Thursday, April 19, 2018

Top Albums of the Year 2018, Part 1: The Masterpieces

My Favorite Albums of 2018
(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 20 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 still 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 a 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. Despite a waning interest in remaining open to certain sub-genres of progressive rock music, and, verily, music in general, I have been able to listen to over 225 new releases from 2018.

According to my calculations, 2018 presents Prog World with seven (7) "masterpieces," 16 "minor" masterpieces, and 27 "near-masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. UNAKA PRONG Salinity Now!
2. MIDAS FALL Evaporate
3. TOBY DRIVER They Are the Shield
4. STARVING DAUGHTERS Strange Valleys
5. LOW Double Negative
6. MONOBODY Raytracing
7. IVAR BJØRNSON & EINAR SELVIK Hugsjá
8. JULIA HOLTER Aviary
9. HYPNO5E A Backward Glance on a Travel Road: Alba - Les Ombres Errantes
10. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF Dead Magic

11. ALL TRAPS ON EARTH A Drop of Light
12. ALTO PALO Frozen There
13. NOSOUND Allow Yourself
14. SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Renaissance
15. LA DOTTRINA DEGLI OPPOSTI Arrivaderci sogni
16. SEVEN REIZH L'albatros
17. HOMUNCULUS RES Della stessa sostanza dei sogni
18. REGAL WORM Pig Views
19. METHEXIS Topos
20. DEAD CAN DANCE Dionysus

21. VAK Budo
22. GLEB KOLYADIN Gleb Kolyadin
23. FEM Mutazione
24. ATMOSPHERES Reach
25. RICHARD WILEMAN Veil
26. MIDLIFE Phase
27. JOSÉ MARIA BLANC La herencia de Pablo
28. DAAL Decalogue of Darkness
29. PiNioL Bran Coucou
30. SONAR (with David Torn) Vortex

Honorable Mentions:
CATU KUÁ Que Vengan los Párajos
THE FLOOD Chamber Music
MONNAIE DE SINGE The Last Chance
MANNA/MIRAGE Rest of the World
STEVE ROACH Molecules of Motion
ALIO DIE & AGLAIA Amitabha
GALASPHERE 347 Galasphere 347
NOT A GOOD SIGN Icebound
EMPEROR NORTON Emperor Norton
JOHN HOLDEN Capture Light
ÁNGEL ONTALVA & VESPERO Carta Marina
GALAHAD Seas of Change
CANTURBE Flotteur


Special Mention:
STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA Lightworks
ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique, menu no. 4




***  ALBUM OF THE YEAR!!!  ***



1. UNAKA PRONG Salinity Now!

Man! these guys are tight! Man! is the production on this album amazing! Man! have these guys gotten better! Man! is this a confident band of young musicians, or what? Man! is this one of the best collections of entertaining, interesting, deeply layered, masterfully crafted and performed, and perfectly mastered songs ever created?!!! 

YES!

1. "You Want Me to Do What Now?" (5:38) high energy mania with amazing stop-and-start complexity and perfect cohesion and timing! And the sound is so good! Perfect mixes of the instrumental tracks! Jazz-rock at its funkiest best. One of those songs that simply must be heard to be believed! The drum-led section in the third and fourth minutes is awesome! The guitar solo (which is actually a synth trying to sound like a trumpet) in the fifth minute reminds me of old Jeff "Skunk" Baxter back in the early Steely Dan albums. (9.5/10)

2. "Misinterpretive Clues" (2:45) is a second spirited and amazingly intricate song construct built on some incredible drumming but this one has singing! Great phrasing and delivery of the witty lyrics by bassist Jonathon Sale! (9.5/10)

3. "Slow Dance" (6:02) starts out a little bland with it's thin, bluesy, organ-base, but Daniel Stephenson's singing and lyrics are fun, and the excellent chorus and following instrumental bridges make this one super special. Great slide work from guitarist Mike Welsh. Nobody in prog world is playing the Hammond like Chris Pope--and always with such amazing sense of melody! (9/10)

4. "Aibohphobia" (7:05) bouncy bass and organ open this instrumental on a nice little cantor before wah-ed electric guitar-sounding synth and other synth sounds start alternating melodic soli over the top. Great chord and key progressions! The tempo shift at the two minute mark is a great trick. More volume pedal-controlled guitar in the background while synth solos over the top, then back to the first section's themes and pacing. Such a fun song! Definitely evokes memories of some of STEELY DAN's early instrumental work. Man, are all those keyboard sounds being performed by one man? Such fluidity and confidence! (10/10)

5. "Come on Back" (5:47) a little gentle PAUL WELLER-like guitar play sets up this incredibly emotional, poetic, and engaging song. One of the best lyrics I've heard in years--beautifully performed by guitarist Daniel Stephenson as lead singer and composer; beautifully, sensitively supported by the band. (9.5/10)

6. "Fine Leather Shoes" (5:17) clever, witty, DONALD FAGEN-like lyrics with an awesome BLUE NILE-like singing style as performed by drummer John Hargett over some complex quirky jazz rock. (10/10)

7. "Blue Mountain" (6:30) full on STEELY DAN--only no L.A. studio musicians, these young men are all doing it themselves! Daniel Stephenson's vocal delivery (and lyrics) have this refreshing jazzy style to them that is very reminiscent of the great MICHAEL FRANKS. Amazing drumming from John Hargett. And the instruments are so well balanced in the mix! Again, I have to repeat, the engineering on this album is superlative! One of the best sounding albums since . . . Aja! Fun percussive guitar antics in the fourth and fifth while Chris and John play off each other. And HERBIE HANCOCK would be proud of Chris's work with the Fender Rhodes sound. (10/10)

8. "Fluvial Landscapes" (7:30) opening with some Latin-infused percussives from the drums, the bass and guitars soon join in giving it an early STEELY DAN sound--but the compositional complexity is far beyond anything the Dan were doing in their early days. Again, drummer John Hargett really shines on this one. Man! These guys have grown! They are SO tight! Amazing Hammond work beneath the rhythm section throughout the fourth and fifth minutes. And I'm so glad to be able to hear Jonathon Sale's deep bass thrombosis up front and center (he's often mixed a little too deeply into the sound for my tastes). Cool note play with the lead guitar solo in the final minute. Man this instrumental has it all! And these guys definitely have the chops! Early 70s SANTANA: Eat your heart out! (10/10)

9. "Lake Jam #3" (5:25) a vocalized Lake Jam? Well, will wonders never cease? Jonathon Sale's doubled up vocals works, even with these long, drawn out words and syncopated pronunciations. And this chorus! It's so infectious! I love the guitar and keyboard support for the vocal melody! (9.5/10)   

10. "All Aglow in the Golden Hour" (4:24) a song with a little more country feel, but it really comes off more closely to one of THE AMAZING's (without the vocal reverb). An unusual singer has taken the lead vocal (and lyric writing duties?) on this one (Drummer John Hargett). It's fun, catchy, upbeat, danceable, happy, and consistent with the western North Carolina feelings and themes that the other band members gravitate to. Also weird to have a Unaka Prong song that is so guitar dominated, in which Chris's keyboard work is so far in the background. What versatility these guys have! (9/10)

11. "Colossus" (5:08) a slow, bluesy rock song with a simple instrumental support for lead singer Daniel Stephenson's verses, but then the Hammond rises and the chorus (with female vocal background support!) just sucks us in and transports us back to some very emotional family roots: "Take me back to a time when friends felt like family..." Chokes me up every time I hear it! Beautiful! (9.5/10)  

12. "Irma" (7:57) the one true "prog" song on the album. (Was this song written for me? Is this the "Run Out" of 2018?) Every sound, every hook, turn and riff, seems straight out of some classic progressive rock band. And this is beautifully constructed, slow to build and shift, expertly fabricated and performed. Great chord progressions, surprising shifts, unexpected singing and melody choices. Again, I am dumbfounded: Is there anything these guys can't do? While John's drumming is awesome, there's something weird that I don't like about the way the toms are recorded/treated on this one (reminds me of Steve Gadd on "Aja"). Again, it's nice to hear the guitars venturing off into improvisational work--very much like REINE FISKE! (The highest praise I can offer!) (10/10)

I have loved every album these boys from Boone have ever done (three, so far) but never have they put out an album that has this consistency and such amazing, amazing sound production. There is not a song on this album that I will ever skip over--they're all going to give me years of joy and surprises--from the nuances in the music as well as from the intricate collaboration of the collective members. Though I really miss the magical dimension that Nic Pressley's trumpet adds to the UNAKA PRONG sound--and I hope he comes back when grad school is over--it becomes obvious with Salinity Now! that this band can make it as quintet. I hope the hard work pays off for these boys, that a return of prosperity unfolds for them, cuz they sure deserve it! 

If you want to hear some of the finest music and musicianship happening on the planet right now, you needn't go further than Appalachia! They're UNAKA PRONG and they will not be denied! 

96.25 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; an undeniable masterpiece of eclectic progressive rock music and, in my opinion, one of the shining lights of the present and future of rock music!  




2. MONOBODY Raytracing

The boys from Chicago are back! As you may recall, their 2015 self-titled debut crashed onto the Post Rock scene with quite a splash! In fact, I rated it as a five-star masterpiece and included it among my list of favorite Post Rock albums of all-time. As good as that album was, this one may be better. The tempo variations and melodic maturity displayed here shows that these guys have been working hard over the past three years. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Al Costis: electric bass, vibraphone, lap steel guitar
Collin Clauson: keyboards
Conor Mackey: electric guitar, keyboards, vibraphone, programming
Nnamdi Ogbonnaya: drums, percussion
Steve Marek: electric bass
   With
Matt Attfield: trombone (4)

1. "Ilha Verde" (10:44) opens with slow, delicate playing from heavily distorted and lightly-flanged electric instruments while drums play clear and pure somewhat sub rosa. Things ramp up into a tight jazz weave in the third minute and then get crazy-cruisin' by the fourth--a little avant with tight stop-and-starts and a very tightly woven weave. By the middle of the fourth minute things are bass-slappin' Primal, if you know what I mean! Then, just as suddenly, at the four minute mark things break down and we glide into a section of gorgeous Lyle-Mays-like melodic jazz. Guitar and piano here are so tight! This is such a diverse odyssey--like a jazz master class! Intricate staccato work returns, followed by the heavier King Crimson-like stuff to the mid-eight minute. Another break as we enter a new dreamy patch. Wow! What a ride! It is truly like experiencing all of the emotional and spatial shifts of Homer's Odyssey--in just under eleven minutes! Great multiple-layered pacing in the final section as drums go frenetic beneath gentler keys and floating guitars on top. (19/20)

2. "Raytracing" (4:47) complex, fast-paced weave with, at times, a bassa nova kind of beat structure and some really funky guitar and vibe sounds woven into some gorgeous passages. Incredibly impressive cohesion and synchrony from all band members. Incredibly impressive song! (10/10)

3. "Former Islands" (5:26) the song most like their debut album. It opens fast-paced, intricately woven as Post Rock with a TOE. (Japanese Post Rock band) feel to it. Solid, impressive song with solid, impressive instrumental performances over the course of two movements in an A-B-A-B structure. The melodies in the B section are gorgeous. (10/10)

4. "Echophrasia" (9:59) a gentle, spacey opening section with floating synths and keys over which percussives and guitar noodle their rapidly traveling passages. When things pick up and become jazzier in the third minute, the feel becomes all intricately constructed, well-rehearsed timed rapidly arpeggiated chord progressions--jazz! A spacey interlude in the fifth minute lets everyone catch their breath before guitar arpeggi, cymbol play support trombone and slide guitar work. The intricate weave of guitar, keys, and bass and drums rises and intensifies before a guitar scream introduces a heavy" technical-metal section. This is so impressive the way the whole-band's timing has to be so perfect in order to pull off the realization of these crazy-complex compositions! (18/20) 

5. "The Shortest Way" (1:03) a cross between John Martyn's echoplex guitar and Mark Isham's synth work to give the listener a little respite from this stunning album. Thank you! (4.5/5)

6. "Opalescent Edges" (8:08) speaking of Mark Isham, this one opens like a Minimalist Isham-Bill Bruford EARTHWORKS piece. Chunky bass and psuedo-power chords give the third section a little STEELY DAN feel to it. (What?!) But then Conor Mackay just has to show off his amazing speed for a few before we fall into another classic jazz gentle bridge leading to a Stick and vibes weave with keys and bass and drums rockin' out to drown out the band! This sixth minute would have been the perfect finale, but no, the band has to keep going in order to let some individual steam off--here the guitar and synth get some solo time before they weave back into whole before decaying into the sedating final minute of space sounds. Wow! What did I just experience? How does one define this music? "Prog Perfection!" (20/20)

Total Time 40:07

Throw away the Post Rock/Math Rock label, boys, this is Jazz-Rock Fusion at it's most intricately KonstruKted King Crimsonianness.

95.88 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a certifiable masterpiece of modern progressive rock music--and album that would make Señors Fripp, Bruford, Levin, Belew, Gunn, Mastelotto, Harrison, Jakszyk, and Rieflin proud.  




3. IVAR BJØRNSON & EINAR SELVIK Hugsjá

Clever and transporting "Viking folk music" from Norwegian artists Ivar Bjørnson (guitarist for ENSLAVED) and drummer/singer Einar Selvik (aka "Kvitrafn" in the black metal band GOGOROTH and folk band WARDRUNA). This is a stunning album that starts out more regional Nordic folk but then begins to sound and feel more familiar Western European folk rock the further you get into the album. 

Line-up / Musicians: 
Einar Selvik (Wardruna): Lead vocals, Kravik-lyre, Taglharpa, goat-horn, Bronze-lure, flute and percussion
Ivar Bjørnson (Enslaved): Guitars and electronics
   With
Silje Solberg: Hardanger-fiddle and backing vocals
Iver Sandøy: Drums, percussion and backing vocals
Håkon Vinje: Backing vocals
Anna Lisa Lekven, Laila Moberg, Marianne Evensen Østrem, Lisa Nøttseter, Lise Renee Aase, Kristine Bjånesøy Tikkanen, Linda Nytræ, Leif Østrem, Brede Lærum, Jan Helge Kordts, Jan-Ove Hansen, Richard Myhre Gåssand and Stine Kobbeltvedt: Choir under management of Stine Kobbeltvedt (4, 11)

1. "Hugsjá" (4:35) Celtic melodies with deep bass thrum and lower register multi-voice singing (are they using some throat singing?) which sounds almost like chant. Quite enthralling, mesmerizing, even consuming--like a spiritual entrainment thing. (9/10)

2. "WulthuR" (4:16) opens with a solo horn whose sound is unfamiliar to me. It is then joined by folk instruments, multiple drums, and acoustic guitars before solo voice sings. The chorus "dance" section uses deep background choir voices to anesthetize the listener. (10/10)

3. "Ni Døtre av Hav" (6:02) big drums, low droning horn-like thrum, berimbau-like stringed instrument, electric guitars, and full drum kit support simple folk melodies and both solo and choral vocal sections. Super powerful. Mr. Selvik has an extraordinarily engaging voice--as do the choir with his choral arrangements. (10/10)

4. "Ni Mødre av Sol" (5:55) opens with multiple bowed instruments setting the melodic and harmonic stage for drum and vocals. The vocal melody lines here are a bit foreign to Western 12-note scales, using semi-tones and warbles that are not typical in Western European singing traditions (as far as I know). They sound more akin to Middle Eastern or Indian scales. At 3:40 drum kit and pulsing electronic bass line fills the soundscape as choir of Nordic gods sing their worship. The never-changing foundational weave gets a bit old. (8.75/10)

5. "Fornjot" (4:41) finger picked stringed instrument is alone in support of Einar's story telling voice. At 1:05 the soundscape fills out as drums and other deep-toned instruments (church organ bass pedals?) join in for the chorus. Very dramatic, very powerful. The drums and deep thrum settle into a steady pattern for the second verse before repeating the ramp up for the second (final) chorus. (9/10)

6. "Nattseglar" (7:06) opens a bit like a louder version of a ROXY MUSIC song before electronic water and rowing sounds are faded back in lieu of a simple melody plucked on a single- or two-stringed folk instrument. Einar's lone vocals are used sparsely over the first 90 seconds, alternating with violin-like instrument, before they become doubled up with steadily increasing numbers of other vocal tracks singing the same thing, some in delay or echo of the lead. Cool effect! Full drums kick in at 3:45, but the rest of the song's weave remains the same (getting a little old). The drumming becomes more animated as the song progresses as does the activity of a late entering church organ. Instruments begin to drop off  little by little starting at the 5:35 mark until we are left with a bouncy synth chord, drums, and synchronized vocal choir accompanying the final highly-electrified "bermibau chord." (9/10)

7. "Nytt Land" (7:48) opens like a song from an album of Sweden's THE AMAZING: heavily distorted notes and chords from an electric guitar. Multiple reverbed Einar vocal tracks with harp join in. The chorus explodes upon us at 2:20 with squeeze box-like sounds and a vocal passage from a large choir--here using the broadest aural spectrum and most Western chord structure yet heard on this album. Very engaging, even pretty, melodies and harmonies created on this one. Before the ending water sounds the large choir pumps back up for a long recapitulation of its previous explosive passage. (14/15)


8. "Nordvegen" (3:41) fast-moving folk acoustic guitar work not far from work of Jimmy Page, The Beatles, or even Anthony Phillips over which Einar sings in a lone voice reverb. Very cool song. (9.25/10)

9. "Utsyn" (5:23) a deep inner-planetary hum opens this song. It is soon joined by the balalaika-like instrument and Einar's singular voice and some acoustic guitar background strums. Then a second male voice enters to harmonize with Einar before the full "orchestra" of the full band enters for the chorus. Powerful! In the fourth minute a kind of calm between the storm passage allows for thunderous background strokes and bowed and instruments to convey the ominous calm. Around the four minute mark all hell bursts forth again but then the song finishes with just the chorus, 'balalaika' and wave sounds. (9/10)

10. "Oska" (7:29) opens with a Western rock chord structure coming from guitars, drums, strings and other synthesized banks of instruments. Einar & Co. enter singing long-held "oh"s while the Celtic-sounding Nordic folk instruments weave in a kind of reel or jig. There's a little UK folk sound and feel to this one--like Horslips, Led Zeppelin, or even Steven Wilson. It's just a long rollicking jam with full choir singing their long Tuvalu-like polyphonic notes. The horn used in the sixth and seventh minutes is absolutely awesome for building tension! Finish with the sounds of wood burning--on a large scale! Wow! (It all makes sense when one hears the translation of the word "oska"--it means "ashes"!) (9.5/10)


11. "Um Heilage Fjell" (5:26) again based in more familiar Western European sounds and structures, this one seems to be sung in tones of respect, awe, and reverence. Great plaintive vocal from Einar while full chorus and big band/big sound accompany him with a stream of supportive, sometimes antiphonal, and, later, echoing vowels and phrases. Amazing end to a stunningly powerful album. (10/10)


Total Time 62:22


93.48 on the Fishscales = A/Five stars; a masterpiece of very powerful Prog Folk--this one of the Nordic variation. An absolutely riveting album from start to finish. One of the best albums of 2018 and certainly one of the most refreshing. I think it will be quite challenging for you to go away from listening to this one without being deeply affected, perhaps even haunted. 




4. TOBY DRIVER They Are the Shield

An album of very emotive, beautiful compositions much more in line with Toby's 2009 Maudlin of the Well release, Part the Second. Simple, spacious, violin-dominated soundscapes  
Line-up / Musicians:
- Toby Driver / electric guitar, synth, vocals, composer & producer

With:
- Bridget Bellavia / vocals (4)
- Kelly Moran / piano (6)
- Conrad Harris / violin
- Pauline Kim Harris / violin
- Brian Chase / drums

1. "Anamnesis Park" (10:37) opens with violins that remind me of Yes' proverbial concert opener, of Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite." At 2:15 this shifts completely to low end pulses before the violins and  synths rejoin--this time in a weave at very high octave ranges. Stunning! Things thin out in the fifth minute for a single violin to soar in a Vaughn Williams type of display over deep, muted bass synth chords. At 5:45 everything shifts into a drum-supported slow, repetitive rhythm pattern, setting up for Toby's vocal entry at 6:40. The violin contributions between vocal verses are awesome and the music really starts to gel powerful with Toby's vocal in the second verse. Amazing first half is brought down to Earth a bit by the shift to the vocal section but then rising up again to great heights till the end. Wonderfully creative and beautiful song! (19.5/20) 

2. "Glyph" (8:42) (17.5/20)

3. "470 Nanometers" (5:53) opens up moving along at a pace more compatible with the past two Kayo Dot albums, the double entry of Toby's wispy voice and the violins effectively change that. In the third minute there is some stripping of the sound palette, revealing a cool bare, spaciousness. From here out each of the instruments add very idiosyncratic contributions--as if independent of the song's foundational groove. Interesting! (9/10)
4. "Scaffold of Digital Snow" (6:42) gently played bare-bones electric guitar and violin duet in a rever-bed soundscape over the first 2:25. So gorgeous, so meditative and transportive! Muted organ
enters with long-held chords shifting behind the breathy vocals of guest Bridget Bellavia while accompanied by the Steve Jansen-like space drumming of Brian Chase. Wow! What a song! (15/15) 

5. "Smoke-Scented Mycelium" (7:38) very close to the Part the Second sound and feel with a little deeper bass pedal-like low end and jazzier drumming. A little too monotonous and drawn out--despite the interesting lyrics, peaceful ambiance, and screeching violin work in the background. (12.5/15)
6. "The Knot" (4:12) piano and keening violin accompany Toby's plaintive vocal. Very mature, sophisticated song for such a bare-bones construction. Toby's all grown up now! Wow! Stunning! (9.5/10)

Total time 43:44

Nice drumming throughout, Brian--kind of the back bone to the album.

93.33 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the top five Toby Driver albums ever!




5. ANNA VON HAUSSWOLFF Dead Magic

An extraordinary force is at work in Gothenborg, Dutch-born church organist-gone-wild, Anna Von Hausswolff is exploring very proggy, atmospheric, and experimental territory with this, her latest album. Music fitting the Post Rock bill but branching out in an extremely eerie, SWANS and DEAD CAN DANCE kind of way. 

1. "The Truth, The Glow, The Fall" (12:37) very similar to a DEAD CAN DANCE song with Lisa Gerrard in the lead vocal. Plodding, melodic, and absolutely brilliant! (23/25)

2. "The Mysterious Vanishing of Electra" (6:08) a SWANS-like song construct with drums, hand percussives, single-chord electric guitar strokes, and organ hits forming an electro-pulse foundation over which Anna's wild, banshee-like voice sings (wails) in a kind of Bernadette Peters-gone-wild voice. Amazing and powerful! What an impassioned vocal! So unexpected and powerful! May be the song of the year! I did not know Anna could sing like this! (10/10) 

3. "Ugly and Vengeful" (16:17) spacious and atmospheric, this plodding song could easily come from either an ancient Greek tragedy or a SWANS album--or something by GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR. Powerful and unsettling. In the eleventh minute a metronomic bass drum and tom establish a shamanic or indigenous kind of beat for the first time in the song while guitars and, later, organ and voice take turns expanding the soundscape into infinity. (27/30)

4. "The Marble Eye" (5:18) a complex, layered solo church organ piece opening with breathy organ arpeggi which then get layered with bass pedal below and upper ocatve arpeggi above in the second half of the opening minute. Higher octave organ melody gets established over the aforementioned weave of arpeggi. Are some of these layers being looped? 
     The melodies introduced in the second half of the third minute are powerful! Awesome, gorgeous song! (9.5/10)

5. "Källans återuppståndelse" (7:26) opens with slow-changing ethereal synth wash chords for the first two minutes before organ joins in as the dominant instrument over the top of the synth chords. Gorgeous, relaxing, and contemplative. Anna begins singing (in English) over the top at the 3:25 mark while accompanied by plaintive solo violin. Later, in the fifth minute, this violin becomes a full string section with raunchy, staticky electric guitar playing alongside. Great vocal, great arrangement, pretty yet eery and unsettling. (14/15) 

92.78 on the Fishscales = A/five full stars; a certifiable masterpiece of exciting, boundary-pushing progressive rock music!





6. ALL TRAPS ON EARTH A Drop of Light

Änglagård founding member and bass player Johan Brand and former Änglagård, current Thieves' Kitchen keyboard player, Thomas Johnson, plus drummer Erik Hammarström and Brand's daughter Miranda on vocals = ALL TRAPS ON EARTH! If that's not enough to get your interest piqued, add a bunch of classically-trained guest musicians on a dozen wind instruments and you've got the foundation of a pretty high-potential band!

Musicians / Line up:
 --- Johan Brand: Mellotron M400 and M4000D, Moog Voyager, Moog Minitaur, organs, Fender Rhodes, clavinet. Rickenbacker 4001 and 4001S basses, Fender Jazz Deluxe bass, Revelation Jazzmaster VI bass, Moog Taurus 1. Epiphone Gibson Les Paul guitar, Green Gibson Les Paul guitar. Percussion, vocals.
 --- Thomas Johnson: Grand pianos, Fender Rhodes, Wurlitzers, pianets, clavinet, organs, Mellotron M4000D, Moog Voyager.

 --- Erik Hammarström: Drums: Tama Artstar I (Cordia), cymbals. Yamaha Oak Custom Absolute Noveau snare drum. Vibraphone, marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel, crotales, timpani, gran cassa, wood blocks, tam-tam, tubular bells.

 --- Miranda Brand: Vocals.

Guest musicians:

Fredrik Lindborg: Bass clarinet, baritone, tenor, alto and soprano saxophone.

Karl Olandersson: Trumpet, flugelhorn.

Magnus Båge: Concert flute.

Matthias Bååth: Bass and concert flute. Tenor and alto recorder.

Phil Mercy: Organic guitars. 


