die Lieder Werden Bleiben" (3:19), and; "Era Escuro" (3:33).

90.0 on the Fish scales = Another five star masterpiece of prog folk from Germany's folk masters; a minor masterpiece for the world of progressive rock music.

14. MONO The Last Dawn

How this band stays beneath the radar I have no clue. Master ‘storytellers’ with their musical soundscapes, their music is always meditative, deeply emotive and, despite seemingly 'simple' song structures, the band always performs at a flawless level. 
      I realize that Post Rock is not for everyone--and I rarely find a Post Rock album to be worthy of the "masterpiece of all-time" status—but this dedicated, focused, persevering Japanese band may have achieved such a status with this 2014 release. And, with the inclusion of its companion release, Rays of Darkness, the deal may be sealed. 
     As described on their Facebook page, The Last Dawn is the “lighter” of the two albums and probably the more melodic and “prettier” of the two. It also reveals a scaled-back, slimmer lineup of musicians when compared to their releases in the mid and late Naughties. Yet the two 2014 releases offer quite a variety of instrumental companions—piano, tuned percussives—all the while remaining firmly reliant on their one consistent and remarkable trait: the heavily effected tremolo strummed electric guitars of Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu and Takaakira “Taka” Goto. The influences of Minimalists like Henryk Górecki, soundtrack artists like Ennio Morricone and Lars von Trier, and shoe gaze innovators like Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie and My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields are quite evident throughout the album(s). 

The Last Dawn starts out rather sedately with the quiet, spacious, rather low-key, “The Land Between the Tides/Glory” (11:35) (16/20). The song begins its post-rock climb to climactic release in the third minute but then falls slowly and delicately after the seven minute mark—which, I think, marks the end of the “Glory” part of the two-part song. (Is this song—or album—an eulogy to WWII Japan?)

2. Katana” (6:21) (10/10) marks one of the most beautiful post-rock melodies/songs I’ve ever heard—a feeling that continues through the next three songs, 3. “Cyclone” (6:24) (10/10) with its awesome bass grounding throughout and amazingly sustained peak at 3:00, and 4. “Elysian Castles” (8:11) with its gorgeous piano-based Japanese folk melody and ever-so delicately woven guitar and cello threads (20/20). 

5. “Where We Begin” (7:25) just sounds a little bit old and tired—like an old U2 song that pulses and rocks but never really goes anywhere. (10.5/15)

6.  “The Last Dawn” (8:37) contains some extraordinarily beautiful, slowly developing three-part threads woven into a rather brilliant and unusual harmonic tapestry. At 2:45 an almost Gospel plea arises momentarily from the tremolo-picked lead guitar but then just as suddenly disappears. The weave deconstructs down to just one single instrument by the four minute mark before being reconstituted with sliding blues-chords, crescendoing cymbols and chime-like two-note arpeggi. Gorgeous yet understated. The power and strength established by the seventh minute sustain themselves through toward the end of the song, the end of the album, but then quietly dissipate as if into the night mist. Really emotional! So powerful and yet not over-the-top or bombastic. Masterful. (19/20)

Again, I am not sure of the “story” Mono are trying to tell with the music on this album: end of the Japanese empire? end of Industrial society? end of human occupancy of planet Earth? Could be all or none of these. Regardless, the band has put together a collection of songs that convert power, grace, beauty, and loss with a kind of emotional impact rarely heard/felt in modern music.

90.0 on the Fish scales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the finest Post Rock albums of the 21st Century.

15. MAGIC BUS Transmission from Sogmore's Garden

Canterbury is back! Wonderful, wonderful fare from Devon's Paul Evans and friends. Nobody but nobody has so well captured the CARAVAN 1970-72 sound so well! And yet the songs are each pure and original (with a few borrowed riffs here and there). Excellent musical composition. Wonderfully quirky, hippyish lyrics and happy-go-lucky singing with outstanding contributions from guitars and flutes. 
     Hailing from "transition town" Totnes, Devonshire, UK, Tim has gathered around him a dedicated crew of accomplished musicians who all have one thing in common: they feel that the spirit of the late 1960s and early 1970s--especially the musical spirit of the San Francisco psychedelic rock scene and the Canterbury spirit of SOFT MACHINE and CARAVAN--is still alive and that they are merely expressing themselves in that same spirit. 

The album opens with the innocuous little celebration of Nature and the joyous gift Life, "Sunflower" (3:51). It is very much a piece straight our of the hippy folk scene of the 1967 "Summer of Love." (9/10)

2. "Ballad of Lord Sogmore" (5:15) starts out sounding like it came straight off of the 1972 KHAN album, Space Shanty. The acoustic guitar strumming, electric guitar sound and riffs, and Jay DARLINGTON (formerly of KULA SHAKER and OASIS)'s vintage keyboard work make it a dead ringer for Canterbury Scene music. Even Paul EVANS' voice is quite similar to that of Steve HILLAGE (though it is also quite similar to that of Mont CAMPBELL). Then there is the Indian interlude, to seal the deal, before we kick back into KHAN-mode for awesome organ and electric guitar soli. (9/10)

3. "Cosmic Rays of Dawn" (3:47) opens with a gentle Canterburian soft jazz feel with arpeggiated organ chords and single note electric guitar accents before Evans' Robert WYATT-like voice sings a WYATT-like lyric in that emotionally vulnerable Robert WYATT way. At 2:36 an up-tempo, jazzy instrumental section with its trilling flute play ensues to the song's end. (10/10) 

