Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Top Albums of the Year 2015, Part 2: Highly Recommended

Other Albums from 2015 Worth Listening To:

Below you will find a somewhat-ordered catalogue of the album releases from 2015. These are albums that I have determined to be good or interesting enough to recommend to you, the reader, for your own exposure, awareness, and/or exploration; these are albums that were not, in my opinion, good enough to belong on my "Masterpieces" page, but which, I thought, deserved some credit and attention. 
     You will find that some of the albums below are reviewed or commented upon, while many have nothing but cover, artist and title, lineup of musicians and songs list. (Thank you New Prog Releases @ http://newprogreleases.blogspot.com/.) This variance is usually due to a lack of time and a lack of willingness or desire to give each and every album the time and energy necessary to write a review. This is done without any intent of disrespect; the albums have been included because I think them worthy enough to have others try them out and form their own opinions.





THE AMAZING Picture You

I've been listening to Picture You long enough now to note that it is . . . different than 2011's masterpiece and my Favorite Album of my favorite year of progressive rock music, Gentle StreamPicture You has more reverb in the vocals, a greater presence of keyboards, more prominent female vocals, and, I guess, a greater diversity of sound and song palette--which sounds like a winning combination, right? It could be, but I can't honestly say that I like Picture You as much as Gentle Stream. There are some great high points and no terrible low points but something about Gentle Stream just sucks me in and holds me warm and excited--to this day, even. 

1. "Broken" (5:04) opens with an amazing sound and not one but two very catchy CURE-like guitar riffs. The vocals a are a bit back in the mix, but are accompanied by some wonderful background vocals--female included! Not quite THE CLIENTELE but definitely reaching back for more of that 70s warmth. The slow down, soft down, outro part that begins at 3:40 is quite unexpected and quite gorgeous--the vocals wafting and weaving delightfully among each other. (10/10)

2. "Picture You" (9:27) opens with not one, but two very engaging chord riffs before the song tempo and vocal enter. The guitar arpeggio once again reminds me of JESSE COLIN YOUNG, the voice like that of former Fleetwood Mac guitarist, BOB WELCH, on his late-1977 album, French Kiss (remember his monster hit, "Sentimental Lady"?). The instrumental section that begins at 4:30 begins simply enough with slow-changing guitar chords played as two- or three-note arpeggios but gradually building support from the rest of the band, with Reine Fiske's atmospheric work staying fairly far in the background. Drummer Moussa Fadera's jazz-lleanings are given nice room for show. Though this is a nine and a half minute song, it speeds by incredibly fast. And I just can't get enough of it! (20/20)

3. "Circles" (6:23) mellows things down quite a little. Guitars, organ, slow pace, catchy guitar riffs, gorgeous female-backed vocals from Christoffer Gunrup, it even blesses us with a gorgeous all-accoustic guitar outro from three guitars. It would seem that this song has no flaws save nothing that shocks or shakes you, only that it is a perhaps a bit too sleepy pretty. (9/10)

4. "Safe Island" (8:35) sounds as if we're being taken underwater: even the drums that are, I believe, here meant to be central and showy are somehow muted or softened by recording effects. At 5:30 Reine and Christoffer take us into a three minute ride into outer space with their complementary guitar and keyboard/ computer effects (Christoffer going psychedelic prog? Oh, my!) (16/20)

5. "Keep It Going" (5:43) reminds me of a kind of floating interlude, meant to give the audience a little nap before going into Side Two. A little monotonous and soporific. But still pretty. (7/10)

6. "Fryshusfunk" (7:29) is a Reine Fiske showcase very much in the vein of his work on LANDBERK's last two albums before that band,s dissolution. A slow jazz-pop PAUL WELLER/STYLE COUNCIL-like foundation and structure works pretty well for the first two minutes, but the real meat of the song (for me, REINE FISKE junkie that I am) takes off after that 2:15-2:35 bridge. The heavy, blues-rock section that begins at 5:00 is hypnotic like a whirlpool, but also like Charybdis, the whirlpool of the Straits of Messina, it is deceptively dangerous as it threatens to suck you in. (13.5/15)

7. "Tell Them You Can't Leave" (4:08) shows the band backing off a bit on the reverb. This is the first song on Picture You that sounds like it could have come straight off of Gentle Stream. What is disappointing is the song's lack of melodic hook--in the vocals or in the guitar play. At times it almost sounds like it's trying to go BLUE ÖYSTER CULT "Don't Fear the Reaper." But it doesn't. The drumming, b fox and acoustic guitar strumming are, for me, the most interesting parts of this song. (7/10)

8. "The Headless Boy" (4:02) sounds very much like an early EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL (first decade era) song, with Ben on lead and Tracey on harmonies. Nice song but would not have been one of the songs to make my "EBTG Faves" playlist. Rather innocuous and forgettable. (7/10)

9. "Captured Light" (8:13) opens with some CROSBY, STILLS, NASH & YOUNG power and distortion. Then harmonized voices! This is cool! The bass is awesome. I really enjoy the weave of layered voices despite their difficult-to-discern lyrics. Though the vocals veer the song more into the territory of THE ASSOCIATION, the instrumental part definitely stay strongly reminiscent of CSN&Y. At 3:34 a keyboard-generated strings sound slowly descends eight notes before roller-coasting to the end of a fourth measure where it starts over, repeating its infectious hook for the next two minutes. At 5:45 the song takes a rather odd and incongruous turn to an all acoustic guitar format with Christoffer singing among them. This to the end. A bit of a letdown. I really liked the CSN&Y/ASSOCIATION blend. (13.5/15)

10. "Winter Dress" (5:28) builds itself around a slide guitar riff that gets repeated and throughout the song behind Christoffer's ROBERT SMITH-like mumbled lyrics. The drum play is, for once, played fairly straight on and recorded well into the mix. I like the guitars being up front and the clarity of the bass, drums, and acoustic guitars. I guess this might be the key for me: less "under water" music, less distortion and reverb (though I love reverb!), more return to the folk rock sounds of Gentle Stream. (9/10)

Where Gentle Stream elicited warmth and inclusion and familiarity, I think that the muddiness of parts of Picture You kind of holds one at a distance, isolates the listener from feeling included in the music. I'm not sure of the band's intentions with Picture You, but, thought there is still some great music here, it is not nearly as engaging and energizing as the all-out jams Christoffer, Reine and the boys were luring us in with their end-of-song interplay throughout Gentle Stream

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

I forgot to mention how much I enjoy the stepped up presence and input of the keyboards.




THE TEA CLUB Grappling

Line-up
Patrick McGowan - Vocals, Guitar
Dan McGowan - Vocals, Guitar
Jamie Wolff - Bass, Violin, Cello
Reinhardt McGeddon - Keyboards
Tony Davis - Drums

It's taken me a long time to get around to this late arrival to the 2015 catalog as I was fully enmeshed in trying to keep up with the new releases of 2016 before I was able to acquire this one. But time has given me a good chance to get to know this album pretty well. I'd read many reviewers commenting on the "new direction" The Tea Club had apparently taken with this album. I see it--mostly in the form of a much more present and flashy drummer and keyboard player than the last album. (Welcome Tony and Reinhardt!)

