Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Top Albums of the Year 2019, Part 1: The Masterpieces


My Favorite Albums of 2019
(In some semblance of order)

***Author's note:  Below you will find two different rankings for this year's albums. 

  The first list is merely a list consisting of a Top Twenty with a following list of "Honorable Mentions." These 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 (my own numerical rating system--which I call the "Fishscales") 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 150 new releases from 2019.

According to my calculations, 2019 presents Prog World with one (1) full masterpiece, 17 "minor" masterpieces, and 15 "near-masterpieces"!  


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. TIRILL Said the Sun to the Moon
2. JAMBINAI Onda
3. THIEVES' KITCHEN Genius Loci
4. FUZZ PUDDLE Speciecide
5. SEVEN STEPS TO THE GREEN DOOR The? Lie
6. FLY PAN AM C'est ça
7. HAMMOCK Silencia
8. 
THE LOOMINGS Hey, Weirdo!
9. MONKEY3 Spheres
10. STEVE HAUSCHILDT Nonlin

11. THE TEA CLUB If / When
12. ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique V
13. BENT KNEE You Know What They Mean
14. IAMTHEMORNING The Bell
15. MONO Nowhere, Now Here
16. BLACK MIDI Schlagenheim
17. DIZZY MYSTICS Wanderlost
18. UNITED PROGRESSIVE FRATERNITY Planetary Overload, Part 1 - Loss
19. STEVE UNRUH Precipice
20. KARFAGEN Echoes from Within The Dragon's Island

21. SONAR with DAVID TORN Tranceportaion Vol. 1
22. MODERN-ROCK ENSEMBLE Night Dreams & Wishes
23. DIAGONAL Arc
24. IQ Resistance
25. CONSIDER THE SOURCE You Are Literally A Metaphor
26. CHARLIE CAWOOD Blurring Into Motion
27. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE Mother's Rhymes
28. EX CANIX Shaman
29. BIG BIG TRAIN Grand Tour
30. ALIO DIE & INDALASKA Tempus Fugit

Honorable Mentions:
FORMAL HORSE Here Comes a Man from the Council with a Flamethrower
OPETH In Cauda Venenum
JORDSJØ Nattfiolen
RETROSPECTIVE Latent Advidity
ELECTRIC ASTURIAS Trinity

Special Mention:
DE LORIANS De Lorians



The Reviews



Five Star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34)



*****Album of the Year for 2019!*****



1. TIRILL Said the Sun to the Moon

A concept album of gorgeous folk music inspired by the four seasons and Tirill Mohn's long-standing connection to Rudolf Steiner and the Waldorf educational model, we have here a journey through the Nordic year beginning with Autumn and ending with a late summer sunset (or sunrise) in which Tirill employs, adapts, or re-forms known poetry and song lyrics to fit her vision and mood. The four seasonally titled "interlude" songs, "Autumn," "Winter," "Spring," and "Summer," manipulate the words of Steiner himself, while other more full-bodied songs are adaptations of works by the likes of Nick Drake, Mark Strand, Patric Crotty, and Kathleen Jessie Raine. 

Lineup / Musicians:
Gjermund Kolltveit: kanklés, Hardanger fiddle, lyre
Nils Einar Vinjor: electric guitars, guitalele
Alsaug Marie Holgersen: double bass
Sigrun Eng: cello
Bjarne Magnus Jensen: violin
Uno Alexander Vesje: harp
Julie Kleive: additional vocals on tracks 1, 4, 7, 8, 9, and 10
Marte Bjørkmann: harmony vocals on tracks 8 and 12
Dagfinn Hobæk: lead vocals on track 11
Tirill Mohn: vocals, acoustic guitars

01 "Autumn" (1:13) strongly plucked concert harp with the whispery voices of Tirill Mohn and other female soprano, Julie Kleive, open the album with their poetic introduction. (5/5)

02  "Clothes of Sand" (3:08) acoustic guitar and, later, cello, support Tirill in this Nick Drake song. Female vocals harmonize below Tirill during the chorus. Viola and/or violin join the cello beneath the second verse. Like singing with a string quartet. Wow! (9/10)

03 "Under the Harvest Moon" (2:14) harp and Tirill and other voices. A traditional folk song that sounds as if it could be an Andreas Vollenweider Christmas song. (4.5/5)

04 "Winter" (1:58) two harps dancing slowly around each other before Tirill and the beautiful soprano voice of Julie Kleive join in, also singing in tandem as if circling around one another. Stunning! (5/5)

05 "Under the Small Fire of Winter Stars" (2:26) bowed stringed instrument and folk percussives provide the mood accompaniment for Tirill's campfire story-version of this Mark Strand poem. Evocative! (4.5/5)

06 "To the Realms of the Spirit" (3:17) acoustic guitar and other harp and/or lyre (?) duet with bass and Lithuanian zither ("kanklés"). No voices or lyrics despite its inspiration coming from the words of Rudolf Steiner. Very pretty. (8.5/10)
07 "Spring" (1:16) harp and folk madrigal Tirill (and Julie). (4.25/5)

08 "Shapes of a Dream" (4:05) in her breathiest, most knee-buckling voice Tirill sings (with accompaniment from vocalist Marte Bjørkmann) over a guitalele. A bit of a Judy Collins melody haunts the listener as does the gentle pastoral mood set by the beautiful work of the musicians. (10/10)

09 "Said the Sun to the Moon" (3:09) Tirill and soprano vocalist, Julie Kleive, sing together while harp and lyre (two harp tracks?), guitar, bass play in support on this Kathleen Jessie Raine lyric. Very nice chordal structure from the instrumentalists between the vocal verses. Prog folk does not get better than this! (10/10)

10 "Summer" (1:34) harp supports the now-familiar duo of two female singers (Tirill and Julie, I presume). But wait, do I hear three vocal tracks working in harmony? (4.75/5)

11 "Beneath the Midnight Sun" (4:15) opens with the gorgeous male voice of Dagfinn Hobæk singing with the harp/lute accompaniment. Tirill makes her delicate presence known with occasional harmonized vocals (more as the song goes on). There is an eerie edge to this song--not unlike some of the pagan folk songs of the German band FAUN. Violin joins in during the third minute as does traditional folk Hardanger fiddle. Based on a lyric by Patric Crotty, this is an amazing song--my favorite on the album and one of my favorite songs of 2019! It has all of the qualities of a timeless classic. (10/10)

12 "Iridescent Horizon" (4:34) opens with long-sustaining synthesizer-like treated electric guitar notes floating into the sky like cinders rising from a campfire. Joined by delicately played folk guitar and then Tirill's spoken voice reciting some poetry--poetry evoking beauty and wisdom. The "infinite" guitar is awesome! What an amazing end to an amazing musical journey! I feel bathed, washed, cleansed, refreshed, renewed, revitalized, and reborn! (9.5/10)

One of the most beautiful, enrapturing albums I've ever heard, flowing seemlessly, sucking the listener in from its first notes and then spitting one out at the end limp yet refreshed. Like Sirens enticing and entrapping sailors on the Mediterranean, the vocal duet arrangements and performances of Tirill and Julie Kleive are stunning and totally beguiling. The use of traditional folk instrumentation throughout is also planned meticulously and pulled off flawlessly.

94.44 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of prog folk and one of the best albums of 2019 and one of the finest prog folk albums of all-time.



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



2. THIEVES' KITCHEN Genius Loci

One of the most talented and accomplished lineups in progressive rock music, these artists seem to be getting better as they age, mellowing and not requiring the intense complexities, expressing a rarely encountered mastery of space and understatement--accomplishing more with less. Though these songs feel so easy and smooth, the note-by-note renderings are quite complex and rarely predictable.

Musicians / Line-up
Amy Darby - vocals
Phil Mercy - guitars
Thomas Johnson (Änglagård) - keyboards
   With:
Johan Brand (Änglagård) - bass
Anna Holmgren (Änglagård) - flute
Paul Mallyon (Sanguine Hum) - drums

1. "Eilmer" (9:33) jumping right into story telling with Amy singing from the opening note, she is supported by a spacious, almost jazzy arrangement of chunky bass, dirty guitar, distant electric piano, and syncopatedly accented drums. The weave is steady and rather bucolic despite its electric bass, while Amy's nontraditional melody lines and poetic imagery kind of lull us into comfort and melancholy. (Words from previous generations often seem much more appropriate for trying to capture the essence of TK's songs. Class and literacy ooze from their work.) The guitar solo in the sixth minute sounds so much like something that one would find on a STEELY DAN album! Wow! I am speechless! That was so sublime and mature! The build up and climax in the second half is so subtle yet insistent that I find myself shocked when it's over. Great song! Great construction and admirable restraint in its abridgement. (19/20)
  
2. "Uffington" (11:35) Sublime beauty with that "simple complexity" of which I wrote in the lead paragraph above. There is such a wonderful Becker-Fagen-Katz feel to this music! The band definitely feels more likely to play in a jazz house than a rock stadium. There is an important element--an expression or emulation of reverence for Nature--in this music, one might go so far as to claim that it is in fact essential. (18.25/20)

3. "The Poison Garden" (3:50) piano intro, gorgeous and contemplative, soon joined by the pastoral imagery of Amy's lyrics sung in her usual unpredictable melodies. Beautiful, poignant, timeless. Another one best performed in the intimate, smoky darkness of the jazz lounge. (9/10)

