Sunday, March 19, 2017

Top Albums of the Year 2017, Part 1: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2017
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. 
  The first list is merely a list consisting of a Top Twenty with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These 30 are my favorite albums of the year, that is, the albums to which I have formed the greatest emotional attachments. The Reviews that follow are ordered according to my more 'objective' yet personal 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 and metric determination as to what are the "best" albums of the year from a more critical, qualitative, and quantitative viewpoint, that is, without as much emotional attachment as "My Favorite" albums. Though I backed off from the intense focus I had put into listening and reviewing new releases in 2016, thanks again to the wonderful community of music lovers at ProgArchives.com and to the amazing resource that is New Prog Releases (http://newprogreleases.blogspot.com/p/2018.html)I was still able to find time to listen to over 200 albums from 2017. 

According to my calculations, 2017 presents Prog World with four (4) full "masterpieces," 25 "minor" masterpieces, and 25 "near-masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. BATTLESTATIONS Vixit
2. DEMEN Nektyr
3. RYUICHI SAKAMOTO async
4. CICADA White Forest
5. FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE Night en Face
6. TREE TOPS Ghosts Don't Dance with Shoes
7. BELIEVE Seven Widows
8. YVES POTIN/JAZZCOMPUTER.ORG Forest Stairways
9. CHEER-ACCIDENT Putting Off Death
10. BRIAN ELLIS Suspension

11. SIIILK Endless Mystery
12. ANATHEMA The Optimist
13. THE CONTORTIONIST Clairvoyant
14. BIG BAD WOLF Pond Life
15. UNAKA PRONG Adult Contemporary
16. KANT FREUD KAFKA Onírico
17. SOUP Remedies
18. PSYCHIC EQUALIZER The Lonely Traveller
19. AQUASERGE laisse ça être
20. SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Ethereal

21. DAM KAT ALAWN
22. EKOS Otra Dimensión
23. SOUL ENEMA Of Clans and Clones and Clowns
24. BUBBLEMATH Edit Peptide
25. EYOT Innate
26. AMAROK Hunt
27. CAST Power and Outcome
28. INNER EAR BRIGADE Dromology
29. CAMEMBERT Negative Toe
30. KOTEBEL Cosmology

31. WOBBLER From Silence to Somewhere
32. ALIO DIE & LINGUA FUNGI Lento
33. WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmish Ganz Progisch
34. SEAS OF MIRTH Hark! The Headland Approacheth
35. ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI Violato Intatto
36. BIG BIG TRAIN Grimspound
37. ALIO DIE They Grow Layers of Life Between
38. HIMMELLEGEME Myth of Earth
39. BENT KNEE Land Animal
40. DRAW THE SKY Humanity


Honorable Mentions:
41. KETTLESPIDER Kettlespider
42. ROBERT JÜRJENDAL 
Simple Past/Lihtminevik
43. SILHOUETTE  The World Is Flat and Other Alternative Facts 
44. ELECTRIC MOON Stardust Rituals
45. TANGERINE DREAM Quantum Gate8

Special Mention:
UTOPIANISTI Brutopianisti



The Reviews



Five Star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34)



 *****Album of the Year *****



1. BATTLESTATIONS Vixit

These guys have come so far! From the almost-cheezy computer sounds and mis-timed instrumental performances of their flawed (but brilliant) debut, In a Cold Embrance, in 2012, the band has developed a stronghold in cinematic music-making far beyond anyone that I know of who is not doing film or television scores. Seriously, this may be the best "score"-that's-not-a-score or liturgical-piece-that's-not-meant-for-church (or maybe it is: a requiem or elegy) that I've ever heard. Period. James Newton Howard, Howard Shore, Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, James Horner, Rachel Portman, Danny Elfman, Alexandre Desplat have got nothing on these guys. Don't know if you still want to consider this prog since there are no drums or seering electric guitars, but it is definitely musical perfection, musical heaven.

1. "Vixit I" (24:02) As majestic and beautiful as the most beautiful Beethoven, Górecki, or Samuel Barber work. Broad washes of slowly moving strings with big choral sounds make this truly a spiritually moving experience. (49/50)

2. "Vixit II (3:21) piano, sparse, distant synth sounds, occasional noise from some kind of unidentified stringed instrument (the same one used in the first song of their debut album, "Prologue: Nature Morte / You're Not Welcome Here"), floating, panning synth washes. This must be Heaven. (9.5/10)

3. "Vixit III" (14:05) opens with the most electronica sounding passages on the album: panning synth, poppy voice choir, Mellotron and other synth washes, Very New Age-like--though the synths in the sixth and seventh minute sound like I'm YES heaven (the end section of "Awaken"). Love the return to old themes at 7:20! And then church choir rejoins with a FOCUS (Tommy Barlage) "Tommy" melody until the eleventh minute when it shifts dominant notes with the strings, bass, and tuned percussives giving it a little The Gathering If_then_else feel and sound to it. The final vocal section has an individual-sounding female alto voice carrying the lead--though this is still heavily mixed within the thick syrupy walls of synthesized sounds. This one is far more nostalgic and segmented yet it flows as well as any symphonic piece. (28.5/30) 

96.67 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a shining masterpiece of progressive electronic music.




2. CICADA White Forest

Jesy and friends are back with yet another collection of emotionally provocative neoclassical soundscapes inspired by nature--and, once again, inspired especially by the beauty and tragedy of our planet's oceans. As has become their habit, the band has joined forces with exceptionally talented videographers to create highly cinematic and evocative video presentations for each of the songs included here. I have become so used to "listening" to Cicada's music through their YouTube videos that I cannot help but admit that my impressions and reviews may be affected--and are most certainly often elevated--by the impact of the visual aspects. The music of this album seems to give far more prominence and presence to the guitar than any of their previous albums with far less lead time to Jesy's piano. The result of this shift is a much more even-tempered full quintet style of chamber music--though the compositions still feel very impressionistic. It is obvious that guitarist Hsieh
Wei Lun is participating much more in the composition department of the songs--of all of the songs--where his guitar had begun to show more prominence in individual songs on the past few albums

1. "Dolphins Leap" (5:27) powerful, joyful, transportive, and, of course, playful music which has the added benefit, in video form, of presenting not only dolphin play, but film footage of both studio and recreation time among the Cicada band. Quite fun! Quite a beautiful collection of species members. (9.5/10)

2. "Fly" (2:55) leaping out of void with an opening of flutters and flaps, the music quickly settles into a gorgeous, thick chamber weave from all group members before breaking down to start over again with guitar strumming, piano pounding, and violin taking the lead. The final minute, then, slows down to a very slow, sparse construct--as if the birds are flying away into the distance. (10/10)

3. "White Forest" (5:10) plucked guitar chords, continuous repetition of a high octave piano arpeggio, and pizzicato cello and viola notes open a prolonged intro (90 seconds) before the stringed instruments begin a modern chamber weave. Teh guitar here is giving the music a Windham Hill/WILL ACKERMAN-like feel and sound. Beautiful!
     At 3:05 all things come to a crashing halt as piano takes over a slow chord progression as strings screech quietly in the background. By the fifth minute a slowed down version of the opening ensues as eerie effected sounds in the background emulate wind and wave sounds. (9/10)

4. "Used to Be Home" (8:55) opens with a very classical, very fiery-feeling, (almost fatally so!), cello solo for the duration of the first 1:17. Then viola, violin, and piano join take over while cello reverts to pizzicato and bass-like play. Guitar and other strings begin to throw percussive noises into the fray before all breaks down to a cavernous display of bowed cello notes. The other two chamber string instruments provide chord support for the violin to take up the lead in a heart-wrenching melody until the 4:20 mark when things stop and piano chords bridge us into a piano-based section. Cello, violin, and viola each add some stunning yet minimal note play in support before piano yields the fore, strings come together, and guitar joins in. By 6:30 the weave has tightened and sped up--just before a mandolin-like synth (heavily treated electric guitar?) is added over the piano and strings. Gorgeous! A sparsely cohesive final 30 seconds finishes it off nicely. (19/20)

5. "Swimming in the Plastic Ocean" (3:07) a chamber trio that opens with deep viola motif sounding almost Russian as pizzicato notes shoot from the cello. Violin enters as the lead instrument in a sad dirge before viola steps in beneath. Cello eventually begins bowing before there is a pregnant pause out of which come several long three-note chords coming from the three instruments before evolving into another untidy weave that eventually leads to a rather discordant end. Nice piece! (9/10)

6. "Whale Family" (6:18) opening with some absolutely beautiful WILLIAM ACKERMAN-like pastoral acoustic guitar work, the piano and strings eventually join in, first giving cello and viola the leads, then allowing piano and treated note primacy as mother and infant whales swim lovingly together on the video screen. Gorgeous piano chords at the song's foundation! The music feels quite driven by the video imagery--becoming quite subservient in a soundtrack capacity as the video ensues--even pausing in the fourth minute as the whales disappear in a frenzy of underwater bubbles and then resuming in at a much more lively pace as the whales' film footage moves to the ocean's surface. The music does remain faster as the video returns to the depths and even finishes with another barrage of bubbles. Such pristine recording and sound rendering. (9.25/10)

7. "The Stray Cat in Zhuwei" (6:00) the most tightly constructed song on the album opens with piano base and gorgeous dispersal of intermittent guitar strums before the song develops into a full-band effort. Cello and piano get the spotlight in the second minute (toward the end) in what turns out to be repeated as the song's 'chorus.' At the three minute mark guitar and low-end strings play takeover. At 5:00 piano and pizzicato strings yield a more spacious arrangement--which plays out to the end. Flawless and gorgeous! And so emotional! Perhaps the best song the I've ever heard from the band! (10/10)

The music throughout this album is the most mature, most confident the band has ever produced--showing less constraints by the expectations of forms and labels and even more abandon to impressionistic passages though always displaying virtuosic control and cohesion. The sound engineering and production here is beyond amazing--even when the band's new addition--synthesized and effected sound--are employed.

94.69 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; another breath-taking masterpiece of modern neoclassical (less Post Rock) music.






3. DEMEN Nektyr

Demen is the pseudonym or alter ego of young Swedish singer-songwriter Irma Orm and Nektyr is her debut release on Kranky Records. The music here reminds me of some of the COCTEAU TWINS' more mellow, atmospheric music from the 1980s and 90s--perhaps even a song left off of the 1986 4A.D. Harold Budd-Cocteau Twins collaboration, The Moon and The Melodies album. It also feels as if Irma could be one of ANNA von HAUSSWOLFF's kindred spirits.

1. "Niorum" (3:59) a more perfect ambient/atmospheric song with vocals I have not heard in a long time. (10/10)

2. "Morgon" (9:01) really two songs in one, part one pure atmospheric shoegaze bliss, the second half with a driving drum tempo. The first half is sublime. (19/20)

3. "Korridorer" (5:03) a very heavily distorted piano (mostly) solo piece very close to the famed Harold Budd sound. (9/10)

4. "Ilidrop" (3:40) By the sounds of songs like this one, Lisa Gerard has an heir! Deep bass and distant drums, ear-filling synth washes, and that glorious, dreamy voice. (9/10)

5. "Mea" (2:21) Budd-treated piano play eventually supported by a spacious, airy voice. (9/10) 

6. "Ambur" (6:51) heavily treated vibes and Cocteau Twins-like bass and spacious drums over which Irma sings in a kind of treated Patricia Kaas voice and style. Gorgeous! Emotional! Trippy! One of my favorite songs of the year! (14.5/15)

7. "Flor" (3:34) Multiple layers of vocalise playing off of almost random piano riffing (heavily treated, of course). (9.5/10)

An album of deeply engaging atmospheric songs. Wherever she decides to turn, this artist has quite a future!

94.11 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of atmospheric prog.




4. TREE TOPS Ghosts Don't Dance With Shoes

A four piece band with some great assist with sound/production/keyboards from UNAKA PRONG's Chris Pope, let the world know that there is a new force to be reckoned with in the blues rock domain and they say they're from Knoxville, Tennessee. Not since Duane and Dickie or maybe Skynyrd's Rossington and Gaines or perhaps Lizzy's Gorham and Sykes have two guitarists commanded the attention and accolades like these two:  Cory Smith and David Webb. I honestly don't know which one is which when they solo, but their racing harmonized weaves are absolutely jaw-dropping, stunning, almost unbelievable. And drummer Jon Mann is quite impressive as well.

Line-up/Musicians
 - Jon Mann - drums, percussion
 - Cory Smith - guitar, vocals
 - David Webb - guitar, vocals
    With
 - Chris Pope - keys
 - Jack Willard - bass

1. "Confunktivitis" (7:38) Steely Dan, Love and Money, Meet Danny Wilson, Roddy Frame, (15/15)

2. "Dancefloors" (7:22) what opens like a ZZ TOP song, morphs into something else as a Frank Marino (MAHOGANY RUSH)-like guitar sound and style. (14.25/10)

3. "Stonefacin" (5:46) sounds like a heavy JOE JACKSON. (9/10)

4. "Overcoats" (4:35) a "Hotel California"-like groove with some nice FAGEN-like vocals. (9.5/10)

5. "Fly Like Pigeons" (4:10) a brilliantly crafted and lyricized song in a kind of Rockabilly/RODDY FRAME/FRANK ZAPPA style. (9.5/10)

6. "Pigeons In Space" (12:59) One of the best songs I've heard all year--construction, performance, melody, surprise, beautiful hooks and nice singing. The  tremolo wah-guitar playing is absolutely stunning from start to finish! And in the last four minutes you get to hear some amazing drumming and Santana-like guitar. (25/25)

7. "Drugs" (9:09) I hear Buddy Guy. I hear Fripp and Belew at their craziest. And yet there is a great vocal/lyric, too! Amazing paired guitars playing at lightning speed in harmony! (19/20)

8. "Stonefacin (Reprise)" A reprise of the (IMO) weakest song on the album. A guitarist's wet dream.(1:57) (4/5)

9. "Towers" (6:29) is a hard rockin' song over which the boys decided to try to place words, singing, and even harmonized background vocals. Too bad. Jimi HENDRIX, however, would've loved the song. Maybe he was there. (But whose body was he channeling through: Cory or David?) (8.5/10)

Total Time 60:05

These boys have a sound that is familiar but so fresh, and completely unique. Rockers that sound like jammers they have an incredibly tightly knit performance style that reminds me more of classically orchestrated music than loose, improvised rock'n'roll. With every listen I'm trying to answer the question, "Are they prog?" As an inclusionist and in awe and respect of these virtuoso composer-performers, I say, "YES!" 