1. "The Magnet" (6:07) is a vibrant, intricately arranged song with stellar performances from all band members--especially the way the guitars and keyboards mimic and weave in and out of each other's shadows. I love the pace of this one. A pretty-near flawless song and my favorite on the album. (10/10)

2. "Remember Where You Were" (7:43). Though new keyboard player Reinhardt McGeddon shone on the opening song, this is the one which really puts on full display his tremendous talents--layers and layers worth. The pacing of this song is a bit slow and syncopated for my tastes--or perhaps I find it difficult to match the rhythm section's play with the vocal and keyboard play. (Are they playing on the same song?) It almost has a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway "In the Cage" feel to it. (12/15)

3. "Dr. Abraham" (8:11) opens with a full low end, drumming on full display, with organ and guitars diddling in the background. When the vocals enter things cohere and then the music shape-shifts beneath. Over the course of the first two minutes I am befuddled by the sudden and, to my ears, incongruous time and dynamic shifts. The story about some kind of Doctor Abraham is told with quite some emotion--and, in the fourth minute, with two separate vocal lines going on simultaneously. Meanwhile, the heavy rhythm section and noodling organ and synths continue to play as if they are oblivious to one another. One of those songs whose choices for musical and vocal expression mystify me. The slow build from 5:00 to 6:00 is cool. The drummer is very good, but maybe a little too busy--which is a distraction for me. The "lamination" finale is just weird. (10.5/15)

4. "The Fox in the Hole" (4:45) opens with violin and acoustic guitars weaving a kind of medieval tapestry. Vocals soon join in--later to be joined by bass and drums and other multiple other voices. Electric guitar and organ 7 synths fill in the weave as the scattered, layered multiple vocals play around the sound field. Interesting. Adventurous. A top three song for me. (9/10)

6. "Wasp in a Wig" (6:16) opens in standard rock form with a pleasant lower register singing voice singing a fairly normal, straightforward vocal. At 1:10 the music drops and bass chord play are all we are left with. Gradually, a jazzy kind of collaboration builds before the vocals resume for a bit. A very nice drum and keyboard/synth solo ensue into the fourth minute. The vocals rejoin and sing with feeling as they are harmonized by the brother's background voice. (I've never been able to pinpoint which of the McGowan brothers' voices is which.) Another synth solo fills a chunk of the fifth minute before a Gentle Giant three-way vocal weave takes over. The final minute recapitulates the 1:10 quiet section with gentle key chords, drums and vocalise. Another top three song. (9/10)

7. "The White Book" (9:57) is the longest album on the album. As the band are fond of doing, The Tea Club use this temporal expanse to patiently explore several tangents--one full of subtlety and delicacy, the other with bombast and layers woven into one. My fourth top three song. (18/20)

85.625 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to the lexicon of progressive rock music.




SVETAMUZIKA Present Simple

Young Russian keyboardist, SVETLANA MARINCHENKO is a name you might want to remember. Not only is she a force to be reckoned with but with this, her debut album, she has managed to not only produce wonderfully engaging music, incite truly superlative performances from her collaborators, but release the single best sound engineered album--of any kind--that I have ever heard come out of Russia or any of the former Soviet republics. I'm assuming that we owe this to the amazing vision and ear of chief composer, Svetlana, herself, but also to the skill and ear of collaborator/engineer Kira Malevskaya. Well done! It is so refreshing to finally hear a record from Russia that is equal in sound and compositional quality to that that we in the West have been used to. Plus that has got to be one of the coolest album cover photos ever!
    Much of the music has a sound quite similar to that of the music being made in the 1970s and 1980s by artists like JOE SAMPLE and the band he came from, THE CRUSADERS, and the likes of DAVE GRUISIN and his GRP Records label as well as LONNIE LISTON SMITH--all of which has been carried forward and perpetuated by the "smooth jazz" movement with artists like Boney James and Rick Braun among many, many others. Funky, melodic, downbeat jazz, with groovy, highly cool, masterful/virtuosic soloists--all of which can be extended to include the music and artists contributing to these songs. Special recognition going out to bassist extraordinaire, Anton Davidyants, as well as to horn player, Roman Kvachlov, guitarist Martin Miller, sax player Dmitry Tsepilov, flutist Ekaterina Chistohina, and even drummer Peter Ivshin (whose snare and toms sound a bit too hollow and short-gated for my liking--except on most of "Moonlight Therapy").

1. "Not Available" (9:59) (17/20); 2. "Blues for Boss" (6:22) (8/10); 3. "Dangerous Connection" (8:29) (17/20); 4. "Love Space" (8:49) (18/20); 5. "Spring's Movement" (6:23) (9/10); 6. "Moonlight Therapy" (8:11) with it's purposely old- (vinyl-)sounding piano intro and nice brushwork by drummer Peter Ivshin (13.5/15); the funk'n'groovin' weave of 7. "Railway" (6:43) (the most proggy song on the album) (14/15), and 8. "Blues 'n' Funk" (7:13) (10.5/15).


A solid 4-plus star album of consistency and clarity, included here mostly for its unusually distinctive production quality and high caliber musicianship. I'm still not sure this should be included in a "Progressive Rock" music compendium, but it's definitely worth shouting out about! The best Jazz-Rock/Fusion album of 2015!

85.6 on the Fish scales = B/four stars; a wonderful presentation of beautifully produced jazz-rock fusion.




STEVEN WILSON Hand. Cannot. Erase.

Leave it to the genius of Steven Wilson to pick up on the disturbing story of London socialite Joyce Vincent and make the marvel and mystery of her death into the inspiration for an album—a brilliant album full of the musings and vignettes of subtle criticism of our 21st Century society. The possibility that a young, popular, almost-engaged woman of caring parents could go three years without being discovered or missed seems ludicrous, even impossible. Especially when considering that the television was on, the window wide open, and the mail and bills kept piling up inside on the floor of her front door—for three years! Amazing.

    What makes Steven Wilson such a genius, to me, is not his reverence for the “masters” and “masterpieces” of the past, not his incredible attention to detail in the engineering and production rooms, not his proclivity for attracting the most amazing instrumentalists to contribute to his songs and tours, but it is in his insightful articulation of the signs and symptoms of the disease and decay of contemporary society. And he’s done it almost from the beginning—at least from Lightbulb Sun on. 
     I actually don’t like much of Steven's music. As sophisticated and catchy as it is, as well-constructed and well-performed as it is, as well-produced as it is, it is usually lacking something, je ne said quoi, (I can never pinpoint it)—which is what makes me rarely feel the desire to return to many of his albums. In Steven Wilson I recognize the true genius in his lyrics, his subtle yet oh-so timely and poignant social commentary. When we look back in 50 years for music that gave us a look at the real issues troubling our society in the opening of the 21st Century, we will be able to find it in the songs of Steven Wilson. 
     Hand. Cannot. Erase. is definitely a work of genius, definitely a testament to our troubled times. Whereas some groups choose to focus on the big picture issues like Anekdtoen, Ulver, and Paatos, Steven Wilson chooses to focus on the microcosm—on individuals or scenes that provide us with pictures into the imbalances in our society, the odd patterns in our collective and individual consciousnesses, the disease eating away at our souls. Kudos to you, Steven, for continuing to find the cojones, the drive, as well as the right stories to satisfy your obvious need to place that ever-disturbing mirror in front of our eyes. We are such an odd—disturbingly odd—species!