4. "The Voice of the Lar" (20:06) opens up sounding like the jazzy side of YES: early Steve Howe, Tony, Kaye, Bill Bruford, and Chris Squire. At 6:53 there is an interesting shift into a Mellotron-and-organ-based almost Jean-Luc Ponty/Weather Report feel. At 8:30 Amy makes her first appearance with very simple and sparse accompaniment from electric piano, Mellotron, sparse bass, and cymbal play. A minute later the Yes-sound has returned while Amy continues singing. Definitely an old Time and a Word feel to the music--especially in the guitar play as this section continues. At 11:15 there is another jazzy bridge before we enter into another instrumental section--this one more a set up for some TONY BANKS-like electronic keyboard soloing. Amy returns at 12:55 while the band plays the same early YES weave. Thanks to Johan Brand and Thomas Johnson, this never gets old or boring. In the fifteenth minute there is a switch to piano base and more odd tempo constructs and accents, then to swirling organ, chunky bass, and complex PETE TOWNSEND-like guitar chord strums. Paul Mallyon is brilliant here! Amy returns to sing over the final couple minutes as the 'tron-led YES-musicians build up to their finale. Flawless composition and performances only rated down for lack of super-refreshing surprises, a little lack of diversity. It's not often bands pay tribute to early YES! (36.25/40)

5. "Mirie It Is" (8:52) opens like a a Rickie Lee Jones piano song before Amy enters singing in an ancient language. Flute bridges the first verse to the second, opens the way for bass, percussions, and electronic keyboards to join in. What a masterful, beautiful construct! Three minutes in and Amy's only sung that initial verse: it's all been instrumental since then! Masterful performances from Anna Holmgren on the flute, Johan Brand on the chunky, forward-mixed bass, Thomas Johnson on keys, and Paul Mallyon on the drums. What Änglagård would have sounded like if they had slowed it down and played with space and time more. When Phil finally joins in with two guitar tracks in the sixth minute, it's like the king has arrived! The simple and yet numerous keyboard contributions made by Thomas Johnson are so perfect! Like listening to Mike Oldfield slowed down for effect. It's not until the final minute that the music d back to the simple piano accompaniment with which Amy sings her second and final verse (same as the first). Perfection! One of my favorite songs of the year! (20/20)

Total Time 53:56

93.18 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a veritable masterpiece of mature and impressive progressive rock compositions. Definitely my vote for Album of the Year (... so far). (Supplanted on December 28, 2019, by the review posting of Tirill Mohn's Said the Sun to the Moon.)




3. MONKEY3 Sphere

Well-pace and engaging space/Krautrock from Lausanne (Switzerland). Though these guys have been releasing albums since 2001, this is my first encounter with them. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Boris / guitar
- Mister Malpropre / keyboards, guitar
- Kevin / bass
- Walter / drums
With:
- Bumblefoot / guitar (4)

1. "Spirals" (11:19) four sections: the tension-filled opening three minutes which slowly, almost imperceptibly, builds until the 3:15 mark (Section 2) when a crash of bass, drums, and guitar chords unleash a hard-driving section within which Hammond and, later, guitar show some fine lead chops (though the bass work here is equally attention-grabbing), Section 3 that begins at 5:30 with some PINK FLOYD-like echoed bass solo work with intermittent flashes of aggressive guitar strums, and, at 7:45, when the final harder-driving section with its excellent PINK FLOYD-like slide guitar solo work but finishes with the flare of a WHO or PORCUPINE TREE song. Cool! (18/20)

2. "Axis" (6:37) echoed electric guitar plays single note on its bass string in a PF "Run Like Hell" kind of way before echo and delayed electric guitar begins adding notes here and there. Toward the end of the first minute bluesy bass, drums and keys join in. Very space-bluesy for a few minutes until 3:50 when the two-tracked lead guitar leaps to the fore in a Hendrix-kind of way while the background sounds more like Polish heavy proggers RETROSPECTIVE. Awesome shift! Mellotron voices join in just before shift into a more melodic guitar riff enters and tries to hook us in. Return to the heavier, 'tron layered section at the six minute mark to the end. Pretty great song. Definite top three for me. (9.25/10)

3. "Prism" (9:10) two minutes of truly stark space sounds precedes the heavy sludge of slow metal music that erupts and sustains over the next two minutes. At the end of the fourth minute the motif and pacing switches, establishing a much more fast-driving groove by the end of the fifth minute within which the Hammond adds its particular embellishments before a lead electric guitar begins to establish its presence in the sixth minute. At 6:10 a slow decaying metal chord establishes an entirely new motif--one that is graced with the hair-raising DAVID GILMOUR-like guitar solo in the eighth and ninth minutes. (17.5/20)

4. "Mass" (6:30) opens like a FIELDS OF NEPHILIM song with some 1980s sounds oscillating around the soundscape. Even at 0:45 when the heavy grunge metal chords and group play enter and dominate and into the next motif with its heavily distorted PA voice and vocal Mellotron at the end of the second minute am I reminded of FIELDS OF NEPHILIM. 'tron dominates the melody line in the third minute. Flashy 1970s electric guitar solo in the fourth becomes flashier 1980s EDDIE VAN HALEN-like guitar solo by the end of said minute. Powerful and cool but nothing too original. (8.4/10)

5. "Ida" (4:22) opens with wind synth noises over which bass plays a riff in its upper registers. Joined by slow guitar strums and more spacey synth notes/washes before Indian percussion joins in at the one minute mark. At 1:45 heavily fuzzed electric guitar, synth chords, and full drum kit join in to lay down a heavier texture. Guitars begin soloing over the top, one up high more aggressively, and another behind, more controlled support. (9/10)

6. "Ellipsis" (14:13) opens with layers of spacey synth noises, blurts, and arpeggi as "Stranglehold"-like bass and drum lines set the pace. Volume pedal controlled guitars, two, move opposite one another in fast pans behind the sound scape. At 5:18 the bomb drops and we enter into a very deep and dirty section thanks to a great Piotr Grudzinski (RIVERSIDE)-like low-end electric guitar riff. Even when this riff exits its powerful echoes are felt, sustained, in the low-end work of the bass and other electric guitar strums. The "Stranglehold" feel is still there, but it's dirtier, nastier, more in an in-your-face "this is what you get!" way. Amazing! The only thing missing is a great Ian Kenny or Mariuz Duda vocal! Amazing how much is inferred, how much potential energy is visible, barely contained, waiting to burst into full onslaught! Incredible subtle build to crescendo. I'm in tears with the emotion from this! Definitely my favorite song on the album--and one of the best prog epics of the year! (29.5/30)

Total Time: 55:11

92.65 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a rare masterpiece of progressive rock music coming from the overly pretentious Space/Psych subgenre. Definitely one of the best heavy space/psych albums I've heard in a long time!





4. JAMBINAI Onda

Some of the most extraordinarily different prog rock that I've heard since I first heard Yoshimi P-W's OOIOO. This is Post Rock from Korea with its musicians proudly integrating the traditional instruments of their homeland with those of the rock'n'roll world.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Il-woo Lee / guitars, piri (family of bamboo oboes), taepyeongso (short, conical wooden oboe with metal bowl serving as its spout), saenghwang (reedless mouth organ with 17 bamboo pipes, capable of playing two notes at once), vocals
- Bo-mi Kim (f.) / haegeum (vertical two-stringed violin like a berimbau, bowed), vocals
- Eun-yong Sim (f.) / geomungo (fretted bass zither, plucked), vocals
- Byenong-koo Yu / bass, chorus vocals
- Jae-hyuk Choi / drums, chorus vocals
With:
- Hwi-seon Choe / yanggeum (hammered dulcimer) (1,3)
- Bo-ra Kim / vocals (5)
- Gyouh-yun Jo / chorus vocals (4,8)
- Jin-young Han / chorus vocals (4,8)

1. "Sawtooth" (7:39) powerful Post Rock that opens with traditional Korean instruments, wind and stringed. These are joined, eventually, in the third minute, by drums and electric instruments from the more familiar realms of rock'n'roll, providing not one but two very impressive rise and falls over the course of the remaining five minutes. Despite this addition of full drum kit, electric bass, and aggressive electric guitar, it is the Korean instruments that remain the attention-grabbers, expressing very powerful emotions. Dynamic and refreshing Post Rock. A top three song. (14/15)

2. "Square Wave" (5:05) rock and traditional instruments are mixed from the start of this one as is the gorgeous, powerful DAM KAT-like voice of Bo-mi Kim. This is so good! Smooth chorus section at the end of the second minute and then a quiet, spacious, section, latent with potential energy, that is followed by an even more powerful instrumental section in the third and fourth minutes before the final crescendo of sound and ending verse in the final minute. The interplay of the electric rock instruments with the Korean acoustics is incredible! Awesome song! Definitely a top three for me. (9.5/10)

3. "사상의 지평선 (Event Horizon)" (3:55) opens in fifth gear with everybody strumming, beating, and screeching at their fastest and then, equally as suddenly, at the 1:00 mark, everything cuts out save for a bowed berimbau-like haegeum and hand drum/hand percussion. By the end of the second minute vocalist Eun-yong Sim (or Bo-mi Kim) is adding her voice to the weave until 2:41 when the electric contingent rejoins and it plays out like a Death Metal song. (8.75/10)

4. "검은 빛은 붉은 빛으로 (Sun. Tears. Red.)" (5:51) single note played syncopatedly from an electric guitar- or bass-like instrument opens this song before being joined by a choir of voices singing quietly in an almost prayer-like chant-kind of way. Amazing! At 1:35 all hell breaks loose as a heavy LEPROUS-like sound breaks out with vocal and Korean instrumental screeches over the top. Just before the two minute mark, this cuts out and a percussion-supported multi-voice, polylyric, polyrhythm section ensues. Wow! In the fourth minute the heavy walls of sound return for a bit but it is then broken up by alternating quick passages of multi-voice shouting and chanting (and intentionally not in unison). In the fifth minute the music steadies itself, not quite as heavy, as Korean violin solos, but then just before the 5:00 mark, the soundscape thickens and weighs down as a male voice screams his lyrics in two-syllable bursts to the end. Wow! I'm not sure how to judge this one! Unlike anything I've ever heard before! Amazing! Another top three song! (9.5/10)