4. "Three Days" (7:32) opens quietly before a "Golf Girl" kind of groove establishes itself and the band and the flute play on about the sun, sunshine and nature. At 2:15 a muted voice sings over a bit of a tired-sounding carnival sound. Then, after a little jazzy bridge, by 2:55 we're back to the perky walk-through-the-park song established after the pastoral opening. At 4:10 we shift into a more somber, slowed down instrumental section that preludes a kind of FOCUS "Tommy" section. Very cool! Great groove and awesome guitar play and sound! Flute takes over the soloing around 6:10--for quite a stretch--before that old friend the Canterbury "buzz saw" organ takes a turn. The band in the background is having some fun with it's syncopated up-tempo, and then it's over! (15/15) 

5. "Jupiter 3 AM" (8:37) opens with some very spacey synth washes fly around before Paul starts singing with his slowly-paced and well-spaced acoustic guitar strums. Then the full band joins in and the song slowly builds into a foundation for some jazz noodling--which then rather abruply dissipates into more of an instrumental étude. Then the music shifts into a chord and melody sequence that is quite reminiscent of that of NENA's "99 Luftballons" for about 20 seconds before bridging back to a minor key version of the opening music. At 4:55 a slow-bouncing organ and flute prep us for a full decibel breakout into a hard-rock variation on that NENA chord sequence. This then evolves into a swirling, speeding crescendo before some heavy chords are struck in syncopation before letting the music re-establish that happy-go-lucky NENA theme as it was in the fourth minute. Electric guitar and flute get the most solo exposure as the song plays out the final 75 seconds like this. Nice jazz excursion! I just love Jay DARLINGTON's mastery of the Canterbury organ sounds. (18/20) 

6. "Seven Wonders" (5:33) opens like an early PINK FLOYD song before Paul EVANS' gentle vocal enters singing in a sensitive Robert WYATT/Steve WINWOOD/Peter GABRIEL way. Love the interplay of the recorder! Slow, plodding song--again, very much in the PINK FLOYD vein continues until 2:55 when a CSN&Y/AMERICA-like harmonized "la-la-la, la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la" bridges us to a heavier CARAVAN-like instrumental section--which just as elusively fades into a flute with guitar strum part before giving way to the real meat of the song: a full out Mike RATLEDGE-like "buzz saw"organ solo! This song has more trouble establishing itself--establishing a flow and identity, but it is still a brilliant reflection of all-things Canterburian. (8/10)

7. "Morning Mantra" (6:55) returns us to that happy-go-lucky CARAVAN music In the Land of Grey and Pink era, with a vocal very much in the style of the great RICHARD SINCLAIR. Flute solo fills most of the third minute before the vocal returns over a delicate arpeggiated descending chord progression. "I love my life" is the dominant lyric in this lazy song expressing one's slow morning love and appreciation for life and all it has to offer. Nice flute and electric guitar interplay in the fourth and fifth minute instrumental sections. "Love, love, love, love," seems to be the message here. You dig? (13.5/15)  

8. "Earthpod" (4:44) the album's final song opens with fade in Mellotron giving way to a gently strummed guitar to support Paul's vocal about this tiny little planet we live on in a kind of lament for the passing of time (which one cannot help but wonder if his intention is with regards to the listening to this album or since the idyllic days of the 60s?). Organ support and the end of the first verse result in the entrance of the full band and the establishment of a more KHAN/STEVE HILLAGE song sound and melody (like "Hollow Stone"). Beautiful! Return to singing the second verse--this time with full band in subtle support (Mellotron, high-frequency flanged electric guitar, drums and gorgeous b vox!) Jay's Mellotron is actually given a solo in the fourth minute! The album closes with harmonized "Ahh"s and emotional flute solo. Gorgeous! (10/10)

90.0 on the Fish scales = A-/a five star album and a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. This album is so upbeat and refreshing--and polished! Truly a resuscitation of much that was once wonderful in the Land of Canterbury! One of my favorites from 2014!

4.5 Stars; Excellent Additions to Prog World
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67)

16. MARGIN Psychedelic Teatime

Rather saccharine and predictable but highly effective Neo Prog.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Lutz Meinert / voices, all instruments
- Carola Meinert / voices (6, 7, 9)
- Arne Spekat / acoustic guitar (1-5, 7)

1. "A Mysterious Cup Of Tea - Part 1" (6:33) lush and pregnantly paced with great electric lead guitar work. (9.25/10)
2. "A Mysterious Cup Of Tea - Part 2" (4:50) Lutz' vocals over 12-strings. (8.5/10)
3. "A Mysterious Cup Of Tea - Part 3" (6:50) more spacious PINK FLOYD like atmospheric music over which electric guitar and other computer keyboard generated sounds take turns soloing. Very cleverly constructed. (14/15)
4. "A Mysterious Cup Of Tea - Part 4" (2:16) electric guitar soloing over harpsichord and 12-string guitars before Lutz returns to sing in his plaintive Roger Waters voice. (4.25/5)
5. "A Mysterious Cup Of Tea - Part 5" (2:59) the big climax and finale. (10/10)

6. "Psychedelic Underground - The Short Trip" (3:36) part THE THE, part early THE CHURCH--very poppy like a 1980s New Wave hit. (8.75/10)

7. "Landscapes On The Sky" (8:05) vibes and Spanish acoustic guitar strums provide all Lutz needs for his creepy ROGER WATERS/HARRY NILSSON-like vocal. Nice b vox from Carola Meinert. The simple Wurlitzer organ play in the instrumental bridges and interludes is cool. (14/15)

8. "Last Exit To Pluto" (10:41) opens with spacious music like for a Euro-spy movie (Bond or Clouseau). At 2:40 the dynamics amp up with electric guitar power chords and searing lead lines before thinks revert to quiet with bass, rim & hi-hat hits, vibes and piano tinkles. In the fifth minute the guitar wails as if from afar over piano and synth before the full complement of prog instruments crashes in, taking us into far outer space. More Wurlitzer soloing alternating with other instruments. (17.25/20)