The album starts off rather weakly, trying ever-so hard to breach the chasm of pop and prog for the first four songs (the fourth of which, “Perfect Life,” just happens to be awesome and, yes, haunting). Yet, it’s really not until the fifth song, “Routine” that Mr. Wilson and company reach the prog stride that will be necessary to please us progheads. From there on, however, the album is pure magic, power and bliss. Brilliant prog songs. Brilliant vignettes into individual lives which Mr. Wilson masterfully uses to illuminate the dysfunctional patterns and priorities that are eating way at our society.

Though not all of Hand. Cannot. Erase. is my cup of tea, I cannot argue with its masterful construction, its mature song writing and the sophisticated play of some of modern prog's instrumental masters. With Hand. Cannot. Erase., Steven Wilson has, once again, contributed something quite significant to posterity. 

Five star songs:  songs 4 through 9.

Favorite songs:  “Perfect Life,” “Routine,” “Regret #9,” and “Transience.”

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




ABIGAIL’S GHOST Black Plastic Sun

This band has matured so much since their Porcupine Tree imitation days! The chrysalis has left the cocoon and a gorgeous butterfly has emerged! Only, this butterfly is not so delicate as to have a short life; Black Plastic Sun ought to find a wide audience and make many people's favorites lists. 2009's d_letion was an awesome album--and so well made--but this is better. If I have any complaints with Black Plastic Sun it's of the pace, drumming and vocal range in the first three songs. Don't get me wrong, the iamthemorning-like opener, "Thereafter" (8:20) (18/20), is awesome--is perhaps the best song on the album--and sets a really nice tone for the album, but it's not until the fourth song, "Bloodlust" (5:38) (9/10), that we get our first real example of the dynamic range of this band and their instrumentalists. Here is where I first become conscious of the striking similarity of the lead vocalist's that of Mark KING (LEVEL 42). 

The wonderful 5. "Widowmaker" (5:22) (9/10) continues this venture, further broadening the band's sonic and stylistic palette (sounding remarkably like another couple of releases from this year:  VOLA's Inmazes and NICE BEAVER's The Time It Takes), as does the sweet, melodic follow-up, the more swamp folk-tinged 6. "King of All" (5:23) (9/10). 

The band then pulls an amazing trick with the very French-sounding 7. "Le Metteur" (7:14) a song that I find quite haunting and beautiful as it takes me back to French film themes and montages from the 80s and 90s--as well as a little of the delightful IVY sound around the turn of the century. Wonderful guitar solo worked over the Buddha-lounge drums and keyboard washes. (13.5/15) 

8. "Protist"(4:43) (9/10) effectively dives into the depths of heavy prog while 

9. "Sweet Serenity" (4:42) captures some catchy melodies in a Johannes Luley kind of way over its unusual instrumental choices. (9/10) 

10. "Smotherbox" (8:51) is the first occasion on this album in which the band blatantly return to their Steven Wilson roots. Like a Steve Wilson song, it's a good song with some orgasmic lead guitar work and heavy chord chord play. (16/20) 

11. "Rather Unorthodox" (3:48) is a piano-based, strings accompanied, harmonized vocal with a bit of a classic rock ballad sound and feel to it. Nice song. (8/10)

I have to admit that I found myself quite often drawn to listen to the electronic keyboard work that might support or fill spaces in many of the songs. A really nice complementary "glue" for lots of the music much in the same way that Richard Barbieri and Jørgen Hagen supplied so masterfully for their bands, Porcupine Tree and Airbag, respectively.




PANZERBALLETT Breaking Brain

Heavy metal instrumental jazz djent, right?! As you listen to this highly aggressive, abrasive, and dissonant music, take into consideration the extraordinary instrumental skills on display here. Also, consider the minds that composed and collectively performed this very difficult instrumental music. Also, don't forget to hear the hidden melodies, flashes of references to past classics, and the humor. In fact, the humorous side of this music for some reason reminds a great deal of the music of the band, FARMERS MARKET--a band of Eastern European expats playing, composing, and recording in Scandinavia--for its quirky, harsh-yet-comedic use of familiar themes and sounds from Eastern European and Middle Eastern classical and folk music traditions.
     While I have to admit that this music is a little too heavy and abrasive for me to ever give this a lot of airplay, I do not hesitate to recognize and extoll its merit based on compositional skill and instrumental virtuosity. These guys are definitely masters in their field. The amazingly high caliber of musicianship renders this album--and this band--unto a level akin to avant jazz masters Frank ZAPPA, YUGEN, BRUFORD, JEAN LOUIS and PRESENT.

A five star album that I am, unfortunately, marking down for lack of universal appeal and accessibility. It doesn't seem right or fair, but it is my truth: this album is not for everyone. It grows on you, but it is never going to be background kitchen or bedroom music (not that it has to be; it just isn't). 

Kudos to the band. Amazing performances and amazing music. Just not my cup of tea.




VAK Aedividea

The sophomore effort from one of the new generation of Kobaïans from France.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Aurélie Saintecroix / vocals
- Thomas Bourgenot / guitar
- Alexandre Michaan / keyboards, synthesizers
- Juliette Drigny / flute
- Franck Varnava / bass (1,3,5)
- Joël Crouzet / bass (2,4,6)
- Vladimir Mejstelman / drums

1. "IJKL" (7:03) more guitar-centric than typical Zeuhl. Until the final 30 seconds, this is not as interesting or sophisticated and refreshing to make it worth coming back to. (11.5/15)

2. "Aedividea" (14:02) opens with a spacey ALAN PARSONS PROJECT-like texture before electric piano, drums, guitar, bass and flute enter and define their rolls within a repetitive weave a bit before Aurélie's voice joins. A dynamics and tempo shift at the four-minute mark usher in a faster, guitar- and bass-driven section. Keys, voice, drums, and flute provide excellent reinforcement and embellishment to main theme--eventually taking over from guitar and voice in the seventh minute. This is good! The flute player tries to give it her Zeuhlish best, but, to my ears, it's just not wild and loud enough to deserve the leadership position. At 8:20 there is a stop and restart into an entirely new theme--one in which the drums get a chance to really show off. At 9:45 the vocals seem to be positioning themselves to take over the lead, but synths, guitars, and, especially, the drums are not quite willing to give her the chance. Another new motif begins in the 12th minute before melting away for a gentle guitar, Fender Rhodes, and cymbal to set up a new theme with arpeggiated guitar and bass setting the mood. Aurélie is still there, being used more to reflect the flute--to the end. Interesting! (26/30)