5. "나무의 대화 (In the Woods)" (13:16) opens like a HYPNO5E song with delicate, spacious, almost folk instrumental inputs from all musicians. Even into the meat of the song, at the 3:30 mark, as Il-woo's saenghwang takes center stage and then gets replicated with several other tracks, the music still feels totally folk-traditional. Wild vocals enter in the sixth minute and then oboes. Drums and bass slowly climb in during the second half of the seventh minute, but then there is a calming break in which the saenghwang leads over haegeum, geomungo, and electric bass. Electric guitar joins in the eighth minute just before the pace and density ramps up. This is definitely Post Rock! At the ten minute mark heavily distorted electric guitars and bass begin providing typhoon-like wind noises as the drummer really starts to go crazy. "ooo" vocals repeat a melody from here to end. Nice song with a stunning beginning five minutes that becomes a little long and drawn out. (21.75/25)

6. "작은 위로가 있는 곳에 (Small Consolation)" (5:18) a single note from an oddly tuned electric guitar signals the start of Il-woo Lee's almost-whispered voice. Over and over this occurs, like a Tibetan prayer cycle, until at 1:15 Bo-mi Kim's haegeum and Eun-yong Sim's geomungo begin to add their sounds behind and round the guitar and vocal/chanter. At 2:25 the full electric band comes crashing in with heavily strumming guitar, bass, and flailing cymbals and pulsing drums. The Korean strings continue their screechy soloing over and within until things go even fuller-dark at the end of the fourth minute. Then, suddenly, at 4:23, everything stops except for the original three plucked/bowed instruments, which then slowly fizzle and exit. (9/10)

7. "그대가 지내온 아픔들이 빛나는 축복의 별이 되어 (ONDA Prelude)" (2:18) drone of a single sustained electric bass note opens while traditional Korean mouth organ (saenghwang) plays a dirge-like tune over the top. Amazing instrument the way it can project two controlled notes at one time! (5/5) 

8. 온다 (ONDA) (7:07) launches straight out of the "Prelude" with lots of hard-driving percussion and haegeum provide initial support for the slow, religious-sounding singing of Bo-mi Kim. Gorgeous! And powerful! Kim is then joined in chorus form by Il-woo Lee. The music here reminds me of Middle Eastern prog like Ofra Haza. At 3:15, Bo-mi Kim switches to haegeum and Il-woo to his bamboo oboe (pim) as the rhythm section continues to drive on at breakneck speed. The full metal impact of electric instruments reaches full strength at the five minute mark just as choral-singing of earlier slow religious lyric and melody ensue. This is, then, what plays out until cymbal crash at 6:35 and ensuing long decay of the feedback from the final strums of the electric guitar and bass. Amazing. I am numb and in humble shock with the power and beauty of this music. (15/15)

Total Time: 50:29

I feel so excited, so humbled and privileged, to have heard this music--to have continued access to it. Some of the instruments, sounds, stylings, and even melodies sound similar to Mongolian band ANDA UNION--though my untrained ear is most likely lumping all Sino-Korean sounds and melodies together. 

92.5 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece of mind-blowing progressive rock music in which the band fuses the traditional instruments and melodies of its native cultural traditions with the best and most powerful of Post Rock techniques better that any other band that I've ever heard.




5. THE TEA CLUB If / When

I resisted giving my full attention to this new release for a while despite my immediate liking of the first song I heard because the "Tea Club sound" had gotten a little old, worn, and predictable for me. Don't get me wrong: the McGowan boys are incredible song crafters and never fail to put out excellent, cogent, and relevant albums, it's just that I'm not a lyrics/message guy; I'm a music/feel guy and the music just started sounding stale, too drawn out, too repetitive. (I've been a fan and collector/follower since 2010's most excellent release, Rabbit.) I am pleased to report that with If / When The Tea Club has revealed a refreshing new side.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Patrick McGowan / guitar, mandolin, vocals
- Daniel McGowan / guitar, vocals
- Joe Dorsey / keyboards
- Jamie Wolff / bass, violin, cello
- Dan Monda / drums, percussion

1. "The Way You Call" (2:39) an all-acoustic guitar supported vocal by Patrick McGowan that I really like--a very refreshing sound for this band--one that I'd love to hear more of. Every sound, every melody line is new and not stereotypic "Tea Club"--which has been a problem for me in successive releases: the sameness/familiarity of sounds and melodic choices. (9/10)

2. "Say Yes" (4:12) travels a bit into "old" territory, though with much better edges and quicker, cleaner transitions. The instrumental performances are so tight and concise! (8.5/10)

3. "If I Mean When" (4:21) opens with distant guitar & mandolin soon joined, in the right channel, by a distant reverbed voice. Nice chords and harmonies. The voice moves front and center and looses its reverb at the end of the first minute before moving into a gorgeous chorus. Great definition of all voices and instruments. I love this more-acoustic side to The Tea Club! (9.5/10)

4. "Rivermen (6:35) opening rather quietly, with a smooth, though ominously restrained spaciousness, the song slowly, patiently develops, grows, reveals, until, in the final third of the song when all of the latent mischief and mayhem is unleashed in an explosion of amazingly raw power and emotion. Now this is a true gem of progressive rock--displaying all of the song-craft that denotes master storytelling through music. One of the best prog songs of 2019! (10/10)


5. "Came At A Loss (4:19) another interesting song for its refreshing newness in sound and style--almost like a smart, quirky sea shanty from SEAS OF MIRTH, SOUL ENEMA, or KNIFEWORLD. It's comprised of more wonderful acoustic guitar founded music over which Patrick sings in his usual way, but the early-DOOBIE BROTHERS-like multi-voice chorus is amazing--melody, harmonies, and engineering of vocal layers. There is simply not enough people making music like this today. (9/10)

6. "Sinking Ship (3:17) kind of a DECEMBERISTS or JACK O' THE CLOCK sound to this one. Pretty, but rather sedate and innocuous. Not a bad song just not a great one. (8.25/10)

7. "Creature (27:45) The greater reliance on acoustic instrumentation continues over the first five minutes. Very fine sound, chord construction, and sound clarity, I just find Patrick's lead vocal style and choice of melodies and intonation to be too familiar. (8/10)
     The chorus at the end of the fifth minute is among the finest moments the band have ever produced--on a par to the great sound and vocal constructs of Texas Prog Folk band MIDLAKE and among the best moments of any prog band ever. This section is followed by an extended dream-like interlude of spaciousness filled by guitar harmonics and some really cool synthesizer washes and heavily reverbed vocalise work. (5/5)
     At 8:50 we move into a different section--a kind of STEVEN WILSON transition and full-frontal retro-prog-pop assault. Cool effected vocal over heavier organ-based prog section ensues. Cool 80s synth work beneath the powerful "like a wounded animal" vocals. (5/5)
      Pure progginess in the complex KING CRIMSON-influenced eleventh and twelfth minutes. Another Crimsonian shift at 11:38, very dense and complex, bouncing back and forth between two or three themes, before a STEVE HOWE-like slide guitar solo leads us into some YES "Gates of Delirium" territory. (9.5/10)
     At 13:30 things slow down to a gentle waterfall feel within which some acoustic guitar, electric bass, and almost classical piano support the McGowan vocals. This moves for a brief section into a beautiful rock ballad-like section at 15:25 until a AL STEWART-like sound takes over in the seventeenth minute. Man I love Patrick McGowan's forays into vocalise! (5/5)
     Mandolin, spacey synth, muted electric guitar, drums & bass support this awesome PINK FLOYD "Wish You Were Here, Parts VI-IX"-like section. So tastefully done! (5/5)
     At the end of the nineteenth minute the music kicks into a full-on rock construct over which an electric guitar sings out with an awesome solo, followed by a similar synth solo and then some vocalise. Beautiful! (5/5)
     At 22:00 everything stops leaving the soft syncopated strums of two guitars and some very heavily chorused electric piano to support a gentle vocal. By 23:25 the music has amped up again,  recapitulating the wonderful MIDLAKE section, though the acoustic base and slow pace remain as multiple voices sing the band's penultimate message, "All your creatures long for the new creation, Where boundaries of death are ever failing." There is a synthesizer's recapitulation of this lyric's melody in the 26th minute before there is a subtle, gentle, gradual transition to a solo acoustic guitar playing. (5/5)
     Patrick McGowan sings the final verse and chorus--familiar to us from the earlier part of the song--all accompanied alone by his acoustic guitar. It's so Cat Stevens like! And wonderful! (4.5/5)
     I have to say, that listening to this song transpires into one of the fastest 28 minutes I've ever passed! These guys get how to make a prog epic! And this is definitely one of the best if not the best prog epic of 2019! (52/55)

Total time 53:08

While the first half of this album is less proggy and has a more 1970s classic acoustic/southern rock feel to it, it works. Then there is the epic. Need I say more?

92.39 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a refreshing and undeniable masterpiece of progressive rock music. Well done, TEA CLUB!