1.  "All Traps on Earth" (18:15) traipsing into Zeuhl territory with quite some aplomb, I'm reminded of UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA and KOTEBEL and even MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA throughout this song. The difference maker is the horns and Mellotron. And the bass--that loose, chunky, in-your-face bass! Awesome. (24.75/28.75) 

2. "Magmatic Warning" (16:09) a dynamic and temporal display reminiscent of a weatherman's reporting of the rise and course of an Atlantic hurricane. The bombastic, almost violent opening is beautifully tempered by the song's slow, sensitive development over the following five minutes. Love the chunky flanged bass and Mellotron over which the flugelhorn wails. The following andante section of piano, bass and flute is beautiful and unexpected though obviously rather ominously positioned. The ensuing full-on eruption section is awesome for the way it captures the insidious and unremitting power and course of a volcanic eruption. Having just visited Pompei and Vesuvio, I'm not sure I agree with the choice of expression in the thirteenth and fourteenth minutes as things seem to quiet down and then slowly, inexorably build and release over the ensuing fifteenth and sixteenth minutes before suddenly (too suddenly?) subsiding. Cool song--especially great if one forgets the title. So Zeuhlish. (Is the Magma reference in the title also--or only--meant to cite the French Zeuhl band?) (23/25.25)

3. "Omen" (12:59) an orchestral masterwork--definitely putting on full display the orchestral training and talents of drummer/percussionist Erik Hammarström. Though the opening three minutes is quite ominous in a Zuehlish way, the melodic riff repeated from the fourth minute on is a wonderful earworm to latch onto. As vocals, trumpet and flugelhorn play with this main theme, the bass, drums, 'tron, vocalese, and percussion work is sublime--at times genius. The 'tron work in the seventh minute conjures up pure King Crimson 1969. The following section of staccato and centerless interplay reminds me quite a little of the talents and style of JACOPO COSTA and his LOOMINGS and CAMEMBERT projects as well as all his contributions to other AltrOck Productions bands (Yugen, Not a Good Sign, Factor Burzaco, Empty Days). Such a well constructed, fully "orchestrated" song! (20/20.5)


4. "First Step" (02:03) what starts out as a Russian-sounding solo piano expression becomes a brief and quite romantic whole-band theme. French? Inspired by Chopin? (2.5/3)


5. "Bortglömda Gårdar" (14:03) opens with 80 seconds of "harpsichord" sound over which male voice sings delicately (in Swedish) as other instruments and voices make small, subtle contributions. It's beautiful and "old" feeling. Then the full rock band kicks in with a bass-heavy complex weave of many instruments all seeming to be driving their own separate courses--though on the same wide boulevard. Within 90 seconds this comes to an end. (Perhaps all the vehicles are at a traffic stop.)  

Next, flutes, incidental tuned percussions, vibes, piano, and multiple female vocals lend the song an angelic visual before the opening section returns with religious harpsichord and male vocal. The ensuing interplay of Mellotron voices and flutes, harpsichord, and percussives is quite mesmerizing. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, at 8:20 a spacious section of multiple 'tron tracks, strolling bass, gentle and distant drums, and multiple trumpets rises. Then, at 9:45, just as suddenly, a full-decibel onslaught of Zeulish, goulish jazz takes over. The synth solo in the eleventh minute is certainly inventive. Then everything quiets down to ultra-delicacy again--with gentle piano repeating itself behind xylophone play. Flutes, synths and 'tron take over and play at a cherubic weave before fading away to allow the piano a full exposition of some quite stunningly beautiful solo play to finish the song. Amazing song! Perhaps my favorite song of 2018! (22.5/22.5) 

As I listen to these songs the chunky bass and operatic female vocalese make me think that this is the same territory that the UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA has been exploring for the past 20 years, and then, alternately, I find myself thinking--as I do so often with all Änglagård albums--that KOTEBEL does this just as well. The difference here, though, is the great bass sound mixed so far forward in the soundscape, the virtuosic use of changing and opposing dynamics, the brilliant use of horns and tuned percussion, and the virtuosic use of Mellotrons. The composers and producers here know how each and every instrument should and could be used--much as a composer of classical music knows how best to use each and every instrument in his or her orchestra. 

92.75 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of complex, eclectic progressive rock music. This is much more than another progressive rock album: This album puts on display the absolute highest levels of compositional skill and artistry. If there's one album you buy this year--and really, seriously dive into--let it be this one!




7. SEVEN REIZH L'albAtros

The only other Seven Reizh album I've heard is 2001's Strinkadenn Ys--one of my five favorite albums from that year. As the band and its composers did so well on that album, there is an attempt to merge and blend the musical traditions of different cultures and ethnicities--here more toward West-East, Celtic and Arabic. Apparently, I've just learned, the four Seven Reizh musical releases--Strinkadenn YsSamsaraLa Barque Ailée, and L'albatross--are meant to be a "quadrilogy," four album releases intended to musically convey the story as told in an accompanying fantasy novel--one that tells the "history" of the adventures of a 19th Century Bretagnais world-traveling sailor named Jean-Marie Le Bris who is also imagining and aspiring to invent an "aerial ship" (the "barque aillée").  
     I love the fact that composer Claude Mignon and novelist-production designer Gérard Le Dortz show the esteem in which they hold their contributing vocalists (who are all wonderful) by listing them first among their credited contributors. As you listen to any of the Seven Reizh albums you'll understand why:  These albums are unique in the way they are telling the story--the novel--in a kind of conversational/narrational format with all vocalists making appearances over the course of each and every song--and using multiple languages and many, many ethnic music traditions, to do so. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Gérard Le Dortz: Roman, lyrics, graphic design and production
Claude Mignon: Compositions, arrangements and musical realization
   With
Farid Aït Siameur : Kabyle vocals
Laurène Bourvon : English & French vocals
Bleunwenn Mével : Breton vocals
Stefanie Théobald : French & German vocals
Louis Mével : Harmony vocals
Marcel Aubé : Erhu
Loïc Bléjean : Uilleann pipes
Cyrille Bonneau : Duduk
Olivier Carole : Bass
Mathilde Chevrel : Cello
Jonathan Dour : Violin
Philippe Durand : Horn
Ronan Hilaireau : Piano
Régis Huiban : Accordeon
Bernard Le Dréau : Tenor saxophone, clarinet
Erwan Le Gallic : Scottish bagpipes
Shane Lestideau : Violin   
Gurvan Mével : Drums, percussions
Gwenaël Mével : Tin & low whistles, bombarde
Gwendal Mével : Flute
Claude Mignon : Piano, synths, lap steel, electric & acoustic guitares, voice (Klasker-bara)
Michel Hoffmann : Oboe
François Pernel : Celtic harp
Thierry Runarvot : Double bass      
Olivier Salmon : Electric & acoustic guitares
Mihai Trestian : Cimbalom
Bagad ”Bro An Aberioù”, Plabennec, led by Goulwen Bono

1. "Le Pavillon Chinois" (3:59) The title says it all:  music stylized Chinese. Could be a travel video soundtrack. The takeover of the main melody from Chinese flutes to Celtic Uilleann pipes at 2:30 is interesting--and then German vocals! (8.5/10)

2. "Brizh"  (14:48) slow, cinematic music plods beneath violin and English vocals of Laurène Bourvon. The synth "Strings" lead that follows the first verse sounds a little dated, but the breathy, vulnerable vocal (not unlike KOOP/LITTLE DRAGON's Yukimi Nagano) is awesome. At :00 the singer and language of choice change. I'm not much of a fan of saxophone, so the long Dick Parry-like solo in the sixth and seventh minutes is not for me. The ensuing lull of orchestral nuances is gorgeous--great, emotional melody. More delicate female vocalists appear, wafting in and out, until at the 13:00 mark an explosion of sound unleashes more Dick Parry-like sax and some slide guitar co-soloing to the finish. Overall, a great song; a veritable classic prog epic. (28.5/30)

3. "Tiqit Weman"  (5:52) opens with strings to support the Kabyle singing of Farid Aït Siameur (who sounds a bit like older PETER GABRIEL). In the second minute the lead vocal switches to a female singing in a different language. Back and forth the two go; this is a conversation. The operatic voice of this lead singer is quite beautiful--and a great contrast to the raspy voice of Aït Siameur. The underlying music is quite like a stage or cinematic musical--could be a Disney love song. It's beautiful. (9/10)

4. "Dalc’h Mad" (6:55) Farid Aït Siameur bursts out from the opening note in his Kabyle tongue, isnging in a forceful, devotional way. Laurène Bourvon's English singing comes next over some incongruously heavy rock music. Again, a theatric conversation style of lyrical presentation unfolds as the two protagonists and their choral support seem to be expressing anguish and longing. Another great song that could belong in a Disney or Cirque du Soleil presentation. (9/10)

5. "Klasker-bara" (4:40) the most subdued and sad of the Celtic-Arabic blends on the album, here the exceptionally emotional vocal performances are perfectly matched and integreted with the music--much of which is orchestral acoustic. (9.5/10)

6. "Kriz" (9:27) electronically clipped drum with delicately played steel-string guitar and woodwinds opens this song for the first gentle, sleepy two minutes. Then Laurène and Farid continue their conversation. I am so engaged in this conversation, this story, I just wish I knew what it was about (in detail)! 
     There is a major song shift at the three minute mark into a kind of Buddha Lounge oriental fantasy song. It's extremely pretty! Lyrics are sung in French. Some cool drumming at the end of the fifth minute to signal another shift--one in which Farid enters and sings on multiple tracks with electric guitar power chords counter-balancing the Chinese erhu and then the English lyrics sung by Laurène. Nice guitar solo in the seventh/eighth minutes (especially its climactic section flwoing into the ninth minute). Oriental themes return and are woven among the continued soloing of the electric guitar to the end. Brilliant creation! (18.5/20)

7. "Lostmarc’h" (9:59) despite an unspectacular opening section--calm and desert-beautiful, sung in English--this one carries an incredibly touching emotional quality within both the multi-voice vocal performances and the instrumental fabric supporting it all. The musical foundation becomes more compelling with the entry of operatic voice of one of the women (Stefanie or Bleunwenn, I know not which). The conversational aspect of storytelling is quite apparent in this one as Laurène, Farid, and Stefanie/Bleunwenn take turns in the lead position. Eventually, the song finishes with some more wonderful acoustic and electric guitar soloing. 
      In the end, this is truly a gorgeous song regardless of whether or not it ever develops or evolves into something surprising or unexpected. I'm just so glad someone is doing this kind of music. (18.5/20)

8. "Er Lein" (9:30) all-out Celtic rock (despite Farid's Kabyle vocals). After the opening three minutes, this song is amped up to full power all the way through until the final 30 seconds. The female vocals are awesome from start to finish--from the scrambled, almost mumbled openers into the thrum-supported doubled-up verses to the operatic Gaelic ones before Farid's entrance. Brilliant! The deep pulse of bass, drums, and keys balanced by the celtic cimbalom (zither/autoharp), celtic pipes and horns and guitar are so well done! Truly an awesome song! (19/20)

Total Time 65:10

I greatly admire the successful melding of Celtic and Arabic traditions; perhaps there is a larger social-political statement being made here. Now knowing the continuous story line that this one concludes I will go back and add the middle two releases ((2006's Samsara and 2015's La barque aillée) that I have yet to hear. Also, I must comment on the drastically improved sound production Messers. Mignon and Le Dortz have achieved since Strinkadenn Ys: it doesn't get much better than this.

92.69 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of cross-cultural storytelling progressive rock music.



The Minor Masterpieces
(Ratings of 90.0 to 92.49)





8. VAK Budo

This second release from this French Zeuhl band is very well constructed and produced but in the end brings very little new to the table that Magma, Eskaton, and Ga'an haven't already brought. The compositions are complex and dynamic with rarely a dull moment or overly-prolonged passage and the musicians are equally up to the task of delivering this complex music in a powerful and jazzy fashion. 


Line-up / Musicians: 

Aurélie Sainte-Croix - vocals
Vladimir Mejstelman - drums
Joël Crouzet - bass, guitars
Alexandre Michaan - keyboards, synthesizers
  With
Michaël Havard - saxophones (1)
Hyder Aga - guitars (3)
Nora Froger - flutes (3)

1. "Budo" (27:28) opening with busy bass, steady drums and background keys before a jazzy chordal fabric is announced by keys and horns. Multiple keys and, later, voice and R&B guitar chord play are introduced to fill out the sound in a second section. Aurélie and Alexandre play off each other harmonically to create melody lines out of voice and synth until 3:30 when there is a slowdown bridge for a syncopation display from the rhythm section. Then we briefly recapitulate the vocal-synth melody before a stripped down section allows the bass to be on display. Keys and playful drums provide background as Aurélie enters and scats and soars á la Stella Vander. A "power chord" bridge of piggy-backed bass, guitar and keys follows before another recapitulation of the vocal-synth theme. Then around 7:15 there is another breakdown in which bass and keys offer their solos. Aurelie supports as bass and drums fall away and only provide simple, syncopated support until the tenth minute when prominent drums play beneath and within the keys. Bass is sliding up and down the fretboard, back and forth. At 10:30 guitar announces its turn with a couple of loud chord strokes and a deep, wailing wah-ed sound. Nice solo, nice drum play. Another thematic shift at 12:00 before keys take a Brian Auger/Eumir Deodato-like solo over a blues-rock like foundation from the rhythm section.

     At the end of the fourteenth minute the synth and bass get pretty creative as the drums maintain an often straightforward rock tempo--shifting into an odd time signature just as multiple saxophone (two) tracks enter with their mutually exclusive soloing. This section ends up being the most prolonged of the song as the saxes keep jamming for over three minutes--even over a thematic shift in the seventeenth minute just before the slowdown and spacious shift that leads back into a pretty Fender Rhodes arpeggio-based section over which multiple tracks--voice, synth, and guitar--present and carry forward the melody.
     At 19:30 we again shift as the Fender alone carries the music into a more cinematic section in which cymbal play is the keyboard's main companion. Eventually, by the 24th minute, drums, gentle bass, and space-guitar notes are added over the Magma-esque keyboard foundation. The weave that is slowly built is quite cool--definitely moving toward a climax. Voices, saxes, and everything but the kitchen sink is thrown into the mix before the crescendo is maxed out mid-26th minute. A long, slow deconstruction and fade is then slowly executed to reach the quiet, complete end. 
     It's hard to find fault with this awesome pure-Zeuhl epic. Perhaps the frenzies and crescendo's do not reach the fanatical heights achieved by the Vander-Magma masters. (46.75/50)

2. "Hquark" (23:03) drum sticks, bass tom, and triangle create a rhythmic MAGMA-esque weave to open this one. Single note "horn," piano, and wordless vocals soon join in and eventually supplant the rhythmic weave sounding very much like something off of the two GA'AN albums. At 1:50 drums kick in as synths and full volume voice and electric guitar carry the song into its full form (at 2:05). Aurélie's vocals play a dominant role in the establishment of this, even as electric guitar takes a stab at soloing and the full band bursts into a section of loud power drive. 

     Soft and heavy dynamic shifts seem to be the key to this one not getting stale, and this is never so well demonstrated as the first downshift that occurs at the five minute mark. Aurélie scatting wordlessly (and without consonants)--even via multiple tracks--while Fender Rhodes and very cool bass play proceed until the keyboard-guitar(and, later, -synth) weave double their speed at the end of the seventh minute. Drums and vocals increase intensity commensurately until everything slows down to a walk at the 8:20 mark. Keyboard, synth, and scratchy electric guitar solos start and duel in a crazy frenzied dance until the 10:00 mark. There follows another ominous slowdown section--even coming to a full stop at 10:32 before a pretty, gentle, SETNA-like Fender Rhodes solo initiates a new slow section over which Aurélie sings a complex melody line of "hey dah yah"s and more. The music slowly but insidiously picks up pace and intensity with drums paving the way while Aurélie's work remains fairly constant. Cool! 
    At 13:45 there is yet another stoppage and slow entry of a solo Fender keyboard--this one not as melodic or autonomous as the previous one. While Aurélie and drums and bass rejoin fairly quickly, the rebuild is quite slow and protracted. Aurélie's repeating pattern reminds me of Amanda Parsons' work with National Health
     In the eighteenth minute an entirely new groove is established with bass and drums sounding, in fact, a lot more like the aforementioned NATIONAL HEALTH than Zeuhl founders Magma. Even the keyboard solo is more Dave Stewart--though the backing guitar and bass work is definitely Zeuhlish. Fender Rhodes gives way to synth while complex rhythm section and a more in-the-background Aurélie provide the foundational support. This is easily the most sophisticated section of the song. By the end of the twenty-second minute we are fully and firmly back into the land of Kobaïa--and this is how the song flows to its end.  
    The middle section of sparsity with keys, bass, drums, and lone female voice treading softly for several minutes is, I have to admit, my favorite part. I love Aurélie's more loose and melodic "lead" vocals as well as the the Fender Rhodes theme here. I think Aurélie unique talents are much better put to use--"set free"--here than on "Budo." 
     Overall, this is another great song--creatively and skillfully melding several styles and influences from within and the fringes of Zeuhl World into something engaging, interesting, and definitely begging for repeated listens. I like this one better than the opener--probably because of its expansive inclusion of other styles as well as the greater range, freedom, and prominence in the lead capacity given to the vocalizations of Ms. Sainte-Croix in the first two of the three middle sections. (47/50)

3. "Au fond des creuses" (8:19) opens slowly with a slow bouncing Zeuhlish Fender Rhodes chord sequence accompanied by simple drums and bass while Aurélie sings her vocalise. The tempo and intensity pick up in the middle of the third minute. Again, I am quite reminded of Chicago's GA'AN's two 2011 releases. At the five minute mark a cool guitar and Fender Rhodes weave sets up support for the entry of solo flute. This is very cool! But, alas! It ends all too quickly; at 6:30 we are back to a slow, plodding section--though this one is heavier due to the guitar's "power chords." The song then softens as it deconstructs toward the very delicate Aurélie Sainte-Croix-led end. (17.5/20)


Total Time 58:50


92.29 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. It is so difficult for me to find fault with Zeuhl music because it's usually so well-constructed and takes such instrumental prowess to render. Plus, there often seems to be present an underlying emotional and even spiritual component to this music. I think of the recent UNIT WALL, PioL, CORIMA, and even this year's PinioL and ALL TRAPS ON EARTH albums as other examples of this fact. Perhaps this subgenre is the pinnacle--or synthesis--of all that is best about progressive rock music. 

     The wordless vocals of Aurélie Sainte-Croix are awesome and so very welcome--they're as good as another lead instrument--and yet I feel that they have not yet been fully liberated--that they are not yet realizing their fullest potential. Perhaps in future releases!?





9. REGAL WORM Pig Views

A late-comer to my awareness--and from an artist with whom I was heretofore unaware. And what a creative and eminently skilled artist this is! To think that this sophisticated symphonic concept album is practically a solo project is mind-boggling!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jarrod Gosling / Mellotron M400, RMI 368 electra piano, Octave Kitten, ARP 2600, Minimax ASB, Hammond L122, Korg MS20, Philips Philicorda AG-755 organ, Fender Rhodes, Kawai S100, assorted keyboards, basses (Rickenbacker 4001, Fender Precision), guitars (Danelectro double neck 6/12 string, Epiphone Les Paul Junior, lap steel, Simon and Patrick acoustic), mandolin, accordion, stylophone, voice, drums, percussion, glockenspiel, toy piano, effects

With:
- Emily Ireland / voice
- Heidi Kilpenlainen / voice
- Paul Putner / voice
- Peter Rophone / voice, acoustic guitar
- Louis Atkinson / alto & tenor saxophones
- Mick Somerset-Ward / alto, tenor & baritone saxophones, flute
- Graham McElearney / harp

1. "Rose, Rubus, Smilax, Vulkan" (7:17) opens like a GENESIS song converted to the music to a kids cartoon (I find myself thinking of the soundtrack to Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas). Even the title phrase used for the chorus' chorus feels like made-up terms from a contrived make-believe world of a Dr. Seuss or Roald Dahl world. The music is hard-driving, fast-paced, and tightly performed but ultimately it never seems to shake that REBECCA SUGAR/Steven Universe feel. (12.75/15)

2. "Revealed As A True Future Tyrant" (5:29) shows a musical sophistication requiring multiple listens to take in and adapt to. There are three main phrases repeated over the course of the multi-part song--one to accompany each of the song's three themes:  "My teacher understands" from the opening and closing segments, the choir's shouted four words (which sound exactly like a Teutonic variation of the title phrase from the opening song) from the second, full-band movement, and the delicate words used in the third section to describe the child in question, "star pupil" "Even on a rainy day." Nice saxophone solo in the middle section. The music and song are actually quite engaging if oddly constructed and even more strangely worded. (9.25/10)

3. "Pre-Colombian Worry Song" (5:24) this one opens up with by far the most engaging, toe-tapping groove on the album--and only proceeds to increase its winsome ways when the singing joins in. What is most unusual about this song--taken in the context of the whole album--is the fairly straightforward and singular style used on this song from start to finish. Yes, there are some quirky syncopated rhythms and bridges in various places, but overall the song feels like one song without any major symphonic twists and turns. Plus, it's so engaging and adorable that it just makes you want to get up and dance a happy dance! (9.5/10)

4. "Rose Parkington, They Would Not Let You Leave" (7:06) notes a BEACH BOYS/BUGGLES-like return to cartoon theme music like that used in the album's opening song. Even the spy-thriller lyrics and effects add to the cartoonish feel. It's good--makes you want to see the animated video this must surely accompany--and makes one realize how well some of those techno-pop songs of the early MTV era could have used GORILLAS-like animation. (12.375/15)

5. "Jag Vet" (1:36) MIDIed electric piano accompanies a female vocalist singing a soft, slow, delicate vocal about Karen. Greek chorus tells her to "don't go in there" several times. (4.5/5)

6. "The Dreaded Lurg" (14:53) this is the jewel of the album. (30/30)

- "i. Catch Your Death" opens the suite slowly, cautiously, but then breaks into a fast-pace with a rhythm a feel quite similar to song #3, "Pre-Columbian Worry Song," even employing some melodic themes that feel similar to those used on previous songs (the Rebecca Sugar-like ear-worms). There are several themes used within this one--the cartoonish racing theme, a campy Burt Bacharach-like theme, and a heavier macabre carnivalesque theme (which closes the movement at the end of the seventh minute). 

- "ii. He Hath Rear'd His Sceptre O'er The World" is opened with a quiet, stealthy-spy-like theme over which a small Greek chorus chants about a fighting in the forest. At 9:15 a minor keyed KARDA ESTRA-like passage presents itself before disappearing in lieu of the sounds of a campfire in a windstorm. 

- "iii. To Hunt An Ancient Vampire

     There are plenty of wait and look periods alternating with interjections of alarmed "Oh my God, the light is fading" as chanted by a chorus of seeming passersby. An oboe cadenza precedes another Greek chorus shouting out the warning, "Oh my God, the light is fading" as the cartoon music continues and draws upon even more cartoon/video game sounds and motifs. Chorus chants of "Luh, luh" precede a loud crash of a gong which signals the end of the racing music with a little less than a minute to go. The rest of the song is filled with the sounds of Mellotron voices, a crackling fire, and strong winds blowing. This then bleeds directly into the next song.
     Despite the cartoon-like feel of much of this song, it does an absolutely brilliant job of conveying the feeling of a complete story--as a true "epic" should. Plus, I find the song so entertaining that I've listened to it over 20 times now and have never tired nor cut short each listen. There is so much ingenuity and innovation to the construction and flow of this song that it deserves full credit as a new arrival to the Vahalla of Prog Epics.  

7. "Crystallisation" (3:18) opens with electric piano and high octave singing before the vocalist drops into normal mid-range for the second part of the first verse. Many incidentals are dispersed throughout including Mellotron choir. Quite a remarkable vocal performance filled with several very deeply hooking melodies/lines including "We were locked up in the tower ... today." Just shows the power that simplicity and purity can convey. (9.5/10)

8. "Huge Machine, You Are So Heavy" (6:37) opens with two slowly alternating chords from what sounds like a harmonium or squeeze box over which a male vocalist sings delicately. Mid-second minute piano and choir voices bring a second gear but it's not until 2:10 that we truly feel the direction Jarrod is wanting to take this. By 2:45 a full-on prog extravaganza has been unleashed with chunky bass, fuzzy guitars, windy early-King Crimson synths and sax. It's all instrumental and repetitious quite in the way that Mike Oldfield used in the heavier part of the "Tubular Bells" composition. In the sixth minute a kind of BUGGLES pattern and sound palette is been established over which Geoff & Trevor-like vocal choir sings repeating the same two phrases until the ending fadeout. Great song! (9/10)

9. "Butterfly" (0:51) a (faux) recording of a radio broadcast from the 1920s about a papillon.

Total time 52:31

92.26 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of quirky symphonic progressive rock music--perhaps a nod to the future of progressive rock: the integration of musical styles from the realms of cartoon and video animation with symphonic forms--all while employing masterful compositional and instrumental skills.




10. GLEB KOLYADIN Gleb Kolyadin

IAMTHEMORNING's musical mastermind has gone rogue! And we are so glad he did! This kind of creativity should not be slowed or held back. In the typical piano-based chamber music constructions common to IAMTHEMORNING's albums (especially their debut), Gleb has opened himself up to the collaborative inputs of some of London and Petersburg's best--and the outcome is outstanding. 