3. "Alzh" (11:08) opens with a kind of 1970s RTF jazz-fusion sound and feel. At the one-minute mark things shift and guitar chord play takes front and center over Fender Rhodes fast arpeggi. Eventually, flute takes the lead as things get seriously Zeuhlish (with "choral" vocals spicing things up). Even so, this is still not at the level of Magma sophistication or virtuosity. A slow down (almost "breakdown") in the fifth minute leads to a slow, plodding section that constantly feels as if it's trying to get going (despite the showy drum play) but never does. Quick key-arpeggio at 6:25 once again kickstarts this into the fast lane but, then, things feel like they're getting stuck again--until everything drops out at 7:45, leaving us floating in some kind of state of suspended animation for the next three and a half minutes as strings-like synths create a kind of background of Interstellar tension. I love this--though it doesn't feel very Zeuhl (and yet, in a space opera, shouldn't there be occasional passages just like this?) The most refreshing and innovative song on the album, IMHO. (17.5/20)

4. "Zeom" (9:49) opens with a heavy weave that has more in common with KING CRIMSON than Magma. Wordless vocals enter in the second minute adding a Zeuhlish quality, but then they fade out and we are left with a much more technical/metal sound palette. In the fourth minute flute is added and then the intensity of the music backs off a much more Carolina Prieta-KOTEBEL-like operatic voice joins in. Flute holds the foundation with a chord progression of quick-arpeggi as the rest of the band punctuates with syncopated though-coordinated chords until 6:37. At 7:45 the music takes on a familiarity to the driving music of JANNICK TOP's 2008 masterpiece of urgency, Infernal Machina.  Good stuff! (17.5/20)

5. "Ellien" (6:23) interesting polyrhythmic play between the keyboard's arpeggi and the rest of the band's weave. Drums and electric guitar also seem to go their own separate ways at times. Aurélie's voice just seems so wasted here: just another single-note provider like a flute or synth. Nice keys, guitars, and drumming on display in their soli during the fifth and sixth minutes. Bass becomes the only thing really holding this to a Zeuhl script. (8.25/10)

6. "Periscopy" (10:15) This song takes us fully into the realm of UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA as Aurélie (and her operatic voice) is finally given some freedom and room to live large within the music. Still, there is a little too much simplicity and mechanisticality in the Zeuhl formats used here. At the same time, there is, however, a feeling about this song as if the band have finally made Zeuhl their go-to music; the leads and turn-taking and commitment to background support on this song feel just as strong as those given by C Vander and his hired guns. The best and most fulfilling, complete-sounding song on the album. (18.25/20)

Total Time: 58:40

86.09 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; all in all, this is a fine addition to the Zeuhl lexicon, though this band still feels as though they are getting their feet wet in terms of rising to the mastery and sophistication of the Zeuhl masters. I'm hopeful that the final song, "Periscopy," is an indication of that step forward. 





PAVLOV(3) Curvature Induce Symmetry.. Breaking

An album of excellent heavy instrumental prog in the tradition of some of KING CRIMSON's raw and heavier moments, Curvature is the project of bassist/Chapman Stick/U8 Deluxe Touch Guitar player Matt TATE. Matt really brings it home with a collection of diversely styled and paced songs all using unorthodox time signatures.

Favorite songs:  1. "Elastic Surface Patterns" (3:58) (10/10); 6. "Being+Time/Closure" (8:37) (10/10); 5. "Unruhe" (5:44) (9/10), and; 4. "Singularity" (3:59) (8/10)

A special shout out for the awesome contribution of drummer Paul Szlachta.




ADVENT Silent Sentinel
 
This album has such better sound recording and engineering than their previous work, 2006's Canuts Firmus. As a matter of fact, it is the clarity of the instrumental recording that makes this album so special, so engaging. Everything is a couple of steps better than their previous album—which I liked. Cantus Firmus showed so much potential. Silent Sentinel is fulfilling a great deal of that potential.
The multi-voiced vocal harmony weaves are sometimes quite ingenious and complex (very similar to some of the best of GENTLE GIANT like on “His Last Voyage” or “A Reunion”) but they can also be just as often sounding like the straightforward "pop" harmonies of the 1980s band ASIA or 80s version YES. In my opinion, the album’s “weakness” and strength are one in the same: guitarist Alan BENJAMIN’s penchant (and/or reverence) for imitation of the guitar sounds and stylings of Steve HACKETT’s circa 1973 (Foxtrot). His imitation is flawless, but, in my opinion, unnecessarily so. Even his acoustic guitar pieces—which I adore—are so full of Hackettisms. But the electric work is where it goes too far; there is just no need to be that true to another man’s sound and style—especially a sound that was limited by 1973's recording limitations. 

My favorite songs are the most scaled down: the brilliant church/Renaissance-like “On the Wings of an Ant” series "(verses 1, 2, & 3)” (2:16), (2:20) and (7:09), respectively (10/10); the acoustic guitar solo pieces, 6. “Reloj de Sol” (2:35), “12_12” (2:39), and 11. “Second Thoughts” (2:21). Song 8. “The Silent Sentinel” (19:11) is about as good as an epic GENESIS tribute or imitation gets (9/10). Song 5. “The Uncharted Path” (6:22) (9/10) captures the wonderful old-feeling GENTLE GIANT-like sound and the upbeat and humorous BEACH BOYS-like 4. “Voices from California” (7:34) (9/10) is also quite enjoyable.

The opening of the title song is about as promising as any song I’ve heard in a long time: awesome instrument choices (organ, harpsichord,12-string acoustic guitars, tuned percussion, occasional background keyboard washes, and, of course, eventually, GENTLE GIANT choral like multi-voice vocal arrangements), incredible chord sequences and melodies, and the incredible gentle voice of lead singer. And this continues for a good five minutes before things start to falter or lose their focus get muddled a bit. Actually, it’s the arrival of the electric guitar at 5:20 that turns me out. And the near-faultless imitation of sound and style of said guitar to those of one Steve HACKETT circa 1973 are equally—sorry to say—distracting. And then the section that begins in the seventh minute is too much like a GENESIS replication, note for note, chord for chord, and, especially, sound for sound.

The KARDA ESTRA-like “mysterious interlude” beginning at 8:25 is interesting—especially for the “Entangled” sound that arises within it 75 seconds later. The return of the Steve Hackett guitar at 11:38 bodes not well for the song’s further progress. It’s just too Steve Hackett! The ensuing solo vocal is a nice bridge to some heavier music beginning in the fifteenth minute and continuing while alternating with some Kerry MINNEAR/MANHATTAN TRANSFER-like vocal arrangements through the next few minutes. 

In short, the song "The Silent Sentinel" is a microcosm of all that is wonderful as well as all that is flawed with this duplicitous Advent album. I truly love and respect the band's progress and growth. I hope that they will continue to work together and that they will continue to discover and hone their own sound.

Still, this is a solid four star album--one that I can happily recommend to all prog lovers. Impeccable quality in sound, construction and melody. Pick it up and listen to it for yourselves: I am CERTAIN you will find a few gems for your self on this exciting album.