6. SEVEN STEPS TO THE GREEN DOOR The? Lie

A nicely constructed rock opera about Noah with some nice guest performances to add to the mix. Reminiscent of the grand productions of Arjen Lucassen with the sound of UNITOPIA. Great sound production and what's more, I can understand every word of every singer/narrator.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jana Pöche / vocals (Mother)
- Lars Köhler / vocals (Samuel)
- Anne Trautmann / vocals (Lover / Samuel's Girlfriend)
- Stephan Pankow / electric guitars
- Marek Arnold / piano, organ, keyboards, soprano & alto saxophones, clarinet, seaboard, venova, producer
- Ulf Reinhardt / drums
With:
- Sören Flechsig / vocals (Noah)
- Annemarie Schmid / vocal
- Amelie Hofmann / vocal (Crying Child)
- Peter Jones / vocals (Father)
- Andreas "Eddy" Gemeinhardt / electric & acoustic guitars, bass
- Luke Machin / lead electric guitars
- Gerd Albers / acoustic guitar
- Jason Melidonie / guitar solo
- Steve Unruh / violin solo
- Susan Kammler / oboe
- Michael Schetter / bass
- Denis Strassburg / bass

1. "A? - I" (2:56) Noah's father setting the scene. (4/5)

2. "Salvation" (3:18) simple yet enticing song construct with some pretty awesome vocals from Peter Jones. (9.25/10)


3. "A Price To Pray - I" (2:51) the band finally gets to launch into full sound--a full 90 seconds of instrumental display. It's heavy yet psychedelic. The voice of Noah are strong and metallic. (8.5/10)


4. "A Dream That Strayed - I" (4:35) opens like a JEFF BECK/COLIN TENCH bluesy guitar show piece with piano and delicate drum and synth play in accompaniment. In the second minute vocals enter from male (Lars Köhler playing the role of Samuel, I believe) as piano, syncopated drums, fretless bass and synth chords support. A lecture from Father ensues in which Samuel is told that his "disrespectful" girlfriend must go. Simple yet sensitive, pretty, and powerful. Excellent vehicle for storytelling. (10/10)


5. "A Price To Pray - II" (5:10) Samuel is commanded to recite passages from the Bible as the music speeds along beneath, throughout. The weave is a kind of whole-band study of discipline and timing as stops, power weaves, incidental instrumentals, and vocals flit in and out of the flow. Cool violin solo at the 3:00 mark followed by a solid metal (Eddie Van Halen-like) electric guitar soloing intermixed with some angry vocals. (8.75/10)


6. "A Dream That Strayed - II" (3:00) dated synth chords and bass pulses support vocals from Anne Trautman and Lars Köhler in the roles of Samuel's girlfriend and Samuel, respectively. (Samuel is saying goodbye in fulfillment of his father's command.) Ends with a dreamy patch of synth/keys sounding like something out of Interstellar before bleeding into the next song. (9/10)


7. "A? - II" (2:53) continues the music from the previous song as Samuel laments and his Father commends him. Nice guitar solo in the second half doubles up on the emotional distress that Samuel is going through. (5/5)


8. "Heaven" (1:30) takes the themes of the previous song and turns it into an organ-supported choral piece of supportive advice: "Don't walk away" and "heaven is inside you." Nice! (5/5)


9. "The Word Made Flesh" (7:05) Samuel's girlfriend is pregnant! Beautiful vocals from Samuel's girlfriend (Anne Trautmann) and a second female performing vocalise in the background (also Anne? Jana Pöche? Annemarie Schmid?) It gets heavy in the fifth minute as men enter and try to exert their power. Argument between Father and Mother is powerful--ending in some kind of violence (I think). 
Really a beautiful song, great music and, again, great vocal performances from the women. (14/15)

10. "Hear My Voice Tonight" (9:57) opens with a piercingly high, beautiful female voice, soon joined by a male, and then another. Three voices woven together very nicely. One man takes the leave saying how he "was saved by loving once before."
     A true stage-crafted song, with multiple voices participating as well as several musical themes weaving in and out of the mix, this makes me wonder if the band has aspirations to perform this as a musical stage play. They'd have to expand it but that would give them time to develop the characters a little better. I think it would work wonderfully.
    A somber piano-based motif takes over at the 5:30 mark, oboe soloing beautifully over the top.  75 seconds later a chunky-bass-heavy theme takes over within which the vocal ensemble reappear to assert themselves (though I'm not sure what has been accomplished.) Things soften and slow for the jazzy final minute as sax and electric guitars take us into the album's final song. (17.5/20)

11. "Come To Your Father" (10:07) starts off very heavy--almost URIAH HEEP-like but heavier--with some quite strong rasp-metal vocals from Noah (Lars Köhler). Jana Pöche's vocals representing the mother are quite strong, not unlike prog metal diva Simone Simons or Anneke van Giersbergen, as are "twin" Anne Trautmann's.
     The music then settles at 2:30 into a beautiful SYLVAN-esque section over which the story of dysfunctional parenting is displayed in a raw Posthumous Silence-kind of way. Beautiful vocalise in this section from someone (Annemarie Schmid?). The seventh minute sees a thickening of sound with a great chord sequence that slowly builds over the next five minutes as the instruments work toward the final climax. Well done! Great balance of instruments and great sound production. (19/20)

Total time: 53:22


92.31 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music--carrying a powerful story with powerful, well constructed music just the way progressive rock music was meant to do.
Great storytelling, great musical construct, great performances from all vocalists. My favorite part of the entire album were the two prolonged sections of female vocalise. Who was that singer? 
Definitely an album that I will enjoy for many years.




7. BLACK MIDI Schlagenheim

The debut studio release from London's refreshing new prog-punk sensation. Pre-keys, pre-saxes, full-on guitar barrage. And the band lists Mahavishnu Orchestra as their #1 common inspiration! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Geordie Greep / vocals, guitar
- Matt Kwasniewski-Kelvin / vocals, guitar
- Cameron Picton / vocals, bass, synths, samples
- Morgan Simpson / drums

1. "953" (5:20) a super-high energy song in the vein of 1970s punk and yet infused with the virtuosity and intellect of geniuses of the Robert Fripp / Les Claypool sort. The soft, pastoral passage in the second minute--over which Geordie begins singing--is so unexpected and yet, again, such a sign of this band's exceptional genius. Love the religious/psychological indictment of the lyrics. Great opener. Awesome display of power, youth, and control. There are metal bands who don't have this much coherence. (9/10)

2. "Speedway" (3:17) a rather simple though polyrhythmic song using a kind of ska-beat with instrumental craziness occurring around it while Matt talk/sings in a DAVID BYRNE-like "duplicitous reassuring husband" voice. Genius and entertaining. (9/10)

3. "Reggae" (3:29) the baseline two-chord riff within one of the main motif in this song remind me of something old and favored--I think something from an early 1980s XTC record. The abrasive industrial sounds are awesome reminders of a type of music that kind of came and went in the 1980s and 90s. (9/10)

4. "Near DT, MI" (2:20) one of Matt's songs--one that expresses outrage for the criminal acts that have resulted in the "acceptance" and attempted gloss-over of the lead poisoning of the public water systems of city of Flint, Michigan's (which is near Detroit, MI). Brilliantly composed, rendered, and vocaled (by Cameron when I saw them in concert: THE song that got the mosh pit revved up.) I'm thinking that, once upon a time a youthful Bill Nelson would have been proud of this song. A top three song, for sure! (10/10)

5. "Western" (8:08) a rather subdued, Country & Western-ized jazz song in which Geordie makes his first attempts to introduce his Elvis-like crooner alter-ego. At 1:45, however, the band has no choice but to inject some kind of prog-rock pulsation. The dark, violent lyrics are, in my opinion, a tongue-in-cheek parody of all C&W melodrama. It's awesome! At 5:40 there is a very sudden and dramatic "change of channels" from the abrasive cacophony that was building, to the bucolic C&W soundscape that opened the song. Nice front porch weave of folk-country music. (13.5/15)

6. "Of Schlagenheim" (6:24) this one opens in pure prog rock territory: every sound, effect, instrument, and riff is straight out of some classic psychedlic prog or prot-prog song (even LED ZEPPELIN!) Geordie's lyrics are delivered as if stream-of-consciousness, but I know they're not. An almost Canterbury-Gong section is beautifully rendered before switching back to bluesy LED ZEP--in fact,in several variations thereof. An awesome, simple awesome song. Another top three song for me.  (9.25/10)

7. "bmbmbm" (4:56) the song that introduced me to this band. As you might imagine, it was a relationship of entertainment from the start--as well as one of respect for creativitiy. What came later--after hearing other songs by the band, was respect and awe at their musicianship. The point is, here, that she moves with a purpose. A bit sophomoric and yet also ingenius. (8.75/10)

8. "Years Ago" (2:34) What?! Peter Gabriel-esque World music? Or is it CAN or TALKING HEADS? Or some prog or death metal band? Great baseline groove from the rhythm section. This vocal is not Geordie. Could it be Matt? or Cameron? Whatever it is, it's awesome! (5/5)

9. "Ducter" (6:42) using a kind of minimalist Math Rock approach )as they will do more of on on their next album) to set the foundation for the showcase of the lyrics, Geordie delivers another idiosyncratic vocal performance that is half-crazed and half-angry, yet always entertaining. The intricate timing of every band member's performance here is quite a razor's edge to travel, but they do it with perfection--with enthusiasm and serious commitment--as they do in concert. An awesome display of whole band interconnection. (9.5/10)

Total Time 43:10

92.22 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of refreshing neo-punk eclectic Math Rock. An album I highly recommend for any music lover to hear: I believe that these are the future sounds of progressive rock music! 