As another aside, all of my above comparisons to masters of old must be taken with a serious diminuation as there are but flashes of similiarity, almost never blatant mimicry or revisionism of the bands or styles or sounds mentioned. Tree Tops are unique and in a class by themselves. 

93.69 on the Fishscales = five stars, A; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. A band that needs to be heard as they are one of the most impressive bands of the Teens. 



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



5. WESERBERGLAND Sehr Kosmish Ganz Progisch

When guitarist-producer Jacob HOLM-LUPO (WHITE WILLOW, THE OPIUM CARTEL), flutist-keyboard player Ketil Vestrum EINARSEN (WHITE WILLOW, JAGA JAZZIST, WOBBLER, MOTORPSYCHO), guitarist Gaute STORSVE (RHYS MARSH) and drummer extraordinaire Mattias OLSSON (ÄNGLAGÅRD, PINEFOREST CRUNCH, PÄR LINDH, WHITE WILLOW, THE OPIUM CARTEL, NECROMONKEY) get together to create an album of music in tribute to the Kosmische Music (Krautrock) artists of the 1970s you can bet it's going to be a good one. And it is! Each song on the album is like listening to a drum, keyboard, and guitar clinic. It's as if JAGA JAZZIST and CAN were merged--as if Lars and Martin HORNTVETH were collaborating with Jaki LIEBEZEIT in this, the 21st Century with all of the gizmos and effects that give 21st Century musicians such versatility and variety. The bass is often keyboard or computer driven, but it works. Mattias' drumming blends computer technologies with the live kit sounds. The keyboard and guitar sounds and techniques used are all over the place. Overall, the music is derivative, yet experimental; it's rhythmic and yet avant; it's militaristic yet psychedelic. It's genius! 

Line-up/Musicians:
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (White Willow, Kaukasus, Tirill, Rhys Marsh): Flute, clarinet, keyboads, guitars, programming
Gaute Storsve: Bass and guitar
Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel): Bass and guitar
Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, Necromonkey, The Opium Cartel, White Willow): Drums and percussion
    With:
Lars Fredrik Frøislie (Wobbler, White Willow)
Stephen James Bennet (Henry Fool, Tim Bowness, No-Man, The Opium Cartel)
Tetsuroh Konishi
Lars Horntveth (Jaga Jazzist)
Erik Johannessen (Jaga Jazzist)
Brynjar Dambo (White Willow)
Roger Langvik
Einar Baldurson


1. "Tanzen Und Springen" (9:44) the most melodically memorable song on the album but perhaps the least adventurous. Nice lead guitar work (especially the Todd Rundgren-like work in the ninth and tenth minutes). (18.5/20)

2. "Das Trinklied vom Jammer der Erde" (15:42) 
starts off very etheral/ambient before electronic drums and deep synth washes take over. Very Tangerine Dream-like until the end of the third minute when Mattias shifts into second gear. Flutes and synths take turns layering their spacey sounds after the fourth minutes. Such a deeply engaging song--definitely one of the highlights of 2016/2017 for me. Even the "copied" Pink Floyd "Time" reverbed rototoms and the Holger Czukay-like radio samples in the last three minutes are wonderful inclusions. (29/30)

3. "Kunst Der Fuge" (12:02) AMAZING drums and awesome organ/keyboard work. (23.125/25)   

4. "Tristrant" (8:48) 
with the sound base of a 1980s song by ABC or FLOCK OF SEAGULLS (there's so much of that 80s retro sound going around, why not in Kosmische Musik?) we get to hear great synth, winds, and percussion work. I love the cacophonic buildup in the second half and then the slow release toward the end. Weird to think of this great song as the "weak link" of the album! (18/20)

Total time: 46:16

93.29 on the Fishscales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. 





6. FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE Night en Face

The much anticipated follow-up to their 2014 debut album, Not This City, Olga and Vitaly have toned things down quite a bit for this collection of serious, emotional displays of musical expression. It has taken me a long time to get to know and like this album as my expectations were greatly hampered by the extraordinary previous album. Now that I have let go of the old and allowed the beauty and depth of these new tracks into my heart, into my being, I feel so grateful, so much more satisfied and fulfilled. Olga and Vitaly have shown us how much they have grown as both musicians and human beings. I hope that they both are feeling as fulfilled and satisfied with these songs as I am.  

A quote of the description accompanying the production company (AltrOck)'s publicity release of the album:

"Second episode for the Five Storey Ensemble. Natural pursuit of previous experience with Rational Diet.
Much more complexity, more room for melodies, a real small orchestra, guides us between awkward and melancholy atmospheres.
Chamber music with sounding solutions and interlocking sounds with unique style and elegance.
A narrative that encapsulates the drama and pathos of a movie soundtrack.
A disk of great maturity and quality."

The Players:
Vitaly Appow — bassoon, soprano sax, bass guitar;
Olga Podgaiskaya — piano;
Olga Polakova — flute;
Anastasiya Mosse — violin;
Ilona Ies’ — cello;
Vyacheslav Plesko — doublebass;
Nikolay Siamitka — percussion (track 4);
Aliona Sukliyan — oboe (track 5);
Vladimir Pashkevich — clarinet (track 7);
Andrey Verishka — marimba, vibraphone (tracks 1,2,6,7);
Ekaterina Maretskaya — piano (track 3).

1. "Night Across the Street" (5:51) opens as a kind of sharp-edged, discordant reinterpretation of the opening Adagio sostenuto from BEETHOVEN's "Moonlight Sonata" before adding some STEVE REICH-ian pulsing wind and string instruments. Cinematic in a unsettling Psycho-kind of way. (8.5/10)

2. "The Respectable Booksellers" (2:24) syncopated, odd-timed piano notes establish a pattern before the rest of the full ensemble joins in with an unusually cohesive and melodic piece--until, that is, the piano goes Wizard of Oz at the two minute mark. Then everything kind of becomes deconstructed and disassembled--everybody left to their own lonely devices. At 3:23 the storm crescendoes as leaves. Piano and reeds and pizzicato strings gather themselves into an ensemble again--as if to prove that they can pick up the pieces after the previous chaotic debacle. (9/10)

3. "Makaó" (5:23) Olga's piano étude with double bass support. Again, I can only think of Beethoven or Chopin or Rachmaninov as predecessors to this type of emotion. (9/10)

4. "Postmonition" (3:12) my guess is that this is Vitaly's usurpation of the Olga's previous song ideas and expressions. The sober, serious nature of these sounds and performances hit so deeply. (9/10)

5. "Rearrive" (6:42) another Vitaly composition which opens with his bassoon with flute and oboe and, later, violin, playing a weave of multiple melodies. The flute is given solo voice in the second minute over Vitaly and Olga's sparse and spacious foundation. Then simple violin and other strings get their turns. A vary spacious and vacuous sonicscape--especially when the piano is not pounding away on its higher octave chords (as it does in the very middle). The slow build of sustained strings tapestry over the staccato reeds and piano in the fifth and sixth minutes is quite emotional. (9/10)

6. "The Road Away from..." (7:58) The first song that opens with an ensemble approach. The slower, almost Baroque pacing, allows each note its presence, its deserved recognition, which I love. I feel totally bathed and relished in each note, each harmonized chord. And when the "sad" slide occurs at 1:50 I am unconcerned--it seems natural that "help" will arrive to boost and resurrect the wonderful spirit of unity and collaboration that has been (temporarily) disrupted. The sad, cinematic, silent movie-like sparse section in the fifth minute is slowly rebuilt with some absolutely stunning and brilliant "rays" or glimpses of joyful hope. Astonishing! (10/10)

7. "Woods Are Worried from Boredom" (5:41) beginning as a very tense and emotional slow duet between Olga and Vitaly (I hope they are lovers, or, at least, understand how touched and honored I feel to be privy to their gorgeous dance of total nakedness), it eventually enlists the beautiful support of the village. Wonderful. Ms. Podgaiskaja sure knows how to write music from the depths of the soul! (10/10)

8. "Jupiter" (3:23) opening with a surprisingly upbeat, almost Michel LEGRAND-like sound, the joinder of strings is almost too gorgeous in a RALPH VAUGH WILLIAMS "Larks Ascending" kind of way. The piano-cello duet at 1:30 is equally heart-wrenching. Amazing piece! Amazing end to an amazing musical journey! One that started so sparsely and then slowly, ever so slowly, built and built, until we ended with this extremely beautiful and optimistic piece. (10/10)

Belarus must be a sobering yet beautiful place! And Olga Podgaiskaja and Vitaly Appow two of its existential heroes!

93.125 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive chamber music.




7. VITRAL Entre as Estrelas

Though technically this album was released in 2017 (December 31, 2017, to be exact), it was really written back in the early 1980s and has been part of the band's repertoire ever since; it is only now being rendered unto studio album for the first time. High-caliber, full on instrumental symphonic prog from Brazillian veterans; bombastic without being overly so; great guitar work and perfectly subtle keyboard support and the pleasurable inputs of a talented, often-inspired flute player. The sound is quite nice--nearly replicating that of 1990s COLLAGE on their monster Moonshine, only, truly, better: warmer and clearer. The instrument sounds, melodies, and shifts in tempos and movements are excellent--timed perfectly well (never overblown or drawn out for too long): true signs of intelligent prog veterans. 

Line-up/Musicians
Claudio Dantas (Quaterna Réquiem): Drums, perucussion
Eduardo Aguillar: Keyboards, bass
Luiz Zamith: Guitars
Marcus Moura (Bacamarte): Flutes

1. "Pétala de Sangue" ( 6:49 ) nice mid-tempo Neo-Prog with Nexus (organ) and Mike Oldfield sound and feel (lead guitar & tubular bells) to it. (12.75/15)

2. "Entre as Estrelas" ( 52:22 ) a truly epic song that the band has worked on in live situations for over a year--and it shows: this is a highly thought-out, well-constructed song with little or no fluff. Reminds me of some of the nicer, more melody-oriented NeoProg coming out of RPI or the Netherlands. Not quite as sophisticated or bombastic as the music of Arjen Lucassen or Roine Stolt but much more easy on the ears. I'm actually reminded a lot of some of the music that PFM or NEXUS did in the previous decade as well as some of the English folk-melody-tinged music of early BIG BIG TRAIN (minus the vocals, of course). The flute, of course, is such a wonderful addition to the tapestry. Plus, the keyboards are never over-the-top showy or attention grabbing, always tasteful and perfectly supportive to the whole and to the other instruments, which is quite extraordinary, in my opinion. (99.75/105)

3. "Vitral" ( 5:12 ) opens with Baroque sound with "harpsichord," celeste, wooden flute, and organ sounds playing in a classical time construct. Quite lovely. Becomes more bombastic with Arp synth taking the lead at 2:10 in a Chip Davis/MANNHEIM STEAMROLLER kind of way. Then back to Baroque instrumental sounds--with some modern synths and electric bass and, later, electric guitar mixed in. Baroque and modern seemlessly melded together! (9.5/10)

Total Time 64:23

93.08 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of symphonic NeoProg.





8. WOBBLER From Silence to Somewhere

Though many sounds and riffs from old classic prog songs continue to pop up in their music, their self-proclaimed more collaborative, whole-band approach to song composition has really paid off in terms of rendering a distinctively fresh collection of songs. The musicianship is, as usual, extraordinary, but what strikes me more on this album is the remarkable diversity in musical and vocal instrumentation choices and styles. Like a Mike Oldfield album, I found myself sitting on the edge, waiting for whatever new and amazingly unexpected shift the music would take: from Yes-like to mediæval to psychedelic to folk. Plus, in several places they were able to pull off one of the better incorporations of the GENTLE GIANT style that I've ever heard from a 21st Century artist.

Line-up/Musicans
Lars Fredrik Frøislie - keyboards and backing vocals
Kristian Karl Hultgren - bass, bass clarinet and bass pedals
Martin Nordrum Kneppen - drums, percussion and recorder
Andreas Wettergreen Strømman Prestmo - vocals, guitar, glockenspiel and percussion
Geir Marius Bergom Halleland - lead guitar and backing vocals

1. "From Silence to Somewhere" (20:59) an interesting and unpredictable run through some older sounds and styles, shifting, as noted above, quite surprisingly and refreshingly from quite different dynamic ranges. These guys can really play!(37/40)

2. "Rendered in Shades of Green" (2:05) a pretty little treated piano solo with mellotron, synth strings, and tuned percussives mixed in for the second half. (4.5/5)

3. "Fermented Hours" (10:10) opens with the sounds and freneticism of Yes's "Sound Chaser" (which it seems to be inspired by--though it sounds a lot like "L6 Bealtine" from their last album, Rites at Dawn). The awesome organ work in the second quarter behind the more folksie vocals make for a nice section. The second half continues with the awesome organ work beneath some very Yes-like vocal and instrumental passages. I like the theatric shouts in the final minute just before the song crescendos and fades. (18/20)

4. "Foxlight" (13:19) opens acoustically (with 'tron): flutes, guitars, bass clarinet, glockenspiel, before vocal section begins its play over the top. Very delicate and beautiful! Then at 3:42 the delicacy ends and a loud, bombastic sequence of chords opens--though harpsichord support helps to balance it out. The vocal section starts out nice but then gets a little washed out by too many instruments soloing at the same time as the singing. A Spanish acoustic guitar chord sequence beneath the busy rock weave at 5:45 is nice but ends up fizzling out and letting the heavy cacophony resume its dominance. At 7:11 we get a reprieve and return to more acoustic, almost DOORS and GENTLE GIANT-like, instrumental section. I love this! I must say, the presence of the harpsichord is quite refreshing and welcomed. A kind of "Cinema Show" dream-sequence takes over at 8:40 over which some beautiful harmonized group vocals and flute play make their show. At 10:07 we get a true mediæval/GENTLE GIANT section. The singer's voice even sounds a bit like an older Kerry Minnear. Great section! Horns (or, really, kazoos)! Probably my favorite on the album. Definitely my favorite song, overall. (23.75/25)

93.06 on the Fishscales = A-; five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




9. YVES POTIN/JAZZCOMPUTER.ORG Forest Stairways

Jazz multi-instrumentalist Yves Potin puts lush soundscapes together in a way that might be familiar to lovers of the music of Andreas Vollenveider and Robin Guthrie or even Ozric Tentacles, Steve and David Gordon, and Paul Hardcastle but where Yves’ music is different from the cited artists is in his exciting and use of percussion, layers and layers of synthetically-rendered musical nature sounds over which he employs  heavily treated guitars, koto, and other synths to move the music forward on their melody lines. It’s truly gorgeous music, soul-engaging music.