HOMUNCULUS RES Come si diventa ciò che si era

While not quite as new, fresh, happy, upbeat, melodic, or loose and quirky as their debut, this is still an excellent album release fully within the Canterbury sound. The music feels to me as if it is now more work, more effort, less fun, less imbued with the frivolity of youth and its devil-may-care joy. I miss some of the layers and sudden stops and shifts, and I do not like the way the drums are recorded. I hope the future music of this wonderfully spirited band veers more toward songs like "Balacqua" (3:40) and the epic "Ospedale civico" (17:52) and less like the opening few songs here.




THE BREZNEV FUN CLUB Il misanthrope felice

This is an amazingly well-constructed and well-recorded album from AltrOck Productions that wows the listener with its avant quirkiness but then, with repeated listenings, I found that the music became stale and sometimes too obtuse, too quirky without making sense. Some of the sudden and unexpected changes in sound, style, or tempo leave a jarring or disappointing feeling. I feel at times welcomed and warmed and then just as quickly I feel as if I'm being pushed away, excluded from the party. Perhaps I'm just too sensitive for avant jazzy prog.




PROGRESSION BY FAILURE Sonic Travelogue

I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed the work of this band from their previous self-titled release back in 2009 until I heard this music. The mix of Nicolas Piveteau's kind of New Age-y jazz with heavier Neo-prog elements is at first a little odd and tough to get used to--especially at transitions (which can be quite sudden and alarming)--but the musicianship of the drummer, Mike Saccoman, and some excellent bass and guitar tracks when coupled with a rather extraordinary gift for melody makes this band and its albums music that grows on you.

At first I was always thrown off by the sudden shifts from heavy NeoProg to "cheezy" jazz but now find that I get quite excited by the prospect of hearing one of PbF's songs when they appear in my ears from my iPod Shuffle. Several of these songs have become my favorites from 2015. Some of the songs still lose me in transitions, but there are several that just melt me to the core. Let me discuss those.

2. "Sparkles" (10:34) opens with a gorgeous VANGELIS-like melodic hook which gradually gains perfectly arranged support from the full band (bass, drums, other layers of keyboards) and then shifts into a kind of Asian keyboard percussion base for the conintuous play on the the main melody and wonderful--and I mean wonderful--drum play. At 3:20 the music shifts into another gear with some more aggressive play on the part of all members and multiple keyboard solos and guitar riffing taking the center stage. Awesome song construction and instrumental arrangement! At 5:30 the bottom drops out of the music and we are left with a fast-panning electric piano arpeggio and slow picked guitar notes to fill some deliciously spacious time. A minute later we are beginning to rebuild around the new instrumental weave with a variation on the old main melody and sounds. Again, the perfection of the drum contributions are, to me, nothing short of amazing--possibly my favorite element of the album. The song ends with a kind of ambient show moving into a slow fade. Brilliant song! One of my favorites for the Year. (20/20)

5. "Forest of Doubt" (4:50) opens with a very ANTHONY PHILLIPS-familiar guitar sound playing slow arpeggio and then joined by two or three other acoustic/electric guitars weaving their own arpeggios into the mix. Awesome and gorgeous! A lone synthesizer enters at the 1:20 mark with a kind of TONY BANKS sound and frivolous, faerie-like dance through the "woods" of guitars. At 2:15 the full band with heavy background of Mellotron and thumping deep bass notes and solid, forceful drum play join in and support the guitar weaves setting up the awesome BANKS-ian synthesizer solo to ensue for the next minute and a half before band and synth voices close out the song in a very Wind and Wuthering way ("All in a Mouse's Night"). (9/10)

6. "Escaping the Ankou" (6:53) is a more dynamic, kind of KING CRIMSON song with some great electric guitar lead play. (12/15)

7. "The Sidh's Gate" (6:27) incorporates into its mid-sction another one of those magical TONY BANKS/ VANGELIS-like keybaord-driven melodic weaves--with full complement of GENESIS-like instrumental support from bass (pedals?), power guitar chords, and, of course, some great drumming. (8/10)

8. "Autumn Mood" (5:46) MUST have been inspired by GEORGE WINSTON's Autumn record because the style of piano play is so incredibly similar. It's so nice to hear! Then, at the 2:00 mark a dramatic George Winston-like shift occurs but is accompanied by a cool midi keyboard contribution that is midi-ing wind and deep buzzing noises. Then things pick up and become more fast-paced as the synth sound becomes more buzz-like for a few seconds before the music returns to the original section in embellished recapitulation. Nice emulation and nice effect! (9/10)

9. "The End of Sonic Vibrations" (10:22) opens with some steady bass and drum lines over which a whole mess of instruments gradually add their contributions into a dynamic weave of pleasing harmonic and melodic sensibility. At 3:15 we get a complete break in the established music as a kind of Tibetan overtone voice fills the aural soundscape. Then a beautiful vocal and piano major seventh two-chord sequence establishes itself over which a piercing JEFF BECK-like guitar solo takes center stage for the next two minutes. Gorgeous! Then, suddenly, it's gone at 6:48 and a heavy PORCUPINE TREE-like multiple electric guitar chord strum sequence is established over which two different keyboard voices play their melodies--one in floating chords of sustained sound, the other in shifting three-note arpeggios. AT 9:15 a kind of bass drum-thumping doom metal section is added beneath the searing play of the floaty keyboard--to crashing end. Brilliant song with amazing emotional impact. Also the most uniquely independent in sound and structure of the album. Another of my favorites from 2015. (20/20)

While not a flawless album--there are actually a couple of "throwaway" songs--there is enough beautiful and often brilliant music here to make this an album that I highly recommend. I do consider Nicolas Piveteau a man worth following as he produces more and more excellent music.




FIREFLY BURNING Skeleton Hill

Unusual folkish yet-also classical-sounding prog--not far off from IAMTHEMORNING's first album, NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA's I a Moon or even young JONI MITCHELL.



KAMASI WASHINGTON The Epic

Jazz, but what an eclectic, all-encompassing, spiritually uplifting, orchestral form of jazz! And two full, FULL CDs of music. This is not just an album, it is An Experience!




CALIGULA'S HORSE Bloom

An enigmatic band that seems to be having trouble defining their style, what they like, or who they want to be. They feel as if they are kind of lurking in the shadows of LEPROUS and KARNIVOOL. They could turn into something special . . . if they find their own identity.





JULIAN JULIEN Terre II

An assemblage of some very pleasant soft, uncomplicated, straightforward jazz but I am bothered by the way it so often borderlines the realm of New Age or contemporary adult soft/"smooth" jazz.





HOOFFOOT Hooffoot

A short (35 minute) album of wonderfully engaging retro jazz fusion consisting of only two songs, the SANTANA Caravanserai-like (though more sophisticated and modern sounding) "The Last Flight of the Ratite" (18:31) (9/10) and the more dynamic, less flowing, but still SANTANA-sounding "Take Five . . . Seven, Six, Eight and Nine" (16:01) (8/10).




QUANTUM FANTAY Dancing in Limbo

There is really nothing new here from this Dutch band creating music in the vein of Brit Ed Wynne's almost 40-year old project, Ozric Tentacles. Very nice instrumental psychedelic prog, as always from these seasoned veterans.