Line-up / Musicians: 
Gleb Kolyadin (Iamthemorning) - grand piano, keyboards
  With
Gavin Harrison (Porcupine Tree, King Crimon) - drums
Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, Steve Hackett, The Mute Gods, Fish On Friday) - bass
Theo Travis (Robert Fripp, Porcupine Tree, Steven Wilson) - flute and saxophone
Vlad Avy - guitars
Evan Carson - bodhran and percussion
Mick Moss (Antimatter) - vocals (2)
Steve Hogarth (Marillion) - vocals (8, 13)
Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater) - additional keyboards (12)
Grigorii Osipov – vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel
Iliia Diakov – violin
Alexander Peresypkin – cello
Grigory Voskoboynik – double bass
Tatiana Dubovaya – vocals
Svetlana Shumkova – hang drum, spoken vocals

1. "Insight" (4:11) reminds me of the sound, style, and support of John Tout with Renaissance. When the synth solos happen then there is a bit more of a Keith Emerson feel, but really, this is more akin to the intros to "Trip to the Fair" and "Mother Russia." Nice guitar work from Vlad Avy. (9/10)

2. "Astral Architecture" (6:29) delicate solo piano work is eventually joined by deep vocal of Antimatter's Mick Moss. Equally delicate toms, cymbals, and percussion join in, then synth and cello. As it builds, so does Gleb's piano intensity. Wonderful! Crescendo in the fourth minute cascades to the opening quietude before the mounting menace of drums, bass, and guitar join in. Awesome song. (9.5/10) 


3. "White Dawn" (2:30) (4/5)

4. "Kaleidoscope" (5:50) Now this is a Keith Emerson-like piece. Nice to have maestros Gavin Harrison and Nick Beggs to weave together with as Carl Palmer and Greg Lake would have in days long gone by. An uncredited female voice sings vocalise during the third minute as vibraphone also plays a significant part in this gorgeous section. Flute joins in at 4:45. Nice overture-like feel to this one. That's a good flute player! Gleb takes the final solo on a couple vintage-sounding synths.  Nice tune! (9/10)

5. "Eidolon" (2:10) stride-like piano blues. The melody sounds quite familiar--something from old-time jazz. Awesome, haunting ending! (5/5)


6. "Into The Void" (1:44) a variation on the previous song with different tempo and dynamics. Sounds like a song from IAMTHEMORNING's first album. (4/5)

7. "The Room" (4:13) opens with a kind of VINCE GUARALDI feel to it before becoming more modern jazz-rock infused. Nice work from Gavin and Travis. Delicate solo piano interlude in the middle before diving back into the rock medium at 2:20. Nice soli from synth and sax in the hepped up second half. (9/10) 

8. "Confluence" (10:23) opens with a little Satie-like feel before heavily treated vocals of Steve Hogarth join in--talking. Fretless bass and seaside synth noises join in at the end of the third minute. Around 3:40 a koto-like fast "plucked" keyboard sound rises from beneath to take over supplying the main fabric of music over which drums, bass, and piano play. This is stunning! The next section has toms, hand drums, and harp(?) building its stunning weave while piano does his thing and just before rock rhythm section (guitars, bass, drum kit) drive the song more insistently. The harp and koto/dulcimer/zither sound take the fore at the end of the ninth minute, gelling in a delightful weave with the piano and percussives to the final seaside fadeout. Fantastic! (19/20) 

9. "Constellation / The Bell" (3:16) this solo piano piece has a very classical, romantic feel to it, though the main melody is more modern. What a pianist! The second half contains the participation of some female voices/vocalists performing an eery ghostly melody in the lead fore. Wow! That was not expected! (5/5)


10. "Echo / Sigh / Strand" (2:25) more grandiose piano-based music, this time supported by all kinds of hand percussives. The second part is an extraordinary display of two-hand piano play. The third part sees some eerie guitar and synth sounds joining in as the song builds to a final crescendo. (5/5)

11. "Penrose Stairs" (5:01) this one could also be a Keith Emerson song--with its many disjointed stop and start sections all precisely sequenced with and by the piano. Nice acoustic guitar work (I assume by Vlad). Not my favorite kind of music or style, but I can certainly appreciate the virtuosity on display here. (9/10)

12. "Storyteller" (3:19) opens with a low end bass piano arpeggio that reminds me of Peter Gunn as well as the opening to RETURN TO FOREVER's "Sorceress." The collective appearance of the full rock retinue gives it more of a RENAISSANCE feel. The recorded theatric "radio" voice joins in before we return to instrumental. A wicked and wild extended synth solo spans the second and third minutes, playing right up to the end. (8/10)

13. "The Best Of Days" (3:24) rondo piano chord sequence supports the singing voice of Steve Hogarth. The music may be too pretty for Steve's voice and lyrics, but I still like it. This one perhaps should have been saved for Marjana. One can imagine what Marjana's stunning voice could have done with this one. What gorgeous music! (9.5/10)

Total Time 54:55



92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of classically-oriented progressive rock music. Truly, I can think of few contemporary composers able to express the type of instrumental virtuosity that Gleb possesses. Check this album out! It's available on KSCOPE, of course.





11. SEQUENTIA LEGENDA Renaissance

More Berlin School magic from Klaus Schulze devoté Laurent Schieber, the Mulhouse Maestro seems to be pulling together an LP per year (or, more accurately, every nine months) all the while increasing in confidence, quality, and allure. While last year's Ethereal was a veritable prog masterpiece--and remains on my frequent rotation playlist--I've been so busy this year (since May) that I've had little time to listen to much new music much less 20+ minute long epics like these. But, I can now say, these are every bit as much up to the standards set by Laurent's previous work--and by the master himself, M. Schulze. 

1. "Out of the Silence" (21:55) starts surprisingly familiar and takes a little time growing and developing (a little too much time, in my humble opinion). A drummer's cymbol play enters and joins the sequence over the course of the fifth minute. It sounds live (not looped)! Full drums enter in the seventh minute, total key shift at 7:35 and then back to original formation at 8:25. Two more different key shifts in the tenth and eleventh minutes with a few more percussion noises added to the mix, but the song doesn't really go anywhere new, different, or exciting--not even the shift to a more minor key spectrum at the 11:00 mark--though it is nice that there are four key shifts to choose from instead of the usual two. 
     At 14:00 all rhythm tracks are dropped and multiple layers of synth chords and synth noises hold their own in a new universe of spacey-ness. I like this section. Especially the hypnotic four-note electric piano arpeggio repeated as the central foundation. The brilliance of Rainer Brüninghaus's work with Eberhard Weber comes to mind. A solid song with a wonderful final third--again, a song that is displaying the growth and development of Laurent's confidence and mastery. (34/40)     

2. "Ici et Maintenant" (25:40) opening with a much darker, foreboding soundscape than is usual for Sequentia Legenda, the slow fade in of the rhythm and percussion tracks and multiple loops of synth washes brings with it a softening of the tension, a slight brightening of hope. By the fifth minute all levels seem set. By the ninth minute the repetition is starting to wear and then--boom!--at the 9:00 mark, just in perfect timing, there is a big shift--a key change which settles the nerves. Awesome! Laurent is getting so good at reading his listeners (or, at least, me). Something about this key makes the music so much more settling, more relaxing, then, at 11:00, the key shifts again--back to its original, but thanks to that two minute reprieve, it is much more tolerable, enjoyable. Another shift at 13:00--and with it some new synth and keyboard "harp" chords and flourishes. Nice! At 15:00 we enter yet another key. The sequenced items are feeling so friendly and close now. New percussives are being added--prominent kick drum in the lower range and hi-hat cymbol in the high. After 17:00 a few more synth noises: insect buzzes, full synth wash chords, and an orchestra-like snare track. Nice. The soundscape is so perfectly balanced--and not overly full. The subtle introduction of so many elements helps me, the listener, to stay entranced and entrenched . . . in the Here and Now. Tom-tom runs are added to the mix in the twentieth minute and then, quite suddenly, at the 20:00 mark, everything collapses; all tracks but the synth washes and a few two-note rhythm tracks disappear. This is awesome! I am so stupefied by the slowly panned and flanged single note "guitar pluck"--I'm reliving my deep connection to Propaganda's "Dream Within a Dream"--one of my all-time favorite songs. Love the prolonged exit with the percussives and upper octave electric piano arpeggi. Awesome song! Definitely a showcase piece of a Berlin School master! (50/50)    

3. "Valentins Traum" (17:24) a long opening with minor or discordant chord choices over which odd and eerie, even disturbing, sounds flit in and out of the soundscape. The sequenced rhythm track stays far in the background, fading in and out of the aural spectrum. Only in the fifth minute does it begin to emerge and stay, even rise to a place within the thick of the sonic palette. By the end of the sixth minute an electronic harpsichord riff, insect zip!-buzz, electronic tambourine, and rotation of synth strings washes have established themselves as the mainstays. The chord selection is not quite as dark and scary now, though eerie, unnatural sounds continue to fly in and out of the soundscape. That "harp/harpsichord" riff is so hypnotizing! In the eleventh minute multiple components of a drum kit are introduced and interwoven. The eerie sounds become more frequent, constant, and layered in multiplicity as the drums and rhythm tracks fade out by the end of the fourteenth minute. The dénouement is slow, gradual, and steady, so I'm guessing that Valentin's dream was a bit of a disturbing event, though not one that caused sudden fright or night terrors, but the persistence of the scary sounds continues in the fore despite the slow fade of the music into the background, so perhaps I a wrong. Nice work. Definitely engaging, mesmerizing, and convincing as a representation of its subject matter. (31/35)

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; another minor masterpiece of Berlin School-inspired progressive electronic music from this evolving master--and another superb masterpiece to contribute to the lexicon of Prog Electronic Epics and Prog Valhalla.






12. BUBU El eco del sol

Where have these guys been for 40 years and why now?! This is an amazingly mature, diverse, and creatively fresh album of progressive rock songs in the very best sense of progressive rock. The integral use of full vocal choir on three of the songs is especially enjoyable.

Line-up / Musicians:
Daniel Andreoli - bass

Federico Silva - electric & acoustic guitar

Julián Bach - drums

Alvar Llusá-Damiani - electric & acoustic violin

Juan Ignacio Varela - tenor sax

Emilio Tomás Ariza - flute

Virginia “Maqui” Tenconi - keyboards, direction and choral arrangements

  With:

Lucas Aguirre - vocals (2, 4)

Anibal Dominguez - flute (1, 4, 5)

Pablo Murgier - keyboards (1, 4, 5)

Manuel de la Cruz Zambrano - percussion

Oscar Amaya - chorus

Agostina Tudisco - chorus

Ana María Battezzati - chorus

Pablo Mancuso - chorus

Tina Haus - chorus

Agigail d’Angiolillo - chorus

Paula Liffschitz - chorus

Florencia Ailín stefanelli - chorus

Emilio Tomás Ariza - chorus

1. "Resplandor" (3:49) choral voices singing over some very intricate and tightly performed symphonic prog music. The song has two significant parts to it, two different paces and dynamics, both very different. I think I like the first half best despite the somewhat discordant conflict between the choir and the rock music. (9/10)


2. "El Eco Del Sol" (9:05) jazzy, chameleonic Neo-Prog quite like Italy's LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO. After the intro period, the breakneck speed is quite impressive for the band's overall unity. It is, in fact, the more slowly drawn out vocal track that distracts and disturbs the latter, though, fortunately, the vocals are quite sparsely used throughout. Nice use of woodwinds and strings within, in front of, and outside of the overall weave. Quite a cinematic song with some very Bond-like "action" sections. The more Latin-flavored section that begins at the eight minute mark is unexpected but then smoothed over by the vocals that are consistent with earlier appearances. (18/20)

3. "Ariel" (3:45) a smooth and gentle instrumental with full band participation in the interlude-like weave--until, that is, the 1:45 mark when a heavier intensity is brought in with double-timed guitars and rhythm instruments. This "chorus" is, however, fairly short-lived as we are soon returned to the opening theme for the second verse--which plays out until the end. (9/10)

4. "Omer" (6:49) opens with a very gentle, spacious soundscape--full band all contributing to the subtly constructed tapestry. At 0:50 the music shifts into a second gear--a structure to support the entrance of the vocalist--but then it ramps up into third gear with some very busy bass work while the many layers provided by each of the band members steps in line to support the alternation of horns and vocals. Things begin to reverse their pace and complexity in the fourth minute, breaking down to pretty but much simpler tapestry in the fifth. The guitar solo and accompanying music in the sixth minute sounds like it's straight out of LYNYRD SKYNYRD's "Free Bird." This plays out till the end with some vocal support at the very end. (8.5/10)

5. "Cielo Negro" (5:41) opens like a theme to an old suspense/spy film's chase scene. Everybody is participating on this one (save the chorus). The structure and melodies feel very 1960s while the horns, electric guitar sound and stylings as well as the organ solo sound very early 1970s. The slowed down interlude in the third and fourth minutes are interesting--especially for their classical feel--reminding me of 1970s Québeçois band CONVENTUUM. Things ramp back up for the final two minutes as organ, sax, flute, and lead guitar take turns with their leads while noodling along in support throughout. Interesting song. (8.5/10) 



6. "Penas" (7:25) notes the return of the chorus as well as the flute and saxes in lead roles--this time with the chorus's inputs being much more intricately orchestrated and dispersed. The complexity and slow development over the first three minutes combined with the seamless transition into the full-fledged song thereafter leads me to call this my third favorite song on the album. Great melodies, too! I especially enjoy the subdued yet real duet/duel between the lead guitar and violin in the sixth minute, which is then seemlessly handed off to sax and flute. Bass-filled stop-gap at the six minute mark is rather unexpected and interesting--especially as it ends up playing out (decaying) to the song's finish! (9.5/10)

7. "Por La Mañana" (3:52) opens up like a sad ballad for its first 30 seconds before bass and drums effortlessly elevate the song into a very comfortable grooving drive. Before the first minute has even passed a multiple guitar riff adds another layer of high tension and congestion before disappearing to allow the re-establishment of the cool groove. Then at 1:46 an orchestra-like slow down opens up the song to a lone solo guitar playing its arpeggi. This is very soon joined by orchestrated support to play out till the end. Wow! What a song construct! My second favorite on the album. (9.75/10)


8. "La Vaca Roja" (7:39) another song that begins with a soft, soulful, full band "orchestral" fusion before shifting into second and, later, more angular, Crimsonian third gear--all within the first three minutes--before cycling back to the heart-strings-pulling beauty of the pastoral opening. Just as one is getting used to the peaceful reverie of floating on a country river things begin to thicken and ramp up, and then, just before the beginning of the fifth minute, everything just disappears leaving "far away"-sounding cymbals, congas, and, soon, violin to paint a picture of late night streets. Then the equally distant activities of chorus and other independent and seemingly disconnected instruments appear and meld into a kind of neighborhood polyphony--to end! Very unusual and creative. I love it! My favorite song on this surprising album. (15/15)    

Total Time 48:05


91.84 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Excellent sound engineering with very mature songwriting (though sometimes showing a style that feels dated), there is very little "fat" or "slough"--as well as many surprising twists and turns--in any part of any of these songs. 





13. RICHARD WILEMAN Veil

Richard--of KARDA ESTRA fame--sings! And beautifully! 

1. “Ghost” (3:34) Steve Hackett never did anything as profoundly emotional or powerful as this. It’s just gorgeous! In the Ben Watt/Tracey Thorn pantheon of folk songs! (10/10)

2. “Last Grains” (3:34) a throwback to the halcyon days of late 1960s Burt Bacharach. So catchy! Where is Laetitia Sadler? What a beautiful background vocal voice Richard has! Like Ben Watt. (9/10)

3. “The Sea Witch” (3:21) a more version introspective version of a KARDA ESTRA song. (8.5/10)

4. “Mephisto Portrait” (3:53) reminds me of the sensitive older vocal songs of ANTHONY PHILLIPS except with more engaging chord progressions. (9/10)

5. “Cassiopeia” (3:33) a familiar KE favorite (one of my all-time favorites from my second most favorite KE album) recreated with a very different, more deeply dimensional and somehow raw, human soundscape. Brilliant! Such emotion brought to the performances! Nice work, Amy Fry! (10/10) 

6. “Three Occulations” (3:33) “live” piano background for another simple folkie song. I love this singing voice! It’s so real, conveying such a vulnerable human side of Richard. (9/10) 

7. “Andromeda Variations for Guitar” (1:56) a personal classical guitar étude with a little Steve Hackett flare to it. (4/5)

8. “Chaos Theme for Clarinet” (1:56) (4/5)

9. “Unmarked on Any Map” (3:26) not as good as the other vocal songs but still remarkable for the up-close and personal side of Richard being revealed here! Bravo! (7.5/10)

10. “The Veil” (2:14) more like a simplified KE song but a nice representation of the “hidden” side of the man behind KE. (4/5)

11. “Introduction and Ceres” (2:25) a reworking of another old KE song, stripped down to acoustic guitar and clarinet (and some little electric strums in the “Ceres” part). For some reason the music hear reminds me of Woody Allen’s Gershwin soundtrack to Manhattan. (5/5)

12. “Wine of the Cosmos” (2:40) Gorgeous singing, choosing some interesting melody lines over some duplicitous guitar chords. Reminds me of Serge Gainsborough song from the 1960s/70s. I love this voice! (9.5/10)

13. “Alice Afternoon” (4:32) now THIS one sounds like a gem from an Anthony Philips Private Parts and Pieces album. Stunning! (10/10)

14. “Golgotha Dancers” (1:45) due to the percussion and melodies used, this one has a world music, even African or at least Moorish, feel to it. Love the horns. Great closer! (5/5)

I must admit to being rather shocked to hear Richard’s voice. It’s gorgeous! And conveys sush wonderfully accessible human emotion. Why has he been hiding this from us all these years? I love the stripped down versions of some of his old Karda Estra classics, as well. They give the songs the same human accessibility that his YouTube videos through the years have done. Lovely album! Truly lovely!

91.74 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of classical-infused prog folk music—or “unpluggedness.”




14. MIDAS FALL Evaporate

It's nice to hear a softer, more delicate, even acoustic side of both Elizabeth and Rowan, as on songs, "Sword To Shield," "Awake," and "In Sunny Landscapes" as well as all of the orchestral strings so clearly, integrally, even in isolation. The band has definitely taken to exploring their options outside of the Post Rock formats and sounds that they began with, yet power songs like "Bruise Pusher," "Glue," "Dust and Bone," and "Howling at the Clouds" are as devastating in their impact as songs from previous releases. 
Line-up / Musicians:
Elizabeth Heaton and Rowan Burn: all instruments except drums on 2,3,5,6,8 and 10 played by Ross Cochran-Brash
Music by Elizabeth Heaton and Rowan Burn; Lyrics by Elizabeth Heaton

1. "Bruise Pusher" (3:57) edgy sound coming from the sharply distorted guitars makes this one feel raw despite clean drums and Elizabeth's harp keys and long, sustained vocalizations. Still, this is fresh, potent, and packs a wallop in the instrumental sections. (9/10)

2. "Evaporate" (5:38) spacious chamber music opening turning electro-trip-hoppy with the advent of Elizabeth's long held reverbed vowels. Delicate piano flourishes alternate with sections in which heavy bass parts and full strings fill the soundscape. Definitely a top three song for me and one of my favorite Midas Fall songs of all-time. (9.5/10)

3. "Soveraine" (5:45) Elizabeth singing between the spacious aural field of multiple cello tracks, delicately picked (later, tremoloed) guitar notes. The loud arrival of what-feels-like orchestra waves lasts a brief few seconds before backing away, but then another series of waves washes in via Rowan's tremoloed guitar. Another quiet section is marched along by what feels like a tympanic rhythm pattern as guitars and strings rise and fall around Elizabeth's steady singing. (8.75/10)

4. "Glue" (3:52) The most "normal" Midas Fall song on the album, with a more normal CURE-like full sound palette and multiple vocal tracks and approaches--the lead one being in Elizabeth's trademark plaintive voice. The song builds to a mini-crescendo in the third minute before breaking for a little DEPECHE MODE-like modular synth bridge, then bursting forth into a heavy instrumental section to finish. (9/10)

5. "Sword To Shield" (4:00) opens with a very spacious soundscape with only a tinkering piano and delicate vocals filling the room. Cello eventually and sporadically joins in before a slow Post Rock soundscape fills the aural pathways in the third minute. But then it all reverts to the spacious sparsity of the opening section in the fourth minute for Elizabeth's final vocal input. The end is full band but still not mega-crescendoing like typical Post Rock fare. (9/10)

6. "Dust and Bone" (4:01) one of Midas Fall's masterful renderings in which they seem to be expressing the fragility of the human mind. Elizabeth is masterful as is the music in perfect support of the theme and intended mood. A top three song for me. (9.5/10)

7. "Awake" (2:13) gently picked guitars back Elizabeth's distant-sounding voice--a voice that is almost spoken, almost absent-minded, almost whispered. Then she sings in a stronger voice a "You are" chorus finishing the song by completing her sentence with the title word. Cool! (4.75/5)

8. "In Sunny Landscapes" (5:27) Enya-like voice and sustained single notes (and, later, chords) from Rowan's guitars open this song. Bass, strummed electrified acoustic guitar and cello join in during the vocal break in the second minute, then Elizabeth rejoins and quickly shifts to a very high register for some emotional singing. By the fourth minute I can't help wondering if this is going to stay in the realm of modern pop songs or develop into something more but, instead--surprise--the sound de-escalates and thins for a delicate vocal section sung in Elizabeth's normal speaking range. The following musical patch is interlaced with wordless vocals among the keys, guitars, bass, and sparse drums before Elizabeth finishes the song with one last verse in her high voice. (9/10)

9. "Lapsing" (4:09) opens with two low single note drones before zither-like piano-keyboard and distant cymbols and guitar slowly join in. The pace is ultra slow, drawn out, with a soundscape reminiscent of early MONO pieces (You Are There and Hymn to the Immortal Wind). The second half of the song sees the addition of cello and deep keyboard bass line as Elizabeth's vocals get a little creepy. Bass drum kicks in as sonic field fills. It's ominous and unsettling. But good. (9/10)

10. "Howling At The Clouds" (4:23) opens like a Post Rock evolution of a CURE song before breaking down to an emptiness in which Elizabeth's voice enters and fills our souls. The return of the music en force is immaterial to Elizabeth's singular intent or delivery, yet the instrumental section that follows her cessation is quite powerful--seeming to reinforce or reverberate the effect of her message. This is awesome! Post Rock at its best--at its most pure. (9.5/10)

91.58 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music! This is the least Post Rock conforming album that I've heard from Elizabeth and Rowan but it is my favorite!




15. GALAHAD Seas of Change

One long 42+ minute song--and what a song! This is a Neo Prog masterpiece in the IQ/Pendragon vein! But this is better. Way better than any other Neo Prog album I've heard in the last ten years (except EDISON'S CHILDREN's The Final Breath Before November).

Line-up / Musicians:
Stu Nicholson - Vocals
Dean Baker - Keyboards, Orchestration
Spencer Luckman - Drums, Percussion
Tim Ashton - Bass
Lee Abraham - Guitars
    With
Sarah Bolter - Flute, Clarinet, Soprano Sax

"Seas of Change" (42:43) The piece opens with ambient synth layers and treated flute setting up a spacey, latent energy atmosphere over which a "radio" voice speaks a few lines at a time. At 1:35 solo grand piano breaks the introductory spell, setting a kind of classical/symphonic scene, over which a cathedral-filling solo female voice sings some wordless vocalise. Beautiful, like the Alexandre Desplat pieces used in the last Harry Potter films. (10/10)
     At the three minute mark we shift into a kind of theatric, mediæval section with pompous male vocal announcing the upcoming play from the "future." This is followed by harpsichord and harp and, then, piano sounds with Gregorian voice--all keyboard generated. Radio voice "play-by-play" seems to be covering the rising tension and decay of national government. At 6:23 Galahad lead singer Stu Nicholson enters for the first time to start singing his bard-like version of the eery tidings happening. "Bring it on," he says before wailing solo guitar seems to keen our plight. At 8:15 comes the first breakout of true rock fullness--a nice section with some excellent deep bass notes and matching organ and guitar chord progressions in an odd time signature. Great instrumental section! (10/10)
     At the ten minute mark there is another shift--into a slow, panning percussive synth bouncing around the background while winds and synths take turns filling the soundscape with incidentals and arpeggios. Drums introduce another section at 11:30 as "La-la-la-las" set up the next vocal section of the story. Great support for Stu's vocal. The part of this section is simple as the section follows the ABACAB structure of a pop song. (9/10)
     At 15:05 there is another break in which a radio play-by-play catches us up to speed. The music then amps back up into the full force of the previous section before suddenly breaking into a new section with acoustic guitar strumming providing the foundational fabric for Stu's next section--the "Smoke" section. Sounds quite a bit like a Peter Jones vocal on Colin Tench's albums: theatric. Nice drums as the music thickens with volume and intensity behind Nicholson's vocal. (8/10) 
     At 18:10 we switch back to a familiar heavier riff, with low end dominating over the organ and excellent cymbal play. Another slight shift at 18:57 into an angrier section about consensus (or the lack thereof). (9/10) 
     At 20:05 we again break for a staticky radio update. Great sequenced synth background support for Stu's higher octave vocal. Staccato choral vocals sing the next section over a hard-driving, heavier section. Another radio update is followed by an excellent synth solo over the heavy, choral section. (9.5/10)
     At the 24 minute mark there is a break for a long synth and organ interlude before the next radio update occurs. Nice. (5/5) 
     Then, at 25:20, begins the intro to the "Dust" section with its strumming acoustic guitar and return of the soprano female vocalise. By 25:45 we are into the full sound of the song with its catchy throbbing beat and swirling soloing synth. Stu's vocal here is kind of laid back as he sings about the vengeance the planet is serving to the smug liars running our race into climate catastrophe. The section that begins at the 28 minute mark, the second part of "Dust," is the album's only truly weak link (both lyrically and in its IQ familiarity), though the lead guitar work is wonderful. (8/10)
     At 34:40 another "radio" interlude pre-empts another shift in the song thread, this one singing about "danger," "trust," and "faces." (8.5/10) 
     At 39:18 a cymbal crashes denotes the shift into the final slowed-down, piano-based section. Ambience and atmosphere seem burgeoning with potential energy--as if ready to burst forth in another foray into hard-drive. But then Stu enters and calms and quells any thoughts of rebellion with his smooth voice and words. The true finisher is the female singer performing the vocalise to the end. (9.5/10)

91.05 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of Neo Prog music!