9. "Psychedelic Underground - The Long Trip" (10:38) a reprise in variation of song #6. It was much tighter and had a much better sound palette the first time--though it does have an excellent "guitar" solo in the eighth minute. (16.75/20)

Total Time 56:28

This one sounds a lot to me like a continuation of 2013's AIRBAG and COSMOGRAF albums along with 2012's I AND THOU, NINE STONES CLOSE, MYSTERY, and RIVERSEA albums with a bit of THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE (especially in the singing voice). The album's highlight is, of course, the five-part epic entitled "A Mysterious Cup of Tea" which sounds most like the brilliantly nostalgic music of Andrew Marshall's WILLOWGLASS only with singing and with more emotional guitar leads. The rest of the album is really good Neo-Prog with quirky, tongue-in-cheek ANDY TILLISON or Thomas Thelen-like lyrics and singing. 

Enjoyable and nice to come back to once in a while. Some really great lead guitar soloing. Often feeling a bit too familiar in the Neo-ness of it. 

89.34 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a rather cheesy but really well done Neo Prog-with-a-New Wave edge album that I highly recommend for your own perusal. 

17. SYNDONE Odysséas

Line-up / Musicians:
- Riccardo Ruggeri / lead vocals, lyrics
- Nik Comoglio / keyboards, composer & orchestration
- Francesco Pinetti / vibraphone, composer
- Pino Russo / acoustic guitar, oud
- Sara Marisa Chessa / harp
- John Hackett / flute (4)
- Luca Biggio / alto sax
- Paolo Porta / tenor sax
- Gianni Virone / baritone sax
- Gianluca Scipioni / trombone
- Marco Braito / trumpet
- Marco Pierobon / trumpet
- Stefano Ammannati / tuba
- Nilo Caracristi / French horn
- Federico Marchesano / bass
- Marco Minnemann / drums
- Labirinto String Orchestra 
- Fabio Gurian / conductor

1. "Invocazione Alla Musa" (3:11) impressive musicianship on this Oriental-themed and styled song. Am I going to be listening to a Pucchini-like Turandot? Impressive keyboard display, great electric bass, and very supportive drums and vibes. No orchestration. (8.75/10)
2. "Il Tempo Che Non Ho" (5:33) very nice classical guitar opens this song. When vocalist Riccardo Ruggeri enters, it sounds like a lullaby. Violin joins to weave within Riccardo's singing--as does the guitar. Quite beautiful with wonderfully memorable melodies, chord changes, and orchestral string support. A top three song for me. (10/10) 

3. "Focus" (4:24) opens with a very Duke/ABACAB sound and feel. But then Riccardo enters singing in a very raspy, aggressive Broadway voice while banked horns and aggressive Hammond organ support the campy music. Pure stage theatric! Nice vibe solo over a brief Zeuhlish section in the third minute. (8.5/10)  

4. "Penelope" (4:44) oud and Riccardo's excellent Arabian vocalise open this one. At 0:50 solo piano takes over, playing a very Chopin-like nocturne until 2:10 when the oud returns and Riccardo sings a very impassioned, theatric lyric of love. Interesting and fresh! Sounds like Camelot's "If Ever I Would Leave You," only in Italian. (8.5/10)

5. "Circe" (2:31) bluesy lounge jazz with rhythm section providing solid backdrop for Hammond, vibes, and MiniMoog to take turns soloing. (4.25/5)

6. "Ade" (5:01) piano, bass, harp, and vibes take turns declaring their melodic contributions to the weave that follows before MiniMoog takes the lead. Then the keys, vibes and strings take over weaving it all together for Riccardo to sing over. The falsetto highs that he hits early on--just before the music turns more IL BALLETTO DI BRONZO/OSANNA/MUSEO ROSENBACH-like with its power chords and Hammond organ dominance. Still, the contribution and presence of the bass, strings, and vibes makes this one special, different. Very cool song! A top three for me. (10/10) 

7. "Poseidon" (2:21) Hammond intro, joined by cymbals, drums, and bass for a rapid-paced little romp. Vibes and piano also join in in the second minute, reigning it in and slowing it down slightly. ELP-like Tarkus theme in the final 30 seconds. (4/5)

8. "Nemesis" (5:10) vibes, Fender Rhodes, cymbals, harp, and breathy vocals open this one. Around 0:45 a bridge establishes entry to a more standard Broadway rock sound, but is alternated with a more spacious, tempered motif. Very LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO-sounding. Hammond and MiniMoog take turns in the lead during the instrumental section beginning at the end of the third minute. Nice Alessio Calandriello vocal--Riccardo really stretching his pipes. (8.75/10)

9. "La Grande Bouffe" (4:52) piano, harp, and Riccardo in the sedate first minute, which then morphs into a straighttime driving prog rocker. Side tangents right and left lead to some interesting and contrasting pathways--as if we are on a chase on foot, following someone through the nooks and crannies of an old Italian city at night. (8.75/10)

10. "Eros & Thanatos" (2:04) raunchy Hammond organ and militaristic drums open this one before bass and vocals enter, then a Hammond chord progression establishes the song's basic structure and flow as vibes, MiniMoog, and Riccardo take turns expression their emotions. (4.5/5)

11. "Vento Avverso" (3:43) theatric Broadway-like song with plaintive vocal from Riccardo. (8.75/10)

12. "Ελευθερια / Freedom" (1:47) slow, sensuous jazz vibes solo that returns to the Oriental themes from the album's opening. Could be a solo member of one of Steve Reich or Phillip Galss's ensembles. (4.5/5) 

13. "Daimones" (4:54) a richly textured, almost seductive palette over which Riccardo sings perhaps his finest vocal of the album. (I always get this song mixed up with Alessio Calandriello and La Coscienza di Zeno when it comes up in one of my playlist shuffles.) Great way to go out! (9/10)

Total time: 63:32

The drums!!