1. “Flying Owl” (10:12) has the rhythmic drive of a Berlin School sequence-driven song but is guitar, koto, and percussion dominated! The opening 90 seconds is more ambient and relaxing, but by the two minute mark we are off to the races! (19/20)

2. “Fern Chimes” (9:47) sounds like the music I would have made had I stuck with it! Love the deep bass tone, the percussive and computer-generated nature sounds, and the guitar strums, and the gentle keyboard play. At 4:50 there is a shift as a bulfrog-like bass line takes over as the main driving force. Many layers of keyboard-generated sounds are interspersed over the top of the bass creating quite a busy image of a nature scene. Vibes in the seventh and eighth minutes are cool. (18.5/20)

3. “Forest Mist” (9:20) wonderfully beautiful and relaxing “Tropical” background over which heavily reverbed electric guitar strums are spaced out so that they can float away with the mist. This is so like a Robin Guthrie soundscape! Then the koto comes in as the lead instrument. Gorgeous! (18/20)

4. “Mirror Lake” (9:17) despite the draw of the lush synths and deep bass lines, it is the busy hand percussion that is my favorite stuff to pay attention to on this one. Great chord and melody lines from the keys here. The added keyboard percussion in the final third of the song is really cool. (18.5/20)

5. “Future Tribes” (11:32) opens with very slow attacking synth washes and lots of waves of tuned and electronic percussion sounds over which large hand drums are played in hypnotic patterns. Echoing guitar strums enter in the fifth minute while some slow-decaying lead notes also present themselves, one at a time. At the very end of the sixth minute these lead guitar notes start to feel as if it's Allan Holdsworth playing them. Then Pat Metheny-like synth-horn guitar lead joins the party! (Think "Are You Going With Me?") This is awesome! The bass has transformed into something more upbeat and insistent and the percussion falls right in line. I'm dancing! I'm in Heaven! (My version of heaven will have lots of dancing and lots of music like this.) (19/20) 

I will repeat the statement I made in song #2: Yves has created music that I feel would very well have come out of my own heart/mind/brain had I continued trying to pursue a course as a musician/composer--music that comes from the soul and feeds and affects other souls. Well done! Bravo and Encore! LOTS more!

93.0 on the Fishscales = a masterpiece of progressive rock music and definitely a shining masterpiece of prog electronic music. This is my first exposure to Yves' music! I can't wait to get to know his previous (and future) work!




10. CHEER-ACCIDENT Putting Off Death

I don't know how I've put off knowing this band for so long but finally I am here and I am in the fold! These artists are geniuses: avant/RIO musicians who create interesting, melodic, and engaging very engaging music while still definitely in contrast or defiance of mainstream rock and even prog. I will even go so far as to proclaim it a crime for any person, old or young, who calls themselves a fan of progressive rock music to not like the music of this band! Just look at this lineup:

Line-up/Musicians
Jeff Libersher - guitar, trumpet, vocals, keyboards
Dante Kester - bass, keyboards
Thymme Jones - drums, vocals, piano, trumpet, keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, moog, noise
Carmen Armillas - vocals
Mike Hagedorn - trombone
Teria Gartelos - vocals
Sacha Mullin - vocals
Cory Bengtsen - baritone sax
Beth Yates - flute
Julie Pomerleau - violin
Joan Morrone - french horn
Ross Feller - tenor sax
Rob Pleshar - tuba
Todd Fackler - tuba

the range of musical instruments represented--and they are all used prominently but not all at once.

1. "Language Is" (11:24) Piano and male voice with some bassa nd drums in the chorus sections over the first four minutes, this alone is but at 3:40 there occurs a quite aggressive bursting forth of an entire Broadway/"West Side Story"-like full-band support--which turns into a rackus instrumental section, which then morphs into an almost meditative SAMUEL BARBER-like section before slide guitar, drums, bouncy piano, and horns take over in a neat jazzy-CHICAGO-like sound. Very engaging. Love the polyrhythmic weaves of the rhythm section. Staccato hits of the horns and moog take the lead over the piano and drums until piano is replaced by electric guitar chords and the horns by radio/television static--which persists into what sounds like garbled, mangled tapes. Great song! (18/20) 

2. "Immanence" (4:12) opens with a piano-led rhythm and melody similar to an early BILLY JOEL song, only repeated in an almost minimalist way. Sung start to finish by a female vocalist (Carmen Armillas?) who just happens to have one of those nearly perfect, warm yet crystal-clear voices like Heather FINDLAY (MOSTLY AUTUMN, MANTRA VEGA, solo), this song sucks one in from the first note and never lets you go. It even gets one laughing (if you listen to the words). A tough song to get out of your head once you've heard it. Awesome. (9.5/10)

3. "Wishful Breathing" (3:45) opens as a jazzy little instrumental, drums bass and intentionally cheesy organ. A John Lennon "Tomorrow Never Knows"-like vocal enters for a bit before leaving the instrumentalists to go wanky into some other dimension--until the 2:45 guitar strum tries to set us back on the path of origin. Brilliant! (9.5/10)

4. "Falling World" (3:40) another song that seems to (inadvertently?) conjure up associations to THHE BEATLES' psychedelic music, as well as experimental funk bass player BILL LASWELL (8.5/10)

5. "More And Less" (3:00) I'm reminded here of Bill Laswell and Kip Hanrahan (with a little ARTO LINDSAY on voice!) during their Pangaea Records era. AWESOME work Thymme! (10/10)

6. "Lifetime Guarantee" (6:59) A little Robert Wyatt, people? That's how it opens. As it unfolds it morphs into a kind of 1960s flower child song. Then at 4:!5 it turns more into CARDIACS/ECHOLYN/Lewis Carroll mania. (13.5/15)

7. "Hymn" (5:11) has a BOWIE and early BRIAN ENO feel to it, lilting along almost like a children's song--as do so many of the songs here. Truly remarkable! Simple yet quirky and unpredictable. What a song to end the album--with its brainworm melody. Even the psychedelic boat ride with Willy Wonka in the first half of the fourth minute can't suppress the joy, happiness, and elation that this song promotes. (10/10)

Total Time 38:11

I also hear so many influences from leading edge/experimental 1970s soul/R&B artists like James Brown, Al Green, and War.

92.94 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a true masterpiece of what I consider to be truly progressive rock music. Amazing, beautiful, and so engaging and uplifting! My new favorite album of the year!




11. KOTEBEL Cosmology

Kotebel returns! And the band is tighter, more polished, more virtuosic than ever! And flutist extraordinaire Omar Acosta is back! This time the band take on a concept album with a philosophical thread using a progression of human thought capacity from Newtonian mechanical/physical to  quantum/spiritual and even into world religious.

Line-up/Musicians
Carlos Franco Vivas – drums and percussion
César Garcia Forero – guitars
Jaime Pascual Summers – bass
Adriana Nathalie Plaza Engelke – piano, keyboards
Carlos G. Plaza Vegas – keyboards
   With
Omar Acosta - flute

1. "Post Ignem" (8:26) Slow, lumbering NeoProg. Simple, straightforward melody riffs, which grow in complexity as congas, synths, bass and electric guitar amp it up. Still, flute is, bass thump-thump-thumps, and then it's over: a quiet section . This song is familiar to me in a "Pentacle Suite" kind of way--like a more concise, modernized version. Big tympanic rolls signal a switch back to the first verse. Small, little hints of the main melody from piano, synth, and flute flit in and out while the rhythm section presses on. The final minute uses a skeleton version before ramping up for the final crescendo. Nice song. Such fine tuned professionals! (18.75/20)

2. "Geocentric Universe" (7:34) Jazz. Opens with an ALIO DIE-like walk through a sacred temple or mosque before solo flute establishes the main melody. Spanish guitar and harpsichord and then piano follow before drums, hand percussion, and bass enter! The music is so restrained--it's wonderful! And hand drums! A kind of prolonged jazz coda follows--reminding me of John Coltrane or Miles. The band rejoins establishing a jazzy, Monk-like groove with changing tempos and melodies. At 4:30 Omar Acosta shows us why he's been so missed--providing the glue to move forward and into the next more-piano-based section. You go, Adriana! Then an awesome merengue-like Latin-rhythm section follows over which Omar and César fly! Wow! What a ride! A top three song for sure! (15/15)

3. "Mechanical Universe" (7:53) full out complex symphonic prog rock as only Kotebel can do it. Two main sections--or forces--playing at each other, vying for ascendance. Great lead guitar work! Break for piano and then Spanish guitar with bass and congas weave a very demanding tapestry. Piano and synths join in, then industrial sounds for percussion break before we return to one of the main themes with electric guitar screaming out its case. Divert into a more intricate stoccato weave before bass and drums are given a little showtime. All the while piano is providing the rhythmic foundation for everyone else! Final minute has the band laying it all out there with guitar-led prog rock at its finest. (14.25/15)

4. "Entangled Universe" (8:46) opening with a mischievous flute-and-synth melody  line, organ and spanish guitar and piano then take over, before Adriana and Jaime establish the main rhythmic foundation for some stellar soloing and dueling from piano, flute, and electric guitar. Pause to assess position, electric guitar and flute talking, before switch to deep, heavy, bass-led slow-down section (using same melodies). Somehow the music undiscernably speeds back up (with some awesome bass playing) while flute and electric guitar take turns shouting at each other. Synth puts in his two cents! Guitar and flute seem unfazed while piano provides the underlying manpower for everybody else. Another switch to deep, heavy, slow, this time with jazzy bass play. The melodic themes are again recapitulated by everyone while tempo speeds back up and jazzy drumming drive the show. At the end of the seventh minute a kind of dreamy piano-flute-led section takes over before chunky bass and drums rejoin. Then all hell breaks loose again with guitar and flute making their final cases over the frenzy of the rest of the ensemble. Wow! What a show! What a battle! (18/20)

5. "Oneness" (8:15) piano intro for the first 30 seconds, joined by electric guitar arpeggi, synthesizer, and flute before bass and drums join in. At 1:40 synth calliope/organ chords and flute take on the soft intro interlude before the full band crashes back in to take us on a nice ride with synth, flute, piano, and rolling bass leading the way. At 3:20 electric guitar and flute seem to take the lead, alternating turn taking. Organ and piano team with bass and drums to take us into the next dimension--a repeat of the section that they did before. Incredibly well performed intricacies--six musicians, each occupying one track, jamming together. In the seventh minute the beautiful Santana-like lead melody comes to front and center through the electric guitar with gorgeous synth wash chords backing it. The song then slowly, carefully de-escalates, taking its structure apart piece by piece. Stunning song. One of my top three on the album. (19.25/20)

6. "Mishima's Dream" (5:29) one of Kotebel's more adventurous, working-outside-their-box songs opens with some DEEP PURPLE/URIAH HEEP-like bombast from electric guitar and organ. The pace being set by the rhythm section is actually rather slow and plodding. Then, at the end of the second minute everything slows and softens while electric guitar performs some nice arpeggi in support of a cool, extended synth "pipe" (á la Keith Emerson) solo. Next section lets the organ and electric guitar rock it out. Disjointed guitar solo is not so classic rock as much as . Organ's turn is more Wakeman-esque than ELP. Final 50 seconds is unusual for soft, spacey decay before rock electric guitar finger pickings bring us to the end. Cool song! So different for the Barcelona masters! (9/10)

7. "A Bao A Qu" (4:30) opens with 20 seconds of pure silence. Intentional? Synths, piano, then bass-supported electric guitar take turns expressing their wonder and curiosity. At the very end of the second minute drums, bass and rhythm guitar establish a jazzy little rhythm foundation over which synths and piano continue their conversation. Guitar joins in for a few bars before synth and piano again. Finally, at 3:20 the electric guitar can take the restraint no more--César breaks out with a brilliant burst of exasperation before the band settle back into a "Court of the Crimson King"-like passage before ending. With silence. Another adventurous excursion for the band. (9/10)

8. "Canto XXVIII" (7:21) The third song in a row in which the band test themselves by moving into realms that are, for them, experimental: polyphonic instrumental threads moving in polyrhythmic sequences. Then acoustic guitar work (would call it classical were it not performed on steel stringed guitar) with distant piano. Staccato electric guitar chords, thick bass and drum weave, organ odd, polyrhythmic time signatures weaving in and out of cooperation. King Crimson outdone! Maybe my favorite song Kotebel has ever done. Brilliant! (15/15)

9. "Paradise Lost" (3:04) piano arpeggio, synth melody line, and piano establish a bit of a deep conversation here. It's not until the beginning of the first minute that the piano finally gives us enough music to guess at a full key signature. Father-daughter; father waning, keeping to the background while daughter wonders "aloud." (8/10)

Total Time 61:18

It has taken me a very long time to review this album because it has taken me a very long time to really get to know this very dense album--dense and sophisticated, as all Kotebel albums are. That is why they are one of the premier prog bands around because they have such intricate performances and virtuosic instrumentalists (all of them). What makes this album stand above the others is the polish, the adventurousness, the courage and bravery, and the growing technical command each and every member has over their instrument and over their contributions to the overall weave of the compositions. There is not a bad or weak song on this album (there never is on a Kotebel album) and there are some that are extraordinary. If you haven't got on board with this band, you need to. One of the true masters of modern progressive rock music.

92.78 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a true masterpiece of complex symphonic progressive rock. Again I ask: Why all the love for Änglågard when there is Kotebel?!!!




12. BELIEVE Seven Widows

A collection of masterfully crafted songs. Though the leader is obviously Mirek Gil, all contributors are essential to this product, and those of newcomer Łukasz Ociepa on vocals and especially from long-time violinist and keyboard player, Satomi, are exceptional. With a product like this, the band can be forgiven any and all time taken for its creation and rendering.
  