GLASS HAMMER Valkyrie

Using a more open space, 'live' recording style, this band of American veterans has produced what is, in my opinion, their best album ever. The sound here is quite similar to that of their magnum masterpiece they contributed to the 2005 Colossus Magazine/Musea Records production of Odyssey:  The Greatest Tale. I have not actually contributed many reviews to Glass Hammer releases because they have never really connected or resonated with me before. (Their NeoProg bombast is usually so cheezy and over-the-top Yes-imitative as to not feel worth my time--especially since I do not generally like to give poor reviews--[unless a bubble needs bursting]. Until now, Glass Hammer was free to go about doing what they do [imitate Yes] and I would respectfully leave them alone).

Line-up/Musicians: 
Steve Babb - bass guitar, keyboards, lead and backing vocals
Fred Schendel - keyboards, guitars, lead and backing vocals
Kamran Alan Shikoh - electric, acoustic & classical guitars
Aaron Raulston - drums
Susie Bogdanowicz - lead and backing vocals

1. "The Fields We Know" (7:37) opens familiarly but then enters into Olympus with the multi-voiced chorus. Despite the presence of oft over-used and domineering Hammond organ and Rickenbacker bass, the boys use the two in different enough ways to allow the melodies and music to feel fresh and not bombastic. (13.5/15)

2. "Golden Days" (6:20) Though I like all of the vocal contributions to this album, having Susie Bodganowicz on lead vocals certainly does make for an improved sound. Great melodies and key/chord progressions throughout. (9/10)

3. "No Man's Land" (14:20) opens with a rather long introduction (nearly three minutes) containing some beautiful instrumental soundscapes and chord progressions before the music shifts into a more syncopated stop-and-go section in which tuned percussion and acoustic guitars are given some of the spotlight. A minute later chunky bass, Hammond organ, Steve-Howe-like guitar sounds and riffs and synth washes help support Susie's lead vocal during the first verse. The chorus is more of a collective, male-dominated affair, but then Susie regains the lead with the second verse. The song gets a little funky and a little predictable in the second half--especially in the use of the organ. The vocals get mixed up quite a bit, but then those Hammond runs come in and kind of remind us of why prog died out in the 70s ("too much of that organ" my daughter would say). (24/30) 

4. "Nexus Girl" (2:58) is a very modern sounding little instrumental that opens with some great keyboard work supported by some kind of techno-trip hoppy computer-programmed drums. Again, some extraordinary ear candy in the form of the chord progressions, melodies and solos from the lead instruments (synths, MONO-like tremolo electric guitar). Great song! (9/10)

5. "Valkyrie" (5:54) opens in a very Neo Prog fashion with BIG instrumental intro (including Wurlitzer-sounding church organ) before everything quiets down to support a vocal that is interesting for its muted effect for the first verse. The second verse allows the vocalist(s) to go unmuted. Nice melody--which is eventually taken over by Ms. Bogdanowicz. Nice! (9/10)

6. "Fog Of War" (8:23) finds the band, unfortunately, reverting to YES-imitation (Drama's "Tempus Fugit" and others comes to mind immediately). A lead vocal by Susie Bodgonowicz does much to distract us, but then a male takes over in a temporary RUSH-like passage. Back to YES for the fifth minute. Well executed and just original enough to be a total ripoff, but, still . . . Yes was Yes, this is now. (10.5/15)

7. "Dead And Gone" (9:56) for the first 3:35, this is a fairly simply structured and instrumented song over which Susie Bogdanowicz sings a gorgeous plaintive lyric about soldiers (as metaphor for ) But then the ELP-like Hammond bombast enters and threatens to take over. Luckily, this is fairly short-lived, until a GENESIS-like section takes over for a Steve Babb's brief turn at lead vocal. By 6:30 we're back to the simplicity and beauty of the first section. Some of the instruments do crank up their volume and intensity a bit in the eighth minute before a heavier, funky, effected instrumental section takes over before another brief Steve Babb vocal. Then, at the nine minute mark the music shifts to fast, more ELP instrumental bombast. I guess it's hardwired in these guys by now . . . (16/20) 

8. "Eucatastrophe" (3:30) opens with the arpeggiated chords that ended GENESIS' "Cinema Show" before shifting into a gentle acoustic support for Susie Bogdanowicz' gorgeous lead vocal--which is sung mostly in the upper registers with her head voice. At the two-minute mark begins an instrumental onslaught led by Hammond organ and Rickebacker bass to end the song. Odd and incongruous--earning it's marks for the gorgeous first two minutes. (9/10)

9. "Rapturo" (6:12) opens with a couple of bell-like synth notes being played percussively while echo-y piano emotionally fills some of the lower end spaciousness. Really pretty! And then at the 2:25 mark drums, synths and Susie Bogdonowicz's gorgeous, almost angelic vocal fill the cathedral skies. The end of the depression is always uplifting but at the same time scary cuz you never know when 'the Dark One' will return. Thank god this one did not venture into Yes-land. If anything, it stayed in Post Rock territory! Gorgeous and powerful song! (10/10)  

Total Time 65:10

84.61 on the Fishscales = a solid four star album; a near masterpiece of prog rock music.




HELMUT RÓBOT Kowloon . . . Ciudad amurallada

Wonderfully engaging avant-prog from Argentina. I think it's the adherance to 1950's 'B' movie soundtrack music sounds and styles that makes this crazy music more accessible to me than the music of some of the bands to which they are most compared--MR. BUNGLE and SLEEPYTIME GORILLA MUSEUM. 

Line-up/Musicians
Luz Total - drums, glockenspiel (2), percussion (4,5, 6, 10, 11), synths (6), jaw harp (10)
Sir Pasto - piano, hammond organ, keyboards and synths
Un Conocido Ruso - electric bass and double bass
Hemoga Femeba - electric & classic guitar, mandoline (7), glockenspiel (1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 12), synths (3), vocals

1. "Permuta Su Alma" (2:05) offers an adequate introduction to what is about to unfold--even the dreamy, stretched-out bow-play of the final minute. (4.25/5)

2. "P.I.S.O." (3:44) puts on display so many levels of information, so many influences, so many styles--all within the first 30 seconds! What follows is confusing and ingenious, sneaking in cheesy organ with metal guitars, solo jazz guitar with cheezy Arp synth and lounge rhythm section, vocals with accordion and Farfisa, odd vocals appearing out of nowhere and then disappearing just as quickly. (9/10)

3. "Contramano" (3:34) opens with drummer performing break-neck-speed snare rudiments  before spaces and shifts--all the while giving the feel of some old alien space invasion movie. Brilliant and stunning. (9/10)

4. "El Criterio Del Crímen" (3:45) a fascinating and crazy 'variation' on some classic movie themes like "Brazil." So well conceived and executed! (9/10)

5. "5 Pánico En La Ducha" (3:55) 
church and cheezy organ based mayhem in the best possible way! Even the drum sounds are manipulated to laughable perfection! Lacking a little in melodic appeasement. (8.5/10)

6. "La Gran Explosion" weirdly wonderful, with a great eerie musical base contrasted by some delightfully cheesy vocals. Has a band ever integrated so many 'classic' movie music themes into one song? (6:44) (12.75/15)