Some very polished (well produced) RPI with a story (Odysseus) and some music made most interesting for its full synth sound and the presence of tuned percussion (Francesco Pinetti on vibraphone) and horns throughout. The impassioned vocals unfortunately feel a little over-the-top (melodramatic) due, I am sure, to the fact that they are sung in Italian—which I do not understand. The music is sometimes jazzy, sometimes Broadway-esque, sometimes classical in its presentation. Perfect RPI. It is always well-polished and cleanly performed. For those of you enamored of the vocal talents of La Coscienza di Zeno’s Alessio Calandriello you will be well pleased with the ambitious offerings of Syndone’s Riccardo Ruggeri. Considering that Syndone was a one time solo project of Nik Comoglio, you have to say that he’s come a long way—and has gotten very good at finding great sidemen and guests for his projects (including drummer extraordinaire Marco Minnemann and flutist John Hackett). 

Favorite songs:  “Il tempo che non ho” (5:33) (9/10) and the finale, “Daimones” (4:54) (9/10).

Overall this is an admirably solid, well-conceived, and beautifully realized music. Definitely four stars. Maybe worth more. 

89.32 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; without question an excellent addition to any prog rocker's music collection.

18. KAYO DOT Coffins on Io

Toby Driver keeps on evolving. Perhaps more than any other artist . . . ever. Miles. Fripp. Genesis. Sylvian. Herbie. Mahavishnu John. Zorn. Ulver. Trying new styles, new personas, stretching himself instrumentally and compositionally, Toby Driver's Kayo Dot discography alone would compare favorably to any of the above shape-shifting artists--and Coffins on Io does not disappoint on that account. The much-mentioned Goth/glam-synth-pop sounds from the 1980s are absolutely present here (the over-long "Library Subterranean" [8:23] [17.5/20], the feel of the guitar chord sequence and vocal in the first two sections of "The Assassination of Adam"), but there is so much more. There is a haunting soundtrack jazziness to the saxophone-laden "Spirit Photography" (10:06) (19.5/20). And yet there are still vestiges of the Post Metal heaviness of previous Kayo Dot albums, such as on the second half of "The Assassination of Adam" (5:47) (7/10; a bit too grating for my ears), as well as some of the sensitivity and enjoyable melody-making of Toby's maudlin of The Well era ("Longtime Disturbance on the Miracle Mile" [4:07] [8/10]). Parts of "The Assassination of Adam," interestingly, also fit into the realm of psychedelia.

Two of my favorite three songs sound like they came straight out of the 80s. In the haunting "Offramp Cycle, Pattern 22" (9:25) (19/20) I hear bits and pieces of bands like DIF JUZ, TALK TALK, BLUE NILE, THE CURE, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, NEW ORDER, DEPECHE MODE, ICEHOUSE, ROXY MUSIC, and even STEELY DAN (in the drumming). 

Despite its length, "The Mortality of Doves" (11:54) (22.5/25) has one of my favorite Toby Driver vocals of all-time. Though it is very heavily treated in reverb, it is his most consistently 'normal' vocal ever. It is also heavily steeped in similarities to the glam styles of 1980s Glam rockers like Brian Ferry, Ira Davies and Dave Gahan. And yet it is Toby Driver--his own fresh, new territory.
Where the song suffers, however, is in its lack of variation and 'development' over its twelve minute length.

"Spirit Photography" escapes being pigeon-holed in the 1980s umbrella due to its spaciousness and its jazzier drums (though 1990s TALK TALK does come to mind). The gentle central groove with its DICK PARRY-like breathy sax is quite reminiscent, to me, of the wonderfully soporific songs "Breathe" and "Us and Them" from PINK FLOYD's Dark Side of the Moon.

Still, this is, for me, the most impressive--and my favorite--Kayo Dot album since Choirs of the Eye. The others have been either too unpolished, too dark and depressing, or seeming undeveloped and without direction. While Toby's signature chunky, rolling bass remains central to every song, Coffins on Io has seen Toby & Co. take a definite turn down a "road less travelled by" other bands. Let's hope that it is the one that makes all the difference.

89.05 on the Fish scales = B=/4.5 Stars. One of the Best Albums of 2014.

19. JAKOB Sines

Flawless, sophisticated Post Rock from Australia.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jeff Boyle / guitar,synth,samples 
- Maurice Beckett / bass 
- Jason Johnston / drums 
- Ben Knapp / piano (2) 
- Malcolm Struthers / double bass (2,4) 
- Rowan Prior / cello (2,4) 
- Andrew Thomson / viola (2,4) 
- Anne Loeser / violin (2,4) 
- Jonathan Tanner / violin (2,4) 
- Rebecca Struthers / violin (2,4) 
- Rhian Sheehan / strings arrangement (2,4)

Five star songs:  a soft, almost country/classical song due to its lavish strings arrangement, 2. "Emergent" (5:08) (9.5/10); a very catchy, melodic chord progression grows in a MONO way with tremolo guitars and great drumming before strings arrangement takes over the final third, 4. "Harmonia" (6:05) (9.5/10); atmospheric layers of guitars with insistent drums and bass, 1. "Blinded Them With Science" (6:57) (13.5/15); a spacious, spacey keyboard-filled soundscape with gently rolling tom play and bass lines builds gently, in a kind of ROBIN GUTHRIE-HAROLD BUDD way, 6. "Darkness" (5:37) (9/10), and; a really perfect soundscape with an awesome drum and bass play to go with the atmospheric guitars that flounders a bit in the second half--maybe didn't need to be this long, 5. "Resolve" (9:11) (18/20). 