Line-up/Musicians
Łukasz Ociepa - vocals
Mirek Gil (Collage) - lead guitar
Przemas Zawadzki - bass guitar
Robert 'Qba' Kubajek - drums
Satomi - violin, keyboards 

1. "I" (10:49) a perfectly crafted, polished song that suffers a little from lack of that over-the-top emotion that we want from Mirek's guitar solos. The song opens with two basic synth chords joined by strummed electric guitar and, in the second minute, bass, drums, and Mirek's lead establishing one of his signatory melodic riffs. But wait! He's joined by the harmonizing effect of the violin! Nice! Violin stays on to supply a staccato-bowed single note variation while newcomer Łukasz Ociepa enters. At 3:27 Mirek switches gears to deliver a true lead solo as the drums and bass make things a little more interesting beneath. And then Satomi joins in and it's magical! Satomi carries the lead over a bridge of emptiness before the band joins back in and continues the instrumental section another minute. A shift in mood and style at the end of the sixth minute leads to another appearance by the band's new vocalist. He's sounding a lot like Karol Wróblewski in this section. The new mood feels more somber and serious. It plays out for four of the final five minutes of the song--vocals ending in a way that sounds like a DOVES song--before ending with the bombastic section with Mirek's lead riffs. (18/20)

2. "II" (9:07) bass, drums and kalimba-like guitar arpeggi open this one, setting another eerie, ominous tone. Mirek's guitar is a little edgier with some distortion this time as he wails between each of the vocal sections. Satomi's play is more academic, following practice scales, as she interjects an occasional solo or two.  At 3:20 everything shifts dramatically as acoustic guitar strums and picked electric play accompaniment to first Satomi's violin and then Mirek's electric wail. At 4:48 the same foundation serves to support Łukasz in a new vocal--one that is slightly muted until he begins to belt it out at 5:30. Nice lower end guitar work from Mirek's lead in the sixth-seventh minutes. When he finally climbs into the upper registers it feels dramatic and gets the adrenaline really pumping. Then he starts using wammy bar and Satomi comes in to reinforce him. And she gets to end it with multiple violin tracks riffing away. This is so sublime! What a team! What a band! This band has really gelled with this album. I'm ready to acclaim them the new Neo Prog masters! (18/20)

3. "III" (7:58) an average prog song is turned remarkable by Mirek's solos and the wonderful vocals--especially in the mid-section; the beginning and end sections are satisfactory. Great drumming, too! (13.5/15)

4. "IV" (11:58) from rain storm to playground sounds to an awesomely heavy instrumental opening, the impassioned singing of lead vocalist Łukasz Ociepa only adds credibility to the seriousness of that majestic opening--and then he goes up another notch in the sixth minute just before Mirek follows suit. God! It's great to hear Mirek Gil letting loose again (albeit, too briefly)! I think every Collage lover wants more of the adrenaline magic of "The Blues" and "Heroes Cry."
     Lull with bass cords and militaristic toms fill the end of the eighth minute as Satomi plays a respectful folk dirge for the next two minutes. When the band finally brings all back together at the 9:30 mark it sounds so powerful, so supportive of the violin's beautiful and simple eulogy. Amazing the things music can do! An outright masterpiece of simple, efficient power! (25/25)

5. "V" (8:03) Steadily presented heavy prog with no flash or flair, just solid, melody supporting chords over which Satomi's violin and Łukasz' plaintive voice bless us. And Mirek is in the background (at least, until the fourth minute)! Nice guitar'n'drums chase in that fourth minute solo.         What a voice! This may be the heir apparent to Marco Gluhmann. He's got some growing to do but he has the pathos! I love the shift at 5:15 into a different time signature with bass and guitar holding steady while Qba's drums and the lead guitar fly (with multiple tracks given to display Mirek's frenetic flourishes). Wow! I'm not sure I can take much more of this adrenaline pumping! (14.25/15)

6. "VI" (8:36) loose chimes bridge songs five and six before a whispered voice delivers its creepy Edgar Allan Poe message. Bass harmonics and toms support heavily distorted guitar arpeggi before Mirek sets up the song with a riff in the lead. The vocal here feels a little buried in the music. Great drum, bass, and atmosphere here but the vocal is just not fitting. It's almost as if this was a long finished instrumental that Łukasz felt he could add a vocal to. It's finally starting to work with the gorgeous violin-aided chorus--which is then followed by one of Mirek's signature ear candy leads. Gorgeous. In the sixth minute organ and synth join as the drums double time for a spell, then things slow back down for another spell-binding violin solo. What a gorgeous melody. Another song I'm going to want to hear a lot of. (13.5/15)

7. "VII" (8:48) the toms from song VI bleed into this one before another heavy full onslaught lights up the aural pathways. Once established, this quickly falls back to allow a spacious atmosphere in which Łukasz can deliver another of his masterful vocals. The pattern of heavy-Mirek riffing onslaught bridging the softer vocal sections is established until 3:40 when a slow arpeggiation of a guitar chord progression plays with synth and electric guitar sounds flitting in from behind. Chords of orchestral synth wash join in with more toms while Satomi delivers a brief solo. The music stays the same as Łukasz gives his best Marco impression. This is such gorgeous music.  (18/20)

The YouTube sampler the band had posted to chum up potential investors left me unimpressed. I am SO glad I decided to return and become one of those investors once I found out how to secure it. I cannot repeat enough how emotional this music is, masterful in both composition and delivery. This is NOT the album I was expecting: Believe albums always seem to fall short of expectations and desires. Not this one. This is a sheer masterpiece of progressive rock music--one for the ages!

92.50 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music.




13. CAMEMBERT Negative Toe

Strasbourg's eccentric and eclectic avant garde/RIO have produced a sequel to their 2011 "soundtrack" to an imaginary alien space invasion. The band has matured as both individual instrumentalists and as a cohesive collective. The sound engineering is amazing--one of the best I've ever heard--and the story and even the masterfully crafted music continues to employ an extraordinarily high degree of humour. I find myself laughing and crying within the same songs as we follow the latest installment of the alien Schnörgl's conspiratorial encounters with Earthlings.

Line-up/Musicians:
Adrien Arnaud: Trumpet, percussions
Lela Frite: Voice, invocations
Guillaume Gravelin aka Harpus: Harp
Pierre Wawrzyniak aka W-Cheese: Bass, accoustic guitar
Juliette Blum: Trombone, percussions
Fabrice Toussaint aka Fab aka Slipman: Drums, percussions, arrangements
Valentin Metz: Guitars, bass
Clarissa Imperatore: Vibraphone, xylophone, percussions

1. "Orteil négatif--Once Upon A Time In The Galax-cheese" (3:13) opening with a joyful, confident announcement of the band's incredible precision, new maturity, and sci-fi story to come, percussives and staccato syncopation introduce the story before the music fades into a low, ominous foundation for the eerie "radio" communications that follow (the Schnörgls have been encountered!). 
     Masterful intro! They've got my attention! (4.5/5)

2. "Fecondee par un extra-terrestre" (15:10) opens with 45 seconds of Zeuhl-like insistence before everything turns to a gentle Latin rhythm-based harp-based section. Cool! A minute later, it switches as other band members join in, then turns more jazzy as the horns join in during the third minute. Another shift at 3:30 presents an adorable and pretty "wuah" sound that sounds like a cute alien fart or baby burp (the birth of "El Pulpo"). 
     When the band reunites in full force at the end of the fourth minute, it seems like the outburst is totally jovial, even celebratory. At the end of the sixth minute another shift employs long, deep bass notes, steady drums, electric guitar soloing (which is rare) and all kinds of horns and percussives interspersed. A minute later, things quite down while very delicate play from keys, xylophone, harp, and oboe (and later flutes) very slowly, very gradually build in force and volume. this is gorgeous! By the time 9:45 rolls around and the horns unite in sectional bursts we think it's culminating--but, no! Another lull while cymbals, touch-guitar chords and winds present yet another variation on the theme. This is amazing! The compositional and performance skills on display here are utterly inconceivable! Like an orchestral composition! At 12:30 there is another radical tempo and stylistic shift while woodwinds seem to be "tuning" in the background, the bass and rest of the rhythm section (which is HUGE!) gel into a very Zeuhl-like sound and style. Horns carry the melody forward while harp and vibes fast-weave beneath, just above the rhythm section. Amazing! (29/30)
  
3. "Gros Bouquin" (11:11) Opens with some full band chord hits before quickly settling into a funky-jazzy rhythmic sound for vibes and flutes to present a fast-paced melody. At 1:15 everything quiets down while flutes and other high winds present an airy space. Then we burst back into the bass-led Caribbean funk so that horns can have their solo time. Trumpet takes the lead for the next minute while bass and harp provide the steady foundation. Drums and multiple hand percussion play along though very much in a simplistic supporting role. 
     The song is supposed to represent a musical rendering of the process of extracting the sexual energy from rabbits in order to empower the Schnörgls' secret weapon, the Negative Toe. (17/20)

4. "The Lament Of Pr. Frankenschnörgl" (9:11) a slow, methodically-paced song with lots of space and lots of staccato notes produced in small, steadily paced packages from a wide variety of instruments including some from Oriental traditions. This one also has nicely arranged choral arrangements (sung in English!) professing the Schnörgl military scientist's doubts, regrets, and worries. Such a simple and pleasant song, this in great contrast to the frenzy of multiplicities that was song #2. A great display of control and restraint--both in composition and especially in performance. Mathematically I'm sure this song would be quite interesting to study. The final 90 seconds begin to exude some of the insistence of the Zeuhl world in both vocals and drums and bowed bass--and finishing off with a little crazed cacophony--which is a perfect lead-in to the next song. (18/20)

5. "Skwitch" (14:47) opens with multiple instruments contributing to a low end dominated, ominous opening. At the two-minute mark things quiet down--as if the protagonists are trying to hide or be unnoticed--while retaining the creepy tension from the opening. At 4:10 we again switch tempo while the same delicate instrumental weave re-establishes itself--this time with hand percussion, harp and vibes providing the filler. At the end of the sixth minute the music drops out leaving some very sparsely populated guitar, harp, bass, and creepy trumpet hits while a creepy monster-like human voice vocalizes noises not unlike those of the trumpet. Well into the eighth minute, the horn solo becomes far more "normal"--jazz-like--but then it is suddenly submitted to some very odd under-water-like muting effects (elephantine) while the rest of the band, formerly quiet and reserved, begin to rise up and "swallow" the trumpet within their methodic tapestry. At 9:57 everything stops. Silence. Then very syncopatedly-spaced staccato hits from a variety of instruments gives the sound and melody a stark, almost "disappearing" feel. Horns and harp allow for some feeling of return to occur. Boisterous bass-end bursts seem to be on the verge of disrupting all flow of the base-line tapestry--until they all merge at the beginning of the thirteenth minute. The final two minutes seem to be telling the story of the monster's demise and death. 
     Overall, this is a great mid-tempo song with frequent time changes and polyrhythmic weaving of the multiplicity of instruments. Something about the mood, melodies, and intricacies of this song make it my favorite--despite the fact that it's supposed to tell the story of the future destruction of one of my favorite places on Earth, la cathédrale de Strasbourg, by a cybernetic laboratory elephant. (28.5/30)

6. "El Pulpo" (3:19) oboe, guitar play out a sad melody over harp and bowed double bass before vibes and horns come in to present their antiphon of support. Then at 1:25, all music fades away. Empty space is then gradually invaded by low foghorn-like horn bursts while seaside sounds and human whistling and other pseudo animal sounds are disbursed throughout the soundscape. I guess it's supposed to be the cries of El Pulpo as he and his mother escape to South America by sea-going vessel. (4.5/5)

92.27 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of modern progressive rock--though this album feels as if it belongs more on the Avant Garde/RIO spectrum than the Zeuhl they were associated with in their previous album. Great to have Pierre and company back! And mega-kudos to the engineering/production team! AMAZING sound reproduction! 




14. ALIO DIE & LINGUA FUNGI Lento

Stefano Musso and Jaakko Padatsu, collaborating for the second time (that I know of), have produced a gem of an album with no less than 78 minutes of fine ambient electronic music. The title song and "Stato di Grazia" are my favorites, but each of the other three songs are equally mesmerizing, equally engaging, and equally meditative. 

Line up/Musicians:
Alio Die : Zither, Kantele, Drones and Loops. Bells, Water Drum, Field recordings.
Lingua Fungi : Kantele, Zither, Guitar, Udu, Field recordings, Programming. 

 1. "Lento" (18:34) Water. Waves lapping at the side of a boat. Zither/kantele and heavily treated sustained arpeggi from a synth? a zither? Whatever it is, the way it floats and soars in and out, down and up, in the sonicscape is wonderfully hypnotic; I find myself trapped in its waves feeling as if I am among the flock of birds--or the soul ensouling the flock. The other instruments and sound samples ebb and flow making it seem as if the landscapes beneath the flock are changing with the movement of the flock in the sky over the Earth. (38/40)   

2. "Karhunpäivä" (17:27) sounds like it's a couple of guys playing with random percussives and simple horns while floating in an open boat in the middle of a harbor. In the fourth minute a low drone makes it sound like a squadron of Allied bombers are flying overhead. By the middle of the fifth minute they've passed and some zithers and other droning musical instruments can be heard--as if the doors to a warfside dance hall just opened up and let their internal music be heard. Great for the accompaniment of a Scandinavian folk story. Finger pianos and small clay drums sneak into the mix in the ninth minute. (28/35)

3. "Giardinaggio interiore" (31:50) Stefano and Jaakko Padatsu with their zithers with some kind of bendable saw-like single note playing "synthesizer" and occasional tuned percussives playing over babeling brook noises in the background. Steady and highly engaging and, of course, hypnotic. (57/60) 

4. "Stato di Grazia" (11:00) music befitting its title, to be sure! Again water seems to be the "nature sound" provided in the background. The zither play in the foreground is much busier, much more active and interactive, giving the sonic palette a very much monastic feel--as if I were walking through the great halls and rooms of the Great Mosque in Córdoba, Spain. Very etheric and spiritually inspiring. (20/20)

92.25 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive electronic music from the prolific maestro, Stefano Musso, and his collaborators.




15. THE CONTORTIONIST Clairvoyant

This Indiana-based band has matured and, if truth be known, mellowed (matured?) over the seven years they've been recording and releasing excellent Metal-oriented heavy Prog albums, but this is their best. They have mastered individual restraint and understated performances in favor of group chemistry, group composition, and seductively gorgeous heavy prog music. Simply stunning.