8. SONAR with DAVID TORN Tranceportation Vol. 1

The union of Switzerland's Math Rock masters, Sonar, with David Torn was so successful, so meaningful to all involved, that they did it again--one year after releasing the stunning, ground-breaking Vortex.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stephan Thelen / guitar
- Bernhard Wagner / guitar
- Christian Kuntner / bass
- Manuel Pasquinelli / drums
With:
- David Torn / guitar, loops

1. "Labyrinth" (14:26) the tension presented in this song is sublime! The low bass-dominated primary weave is incredibly engaging (engulfing!) In the fifth, eighth, eleventh, and thirteeth-into-fourteenth minutes David Torn reaches new heights with his guitar's creative, primal, animalistic screams. And the other guitarists take a more aggressive, attention-grabbing approach than is typical of their performances (they usually stay in the underground, hidden within the foundational weaves that David solos over). Even the drumming somehow reaches out to grab you and suck you in. Probably my favorite Sonar song ever. (28.5/30)

2. "Partitions" (5:37) opening with a wonderful spacey aural field--one that stays in the song's bottom end throughout. The star-spangling guitar interplay is absolutely wonderful--both with individual notes and, later, beneath David Torn's swooning guitar play, with staccato chord strums and then ascending chord arpeggi. (10/10)

3. "Red Sky" (11:14) percussion noises from the drum coupled with spacey guitar loops are soon joined with the lead blues-bending notes of David Torn's southern-infused guitar. Very cool. At 1:53 another guitar approach is introduced. Christian Kuntner's thick, heavy, low-end dominating bass does not enter until 2:19, over which David's bayou-bluesy guitar returns--all over some intricately-played quick note staccato guitar interplay. The rolling bass line only contributes further to the bayou-bluesy feel of this one. I'm not usually into bluesy rock soundscapes but this one is intriguing, at times mesmerizing. An interesting rhythmic shift occurs at the end of the sixth minute--one that ushers in a change in the expression of all the band members--as if all are suddenly pointed in a march toward a fixed point on the horizon. The progress they make--both as individuals and a collective unit--is quite exciting--especially in the drums' and David Torn's contributions. I like the second half much more than the first. (17.5/20)

4. "Tunnel Drive" (7:42) the band very quickly establish a very unusual, syncopated rhythm over which to create their weave. David Torn's indvidualistic contributions really don't begin to emerge to the forefront until the second half, making this much more of an "old" Sonar Math Rock song than the others. (13/15)

Total Time 38:59

92.0 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a masterpiece of spacey Math Rock and an essential addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




9. LOOMINGS Hey Weirdo!

Jacopo Costa (AltrOck's YUGEN, SKE, CAMEMBERT, NOT A GOOD SIGN)'s one-of-a-kind avant/experimental vocal & percussion band from Strasbourg, Alsace, is back with another wonderful, joyful album of quirk and nostalgia and this one is far more accessible than 2015's Everyday Mythology.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Clara Weil / vocals
- Maria Denami / vocals 
- Matthieu Mazué / electric piano, grand piano, synth, electric organ 
- Nicolas Klee / electric and acoustic bass, bass synth 
- Enrico Pedicone / vibes, drums, electronics, samples 
- Jacopo Costa / drums, vibes, samples, programming, vocals, composer, arranger, producer 
With: 
- Bertrand Eber / trumpet (2,4,10) 
- Nicolas Jean / trombone (2,4,10) 
- JB Juszczak / alto saxophone (2,10) 
- Paul Schwartz / tenor saxophone (2,10) 
- Rémi Psaume / baritone saxophone (2,10)
1. "Listen" (0:20) (5/5)

2. "The Slap" (6:28) funky (8.75/10)

3. "All Hail" (6:16) the new pope! multiple quirky percussion instruments over which Clara and Maria sing their interestingly disconnected harmonies. (8.75/10)

4. "Sick Notes" (3:51) a truly beautiful yet heavy, pensive song. Lots of space and a slow pace. (9.25/10)

5. "The High Bar" (4:00) continues from the same take as the previous song but establishes itself in a completely different, very STEELY DAN-like song/instrumental structure. When Clara and Maria join in, each singing her own lyric into the weave, the music becomes even more interesting and, yes, engaging! Awesome song!  (9.5/10)

6. "Hypnotic" (7:50) oddly, and intentionally, cumbersome and plodding for its first four minutes, things shift into a far more in-your-face insistent funk tune in the fifth minute. Interesting and ... odd. Full on progressive rock at its most progressive. (13.5/15)

7. "To And Fro" (4:02) opens with saw-synth before Fender Rhodes and vibes join in with drums and bass to create a rather sophisticated, odd-metered song. 30 seconds into it there is a spacious bridge before the song picks up the opening sophisticate for Clara and Maria to sing over. Weird and old feeling (say, 1920s or 40s). (8.5/10)

8. "Cerchi" (4:03) spacious piano notes open this song and remain the dominant (and alone) in a Erik Satie kind of way for over a minute. IN the second minute the vibes join in--though the two instruments almost feel as if they are playing in two different universes. At 2:30 bass and drums and horns join in and everything gels into a beautiful classic jazz, Bill Evans-like sounding song. (9/10)

9. "Hey Weirdo! (4:42) creative and quirky in a Gabor Humble Vörös/HUMBLE GRUMBLE song. (8.75/10)

10. "Stratification (2:51) stepping into a stacato syncopated vibes and keys funk tune there is a little bit of Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and even David Bowie feel to this song. (9/10)

11. "Wonder And Delusion (7:37) opens with a stage sounding male voice singing in a plaintive, theatric voice for the first minute. Clara takes over at the one minute mark as a hypnotically pulsing horn section fast-pulses a single note from the background. Vibes and cymbols play within the weave. At 2:10 Maria joins in as Clara moves up an octave and Jacopo rejoins making it a beautiful West Side Story-like Broadway trio. Gorgeous. (14.5/15)

Total Time 52:00

91.96 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of wonderfully adventurous progressive rock music. Bravo, Loomings! Strasbourg rules!




10. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE Mother's Rhymes

The Psychedelic Ensemble is back! At times, his voice sounds a little worn and weak, but the sonic renderings of his compositions continue to be of the highest quality--so much so, in fact, that one might even recommend to other prog artists a sincere listen so that they might better observe the highest standards of sound production. I must say that the one big distinction of this new release from its recent category is TPE's restraint from layering his soundscapes as thickly as before; there is a much more liberal use of space and understatement to make his statements. The blistering multi-instrumental soli are present, but in more reserved usages; TPE gives his audience much more time and space within which to hear his story, to feel the general salve of his erudite musical expressions.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- anonymous / guitars (electric, acoustic, nylon, cigar box), keyboards, organ, piano, bass, percussion, lead & backing vocals, composer, production & mixing 
With: 
- Amy Little / lead & backing (2) vocals 
- Mina Keohane / lead & backing (8) vocals 
- Lisa Brooks / vocals (8) 
- C. Francis / backing vocals (falsetto) 
- Davis Brooks / violin, viola 
- Raphael Søren / cello
1. "Mother's Rhymes" (8:36) an unusually spacious and sedate song construct. I like it! (19/20)

2. "Farewell" (5:27) opens with an unusual plaintive musical and vocal section--more like Neo Crossover balladeer. I like the simplicity but I have to admit it was difficult for me to wait so long for some substantive excitement: 90 seconds till second gear, 2:20 till symphonic bliss.Wonderful orchestration, but, unfortunately, it falls into patterns of old familiar sounds and riffs during the instrumental exposition. (8.5/10)

3. "Little Boy Blue" (5:36) opens with seering electric lead guitar before the full instrumental palette joins in. In full swing, the song is heavy, thick, dramatic, definitely proggy. The presence of the wicked Hammond organ is powerful! As are the bass and impassioned vocal. Wow! This is different! At 3:25 things slow down and a kind of bluey PINK FLOYD guitar solo takes center stage before everything falls away save synths to support TPE's raspy voice (so far forward!) The song finishes with a nice synth strings and real strings motif before bleeding with the organ into the next song. (9/10)

4. "Little Bo Peep" (7:17) TPE's tribute to JEAN-LUC PONTY?! It opens like something from Jean-Luc's mid-to-late-70s production with an absolutely stellar bass line. Ann Caren's multiple-track vocals are a fresh and effective ploy. The bass, swirling keys, and rhythm guitar riff remain constant in their embedment with JLP while the vocals and lead guitar soli develop in more TPE stylings. A fresh and clever stylistic approach. Even the drums sound more human than ever! Ann's vocal in that last minute with its orchestral accompaniment is so crystalline! Beautiful! (13.35/15)

5. "Blind Mice" (4:11) opens as if a continuation from the last song with a spry trio of classical guitar, violin, and piano. Wonderful! One of those displays of virtuosity that is both performance and compositional. Wow! We are so lucky to have this man serving this fare to us in 2019! (10/10)

6. "Simple Simon" (5:33) opening with a heavy fullness as if coming from a late 1960s blues-rock band--the swirl of the dirty Hammond organ especially. Though the music quickly transitions into a more modern sound palette, the  lead guitar sound and grungy Hammond remain throughout. The vocal and successive instrumental soli remain consistent and true to the opening compositional choice of sober portentousness. (9.25/10)

7. "Humpty Dumpty" (6:41) A TPE gift in the form of a folk rock song. Comparisons elude me though the sounds, styles, and riffs are so familiar to me! TPE's multi-instrumental machine-gun bursts confuse and distract one from divining the essence beneath. Fuzz guitar, bouncing and swirling Hammond, Claire Torey-like background voices, and deeply driving bass and rhythm lines. The song's only flaw is a sad return to the drumming style and sounds of TPE albums of old. (13.5/15)

8. "Rewrite the Rhymes" (7:54) some old sounds (chunky bass, Hammond) help drive this emotional and almost frenetic song. The song construct is masterful, the instrumental performances flawless, the sound palette at times awkward, the sound engineering inconsistent. (12.5/15)

Total Time 51:15

91.52 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music. Once again TPE comes through to show us how it's done--to educate today's artists as to the standards of sophistication and force that the original prog artists of the 1970s aspired to.