Four star songs:  until the final two minutes, this rondo-like song is very formulaic in the standard PR tradition, 3. "Magna Carta" (6:15) (8.5/10) and the final song which sounds a bit like a slowed down, slightly edgier version of the first half of #3 "Magna Carta," 7. "Sines" (5:27) (7.5/10). 

88.82 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; B+; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.

20. FEM Sulla bolla di Sapone

With the drama and feel of a MEATLOAF album, the sound quality and musicianship are both excellent, the theatricity totally Italian. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Massimo Sabbatini / lead vocals
- Paolo Colombo / electric, acoustic & 12-string guitars, backing vocals
- Alberto Citterio / piano, Rhodes, Hammond, Mellotron, synths (MiniMoog Voyager, Dave Smith Poly Evolver, Doepfer Dark Energy), glockenspiel, backing vocals
- Marco Buzzi / 4- & 5-string basses
- Emanuele Borsati / drums, percussion, timpani, glockenspiel, backing vocals

1. "Il Giardino delle Consuetudini" (5:12) (8.5/10)
2. "Microgen" (2:47) (8.75/10)
3. "Microgen (Parte 2)" (3:05) (8/10)
4. "Il Mondo Bianco Opaco" (2:32) nice piano & orchestra interlude (4.5/5)
5. "Consapevolezza" (2:41) (8.25/10)
6. "Incontro con i Saponiani" (2:06) (5/5)
7. "Nella Città" (6:15) (8.75/10)
8. "Il Signore dei Pensanti" (5:25) (8.5/10)
9. "Processo alla Verità" (5:18) (8.25/10)
10. "Riflessioni" (2:55) (5/5)
11. "Il Peso della Conoscenza" (4:56) Sounds quite as if it could come from a LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO album. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)
12. "Un Viaggio Lungo un Istante" (4:02) A cool synth-heavy instrumental. Another top three. (9/10)
13. "Reviviscenza" (2:51) Another instrumental--with great fretless bass, drums and synth leads. The other top three song. (9.25/10)
14. "Ritorno al Giardino" (5:57) beautiful if a little contrived and melodramatic. Very polished. Like a MYSTERY song. (9.5/10)
15. "E il Mondo Scoppierà" (4:13) again, country mates (and label mates) LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO comes to mind as I listen to this one. (8.25/10)

Total Time: 60:15

88.70 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of dramatic Italian progressive rock music. Would that the whole album were as strong as the second half. 

21. DISTORTED HARMONY Chain Reaction

An intelligent heavy prog with moderated use of the elements that often make metal music too abrasive for my senses. In this I would compare them to Tool, Karnivool, Proghma-C, and even Haken and Muse in their ability to salvage sensitivity and melody within their music.

1. “Every Time She Smiles” (6:46) Stylistically and vocally this song almost could have come off of FREDDEGREDDE’s Brighter Skies album. It even has quite a few attributes of the music coming from Indie-pop band COLDPLAY or maybe MUSE. Nice. (13.5/15) 

2. “Children of Red” (5:08) There is a heavier, more metallic musical foundation to this one, yet their are still parts (mostly vocally) that remind me of COLDPLAY—at least until the growl-vocals at the end of the third minute. Then it reverts back to the more Indie-pop style choral vocals. Back to machine gun kick drum-led metal sound before fading delicately. A bit incongruous. (7/10)

3. “Misguided” (8:30) opens with some layered, multi-insturmental presentation of an engaging melodic riff before settling into a song that sounds straight from HAKEN’s Vision album. Then around 1:35 a cool multiple chord bridge takes us into another FREDDEGREDDE-like section. The first exposition of the chorus at 2:20 reminds me of KARNIVOOL. A nice FROST*-like instrumental midsection ends with some awesome lead guitar blending into screaming voice (treated) and keyboard before returning to the chorus. This one is a keeper. (18/20)  

4. “Nothing (But the Rain) (2:16) is a very nice, melodic keyboard- and industrial sound-based instrumental interlude that builds on a repetitive chord progression into a quick climax. (5/5)

5. “As One” (5:48) begins softly with treated guitar and keys before the full band comes kicking in. At the one minute mark a “normal” vocal enters over some straightforward though heavier Indie rock sound. Chorus and later vocal sections are heavier and treated with effects. The number of tempo and style changes is again reminiscent of “quick change artist” FREDDEGREDDE, though the music is more similar to HAKEN. Cool song. (9/10)

6. “Hollow” (6:07) opens with some gentle, emotional, slowly strummed electric guitar and piano chords. How deceiving! All hell breaks loose at 0:44 with a creeping, haunting insistent heavy sound. The “I am the wave…” section only adds to this unsettled feeling. A very cool song with all kinds of sonic incidentals to surprise and/or distract you. Super high pitch fret-tapping guitar solo blasts its way in at 3:44. Wow! The three sections of the chorus return but with all balls out—to great effect. Great finish à la PROGHMA-C. (10/10)

7. “As You Go” (3:12) sounds like a nice MOON SAFARI or RPWL song. A nice break from the heaviness before (and to follow). (8/10)    

8. “Natural Selection” (5:14) begins with an aggression that belies its melodic vocal sections. Kind of LINCOLN PARK-like in its two-facedness (even the “it doesn’t matter” lyric!) The band seems like it’s kind of draping a couple songs together into one. Again, FROST*s Experiments in Mass Appeal come to mind here:  too much being compacted into five minutes. (7/10)

