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 Forty with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These 40 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 250 new releases from 2018.

According to my calculations, 2018 presents Prog World with two (2) full masterpieces, 22 "minor" masterpieces, and 30 "near-masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

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

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

21. DEAD CAN DANCE Dionysus
22. VAK Budo
23. GLEB KOLYADIN Gleb Kolyadin
24. BUBU El eco del sol
25. FEM Mutazione
26. ATMOSPHERES Reach
27. PiNioL Bran Coucou
28. RICHARD WILEMAN Veil

29. MIDLIFE Phase
30. SONAR (with David Torn) Vortex

31. JOSÉ MARIA BLANC La herencia de Pablo
32. CANTURBE Flotteur
33. GALASPHERE 347 Galasphere 347
34. DEWA BUDJANA Mahandini
35. DAAL Decalogue of Darkness
36. EMPEROR NORTON Emperor Norton
37. JOHN HOLDEN Capture Light
38. THE FLOOD Chamber Music
39. MONNAIE DE SINGE The Last Chance
40. STEVE ROACH Molecules of Motion

Honorable Mentions:
GALAHAD Seas of Change
CATU KUÁ Que Vengan los Párajos

ALIO DIE & AGLAIA Amitabha

MANNA/MIRAGE 
Rest of the World
NOT A GOOD SIGN Icebound
ÁNGEL ONTALVA & VESPERO Carta Marina

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


The Reviews


Five Star Masterpieces
(Ratings 100 to 93.34)


*****Album of the Year for 2018!*****




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!) And, truly, Chris delivers one of the finest synthesizer solos I've ever heard in the last section of the instrumental jam. As near to a perfect song as I've ever heard. (15/15)

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!" (15/15)

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.



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



3. 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!




4. 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!




5. 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.




6. 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!?




7. 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.




8. 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.

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




9. 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." (13.5/15)

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"!) (13.5/15)

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

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor 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. 




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. 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.”




13. 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. (12.75/15)

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! (14.25/15)

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

91.67 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. 




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. KEOR Petrichor

What amounts to a one-man computer-generated album from Frenchman Victor Miranda-Martin.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Victor Miranda-Martin / vocals, guitars, Mellotron Hammond, soundscapes, samples, composer, production & mixing
With:
- Reid Blackmore Noble / mandolin & orchestral percussion (3)
- Anaïde Apelian / clarinet (3,4)
- Lucas de la Rosa / piano (4,5)

1. "Petrichor" (11:28) folk-picked acoustic guitar with nature sounds opens this one before Victor Miranda-Martin joins in with his singing voice.I like the start here. It's quite BEATLES-esque. At 3:50 some metal power chords enter and take over. Hard to believe these drums are all programmed and computer-generated. A dreamy Thomas Thelen sound palette is employed while I am also filled with reminders of bands like VON HERTZEN BROTHERS, VOLA and KLONE (without the djenty guitars). (18.75/20)
 
2. "The Nest of Evil" (8:43) a little of the spacious, mysterious side of STEVEN WILSON represented here--at least until the Buddy GUY-like bluesy guitar in the third minute. This quickly morphs into an ever-shape-shifting piece--not unlike, again, the works of prolific German solo artist, T (Thomas Thelen)--though never as dense or complex as Thomas' work (one of the things that repells me from thoroughly enjoying his work). Ends with a kind of "Machine Messiah" feel. (17.5/20)

3. "Snivel by the Pond" (7:36) orchestral percussion and nicely picked folk guitar support this rather cinematic opening even being joined by clarinet. Then things quiet down to leave only a classical guitar and Victor singing gently in a breathy upper register voice. Clarinet returns to supplant voice for a minute before Victor's ethereal, almost eerily ghost-like voice returns for the second verse. In the sixth minute a carnival-esque sound palette takes over--still sounding quite cinematic even classical (in a Tim Burton/Danny Elfman-kind of way). By the time we get to the seventh minute it's pretty much turned all traditional European street music. Nice! (14/15)

4. "Terence" (8:01) orchestral swoons followed by acoustic guitar with tuned percussion instruments as Victor's gentle voice enters. As it builds, between vocal passages, there's a little NOT A GOOD SIGN feel to this one--symphonic yet rockin'--while the soft, pastoral multi-voiced vocal passages have a very engaging Genesis/FROST* feel to them. In the seventh minute we get into some really heavy, almost-metal work (with some machine gun kick drumming!) Again, the FROST* comparisons are warranted. Nice song! (14/15)

5. "Abyssal Bloom" (14:01) the first five-plus minutes of this song are an exercise in djenty guitar soundscapes with some STEVEN WILSON-ness--especially the creepy, high pitched ethereal vocals. In the sixth minute the music takes a radical turn: toward eerie cinematic again. (Again Danny Elfman or Tim Burton would be your best comparisons.) And then, in the ninth minute, to a very sparse landscape with very delicate, beautiful THOM YORKE-like vocals backed by minimal piano notes. In the twelfth minute the soundscape ramps up with loud tremolo electric guitar (kind of MONO or MAUDLIN OF THE WELL style) as Victor and MIDIed piano  continue singing in their beautifully naïve voice and melody despite being almost buried in the sonic mix. It's quite a dichotomy the mix between the urgent and insistent guitars and the calm and relaxed vocal and melody. So cool! My favorite song on this album of great music and songs. (29/30)

Total Time 49:49

It is still, for me, difficult to believe that the music of this album is all generated by one man (and his computer). The music is quite good, complex and nuanced, while bridging a kind of pastoral, cinematic world with that of a kind of ALCESTian Dream Pop--often at the same time. 