11. HAMMOCK Silencia

I totally resonate with the word "resolution" that I've seen used to describe the music of this album; the grieving process that began with 2017's Mysterium must be complete (as complete as grieving ever gets) for that is the feeling one comes away with after hearing this collection of calm, soothing songs. And we, the public, are so blessed for Marc Byrd's choice to process his grief through his amazing music. As I listen to this absolutely gorgeous music, I am bathed in feelings of peace, of relief, of completion and readiness for the journey to pick up and start again, anew, refreshed, after a much needed long and healing delay. Would that all humans were able to find such means to process their emotional challenges; it is a flaw in the human design that so few ever reach the heights of artistic perfection that Marc and Andrew do; it is a gift that some of us get to experience their artful expression.
     As other reviewers have noted, this music may be more accurately categorized as ambient or neo-classical though the Post Rock label works, too.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marc Byrd / composer, performer & producer
- Andrew Thompson / composer, performer & producer


1. "Circular As Our Way" (7:00) strings, muted horns, voices at the end (14/15)

2. "Silencia" (5:09) slow and unevolving, it's about constancy. And backdrop. (8.5/10)


3. "When It Hurts to Remember" (6:16) very much like a BERSARIN QUARTETT song; very little development or change. (8.5/10)


4. "Afraid to Forget" (7:08) haunting female choir and organ and, later, strings, all repeating the same Inception/Harry Potter-like theme. Big shift for the final two minutes. (13.5/15)


5. "Saudade" (5:18) horns, strings, and distant choir carrying "arpeggio" of three descending "chords" for five minutes with varying volume, dynamic, and with occasional addition of other solo instrument like cello, synth "underwater bleep" and others. (9/10)


6. "In the Shattering of Things" (5:51) a song that affirms how amazingly evocative music can be. Stunningly gorgeous. A song that pierces me to the core. (10/10)


7. "We Try to Make Sense of It All" (3:56) Piano! and then, Cello! Multiple strings! A modern day chamber quintet masterpiece. With choir of angels! Wow! (10/10)


8. "Slowly You Dissolve" (5:18) slowly shifting low chords with heavily treated electric guitar harmonics and single notes played, one slowly decaying note at a time, over the top almost ROBIN GUTHRIE-like. Strings join in toward the end of the third minute and begin to take the fore. Brilliant. (8.75/10)


9. "Fascinans" (4:16) slow, murky horn arpeggio joined by synth/strings to expand each "note" into a chord and then add embellishments from individual stringed instruments. Beautiful like a lullaby for mermaids. Effected choir is added to the mix in the fourth minute to back the viola and cello as they sing the lead melody. (9/10)


10. "Life is Life" (3:48) 
low end horns muted and synth washed open this one while whispery things play about at the other end. Then the treble register intensifies as the Icarus-flighty things soar and dissolve. Another piece of emotive genius. (9.5/10)

11. "Without Form and Void" (8:05) quite heavenly--not unlike some of the gentler, more slowly scored work of BATTLESTATIONS, DAVID DARLING or New Age masters like STEVE ROACH. (13.5/15)

Total Time: 62:05

Songs that sound like they could have come from soundtracks by HANS ZIMMER or CLINT MANSELL or albums by Post Rock bands like ULVER, THE BERSARIN QUARTETT, JAKOB, or GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR. 
Having explored many of the earlier Hammock releases, I am quite convinced that this is the finest and most mature musical release of this band thus far. Well done!

91.4 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a masterpiece of neoclassical/ambient Post Rock music.




12. BENT KNEE You Know What They Mean

The avant prog Berklee grads are back with their first really refreshingly new and idiosyncratic album since 2014's Shiny Eyed Babies. And what a welcomed sound it is!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Courtney Swain / lead vocals, keyboards
- Ben Levin / guitar, backing vocals
- Vince Welch / synth, guitar, sound design, producer & mixer
- Chris Baum / violin
- Jessica Kion / bass, backing vocals
- Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth / drums

1. "Lansing" (1:22) a weird mic outtake from some concert on one of their tours. Not sure why or what it means. 

2. "Bone Rage" (4:13) despite the roiling opening, this one kicks in like an early RUSH song--but it's trumped by Courtney's vocal and some of the other unexpected shifts in directions that the band and the music takes. (8.5/10)

3. "Give Us the Gold" (3:51) near-disco electro-pulse opens the song before a heavily effected guitar strum opens the door for Courtney's vocal performance to enter. For the first minute it's pretty much her voice and some occasional bass and click track, but then everybody kicks in, each instrument contributing something unique, creative, and bold. The band comes together for each "give us the gold" chorus but then scatters to canvass a wide spectrum of sounds. Such an unusual sound and rhythm palette! Bravo! for your courage and confidence! My first top three song. (9.5/10)

4. "Hold Me In" (4:50) Courtney's heavily reverbed voice is still singing all-out despite being mixed a little more within (or behind) the rhythm instruments. The band is very busy with many layers of information noodling in and out and around Courtney--but it all somehow blends together so well. I think because the melody line of the chorus is so powerful. There is a dreamy section in the second half which provides some great contextual perspective from the heavier, more dynamic sections before and after. (9/10)

5. "Egg Replacer" (3:10) founded on an odd rhythm as produced by an unusual combination of  percussion instruments. As the choruses build a cool and unique plus one of layers start to finish of each. (8/10)

6. "Cradle of Rocks" (4:00) part BLONDIE, part TOM TOM CLUB and TALKING HEADS, this is a hard rocker with a techno edge to it over which Courtney's heavily reverbed voice is tucked back in the mix. (She still manages to steal the show due to her full on 100 decibels voice.) (9/10)

7. "Lovell" (1:27) I love these little cut outs from crowd interactions during their concert tours. I'd love to know the reasons they chose the ones they did.

8. "lovemenot" (5:10) opens like something from THE BEATLES Revolver and remains bass heavy throughout. (8.75/10)

9. "Bird Song" (2:56) so raw and unadulterated--as if Vince just happened to catch Courtney playing at the piano while she was trying out some new song for her next solo album. Very cool! I love this song and the authenticity of the raunchy, choppy sound. (9.25/10)

10. "Catch Light" (4:39) opens a little like Madonna's "Justify my Love" before the heavy power chords of the second minute. The contributions from each and every one of the instruments on this song are remarkable and fascinating throughout. Courtney's singing is actually the rock that holds it all together. Cool! Genius! Top three song for me. (10/10)

11. "Garbage Shark" (5:38) rolling single note bass and plucked violin with heavily effected guitar form the sparse background over which Courtney sings in a very ethereal, delicate voice--until the heavy chorus sections, the final one of which is particularly powerful. Very psychedelic. (9/10)

12. "Golden Hour" (5:51) a little MEW, a little ANATHEMA, an extraordinary song. Top three for me. (10/10)

13. "It Happens" (5:05) sets up as a kind of quirky New Wave jazz tune (Arto Lindsay & The Ambitious Lovers come to mind)--very engaging and relaxed with a kind of relaxed Ska beat and dissonant de-tuned instrumental tapestry. So cool! A dream sequence in the middle that is very pleasant and effective. (9.5/10)

Total Time 52:12

I love this album! I love this new direction the band has chosen! I endorse this wholeheartedly. Bravo and kudos Courtney, Ben, Jessica, Chris, Gavin, and Vince!

91.36 on the Fishscales = A-/Five stars; a minor masterpiece of refreshing new and creative modern progressive rock music and the band's best thing since Shiny Eyed Babies.




13. KARFAGEN Echoes from Within The Dragon's Island

How many people really have the time (not to mention patience and ability to focus) to really get to know a 53-minute piece of music? Though I've owned this for a while, it's taken me a long time to pull together a review. I had begun, in my now-usual style, to put together a minute-by-minute report by keeping notes from various partial listens, when frustration and time brought me to my wits end. So, instead, this is what you get. Impressions and comments.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Antony Kalugin / keyboards, vocals, penny flute, percussion, composer & arranger, programming & mixing
With:
- Olha Rostovska / vocals
- Tim Sobolev / vocals
- Sergey Obolonkov / vocals
- Roman Gorielov / vocals, acoustic guitar
- Olga Vodolazkaya / vocals, acoustic guitar (12)
- Max Velychko / electric & acoustic guitars
- Sergii Kovalov / accordion, vocals
- Georgiy Katunin / wheel lyre (1)
- Maria Baranovska / violin
- Alexandr Pastuchov / bassoon
- Elena Kushiy / flute
- Igor Solovey / French horn
- Tatiana Kurilko / English horn
- Michail Sidorenko / alto sax (5)
- Oleg Prokhorov / bass
- Viktor Syrotin / drums
- Kostya Shepelenko / drums (5,7,8,12)

1. "Dragon Island Suite (Part 1)" (17:17) Nice sound--very nice sound engineering despite the participation of many, many performers, many, many instruments, many, many themes, and, thus, many, many tracks.
     Sometimes exotic instruments or nuanced inputs occur so fleetingly or subtly that I am sad to see them go while I keep distracting my attention by looking for their return. Many of the vocal appearances strike me in this way.
     What is this story about? There are very few lyrics to give me any leads. Should I have to have a companion guide?
     How many themes, motifs, and movements are necessary to tell this story?
     The sound is really good! The instruments and voices, in their many, many layers, are recorded and mixed better than any other project that Antony Kalugin has put together. (Has he upped his keyboard selection and/or recording equipment?)
     The vocalists have a great command of English! Very little accent--and sounds a bit like young Roger Waters. There is a lot of familiarity in this music to many of the themes published by Colin Tench over the years--and one of the main male vocalists to the narrative voice stylings of one of Colin's main men, Peter Jones. There's even a little of the best of Andy Tillison in the lead male vocalist as well. (31.5/35)

2. "Dragon Island Suite (Part 2)" (18:41) Very symphonic in a Tchaikovsky kind of way rather than Italian operatic (I think I'm being influenced by the strong Nutcracker themes in the second part of the Dragon Suite.
     Beautiful lush theme in the 21st minute before going back to Nutcracker/Swan Lake melody themes.
     22:00 - Ant Phillips' 1984! Wonderful!
     Anton is doing a magnificent job of mixing the modern/electric instrumentation with the acoustic/traditional (like accordion).
     26:50 - Genesis with accordion base?! Excellent Tony Banksian section from here into the 29th minute--beautiful--becoming more and more Genesis-like (even with accordion) into and through the 30th.
     The group vocal in the 31st minute sounds so STRAWBS-like! The music builds, helped by the use of full choir, before then dropping off for a brief pianissimo piano part and then exploding back into a full-on whole group denouement with electric guitar solo to help cap off the end of Part 2 of the Suite. (38/40)

3. "My Bed Is A Boat" (2:45) is a beautiful classical guitar-supported flute and oboe piece that serves as a nice interlude before Part 3 of the Suite. (4.5/5)

4. "Dragon Island Suite (Part 3)" (16:32) Here is where we finally get into the syrupy New Age-y stuff that I'm used to hearing in an Anton Kalugin project. The guy could write great soundtrack music for children's television. 
     In the sixth minute a soloing electric guitar gets cooking before being joined and supplanted by some keys. At 6:50 there is a break as solo synth sets another, more mysterious mood before male voices join in with a chant about ancient stars. This is the beginning of the "Valley of the Kings" section. Eventually the chant is drowned out by a continuously thickening layering of fast-moving instruments. Sounds very, very much like THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE here with many instruments trading the spotlight and many solos overlapping or seeming to "talk" to one another. Silly chase theme in the thirteenth minute is highlighted by brief flourishes of Keith Emerson-like Moog. At 13:52 the pace changes as if some resolution has occurred and the army is collecting itself into a cheering march formation. Two themes are carried forward and echoed off one another until a slow down ushers in a calming outro in the sixteenth minute. (26/30)

Overall, there is very little that I dislike about this album--not even one theme--nor are there many deficiencies in awkward instrumentation choices or sound mix. I only wish I didn't feel that Part 2's main themes and form weren't lifted from Tchaikovsky and that the Part 3 opening and foundation weren't so syrupy.