7. "Aragán" (3:39) with the influence of a distinctly Eastern European sound, not quite up to the standards set by FARMERS MARKET or ESTRADASPHERE. (7.5/10)

8. "Los Cobardes De Kent" (3:16) organ, brass, metalized Dick Dale guitars and vocals from . . . the seventh dimension, a definite soundtrack item from a 'classic' B-grade whodunnit. (8/10)

9. "Infernum" (3:43) piano and accordion precede a nice synth & horns foundation. Really cool music! Loses some of its melodic accessibility in the second minute before it shifts into a slowly plodding heavy section--over which the accordion is given a bit of a solo! Then all descends into decay to the end. (8.5/10)

10. "Jamon Fetichista" (4:17) smokey lounge jazz music with alien bug vocals open this one before it turns 180 and becomes fairly straightforward demonic spy movie soundtrack music. Full out death metal music finishes the second minute and spills over into the third. Ziltoid!?! Quiet ends the third minute , briefly, before more metal music returns with some odd foreign language movie voices over the top. Very weird. (8/10)

11. "Bufón" (3:19) heavier, metallic jazz sounds fill the soundscape, covered by many characters' odd vocals and voices (including some heavily distorted growls!) There is a very odd mid-song interlude of voices before more odd and quick-changing music assaults the senses. Obviously a very quick-changing movie, this one. Maybe a bit too weird and chaotic. (8/10)

12. "Lubbert Das" (6:53) returns us back to some more familiar soundtrack sounds and styles. The vocals and instrumental choices for this tapestry are quite laughable/entertaining. The second half is like a study in polyrhythm while the final minute of muted bass line is, again, hilarious. (12.75/15)

Total Time 48:54

Has a band ever integrated so many 'classic' movie music themes into one album? (I never realized just how rich the lexicon of 'B' movie soundtrack music was.) The album gradually becomes heavier, more metal music based as it goes along. I like the first half much better. Still, I am ever appreciative of the skill and talent necessary to pull off such complex, dextrous music. And the musical knowledge it takes to pull so many familiar themes, riffs, and sounds that are familiar to those of us who 'remember' the films of the 50s and 60s.

84.20 on the Fishscales = B; a solid four star album and one that I highly recommend everyone to check out as hearing is believing. 




PERFECT BEINGS II

Very pretty crossover prog that is incredibly well produced and very seriously composed from very competent songwriter-musicians, including crossing over into a little of Omar Rodriguez-Lopez's sonic world on 1. "Mar del Fuego" (4:22) (9/10), 2. "Crygenia" (3:39) (8/10); the gorgeous little synth interlude, 3. "Samsara" (1:30) (5/5); 5. "Volcanic Streams" (5:55) (9/10); 7. "Go" (4:50) (8/10), 8. "Rivermaker" (5:08) (8/10); the schizophrenic 9. "Cause and Effect" (5:13) (9/10), and; the highlight of the album for me,  Steve Kilbey/The CHURCH-like, 10. "The Thrill Seeker" (4:38) (9/10). 
     I really like the choices MOTH VELLUM founder Johannes Luley has made in his brief but diverse career--I have collected all of his music and find it all enjoyable, it has just not lived up to fulfillment of the Earth-shattering potential that I first saw/heard in the MV debut. But, don't stop! I love all that you are doing!

83.16 on the Fishscales = B/three stars; a nice effort worthy of checking out for yourselves.




FAT SPARROW Fat Sparrow

Great mellow jazz fusion from Perth, Australia. Another very late in the year release, these young guys are definitely doing it their own way--and that is not a jazz drummer! I hope they get their due cuz they are really creative, talented, and deserving of getting noticed.

Line up:
Luke Minness: tenor sax 
Ricki Malet: trumpet 
Harry Winton: guitar 
Karl Florrison: electric bass 
Greg Brenton: drums

tags


Favorite songs: 9. "MWR" (5:15) (10/10); 2. "Rustic" (4:34) (9/10); 5. "Junkie Stole My Clarinet" (6:03) (9/10); 6. "Junkie and The Cursed Clarinet" (1:25) (9/10); 7. "Noise" (5:28) (8.5/10); 8. "The Fiddler" (3:17) (8.5/10); 4. "Walks With Shaun" (7:40) (8/10); 1. "Get in The Van, Nan" (5:09) (8/10).

82.73 on the Fishscales = low four star album; B-; a good addition to any prog music collection--especially for fans of fresh new jazz fusion. A band to watch in the future!




NICE BEAVER The Time It Takes

I am having trouble with this album as each time I hear it my reaction seems to ping pong from liking it to disliking it for the familiarity it evokes in me. The music is very pleasant, it’s engaging, and the musicianship and recording are very well done. My problem is the lead singer’s similarity to LEVEL 42 lead singer/bassist, Mark King. No, it’s more than that. The Mark King similarities bleed over into much more of the music—the bass playing (it’s wonderful and very accomplished), and the song structures and stylings also keep taking me back to LEVEL 42 and other bands like THE TANGENT, THE STYLE COUNCIL, JAMES GRANT/LOVE AND MONEY, PHIL COLLINS and other pseudo- or neo-prog bands (all of whom I like very well). I’m more of the type of music listener who likes to be surprised, who likes fresh new sounds and ideas, who likes innovation, originality and bands that “push the envelope” of previously heard and established song styles and sounds. My usual reaction to Neo Prog and what I call “pseudo prog”  is usually that none of the above is happening.
      Don’t get me wrong:   There is fine musicianship being captured here! And very nice songs with a lot of GENESIS/PHIL COLLINS/SPOCK’S BEARD-like structures and dynamics but, again, like so much of Neo Prog, it’s all too polished, too clean, too contrived and somehow lacking emotion or ‘soul.’
     Hence, I just can’t give this wonderful, beautiful collection of well-polished songs anything more than four stars. I feel badly but, like most anything I hear of Spock’s Beard, Marillion, IQ, The Tangent or The Flower Kings, this rather nice music is rather quickly forgotten and left behind in favor of something . . . fresher . . . and meatier.

Great songs:  “Waiting for the Bell to Toll” (11:20) (9/10); “The Path to My House” (4:33) (9/10)

Very good songs:  “River So Wide” (6:23) (8/10); “In Close Proximity” (6:27) (8/10); “Sound Behind Sound” (7:37) (8/10). 




ABSTRAKT Limbosis

Despite have a very interesting flow and THE epic of the year in the album's opening song, "Teratoma" (10:38) (20/20), the album eventually grows old and almost too weird and quirky for my tastes with each song seeming to take too long to develop or having too many stop-and-start moments. I really enjoyed it first listen but, as I said, it quickly grew old and lost its initial luster. The sound and dramatic style seems to become repetitive and boring--and, at times, too RIVERSIDE-ish. Still, a really interesting and enjoyable collection of songs--each of which stands very well on their own but lose their fresh, innovative feel as a collective. Great drumming and amazingly creative keyboard and effects play throughout. The guitar work is where Abstrakt's music really suffers. Their lead vocalist, Krzysztof Podsiadlo, is very talented with his theatric, MORRISSEY-like voice but I think the band has to figure out how and where in the mix to present Krzysztof's stories. 