9. “Methylene Blue” (7:43) opens with a synth arpeggio repeating itself. Gentle almost whispered vocal enters soon. At 1:25 the voice moves up an octave as other instruments begin to join in. At 2:10 a piano-based section takes over for a bit. Gentle NOSOUND-like treated vocal begins. Very pretty section. Very sensitive and emotional—dreamy. At 3:50 the full band kicks in for “Praise the sun before she goes away” lyric. Electric guitar solo bridges between another louder, more aggressive section. Then, at the five minute mark, a drum-led staccato odd timed section ensues. Wonderful to hear the band weave their way in and out of this rhythmically complicated section. Just as suddenly it all drops out and we are restored to the piano arpeggios beneath the plaintive treated voice singing “Methylene blue. I am sorry for killing you” over a few time till the song’s end. Great tune! Feels like it should be accompanied by a sci-fi video (like KARNIVOOL’s awesome “We Are.”) (15/15)   

Probably my favorite prog metal/heavy prog album of the year (I eventually find one or two). Fully worth four stars and more. Excellent instrumentalists playing some awesomely complex and yet engaging and beautiful music—all topped off with a great vocalist. Their future is bright! I, for one, will be watching!

88.09 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars, a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.

22. CIRRUS BAY The Search for Joy

This is a very pleasant collection of pretty, melodic songs. Usually based in piano or strummed guitar, the songs provide strong foundations for the steady singing of Sharon Acle. There is an undeniable similarity to the music of 1970s prog heroes RENAISSANCE--though the instrumentalists are not as accomplished or as steeped in the traditions of classical music as John Tout or Terry Dunford. I've found this album much more accessible than their previous release, I feel the production is still lagging in the quality that one hears from modern musicians. Most of the time the sound and song stylings and moods evoked by In Search for Joy actually have more similarity to the "flower child" music of the late 60s and early 70s--bands like America and The Association (and, I have to admit,  Stereolab) playing beautiful songs by composers like Jimmy Webb, Burt Bacharach, Todd Rundgren or Gregg Alexander. Listening to In Search for Joy is like taking a leisurely stroll through the park on lovely summer day. 

     My beef with Cirrus Bay is that, in my opinion, the band has still not yet realized its tremendous potential. All of the musicians are playing it too safe, too straight and narrow, not enough adventurousness and craziness. This is more a like a search for Joy when instead they've stumbled into a permanent state of bliss. Sharon has a beautiful voice--so peaceful and calming. Bill writes very catchy melodies with supportive chord progressions and his keyboard and guitar play is competent. The drumming is solid but metronomic. But where is the vim and vigor, risk and reckless abandon that makes one reach the high joys of ecstasy?

Favorite songs:  5. "Waking Wild" (8:01) (13.5/15); 8. "Learning to Fly" (12:02) (22.5/25); 4. "Out of the Box" (9:28) (18/20), and; 1. "Song of the Wind" (8:58) (especially the final three minutes) (18.5/20); 6. the five-part instrumental suite, "A Door Into Yesterday" (7:53) (13.5/15)

Also good: 2. "Cotton Skies" (4:50) (8.25/10); 3. "Me and Wokara" (7:47) (despite its tedious lyrics) (12/15), and; 7. "The August Zone" (4:30) (thanks to the do-da-do/ba-ba-ba-ba harmony vocals) (8.25/10).

88.08 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.


While not as breathtakingly fresh as 2012's stunning debut, ~, Belighted is a step forward for this young duo of Russian songwriters. With Belighted iamthemorning steps into modern recording studio, collaborates with seasoned prog rock musicians, and lays down a more diverse palette of songs. What for me (and other reviewers) has really caught my attention is the growth and maturation of singer Marjana Semkina. Her delivery of the lyrics adds such a powerful emotional depth and 'heaviness' as to in effect upgrade what could be fairly run-of-the-mill songs into powerful masterpieces. I know of very few singers in progressive rock music--past or present--who have this kind of effect on a song's overall impact. In particular, "Romance," "The Simple Story" (3:30) (9/10), "Gerda" (4:52) (9/10) and "Reprise of Light/No Light" (5:17) (8/10) and the first and last "Intermission" benefit most dramatically from Ms. Semkina's growth--though no song graced with her vocal touch fails to engage and win over the listener. I have to agree, however, with other reviewers that I think it an overall damaging flaw of the album that Marjana's vocals are not mixed more prominently into the forefront.

The theme of having "Intermission" songs between most of the full-length, vocalized songs continues from ~ though here there are only five to work their magic between the ten full-length songs (most of which are presented in pairs). There is a difference on Belighted as the Intermissions are not so folk/neoclassical oriented. They are more like sound experiments, each showcasing a different instrument:  Marjana's dreamy voice, guitar, piano & waves, cello & piano, and strings and voice, respectively. Each, in turn, is treated with various and sundry sound engineering effects. 

Again, I can't say that this album has hit me with the same kind of power as their debut--but ~ was so fresh and unexpected. Belighted comes at you with Marjana's now familiar voice and a greater variety of backup and stylings, though Gleb's extraordinary piano work and strings arrangements are still quite present and essential to most every song. I am quite fascinated and taken with the five Intermissions, but there are two rather delicate piano-centric songs that don't lift off as well as my hopes and expectations desire despite Gleb's extraordinary talent ("Crowded Corridors" [8:44] [8/10] and "Os Lunatum"[4:32] [8/10]). I think I'm waiting for Marjana's input to take the songs to another level, to a some kind of soaring crescendo. These are by no means bad songs--and are intricately crafted pieces of beauty. They just could have been . . . more. And then there are two songs that simply don't click with me: "The Howler" (3:57) (7/10) and "Romance" (3:02) (7/10).