16. A Backward Glance on a Travel Road (HYPNO5E) Alba - Les Ombres Errantes


Beautiful acoustic guitar-based soundtrack music inspired by (or meant to accompany?) Bolivian-born band-member Emmanuel Jessua's film, Alba - Les Ombres Errantes

Line-up / Musicians:
Emmanuel Jessua (Hypno5e) - Guitar, vocals
Jonathan Maurois (Hypno5e) - Guitar
Gredin (Hypno5e) - Bass
Théo Begue (Hypno5e) - Drums

1. "Who Wakes Up From This Dream Does Not Bear My Name" (11:10) great sound, great music, diminished by the weak vocals. Reminds me a lot of a gentler, better recorded AGALLOCH. (17.5/20)

2. "Cuarto Del Alba" (7:11) several sections of film dialogue within the softer sections of music, in Bolivian Spanish and French! (9/10)

3. "L'ombre Érrante" (2:07) piano and synth interlude (4.5/5)

4. "Night On The Petrified Sea" (10:58) the voice of the Spanish-speaking female narrator over the first 85 second of the song make one fully aware that this album was intended as a soundtrack to a film or story. The music that follows is excellent--especially the acoustic guitar work. Even the singing is pretty good here. The song builds toward the end of the fourth minute until a slide guitar solo takes over the lead at the 4:05 mark. Vocal "ahhs" are nice as are the delicate harmony vocals in the next section. Another narration passage in the eighth minute leads into a slightly more dynamic instrumental section before almost music drops out for a different female narrator--this one in French--speaking over some very eerie, unsettling ambient music. (18/20)

5. "The Wandering Shadows" (7:33) percussions and strings open this one before the full band joins in with a gorgeous motif and vocal melody. The instrumental sections between the vocal sections are even better. The French dialogue inserted in the quiet places makes it even more interesting for the contrasts. And then singing in English in the second verse followed by another gorgeous instrumental section during the fourth minute. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

6. "Los Heraldos Negros" (10:21) quite a dynamic and moody piece, changing pace and tones several times over the course of its ten minutes while displaying the guitarist's Spanish guitar virtuosity. Up till the seven minute mark when the spoken soundtrack joins in there is an amazingly stressful sense of the pressure or at least presence of Time pushing the song (and the listener) along. It's really difficult to explain, but it's there and it's disturbing. Amazing! My other top three song. (19/20)

7. "Ojos Azules" (3:06) gorgeous layered acoustic folk music over which multiple voices sing in equally gorgeous harmonies. Another top three song for me. (10/10)

8. "Calling" (4:08) drums, bass, and electrified dobro-sounding guitar open this one before multiple layered vocals burst in singing in English. Amazing how multiple languages are used with such facility throughout this album. (9/10)

9. "Agua" (1:59) high pitched synth drone over which echoed acoustic guitar is played. (4/5)

10. "Light Of Desert And The Shadows Inside" (15:33) Ulver-esque (26.25/30)

Total Time 74:06

I must admit, this music is gorgeous and as a film soundtrack I'm quite impressed and awed by this effort and production. I've said it before: This is the kind of purpose I feel progressive rock music has always served well.

90.89 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of folk-inspired progressive rock soundtrack music. 




17. SONAR with DAVID TORN Vortex

Now here is something truly interesting: Swiss instrumental Math Rock band, master of heady polyrhythmic constructs, has guitarist extraordinaire David Torn sitting in and lifting their songs geometrically with his sonic magic. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Stephan Thelen: tritone guitar
Bernhard Wagner: tritone guitar
Christian Kuntner: electric bass
Manuel Pasquinelli: drums
   With
David Torn: electric guitar, live-looping & manipulation

1. "Part 44" (9:56) bass, drums and two guitars establish a fabric over which David Torn adds his guitar meanderings. The frequent shifting of chords between the two arpeggiating guitars makes this quite interesting and engaging. At 2:40 there is a shift into lower octaves that gives Torn's guitar more prominence (which he could take more advantage of). By the end of the fourth minute the baseline weave thins for a while as Torn disappears. The bass gets prominence here until a sudden thunder bolt of static bursts in at 4:55: Torn is ready to tear it up. After a minute of more static, David finally does just that--piercing the treble lines with some shrill notes. Towards the end of the seventh minute, his solo becomes more active--and continues to do so for the next glorious ninety seconds. After that the drums and bass are left to "clean up" beneath Torn's sustained scream. Nice job--as a band! (9/10)

2. "Red Shift" (10:31) opens with strumming guitars and jazzy cymbal play with simple bass. At 0:55 there is a key shift but the fabric remains essentially the same. At 1:36 there is a shift into more oppositional polyrhythmic strumming and then picking from the two guitars. (Still no Torn.) A quiet passage at the end of the third minute hails the arrival of Mr. Torn. An extended solo passage of David Torn's most unbridled soloing starts around 3:10, escalates, and lasts into the second half of the sixth minute. The song then plays out in a quieter, less dynamic version of the first two minutes.(9/10)

3. "Waves And Particles" (7:49) a slow, subtly developing whole-band weave of the KING CRIMSON "Discipline" style--until David lets loose in the second half. Man, this guy can make a guitar sing and scream and wail like NOBODY else! (9.5/10)

4. "Monolith" (10:47) radio-like sound frequencies are interspersed with two (and later three--Torn's) guitars each doing their own thing in contribution to the polyphonic weave. Again, the most interesting part of this otherwise-dull song is Torn's soloing in the middle (sixth through eighth minutes). (8/10)


5. "Vortex" (9:37) drums and deep bass notes play a little more prominently into the polyrhythmic weave from the start of this one. In the second minute one of the guitars (R) tries to spice it up a bit with a faster arpeggio and then some heavy reverb and long sustain. At 2:35 the left guitar takes a turn in the lead with some strumming. Then ride cymbal is played while David Torn's single sustained note enters and takes the fore. The ensuing solo, over the band's excellent low-based weave, is awesome. Then, just as suddenly, at 3:50, Torn crescendoes and fades while everyone else quiets down. Halfway through the fifth minute, David makes a return appearance before the drums and right guitar resume their place in the most interesting spots in the soundscape. Odd guitar sounds (except to those fans of Adrian Belew) sneak in from time to time as the band fades down and out of the mix, only to return in a cool way at 7:20. Torn begins to shred and tear at the skies again soon after. Guitars return in support in the final minute as band mounts a final cresendo beneath Torn's rents. Second best song on the album. (9.5/10)


6. "Lookface!" (7:13) what causes this song to stand out is its full-out start: everybody bursting into their power moves, all at the same time, from the song's opening note. Then, in a reversal of expected patterns, the song becomes quiet and delicate in the second half. Brilliant and very engaging! The best song on the album! (9.5/10)



Total Time 55:53



90.83 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of King Crimson Discipline-inspired instrumental progressive rock music.  




18. STARVING DAUGHTERS Strange Valleys

Funky Canterbury; this year's equivalent to 2017's Suspension by fellow West Coaster Brian Ellis. Chris Tillotson and collaborators have pulled together such a great collection of psychedelic funk prog instrumentals that I find myself asking, "WHo are these guys? Why have I never heard of them?" And, of course, I've got to go back into their discography to hear the other albums that led to this masterpiece. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Jack Hutchings - guitar
Sofia Polacio - synthesizer
Chris Tillotson - guitar, synthesizer
Mason Owen - drums

1. "Sunburn" (3:14) the West Coast funk reincarnation of Steve Hillage?! (9/10)

2. "Night Stalker" (3:08) great groove with amazing weave of acoustic guitar, electric guzz guitar and synth. The synth solos steal this one away! Best song on the album and in the running for Song of the Year! (10/10)

3. "Raw Deal" (2:59) Amazing slowed-down section beginning at the 2:00 mark. (9.5/10)

4. "Al Pastor" (3:20) prominent and aggressive acoustic guitar strumming distinguishes this song from the rest. (8/10)

5. "Joshua Tree" (1:37) more syncopated, slowed down acoustic guitars form the spine for this one while multiple synths and heavily-treated guitars cover the weave of leads. (8/10)

6. "PCH" (2:10) almost a total ripoff of CHIC/NILE ROGERS/BERNARD EDWARDS/SISTER SLEDGE song "He's The Greatest Dancer" for the first minute before the searing STEVE HILLAGE-like solo guitar takes over. (8.5/10)

7. "Jogging" (3:01) more IBIZA beach-jazz-funk; more disco-like rhythm guitar over which synths and STEVE HILLAGE-like lead guitar jam. (9.5/10)

8. "Diamonds" (3:08) essentially a continuation of the previous song's rhythm tracks with new/different lead instrument sounds and melodies. Great bass play! (9.5/10)

9. "Los Angeles" (3:31) more of a 70s Black sexploitation soundtrack song on this one, though more laid back. Heavily flanged synth in left channel and fuzzed guitar in right tandem solo. Lead guitar switches through three different sounds, the last of which sounds like Mike OLDFIELD. More great bass play and R&B rhythm guitar. (8.5/10)

10. "Pursuit" (1:55) a hard drivin' funk song with awesome OLDFIELD/HILLAGE-like guitar sound soloing over the top. Synth joins in with chorus, otherwise this one is a showcase for a single solo guitar. (9/10)

11. "Neon Traffic" (3:27) jazzier funk here supports GARY NUMAN-like solo synth sound before guitar enters to take the lead. More HILLAGE reminders here. Nice spacey synth solo at the end of the second minute. (8.5/10)

12. "El Nino" (2:20) lke a revisitation to STEVE HILLAGE's "Palm Trees" (without the lyrics). (9.5/10)

13. "Criminal Weekend" (2:34) Another gorgeous song that feels as if it were inspired by STEVE HILLAGE's album Green--and specifically the song "Palm Trees." (10/10)

14. "Sunsets" (3:11) (9/10)

Total Time 39:35

90.71 on the Fishscales = A-/5 stars; a minor masterpiece and ground-blazing contribution of upbeat "Canterbury Funk."




19. STEVE ROACH Molecules of Motion

With Molecules of Motion master of electronic music Steve Roach has produced one of his most delightful and surprisingly refreshing albums in some time.

1. "Molecules of Motion" (24:22) If some of Stefano Musso's or Laraaji's zither tracks were sped up and set within some Berlin School electronic sequences, this is what you might get. Definitely a modern computer take on the Berlin School art of sequencing. (42.5/50)

2. "Grace Meditation" (23:40) my favorite song on the album and the one that got me to buy it. The multiple octave lower register synth sequence is just awesome--especially for the genius fact that it's mixed in the foreground while the spacey synths are in the background. There are also several awesome "key changes" throughout the song that keep it interesting, make you think and observe different elements of the sequence. Absolutely brilliant! Even the excessively long fade is okay by me. This is what Progressive Electronic and modern Berlin School music should be sounding like.  (50/50)

3. "Phase Reverie" (10:11) bouncy, quirky, yet still hypnotic and beautiful. (18/20)

4. "Empath Current" (15:03) fro the first nine and a half minutes there is a constant flow of nice spacey slow-attack and slow-decaying synth wash notes and chords lilting gently in the middle while beneath it plays a multi-track sequence of rhythmic staccato computerblipping, with the the tracks purposely out of synch with one another. Interesting. I'm not sure it works for me. During the final five minutes, the rhythm track has been faded out and is absent allowing the spacey synth to float us around until it, too, eventually fades away. (25.5/30)

90.67 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive electronic music with one certifiable masterpiece of a prog epic!




20. JOSÉ MARIA BLANC La herencia de Pablo

Out of the ashes of Argentinian band PABLO comes this solo release from Pablo's former lead singer and bass player, José María Blanc.

Line-up / Musicians: 
José María Blanc (Pablo El Enterrador): keyboards, vocals
Jorge Urquilla: keyboards
Pablo López (Pablo El Enterrador): guitars
    With
Iván Louro: drums
Ariel Martín: bass
Pepe Moscuen: bass
Sergio Schegtel: drums
Marcelo Sali (Pablo El Enterrador): drums

1. "Eclipse" (03:36) organ and pace make this opening instrumental sound like a standard second tier prog song by a 1970s prog wannabe like Styx, Foreigner, Boston, or Journey. (8/10)

2. "Miro al cielo que no tengo" (09:01) draws a little too closely from post-Gabriel 1970s GENESIS but is so nice to listen to, so well done. I wish the drums didn't sound so plastic. (18/20)

3. "¿ Quién sabe algo ?" (07:01) establishing an engaging multi-keyboard foundation, singer JMB enters in a high octave voice singing in an absolutely gorgeous, heart-wrenching performance. The instrumental section after the second verse is so mesmerizing: keys doing oboes and flutes and organ with strings while deep bass, drums, and guitars accompany. Fantastic melodies in all of the soli! The only thing this song lacks is some dynamic shifts in tempo. (14.25/15)

4. "El garante - 1ra parte - Introducción al infierno" (06:24) opens with awesome Latin percussion tracks before guitars and organ come crashing in with bass and drums. JMB enters around 0:38 in his most upper registers using quite a gorgeous, slow vibrato in his voice. The vocal pace is very slow and pronounced while the music seems to be braced for something more. (The MIREK GIL-like lead guitar is doing some nice voice-imitative shredding throughout the singing parts.) Synth solo in the first instrumental break before a B vocal section ensues, then again in the next bridge. The organ arpeggios are wearing thin on me. Thank goodness for the lead guitar soli and JMB's vocalese scatting in the final 90 seconds. (8.75/10)

5. "El garante - 2da parte - Sobre las sombras" (07:35) opens feeling like a completely different song, despite the "part 2" in the title. The solo synth work feels as if it's trying to recreate some Tchaikovsky ballet music. It's gorgeous! Interesting and engaging. At the two minute mark the rest of the band bursts onto the scene with some thick and heavy prog music. JMB enters singing in a way that sounds familiar from HOMINÍDO's debut album and, at the same time, the sound of some heavy Polish prog band that I can't name just yet. (Might it be BELIEVE?! or SATELLITE?!) Awesome song! (14.25/15)

6. "Limonero del descanso" (03:53) a poppy prog song very much like GENESIS' "Misunderstanding" with amazingly engaging melodic hooks coming from both keyboards, bass, guitar riffs, and, of course, vocals--and boy can JMB scat! (9.5/10)

7. "Crece" (03:44) opens with quite a classical, even Baroque sound and feel to it. And then when JMB joins in with his voice it's sealed: a classical song (performed on electronically-enhanced equipment). Cool! The "violin" sounds so real! (9/10)

8. "La palabra final" (04:29) has an almost-Motown Smokey Robinson or funky Rick James sound to both the music and the vocal. Like the BLOW MONKEYS. The solo section sounds like RICK JAMES! The computer strings sound quite outdated here (though they sounded great on "Limonero del descanso"). Nice guitar solo in the final minute. (8.5/10)

9. "A tu corazón" (6:10) opens with another very engaging melodic hook from the lead guitar while a nice ballad-like rock song structure settles into its groove. JMB enters singing in his middle-high range, lifting a little and doubling up for the chorus. Guitar solo after the second verse and chorus--standard pop rock solo. After the third verse and chorus the lead guitar gets another turn before piano (way back in the background). MIREK GIL comes to mind while listening to this guitar tone and solo style: very melodic and seemingly trying to avoid building into anything adrenaline pumping. Nice song. (8.5/10)

Total Time 51:53

90.625 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of highly melodic progressive rock music.




21. DEAD CAN DANCE Dionysus

Lisa and Brendan are back with what may well be their best Dead Can Dance album ever. Though partitioned into two suites, I cannot help but treat each "movement" as its own entity, its own song, as they each have very separate sounds and stylings.

ACT I  (16:39)
 - "Sea Borne" (6:45) typical layering of simple Middle Eastern and mediæval tones, melodies and instrument sounds which is augmented by a many-layered "chorale" of Lisa's vocal tracks. Relaxing, joyful, processional, cinematic, and beautiful. (9.5/10)

 - "Liberator of Minds" (5:22) a different set of Middle Eastern "instruments" with different pacing and feel. Though possessing several nice melodies and a nice hand drum pace-setter, this one lacks strong, central vocal presence. (8.5/10)

 - "Dance of the Bacchantes" (4:32) feels more contiguous with "Liberator" due to the use of the same hand drum for the rhythm setter. More vocal use--some imitative of animals and human revelry--coupled with a brisker pace make this one a bit more interesting. (8.75/10)

ACT II (19:27)
 - "The Mountain" (5:35) slow meditative Middle Eastern music making me feel as if I'm walking through a desert village with the very real chance of running across Jalāl ad-Dīn Muhammad Rumi. Both Brendan and Lisa's voices are used here in a kind of slow call-and-response format. The sound of the bleating of mountain goats and animal neck bells join this song to the next. (9/10) 

 - "The Invocation" (4:51) with only hand cymbols and djembe-like bass to provide rhythm, Lisa uses multiple tracks to present a vocal-based music quite like the female choir of Bulgarian folk singers known from the Le Mystère des voix Bulgares albums of the 1980s. Hammered zithers, bowed rabab (?) and hand drum and clap tracks eventually join in to fill the sections between Lisa's Bulgarian sections. Masterful. (10/10)

 - "The Forest" (5:31) opens with electro-pop synth drums before African male singing enters. Brendan's vocal track(s) are backed by electro-pop bass and drums while alternated by zither and rabab like synths. Later, the Youssou N'dour-like voice is joined by multiple tracks of female choral singers á la MIRIAM STOCKLEY from the ADIEMUS records of the late 1990s. Electro-synth "jungle" noises are used to bleed this song into the final one. (8.5/10)

- "Psychopomp" (3:30) involves some very simple single voice singing by both Brendan and Lisa, in separate tracks playing off of one another, all performed over a very simple, austere soundscape of breathy flutes and hand percussives like shells and nuts, rainstick, bass drum, and Hamza El-Din like frame drums. (9/10)

90.36 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of electro-simp world folk music. 





22. HOMUNCULUS RES Della stessa sostanza dei sogni

The third full-length album release from these creative artists from Palermo reveal a band that continues to grow and experiment though their sound and style while remaining as refreshingly quirky, humorous, and Canterburian as ever. The songs are far more complex, far more avant on some layers, while, gratefully, maintaining the light, even humorous approach to rendering music. I even feel somewhere in my gut that there has been a slight return to the loose, enjoyable spirit that was so prominent and prevalent throughout their 2013 debut, Limiti all'eguaglianza della parte con il tutto, (one of my top five favorite albums of all-time). 

Line-up / Musicians:
Dario D'Alessandro: guitar (R), voice, keyboards, bass (5)
Davide Di Giovanni: piano, organ, synth, acoustic guitar (9)
Daniele Di Giovanni: drums, percussions
Mauro Turdo: guitar (L)
Daniele Crisci: bass
   With
Dave Newhouse (The Muffins, Rascal Reporters): saxophones, clarinets, flute (1, 2, 5, 9, 12)
Luciano Margorani (LA1919, NichelOdeon): guitar (5, 10)
Tommaso Leddi (Stormy Six): mandolin (5), trombone (10)
Rocco Lomonaco (Breznev Fun Club): winds orchestration (3), guitars and bass (11)
Petter Herbertsson (Testbild!): rhodes, keyboards, vibraphone, bass (final part) (6)
Lorenzo Leddi (Mamma Non Piangere, Ensemble Havadià): guitar (7
Giuseppe Turdo: oboe, french horn, english horn (3, 12)
Giorgio Trombino (Furious Gorgie): alto sax (1, 8), voice (5)
Paolo Botta (Ske, Yugen, Not A Good Sign): synthesizers, hammond, wurlitzer (1, 4, 5, 9, 10)
Dario Lo Cicero: flutes (3 and 7), chamois horn (12)
Alessandra Oria Bollino: voice (7)
Valerio Mirone  (Utveggi): voice (2)
Sara Zerilli: voice (12)
Pivio: electronics and samples (5)
Giovanni Rotondi: clarinets (11)
Marco Monterosso: whistle (9)

1. "La Cabala" (4:00) smooth with typically catchy HR melodies (9.5/10)

2. "Faccio una pazzia" (2:49) more odd, humorous, and avant than before. Quirky vocals similar to those explored by AltrOck stable mates HUMBLE GRUMBLE on their early release, Flanders Fields. I love the thick fretless bass contrasted by the sharp, staccato, odd-tempo hits of the horns and rhythm section. Funky sax solo by Dave Newhouse at the end. (10/10)

3. "Bianco supremo" (03:32) a pretty, bucolic song with melodies and sound renderings that harken back to the idyllic summer musics of the late 1960s. How many instruments can one clearly weave into one song? (9.25/10)

4. "Non sogno più" (02:44) This one has the feel of a late-1960s Latin jazz pop song. Fun, engaging, danceable, and gorgeous. (9.75/10)

5. "Mentre dormi" (04:16) opens like a Ben Watt/Tracey Thorn song before becoming all HR. Great shift at 0:45. I love the woodwinds and mandolin in the mid-section. Another great shift just before the three-minute mark leads into the electric guitar solo in an awesome reed-based outro. A top three song for me. (9.5/10)


6. "Rimedi ancestrali" (03:39) an odd-tempoed piano-based song with aged electro-pop sounds (the return of the Casio VL-TONE Vl-1?!!) performing some of the song's base fabric. I love Dario D'Alessandro's vocals on this one. Another top three song. (9.25/10)

7. "Se la mente mentisse" (04:16) a fun pop song with lead vocals from Alessandra Oria Bollino. The second part, instrumental/post vocal, sounds so much like a 70s Canterbury song. Then we return to the poppy vocal section while Alessandra scats the main melody with "la-la-las" in place of the words. Great flute work here from Dario La Cicero. Just pure fun—makes me so proud to be a human being (despite our inanities)! I cannot decide between this song and the album opener for my third top three song. (9.25/10)

8. "Il nome di Dio" (02:34) a quirky jazzy song with odd multi-voiced vocals over the top (and below). Great jazz rhythms and horn work after the 1:00 mark. I like the multi-layered synth work in that solo in the second minute. The song bounces back and forth from quirk vocal to jazz section one more cycle while ending with a nice little Casiotone solo. (8.5/10)

9. "Denti cadenti" (04:41) presents a very different recording soundscape with tons of reverb on multiple tracks (not just the voices). Harpsichord and other older-sounding instruments. Even a Hammond and Mellotron to go with piano and other more-"classic/common" prog instruments. (8.5/10)

10. "Dopamine" (03:49) another song that uses instruments and sounds sounding like they're straight out of the 1970s Canterbury Scene bands' repertoires. Great raunchy electric guitar work over the jazzy organ-led foundation. (8.5/10)

11. "Preludio e distrazioni" (02:09) is a slow, sentimental song with piano and multiple layers of woodwinds. Pretty first minute, shifts, then more gorgeous, ending with acoustic classical and electric guitar duet. (8.5/10)

12. "La casa dei sogni" (02:54) fun, horn-based, carnivalesque song with lead vocals by female singer, Sara Zerilli. Starts out slow but then picks up at 0:37 becoming more bouncy and upbeat. This could almost be a Stereolab song. (8.75/10)


Total Time 41:2


90.21 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music in the Canterbury style. Not as amazing or ground-breaking as their debut, but I do like this one better than their sophomore release—which left me kind of flat.





23. NOSOUND Allow Yourself
The promotional word is that Giancarlo Erra and company have changed direction with this new collection of songs on the Allow Yourself album. I would concur, as I hear the band moving more into the territory of bands like ANATHEMA, RADIOHEAD, STEVEN WILSON, and even old SIGUR RÓS. However, there remains something bare and spacious--that wonderful vulnerability despite the density of the atmospheric/electronic walls of sound--that they’ve had since the beginning. The songs are shorter, as they were on Scintilla, and the keyboard  dominance is noticeable, but there is something very new and remarkable in the lead vocals which I think will entertain and even amaze listeners.
   