2. "The Bus" opens very well with a great vocal, but then, in the third minute, shifts into a stereotypic metal song. The instrumental section in the fourth minute is nice with an unusual chorded guitar lead (which then becomes repeated ad nauseum). The vocal is quite theatric throughout--as if there is a stage show to accompany its performance. At 4:25 things quiet down a bit--which becomes the pattern: soft section alternated with poor guitar power chords. The electric guitar lead work is so deliberate and methodical that it is awkward, perhaps even embarrassing. (7/10)  

3. "The Clockhouse" (7:37) includes a great use of female background vocals and overall spaciousness (13.5/15). 

4. "Wolf" (10:24) is another song that tries so hard but betrays this band's lack of compositional and technical maturity. Some really nice lead guitar work in the third and fourth minutes. The heavy, power chord guitar dominated mid-section almost works with its keyboard, vocal and drumming excellence. The music (vocals and chord progression choices) in the eighth minute through to the end are horrible--embarrassingly so--totally unworthy of such a talented band. (10/20)

5. "Bloody Mary"(10:40) has great sound, keyboards and effects to produce an awesome atmosphere but it never seems to go anywhere--which gets old over it first seven minutes--and then disappoints hugely when it does finally kick into gear for the final three minutes (14/20). 

6. "Liar's Symphony" (6:33) also has incredible sound--creates a wonderful atmosphere over the first two-thirds of the song, but disappoints with its climax (8/10). 

7. "Greatnot" (8:48) is great for being more stable and even keeled start to finish (18/20). 

8. The finale, "Journey" (10:23)  is another odd one in that it's four parts are not necessarily cohesive (except for the drumming and, perhaps, the story line)--and yet it shows potential and holds the listener for its promise and possibilities. The dark, brooding opening section is straight out of RIVERSIDE's repertoire, the middle section sounds a bit like a SMITHS song, the third section is plastered by an over-dominant two-chord power chord, while the end section of sound effects of metal and glass objects again simply mystifies. (16/20). 

A band with some great sound, creating great atmospheric textures, but that somehow goes off in odd and unsatisfying directions when it amps things up--usually in the middle or ending sections. Huge potential--definitely a band I will be watching.

78.5 on the Fishscales = a very good three star album; good but non-essential.





ALCO FRISBASS ALCO Frisbass

I’ve toiled with writing a review for this simple enjoyable debut AltrOck Productions album from the French duo of Patrick Dufour and Fabrice Chouette for over half a year now. And now I’ve finally figured out why! This is a Neo Prog album! This is a Neo Prog album by an artist who has an obvious affinity toward the keyboard-driven sounds and melodies of the Canterbury Scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, there is very little presence of the often complex, jazz- and classical-based structures experimented with and favored by those Canterbury artists in the music presented here by ALCO Frisbass. The sounds that Patrick and Fabrice create are obviously intended to replicate the sounds of the more common/famous instrumental sounds associated with the Canterbury “sound,” but to my ears, these sounds are not as close to the actual sounds of Canterbury artists like Mike Ratledge, Steve Hillage, Dave Stewart, Mike Oldfield, or Phil Miller as to be able to constitute the use of the word “replicate.” Plus, the use of guest musicians for the contribution of violin, guitar and mellotron actually serves to create a further divergence/distance/discord with the original mix of sounds used in the Canterbury scene.
     The other flaw with this very likable, even enjoyable music, is in the simplicity of the music—especially in the rhythmic foundations of each song. There are very few dramatic shifts in tempo, key signatures or dynamics in these songs; all instrumental soli are played as if the artists handling the instruments be melody-conscious while somehow acting quite disconnected from or even oblivious to the musical base coming from the background foundational instruments (bass, drums, and keyboards). Plus, the feel I get from the bass, drums and keyboards is that they are there more for the exclusive purpose of creating a foundational base for other instruments to solo over which is not the usual feel I get from the background instrumentalists in jazz or Canterburian songs. The original artists of what we call the Canterbury Scene feel as if they each remained creative individuals despite their place in the musical mix—leader, supporter or soloist—each actively and creatively contributing to the mix that makes up the foundational harmonic and rhythmic structure of each song—even beneath the not-infrequent soloists.
     The album’s best songs—2. “Pas à pas” (6:42) (9/10), 4. “La danse du pantin” (7:44) (9/10), and 6. “Judith Coupeuse de tête” (9:08) (8/10)—each captivate a lot of nice melodious Canterburian sound and feel yet fail to reveal anything new or innovative—and never fail to ever impress with instrumental prowess, creativity or technique. There are more similarities in this music to Neo Prog like fellow countrymen XII Alfonso or Minimum Vital: melody—often exceedingly linear and simplistic—dominates heavily over harmony and experimentation—which is fine. As I’ve said throughout, this is wonderfully listenable, even enjoyable music. Not bad, just not great.
     A 3.5 star album. Nice songs with nice sound but lots of potential for growth here!




SANGUINE HUM And Now We Have Light
The boys from Oxford who were formerly ANTUQUE SEEKING NUNS have definitely left behind their Canterbury leanings and gone Neo Prog. If Diving Bell was their transition album, this one seals the deal.








NATIVE CONSTRUCT Quiet World

Impressive avant prog metal vaudeville from Berklee College of Music students. The question is: Are these guys joking or will we hear more (and better) stuff like this from them in the future? The quirky changes and total mood shifts mid song--multiple times--makes one wonder what the goals/aims of these shifts are? It's almost as if multiple personalities are each given their turn at presenting the song's message. Interesting but often a bit jarring, unsettling (though never so much as in an UneXpect song). 



I AM THE MANIC WHALE Everything Beautiful in Time

Well-constructed and performed, dynamic STYX-, THE FLOWER KINGS-, or IQ-sounding Neo Prog. I found myself often feeling as if I were in the presence of a recording of a Broadway musical.

Line-up
Ben Hartley - drums, percussion, xylophone, backing vocals
John Murhpy - keyboards, murphatron, backing vocals, second lead vocal (1, 7)
David Addis - electric, acoustic and classical guitars, backing vocals
Michael Whiteman - bass guitar, bass pedals, twelve-string guitar and acoustic guitars, lead and backing vocals, percussion
   With
Ella Lloyd - flute (3,4,6)
Matthew Talks - cello (6)

1. "Open Your Eyes" (6:37)

2. "Pages" (9:04) (8.5/10)

3. "Princess Strange" (5:05)
4. "Circles (Show Love)" (16:28)

5. "Clock Of The Long Now" (9:16) opens like ADVENT or MOON SAFARI with multi-voice harmonies, the vocal weave continues over the fast-paced, sometimes jazzy instrumental foundation that establishes itself in the second half of the first minute. The song is quite engaging and interesting through the first three minutes before an IQ-like passage overstretches it's members' strengths (vocally). Too Broadway-esque. (7.5/10)

6. "The Mess" (6:12)

7. "Derelict" (21:28) opens with piano. Joined by wailing electric guitar before Tommy Shaw takes over singing duties. Enough development and diversity to earn my praise. (9/10)