Total time 55:35

90.91 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and my favorite Antony Kalugin product in a long time.




14. ARNAUD BUKWALD La marmite cosmique V

Master synthesist of familiar musical styles Arnaud Bukwald is back with the fifth installment of his fascinating "La marmite cosmique" series of album releases--all of which seem to choose several prog subgenres or specific artists from the past to emulate. What makes Arnaud's work so unusual and enjoyable, though, is that though you recognize the sounds and the styles within each song, the compositions and performances are all so fresh--it's as if he has discovered old tapes or manuscripts from past masters that no one has ever heard and then performed and published them himself.

     I think his work genius. Whereas on previous "marmite cosmique" releases he has masterfully replicated the sounds of such stalwarts as Frank Zappa, Greg Lake, Genesis, Camel, Mike Oldfield, Pink Floyd, as well as many, many Canterbury and Krautrock artists (as well as many modern artists), this one presents some Zeuhl, modern West Coast Psychedelia, Berlin School, as well as electronic masters like JEAN-MICHEL JARRE.

  Line-up / Musicians:
- Arnaud Bukwald / all instruments
- Cherry Pob / vocals (1,4)

1. "Zöhr" (12:27) opens like POPUL VUH before presenting the theatricality of MAGMA and then turning into the engaging melody-delivery medium of BRAINTICKET, this song rocks like CAMEL and it surprises and it sucks you in like KLAUS DOLDINGER's PASSPORT with its grooves, twists and turns, instrumental sounds and skills, not to mention its multiple earworm melodic hooks and ecstatic choral Zeuhlish parts. The best prog epic I've heard so far in this year of 2019. (24/25)

2. "New Dawn" (2:05) West Coast funk on the level of STARVING DAUGHTERS and BRIAN ELLIS. Awesome! Another little gem of Arnaud's that I wish went on and on. (That's why we have repeat and playlist mixes.)  (5/5)

3. "Mandarine" (5:46) wonderful Kosmische Musik of the Berlin School ilk. (9/10)

4. "Kinky Boots" (3:58) funky psychedelia that doesn't work as well as "New Dawn." Nice elements but they don't gel as well as I'd like. (7.5/10)

5. "Theremoon" (9:24) opens with some light, playful fairy-like TANGERINE DREAM or JEAN-MICHEL JARRE synth play which is then joined by dobro, percussion and another wooden flute-like synth playing mostly in the lower registers. I can't quite peg the influences/references, but I like it. A lot. Cool space weave. Maybe KITARO or Larry Fast's SYNERGY or Patrick MORAZ's I  (or a combination of all of the above) are also appropriate comparisons. Just before the 4:00 mark a truly spacey synth makes a brief appearance before African hand drums enter. While the song never really goes anywhere too exciting or unexpected, it contains great weaves throughout and incorporates genius sound/instrument selections. (18/20)

Total Time 33:40

90.71 on the Fishscales = A-/5 stars; a minor masterpiece of wonderfully creative, nostalgic instrumental progressive rock music.




15. MONO Nowhere, Now Here

Japanese Post Rock veterans release their 10th album in 20 years and continue to demonstrate their willingness and drive to grow and evolve by offering major synthesized electronic sound washes as ample aqueous solutions in which to launch, buoy, and bathe the vehicles of their instrumental constructs. They have been kind of stumbling along, trying to grow and try new things in recent years but their efforts have not proven successful critically or in sales. Here, now, they have broken several old Mono patterns: with first lineup change ever with new drummer Dahm Majuri Cipolla, rampant and all-pervasive use of electronics (computer keyboards? or MIDI?) and Tamaki's debut vocal.

Line-up / Musicians:
Takaakira 'Taka' Goto - guitar
Tamaki - bass, vocal (3)
Yoda - guitar
Dahm Majuri Cipolla - drums

1. "God Bless" (1:44) "warped record" orchestral strings! It's all warped: "horns," too! Very cool! Like something from a David Sylvian record. (5/5)

2. "After You Comes the Flood" (5:36) dirty, raspy synths and guitars fade into this one for a long (0:56) introduction before the full band burst forth with a solid chord progression within which the familiar MONO tremolo guitar playing moves around. Drumming is very solid, bass is loud and super-chunky, guitars are insistent. A little lull at the end of the third minute allows for a second burst into full frontal brutality--this time with the right channel guitar going rogue and freaky. Awesome stuff! Gets the adrenaline pumping to hear the band firing on all cylinders again. A top three song for me. (9.5/10)

3. "Breathe" (5:24) slow low end synth "horn" chord washes open this one before the breathy "ANNE PIGALLE-like voice of Tamaki enters. Wow! This is different! And awesome! A MONO torch song! It's gorgeous if a little two-dimensional. (9/10)

4. "Nowhere, Now Here" (10:24) opens with gentle, background untreated guitar slow-picked arpeggi before solo electric guitar enters and, then bass and slow drums and "horn" synth chords. After a brief pregnant pause, the full band jumps in with great force and a great weave (with synth strings?) at 3:15. What ensues is beautiful, insistent, emotional, and powerful. At 5:05 the drums and bass start a constant quick-pulse just before a break in which the two guitars continue playing off of each other in their own repetitive styles. Bass and snare rolls reenter in the second half of the seventh minute and then kick drum. At 7:50 everything gets loosed but this is weak until the tremolos really speed up and the cymbal crashes get going. I don't like the drums' backing off as the guitars continue screaming. (17/20)

5. "Far and Further" (5:41) guitar arpeggi with heavy reverb is counterpointed by gently picking guitar and then by super chorused and two channeled guitar strums and thick bass notes. Nice weave that stays mellow until the three minute mark when bass drum and bowed instrument check in. At 3:40 the raunchy electric guitar tremolos show up as cymbals and orchestral sounds join. Never reaches fast speed or frenetic playing, but effectively conveys a mood. (8.75/10)

6. "Sorrow" (8:30) the two guitars, with their two styles, playing gently, each with more lush electronic effects that usual, before steady blues-rock drums join in until the two minute mark when a pulse of bass and wall of shifting orchestral strings chords joins in for fifty seconds pure beauty. Then things get quiet and more sparse again for thirty seconds before swaths of "singular" strings begin swooping in and around the music to the most gorgeous, emotional effect. At 4:45 the beat intensifies as the drums and bass begin pounding and crashing while the musical soundscape becomes awash in the thickness of a constant kind of tremolo. Beginning at the end of the eighth minute Taka's full-chord tremolos with keyboard mirror bombard and bathe us until the song's Berlin School sequenced demise in the final 30 seconds. Definitely a top three song; probably my favorite song on the album. (19/20)

7. "Parting" (4:25) piano and strings! It's so MONO but it's unlike anything they've ever done before. Could be Jesy Chiang and her CICADA band. Very pretty, very emotional. (8.75/10)

8. "Meet Us Where the Night Ends" (9:05) opens with odd sequence (arpeggio) of computer-sampled vocal loops before guitar arpeggio joins in. Very cool! At the one minute mark a second guitar enters playing some echoed and spaciously placed notes. In the third minute the second guitarist doubles his slow pace as bass and cymbals (and then full drums) and "orchestration" join in. Not very complex music but all threads are woven into a nice tapestry. Around 3:20 things break down to the original voice and guitar foundation before low-end guitar tremolo and orchestral strings' rising and falling chord progression ensues. Drums re-emerge at the five minute mark. Searing electric guitar flames in at 5:36 to add his emotional input. At 6:45 drummer signals "it's time to get real" as everybody seems to amp up their intensity (especially the drums--which erupt into full freak out mode at 7:17). Awesome! And different! (18/20)

9. "Funeral Song" (3:21) flutey church organ swirling around a cycle of a few chords before a sequence of "trumpet plus horn chords" join in. And woven together with some reverb and other effects and that's it! Awesome! (9/10)

10. "Vanishing, Vanishing Maybe" (6:14) Yoda's heavily reverbed guitar arpeggi (on the left) are soon joined by Taka's own louder sound on the right. Add Wurlitzer-like organ in the second minute. The melodies and harmonic structure here is so cool, so familiar. Drum kit enters at 2:10. Sounds like practice, nothing too challenging or groundbreaking in terms of structure until the third ROBIN GUTHRIE-like shoe-gaze guitar comes sliding in at 3:28. Now that is cool! Just a solid COCTEAU TWINS instrumental. (8.75/10)

90.60 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music--one of the few Post Rock albums that have ever earned five stars from me, but this is a dazzling display of the core basic best that the sub-genre has to offer juxtaposed with a band's maturity plus the rewards it can reap with it's willingness to take risks and try new things. Bravo! Taka, Tamaki and Yoda for your metamorphosis.