Line-up/Musicians
Robby Baca: Guitar
Michael Lessard: Vocals
Joey Baca: Percussion
Cameron Maynard: Guitar
Jordan Eberhardt: Bass Guitar
Eric Guenther: Keyboards

1. "Monochrome (Passive)" So many creative computer/Hal 9000/synth openings on this album, of which this is the first. As it amps up into heavy guitar and bass distortion it fits! It works. Then the song settles into a softer, almost nujazz groove, with some great guitar and keyboard interaction. I haven't heard this creative and innovative keyboard work in years! (10/10)

2. "Godspeed" (3:14) fast opening and abrasive, settling into great weaves to support Michael Lessard's restrained vocal. Amazing subtle effects and contributions throughout--especially the restrained yet virtuosic guitar work. Michael actually lifts his voice in that last minute just before the guitar does the same. Awesome! (9.5/10)

3. "Reimagined" (3:17) gorgeous heavier song on the KARNIVOOL or VOTUM scale of latently heavy prog. (9/10)

4. "Clairvoyant" (7:37) is the first true metal, djenty song on the album (IMHO)--complete with chorale-styled vocal sections and machine gun bass drum pedal play. Really gorgeous transitions and chorus sections; nothing too difficult or abrasive but all played to group perfection. Also the most diversified and chameleonic song on the album. (13.5/15)

5. "The Center" (7:34) a smooth, gorgeous song that continues to build while Michael Lessard seduces us with his incongruously sedate vocal. Is he the new Maynard James Keenan? Just brilliant! Reminds me of my favorite song from last year by THE MERCURY TREE. (14.25/15)

6. "Absolve" (5:12) brilliant restraint shown on this vocal despite the yearnings of the music to soar! Makes for a great tension between the two. At 5:05 the song shifts, kind of cuts out, while a spacey, post-explosion synth-concerto slowly builds and (9.5/10)

7. "Relapse" (6:14) opens as an odd synth experiment with spacey vocal for the first 1:30 before the heavy rock instruments enter. Synth washes and sliding power chords finish off the first half before a piano-based, computer-paced section with Lessard saying "They're clairvoyant." Interesting sliding-tremolo guitar solo in the fifth and sixth minutes. It even gets a little djenty at times. (9/10)

8. "Return to Earth" (6:15) spacious and atmospheric genius that lets loose at the 1:25 into a heavier (though simple) and still gorgeous and inviting prog song. Vocalist Michael Lessard has the silky smooth pipes to keep the listener engaged despite the frenetics of his mates--like a mellower version of LEPROUS. (8.5/10)

9. "Monochrome (Pensive)" (9:24) very nice song that, unfortunately, takes seven and a half minutes to finally soar to the heights one might expect from a nine and a half minute "epic." (18/20)

92.05 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of gorgeously woven heavy prog. My nominee for Most Improved Band and Best Heavy Prog album of the year--and maybe Most Creative Keyboard Player in Eric Guenther.




16. ACCORDO DEI CONTRARI Violato intatto

MellotronStorm reviewed this album in November or December, proclaiming it to be his front-runner for Album of the Year, so I knew that I had to give it a serious chance. Despite being initially turned off by the opening song, I'm glad I continued to give it a chance. This is definitely one of the most creative and complex albums I've encountered all year--and this with the loss of their former bass player! Well done!

Line-up/Musicians
Giovanni Parmeggiani - electric organ, Fender Rhodes, Minimoog, Arp Odissey
Stefano Radaelli - alto and baritone sax, bowed zither
Marco Marzo Maracas - electric and acoustic guitar
Cristian Franchi - drums
  With
Alessandro Bonetti (Deus ex Machina): violin (4)
Gabriele di Giulio: tenor sax (1, 10)
Patrizia Urbani: vocals (6)

1. "Folia Saxifraga" (4:27) opens with a full-frontal bang right into a fast-paced SEVEN IMPALE-like jam. Sax solo at 2"40 is clearly jazz while the organ and odd-tempo rhythm section beneath gets louder and more insistent. (So Seven Impale-ish!) A little too long in the extension of the repetitive sections and too dissonant from the sax. My bad. (8/10)

2. "Monodia" (6:38) opens with some really cool muted bass organ notes before bursting into a kind of VDGG/SEVEN IMPALE sound--sax and all. After the long introductory period (almost two minutes) we settle into a off-beat organ-arpeggio-led section over which electric guitar solos. In the fourth minute organ does a little solo, too, before sax takes a turn. It's very cool when multiple horns and organ start playing a gorgeous jazz melody together. Amazing! Now THIS is progressive rock music as it should be! In the fifth minute things scale back to a kind of "Watcher in the Skies" fast-pulsing non-straight-time beat before things amp up with the whole band getting into a weave. Awesome song! One of the album's best! (9.75/10)

3. "Blue-S" (5:43) harkens back to some old blues rock styles and chord progressions from the 1960s--only with the trick of placing it all within an odd time signature--like "Peter Gunn" with a bluesier, off-tempo, more difficult composition. Not my favorite but kudos for creativity. (8.5/10)

4. "Shamash" (8:07) opens with more experimental sounds--this time crazily distorted and fast-echoed, slow decayed electric guitar chords. At the two minute mark the sound experiments end and we enter into another complex, odd-timed CRIMSONIAN song with distorted electric guitar and then distorted violin solos above the rhythm section though within the music. There is a lot of BLACK SABBATH/URIAH HEEP-like organ hidden deep within the sounds of these songs. The song shifts and the violin gets let loose--soaring and then returning to the fold, over and over again. This is awesome! Then, at 5:43, everything cuts away and the opening effect returns but modified slightly to comport the single-note play of the guitar. Then there is an odd fade out at 6:18 before the band returns en force with what feels and sounds like a completely different sound (and song!) (13.5/15)

5. "Idios Cosmos" (6:20) jazzy solo sax playing chromatic scaled arpeggi opens this one before alternating for the first minute with full band entries and exits. Then a spacey, almost MAHAVISHNU or NOVA-like spacey, all-instrument tuning and warming up section ensues. At 2:15 a new structure starts up, again KING CRIMSON is the only band I can compare this sound with as there are smooth elements contrasted with jagged, angular sounds and stylings, perhaps even playing in polyrhythms. The drumming here is really cool--beautiful cymbal sounds. At 4:05 there is yet another cut out, space out, and freak out before the sax begins to peak its head into the mix. It takes a
full minute, however, for the space synths to be subdued by the sax. The final half minute is the full band playing together. Interesting. I understand conceptually and technically what they are doing. I'm just not as fond of this for a "repeat/replay" song. (8.5/10)

6. "E verde è l'ignoto su cui corri" (7:15) guitar and organ take turns laying down some nice, delicate arpeggi with some interspersal of light drums and bass (from the organ and guitar) before female vocals enter (singing in English--in a kind of ELAINE DI FALCO way). Against a pretty weave of picked acoustic and electric guitars Patrizia's voice is multi-tracked within the non-standard scale GENESIS-like guitar picking weave. Enter electric piano-sounding organ and we have a gorgeous classic GENESIS-like weave. Truly beautiful in a tributional though entirely original way. And it's extended for a nice length of time--to the end of the song! Wow! Was that unexpected and delightful! Definitely one of my top three songs for this album. (15/15)

7. "Marienkirche" (3:40) heavily treated/sound-manipulated bells, human voices, and percussives--perhaps even a looped treatment of a recording of some German church bells (I know there was a wonderful Marienkirche in München.) But wait! Isn't this the domain of fellow Italian sound engineer Stefano Musso?!?!?! (I love it!) (9/10)

8. "Di eccezione in variante" (7:23) opens with an electric guitar arpeggio played against its own echo before drums and Fender Rhodes and organ join in. At 1:10 the rest of the band gels into a cohesive unit around the separately established melody lines (polyphonic?) of the guitar, organ bass line, and drums. Then, in the third minute, a new way of expressing the weave congeals into a collective weave--all members performing within the same universe. At 3:38 the heavily distorted sax-sounding electric guitar wails into the scene above rhythm section and organ. This goes on for a full minute before things take a turn and then shut down. Empty space is filled by the electric piano starting up its melody line, all by itself, before the rest of the band joins in with a heaviness provided by sax and electric guitar power chords. Again, these are not your typical melody chords, they are chromatic in the typical YUGEN and KING CRIMSON fashion. (13.5/15)

9. "Usil" (6:38) another wonderfully keyboard-based song of odd tempos which lets the alto sax and baritone sax bass lines create the melody for the first two minutes. Electric piano chords signal an upcoming shift, eased by the disappearance of the sax and bass organ arpeggi. Guitar and electric piano take over the lead weave before dual sax lines and organ re-enter and take it back. At 3:33 there is a settling into a rhythm with some nice electric piano support chords while the alto sax takes off in a true jazz improvisational solo. At 4:30, things cut again while a slow weave of cymbals, spacey sax and guitar play our over a base of steady electric piano arpeggi. (9/10)

10. "Eros vs Anteros" (10:02) opens with a little Latin/Spanish/Santana-like melody riff played repeatedly for the first 30 seconds before a little lull allows the entrance and rise of a low-end Moog-like synth bass line to establish itself in the foreground. Soloing electric guitar wails away during most of this while the flangey bass synth seems to keep drawing my attention. I expect to find some African American bass player from the 1970s credited with this bass synth play. The guitar solo is long and at times unexceptional but gets stronger by the end. At 3:25 things shift dramatically leaving a JC Superstar-like arpeggiated bass line to lead us through a long swirling organ solo. Actually quite an awesome section. This continues till 5:50 when things shift, almost feeling like an intro to a 60s rock song, before the band returns to another variation of the original Latin melody riff. This allows a window for the drummer to show off his creative chops until 7:50. The next section has a kind of "White Rabbit" melody-chord progression to it. The final minute is left to a lone soloing steel-string acoustic guitar. Kind of Ry Cooder-like. Great stuff. Very creative. One of the best prog epics of 2017! (19/20)

11. "Il violato intatto" (7:08) opens with fast-paced electric piano arpeggio repeated over and over while bass pedals, organ and guitar eventually creep into the mix. When the piano eventually shifts its octave and doubles up, the rest of the band fades out and then comes back with a different weave. In the fourth minute an old-sounding synthesizer joins in and plays some subtle soloing over the course of the next minute. Ominous, heavy group play beneath the electric piano fills out ninety seconds of the final two minutes, while solo sax plays alone, against its echoed self, for the final 30 seconds. A top three song for me. (14.25/15)

91.43 on the Fishcsales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of complex, boundary-pushing progressive rock music--the goal that all progressive rock musicians should strive for.




17. SEAS OF MIRTH Hark! The Headland Approacheth

The new Cardiacs, singing songs of the high seas. One of the main vocalists sounds like Billy Idol trying to sound like Jim Morrison. Guitars sound like an Irish Dick Dale. Highly theatric, highly entertaining, highly polished, top notch musicianship with a lot of the craze and boldness of LES NÉGRESSES VERTES, Kavus Torabi (CARDIACS, GUAPO, MEDIEÆVAL BÆBES, GONG, KNIFEWORLD), FARMERS MARKET, HUMBLE GRUMBLE, SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET, and even FRANK ZAPPA.

Line-up/Musicians 
Al Judders - vocals, percussion, whistle
Cannonball Paul - vocals, guitar
Zorba The Blowfish - bouzouki
Glen Fingle - mandolin
Jeremiah Planks On Fire - bass
Shitluck - cello
Piss-in-the-wind Mindy - accordion, violin, woodwind
Sally Squidbusiness - keys
Robrush - drums

1. "The Curse Of The Conniving Lighthouse Sniper" (5:47) the vocal performance is really the only weakness of this song. Nice opener. Love the violin, percussives, and accordion. (8.5/10)

2. "Hark! The Headland Approacheth" (4:08) awesome opening with some gypsy-klezmer-Latin sound and rhyrhms. I much prefer the lower register, almost spoken lead vocal here. Great collective "bar choir" in the chorus. The soft, theatric play of instruments and vocals in the second verse is absolutely brilliant! Follow this up with some great violin soloing and incredible bass play you have a masterpiece of LES NÉGRESSES VERTES-like music. (10/10)

3. "Mutiny" (4:48) accordion, bass, drums, and mandolin open this one with a tightly followed rapid-fire melody before the music drops back for the vocal. Same style as the opening song but much more clearly, cleanly recorded/presented. The verse sections are theatrically brilliant. The song's failing is in the overly repeated melodic line that everyone is falling in line with: it changes only ever so subtly over the course of the song. Thank goodness for the slowed down "breaking the door down" section in the fourth minute. Great group ending! (9/10)

4. "Esmerelda" (4:24) such a well-polished song! Opens like a SIR DOUGLAS QUINTET song until the bouzouki, guitar and effects weave into it. After a little slow down break at the end of the first minute, a new more Spaghetti Western sound establishes itself. The great JIM MORRISON/BILLY IDOL-like vocal is a big plus. Great performances by the drummer, accordion, violin, bouzouki, and guitar. (9.5/10)

5. "Bamboozled By Booze" (4:30) a very bare bones bass & drum foundation is laid for spoken bar-storytelling vocal with intermittent inputs from whistles, violin, accordion, and multiple voices. Reminds me of the soundtrack performances from Tim Burton's A Nightmare Before Christmas. Quite cabaret/dinner theater-like. (8.5/10)

6. "It's Raining, Men!" (5:29) DICK DALE/Yardbirds "For Your Love"-like musical foundation over which multiple voices help present the song/story. Very basic early-60s song & sound structure. I'm reminded a little of parts of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with this one. (8.5/10)

7. "Salt Man" (4:06) beautiful, tight Gypsy feel as guitar and bouzouki, woodwind and accordion gently open this one. By the 0:40 mark the song has established a stop and go kind of Russian/klezmer sound. Wild violin play. A two minute intro sets the stage for the fast-paced vocal/story delivery. Lots of Monty PYTHON-like vocal inputs in the third and fourth minutes. What an ensemble performance! (9/10)

8. "Sulphur-Bottom Lament (Plankton Song)" (2:07) Incredibly powerful, heart-wrenching song! I love the "old man" vocal with the slow-yet-masterfully strummed acoustic guitar as the sole accompaniment over the first minute. Joined by cello, woodwind, and odd percussion in the second minute before the whale sounds close out the song.  (9.5/10)

9. "Brandywine" (5:08) The best, most proggy (trippy-psychedelic) song on the album! Best folk-rock song, too. Drum play is recorded using the full spectrum of the right-to-left speakers while nice accordion and bass establish a hypnotic backdrop for a choral vocal delivery with violin and accordion interplay. Nice ensemble instrumental section in the middle, in the third minute. The band stay so well-supportive mutually throughout. So polished! 
The ensemble flourish before the bare section of multiple temperament voices is brilliant! (10/10)

10. "The Curse Of The Dreaded Devil's Triangle" (3:10) another song so similar to the feverish flair of LES NÉGRESSES VERTES. Love the prominence of the accordion. Not quite as keen on the call and response vocals (though I understand their use). (9/10)

11. "Apocacalypso" (6:26) Again, the start reminds me of a LES NÉGRESSES VERTES song. Amazing second section! (9/10)

Total Time 50:03

91.36 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.