Line-up / Musicians:
Giancarlo Erra / vocals, guitars, keyboards
- Marco Berni / keyboards, vocals
- Alessandro Luci / bass, upright bass, keyboards
- Paolo Vigliarolo / electric and acoustic guitars
- Ciro Iavarone / drums, percussion

1. "Ego Drip" (2:32) opens like a Sigur Rós song before driving drum and bass tracks are faded in. When Giancarlo comes in with his repetitive single line it begins to sound like a trip hop song combined with something Steven Wilson or ANATHEMA would do. With the weave of several other one-line vocal tracks, it finishes feeling very much like something ANATHEMA has been doing over this last decade. (4.5/5)

2. "Shelter" (3:53) opens with a lone organ with spacious electronic drum track. After half a minute, Giancarlo joins in, singing in his new way, with long-held notes. I'm reminded a little of Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips. The tempo and tapestry changes a few times in the background--a few sections sounding almost like 1990s STEREOLAB, THE FLAMING LIPS, or LOBOTOMY BROTHERS. Great song. (9.25/10)

3. "Don't You Dare" (4:00) opens as a vibrant trip hop song--like something Graham Sutton or RADIOHEAD might do--before Giancarlo comes in to sing a more delicate THOM YORKE-like Radiohead vocal. For the first three minutes it reminds me of "Weird Fishes/Arpeggios," then the electronica soloing shifts it into a different RADIOHEAD or COLDPLAY realm. Excellent song! One of my three favorites. (9.5/10)

4. "My Drug" (3:22) shifting electric piano arpeggi over which Giancarlo sings with some lo-o-o-ng held notes. This sounds like an ANATHEMA song or even a little bit of Jónsy singing over the SIGUR RÓS cacaphony. Brilliant music! Kudos to Giancarlo for the vocal strength. (9/10)

5. "Miracle" (3:54) over a synth/keyboard sound palette comparable to THE FLAMING LIPS, Giancarlo alternates singing and soloing on his Fripp-like effected electric guitar. Drums join in for the last 45 seconds. The most "old" NoSound sounding song on the album. (8.5/10)

6. "This Night" (4:30) solo electric piano sets up the melody that Giancarlo sings. At 0:45 a vacillating synth joins before the strings for the echo-voiced chorus. In the third minute ANATHEMA-like military drums enter and slowly rise to the fore as piano bounces between two notes with each drum hit and strings perform their neoclassical quartet-like weave above and within the sound. (8.5/10)

7. "At Peace" (3:12) full rock instrumentation here cannot avoid my ANATHEMA comparisons due to Giancarlo's Danny Cavanaugh-like long held vowels with each word sung. Finishes with some gentle electric guitar plucking. (8/10)

8. "Growing In Me" (3:23) warbling horn-like synths woven within piano and other synths backs Giancarlo's delicate singing--until the chorus. With the chorus, Giancarlo trebles his vocal volume while Sigur Rós-like cymbols crash with some Steven Wilson "Perfect Life"-like electronic percussives. (8.75/10)

9. "Saviour" (2:45) electronic piano with delicate support from strings makes for a stunningly gorgeous sound over which Giancarlo performs his most subtle and nuanced vocal of the album. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

10. "Weights" (5:04) delicately played guitars and keys slowly form the base of this pretty song. At 1:00 Giancarlo enters with a very breathy TIM BOWNESS-like voice. It's amazing how far he has come in his pronunciation of English since the days of Nol29 and LightDark. My first perfunctory listen through this album led me to search to find out who he had hired to sing the lead vocals because I was so amazed at both the clarity of the English pronunciation and at the new style of singing with long-held vowels. The sudden Post Rock-like build to crescendo in the final 90 seconds caught me by surprise but it works! Great song! (9/10)

11. "Defy" (2:06) another RADIOHEAD- or STEVEN WILSON-like ditty. A top three for me. (5/5)

Total Time 38:41

90.0 on the Fishscales = 5 stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of my favorite albums of 2018. Kudos to Giancarlo Erra for continuing to push yourself and grow!





4.5 Stars; The Near-Masterpieces





23. GALASPHERE 347 Galasphere 347

A veritable supergroup lays down some gorgeous music in a style reminiscent of NO-MAN, GENESIS, PINK FLOYD, STEVE HACKETT, and even ASIA. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Stephen Bennett (No-Man, Henry Fool, Tim Bowness) - Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars, Bass pedals
Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (White Willow, Weserbergland, Rhys Marsh) - Keyboards, programming and flute
Jacob Holm-Lupo (White Willow, The Opium Cartel, Weserbergland) - Guitar and bass
Mattias Olsson (Änglagård, Necromonkey, White Willow, Weserbergland) - Drums, Keyboards, Bass pedals, Guitars
   With:
Akaba - Backing vocals

1. "The Voice of Beauty Drowned" (10:42) an awesome opening 2:30 is diminished by an ASIA-like chorus. The song very quickly "recovers" and returns to some gorgeous music not unlike the best of early STEVE HACKETT (Spectral Mornings thru Cured), but that chorus is dreadful! Great keyboard work from the whole band. Nice voice of Stephen Bennett, effected in a similar way to some of those early Steve Hackett albums or 2016's TONY PATTERSON solo project. Drums, bass, and guitars are solid. Too bad about that chorus. (9/10)


2. "The Fallen Angel" (15:35) this one opens sounding like a NINE STONES CLOSE song--full of delicate 1980s sounding guitars and synth strings washes over which a plaintive TIM BOWNESS-like voice sings. The song remains simple in construction and performance through the chorus and bridge--sounding a lot like GENESIS' "Follow You, Follow Me." Mattias Olsson's drum work starts to get exciting behind the second verse. I very much like Jacob Holm-Lupo's guitar solo in the fifth minute--after which there is a tempo and theme change--not quite Canterbury but definitely Caribbean- or Latin-influenced jazz-rock. Nice! This is so fresh! Finally, some inventive, refreshing prog for 2018! At 7:45 there is another shift into some lush militaristic progginess over which Stephen's heavily treated voice sings in his Bowness way. Farfisa?! Minimoog ?! in a GENESIS Wind and Wuthering-like instrumental section. The vocal also sounds like THE FLAMING LIPS' Wayne Coyne during this SIMPLE MINDS' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" section. A gorgeous if contrived heart-string pulling section then interludes another return to the GENESIS-like theme and the successive same Simple Minds theme. Pretty cool song despite the stolen sections and sounds. All spliced together into something fresh and unusual. (9/10)


3. "Barbarella’s Lover" (15:17) opens with a sparseness that is reminiscent of something off of a NO-MAN album. Gorgeous. The vocal stylings are so similar to those of Tim Bowness. After 90 seconds the full band joins in with a kind of WESERBERGLAND Kosmische groove--all the while retaining the Tony Banks-ian keys and Bowness vocal stylings. African percussives occupy the fourth minute lull before the groove returns to a panning version of Mattias' Kosmische groove--over which Canterburian and Banksian keyboards alternate. The vocals weaken and the synth solos get a little mundane/boring; the song needs something fresh and explosive (or implosive). Just as I wrote this, at the nine minute mark, all music cut out to leave a solo guitar coolly squealing away. Bennett sings, the band rejoins with a militaristic beat and Mellotron washes. Then at 10:45 another tempo and theme shift with muted guitar strums and Hammond organ solos. Nice cinematic Latin-inflused chord progression here. It all comes together in the middle of the thirteenth minute with a brilliant drumming pattern combining the Kosmische groove with the militaristic timings over which multiple keyboards and electric guitar bob 'n' weave, and, of course, solo, followed by the "It's one a.m." vocal section to finish. A strange song. It'll take me a few listens to decide if I just like it or love it. (9/10)

A very nice sounding Neo Prog album with high creativity coming from these musical giants but . . . it could've been so much more. Mattias Olsson's drumming is nothing like the jaw-dropping stuff he used to do with Anglagard. Steve Bennett's vocals are a little too familiar--sounding a little too much like Tim Bowness. Ketil Vestrum Einarsen's wonderful flutes are virtually absent. Jacob Holm-Lupo's inventive guitar sounds and solos are a high point but are too rare and too fleeting. Plus, a three-song album coming in at a length of 36 minutes is a little disappointing in this modern age.



90.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of retro-inspired progressive rock music.





24. METHEXIS (a musical project by Nikitas Kissonas) Topos

Nikitas Kissonas is back with another serious contribution to the evolution of progressive rock music with an all-instrumental set of two "side-long" pieces that are structured much more like symphoies than rock songs.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Nikitas Kissonas (Verbal Delirium, Yianneis) - guitars, bass, keys, plucked instruments
   With 
Theodore Christodoulou - Drums
Nicolas Nikolopoulos - Flutes 
Konstantinos Kefalas - Trumpets 
Panagiotis Krabis - Grand Piano (2)

1. "Topos 1" (19:28) a spacious, multi-faceted, symphonic creation which relies much less on rock constructs and traditional rock sounds (though they're there) than anything I've heard from Nikitas before. It's as if I'm listening to a combined instrumental performance of 1970s KING CRIMSON with Gabriel-era GENESIS: stark and industrial while still, oddly, pastoral and folk-friendly. This is going to take me many listens to fully appreciate, to fully judge. It's length makes it very difficult to get a grasp on a holistically. (36/40) 
    
2. "Topos 2" (20:52) opens like blending of a Mark Isham soundtrack with Mike Oldfield's Hergest Ridge and a Villalobos guitar concerto. At the end of the sixth minute synthesized sounds take over on every level, then the electronic is woven within the symphonic (or vice-versa). At the end of the ninth minute the introduction of jazz guitar, fretless bass, and more-staccato trumpet play shift the music more into the domain of jazz. At 10:15 5he computerized click track ends and we transition briefly into a Greek folk ditty before returning to a slowed down, bare-bones, note-by-note version of the opening section. At 11:30 a bombastic drum entrance and blaring trumpet solo announce the arrival of a plaintive, "ballad" section. Electric guitar solos in a blues-rock fashion over the piano and slow rock rhythm section. I feel we are building--building in emotion, building in tension, building toward some further explosive exposition. Guitar moves into upper octaves to continue its cries before grand piano does some neat soloing over a very-Mike Oldfield-like section. Again, building and building, slowly, toward some crescendo or dénouement. But no! At the 16:00 mark we stop and  switch into an entirely new style, new driving tempo, new sound combination, and melodic theme. The tempos and soundscapes continues to build, shift, clutter and clear, while an eerie space-synth solos in the background. Just shy of the 19 minute mark the lead switches to edgy electric guitar in an angular solo reminiscent of one Robert of Fripp. But then, rather suddenly, at the 20 minute mark, everything shifts into a Latin sound fusion for the finish! Weird! Again, I'm going to have to hear that one many more times in order to get an overall sense of what I'm experiencing. (36/40)

Total Time 40:20


90.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of eclectic symphonic progressive rock music.





25. NOT A GOOD SIGN Icebound

With this, the third album release from AltrOck band Not a Good Sign, we see some lineup changes as founder Francesco Zago has moved onto other projects and vocalist Alessio Calandriello makes his final contributions before moving on. Founding members keyboard whiz Paolo "SKE" Botta, bassist Alessandro Cassani, and drummer Martino Malacrida remain, while familiar Gian Marco Trevisan (From a Distance and live performances since 2015) picks up the guitar and some of the vocal duties.    

Line-up / Musicians:
Paolo «Ske» Botta  (Yugen, Ske)- Keyboards, Glockenspiel

Alessio Calandriello (La Coscienza di Zeno) - Vocals

Alessandro Cassani - Electric Bass, Vocals

Martino Malacrida - Drums, Trumpet

Gian Marco Trevisan - Electric Guitars, Vocals

   With

Fabio «Ciro» Ceriani - Percussions and Sounds (2, 3, 5, 6)

David Jackson (VDGG) - Saxes, Flute (8)

Eloisa Manera - Violin (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8)

Margherita Botta - Toy Glockenspiel, Voice (1, 2)

Marcello Marinone - Timpano (7)


1. "Second Thought" (2:33) opens like a powerful MAHAVISHNU ORCHESTRA song. Wow! What an album opening! It then turns more avant/RIO at the 1:30 mark. (9/10)

2. "Frozen Words" (7:06) piano and Alessio open this one before the band joins in with kind of spacious ballad-support. The band is using an interesting, very different, recording/effect style on Alessio's voice for this one--making it feel more human, more within the mix than out in front. In the fourth minute the song moves into a more up-tempo jazz-rock instrumental section while plenty of odd vocal and field samples get disbursed throughout. At 5:20 things quiet down again as distant violin and acoustic guitar provide the only sounds--not to last too long as full band and Alessio return for the heavier, up-tempo finale. (8.5/10)

3. "Hidden Smile" (9:08) a rock instrumental that harbors some very familiar NOT A GOOD SIGN riffs within the keyboard, percussion, and guitar performances. I love the shift at 4:25 whereupon the violin gets a chance to shine. The music in the delicate slowdown in the eighth minute is quite lovely. (8.5/10)

4. "As If" (0:58) instrumental flourishes and interludes: something SKE excels at. (5/5)

5. "Down Below" (7:41) what a gift is the voice of Alessio Calandriello! The introductory section is followed by a very solid and engaging instrumental section--and then again by Alessio's wonderfully fitting and perfected vocal performance. Very tightly constructed and performed. A top three song for me. These are the heights that I hoped for when I purchased this album. Interesting "descent" into silence in the seventh minute before the emotional instrumental return for the final minute. (9.5/10)

6. "Truth" (7:13) opening with lots of layers of delicacy and subtlety--especially from the drums and multiple keyboards. Inventive chord progression yields plenty of inspiration for melodic constructs through the first two minutes. Then everything shifts and opens up to a more spacious soundscape to make room for the brief but brilliant lead vocal performance. A VDGG/Canterburian instrumental section ensues over which guitar solos and drums shine. Toward the end of the fifth minute things shift but remain heavy; this VDGG theme and style plays out to the song's end. (9/10)

7. "Not Yet" (1:28) bass, odd percussives, and odd key sounds open this one before the whole band bursts forth in a beautiful melody. This could have gone on! (5/5)

8. "Trapped In" (9:42) again, a VDGG soundscape is employed for the base of this song. Alessio enters with his plaintive voice with female vocalists backing him. The dynamic shifts from loud and heavy to soft and ominous are so well executed. A powerful, peripatetic song! I love the soft interlude in the fourth and fifth minutes--followed by a build up and release for David Jackson's sax. I'm feeling some SEVEN IMPALE here, too! (9/10)

9. "Uomo Neve" (2:32) spacious piano and incidentals open this one before a low chromatic hit of the keys ushers in an eerie, almost creepy section with lots of small-crowd voices flowing beneath the bass, percussives, and keys. Closes out with a return and fading out of the spacious piano from the opening. (4.5/5)

Total Time 48:21

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece from an ever-evolving band of very talented composers and performers. Francesco and Alessio may have left the building but this solid band is still strong and standing tall!




26. EMPEROR NORTON Emperor Norton

Yes-like music with tenor vocals more akin to QUEEN or Andrew Lloyd-Weber's The Phantom of The Opera. The music is quite sophisticated and dynamic in a YES-like way, while the album's unusual, risky, and brave twist comes with the incorporation of and song construction around mega-talent tenor, MATTHEW CORRY. If you haven't heard of him yet, you will. He is a force, a young man blessed with a nearly flawless near-operatic voice (a new Sam Smith?) And Matt is not merely a guest on this project, he has been a committed, integral, and creative member of this band from its inception two years ago.

Line-up / Musicians:
Matthew Corry - Vocals

Scott Neumann - Guitars

Marc Green - Keyboards

James Kulmer - Bass

Joe Rees-Jones - Drums


1. "Act I: Portents" (3:39) opens with a very brief little recording of what sounds like an "old" instrumental jam (perhaps earlier incarnations of the band recorded on cheap/impromptu sound equipment), drum sticks clicking together, a laugh, and a pause and then the real music comes in and, surprise! It's very YES-like--especially the Steve Howe-like guitar and keyboard sounds. "Yours Is No Disgrace" comes to mind. 
     At 2:23 the bass and drums begin to thump together to start a new section while the guitar and keys mirror one another. Then, at the three minute mark, the rhythm coalesces and the keys and guitars go their separate ways--the former into a solo, the latter into a rhythm role as support for the bass and drums. Nice intro! Let's us know where they're coming from. (8.5/10)

2. "Act I: Petrichor" (6:23) opens with arpeggiated electric piano chords before we experience the first introductory appearance of angel-voiced tenor Matthew Corry. His singing style reminds me so much of some lead from an Andrew Lloyd-Weber musical--mostly from that of The Phantom--though there's some Sam Smith and Curt Smith (Tears for Fears) in there, too. The fourth octave stuff is wonderful! 

     A little engineering critique here: The more full the soundscape seems to get--like in the middle section--the more it seems to squeeze Matt's vocal track into the background and make it a little thin and tinny. 
     Great guitar work in the solo section--amazingly matching the emotionality of Matt's previous vocal section! I'm so glad these guys chose prog rock as their avenue of expression! BUT I can see them going other directions; they have a LOT of talent and potential (though guitarist Scott Neumann sounds like he could be a protégé of Steve Howe). (9/10) 

3. "Act II: Travails" (5:00) in this masterful song I hear a little of KEVIN MOORE/CHROMA KEY, a little of Jem Godfrey's FROST*, and a little but mostly I hear MATTHEW CORRY (though he could be mixed a little more forward with a little more volume in the mix)! What a vocal performance! My favorite song on the album and one of my favorite songs of 2018. (10/10)


4. "Act II: Empress" (3:58) a very theatric, almost churchy song, that reminds me of . My only criticism here is that the vocal and its melody do not always mesh well with the music. (8/10)

5. "Act III: Arrow" (15:39) opens with YES- or KANSAS-like musical stylings and sophistication before the ever-surprising appearance of Matt's dramatic, almost-operatic voice. With the pace slowed down some in the fourth minute, the band sets up a tempestuous, emotional mid-section--starting with Matt's vocal stylings, followed by a very theatric and dynamically fluctuating instrumental section. The section ends with some electric piano supporting Matt's wordlessly lamenting vocalizations. 

     At the seven minute mark we get a full stop and shift into more low end, heavier, emotion-driven section from both the instrumentalists and Mr. Corry--very powerful. This band is showing such unexpected maturity in the compositional department! 
    At the 9:40 mark there is drastic shift as the instruments take us on a wild rush through the forest: all instruments running at top speed until the synth takes the lead at the end of the eleventh minute. Things quiet back down at the 11:20 mark before an increasingly speedy synth oscillation fills the sonic void. Matthew enters with quite an emotional vocal, even hitting some very high, fourth octave notes, just before the rest of the band (including b vox) joins in at 12:43. This section sounds very STYX-like--especially the instrumental sound and stylistic choices. The song (and album) ends very softly with some very quiet voicings with minimal instrumental support. Definitely one of the best prog epics I've heard this year! (9.5/10)

Total Time 34:39


A young band that already shows signs of astonishing maturity and originality. Any fan of good symphonic prog will find this album well-worth their time and investment.

90.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music (rated down for its brief 35 minute length). Another awesome young band to keep close tabs on for future efforts, but, in the meantime, get this album! You won't be disappointed!





27. MIDLIFE Phase

Disco prog? From Australia, these creative lads have crafted some infectiously entertaining dance music with bass and drum lines that sound like they're coming from the disco era while keys, guitars and vocals are more creative prog pop. Truly engaging! This music inspires the question: What if Robert Wyatt had gone disco?

Line-up / Musicians:
Kevin McDowell - Synthesisers, Rhodes, Vocals
Adam Halliwell - Guitar
Tomas Shanahan - Bass Guitar
James Donald - Drums
  With
Craig Shanahan - Congas

1. "The Magnificent Moon" (8:52) Prog pop disco! Awesome and catchy. (9/10)

2. "Zwango Zop" (4:49) same beat and pace as song #1 but uses an even cooler Robert Wyatt-meets-Daevid Allen (again) vocal performance. (10/10)

3. "Im Blau" (7:08) disco bass with Steve Miller Band synth and steady drums & percussion opens this one before a heavily treated voice (vocoder?) sings about paradise in a lower octave. The chorus section preempts a return to a high-pitched guitar theme from the intro before synth waves take us back to the verse section--but, surprise! Flute fills the vocal space this time. Synth riffs and percussive noises (glass bottles?) fill the next section. Then electric guitar takes a turn in the lead (while synth washes wave around in the background). Vocalized vocals return in the sixth minute. (8.5/10)

4. "Phase" (6:19) slowed down, jazzy, moody, with synth performing most of the lead work with a variety of sounds. This is like a late night smooth groove--all instrumental. (8.5/10)

5. "Two Horizons" (6:04) No disco here, this is pure electronica-turning into spacey jazz funk. Nice! And instrumental (though wordless voices are used.) (8.5/10)

6. "The Gloves Don't Bite" (6:47) opens with synth play and cymbal and percussives before GEORGE BENSON like jazz guitar starts off a riff over synths and disco beat. At 1:40 everything cuts out but the rhtyhm section while Kevin sings into a spacey echo chamber. This is prog disco! Like a revival of AVERAGE WHITE BAND or TOM SCOTT, WILL BOULWARE, even BOB JAMES. (9/10)

Total Time 39:59

89.167 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and definitely an innovative, refreshing fusion of musical styles!





28. PiNioL Bran Coucou

It's all the rave, combining two bands--this time two well-respected avant garde trios from France. The result of all the hype and anticipation is highly entertaining, mind-bogglingly complex, if sometimes a little drawn out and formulaic. I hear a lot of SONAR-like Math Rock in this music, despite the amazingly fun and surprisingly fitting made-up language (a Zeuhl version of Japanese?) vocals. The first half is highly engaging and then it gets a little old.

Line-up / Musicians:
Antoine Arnera (PoiL) - Keyboard, vocals

Boris Cassone (PoiL) - Bass, vocals

Guilhem Meier (PoiL) - Drums, vocals

Anthony Béard (Ni) - Guitar, vocals

François Mignot (Ni) - Guitar, vocals

Benoit Lecomte (Ni) - Bass, vocals

Jean Joly - Drums


1. "Pilon Bran Coucou" (14:02) controlled chaos. It's even melodic and highly engaging! And what musicianship! (9.25/10)

2. "Pogne" (7:15) odd time signature with some catchy melodies and wild fake-Japanese-Zeuhl vocals. It's awesome! (9.5/10)

3. "Mimolle" (4:29) avant even math rock in its rhythm section, the tremolo picked guitar in the opening section speaks "Post Rock" a la MONO, but then things go totally Avant Math Rock in the second minute. As it builds and wails into a frenzy, the music just sucks you in (instead of repelling). (10/10)

4. "Shô Shin" (14:37) is this song just a Hamiltonian set up for an American swear word? (MF/WTF) (Who knows if the pseudo-Japanese is also of a similar extraction and meaning?) (8.5/10)

5. "François 1er" (9:11) the bonny king is an historical favorite of mine, so my first listen to this comes with expectations: (It better be good!) Slow, sliding tremolo guitars pan across our listening horizon before synth, basses, and drums enter and establish a slow methodical rhythm track. At 2:30 a guitar steps forward as a "lead" instrument--but it's all SONAR-like Math Rock weave. (Though I hear SEVEN IMPALE and KARNIVOOL in this song as well.) Maybe I've been spoiled by the opening song, but this one feels too sedate or as if it never gets off the ground--they just keep testing the engine and special features/apps. (8.5/10)

6. "Kerberos" (6:05) the band has gotten too tight and too formulaic--the subtleties and idiosyncracies (other than a few belly laughs and xylophone sounds) are all but absent from this one. (8/10)

7. "Orbite" (12:05) slow and very sparse for the first four and a half minutes, it's not until the nonsense pseudo-Japanaese vocals enter that something really interesting begins to happen--and even then it's minimal progress. At 6:20 we finally get some power, some force, some energy and emotion as bass and guitars bash out some heavy chords and metallic arpeggi. I'm reminded of something from King Crimson's Red/Starless period, but this is a little too drawn out. Still, it is better in the second half. (8.5/10)

88.93 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. Adventurous as it begins, it becomes a bit too formulaic and predictable.




29. DAAL Decalogue of Darkness

Italian team of ALfio Costa and DAvide Guidoni are back with what is BY FAR their greatest contribution to prog world. If you get a chance to see the AMAZING video presentations of their music (on YouTube), do so--as a matter of fact, all of the songs sound and feel as if they should companion videos. (Maybe they do!) The band is definitely expressing their curiosity with the dark side of the cosmos. Production levels 

Line-up / Musicians: 
ALfio Costa (Prowlers, Tilion, Fufluns): Keyboards
DAvide Guidoni (Taproban): Drums, Percussions
   With:
Ettore Salati : Guitars
Bobo Aiolfi: Bass

1. "Chapter I" (6:00) with or without the accompanying video (footage from the 1930 Swedish film Häxan) this is an amazingly mature and perfect prog instrumental. It opens with simple arpeggio soon joined by several layers of keys (including Mellotrons) before the drums and bass join in. Even into the second minute we're still in the intro. Around 1:30 we finally get the establishment of the foundational groove--and it's a good one! The full, lush layers of keys and guitars are pretty steady  while the bass and drums are very busy. At 3:30 things break down leaving bass, piano and drums to duke it out until the re-establishment of the driving groove. This is awesome! So much to listen to! So many instruments adding their little but important input! Then things stop and the final 35 seconds are spent with a kind of solo bassoon dirge. Definitely perfect soundtrack music! (10/10)

2. "Chapter II" (16:25) opens with household noises before ominous minor key piano, Mellotron and tympani join in with a slow death march. Piano, bass, and Mellotron try to run counterpoint to each other but it just doesn't work for me--the 'tron does a poor job of trying to substitute for orchestral strings. Then fifth minute's near-disturbing controlled cacophony plods along too slowly; this may have worked at a faster pace, or without the militaristic drum backing. Soft, delicately played sections such as the one in the second half of the seventh minute work well--and I love the introduction of 'tron voices in the eight minute--but then the new "upbeat" section at the beginning of the ninth minute is just too incongruous, too inconsistent (though in and of itself it's a section of very nice instrumental performances). Just before the ten minute mark things pause while a Frippertronic guitar holds his notes, then things reconvene to continue the upbeat section with the guitar become more distorted and aggressive a minute later. The fourteenth minute is better, but the brief return of the descending scale chord progression in the sixteenth minute is a disappointment, and the soft single instrument (synth flute) outro (as usual) is anti-climactic.
After a half-dozen listens to this one, I am no more enamored or esteemed of this song than my first lesson. It's just too scattered and lacks engaging melodies and chord progressions. Even the drumming seems odd and often irritating on this one. (24/30)

3. "Chapter III" (4:24) uses two alternating themes throughout, one quite simple and sparse with slowly played notes from piano and guitars, the other a driving groove more lush and full with Mellotrons and full rock instrumentation. There is quite a familiar early-ANEKDOTEN feel to this music. Nice melodies and excellent sound and instrument construction. (9/10)

4. "Chapter IV" (6:07) several rather dissonant instrument lines are woven together for a while before finally coming together at the end of the second minute. The drumming is quite brilliant. There's quite an early-KING CRIMSON feel to this one. The excellent guitar lines are very Frippian, very mathematical--even in the extended bird-accompanied outro over the final minute--and the Mellotron is quite prominent (maybe too much so), but it is the drums that take top honors for me on this one. (9/10)

5. "Chapter V" (4:49) another song that opens with some brilliantly creative sound and instrument choices woven together. It doesn't feel as if it's going to work, as if all of the odd sounds are going to shred the song (or my ears) until drums, bass (fretless?), keys, and guitars finally settle into a groove driven by an eight-note melody repeated well into the fourth minute before things "fall apart" and a post-apocalyptic chaos of disorganized percussives ensues until the final note. (8.5/10)

6. "Chapter VI" (5:04) opens as an emotional grand piano piece, soon accompanied by acoustic guitar arpeggi and soloing electric guitar, but at 1:05 the prog band bursts in, giving us a glimpse of what will soon be established. Lots of Mellotron and Robert Fripp "Book of Saturdays" guitar soloing behind, within, and in front. At 2:45 the addition of steady drums, bass, and a chord-playing electric guitar give the song a heavier sound as a lone synth takes over maintenance of the melody line. Once again, the final section is a quiescent single instrument (lead electric guitar) softly soloing into the sunset. (9/10)

7. "Chapter VII" (4:24) opening with bass, cymbols, and discordant piano chord being arpeggiated while while fuzzy electric guitar chord rises to the fore (this is familiar from previous DAAL songs) but then at 1:14 everything falls away save for flanged cymbol play and a whole new, gentle and pretty theme is established. This is quite beautiful! Mellotron "flutes" in one of the leads as a weave of several instruments keeps this section going until it begins to fracture and fall apart in the fourth minute. Lots of door- or wood-knocking (like someone trying to break out from inside a coffin) filling the background as the discordant opening theme returns and takes us to the end. Cool song! (9.25/10)

8. "Chapter VIII" (8:35) opens with a Russian-like chord slowly arpeggiated by the lower end of the piano (and later by the Mellotron) while cymbols and right and of piano play at something else. This sounds a LOT like Javi Herrera's KANT FREUD KAFKA work on his 2014 album No tengas miedo--especially the songs "Antiesis" and "Hombre." Add Fripp guitar and flute to the slow palate and we still have a KANT FREUD KAFKA soundtrack feel. At 3:05 drums, bass, and guitars condense and Mellotron takes over the lead to create a rather eerie section. Again, great drum play through out this song. At 6:12 the heavy section ends and the piano-based opening section begins to repeat itself--though it shifts this time into acoustic gentle guitar strumming with and Fripp lead carrying us into the final minute and then solo "harpsichord" to finish. (17/20)

9. "Chapter IX" (4:18) pretty piano arpeggio with reverse electric guitar lead playing just beneath open this song. Near the minute mark the guitar drops out and the piano completes a full bridge by itself. When the "verse" picks up again the piano and reverse guitar are joined by keyboard wind section (flute, oboe, bassoon) to weave in an alternate melody. At 3:11 we again get a break for the solo piano bridge but this time no one rejoins him as he plays improvisationally to the song's close. Pretty song. Simple and succinct. Like the second verse the best. (8.75/10)

10. "Chapter X" (10:21) piano and gently plucked electric guitar with symphonic cymbol play cover an almost HARMONIUM-sounding opening three minutes before the full band kicks into a really beautiful, steady, emotional prog instrumental--one in which, again, it feels as if a story is being conveyed. Brilliant stuff; definitely the most melodically engaging song on the album. (20/20)

The engineering and sound production are impeccable--it does NOT get better than this--and the  instrument selection and combination throughout the album is creative and compelling, with clarity and distinctiveness to all instruments no matter how many layers DAvide ALfio use in construction. Perhaps there is a little over-use of Mellotron and Fripp guitar noodling.