91.25 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music--one that does exactly what progressive rock is supposed to do when it's at its best. 




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! (13.5/15)

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. (15/15)

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.

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




17. 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!




18. DEWA BUDJANA Mahandini

Extraordinary Indonesian guitarist DEWA BUDJANA (formerly of the Indonesian band Gigi) has gathered a cast of virtuoso musicians around him and none other than Jimmy Haslip in the engineering/production studio to record some of his more recent compositions for, once again, Moonjune Records. Though Dewa's Balinese and Indonesian influences are often present, this is an album that comes off as far more Western J-R Fusion than anything he's done before. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dewa Budjana / guitars, soundscapes
With:
- John Frusciante / vocals (1,7), guitar fill (1)
- Soimah Pancawati / lead vocals (3)
- Mike Stern / guitar (1st solo 5)
- Jordan Rudess / keyboards
- Mohini Dey / bass guitar, konnakol
- Marco Minnemann / drums
- Dimawan Krisnowo Adji / cello (8)
- Adrian Muhammad / vibraphone (8)

1. "Crowded" (5:55) a laid-back John Frusciante rock composition on which John provides the vocals (and a little guitar). Marco Minnemann makes his skills and talents known from the start filling little spaces with incredibly subtle percussion work. The music ramps up into heavy rock territory with the second verse and chorus before any soli enter (John and Dewa's guitars). Not a real fan of this one. (8.25/10)  

2. "Queen Kanya" (6:59) melodic modern jazz fusion with a speed and intensity that is over-the-top in skill and virtuosity. It takes a minute for the composition to establish the intro and moving the groundwork of the song's body, which is quite melodic, quite Western jazzy. Dewa's like the new ALLAN HOLDSWORTH or John Mitchell while his support crew of bassist Mohini Dey, keyboard artist Jordan Rudess and drummer Marco Minnemann are simply at the top of the skill charts--and this song really demands it! Mohini even adds some konnakol vocals (the drum-like vocalizations common to several Indian musical traditions that guitarist John McLaughlin has done so much to bring to light with his SHAKTI projects) in the fifth and sixth minutes. I love music that tries to explore a combination of East-meets-West traditions! I'm also reminded of the wonderful jazz fusion compositions that Canadian bass virtuoso ANTOINE FAFARD has produced over the past decade. (14.25/15)

3. "Hyang Giri" (7:44) opens with Gamelan percussion and drums with Indian vocals provided by Soimah Pancawaiti--whose melodies and style drive the whole song. Between the vocal passages are some sick prog whole group instrumental passages in which Marco, Mohini, Jordan, and Dewa take no prisoners and astonish. Jordan's piano solo in the fourth minute is so LYLE MAYS-like but is then followed by otherworldly bass play by Mohini Dey and Dewa's majestic lead guitar before being then reprised in fifth before the band comes back together with astonishing machine gun speed runs before gelling again to support Soimah's beautiful vocal. Choral chants close it out. Wow! What a ride! I LOVE East-West fusions! (14.5/15)

4. "Jung Oman" (6:52) opening with rousing classical piano solo, guitar and piano arpeggi with soaring guitar notes flitting away above establish a slow, melodic, almost MAHVISHNU chord progression. Jordan Rudess is on fire with his classical piano play beneath the slow, steady melody being played by Dewa's guitar. At 2:57 we have a heavy rock bridge ushering us into a more sparsely-populated soundscape for Dewa's acoustic guitar solo. Beautiful. (14/15)

5. "ILW" (6:39) a rock jam featuring experimental guitarist Mike Stern in a guest starring role. Man! Marco and Mohini make one rock solid/extraordinary rhythm section. The guitar sound used by the first guitarist's solo is exactly the same one that John McLaughlin has been using (especially in live performances) for the past 20 years: muted saxophone-like. The two guitarists trade solos for the bulk of the song but this does nothing to mute the contributions of the rest of the band despite the fact that none of them are highlighted. Once again, I find myself thinking of and comparing this a lot with the music of Antoine Fafard from the past decade. (8.75/10)

6. "Mahandini" (8:17) a beautiful Pat Metheny (or Jean-Luc Ponty)-like melody from Dewa's guitar and Jordan's keys with comparatively laid-back play from Mohini and Marco, the order of solos is bass (Mohini), Fender Rhodes (Jordan), guitar (Dewa), and drums (Marco) with TFK-like bridges between each. A great jazz-rock fusion song explicitly contrived to show off the individual talents of its four extraordinary instrumentalists. And, boy! Does it succeed! (18/20)

7. "Zone" (5:56) the album's second John Frusciante song. Though basically a rock song, the softer verse sections are made a little pop-jazzy by Jordan Rudess's jazzy piano work. The vocal is, to my ears, much better, more nuanced and engaging, than the album's uponing song, while Dewa's guitar really gets to shine. Marco and Mohini are, of course, rock solid and so delightful to listen to for their idiosyncratic nuances. Better than the opener but still not in the same realm as the jazz-fusion songs. (8.5/10) 

Total Time 48:22

90.79 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of jazz-rock fusion-oriented rock music--some of it successfully crossing lines between and blending Eastern and Western musical traditions. 




19. 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."




20. 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. (14.25/15)

 - "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)

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




21. 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 minor masterpiece of progressive electronic music with one certifiable masterpiece of a prog epic!




22. 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 minor masterpiece of highly melodic progressive rock music.




23. 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! (18/20)

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.(18/20)

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! (14.25/15)

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). (16/20)

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. (19/20)

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! (14.25/15)

Total Time 55:53

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




24. 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.