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 ( http://newprogreleases.blogspot.com/p/2017.html), 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 four (4) masterpieces, 12"minor" masterpieces,  and ten (10) 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
10. TIGER MOTH TALES Cocoon

11. PINGVINORKESTERN Push
12. LATTE E MIELE Passio Secundum Mattheum - The Complete Work 
13. JERZY ANTCZAK Ego, Georgius
14. SYD ARTHUR Sound Mirror
15. ELECTRIC ORANGE Volume 10
16. HUMANA PROG Flori, Frutti, Farfalle
17. IAMTHEMORNING Belighted
18. TAYLOR WATSON (A)Synchronous
19. HOMÍNIDO Estirpe Lítica
20. MONO The Last Dawn

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



Honorable Mentions:
31. PHI Now the Waves of Sound Remain
32. FREDDEGREDDE Brighter Skies
33. AGORÀ Ichinen
34. ATOMIC APE Swarm
35. CORVUS STONE II
36. SUNN O))) and ULVER Terrestrials
37. ALEX CARPANI 4 Destinies
38. 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!




4. LATTE E MIELE Passio Secundum Mattheum - The Complete Work 

Another RPI band from the 1970s returning for an encore of creative output in the 21st Century--this one well worth hearing! Just look at that lineup of narrators: it's a veritable who's who of classic RPI! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marcello Giancarlo Dellacasa / electric & Classical guitars
- Oliviero Lacagnina / keyboards, piano
- Massimo Gori / bass, vocals
- Alfio Vitanza / drums, vocals
With:
- Alvaro Fella (Jumbo) / narrator 
- Lino Vairetti (Osanna) / narrator 
- Silvana Aliotta (Circus 2000) / narrator 
- Paolo Carelli (Pholas Dactylus) / narrator 
- Aldo de Scalzi (Picchio dal Pozzo) / narrator, mixing 
- Sophya Baccini / narrator 
- Elisa Montaldo (Il Tempio delle Clessidre) / narrator 
- Giorgio D'Adamo (New Trolls) / narrator 
- Max Manfredi / narrator 
- Simonluca / narrator 
- Paolo Griguolo (Picchio dal Pozzo) / narrator 
- GnuQuartet / violin, viola, cello, flute
- Coro Polifonico Classe Mista della Spezia / chorus vocals
- Sergio Chierici / choir director & conductor

1. "Introduzione" (3:11) great start--beautiful blend of old/orchestral instruments and arrangements with rock. (9.5/10)
2. "Il Giorno degli Azzimi" (1:03) (4.5/5)
3. "Ultima Cena" (2:56) (9.5/10)
4. "Il Pane e il Sangue dell'Alleanza" (3:54) great use of classical guitar, orchestral strings and full choir. (9.75/10)
5. "Getzemani" (5:26) gentle beginning with Shaft-like cymbal play, orchestral strings, and harpsichord over bass and sparse drums. Impassioned singing from lead singer mixes well within musical weave and oboe. Brilliant song--stunning arrangement (and ballsy narration choices). (10/10) 
6. "I Falsi Testimoni" (2:41) classical guitar beneath narration turns into multi-voice choral weave and then single rock singer. Then it turns full-out rock! (5/5)
7. "Il Pianto" (1:51) gentle and perhaps Vivaldi-borrowed in music with the lead singer singing the main Vivaldi melody. (4.25/5)

8. "Il Rinnegamento di Pietro" (2:46) drama regarding Peter's denials. Awesome oompah motif in the second half. (9/10)

9. "Il Prezzo del Sangue" (3:41) rockin' presentation made better through orchestral embellishments. I just love it when those choir moments hit! It's like bringing church into a theater! (8.75/10)
 
10. "Giuda" (1:05) an interesting mix of styles thrown together briefly. (4.25/5)

11. "Il Re del Giudei" (1:54) built upon two themes introduced in the previous song, here fully meshed out with rock band and full orchestral support. Nice. Prog doesn't get much better than this. (5/5)

12. "Barabba" (1:00) Middle Eastern horn with female narration and then choir and dramatic orchestration. (4.25/5)

13. "Toccata per Organo" (2:29) solo church pipe organ. Nothing very new or ground-breaking. It feels more like it's supposed to serve as an interlude in the church service/stations of the cross. (4.25/5)

14. "Il Calvario" (3:40) two narrators over tympani before Eric Woolfson/Alan Parsons-like choir with rock beat and orchestral support passage takes over. Beautiful and powerful. Great electric guitar solo over the marching beat and heart-wrenching strings. Amazing song! (10/10)

15. "Aria della Croce" (2:37) plaintive male singing over delicate music of harp, classical guitar and tremolo strings. The musicians gel into full rock spectrum as chorus enters followed by a brief guitar solo and then classical guitar foundation with pulsing strings oboe and horns. Beautiful! (9.25/10)

16. "La Spartizione della Tunica" (2:48) feels like pure RPI bombast. Full instrumental. Not my favorite. Feels like set/costume change orchestra filler. (It is a piece not present on the original 1972 release.) (8.5/10)

17. (Untitled) (4:00) Lush strings beneath narration turns into a cool rock opera collective piece. Again, I just love the presence and arrangements for the choirs. Ends with a variation on a famous motif from classical music. (10/10)

18. "Dall'Ora Sesta all'Ora Nona" (1:03) another play upon a famous melody line from a piece of classical music. (4.5/5)

19. "Il Velo del Tempio" (2:17) after a long opening of narration, this one turns into a great, bombastic, choir-centric piece. (5/5)
 
20. "Come un Ruscello Che..." (3:53) long narration over sensitive GENESIS-like soundscape is soon replaced by sensitive male singing and then by a gorgeous choral section, smoothly/seemlessly singing the same melody. With less than two minutes to go, the music shifts into a quieter version of the "Il Calvario" march with thick strings/synth washes and angelic choir "ooh"s. (A repeat of the opening "Introduzione.") Beautiful. Great ending to an amazing whole. (9.5/10)

Total Time: 54:16

Even though this is an "updated" remake of the band's debut album from 1972, it is awesome! So well realized! And, despite the risk factor/trappings of trying to adapt music as a celebration or interpretation of religious material (the New Testament), Latte E Miele come through and give us something on a symphonic scale similar to and probably better than those of contemporaries and countrymates New Trolls--reminding me of one of the main inspirations for the existence of progressive rock music: to try express great themes of literature, history, science, and thought through classically-influenced rock music.

93.39 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music across all sub-genres: reminding us of the supreme realizations of human artistry. 

 



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



5. 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.




6. TIGER MOTH TALES Cocoon

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
With:
- 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!




7. ELECTRIC ORANGE Volume 10

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.




8. 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.




9. 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".




10. 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.




11. PINGVINORKESTERN Push

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!




12. 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.




13. 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.)




14. 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.




15. 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.




16. 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!






  *** SPECIAL FEATURE***

  SPECIAL CONTRIBUTION TO MUSIC IN THE AREA OF ORIGINAL MOVIE SOUNDTRACK:


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
3."Breakdown[21]"4:04
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
11."Funknroll"4:08
12."Time" (featuring Andy Allo)6:49
13."affirmation III" (featuring Lianne La Havas)3:28