88.93 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near- masterpiece of modern instrumental progressive rock music.




30. THE FLOOD Chamber Music

Though from Germany, this band of pop prog folk artists is inspired to do a whole album based on the works of Irish author, James Joyce. The overall feel here is nice--the band seems to be trying to conjure up some of the fervor for poetry and literature like the Beat poets were doing in the 60s. At times there are song melodies and lyrics that remind me of John Lennon and some of the simple folk artists of the late sixties. The German accent distracts a little from English lyrics, but the German lyrics (translations of Joyce into German?) are effective. Kind of cool. Big respect! Very theatric--sometimes cabaret-like--sometimes a bit too simple. Flute, acoustic guitars, piano, and hand percussion are the most prominent and oft-used instruments here.

Line-up / Musicians:
Michael Kops - Guitar, Vocals
Thomas Stolp - Piano, Organ
Matthias Stolp - Flutes, Saxophone
Heiko Hendrich - Bass
Ruprecht Langer - Percussion
Thomas Müller - Recitation

1. "For F." (Part I) (1:46) flute with picked nylon stringed acoustic guitar other helpers. (4/5)

2. "Tilly" (3:36) solo flute playing in lowest registers over which spoken voice recites something in German. Bass and acoustic guitar join in to create a weave before piano, electric guitar and drums join in, amping things up for a freaky-dramatic voice to sing over in English. (9/10)

3. "Strings In The Earth And Air" (1:56) solo piano opens before band joins in to support Al Stewart-like singer. Very nice. (5/5)

4. "Now, O Now, In This Brown Land" (5:43) for the first two minutes this is very much like John Lennon's "Imagine": pretty poetry with recorder and acoustic guitar, but then, when you think the song is over, a male spoken voice recites a literary passage over electrified acoustic guitar. Then, midway through the fourth minute, voice drops off and flute, hand percussion, and strumming guitar intensify toward a frenzy. The coolest song on the album. (9.5/10)

5. "Nightpiece" (7:48) (9.5/10)


6. "What Counsel Has The Hooded Moon" (2:42) the most obviously Beat/cabaret like song on the album. The vocal is so over-the-top theatric--but it works! (9/10)

7. "My Love Is In A Light Attire" (3:57) (9/10)


8. "Another Wonder" (0:35) a little flute & piano dittie before #9. (5/5)

9. "She Weeps Over Rahoon" (2:05) Pure folk. Could be Tim Buckley or Donovan. (8.5/10)

10. "I Hear An Army Charging Upon The Land" (3:43) (8/10)

11. "Winds Of May" (2:32) great music and very theatric vocal performance. (9/10)

12. "Flood" (2:19) piano and whisper/muted almost-spoken voice. Powerful. (8.5/10)

13. "Dooleysprudence" (6:21) dynamic piano over which singer in English and spoken voice in 
German cohabit the foreground. Interesting! A little long. (8.75/10)

14. "Alone" (5:24) proggy instrumental. (8.5/10)

15. "For F." (Part II) (1:45) nice flute and piano piece to bookend the album. (4/5)

Total Time 52:12

88.65 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive folk music.





321 LA DOTTRINA DEGLI OPPOSTI Arrivaderci sogni

A lineup of all-stars from AltrOck/Fading Records with full orchestral support, start to finish, all conceived and orchestrated by LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO founder Andrea Lotti. The "mature" and "classic" voice of IL TEMPIO DELLE CLESSIDRE vocalist Francesco Ciapica gives this beautiful music an almost classical, operatic feel. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Andrea Lotti (La Coscienza di Zeno): piano, keyboards, guitar, mandolin, accordion
   With
Gabriele Guidi Colombi (La Coscienza di Zeno): bass
Francesco Ciapica (Il Tempio delle Clessidre): vocals
Paolo Tixi (Il Tempio delle Clessidre): drums
Marianna Brondello: violin
Yulia Verbistkaya: violin
Caterina Alifredi: violin
Manuela Morreale: viola
Chiara do Benedetto: cello
Giorgio Boffa: double bass
Nadia Khreiwesh: flute
Luisella Cravero: clarinet
Luca Tarantino: oboe
Michele Danzi: bassoon
Marco di Giuseppe: contra alto saxophone
Giuseppe Notabella: trumpet
Michele Verra: trumpet
Lorenzo Reina: trombone
Filippo Ruà: tuba
Andrea Ternavasio: horn
Valeria Delmastro: harp
Luca Viotto: percussion

1. "Dove Dio Dipinge Le Nuvole" (3:28) a very pretty predominantly-orchestral instrumental piece that sets a mood for something like a drama/romance. (5/5)

2. "Nero, Grigio E Tu" (9:10) opens with a laid back spaciousness while drum, keys, and percussives slowly play out a theme. In the third minute things shift for a vocal section. It's very theatric, like  the opening scene of a stage play. At 3:33 the music bursts forth for a nice chorus before settling back into the piano-based theme for the next verse--which surprises by coming at us with some power and almost operatic feel. By the sixth minute a new theme is established with two male voices singing the lyrical lines together in different registers. The seventh minute sees the arrival of a proggy/theatric jazz instrumental weave. It's okay; it feels too contrived as if for a on-stage dance interlude. At the seven minute mark all stops for a brief, simple piano interlude before the chorus returns one more time. The outgoing final minute is begun with solo piano before Francesco Ciapica's voice is vaulted to the fore in a dynamic finish. (8.5/10)

3. "Equilibrio" (2:31) solo cello and full orchestra alternating themes in a gorgeous, swelling, overture-like Italian love song. (5/5)

4. "Sulla Via Del Ritorno" (5:42) full on Italian prog with rock ensemble, soloing Arp synth in the lead, and orchestra in full support. The unfortunate thing about this song is that fails to hook the listener as well as to develop anything exciting or inviting. (Why did they retain this as an instrumental? It seems ripe for a vocal.) There are a few nice dynamic shifts but the accompanying melodic shifts fail to engage or attract. (7.5/10)

5. "La Riconquista Della Posizione Eretta" (5:22) a pleasant ballad for singer Francesco Ciapica that does more to follow expected formats and predictable choices. (8/10)

6. "Quiete" (2:36) a gorgeous piece of acoustic guitar, human breathing, piano, and synth. (5/5)

7. "Fra Le Dita" (11:09) opens like a Keith Emerson piece composed for the stage, piano and then orchestra. When Francesco's gorgeous vocal joins in in the third minute it's just perfect. At 3:25/3:35 the music takes a big step into BANCO DEL MUTUO SOCCORSO territory--piano riff, winds, percussives, and orchestration (instead of or with synths). The music gets drama-big at the five minute mark but then settles down for a slightly more amped up vocal section. At 6:20 there is another shift into a cool instrumental section. Still quite theatric but great melodies throughout. The following vocal section is meant to present the powerful crescendo but it doesn't quite pack the punch one would like to see/hear. Still, this song is easily the high point of the album. (9.25/10)

Total Time 39:58

Unfortunately, the best songs on the album are the brief instrumental interludes while the longer songs seem to meander and refuse to gell or coalesce. So much beauty but such unrealized potential! The sound production is quite stellar, which counts for a lot in this day and age cuz the sound of a record should be pristine and well-spaced, but often it is not.

88.63 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




32. ÁNGEL ONTALVA & VESPERO Carta Marina


The addition of guitarist Ángel Ontalva elevates Vespero out of its rut of competent familiarity back into the level of bands worthy of the end of year Album of the Year conversations. The music is similar but Ontalva adds an exciting new aspect: a frontman. Ontalva plays the electric guitar with the tone and attack of Carlos Santana with the finger dexterity of Robert Fripp and the fretboard deftness of Allan Holdsworth. And his acoustic guitar play is even better. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Ángel Ontalva (October Equus) - guitar
Alexander Kuzovlev (Vespero) - guitar
Alexey Klabukov (Vespero) - keyboards, synths
Vitaly Borodin (Vespero) - violin
Arkady Fedotov (Vespero) - bass, synths
Ivan Fedotov (Vespero) - drums

1. "Carta Marina" (12:13) Angel uses a late-era JOHN McLAUGHLIN-like doubled-up synth guitar sound while the Vespero gang slowly build a hypnotic groove. Whereas I was quite intrigued and excited by drummer Ivan Fedotov's sound and style in their first studio album, By The Waters of Tomorrow, I have come to the conclusion that he is no Jaki Liebezeit: he too often stands out, above, or outside of the rock solid rhythmic groove that the song is trying to maintain. Ontalva's work is stellar, often melodic, and often effectively mirrored by violinist Vitaly Borodin. In fact, Borodin is perhaps made better by the challenge of having to keep up with the likes of a virtuoso like Ontalva. The styles Ángel transitions among, so fluidly, are jaw-dropping. One second he's Wes Montgomery, and then suddenly he's Holdsworth or Fripp (or something above and beyond). (9/10)

2. "Sea Orm" (7:35) playing with a very fluid, unstable pitch locator (or heavy reliance on whammy bar), Ontalva makes us feel the sea sickness of being on the water with his lead guitar. A Caribbean, almost-calypso rhythm pattern holds strong for the first 3:35 before everything shifts to an entirely different albeit still Latin-shaped foundation while Ángel and keyboardist Alexey Klabukov take turns in the lead position. (8.5/10)

3. "Giant Lobster Between The Orkneys And The Hebrides" (6:48) lazy Holdsworth-like electric leads alternating with Spanish influenced acoustic and electric guitar work accompany a slow, barely noticeable intensification of tension which then almost anti-climactically dissipates down the drain. (8/10)

4. "Insula Magnetica" (8:51) droning background to Ángel's note-bending soloing--which is eventually matched and mirrored by Borodin on violin. More like soundtrack music. Ivan's drumming is pure brushwork and much beneath the bass synths and lead strings' weaves. Reminds me of John McLaughlin's SHAKTI. (8.5/10)


5. "Sledges Crossing The Gulf Of Bothnia" (6:45) opening with an acoustic orientation, this song gets me right from the start. Borodin and Kuzovlov are at their very best as they are challenged by the presence of master Ontalvo! And this is drummer Fedotov's best track (his play is mixed perfectly within the guitars/violins). And Ángel soars! My favorite song on the album. Plus, the minimalist-math rock structure reminds me of Swiss band SONAR. (9.5/10)

6. "Horrenda Charybdis Near Lofoten" (8:09) opens like I'm about to hear guitar virtuoso Roy Buchanan burst forth with Mitch Mitchell in support! But then it smooths out into typical Kosmische form and sound while Ángel leads from within the mix. Awesome guitar solo in the fourth minute; Ángel Ontalva is so inventive, so quick yet fluid and mercurial! Borodin follows with a nice solo offset by some interesting keyboard sound and arpeggi. (The drumming here is rather annoying.) More great soloing from Ontalva before we switch into wind down/wrap it up mode. My second favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)

7. "Ziphius" (10:04) what starts as if it's going to be a classic blues-rock guitar showpiece becomes pure Kosmische Music by the end of the first minute. In the fourth minute, as Borodin and his seering violin join in, the song shifts into a steady four-chord rock pace. This time it seems as if Borodin has finally topped the challenger, Ontalva, and, as the song slows down and stops at 5:25, the two are left screeching what sound like their dying notes. But then the rhythm section flashes back to life with Fedotov flexing and stretching a little while the pace and energy build. (9/10)



Total time: 60:25



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




33. JACK O'THE CLOCK Repetitions of The Old City, II

The busy and genius mind of Damon Waitkus and friends follows up the late 2016 release with a new masterpiece of unusual "Prog Folk." This may be my favorite Jack O' The Clock release with some truly memorable songs and the usual level of high quality composition, performance, and recording exceeding all previous levels. My one complaint of Damon's work remains the often "closed" or impenetrable nature of his lyrics due to the extremely personal nature of the subject matter of his stories.

Line-up / Musicians:
Damon Waitkus - vocals, acoustic, electric, baritone and piccolo guitars, hammer dulcimers, banjo, mandolin, ukelin, keyboards, guzheng, flute, percussion, wine glasses, car horn, field recordings

Emily Packard - violin, baritone violin, viola, melodica, car horn

Kate McLoughlin - bassoon, vocals, recorder, car horn

Jason Hoopes - bass, voice, piano guts, car horn

Jordan Glenn - drums, percussion, vibraphone, marimba, bells, melodica, car horn

Thea Kelley - vocals

Ivor Holloway - tenor saxophone, clarinet

   With

Art Elliot - pipe organ (1)

Darren Johnston - trumpet (2)

Dave McNally - piano blizzard (2)

Sarah Whitley - samples (2)

Cory Wright - clarinet (8)




THE BLIZZARD

1. "Damascus Gate" (2:20) a dream-like weave of electric, acoustic, and field recording sounds within which an effected collection of voices is warbling the preface of the story that follows. "What do you remember?" The Blizzard of 1978 must have burned some powerful memories into Mr. Waitkus. (4.5/5)


2. "Miracle Car Wash, 1978" (13:41) a mercurial musical journey used to take us through a chunk of Damon's recounting of a snow storm, the masterfully composed and rendered music, unfortunately, makes the most sense to it's composer, often leaving us out on a lurch, wondering "Why this twist?" "Why this turn?" (8.5/10)




3. "Island Time" (5:26) a song that stands out for it's totally different stylistic approach--both constructively and vocally--from any previous Jack O' The Clock song I've ever heard. The male vocal performance here is amazing. (Damon performing in a more choir-classical style?) (9.5/10)


4. "Errol at Twenty-Three" (3:58) Damon and a guzheng open this as the story of the Blizzard of 1978 continues. Multiple voices join in with several other folk instruments and percussives in a theatric/stage-like fashion. I imagine a stage performance of this song with costumes and fast-moving sets while the music is played from an orchestra pit below. Gorgeous, complex, genius, worthy of a Tony nomination! (9.5/10)



5. "Whiteout" (1:10) a multi-track looping of voices, percussives and electric instruments. Not sure how this concludes the blizzard story. (4/5) 


INTERLUDE

6. "Guru On the Road" (5:51) A percussion-led instrumental with lots of string and wind/woodwind instruments playing into the weave. Not unlike a Markus Pajakkala (UTOPIANISTI) song. Beautiful! Even the inclusion of the laugh and studio end comment, "That's such a wild card."  (9/10)




ARTIFACTS OF LOVE AND ISOLATION

7. "My Room Before Sleep" (2:10) Damon duet with a hammered dulcimer. (9/10)



8. "Into the Fireplace" (6:55) opens with "tuning" strings and winds before bursting into a thick, heavy, proggy weave at 0:45. What a delicious surprise! The singing versus return to the more sparsely orchestrated opening theme, but the thick wall of sound reappears with enough frequency to keep me on edge. the complexity of the overall weave of many instruments (and many voices) is also quite impressive, engaging, and beautiful. What a masterpiece of composition and collaboration! (10/10) 



9. "Unger Reminisces" (1:27) a dreamy soundscape with commensurately dreamy effected vocals from multiple tracks of Damon. (5/5)


10. "I’m Afraid of Fucking the Whole Thing Up" (5:47) a strangely out-of-place story of an insecure, underconfident youth being told to do something useful--like going downtown to get a job. For a while I thought this second half of the album was the continuation of the Blizzard story. Musically this is more straightforward folk rock with a bluegrassy jazziness to it. (8.5/10)




11. "Double Door" (1:32) odd cacophony of instruments, voices, and field recordings. To what purpose? (3/5)



12. "A Sick Boy" (9:44) a song that has trouble hooking us both musically and lyrically--the story, and its accompanying music, are just not that engaging--are too personally projected from Damon's memories. If this is a concept album, then this is a disappointing lowpoint on which to end the album. Too bad! (8/10)



88.5 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of jazzy progressive folk music; masterful songwriting and performances that somehow keep the listener at an arm's length due to the highly personal nature of the stories they represent. What an awesome display of collaboration from a large and wide variety of instrumentalists in some quite complex compositions! 





34. FEM Mutazione

After falling in love with 2014's Sulla Bolla di Sapone--an album that appeared out of nowhere and snuck into my Top 10 Albums for that year--I found myself very excited to hear of this new release from these young Italians. And though different, it has not failed to live up to my hopes and desires.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Paolo Colombo - guitars, vocals
Alberto Citterio - keyboards, vocals
Marco Buzzi - bass
Emanuele Borsati - drums, vocals
Alessandro Graziano - vocals
Pietro Bertoni - trombone 

1. "Il palazzo del chaos" (0:25) an introduction to the chaos that is not to follow!

2. "Io mi trasformo" (6:21) opens with a chord progression that is immediately inviting and engaging--developed by layers of band instruments before backing off to set up an easy going yet fast-driving horn-invested foundation for new singer Alessandro Graziano to put his gifted talents on full dispay. Melodically, rhythmically, harmonically, technically this is a very well-constructed, if theatric and formulaic, song. The chorus section after the fourth minute bass solo is pretty cool. (9/10)

3. "La cura delle cose" (5:55) a tightly-performed GENESIS-familiar song has plenty of twists and flourishes to render it into its own territory. For example, the Broadway-like section in the fourth and fifth minutes is very cool, very engaging. The guitar and trombone-led finale could have been better if the vocal line had been soaring instead of deepening. Still, it is gutsy and unique. (8.75/10)

4. "Musica di vento" (6:35) opens with an emotional piano and trombone section that once again feels so theatric, almost ready for a Broadway or opera aria. Once Alessandro has finished the first verse of his very impressive and emotional vocal a very powerful, beautiful instrumental section opens up and then seemlessly segues back into vocal support for the final to minutes. The chorus melody is so perfect, so professionally constructed and orchestrated, it's sure to melt hearts just like a ANDREW LLOYD-WEBER aria. (9.5/10)



5. "Mai tardi" (6:08) opens with a lone funky rhythm guitar before the rest of the band (including clavinet!) join in to create a fairly complex, jazzy, syncopated song structure. After 90 seconds the song is established well enough to support its first solo: the electric guitar. Separated by carnival sounds, the synth takes on the next solo, then bass in a stripped down section, soon joined by trombone. Fender Rhodes piano provides the foundation for the fourth minute in which thumping bass, multiple track trombones (and/or synth horns) and drums support a spirited electric guitar solo. At the 5:00 mark everybody makes way for the clavinet before a full band horn-blasting section takes us to the end. Quite enjoyable! (9.25/10)

6. "Il cielo di sé" (7:57) Alessandro singing with accompaniment of strummed guitar. In the second verse drums and bass join in. The very-Italian chorus is multi-voiced and with very little instrumental support. How similar this voice is to that of La Coscienza di Zeno's Alessio Calandreillo--in both power, timbre, and style. Synths and keys provide most of the inter-vocal instrumental soli. At 4:25 things quiet down for a softer, more plaintive vocal section. Electrified acoustic guitars, electric piano, and tuned percussion take over before the big dénouement at 5:35 in which power chords and soloing Arp synth. (12.5/15)


7. "Attesa" (2:58) a gorgeous aria based in acoustic instrumental support, this truly borders on something for the theater--either Broadway musical or even lyric opera. (9.5/10)


8. "Mutazione" (4:29) a buoyant, theatric jazz-rock instrumental that has quite a familiar FOCUS feel to it--both melodically and structurally. These guys are good! (9/10)


9. "Se c'è una buona ragione" (10:02) a bit corny for its racing "vox roboto" treatment of Alessandro's voice for the opening three minutes, there is some return to normalcy with the delicate section that starts in the fourth minute with Alessandro's normal voice. The music then re-amps up but not to the pace nor carnival theatricity of the opening. The complex (and quite enjoyable) sixth minute instrumental section is then followed by a solo church organ section. How odd! At 7:06 piano and Alessandro lead us into a new, bass-heavy instrumental section--one that progresses in an "upward" manner in terms of key changes and chord progressions until the final 30 seconds, which are filled with a recording of a female phone voice saying its goodbyes. Such an odd song. There are some really wonderful sections but some really weird tangentially incongruous skids and swerves. (16.5/20)

 88.42 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of theatric and intricately constructed and performed progressive rock music. FEM is a band that is firing on all cylinders:  all members are working very tightly within some very intricately constructed compositions--plus there are extremely proficient musicians manning all of the contributing instruments (I love the trombone presence). And, Welcome new lead vocalist Alessandro Graziano! You are quite gifted!




35. LOW Double Negative

"Voices under seige" is how Pitchfork reviewer Rich Juzwiak refers to the heavily treated, electronically filtered and manipulated vocal tracks appearing throughout this album--apparently as a metaphor for the intention of the album as a representative of the cold dehumanization occurring to the voices of the average Jan and Joe in this, the Trump Era of American "democracy."