18. DAM KAT ALAWN

Taking a break from CHILDREN IN PARADISE, Bretagne's Celtic force of nature, DAM KAT, has put all of her considerable talents and energies into this December release. Where 2015's Morrigan showed so much potential, ALAWN seems to be what Kat needed to realize it. 

Line-up/Musicians
Dam Kat (Children in Paradise) - all instruments, vocals


1. "Courage And Sorrow" (7:08) opening with an intro of synth deep male chant voice and synth violin, the song shifts into a slow, dark, gorgeous song with many clever incidentals and background sounds and voices while Kat sings with a kind of Loreena McKennitt/Sarah MacLachlan voice. Right out of the box Kat is showing that she, along with MIDAS FALL's Elizabeth Heaton, is one of the best storytelling voices in prog--male or female. 
     At 4:08, just when it feels like the song is winding down to its conclusion, ulieann pipes take a turn while the music amps up before Kat's AMAZING wilde, native/paganisitic vocal signals a new almost archetypical emotion. Wow! What a wonderful and completely unexpected turn--and song! I can't believe all these instruments (though most could be computer-generated) are Kat's doing! (15/15)

2. "Devil Inside Me" (6:20) an amazing display of theatric demonism. Kate Bush has never done it as good as this! Again, great use of metal guitar sounds, traditional Celtic instruments, and background voice samples. (9.5/10)


3. "Feel Free" (5:46) opening with a church organ can be suspect, but then the sultry seductress sings to us--dispelling all notions of salvation and sanctity. Still, use of that organ is a brave move. But, thanks to those vocal talents and, later, metal guitar thumping, I think Kat could probably make anything work. Plus I love the organ solo at the end of the third minute, before the heavier section begins. Kat even works in some "whispered growls" before the guitar shreds its solo. Brilliant! And a perfect blend of sounds, emotion and vocal stylizing in the final minutes. (9/10)


4. "I Write A Poem" (6:31) a cross between a very heavy Kate Bush, a slowed down Amy Lee, Elizabeth Heaton, and a technically advanced SCARLET STORIES' Lisette van den Berg. Amazing vocal subtleties.  (8.5/10)


5. "Try To Love - Part I" (5:36) organ and drumming give the opening of this one a real STEVEN WILSON sound and feel. But then, you know... she sings... and the magic unfolds, the spell is cast. Love the soprano b vox--and the way the vocals always stay in front of the instrumentation. Cool organ solo in the second half of the third minute. Kind of a slow, one-dimensional song until the tempo and dynamic shift at the 3:30 mark. GREAT electric guitar solo in the fifth minute! (9/10)


6. "Try To Love - Part II" (4:44) a little too reliant on voice over the opening 1:20 of this one; were it more stunning or exceptional it might be different, but it sounds too much the same. As instruments and additional vocal tracks are added it helps but this one never seems to rise out of the murk of "nothing new/been done before." Nice electric guitar and violin soloing over the "mellotron" voice work. Ends up rising above the muck--this time thanks to the instrumental play and sound mix.(8.5/10)


7. "Who Are These Gods?" (6:02) using harp and strings sounds with more acoustic-sounding percussives lends the opening two and a half minutes a delicate innocence. Even when drum kit and bass notes settle in Kat seems Sarah MacLachlan innocent. But then she does it again: s-witches 180 degrees to challenge our perception. I love this bitch! She's so damn creative and theatric! What a perfect way to tell stories and force us to ask the tough questions that we'd rather suppress and hide. (9/10) 


8. "I Believe" (5:45) What an incredibly gorgeous opening: electric piano, hand percussives and background vocalese. The multi-voiced vocals are so cool! Who needs other instruments or effects when you have a voice that can be so expressive like this! Awesome harp presence and soloing from the fourth minute on. Woven in with flutes and solo strings at the end is awesome! (9.5/10) 

Total Time 47:52


Normally I'm not much of a fan of instrumental tracks that are so obviously computer-generated (or processed) but Kat has used them with such spaciousness--in order to allow her vocal tracks to attract all of our attention. Brilliant engineering/production choices! I love the way Kat's lyrical choices seem to want to explore in a fascinated and ever-so confident way the dark shadows of human fears and imagination. One brave Kat!

91.25 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of Gothic progressive rock music. 




19. ALIO DIE They Grow Layers of Life Between

1. The Atom of Existence" (26:20) droning synth wash with chimes/bells over the first five minutes. The bells disappear leaving only the multi-layered drone--a kind of chord within which certain notes strengthen and cresecendo and decay in turn with the others. Quite beautiful and mathematical. At 7:25 another "nighttime bug" sound enters and remains while the lowest notes of the "chord" enter and play a slow moving melody. At 8:20 horn-like riffs join in and a new broad-spectrum chord is constructed over, with, and supplanting the original.  What started as intriguing and exciting became a little over drawn-out (despite the bird sounds in the last minutes.) (45/50)

2. "They Grow Layers of Life Within" (32:02) opens with Middle Eastern (Peter Gabriel's Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack) sounding ambient street sounds. Quite beautiful, dreamy, and reminiscent of walking the serpentine streets of a pre-industrial revolution North African or Middle Eastern town. New sounds and layers in the fourth minute make it sound as if the town (or organism) is coming to life, awakening. The marketplace setup and opening. At the ten minute mark one gets the sense that the ambulator is leaving the busy thrum of the market area and regressing into the spidery quiet alleys and occasional busy streets. He's in a daze, in a fog, walking as if searching for something without knowing what, only knowing that he needs to keep walking. At 14:30 begins another shift. The man is approaching a mosque. He enters the mosque. It is nearly empty as it is between prayer times. The bells at the 18 minute mark might designate an active pocket of prayer or group activity. The dreamer stops to observe, watching the men in discussion or the women sewing together. The dreamer's eyes are drawn upwards, into the shafts of light streaming in from the clerestory windows or gable supports. Beautiful. In the 23rd minute, the somnambulant is drawn back outside by the noise of sales carts selling handmade jewelry and scarves, cutlery and silverware, fabric and rugs. The beautiful small courtyard outside the mosque is teeming with light, heat, and tired vendors. The ambulator is suddenly fatigued, the heaviness of the summer heat bearing down. Time to sit down, lie down, die? And the market square business continues, business, life, as usual, as consciousness fades. Beautiful. (60/65)

3. "Real-Life Mystery" (6:09) gorgeous and frolicky with the nymph-like water play of bells and fairies, crickets and heavenly choir. (9/10)

It's almost unfair to be rating this beautiful music against the complicated, demanding efforts of rock band formatted sweathogs but when all is said and done, what you choose to listen at the end of the day, whether it be Änglagård, Gentle Giant, "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" or Brian Eno's  ambient music, it shouldn't matter, should it? Stefano Musso and his zithers, computers, and collaborators have made another beautiful, engaging album. So let's celebrate!

91.20 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive electronic, ambient folk, or whatever kind of music this is. Wonderful stuff!




20. SOUP Remedies

Great atmospheric rock from Norway with a lot of the mellower PINK FLOYD and PINEAPPLE THIEF feel to it. Comparisons to MIDLAKE and AUTUMN CHORUS are also warranted. 

Line-up/Musicians
Erlend Aastad Viken - Vocals, keyboards & samples
Ørjan Saur - Guitars
Jan Tore Megård - Bass
Espen Berge - Percussion

1. "Going Somewhere" (8:13) strummed folk-rock acoustic guitar opens before vocal and second electric guitar join in. Synths and other keys join in at 1:20 as singing stops. Nice effect. The next verse opens up feeling quite light and indie-pop bouncy--not unlike MEW. When the chorus finally hits at the three minute mark the keys rejoin in full force giving the aural palette a bit of a muddy feel. Luckily, the lyric and other instruments remain clear and distinctive so it must just be the keys. The long instrumental mid-section is interesting for the fact that it's really the whole band exploring an extended variation of chord progressions. The effected piano ending is a cool effect. A nice extended indie-pop song. (12.75/15) 

2. "The Boy And The Snow" (11:32) gorgeous and relaxing, dreamy, maybe even trance-inducing like a spacey PINK FLOYD song ("Us and Them" comes to mind--though this song is nothing like it). A wonderful aural-induced experience. Even the Post Rock-like build up in the tenth minute is magical. (19.25/20)

3. "Audion" (2:07) solo church organ practice. (4/5) 

4. "Sleepers" (13:35) repeating solo guitar arpeggio is sung over in a high, gentle voice before electric piano joins in. This opening reminds me a lot of the title song from MIDLAKE's last release, Antiphon. "Flute" and bass enter in the third minute's interlude between verses. Cool Richard Wright-like synth solo in the fifth minute. A shift in the music at the end of the fifth minute lets bass and drums take the fore in a kind of ORCHESTRAL MANOEUVRES IN THE DARK "Julia's Song" way as gentle, spacious chords and arpeggi from electric piano and guitar, respectively, play behind. Cool solo in the seventh minute--either from keyboard or heavily treated guitar (I'm betting on the latter). This gets extended while band jams and spacey keyboard sounds enter and "solo" as well. By the end of the ninth minute it's really thick--just as everything cuts out for a few seconds. Bass and light drums re-establish their groove while ALAN PARSONS PROJECT-like guitars and synths gently fill the spacious foreground until 9:50 when everything cuts out again. Emerging from the back a heavier, more insistent Post Rock-like weave re-enters with the drums and lead guitars playing much more aggressively that before. Then there is yet another cut out at 11:07, which is eventually filled by some industrial sounding synth loop. Slight electronic variations and plays with volume are explored in subtle ways from here to the song's end. The best song on the album. (28.75/30)

5. "Nothing Like Home" (6:43) plays out as a kind of quiet straightforward prog folk song with gentle, reverbed ROBBIE LLOYD-WILSON (AUTUMN CHORUS) or MIDLAKE-like vocal with little flash though plenty of subtleties along the way. Nice JAMES-BLAKE-like effects used on the vocals. Solid. (12.75/15) 

Total time 42:10

91.18 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of beautiful Folk- and Post Rock-tinged progressive rock music.




21. BIG BAD WOLF Pond Life

Awesome new jazzy math rock from the UK featuring creative, virtuosic guitar play from Rob Luft and trombone as the lead instrument! Who knew the trombone could be this versatile?! Such refreshing music! The vocalist has a really nice timbre and style that reminds me of either Michael FRANKS or ARTO LINDSAY.

Line-up / Musicians:
Owen Dawson - Trombone
Michael De Souza - Bass VI
Rob Luft - Guitar
Jay Davis - Drums

1. "Canary" (5:16) opens the album with staccato guitar picking and trombone notes with bass line and uptempo drum play. Eventually, some structure is established in a kind of rondo of themes and weaves. Really nice interplay and synchronization. Trombone and guitar chord-play take turns spitting out lead melodies--sometimes at the same time, but more often alternating. Cool effect! Treated vocals enter with a chunky bass. Love the lead vocalist's voice. (8.5/10)

2. "Flats In Dagenham" (6:08) opens with a slow beat and immediate trombone solo melody with strummed acoustic guitar, bass, and drums. It sounds just like it could be a jazz cover of an R & B pop song from the seventies. If only Freddie Hubbard had been this creative! I love the long slow-decay pause in the second half. Then things pick back up with some amazing guitar work that would leave even the great Adrian Belew smiling--big time! My favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)

3. "Frog" (6:14) such a GREAT sound from the opening notes of background "keyboards" (which I'm assuming are guitar). This one has a lot of similarities to the sounds of Japanese Post Rockers, TOE. Awesome song. A top three, for sure. (9.5/10)

4. "Quiet Coach" (9:16) opens as a beautiful, sensitive and melodic song with the subdued trombone taking the lead for the first two minutes. Then WES MONTGOMERY-like jazz guitar chord play takes over the lead. Vocals entering reminding me of the music of FROGG CAFÉ. Nice. Still sensitive and nostalgic, even rhapsodic. My other top three song. (19/20)

5. "Hopkins' Choice" (4:32) this one has more of a true Math Rock feel to it, though it gets jazzier at the two minute mark. Bouncy and upbeat with some very nice multi-level guitar work in the fourth minute. (8.5/10)

6. "Grassfish" (7:28) guitar effects and rolling tom work remind me of DAVID SYLVIAN with the lead trombone giving it a MARK ISHAM/FROGG CAFÉ feel and sound. A cool MERCURY TREE-like vocal ensues in the second minute. The fourth minute sees a slide into a vocal-backed guitar exposition with a lot of long arpeggi. Then a "heavier" more fast-paced section takes over in a very Math Rock structure. Excellent lead guitar work from here out. Acoustic guitar work in the final minute is a surprise. (13.5/15)

7. "Pond Life" (6:02) the stop and start beginning is interesting before sustained trombone notes, arpeggiated guitar picking, and continuous bass line take over. A very math rock-oriented song ensues, despite shifts. For some reason, I'm reminded of both the EVAPTORIA REPORT and ALGERNON as well as TOE. again with this song. Again, great guitar play in the fourth minute. DAVID TORN-like atmospheric guitar play accompanying the trombone in the fifth minute before a tight weave of staccato bass, drums and guitar support the trombone (and, later, voices) in melody. Nice song. (9/10)

8. "The Plight Of The Typewriter" (7:42) a moderately paced song with syncopated flow and mathematically-oriented construct that is peppered with really nice melodies. Has a bit of a HIROMI feel to it. Love the screaching background guitar in the fourth minute. More DAVID TORN-like guitar with sensitive, carefully synchronized bass and drum play. Trombone re-enters with multiple guitar tracks wailing away. Nice! These guys are for real! (13.5/15)

Total Time 52:38

91.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a refreshing new minor masterpiece of jazz-oriented Math Rock music. Mega kudos, boys! I greatly look forward to following your future work, both individually and collaboratively (should that continue). 




22. ELECTRIC MOON Stardust Rituals

Another of Sula Bassana's Kosmische Musik outlets--and this is a good one! 