I agree that this is no sophomore slump. Belighted is a collection of beautiful, intricately crafted songs. Gleb and Marjana both display extraordinary growth, artistry, and skill. I want to give these shining young stars of modern music five stars but I think--I hope--that there is more, even better, music to come.

Five star songs: "To Human Misery," "The Simple Story," "Gerda," the Kate Bush-like "5/4, "K.O.S." (6:06) (9/10), and all of the "Intermissions."

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 star album that, though a near-masterpiece, unfortunately, leaves room for improvement. 

24. HOMÍNIDO Estirpe Lítica

This is an amazing collection of diversified songs each of very complex and unpredictable structures and moods. From the very first listen I was literally blown away by the power, the complex weaves of the high quality musicianship, the raw power of the female vocals, and the broad spectrum of sounds and styles used by this group--in each and every song! The contrasts between song--from each and every song to the next--is incredible! An album that simply must be heard to be believed. 

Line-up / Musicians:
 - Francisco Martín / Bass 
- Rodrigo González Mera / Drums, percussion 
- Pablo Cárcamo / Guitar, keyboards
- Eliana Valenzuela / Vocals
Guest musicians:
- Cristopher Hernández / Trumpet
- Benjamín Ruz / Violin

1. "Simun" (6:04) opens with a very jazzy drum, bass and electric guitar interplay with singer extraordinaire Eliana Valenzuela's voice calmly and confidently providing the glue to hold it all together. Singing in Spanish, Eliana's (somewhat Shakira-like) voice is truly amazing. Her confidence and control are extraordinary--evoking such powerful emotion so effortlessly. The song definitely turns rocker--even metalish. Awesome opener! (9/10)

2. "Ciudades de Piedra" (5:21) opens with some gently strummed electric guitar jazz chords. Then the full band kicks in--joined by a haunting violin in the background--while Eliana again toys with our emotions with a sultry vocal. The virtuosic drumming on display is remarkable! So fluid and clear! And fine performances on electric guitar and bass--bringing in quite a Latin flavor to this polished rocker. The drum and heavy guitar interplay in the final minute are wonderful! (9/10)

3. "Insano Devenir" (4:58) is a rocker with a little harder edge and less development or signatory sound than I'd like. Maybe that's why it's called something like "becoming insane." Until the singing begins it could well be a heavy metal song from the 80s. (7/10)

4. "Desde las cumbres al mer" (5:00) begins as an instrumental build around a two chord electrified acoustic guitar three note arpeggio. Then suddenly at the two minute mark it burst forth as a very cool, very emotional violin-accompanied vocal. (9/10)

5. "Shalagram Shila" (7:16) is a Indo-Raga influenced piece that I adore. Great use of voice and electric guitar and violin. (13.5/15)

6. "Eterno retorno" (8:43) opens like a jazz-period SANTANA piece from his jazzy-jam period (Caravanserai to Moonflower) but develops as so much more! Into Omar Lopez-Rodriguez (The Mars Volta) territory and beyond! The horns are so awesome contrasted with the blaring guitar and roiling percussion interplay! And what drum and bass play! Outstanding jam! (18/20)

7. "Cabeza de Piedra" (4:30) starts so powerfully--almost metal-like--until the song settles into support for the A Section of Eliana's vocal. The chorus finds the music returning to the awesome heaviness--including the amazing power that emanates from Eliana's voice! Despite all this the song kind of misses something. It's like a Stevie Nicks song gone over the top. (Except for the amazing drumming.) (8/10)

8. "Mi roca interna" (3:57) opens with some percussive instrument that sounds folk-traditional and develops into a vehicle to accompany an amazingly controlled and sensitive vocal from Ms. Valenzuela. Awesome atmospheric keys and volume-controlled guitar play accompanying the vocal. (9/10)

9. "Adoquines queretanos" (5:11) opens with some ominous electrified acoustic guitar and ultra-deep bass tones before the song bursts into what sounds like an electrified folk melody. The traditional folk feel persists throughout this song--with an awesomely delicate instrumental collective occurring in the fourth and fifth minutes. (8/10)

10. "Estirpe lítica" (6:34) opens with some awesome slow volume pedaled electric guitar chords before the song bursts into full metal. Again the drums are really on display here. Great rhythmic interplay and weave among the drums, bass, and guitarist. At 1:30 when Eliana comes in things calm down--but this is only a feint as 20 seconds later everybody kicks it back into full drive. Eliana is kick-ass powerful yet sultry. How does she do this?! (8.75/10)

11. "Salar" (3:31) opens with the sounds of seaside gulls before hand-held box & tongue marimba, muted trumpet solo over hand percussion and beautiful, sensitive acoustic guitar strumming and picking. Beautiful relaxing song. (9/10)

12. "Magma" (8:26) is a wonderful Latin song sounding very much like LAGARTIJA's "Particelle" except for the fuzzed vocals and finger-tapped guitar play during the choruses. It even has some heavier, almost-Zeuhl sounding parts (instrumental sections beginning at 2:50, 4:30 and 6:26). Really a masterful song--not too heavy, nor too jazzy--more like UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA with a little Hendrix or Clapton thrown over the top. (18/20)

A powerful collection of intricately composed and virtuosically performed songs.

87.90 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. One of the best surprises of the year.