Lineup /  Musicians:
 - Steve Garrington - bass guitar
 - Mimi Parker - backing vocals, percussion
 - Alan Sparhawk - guitar, vocals
with:
 - Maaika van der Linde - bass flute on "Always Up"



1. "Quorum" (3:42) (8.75/10)

2. "Dancing and Blood" (6:22) odd and ingenious, fresh and deeply engaging, from the rhythms carrying over from the opening song to open, to the odd choral vocal lines in the middle, to the eastern monastic droning vocals at the end, this is a truly original and aurally as well as spiritually impressive piece of human artistry. (9.5/10)

3. "Fly" (5:48) with the eastern monastic vocal drones bleeding over and being wave-formed into a kind of higher pitched bee drone, the song establishes a seamless connection to the previous songs while gradually becoming it's own unique thing as the electro-pop "bass drum" enters and takes over for the bee drone for the entry of a gorgeous breathy higher-pitched voice to begin singing this haunting song. More electronic synths and drones and rhythmic additions enter and leave, some with a sudden edit in, without percussive strike or edited out of their natural decay. (9.5/10)

4. "Tempest" (4:48) like sleeping next to a roaring campfire during a steady windstorm while unwittingly having to listen to someone who is singing through a can of coffee grounds from inside a nearby cabin or tent through. Weird. I'm ambivalent--not sure if it's good or bad much less worth being on the album. I guess the ambient synth horn in the middle raises its stock a little, but it's too short and the following vocal section is even more disturbing for the intentional extreme distorting imposed upon the voice track. (7/10)

5. "Always Up" (5:28) carries forward the melody and chord progression from the previous song while allowing the multi-voice vocals full human definition. Initially, these vocals are in a kind of small folk choir, but then at the 1:47 mark the floating, lilting female voice of Mimi Parker enters as the lone vocalist, singing, for one of the few times on the album, straight-voiced and uneffected over the incredibly sparse single keyboard's spacious notes and minimalist chords. "Choir" vocals return at the 2:30 mark with a low synth drone and breathy bass flute emerging from beneath before Harold Budd-like treated piano takes over, then heavily effected guitar, then electronically sustained single vocal high note which is then "doubled" and harmonized by a synth, until we are left, ultimately, with only the low "organ" drone. (8.75/10)

6. "Always Trying to Work It Out" (3:55) amazing that such distortion of sound and instruments, chords and sound waves, can still produce such gorgeous music--and that's not even considering the lyrics. Mimi Parker's background and vocal harmonies are like something out of a West-bound Conestoga wagon. (9/10)

7. "The Son, The Sun" (3:30) opens with what can definitively be called an "outer-space rocketship burning" sound. Cavernous dreamy, monastic vocals--first what seems to be one, singular voice, later revealing itself as multiple tracks of worshipful or child-in-a-cave-like voice experiments. (8/10)

8. "Dancing and Fire" (4:17) two chords from a softly finger-strummed electric guitar establish themselves as the foundation for this song from the get-go. Eventually Alan Sparhawk's solo voice enters singing in a higher register. In the second verse he is joined by the heavily-cavern-treated harmony voice of Mimi Parker and a few incidental, barely noticeable synths notes and bass play. Mimi's voice notes are played with long after Alan has stopped singing as guitar and bass play out into a slow fade as the music transitions to the next song. Beautiful song. (9/10)

9. "Poor Sucker" (3:35) a gorgeously tragic musical experience as the first two and a half minutes of the song are dished out over one constant, bouncing keyboard chord pulses in a somnambulistic marching rhythm while Alan and Mimi's voices sing in basically one note, using single note drops or rises only for accent at the end of lines or sentences. It's stark, it's mesmerizing, it's deeply disturbing, it's trying to be hopeful. It's haunting. Absolutely stunning; a real gut-punch. (10/10)

10. "Rome (Always in the Dark)" (3:32) opens with a bang--a distorted, static-filled band, but still a band. The hissy vocoder-like lead vocal and heavily reverbed background vocal are propelled along and then, in the instrumental "solo" section (which is such a rare occurrence on this album), by a distorted Neil Young-like electric guitar solo. The lyrics are dark and hopeless, comparing our times to those of the decay and fall of the Roman Empire, despite a call to action to "turn this thing before they take us out." (9/10)

11. "Disarray" (3:52) constructed over an almost-poppy, almost upbeat, bouncy, rhythmic, heavily-distorted electro-pop three-chord progression are sung some beautifully arranged vocal harmonies in which our society seems to be being indicted for creating this wild and crazy (drug-trip-like) predicament. Great, classy vocal arrangements to end--almost as if from a different era--one of more  easy-going innocence. But, the distress of the distorted music outlasts the beauty and innocent hippy-ness of the vocals, and that is where the album ends. (8.75/10)

Total length: 48:50

88.41 = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece; a brilliant piece of modern, provocative music that is fresh and innovative, if dense and mysterious, but which is ultimately flawed and inconsistent.





36. ALTOPALO Frozen There


Working out of Brooklyn, New York, Dillon, Mike, Rahm, and Jesse have been together for a few years, having released an EP and single in 2015 (noneofuscared and "hahsnheads," respectively) but this LP signals quite a drastic turn in direction from the Indie/Proggy pop of those previous efforts to an experimental electro-pop á la James Blake and Sampha. It's quite winning!


1. "Blur" (4:46) opens with electronic sounds and near-whispered vocal, both reminiscent of JAMES BLAKE. Suddenly at the end of the opening minute a treated male singing voice bursts in from the background sounding like JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE in his most experimental (The 20/20 Experience)--and this feeling and similarity continues for the duration of this most excellent and variable R&B song. I like the surprise "folk section" at the end of the fourth minute to finish the song. (9/10)


2. "Mono" (4:42) More JAMES BLAKE-like bare-bones experimental electronica opens this song as  Rahm Silverglade sings his wonderfully simple, emotional treated vocals while the deep Hubble-like spaciousness of the sparse instrumental inputs pulls you in. Any band that can make a rhyme in the chorus out of the word "reciprocity" has got my attention and praise. My second favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)


3. "Frozen Away" (2:48) Awesome heavily-processed piano and, later, bass drum, provide the simple, spacious background for Rahm's vocal for the first ninety seconds. Then harp-like guitar, kitchen pots and pans percussion and electronic bass take over for a very different second half in which Rahm's vocals are quite heavily treated. (8.5/10)


4. "Frozen There" (2:29) what seems an experiment with voice muting, speed modulation and distortion treatments are played over treated guitar, piano, percussion, and, later, didgeridoo. Interesting. (8.25/10)


5. "Wikcer" (4:57) another song in which the sound experimentations (this time more with instruments like guitar or autoharp) are on-going, captured live, for the first minute before the instrumentalist can be heard to say, "Ready?" at which time heavily processed strummed chords become sequenced and over which a heavily-processed voice sings softly, delicately. (8/10)


6. "Head in a) Cloche" (4:51) My favorite song on the album. Great electronica, great vocals. I wish the trip-hoppy core/highlight toward the end were a bigger chunk of it. (9.75/10)


7. "Pulp" (3:32) a drawn out experiment in auto-amusement? (8.5/10)


8. "Glow" (3:43) along with "Blur" this is the most complete and fully-formed song on the album. The lyrics actually tell a story. (9.25/10)


9. "Terra" (3:25) a good song made better by 1) the female voice at the beginning, 2) the amazing video made for it, and 3) the trip hoppy section within the final minute. (8.75/10)


88.33 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of experimental pop electronica. The experimentalism is satisfying but I hope there will be more seeking and adhering to the winning melodic and rhythm sections in the future. 






37. ELLESMERE II - From Sea and Beyond

This one came as a real surprise to me as Roberto and Paolo's previous Ellesmere effort--2015's Les Châteaux de la Loire--was so gentle and bucolic; From Sea and Beyond is full out Neo Prog Rock in the GALAHAD or RIVERSEA vein as opposed to the pastoral Anthony Phillips-like acoustic guitar-based fare of the previous. It's good--with thick, full sound and well-constructed Neo Prog songs. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Roberto Vitelli (Taproban): Rickenbacker 4003 Jetglo Bass, Fender “Geddy Lee” Jazz Bass, Taurus Moog I, Gibson Gold Top Guitar, Mellotron M400, Minimoog Model D, Prophet 5, Moog Voyager, Yamaha DX7 II, Kurzweil K2500, Roland JV 1080, Yamaha TX 81Z

Paolo Carnelli: Piano, Electric Piano, Hammond Organ & Additional Keyboards

   With

Alan Benjamin (Advent, Mirthrandir): Guitars (2)

Robert Berry (3, Keith Emerson): Vocals (3/7)

Marco Bernard (The Samurai of Prog): Bass (6)

Trey Gunn (King Crimson, David Sylvian, UKZ, Security Project): Warr Guitar (3)

David Jackson (Van der Graaf Generator, Osanna): Saxes & Keyboards (4)

Brett Kull (Echolyn): Guitars (7)

Danilo Mintrone: Korg Microkorg (1)

Keith More(Arena, John Wetton): Guitars (5)

Davy O'List (The Nice, Roxy Music): Guitars (6)

Daniele Pomo (RanestRane): Drums and Percussion (2-7)



1. "Tidal Breath" (2:13) a subtle keyboard synth extravaganza over ocean surf sounds. (4.5/5)




2. "Marine Extravaganza" (11:55) nice Neo Prog sound palette but the song never really goes anywhere exciting or unusual (though the walkabout that slurred Rickenbacker bass is on for the first few minutes is very entertaining). It seems a basic structure set up just to allow the individual instruments to each have solo times. The bare bones "strings" and "bass" section in the seventh minute is quite cloying and downright annoying. Luckily the Arp solos take us out of it, and lead us to the best section of the song: the bridge at 7:45. The ensuing drum and Arp lead rhythmic pattern grows very old quite quickly. Even the addition of organ and the return of the slurred Rickenbacker cannot save it (though the awesome 7:45 bridge is repeated twice starting at 9:33). The closing section is just too close to GENESIS Wind and Wuthering. (8/10)


3. "Runaway" (6:01) Vocalist Robert Berry's voice bears a striking resemblance to that of Thomas Thielen. (8.5/10) 




4. "Marine Coda" (2:09) a pleasant interlude instrumental whose foundation and David Jackson's song-length saxophone solo are meant, methinks, to conjure up late-night sea journeys on a still, uneventful moonless night. (4.5/5)



5. "The Schooner" (11:02) church organ opens this one before chunky bass, flanged guitars and steady drums enter. When Keith More's lead guitar enters around the one minute mark, everybody pauses as if to give him their full attention. Then the full band rejoins to support and encourage his continued soloing until we break at the 2:30 mark for a solo from the omnipresent church organ. I have to say, the organ-band-and-electric guitar combination in this song really works well--the clean, crystalline organ tone and volume and that of Keith's slightly dirty lead guitar are perfect foils for one another! Even over eleven minutes! The tenth minute gets a little too-IQ-ish but then a return to the church organ as the lead over the final minute restores glory. Well met! (9.5/10)


6. "Ridge Fanfare (3:21) full, deep and thick Neo Prog soundscape opens this one with gradually ascending arpeggiated chords from moog synth leading the way as the rest of the band follows. Davy O'List's MIKE OLDFIELD-like guitar tone takes on the lead as the song moves out of intro/A section phase to the B section (chorus?) Ends rather abruptly. (9/10) 




7. "Time, Life Again" (8:59) a very nice retro-GENESIS Neo Prog sound and chord palette opens this one before the voice of Robert Berry enters at the 1:40 mark. Lots of Arp-y synth strings and chunky 'underwater' Rickenbacker bass permeate every second of this song--it's a nice sound--well done, sounding rather fresh and original and not over-the-top. A break at 5:35 allows the drums to switch to a kind of "Man on the Corner" tom-tom pattern while Brett Kull takes a turn at the lead guitar, soloing with an distorted and wah-ed style and flair reminiscent of some of the stars of the late 60s and 70s--Eric Clapton, to be specific. Excellent job, Brett! A solo that just keeps getting better as it goes--and definitely the best I've ever heard out of you!

      I have to admit, this is one of the better Neo Prog songs I've ever heard. (10/10)



88.33 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of refreshing Neo Prog. Roberto Vitelli and Paolo Carnelli definitely have something refreshing to offer Prog World--and a gift for coaxing peak performances out of their guests--even as accomplished guests as these!    











38. MOTHER TURTLE Zea Mice



After dropping the surprise bomb on me two years ago with their amazing II--a Top 10 Album of 2016 for me--I was super excited when Bandcamp notified me of this new release.



Line-up / Musicians:

Kostas Konstantinidis: guitars, vocals, midi guitar, ukulele
George Baltas: drums
George Theodoropoulos: keys and programming
George Filopelou: electric and fretless bass
Babis Prodromidis: saxophone, flute
Alex Kiourntziadis: violin
 
Guests:
Elpida Papakosma: Voices in "Kukuruzu" and "Vermins"
Aristotelis Mavropoulos: Narration in "Zeitenlik"
Apostolis Georgiadis: Percussion 



1. "Zea Mice part 1: Kukuruzu" (6:44) nice work from the saxophone (8.5/10)



2. "Zea Mice part 1: #Cornhub" (8:06) solid foundational music over which several instrumentalists put on a great show: Alex Kiourntziadis' violin, Kostas Konstantinidis' acoustic and electric guitars, George Theodoropoulos' synths. I love the sound of George Baltas' metronomic snare! Marked down for being little more than a smooth jazz jam song. (9/10)



3. "Zea Mice part 2: Sea Mice" (6:53) a nice smooth jazz groove over which synths, electric guitar, and violin take turns at the fore. I like the violin solo and the tension of the final third the best. (8.75/10)



4. "Zea Mice part 2: Zeitenllik" (1:21) an ominous soundscape over which an obviously scary narration is performed . . . in Greek. (4/5)



5. "Zea Mice part 2: Vermins" (6:40) seems a continuation of "Sea Mice" with the same (or variation of the same) driving groove. The female vocalise of Elpida Papakosma range in sound from Ofra Haza's Persian "scatting" to Björkian Sugarcube-era sounds. Guitar and violin lead us into a thicker, faster section in the fifth minute. The final minute becomes more spacious and synthed, themed around a kind of James Bond riff. Nice tune. (9/10)



6. "Zea Mice part 2: Fourward" (1:57) North African drumming within which piano and synths sneak intermittent riffs. Cool! (4.5/5)



7. "Zea Mice part 3: Vermins (reprise)" (1:11) a stripped down, acoustic version of the Vermins theme? Pretty but I don't hear the similarity. (4.5/5)



8. "Zea Mice part 3: Nostos" (16:38) excellent hard-driving instrumental prog over a techno-synth rhythm track. (9/10)



It's taken me a long, long time to get up to writing a review of this album--despite the fact that I've owned it for over half the year. There's just a lot of dense music--which is particularly challenging to critique with instrumental music. The quality of performances and "hooks" is high but I really miss the wonderful storytelling that the vocals and instruments did with the previous album. 




88.08 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of instrumental progressive rock.









39. ATMOSPHERES Reach



Atmospheric, djenty Prog not unlike bands VOTUM, PROGHMA-C, and  KARNIVOOL. Vocals are almost like Tears for Fears' Roland Orzabul . . . without the punch and feeling. 



Line-up / Musicians:
Stef Exelmans - vocals, guitar
Mathieu Rachmajda  - bass
Bastiaan Jonniaux - drums, electronics



1. "Time I" (2:51) clock ticking and ominous droning synth opens before bass drum and woodblock hit join in. A second eerie synth buzz enters in the second minute before drums sounds start to expand and breathy, airy higher pitched vocals enter. Pretty amazing opening! (10/10)



2. "Time II" (5:41) add djenty guitars and bass and odd time signature drumming and we have a new albeit still unsettling sound. An 80s-effected vocal joins in during a lull then the full wall of sound melds. The vocal almost doesn't work. The best part of this song remains that two-chord synth drone in the foundation. (9/10)



3. "Time III" (1:27) the song's electro-atmospheric breakdown and fadeout. ("Time" should be one continuous song. (4/5)

4. "Nul" (4:26) a great multi-voice chorus almost lifts this one into prominence. (8.5/10)

5. "Mezame" (4:56) a very nice vocal melody in the verses cannot lift this one alone. (8.5/10)

6. "Morph" (5:43) solid but nothing very special here. (8/10)

7. "Gravity" (6:00) love the deep throng of the bass chord dominating the distant vocal during the opening section but, unfortunately, that and a fairly nice chorus melody are the highlights of this one. (8.5/10)

8. "Inertia" (6:20) great MASERATI-like opening riff! Love the slow addition of slow cymbol, synth, and bass before all hell breaks loose! Reprieve for the vocal would work if the vocals weren't so sedate/seem full of indifference. Still, great melodies and the stop-and-start heaviness works well on this one. GREAT fifth minute build and dénouement! (9/10)

9. "Reach" (5:09) the stage-by-stage, levels of development on this song plus the use of "tricks" like the bouncy/staccato female or pitch-altered voice in the second and fourth minutes is what I've been looking for. More! (9/10)

10. "Evolve" (10:00) the magic here is the ear-worm-like melodic hooks in the slow build of the opening four minutes--guitar strums, percussives, rolling bass, and vocal--as well as the neat ambient electronic second half. Brilliant restraint. (10/10)

Total Time 52:33

A collection of underwhelming music that has somehow dug itself deep into my brain. Most of the songs are not very complex; they are long enough to show more development, to include more flash and flourish. This album kind of reminds me of last year's release from GODSTICKS; ATMOSPHERES is a band straddling two different musical genres. Great potential!

88.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of atmospheric djenty prog.




40. GLASTON Inhale / Exhale

Simply constructed instrumental Post Rock songs that receive wonderful embellishment from the extraordinary musicians and songwriters that make up this Swiss band. The piano and/or guitar foundations are simple, but the contributions from guitar, bass, and especially drumming deftly weave magical tapestries out of the minimalist starts. Intriguing and surprising--worth repeated listens. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Selina Maisch - piano
Jake Gutzwiller - guitar
Timo Beeler - bass
David Preissel - drums

1. "Game Of Tones" (7:10) great weaves with engaging chunky rock bass line and long sustained guitar notes. The piano chord hits and descending guitar arpeggi in the third minute are sublime. Power chords burst forth at 3:28 before song shifts structure (while retaining drum lines and pace) There is such a theatric melodrama being subtly played out here! (9/10)

2. "Levitating" (5:56) chamber orchestra instruments support the minimalist guitar and piano parts over the first minute. The drums and bass break in at the one minute mark causing a shift into a more jazz (like Hugo Selles' PSYCHIC EQUALIZER album from last year). (9.5/10)

3. "Sunnar" (9:51) nice but nothing exceptional or innovative to add to the lexicon of Post Rock music. (8/10)

4. "Noir" (7:57) a single piano arpeggio holds us in suspense over the course of the song's first two minutes as the band's instruments slowly wend and weave around it. At 2:20 the tension subtly (magically!) shifts to the piano's pounding bass chord. At the end of the fourth minute the two lines are combined to form a more traditional Post Rock build to crescendo--but no! At 4:40 we are brought down to quiessence for the lead guitar to take center stage while bass, piano, and drums do their own thing. Into the seventh minute and I'm still not sure what I'm experiencing--such deft hand offs to other lead components. The final crescendo in the final minute is gentle, pretty, coherent, and insistent, not overwhelming (as is usual in Post Rock climaxes.) Brilliant song! (9.5/10)  

5. "This Isn't Happening" (1:36) echoed guitar, background piano and guitar, bass sneaking within. (5/5)
6. "Implosions And Her" (5:53) kicks off with an almost metallic freneticism before settling into a fast-crashing weave. Then, suddenly everybody drops out except chunky bass and drums. Piano and guitars eventually rejoin, but bass and drums continue to be the biggest contributor until the third minute. (8/10)

7. "Mariana Trench Skycrapers" (7:36) simple, almost child-like guitar arpeggio and matching bass line open this, establishing a gentle, fluid pace over which keys and drums find their place--piano even taking over the main melody line so that electric guitar can strum a potentially menacing but ultimately muted power chord progression. I like the slow and subtle development of this one. Again, the way these guys hand off themes and riffs to one another is done so deftly and so subtly. It's ingenious! The nice melodies continue throughout. Even as the guitar power chords amp things up in the fifth minute the piano continues to show restrained and obstinate "childish simplicity." The slow build to crescendo in the final 90 seconds is actually a let down from the controlled restraint of the first six minutes. Too bad. (9/10)

8. "Better Luck Next Time" (3:57) solo piano opens this one--again I am reminded of a slightly more aggressive PSYCHIC EQUALIZER or even some ANATHEMA. The rest of the band's contributions don't really kick in until well into the second minute. Guitar, bass, and drums, but then we return to solo piano again. In the third minute the band starts to gel but then stop to let piano finish alone. Disappointing. (8/10)

9. "Ritou" (9:03) jazzed-up Post Rock with some interesting sudden and quick stop and starts intertwined within. (8.5/10)

10. "In The End" (3:01) gentle piano with slow development and simple, subtle contributions from other band members. An electronica feel to the rhythmic percussion. The melody line reminds me of Corrado Restuci's "Rage and Dust"--one of my favorite songs of the 21st Century. (9/10)

Total Time 62:00

87.89 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and one of the most interesting and subtly loaded albums I've heard in the Post Rock world in a long time. 




41. MANNA/MIRAGE Rest of the World

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dave Newhouse (The Muffins, Diratz) / keyboards, saxophones, percussion, woodwings, doumbek, bass drum, accordion
- Billy Swann (The Muffins) / double bass (8), bass (8)

- Carla Diratz (Diratz) / vocals (3)

- Bret Hart (Diratz) / guitars (8) ebow (8)

- Sean Rickman / drums (1-5,7)

- Mark Stanley / guitars (1,4)

- Jerry King / guitars (2) basses (2) lyrics (2) NS bass (3)

- Forest Fang / violin (3)

- Derek Higgins / bass (5)

- Guy Segers (Univers Zero) / bass (7)

- William Jungwirth / drums (8)

- Greg Segal / bells (3) tiny cymbals (3) klickety klack (3)

- Michele King / vocals (2)

1. "Catawampus" (7:32) multiple winds herald the opening of this song (and album) before moving bass and tight drums kick in to support the song's establishment. At 1:10 a baritone sax synth buzzsaw interjects its two notes into the equation (as the chorus?). Jarring but interesting. After the second "chorus" the song downshifts into a looser, more laid back pace within which electric guitarist Mark Stanley has a chance to show their chops. Then Dave shows off a more subdued organ solo before acoustic guitar and keys finish it off over decaying drum play. Interesting with new sounds and combinations but, overall, nothing too exciting or revolutionary. (8/10) 

2. "Zed He Said" (4:22) Jerry King's simple, arpeggiated acoustic guitar chord sets the scene for Michele King's multi-tracked singing. Very nice melodies, friendly, inviting pace and structure, the instrumental mid-section is quite engaging and pleasant with some great melodies from the winds over the Vince Guraldi-like music. (8.5/10)


3. "Alchemist In The Parlor" (3:56) odd Beat-like song structure (to match the 1964 era of singer Carla Diratz's story?) turns mini-big band as the horns and keys bank together for the "chorus" sections between and after Carla's recitations. Fun music and song--kind of Jim Jarmusch-ish. Interesting story. (8.5/10)


4. "30 Degrees Of Freedom" (7:18) long introduction of keyboard rumbling and rolling as cymbols play turns into a smoother, more laid back and melodic piece at the two-minute mark. From that point on it is a very melody-oriented, two-chord groovin' song with drums and multiple horns and organ playing at complex harmonic chord play. Wailing electric guitar floats behind, panning around for a minute, before settling into a note-bending solo display in the sixth minute. Sounds really cool when the full ensemble of horns, bass tones, and keys are playing in full clutter behind. Sean Rickman is a madman! He must claim Keith Moon and The Muppets' Animal as influences! (9.25/10)


5. "Gonzalo's Paints" (2:42) very laid back, melodic, even bucolic full-band start eventually wends its way into very rich, cool, multi-track harmonies with a few instruments breaking off to solo here and there. Just a very cool, very rich tapestry, start to finish. (10/10)


6. "Miracle Walking" (3:14) three tracks (and later, more) of Dave's saxes weaving a kind of short-time rondo into chords. At the 90 second mark one sax veers off to go after a crazy free-jazz solo before returning to the fold just as the accordion makes it's debut. Nice construction! (8.5/10)


7. "Mini Hugh" (4:44) opening drum vamp as bass and, eventually, horns establish themselves. By the half-minute mark all have gelled into a steady jazz structure while the drums continue to be on full display. Sean Rickman can play! Organ, horn banks, and individual solos from alto sax, electric piano, fuzzed up bass guitar, and--all the while Sean keeps travelling over his kit as if he were on some kind of unmapped-yet-urgent walkabout. I hear some John Coltrane, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison in this music. (8.5/10)


8. "That Awful Sky" (4:49) kind of DAVID TORN (or ROBERT FRIPPertronics) and MAX ROACH/PAPA JO JONES meet STEVE REICH and PETER GABRIEL. Very cool, mesmerizing, haunting song. (9/10)



Total Time 38:37


87.81 on the FishScales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of jazz fusion/progressive rock. The music on Rest of the World is interesting--especially rhythmically, harmonically, and in its sound palette. It is diverse, melodic, deeply harmonic, and full of fun and even tongue-in-cheek jocularity. I know that Dave Newhouse is a school teacher; he must be a math teacher cuz every song he pens seems to be the expression of a mathematical possibility--an étude. Highly recommended!





42. AESTHESYS Achromata

High quality classically-influenced jazzy Post Rock from Russia!

Line-up / Musicians:
Sasha Coudray — bass guitar
Victor Krabovich — electric guitar, keys
Eldar Ferzaliev — electric guitar
Nik Koniwzski — violin, keys
   With:
Maximilian Maxotsky — drums
Jamie Ward — mellotron, additional synths

1. "Grauer Wald" (5:17) great insistent keys and rhythm section behind lead violin. Burst at 2:35 into full force but then takes a long time to do anything more dramatic. (I kept waiting for the violin or somebody to really take off, but it never happened.) (9/10)

2. "Filis Aureis" (4:26) my least favorite song on the album; just too dull and repetitive. (8/10)

3. "Marea" (5:16) opens like a very familiar Post Rock song from either GOD IS AN ASTRONAUT or MONO. Building, the drumming gets a little annoying, before a break at 2:30 allows a neat little "hammered dulcimer" section to unfold. Slowly drums, piano, guitar, and violin join in and build to a MONO-like crescendo at the end. (9.5/10)

4. "Himmelbarn" (7:10) again opening with riffs familiar from other Post Rock songs (EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY come to mind), the song soon shifts gears into a more jazz-classically challenging section before everything quiets down at 2:07 into a peaceful mellow reset and start over. The soundscape begins to expand in the fourth minute as violin joins the guitars, drums and bass. Then, at 4:07, another shift into that higher octane rapido section recurs with heavy guitars power-strumming away while the violin tries to stay afloat above the turbulence. (13.5/15)

5. "Melanocardia" (6:33) too repetitive, getting stuck in one gear for about two minutes in the middle with absolutely nothing new happening but fast driving chord striking, and then the follow up is rather anticlimactic. (7.5/10)

6. "Sapatha" (5:39) drums and keys are the key to the success of this one. (9.5/10)

7. "Apogeion" (6:22) agains drums, piano, and bass make this such a solid foundation upon which to build and soar. (9.5/10)

8. "Eosfyllon" (5:44) starts slow and quiet before bursting into a wonderfully melodic and diverse song. (9/10)

Total Time 46:27

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






43. OUR SOLAR SYSTEM Origins

Pyschedelia bordering on Kosmische Musik from this young, rather large Swedish ensemble . . . (or is it Kosmische Musik bordering on Psychedelia?) Like a cross between BRAINTICKET and AMON DÜÜL or MIDDAY VEIL and ELECTRIC ORANGE.