1. "The Loop" (8:06) a simply constructed two chord exodus set up with organ, bass, drums, and guitar strums which are intended to provide the foundation for the heavily distorted vocal. The singer's pleasant voice sounds as if he's singing to you through bong water. At the end of the fourth minute the volume rises and there is a major shift in the music to a more hard-driving trip into hyperspace with heavily effected organ and keys representing our mode of transportation. Even with the shift, this song never really sucks me in like the fourth song. It's okay if you like RAY MANZAREK/THE DOORS jams. (12/15)

2. "Stardust (The Picture)" (10:13) opens as a straight-time, two-note plodding monster. Higher pitched vocals--heavily treated, as usual--enter in the second minute. Then pitch-modulated "white noise" guitar play. The song really congeals at the end of the third minute. Multiple tracks of the "white noise" guitar begin to weave around and within each other. Pretty cool! (18/20)

3. "Astral Hitch Hike" (4:40) simple drums (lite cymbols and rim shots), bass, and sitar tracks open this one. Bass, drums and sitar slowly ramp up with the bass and sitar repeating their singular riffs over and over. Sitar drops off as intermittent echo-effected percussive hits to an electric guitar appear. The sitar melody riff returns for the final 40 seconds. Okay. Never really hooks one nor goes anywhere. (16/20)

4. "(You Will) Live Forever Now" (22:40) an amazing prog epic that starts slowly, like an ELECTRIC ORANGE or MY BROTHER THE WIND song, with a very New Age/Indian sound  coming from hand percussives, electric bass, sitar, and gentle drumming, before settling into a steady and very engaging groove with a foundation that sounds amazingly like the musical base for ROBIN TROWER's jam at the end of his timeless song "Bridge of Sighs" at around the 4:10 mark. This moment coincides with the entrance of some dreamy, trippy vocals and keyboards and just before the advent of the electric guitarist's arrival. For the next  minutes, it's just a slowly building, smooth ride on the cosmic sea of a great groove. At the end of the ninth minute the guitar chooses to go raunchy/heavy distortion just before the return of multiple ethereal voices. These haunting, lilting voices continue into the twelfth minute as the guitar slowly amps up his attack. By the time the thirteenth minute rolls around you know that all band members--bass, drums, vocalist and electric guitarist--are fully locked in and charging ahead with all cylinders firing. At 13:30 the guitar switches effects to more of a screaming feedback-responding screech, scratch, and squeal. Adrian Belew would be so proud! As we cross into the sixteenth minute a descending bend in the guitarists sustained note brings us into a quiet section. Everybody is tiptoeing now. Soft, peaceful, yet the groove is still there. At the 17-minute mark begin some signs that we'll be returning to high volume: guitar strums, the return of vocals, and, eventually, cymbol crashes and MELLOTRON! The glorious, timeless, essential Mellotron. The bass pulses, vocals haunt, drums pound, and 'tron shows us the light--until the guitar begins to seer us with its fire over the final minute and a half. Amazing! Beautiful! You know you've got a great song when all you want to do is get up and move and pretend that you're one of the trance players in the song! (45/45)

Total Time 45:39

91.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of modern Kosmische Musik--containing one of the musical highpoints of the year in the nearly-23-minute epic, "(You Will) Live Forever Now."




23. BUBBLEMATH Edit Peptide

A sophomore album release 15 years after their debut! Only in Minnesota! This amazing music reminds me of bands like 3RDegree, Echolyn, The Tea Club, Frogg Café, The Cardiacs, and Gentle Giant--only these guys might be better! Top notch musicianship, complex and quirky compositions with lots of sudden and unexpected dynamic shifts, presenting lyrics that are very humorous while being head-on with their biting socio-political commentary.

Line-up/Musicians
Blake Albinson - Electric guitar, acoustic guitar, nylon string guitar, keyboards, tenor sax, vocals 
Jay Burritt - Electric bass, fretless synth bass, fretless electric bass, upright electric bass, vocals 
Kai Esbensen - Keyboards, vocals 
James Flagg - Drums, percussion, vocals 
Jonathan G. Smith - Vocals, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, flute, clarinet, chimes, gong, glockenspiel, xylophone, mountain dulcimer, mandolin, banjo 

1. "Routine Maintenance" (12:41) comparisons to bands like NATIVE CONSTRUCT and HAKEN are warranted here. The busy background and singing/lyric don't seem to fit as well as other songs here, but these guys can play! At the three minute mark it seems as if Todd Rundgren snuck in, then it goes all flowery, syrupy with a flute-led section. The vocal performance here is quite nice. This singer could have quite a career as a pop singer or on the Broadway stage. Somewhat Gentle Giant-like. Then it goes seriously jazz-fusion--shades of Jaco Pastorius tickling my ears. Nice mixing of the multiple tracks of lead electric guitar (or is it just one guitar phased through multiple chorus pedals?)! How all of the band members can remain so tightly glued to the constant twists and turns of this song is beyond my comprehension. The shift to djenty prog metal at the 8:00 mark is awesome--astonishing! The dénouement at 9:38 is sheer prog perfection! Anybody else hear flashes of AMBROSIA c.1976, first album, here? (23.75/25)

2. "Avoid That Eye Candy" (3:53) an okay song that is carried more by its clever lyric. (8/10)

3. "Perpetual Notion" (6:56) opens with very staccato instrumental performances weaving their support of the jazzy mathematic vocal. When the instruments begin to sustain their sounds a little more in the second half of the third minute things begin to actually slip a little. The RUSH instrumental section at the end of the fourth minute is a little obvious. But then the King Crimson-like guitar weave that plays up till the next vocal section. A multiple voice weave begins around 5:30 but then as quickly desists, leaving the original vocalist and his jumpy delivery to finish the song. Not my favorite. (12.75/15)

4. "A Void That I Can Depart To" (10:07) the smooth music and singing at the start of this one are such a refreshing change (reprieve) from those of the previous song. As the song amps up into its full-blown instrumental sound it just as suddenly switches to a kind of white-man's Rasta beat before switching back to --with multiple voices singing the lyric. This sound so much as if you mixed RUSH, QUEEN, GENTLE GIANT, and HALL & OATES into one band/sound! The second, and more prominent, appearance of the faux/tongue-in-cheek death metal growls. Hilarious! Almost too much going on in this one to make it memorable or totally lovable. The bands MOON SAFARI and THE GABRIEL CONSTRUCT come to mind in the sixth minute. Some quite stage-worthy vocal theatrics in the eighth and ninth minutes. Nice nod to GENESIS with the ending. (18/20)

5. "Get a Lawn" (6:20) What a lyric! What music! Even the faux death metal growls are hilarious! Quite similar to some of work on 3RDEGREE's last two albums, Ones & Zeroes, Vol. 1 and The Long Division. (9/10)

6. "Making Light Traffic" (8:58) Joined to the previous song by the sounds of night cricket song, the muted "radio" play that enshrouds the opening 1:15 is a bit unusual--setting us up for the moment when the music "breaks through/out of" the "radio" and into a more normal stereo sonic scape. The music has a heavier low end edge to it while at the same time supporting the use of mandolin and tenor sax. The lull in the sixth minute leads into a wildly dynamic and exciting section that plays out till 7:43 when another lulling section leaves us back into the cricket-diffused nightscape. (18/20)

7. "Destiny Repeats Itself" (7:23) opens with an almost Soul/R&B/Adult jazz teasing sound--fretless bass and quick high octave guitar chord strums. Very sultry, seductive. Then the singing joins in with some other instruments and it turns more 90120 YES-like. 
      Some other reviewer mentioned the amazing job the engineers/producers did with the mixing of these songs. This is nowhere so apparent as on this song. Incredible clarity and definition for each and every instrument. Amazing bass play in the fourth and fifth minutes. Jay Burritt, you have my attention! Some nice guitar shredding to follow. Such an unusual, refreshing, remarkable song! (15/15)

8. "The Sensual Con" (7:36) melodic, dynamic, catchy, instrumentally intimidating, this is just a great song, great ending to a great album. (13.5/15)

Sorry for the sparse song descriptions but the music is so busy, so complex, so unusual, and so fast-changing that it'd take weeks to write anything justified. This is just music, an album, that simply must be heard to be believed (and appreciated). The intellectual and meaningful lyrics are worth some study, too, I believe.

90.77 on the Fishscales = A-/5 stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. This one is so close to being five stars--it FEELS like it should be five stars. Keep posted: I may upgrade it as I get to know it more. Those first and last songs are real growers.






24. SIIILK Endless Mystery

Fans of atmospheric prog like DAVID GILMOUR, TONY PATTERSON, GIANCARLO ERRA, LAGARTIJA, EDISON'S CHILDREN, and NO-MAN (STEVEN WILSON) will love this album. It seems that each year there rises one album of pure prog ear candy, and, for me, this is this year's. Guitarists Richard Pick and Gilbert Gandil both have the intuitive, melodic, yet sophisticated, sixth sense as to when and how to play their parts--both leads and rhythm parts--masters of timing and the use of space. Uncredited background singer (though she has two leads, on "Merging" and "Green Boy") proves to be a tremendous asset wherever and whenever she is used, and drummer Attilio Terlizzi and bassist Guillaume Antonicelli are so smooth, so solid, and so polished at their craft that there is never a flaw in the foundational elements of the songs. And the compositional maturity as expressed in subtle and unexpected (yet expected, if you know what I mean) shifts and changes is extraordinary.

Line-up/Musicians
Richard Pick : Guitars, Vocals
Guillaume Antonicelli : Bass
Attilio Terlizzi : Drums
Gilbert Gandil : Guitars
Jacques Roman : Keyboards
Catherine Pick : vocals, Indian harmonium, piano
Guest musicians:
- Roland Richard (PULSAR) / clarinet​​
- Behlole Mushtaq / Indian tablas

1. "Inner War" (5:54) opens with a soundscape strikingly similar to Giancarlo Erra's NOSOUND's LightDark album sound. I especially love the acoustic guitar work on this one--the last 90 seconds are awesome. (8/10)

2. "Endless Mystery" (5:41) a solid, steady Neo Prog song with an awesome guitar solo section in the middle. Several tracks of bluesy lead electric guitar, great acoustic guitar work (and recording!) with an amazing David Gilmour "Near the End" solo (you know the song I'm talking about?! One of the most emotional guitar solo songs ever made!) in the middle and then again at the end. (9/10)

3. "Black Old Train" (8:02) uneventful opening half; solid, even powerful instrumental mid-section. This lead guitarist has a gift that this listener has only heard in a handful of guitarists over history, Roye Buchanan, Jeff Beck, and David Gilmour being the old masters of said gift. The solos on this song offer but one chance for you to hear this gift. (13.5/15)

4. "Merging" (4:46) is an exceptionally well and subtly crafted song which serves as a vehicle for the extraordinary Sara Aliani (LAGARTIJA)-like voice of female singer, Catherine Pick. Haunting. (9.5/10)

5. "Escape" (4:42) another song that begins rather bucolically and then amps up after the first round of singing finishes. I love the subtle guitar work and hand drums, but it really never takes off. (8.5/10)

6. "Drifting Words" (5:30) interesting from the start, thanks to the ominous chords and background synth drone. The use of tablas is also very nice. No, it's brilliant; genius! 
      At 1:30 Mellotron and awesome bass line and drums join in. Nice groove! The build up from here is also great. Love the alternating Mellotron "hits" behind the soloing electric guitar! A near-perfect song! (10/10)

7. "Questions" (4:42) puts on display the extraordinary instincts of both the guitarists, one strumming on acoustic and the other expressing effortlessly yet so-emotionally with the electric. Really nice piano work in support. (8.5/10)

8. "Green Boy" (8:14) acoustic guitar with awesome, haunting female vocals open this song. Total transition beginning at 1:35 to more eerie, atmospheric instrumental. Bird and walking-in-the-woods noises open as rolling bass line, synths, and sliding, delayed lead guitar play. At 3:35 fuzzed-out aggressive electric guitar strums announce a transition. This feels so much like a LUNATIC SOUL song--until the clarinet sound in the fifth minute. Piano, classical guitar, clarinet and occasional mellotron hit play over rhythmic Indian percussion track. Very moody; sad but beautiful. The final 1:30 takes us back into the woods--leaves and babeling brook noises--with intermittent synth play. Nice, surprising song. (19/20)

9. "Ultimate" (2:28) is a pretty, melancholy, very European sounding late night winding-down song featuring piano and harmonium, husband and wife, performing a duet. Perfect ending to this beautiful album. Beautiful song. (4.75/5)

Total Time 44:10

If there is any weakness in the band's sound it is in the rather unexceptional, though solid, lead vocal performances by Richard Pick. Nothing flashy or technically remarkable, just another human voice (though not as human as the "voice from you and me" of Bob Dylan) singing his message to the world. If the instruments were as plain and ordinary as this voice, I would not be writing a review of the album. But this is not the case, as the instruments, composition, and arrangements create such a sublimely beautiful and emotionally compact portrait of the human experience that I beg everyone to seek it out.

90.75 on the Fishscales = A-/a five star album; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and my early nod for Prog Ear Candy Album of the Year (succeeding last year's Equations of Meaning from Tony Patterson).





25. SHEN TEH Hide and Seek

New music as Lara Olson Reidel and company progress away from their Amanda Palmer-like cabaret style of music into more guitar-infused rock, with electronic inputs as well. Lara's lyrics and singing are world-class clever and sophisticated and her support crew are right in sync with her.

1. "Just One Kiss" (3:27) opens with quite a familiar piano-based prog sound. The female vocalist is what might surprise everyone. Kind of NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA meets iNFiNiEN. A little too ABACAB and straightforward to be "progressive."(8.5/10)

2. "Keys" (3:02) has a kind of BOWIE-quirkiness to its guitar/rhythm section opening. Then singer and chorus gives it more of a SOUIXIE AND THE BANSHEES feel. Very polished, mature song. (9.5/10)

3. "Hide & Seek" (4:40) powerful song with wonderful Eastern European melodic and harmonic overtones. (9/10)

4. "The Blue Café" (4:26) gut-wrenching performances and stylings from vocalist, piano and bowed double bass. Amazing song! This is why humans make music! (10/10)

5. "Kitty in the City" (4:06) more in the cabaret vein of Lara's formative productions. (8.5/10)

6. "The Joker" (3:49) Opens very theatrically before moving into the punk cabaret realm. Such an amazing vocalist! Shades of Nina Hagen! (9/10)

7. "Would You Rather" (4:01) Opens with some great pop guitar stylings before the more proggy palette develops. Kavus Torabi and Kate Bush would be quite proud! (9/10)

90.71 on the Fishscales = five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music! Welcome the music of Lara Olson Reidel into your lives and you will not be sorry! 