25. HUMANA PROG Flori, Frutti, Farfalle

The music from Flori, Frutti, Farfalle (link to Italian promotional video) is an unusual musical ride in that its pop-folk-flavored music is acoustic guitar based. But, when confronted with the story of the origins of these songs (all penned by MAXOPHONE's original lyricist, Paolo Farina, in 1972-3 and all, until now, previously unreleased), one can understand.
1. "Fiori, frutti, farfalle" (20:00) begins with a beautiful, HARMONIUM-like first few minutes. The gorgeous tapestry of picked acoustic guitar, violin, harpsichord, flute, and hand percussives weave their magic for the first 2:25. Then Paolo's vocal introduces a new section--which is soon backed by a more traditional rock band (including full drum kit and electric bass, guitars, and synths.)
     At 4:35 things slow back down into a dreamy, wordless vocal passage in which Paolo sings in his upper registers while a violin plays below him an octave. At 6:05 a section of full-out rock ensues (think "Sweet Home, Alabama"). The vocal, however, continues to anchor the music firmly in 1970s RPI. Then a very surprising turn occurs at 7:21 in which a new section begins with strumming acoustic guitars backing a bird-like call and mokingbird-like echo response by flute. Gorgeous. The final 30 seconds of this 'duel' is an all-out war of screaming, jamming instruments. Awesome.
     At 9:07 begins the most majestic section of the song. First Paolo's beautiful vocal backed with electric piano & organ, then at 10:08, we are introduced to one of the most beautiful melody lines to have ever graced these music-loving ears. This melody from Heaven is at first introduced by a quiet flute, and then taken over by a gorgeous violin backed by an organ-lead rock combo. Even as Paolo and the band return to some previously exposed vocal melodies and band structures, the 'divine melody' continues to maintain its distractive presence. Even at 13:44, when the songs tempo is doubled, the violin-carried melody continues to run away as Paolo and his band seem to give chase.
     At 14:44 a JAN AKKERMAN-like lead electric guitar takes over with an  incredible  two-part solo (think of the "Tommy" section of Moving Wave's "Eruption"--the second of which maestros JEFF BECK or CORRADO RUSTICI would be proud). Gut-wrenchingly emotional!
     At 16:44, a kind of laid back whole group recapitulation of some of the song's high points ensues. There is a great call and response section happening here between Paolo and his background chorus.
     At 17:49 things wind down with a slower, minor-keyed return to the song's opening acoustic guitar arpeggio, some gorgeous floating flute work, and this time with the addition of a bluesy lead acoustic guitar jamming along. SERGIO LATTUADA (MAXOPHONE)'s harpsichord play joins in to take the song to its "Cinema Show"-like conclusion. This is the best prog epic I've heard from a 2014 release. (40/40)

2. "Bianco, Rosso, Verde" (3:51) rhythmically strummed acoustic guitar, hand drums, and spacey synths over which singer-songwriter Paolo Farina and his background vocalists sing a light, bouncy pop melody. (7/10)

3. "Cerce in Te" (3:27) opens with a tanpura and santoor giving it a Middle eastern sound. But when an AMERICA-like acoustic guitar riff joins in--and hand drums and flute--the song takes off in another direction. (7/10)

4. "Mamma Pubblicita" (3:50) acoustic guitar and hand percussives accompany Paolo on this pleasant jaunt into Kindergarten. Later male b box, jazzy flute, and second guitar join in on the storytelling. (7/10)

5. "Nel prato più verde" (4:47) is a favorite in spite of the almost exact lifting of AMERICA's chords and strumming from their song "Three Roses" (from their 1972 eponymously titled debut album). Luckily, Paolo has chosen to use his own vocal melody (and, hopefully, lyrical content). Hand percussives, airy flute, and acoustic lead guitar help out on this one. (8/10)

6. "Ti chiedo scusa" (2:25) Both the acoustic guitar work and vocal on this one are a little grittier in the A Section--which I really like. The chorus, however, finds Paolo returning to an upbeat and very catchy melody (begging his pardon?) Paolo is helped out here by tambourine, violin and second guitar. (9/10)

7. "La ballata degli amici perduti" (5:00) begins with a lovely, slow folk delivery of guitar picking/arpeggiating with the accompaniment of a string quartet and hand percussives. The wonderfully delicious intro is followed by an equally wonderful vocal in Paolo's most plaintive tones. This song reminds me strongly of some of the best work of the legendary Jacques Brel. (9/10)

87.0 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a wonderful prog folk addition to Prog World.

 Overall this album is really a very pleasant if sometimes innocuous listen. The highlights being, of course, the prog epic that opens the album, and its two final songs. The near perfection of the album's epic title song alone cause me to rate this album at least a four star value. The good but not-all-great pop-folk songs that make up the remainder of the album make it impossible for me in good conscience to rate Fiori, Frutti, Farfalle full five star masterpiece. But I want to! This is an album well worth hearing!



HANS ZIMMER Interstellar

Once in a great while a film is so enhanced by its musical soundtrack as to make it bigger, better and more impactful than it would be without it. Such was the case with Christopher Nolan's epic sci-fi movie, Interstellar. Special recognition must be extended to London virtuoso organist Roger Sayer who brilliantly interpreted the final versions of Hans Zimmer's notations and ideas for the film's actual soundtrack. Organ was the central, most significant instrument in this soundtrack, so, Maestro Sayer's contribution was no little thing. 

PRINCE Art Official Age

1."Art Official Cage"3:41
2."Clouds" (featuring Lianne La Havas)4:34
4."The Gold Standard"5:53
5."U Know"3:56
6."Breakfast Can Wait"3:54
7."This Could Be Us"5:12
8."What It Feels Like" (featuring Andy Allo)3:53
9."affirmation I & II" (featuring Lianne La Havas)0:40
10."Way Back Home" (featuring Delilah)3:05
12."Time" (featuring Andy Allo)6:49
13."affirmation III" (featuring Lianne La Havas)3:28