Line-up / Musicians:
Anders Naess - acoustic guitar

Anna Juhlin - percussion

Anna Myrsten - piano

David Svedmyr - bass

Hampus Lindblad - synthesizer, percussion

Johan Svedmyr - drums

Mattias Gustavsson (Dungen) - bass

Joel Öhlund - oud

Mikael Lennholm - electric guitar

Martin Fogelström - electric guitar

Karin Engquist - organ

Säde Huhta - clarinet

Maria Arnqvist - saxophone

Lisa Isaksson - flute

Johanna Hessel Siims - violin

Josefina Pukitis - percussion

Simon Svedmyr - percussion

Linnea Svedmyr - percussion

the bird (4)

1. "Vulkanen" (20:57) opens with lots of layers of deep, apocalyptic thrums and hums before drums and bass anchor it into a song-like flow. Tons of sonic experimentals thrown in while chain saw guitar and horn synth keep it moving forward. Brief slowdown, sounddown in the fifth minute is followed by a renewed commitment to the established groove with more experimental sounds thrown in over the drums, bass, keys, and guitars. This reminds me of music like Kosmische revivalists ELECTRIC ORANGE/COSMIC GROUND/Dirk Jan Müller. In the eighth minute there is another downstripping leaving only saws and howling wolves. This relative quietude continues for several BRIAN-ENO-esque Ambient Music minutes while piano and guitar, synths and percussives, bass and voices make small contributions to a rather minimalistic rhythm and soundscape. In the twelfth minute organ and synth begin making more prominent contributions. This is then followed by flutes, female voices, and slowly picked guitars taking over as the predominant instruments. By the time the fourteenth minute has passed, this is all of the sound being created. Eventually, ever-so delicately, organ, tuned percussion, synth, bass, begin to make themselves known. A very GENESIS-like flute melody begins at the 15-minute mark--just before a chaotic "explosion" of cacophonous sound breaks out. Bass, drums and a few other support instruments begin laying down another hypnotic Kosmische weave as the cacophonous contributions of myriad others continues to fill the post-Big Bang soundscape. Heavily distorted voice begins narrating a volcanic picture of what's going on. I've got to admit: This is a pretty cool song--one that took me on a pretty engaging and entertaining journey. (45/50)

2. "Babalon Rising" (5:55) plays out like a BRAINTICKET or MIDDAY VEIL song--especially due to the two vocal styles used by the female vocalist(s). Nice treated piano and sax play in the second half. (8.75/10)

3. "En Bit Av Det Tredje Klotet" (3:42) with its synths and driving rhythm groove, this one sounds very much like a song by L.A. psych band PERPLEXA. Mostly a setup for synth experimentation over Kosmische groove. (8.5/10)

4. "Naturligt Samspel" (2:56) hypnotic, sedating acoustic percussives with bird tweets. (4/5)

5. "Monte Verita" (8:21) a Kosmische jam that builds very slowly over a single bass riff and some percussives and rapidly oscillating organ chords. Heavily effected track of vocal choir enters at the four minute mark followed by horns. Single voices gradually begin to be added to the weave with their own individualistic contributions as rolling bass, guitars, and more subtle instruments are also added. The vocals become extra-trippy for the final minute. (8.25/10)

Total Time 41:51


87.65 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Kosmische-oriented progressive rock music.





44. JOHN HOLDEN Capture Light

A Cheshire cat has emerged from years in a monastery as a progressive rock artist--at least that what the gorgeous music on this debut release feels like! His ideas and sounds have apparently been so winning that he was able to enlist the support and contributions of a veritable Who's Who of modern Prog World! Some of, if not THE, best singers in the Anglo Neo Prog world! (All of whom just happen to possess those extraordinary voices that seem to come out of church choir training.)

Line-up / Musicians:
John Holden - Guitars, Bass, Keyboards, Programming
   With
Oliver Day - Guitars, Lute, Mandolin (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 8)
Emily Dolan Davies - Drums (2, 4, 5, 8)
Julie Gater - Vocals (2, 7, 8) Backing Vocals (4, 6)
Peter Jones (Tiger Moth Tales) - Vocals (8), Backing Vocals (6), Saxophone (6 & 8), Flute (6)
Gary O’Toole (Steve Hackett) - Drums & Backing Vocals (7)
Jean Pageau (Mystery) - Vocals (4)
Joe Payne (The Enid) - Vocals (1, 3, 5)
Billy Sherwood (Yes) - Guitar solo (2), Bass (6)
Oliver Wakeman - Piano & Keyboards (1, 3, 7)
Marc Atkinson (Riversea, Nine Stones Close) - Backing Vocals (4)
Lee-Anne Beecher - Backing Vocals (4)
Max Read - Backing Vocals (5)

1. "Tears From The Sun" (9:06) opens with a long instrumental section in which virtually all of the sounds and instruments used conjure up, for me, the musical traditions of the Christian churches I spent time in during my youth. When Joe Payne's angelic voice(s) enters after the church organ in the third minute I am lost, won over by the brilliance of this new composer. And one cannot say enough about the genius of Joe Payne (who I know better from his work with Nikitas Kissonas' METHEXIS project than The Enid). I fear I'm not going to say enough about the contributions of guitarist OLIVER DAY while reviewing this album. Oliver Day. Keep that name in your mind--you'll be hearing more from him in the not-too-distant future, of this I am certain. My lack of appropriate praise will, no doubt, be due to the fact that I can get confused with the work that composer John Holden himself is doing, but this multi-instrumentalist (Oliver Day) is such an important part to all of these songs. His ability capture that sacred feel of Christian-inspired compositions from all eras of the past is uncanny. And nice work from Oliver Wakeman on keys. (9/10)

2. "Crimson Sky" (5:53) a fairly simple, straightforward rock song that is uplifted by the excellent guitar work from Oliver Day, John Holden, and Billy Sherwood--as well as by the soothing voice of Julie Gater. (8/10)

3. "Capture Light" (7:26) takes us to church--or is it that the church is being brought to us through prog music? This song is inspired by the art of Sixteenth Century Venitian painters Titian, Veronese, and Tintoretto. The use of lute by Oliver Day is brilliant! And, once again, the contributions of Oliver Wakeman on multiple keyboards is outstanding and not to be ignored. A top three song for me. (9/10)

4. "Ancient Of Days" (7:52) again, I this music, this song, makes me feel as if I'm at a church revival! It's so beautiful, so theatric, so uplifting! Nice drum work by Emily Dolan Davies and awesome prog choir from 
Jean Pageau, Marc Atkinson, Lee-Anne Beecher, and Julie Gater. (8.5/10)

5. "One Race" (6:11) containing a wonderful vocal from Joe Payne, this song mixes up styles and tempos to seemingly take us on a little biographical journey of 1936 Olympic hero, Jesse Owens. I love the jazz guitar flourishes in the fifth and sixth minutes as the story's tension mounts. Awesome song! One of my top three songs from the album. (9.5/10)

6. "Dreamcatching" (7:04) an instrumental inspired by Native American traditions that John decided to employ some spoken word clips from the creation story of the dreamcatcher. The music of this one falls a little more into the category of New Age/World Music. Nice contributions from Peter Jones. (8/10)

7. "No Man's Land" (6:13) inspired by "green therapy" and the disharmonizing psycho-spiritual effects that city life can create due to its disconnect from nature, John tried to incorporate a jazzy feel to this song to represent the city perspective. Julie Gater's soothing, healing voice must surely represent that of Mother Earth/Nature. Gorgeous singing, gorgeous lyric, gorgeous song. (9/10)

8. "Seaglass Hearts" (5:09) yet another absolutely gorgeous song with great performances from Emily, Julie, Peter, and, of course, John himself. Though the choice is difficult, this is probably my final top three song from the album. (9/10)

Total Time 54:54

I'm a sucker for anything with a religious tradition behind it--music composed out of sincere devotion and positive inspiration--and John has certainly delivered this in fullness. I also appreciate tremendously the clarity and spaciousness of the sound production. Great job! And I can't say enough about the talents of Joe Payne, Oliver Day, Oliver Wakeman, and Julie Gater!

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



45. YUKA & CHRONOSHIP Ship

Very well-recorded and produced heavy Neo Prog with a symphonic flair from Japanese prog keyboard player Yuka Funakoshi and her posse. 

Line-up / Musicians:
Yuka Funakoshi - Vocals, Keyboard, Piano

Takashi Miyazawa - Guitar

Shun Taguchi - Bass

Ikko Tanaka - Drums

   With

Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) - Vocals (1, 11)

Hiroyuki Izuda - Vocals


The "ARGO" Suite:
 - 1. "Tears Of Figurehead" (1:55) Sonja Kristina sounds old. (4/5)

 - 2. "Ship Argos" (6:30) tightly performed Neo Prog with a crisp, heavy edge. The electric guitars are well played if stereotypic for the modern Heavy/Metal prog sound. Yuka's keys and wordless vocals are the highlight of this song for me. (8/10)

 - 3. "Landing" (5:49) standard heavy Neo Prog with some really great keyboard and rhythm guitar work and some really loud, in your ear kick drum work. Quite a little common ground with Lalo Huber's NEXUS band. (8.5/10)

 - 4. "Golden Fleece" (5:04) nice set up--reminiscent of URIAH HEEP or even PROCUL HARUM and FOCUS only heavier. Nice organ and lead guitar work. (8.75/10)

 - 5. "A Dragon That Never Sleeps" (7:09) opens with chunky bass, soon joined by fast pacing drums (in straight time). Nice bass playing and lead guitar work. Best diversity and instrumental displays of the suite. (9/10)

 - 6. "Islands In The Stream" (3:54) opening with nice acoustic guitar play, bass, drums and vocalise soon join in. Great feel, great mix, great melodies. (9.5/10)

 - 7. "Return" (2:04) has all of the bombast of a rock opera intro/outro. Nice endpoint. (5/5)



8. "Air Ship Of Jean Giraud" (6:17) a mild tempoed song that tells a story instrumentally, even broken up into "chapters" with shifting themes and dynamics. Quite nice. A show piece for guitarist Takashi Miyazawa fine work. (9/10)


9. "Visible Light" (8:02) Lyrics! Yuka singing! In Japanese! It's good! The "Mellotron" is a bit dated within this mix but it's a good song! Very nice work from drummer Ikko Tanaka and the rhythm guitarist. (8.75/10)

10. "Old Ship On The Grass" (5:01) acoustic guitars (ukelele?) and a bit of a down-home rhythm section over which Yuka's organ plays an almost-polka sound. Kind of hokey but Yuka's piano and scatting in the second half make up for it. (8.25/10)

11. "Did You Find A Star" (9:06) opens with piano and "flute" in a slow, somber pastoral set up. Vocalist Hiroyuki Izuda opens up the singing showing quite some talent and aplomb. Flute gets the next verse before Hiroyuki joins in again. They lose a little momentum during the chorus as Hiroyuki has to resort to "na-na-nas" to complete the space in the melody. A long, soft interlude breaks the song up halfway through before picking up and continuing Sonja Kristina is supposed to be present somewhere here but I can't hear her. (8.75/10)


The Argo suite has the feel of seven songs sequenced together instead of one prog epic. The instrumental work is excellent--especially the keyboards and guitars--but the composition and engineering are a little too much like Arjen Lucassen's prog-by-the-numbers. Also, I can't decide if this is Heavy Prog, Neo Prog, or Symphonic Prog. I think the music suffers from always being played in such straightforward rock time signatures.

87.5 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




46. COSMIC GROUND IV

The latest Berlin-School-styled space music from Electric Orange's keyboard maestro, Dirk Jan Müller--this time with more "short" songs and only one long epic. 

1. "Possessed" (7:38) like a soundtrack to a creepy movie scene around railroad station, tracks, and sounds. The first of Dirk's interesting sound studies--this one an industrial mélange. The entrance and stay of a horn-like organ in for the final two and a half minutes is a bit incongruous. (8/10)

2. "Stained" (11:30) a slow sequence with octave-spanning bass-line establishes itself from the opening and proceeds to slowly rise and morph over the first four minutes. At 4:30 the sequences shifts into a higher octave while the rhythm and bass line remain constant. In the seventh minute, new sounds and tension dynamics enter making this more interesting. Very Tangerine Dream-like! The more sustained notes of the arpeggiated chords in the thick of the ninth minute are very cool, but then everything quiets down as Dirk begins the process of unravelling his Berlin School weave. (8.75/10)

3. "Obscured" (7:25) pure TANGERINE DREAM! Even sounds like part of its tracks come from a 1970s TD classic (while the rolling bass line sounds like bass and rhythm guitar tracks on PINK FLOYD's "Run Like Hell" from The Wall). (9/10)

4. "Greasy" (12:29) opens with spacey strings synth and deep bass note to match--almost church organ-like--changing chords every 20 seconds or so. In the fourth minute the "space organ" disappears and a cool percussive computer synth sequence establishes itself--seeming to continually "rise" for over a minute before slowly reversing, seeming to "decompose." By the end of the eighth minute we are left with just the quiet bones of the sequence. (8.5/10)

5. "Progeny" (20:21) nicely echoed and flanged groovin' sequence over and under which synth and organ washes rise and fall. Very smooth, calming, and hypnotic. (9/10)

6. "Plains" (9:02) opens with on long-held full board synth chord that slowly builds as internal components seem to rise and fall. (Or do they?) This single chord is sustained for over three minutes while very subtle elements get slight rises or falls (e.g., a single pounding piano chord in the background). When singular elements "disappear" it is amazing to suddenly hear a component that you had not picked up before. This is like an aural test! Name those sounds, instruments, and chords contribution to this melange. Fascinating! I find myself liking this super simple song/étude more and more the longer it plays. (9.5/10) 

7. "Deep End" (9:57) distorted and mishapen echoes of percussive sounds. Again, a fascinating study in sound manipulations. (8.25/10)

Let's face it, folks:  Herr Müller is a master at this stuff. If you're looking for a collection of masterful, pleasing Berlin School songs with excellent sound mastering, you need look no further than this album.

87.14 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice addition to prog world--especially interesting for fans of Berlin School music and especially the experimentations of Tangerine Dream.




47. MONNAIE DE SINGE The Last Chance

What I love most about this album is the simple music used to help deliver the POWERFUL messages of the songs' lyrics. They're singing about something real! They're singing about Collapse, the self-destructive, suicidal practices of the soon-to-be-extinct human race. 
     Though the music is more straightforward heavy rock, not very proggy, the musicians are all competent and never flashy to the detriment of singer Anne Gaëlle Rumin's performances. The rhythm section is especially strong, giving Anne perfect support and impetus throughout. Anne has a strong voice with very good pronunciation of the English lyrics she sings, but it is the conviction with which she sings that make her performances so powerful.

Line-up / Musicians:
Anne Gaëlle Rumin - vocals

Philippe Glayat - vocals

Serge Combettes - bass

Philippe Chavaroche - keyboards

Eric Farges - drums

Christophe Laporte - guitar

Jean-Philippe Moncanis - guitar


01. "I AM" (6:36) a solid rock song to support the delivery of a powerful and unique message. (9/10)

02. "Seven billions dreams" (5:24) heavy prog with a heavy feel to it as Anne delivers a very provocative message in an almost-Madonna-like voice! Great melodies. Very powerful. (8.5/10)

03. "Emergency" (7:17) solid heavy song with multiple background vocal tracks, catchy melody, nice electric guitar work in the solo C section, and a fairly constant build of tension to crescendo. My favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)

04. "Earth" (6:14) another perfectly supported musical composition for a very heavy, depressing message. A top three song. (9/10)


05. "The Last Chance" (6:46 ) opens with a little more help from computer techno sounds and effects. Anne comes in singing in a lower register--almost SIOUXSIE and the Banshees. The song kicks in for the chorus with its great melody and drumming. Ominous computer voice and angular electric guitar noises bridge to the second verse--this time with the band performing at high octane. Great guitar chord progressions for the chorus section, great vocal. Reminds me of Brittany's CHILDREN IN PARADISE. Another top three song for me. (9/10)


06. "Not under 50" (5:38) a kind of men's anthem for this album's theme, with Philippe Glayat doing the lead vocals. The music has a simplified "demo" sound and feel to it with stripped down sound palette and one singular distorted guitar strumming away. The lyric is quite powerful, asking whether or not it's appropriate to keep planning a future when things look so bleak for the planet. (8/10)

07. "December 3003" (2:42) another song quite reminiscent of 1980s SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES or THE THE with Anne Gaëlle back in the vocal delivery seat. Astronaut space chatter fills the background throughout this brief one. (8/10)

08. "Magic tree" (4:47) starts out as a continuation or variation of the previous song. Anne's spoken singing is backed by electric guitar and electric piano arpeggi until the third minute when a nice full-band groove takes over driving the music very strongly forward. Simple, corny chorus using only the title. I really like the dynamic shifts and underlying feel to this song but am disappointed in the sound and chorus. (8.25/10)

09. "Lucky Star" (5:36) computer clicks and slow piano arpeggi open this before an awesome single electric guitar chord injects a base for Anne's voice to enter. The song develops a little too simplistically, with very basic rock guitar sounds, power chords, and sequencing. The more spacious, delicate third minute is awesome but then we jump back into the power chords for the chorus support.  The effected vocal section of the fifth minute is awesome, Anne's desperation sounding authentic. A bare-bones run through the chorus makes the following amped up run more tolerable. (8.5/10)

10. "Happy Birthday" (5:57) a tongue-in-cheek sarcastic message as the finale to this provocative album is quite appropriate. The song starts out fairly perfectly and then loses a lot of its initial charge once the Mellotron and final flow are established. Still, this is my favorite song on the album. (9.25/10)


87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--and one with a very cogent and important message for our species.




NEEDLEPOINT The Diary of Robert Reverie

Folkish crossover prog from Norway with many similarities to 1960s THE BEATLES with some distinctive Canterbury sounds and stylings.

1. Robert Reverie (4:13)
2. On The Floor (4:50)
3. All Kinds Of Clouds (4:54)
4. Will It Turn Silent (3:01)
5. In My Field Of View (3:13)
6. Grasshoppers (3:37)
7. Beneath My Feet (3:20)
8. In The Sea (3:48)
9. Shadow In The Corner (3:11)

Total Time 34:07

Line-up / Musicians:
Bjørn Klakegg : vocals, guitars
David Wallumrød : keyboards
Nikolai Hængsle Eilertsen (Elephant9): bass
Olaf Olsen : drums







JULIA HOLTER Aviary

Despite it's incredible craftsmanship and creativity, the adventurous 2018 double CD release from Californian experimental Indie artiste Julia Holter will not be for everyone. These are not pop hits (though many of them are radio friendly--nay, should be required playing on the radio) but they are so educational in terms of the creative potential of the human spirit. Part JONI MITCHELL, part JANE SIBERRY, part PHILLIP GLASS, part POLYPHONIC SPREE, part JOHN LENNON

  • Line-up / Musicians:
    Julia Holter -- 
    co-producer, music, writer, vocals, guitar, cello, piano,organ, analog synthesizer, drum machine, harmonium,Moog, keyboards, vocoder, field recordings, background vocals, samples
  • with:
  • Corey Fogel - drumschimestimpani



  • Devin Hoff - double bass
  • Dina Maccabee - violaviolinbackground vocals
  • Andrew Tholl - violin
  • Sarah Belle Reid - trumpet
  • Tashi Wada - bagpipesanalog synthesizer


1. "Turn the Light On" (4:16) we jump straight into a harp and full orchestra banging and clanging and crescendoing away in what seems to be mid-decay of the end of an symphony or musical (/10)
2. "Whether" (2:58) (/10)
3. "Chaitius" (8:10) (/20)
4. "Voice simuli" (6:34) (/10)
5. "Everyday Is an Emergency" (7:45) (/20)
6. "Another Dream" (6:07) (/10)
7. "I Shall Love 2" (5:18) (/10)
8. "Underneath the Moon" (6:49) (/15)
9. "Colligere" (6:11) (/10)
10. "In Gardens' Muteness" (6:36) (/15)
11. "I Would Rather See" (4:51) (/10)
12. "Les Jeux to You" (6:18) (/10)
13. "Words I Heard" (6:39) an extraordinary modern chamber orchestra piece of music within which are set some extraordinary vocal performances--both of which belong to Julia. The opening piano based piece is sung in a way that seems to intentionally challenge the listener to catch the sounds in their syllabilic fragments and then put the puzzle pieces together all the while an orchestra of multiple Larks Ascending strings put Ralph Vaughn Williams masterpiece to the test.  (15/15)
14. "I Shall Love 1" (5:09) (/10)
15. "Why Sad Song" (6:07) (/10)

Total length: 89:48





Special Mention:




STOP MOTION ORCHESTRA Lightworks

Brilliant instrumental chamber prog from Austin, Texas, some very melodic and beautiful, some very abrasive and technically sophisticated. Composer/leader Mohadev is an absolutely brilliant guitarist!

Line-up / Musicians: 
Alden Doyle - Violin 
Leila Henley - Saxophones, Vocals 
Sam Arnold - Bass, Acoustic Guitar, Banjitar 
Charlie Duncan - Drums, Percussion 
Henna Chou - Cello, Keyboards 
Mohadev - Guitars, Synths, Piano 
Phil Davidson - Bass Synth (2)

1. "Serafini's Cat" (6:10) angular and irregularly rhythmed in an avant/RIO way. Like Spirogyra with an attitude. Nice weave in the third minute followed by some delightfully melodic whole-group chord ascensions--which is then followed by the descent. Charming and simpler interplay for the following minute. These guys can really play! They're really working hard to be together--and it's working masterfully! I am truly impressed. Great stuff! (9.5/10)


2.  "Way To Sarov" (8:45) opens with a similar sound palette and style, rhythm and even melody to the previous song, but then things get a little heavy/abrasive and then alternating with banjo (banjitar?) sections. Impressive instrumentalism, timing, and cohesion, but there are lacking melodic hooks and other accessible elements. The wordless vocalizations added in the fourth minute are one such attempt. It almost works. (8.5/10)


3. "Nerve Hurdle" (4:56) Wow! this guy can play guitar! And the drummer can lay down some interesting, amazing beats. All instruments seem to be playing the subsidiary support role to the drum and bass--in order to set up the foundation for the seething guitar in the second minute and the seering guitar for the rest of the song. (10/10)


4. "Metal Pants" (2:28) violin and sax playing off the bass and drums--as if they are playing in each others' spaces--for the first minute. Then the band gels and fills the spaces together--guitar and bass stepping in to help this. Could use more melody (more than Middle Eastern/klezmer twang). (8.5/10)

5. "Oceano De Leche" (7:00) gorgeous neo-classical chamber post rock for seven minutes (not "11:26" as posted), except for brief passages, the instruments are all gelling and melding for the smoothest, most melodic run of the album. Nice piece--especially the smooth second half. (9.5/10)

Thus, this album is not 33 minutes long, as posted, but 29 1/2 an EP's worth of songs. Too bad: This is definitely one of the best albums I've heard this year!

Total Time 33:45

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music downgraded for unacceptable brevity. 




ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique menu no. 4

Frenchman Arnaud Bukwald is back with this year's (first) installment of La marmite cosmique and, as usual, it's a rollercoaster ride through nostalgic prog styles. With only two songs over three minutes long, it serves as a bit of a challenge to get a grip on what the master of imitation is trying to accomplish, but the one 14-minute epic makes it all worthwhile--and is sure to end up on my year-end list of favorite prog epics.

1. "brats" (2:11) stage piano and female voice make this one sound like a setup for a vaudeville song, but Arnaud's Frank Zappa-like voice and the quirky anti-pop song that develops says otherwise. A lyric Frank would be proud of. (4.5/5)

2. "gravelax de spleen" (14:16) another one of Arnaud's masterpieces that crossover several subgenres of prog rock. With the atmospheric, spacey opening section (0:00-2:30) I thought I was in for some Kosmische Musik, but the it goes full Jazz Fusion (both Canterburian and a little avant garde) (2:30-5:06) before seguing into a gorgeous, slow, emotional, SOFT MACHINE section (5:07- 7:11) (with some lovely flute playing) before returning to the faster, upbeat Canterbury music of Section II (8:01- 9:50), cycling back to the slow, emotional themes and styles of Section III (9:52- 11:57) (I love the Hammond, brush play on the drum kit, and the upright bass!) and then ending in a kind of Stefano Musso/ALIO DIE tuned percussion display for the final section (12:00-14:16). Awesome and beautiful song! One of my favorites of the year (so far)! (10/10)

3. "bromridrosis" (2:28) stylistically and lyrically this sounds like a FRANK ZAPPA song though there are elements that remind me of MAJOR PARKINSON, too. The vocal contributions of female singer Geneviève Palley are quite welcome. Definitely the funky side of Frank Z.... (4.5/5)

4. "polymorphous roach" (2:44) a "horn"-supported jazz set up for ancient keyboard exposition (Hammond, Fender Rhodes, and synths). (4.5/5)

5. "mont de venus" (1:53) opening with a bit of a circus/carnival music sound, the title suggests Anaïs Nin while the music weaves more into a PHILLIP GLASS spiral--though the odd second fade out of xylophone soloing catches one off guard. (4/5)

6. "rumpology" (6:42) The study of rumps. Cute. Though this song opens up much like the B horror movie "soundtrack" music of bands like ATOMC APE, the music turns, in the second minute, into an experimental Berlin School type that I never really particularly enjoyed (Todd Rundgren played in this way a lot, as well): fragments of noise and sound experiments strung together in a seemingly random way. Perhaps this music represents more the study of toilet flushing. (7.5/10)  

87.5 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a wonderful collection of very well produced songs that any prog lover would love to hear for its great sound, compositional genius, and nostalgic effect.

Still, 30 minutes of music is a bit short to be considered for album of the year.