26. KETTLESPIDER Kettlespider 

Solid, polished, refreshing heavy prog rock from Down Under.

Line-up/Musicians: 
Colin Andrews - Bass
Scott Ashburn - Guitars
Haris Boyd-Gerny - Guitars
Geoffrey Fyfe - Keyboards
Simon Wood - Drums
With:
Fabian Acuña - Trumpet (2, 5)

1. "The Climber" (2:24) the opening thirty seconds reminds me of some of the classic rock songs of the 70s--Damn Yankees or Loverboy or somebody like that--but then it switches at the forty-five second mark to something more complicated, more prog rock-like, more metal-like. (8.5/10)

2. "Circus" (4:34) the jazzy, delicate, melodic central third is the prize here. (9/10)

3. "Samsara" (2:31) opens with acoustic guitar being gently picked before keys and the rest of the band join in on the weave. They manage to maintain a nice melodic sense throughout this medium-paced instrumental. (9/10)

4. "Break The Safe, Pt. 1" (3:18) opens delicately but then becomes quite in your face in a kind of King Crimson way. Over and over they kind of "trick" you into relaxing and enjoying their beautiful sound groove before they bring in the distorted guitars and power chords. The final odd-time-signatured section is nice. (8.5/10)

5. "Anubis" (7:16) this one has quite a RUSH-like sound and feel to my ears (think of the excellent instrumental music of "Subdivisions"). The shift at the end of the second minute to a gentle and spacious section is quite unexpected and interesting. Steven Wilson comes to mind. Then comes the gun at 3:05 and they're off to the races, breaking into a heavy metal guitar-shredding section that tries to turn jazzy but then gets funneled back into the heavy prog world until 4:15 when another tricky, quirky, almost avant/RIO switcheroo tries to take hold. Just kidding! We're still heavy progging! But that trumpet is trying to say otherwise. Damn the influence of that Latin lover! I like this song because of its tricks and turns, surprises and maintained high quality and high entertainment value. Well done, arachnids! (14.25/15)

6. "Life" (6:06) Djent! Now they're getting into my comfort zone! (Don't know why I love those djenty guitar chords.) But then they turn sharp left in the second minute, trying to trick me again, but, no, it's just a short cut into some heavy prog, semi-djented. Nice work on the batterie, by the way, Simon. And props go out to precision bass work of Colin Andrews. Loving the fourth and fifth minutes: much more humane! And the guitar "ascending" from out of the birth canal effect is brilliant! My favorite song on the album! (10/10)

7. "Rebirth" (7:01) Oh, oh! Are we in for some Norse Black Metal? O Dark :30 and I'm still not sure. Even the delicate soft interlude at the one minute mark has me on pins and needles. 1:40: Here it comes. It's building! 2:10: Oh! It's so cute! It's just a big Totoro! 3:00: or is it the bad Stay Puft Marshmallow Man? We'll know soon. 3:45: He's leaving! He's not going to kill us or destroy our city! He likes Nature! 4:30: And video games. He's social! He has a family! And friends! Aww! He was just looking for his own kind! And they're going to live happily ever after! Such a cinematic gem! (13.5/15)

8. "Break The Safe, Pt. 2" (4:18) Safe. Solid. Unbreakable. Cohesive. Even pretty. And hypnotic. Cool Devy Townsend ending. Likable and yet unspectacular. (9/10)

Total Time 37:28

90.625 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of instrumental progressive rock music. While I see lots of potential for improvement--both is sound and composition--these guys are definitely on to something!



27. SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Ethereal

Laurent Schieber has done it again! Just when you think the Berlin School sound has been played out, Laurent releases something new that just keeps upping the ante! The second of these three epics of progressive electronic music may be my favorite Berlin School song ever made!

1. "Stratums of Seraphic Voices" (26:28) a variety of Moog Modular-sourced chords weave together for the first three minutes of this one. The plasticized percussive sounds MIDI-ed within the "drum" and rhythm sequence track (reminding me very much of the sounds produced from Blue Man Group music) that develop and establish themselves throughout the bulk of the song. (Love the tabla sound integrated in there, as well!) As a matter of fact, one might conclude that the percussives are the real lead track here with the synths playing second fiddle--though the song would be far from as effective without them and their steadfast swirling and spiraling. The addition of 80s sounding Western drum machine percussion sounds is well-integrated by this point.

     A key change at 17:38! What an unexpected surprise! And then back at 19:15. Back up again at 20:55. And another higher shift at 22:30. Bursts of Star Warsian space-spitting noises join in the soundscape during this last four minutes. A final downward key shift at 24:50 finds the music joined by Mellotron choir voices. Nice. (45/50)

2. "Around the Second Moon" (22:45) opens with some very interesting slowly sliding note "arpeggi" beneath which some sequential percussion/bass lines try to establish themselves. As the treble sounds thin and disappear, the "bubbling," "squirting" sequencer lines become more interesting, hypnotic, captivating, and then foundational, even melody holders. In the fourth minute, they are the only music placeholders before some synth washes sneak in from behind. The chord choices of the synths add so much to enhance the sequencing. It's not until the middle of the seventh minute that the first percussive sound arrives and begins to elbow its way into the mix. By now the bass and synth lines have wormed their way into your subconscious in a kind of Edgar Alan Poe way while syncopated, intermittent percussives make it sound like Madeline Usher trying to break out of her casket in the basement. This is SO COOOL!!! New upper octave sequence sneaks in during the twelfth minute before a wave of a cymbol crash signals the achievement of full sound. Simply brilliant! So cool that the free, or improvisational instrument is a kind of large, kodo-like drum--until the seventeenth minute when percussives fade out. By the beginning of the eighteenth minute, all of the original instrumental sounds and sequences have pretty much faded into the distant background save for the synth washes--which now seem augmented by Mellotron choir voices. Staticky-rainstick-fly noises pan quickly across the soundscape while all three of the dominant sequential tracks slowly reassert themselves, if still in the background. A little PETER GABRIEL Passion: Music for the Last Temptation of Christ soundtrack can be felt at the end. (45/45)

3. "Elevation" (20:36) very steady, even, and subtly uneventful over the first half, the second half sparks to life but then drags on without enough development, resolution, or dénouement. (32/40)

Were I more familiar with Klaus Schulze's work of the second half of the 1970s I might find more to compare and critique, but, as is, I can only find praise. The clarity and fullness of modern sound is so pleasant and fulfilling to the ear and soul than the often thin and scratchy stuff of recordings from the 70s that, as with the Master's 2007 release, Kontinuum, I am filled with only praise and joy.

90.37 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the 21st Century's shining examples of stellar Berlin School revitalization.




28. KANT FREUD KAFKA Onírico

Barcelona's JAVI HERRERA has done it again. As if 2014's labour of love, No tengas miedo wasn't spectacle and production perfection enough, Javi has pulled together another masterpiece, this time based on dreams. The presence of voices--Javi's own voice and that of female vocalist, Alia Herrera (Javi's daughter)--make this quite a different listening experience from No tengas miedo. The vocal performances and stylings remind me quite a bit of those from Olga Polgaskaja's FIVE-STOREY ENSEMBLE's 2013 (and, thus far, only) release, Not This City. Beautiful and almost operatic. Also, the electric guitar performances are amazing. Very dynamic and technically superlative.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Javi Herrera / drums, vocals, VST instruments
With:
- Cecilia Burguera / violin
- Mónica Cruzata / viola
- Queralt Garcia / cello
- German Fafian / electric guitars
- Daniel Fernandez Campos / bass guitar
- Alia Herrera / vocals
- Andrea Herrera / tap dancing
- Mandharu / crotals, wind chimes
- Rafael Pacha / dulcimer, acoustic guitars, mandolin, bouzouki
- Pol Sanchez / electric & Spanish guitars, mandole
- Dick Them / double bass
- Guillem Vilar / oboe, cor anglais

1. "Insomnio de una noche de verano" (9:27) an instrumental in which classical/acoustic instruments and composition styles are trying to be blended (sometimes feeling a bit forced) with electronic, sometimes bombastic, instruments and sounds. Still, there are moments and passages of absolutely stunning beauty and emotion--much of it quite memorable. (18/20)

2. "Dulces sueños" (5:18) is an absolutely beautiful and completely classical arrangement and production featuring piano, cello, cor anglais and the dual voices of Alia and Javi. (9.5/10)

3. "És quan dormo que hi veig clar" (10:54) is very patchy, moving from more classically-oriented sections of gorgeous music to dynamic electronic passages often quite awkwardly and incongruously. The musicianship is of the highest caliber, the composition and arrangement is not quite as polished. Male and female vocalists accompanied by church organ open in a beautiful one minute introduction before wormy little synth noodles sneak in and a piano-based rock sequence establishes itself. This part of the song, sung in Spanish, is not quite as engaging. Neither the sung verses or choruses, but the instrumental soli in between are quite something. The wailing electric guitar with oboe is a bit much. The ensuing GENESIS-like synth solo section is very nice. This then moves via piano arpeggi into another gorgeous vocal section (a reprise of the opening?) which then builds into a combined classical-electric instrumental crescendo. Great melodies and key and chord-changes. I wish it would end here, but it goes on into a kind of cinematic/theatric celebratory finale. (18/20)

4. "Vida y muerte" (8:28) another jazz-classical opening with solo piano and double bass setting the scene quite beautifully. In the second minute the electric bass, synths, and drums find their way into the mix. So far so good (it's still fairly subdued). Oboe. Nice. A little drumming flash. Baroque-sounding Christmas instruments. We're half way through. Tuned percussion and Javi singing in his gorgeous operatic voice. Strings join in. Wow! What a treat! At 6:15 a electric guitar crash signals the rock section--all the while Javi and two tracks dedicated to Alia's voice weave their "vida" into the piano and electric band music. It's really working! Organ, drums, and piano vying for ascendency before the song finishes with a electronic rock flourish. (14.25/15)

5. "A Nightmare on Major St." (7:33) opens with programmed drum sequence that is soon joined by real drums, piano and strings and electric guitar and bass. An odd combo. (A little like Phil Collins' 1983 GENESIS foundation to "Mama.") Javi's singing narration is okay--maybe a little more theatric than necessary. Even the presence of Alia's voice and cor anglais do little to engage me. The instrumental section in sixth minute with its guitar solo just proves to me that it's really the electric guitar that grates me; it just feels too much--the sound used and volume are more than should be necessary, in my opinion. (12/15)

6. "Awakenings" (9:03) opens with the programmed drum sequence from the previous song bleeding in before Javi's "Wake up" and piano gradually supplant it. Definitely been there, done that (as a father, that is) though I was more prone to use Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft" to wake my daughters up. 
     At 1:45 mandolins and bouzouki and crotals introduce a new section, which eventually turns into a neat instrumental passage based upon an old ALAN PARSONS PROJECT melodic riff (from the end of Tales of Mystery and Imagination's finale, "To One in Paradise" in which many of the album's most memorable themes are recapitulated). Before you know it we're at the seven minute mark and another too loud electric guitar solo takes us away from the beauty that had been so well established. Javi's daughter Andrea's tap dancing gives us the rhythmic percussion sounds to accompany the Spanish guitar section in the eighth and ninth minutes. Then a synth solo amps things up leading to a rather bombastic end (despite Andrea's cute "ba-bop" tap at the very end). (18.5/20)

Though the electronic and more rock-oriented performances are very good, it is the classical-jazz passages and sounds that attract more of my attention and listening pleasure.

90.25 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.




29. ANATHEMA The Optimist

A collection of wonderfully engaging, melodic songs all melding together quite well.

Line-up/Musicians: 
Daniel Cavanagh - guitars, vocals, keyboards, bass 
Vincent Cavanagh - vocals, guitars, keyboards, programming, bass 
Jamie Cavanagh - bass 
John Douglas - drums, keyboards, programming 
Lee Douglas - vocals 
Daniel Cardoso - drums

1. "32.63n 117.14w" (1:18) more like a dramatic intro to a radio theatre play.

2. "Leaving It Behind" (4:27) computer rhythm track of pops and clicks with guitars and vocals for the first two minutes before the drums and full band join in. Driving and insistent and typical of the band, though a bit more hard and heavy than recent songs. Good song. (8/10)

3. "Endless Ways" (5:49) A sensitive piano-based song featuring the incredible vocal talents of Lee Douglas from start to finish, this is just one awesomely beautiful song--one of the best songs I've heard all year. In true Post Rock fashion, it builds and crescendos, yet it never loses its heart-wrenching, romantic spirit--thanks to the stupendous performance and presentation of Douglas's vocal. Plus, I adore its chosen message. "The dream I created." Say no more. (10/10)

4. "The Optimist" (5:37) opens as if a reprise of the previous song, but then one of the Cavanaugh brothers's voices enters to tell you differently. (Lee does pop up in the background at the end of the first and second minutes.) It does take over two minutes until the full band joins in, but that's about my only complaint to this beautiful song. I love it when the band use orchestral support (as in the album Falling Deeper--my favorite album they've ever done) and the fact that the final two minutes is a Post Rock instrumental, buildup, crescendo, and fade. (9/10)

5. "San Francisco" (4:59) again there is a tremendous familiarity to the piano opening of this song--like I've already heard it in a variation on this very same album--but then, as it plays out as an instrumental, we are treated to the buildup coming from--surprise--the computerized rhythms (and, later, synthesizers). It could almost qualify as a house/rave song! Still, a very satisfying, engaging song, start to finish. (9.5/10)

6. "Springfield" (5:49) a true Post Rock song with Lee Douglas's haunting background repetitions of "How did I get here?" and "I don't belong here" the most memorable parts. (8.5/10) 

7. "Ghosts" (4:17) another stunning piano-based song featuring Lee Douglas on lead vocals. I like the drum play here very much. (9/10) 

8. "Can't Let Go" (5:00) a true rock song--a good one! (8.5/10) 

9. "Close Your Eyes" (3:39) a true jazz torch song. Very much like a sensitive, masterful Kate BUSH piano-based song from her last 50 Words for Snow album. Cool! (9/10) 

10. "Wildfires" (5:40) could be an ULVER song (whichmakes sense since the Cavanaugh brothers have been working with Garm and crew a lot over the past few years)! Awesome and powerful! Amazing crescendo! (9.5/10) 

11. "Back To The Start" (11:41) a great, sensitive 7-minute prog song (á la STEVEN WILSON) followed by four minutes of emptiness and then four minutes of vacuous family stuff that does not belong on the album. Too bad! (18/20)

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/5 stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music.