16. STEVE UNRUH Precipice

Steve Unruh is, to be sure, a refreshing whirlwind of energy, virtuosity, and sonic excellence, whether he is operating with his own material or his numerous contributions to and/or collaborations with other prog artists. His fearless mastery of dozens of instruments alone is worthy of avid attention and respect, but his skill in the engineering and production room is, to me, equally astonishing; his presence has, in my humble opinion, vastly improved the performance levels as well as sound quality in every project with which he has been involved. 
Precipice is listed as Steve's ninth solo release (since 1997! I always think of him as a "young newcomer"!) There are, without doubt, some monster songs and performances here but, as before, I find Steve's personal song structure a bit of an acquired taste (especially his voice)--one that I have not yet mastered (acquired). As with many prog artists, I marvel at his instrumental prowesses as well as his compositional choices (in terms of both instrumental palette and directionally), yet, at the end of the day, find myself never completely connecting to his music. I truly appreciate his contributions to Prog World--especially the way he champions the acoustic side of rock instrumentation but also in his dedicated commitment to manual mastery of the instruments he chooses. (Did I mention that Steve plays all the instruments by himself as well as composed, self-engineered, and self-produced this album?)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steve Unruh / violin, flute, vocals, guitar, sitar, bass, drums, keyboards, mandolin, kalimba, angklung, percussion, composer

1. "Luxury Denial" (10:38) a totally unique, pop-folkie JTULL-esque set of songs melded and packaged into a nice 11-minute epic. (18/20)

2. "Uncharted Waters" (4:18) opens with a sad kind of minor chord pop feel with electric guitar and keyboard chords while Steve sings. The flute playing is great. (8.5/10)

3. "Send the Sunshine" (5:41) pure retro-JTULL for fast-movin' flute-driven first 2:30, then things slow down to a more old-time folk feel (Contra dance, anyone?) as the strings (violin, bass, take turns at the front and center for a couple minutes. When the music returns to full speed in the fifth minute, the violin keeps the lead while a full complement of folk-rock instruments bob and weave in support. (8.75/10)

4. "Reckoning" (9:00) opens gently, spaciously, with part-Will Ackerman, mostly-Spanish feel as acoustic guitars dominate until the light Spanish tapestry fills and settles into a supporting role for Steve to sing over. Things darken and deepen in a Porcupine Tree way in the third minute. As the song gets progressively heavier (matched by Steve's aggressive delivery of angry lyrics), I'm really liking this; that fourth minute was awesome. The fifth minute ends with a solo Spanish guitar, which is then joined by Steve's GENTLE GIANT/IAN ANDERSON-like singing in the sixth. At 6:30 an instrumental section begins imply though ominously before slowly building into a full band exposition with trilling flute, electric guitar, and violin trading solos. (18/20)

5. "Suspension" (2:09) kalimba and African percussion supporting flute solo. Nice African-feeling melody! (4.5/5)

6. "Constellation" (5:39) strummed acoustic guitar with Steve singing. Joined at the one minute mark by trip hoppy drum program and sitar. Interesting instrumental choices! At the two minute mark another shift takes us into some gut-wrenchingly beautiful music:  chords, harmonics, melodies, it's all orgasmically gorgeous! But then it reverts back to acoustic guitar--this time picked in arpeggiated chords--with support from bass. At the end of the fifth minute multiple wind instruments enter. It sounds so ANTHONY PHILLIPS-ish! Then children's voices enter to signal the beginning of the song's deconstruction and finish. Beautiful! (9.5/10)

7. "Precipice" (9:42) opens sounding as if Porcupine Tree and KBB had teamed up around 2002. Great chorus with "silly life" lyric! The amped up passion in Steve's voice starting at the end of the third minute is so powerful and moving! There's a lot of familiar sound and feel here to the music of much under-appreciated GUY MANNING. Actually makes me want to cue up some of Guy's solo albums. Nice TONY PATTERSON-like vocal layering in the seventh minute--after which the soundscape broadens out with mandolin and lots of guitars in support of an instrumental section. UNITOPIA-sounding section as the vocals pick back up in the ninth minute. Glad to hear the return of that awesome chorus one more time before the song builds into its finale. Excellent! (18.5/20)

Total Time 47:07

I find it interesting that Steve had just completed a significant collaboration with UNITOPIA founder MARK TRUECK on this year's UNIVERSAL PROGRESSIVE FRATERNITY release, Planetary Overload, Part 1 - Loss--and album that I am very familiar and fond of--because there were many times, both sonically and lyrically, in which I found myself thinking I was back in that UPF album--even vocally!

90.26 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor-masterpiece of progressive rock music coming from the folk-rock angle.




17. FUZZ PUDDLE Speciecide

A bit of the wit, intelligence, and mood presented by ARTO LINDSAY (and The Ambitious Lovers), CHEER-ACCIDENT, 3RDEGREE, THE CARDIACS, NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, XTC, BRIAN ENO, ARCADE FIRE, ECHOLYN, SANGUINE HUM, KNIFEWORLD, and JOHANNES LULEY.

Line-up / Musicians: 
Rob Maher - Vox, Pianos, Effects, Theramin, Harp 
Matthew Thornton - Drums, Cello, Guitar, Pianos, Vox, Banjo, Trombone, Thumb Piano, Percussion 
Win Ridabock - Flutes, "Okay"

1. "Spectre At The Feast" (4:59) male singing in an upper register over an almost-Rasta-rhythm beat. I feel as if I'm on an AMBITIOUS LOVERS album! Great lyrics! Great melodies--especially in the chorus--and great, simple, spacious chordal presentation. Amazing song! One of my favorite songs of 2019. (10/10)

2. "Matter Of Time" (6:52) cheesy drum machine, full synth bass notes, and a whispery reverbed voice open this one. Intermittent computer incidentals are interjected here and there until the two minute mark when drums enter and establish their own "steady" presence. (Nice drumming!) Interesting interplay between percussion and computer glitch noises in the fourth minute before deep bass chord and flute join in. Back to original starkness at 4:15 for spoken singing to rejoin. I love the contrasts between spacious sections and those with full soundscapes. Very RADIOHEAD-like final 90 seconds. Cool song. Original. (14/15)

3. "Take Drugs Everyday" (5:56) ("Pharmaceutical grade.") Hillarious! Speedy two-chord cello arpeggi lays the foundation for electric piano and vocal to enter. Eventually drums enter. They expand during chorus. More computer effects/"music noise" used as the soloist in the instrumental parts, trombone in the third and fourth ones. Lemonade or red pills? (9/10)

4. "9th Life" (4:11) a song straight out of the ART LINDSAY catalogue! Pizzicato cello and trombone are the featured idiosyncratic instruments on this one. (8.75/10)

5. "NordGen" (5:33) so fresh and innovative. Like when ARCADE FIRE was new! So difficult to describe the odd instrumental array forming the foundation to this one as so many are computer generated--maybe all of them! Another top three song for me. (9.5/10)

6. "Pretzel Knot" (6:47) weirdly affected, well-spaced piano chords open this one before cello joins (bowed) and takes over (with pizzicato play). The lyric and singing style remind me of MICHAEL FRANKS while the chordal foundation and use of multiple incidentals reminds me of something from BRIAN ENO's 1970s solo pop albums. (13.5/15)

7. "Rooms" (3:40) fun, funny, ARTO LINDSAY-like in many ways. (8.75/10)

8. "Cold Future" (8:27) opens like a video game but then peters out (pitifully). a sparsely populated computeristic journey with spoken narration for its vocal until it becomes RADIOHEAD-like in the third minute. Not the most engaging or heart-warming song, but definitely interesting and projecting the emotion of its title. Enter Fender Rhodes at 3:30 and drums kick in as smoothly sung "you don't know what you want" section unfolds. Cool! Awesome effect by the drums and Fender Rhodes. Coldness returns with jazzy piano and drums during the fifth minute, then detuned percussion followed by tribal-sounding drums and chant section--only the instruments and voices are severely distorted by the pitch- and time-bending effects of the computer. Ingenious and powerful! (18/20)

9. "Vampire Ninja" (4:16) cowbell and fuzz guitar (synth version--DEPECHE MODE-like) establish first moderately driving pace. Pause in middle for piano before jazzy drums return and synth solos above bass synth notes. Not my favorite. (8/10)

10. "State Of The Union" (4:47) guitar arpeggi! With tons of warped sounds woven within (without?) Wow! Can these guys hit the meaning of their song titles with their music! Talk about cognitive dissonance! Singer sings his message, band moves into instrumental jazziness, then returns to support the title line chorus. (8.75/10)

Total Time 55:28

90.21 on the Fishscales =  A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and surely a masterpiece of progressive indie avant pop. One of the most refreshingly original albums of refreshing songs I've heard in a long time!




18. FLY PAN AM C'est ça

Listening to this album, these amazing blends of electrostatic sounds with happy-go-lucky Indie-pop make me think that I'm listening to the next generation of where bands like MY BLOODY VALENTINE, FUNIN, STEREOLAB, MEW, or even DAVID SYLVIAN might have evolved.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Roger Telier-Craig / vocals, guitar, electronics
- Jonathan Parant / vocals, guitar, computer
- Jean-Sebastien Truchy / bass, electronics, synthesizer, mellotron, computer
- Felix Morel / drums

1. "Avant-gardez Vous" (1:19) electrostatic weirdness. (3/5)

2. "Distance Dealer" (4:10) What if MY BLOODY VALENTINE and STEREOLAB had merged around Y2K? This might be what you'd get. AWESOME! There's definitely a little debt owed to Mark Hollis on this one, as well. A top three song. (9.5/10)

3. "Bleeding Decay" (5:37) a modern day HOLGER CZUKAY opening, only the pulsing bass and kick drum lines serve notice to a house-dance intention. 90 seconds in the music congeals into some kind of blend of early U2, Art of Noise and KITCHENS OF DISTINCTION as heavily effected vocals sing. At 3:30 a spooky immature screeching voice breaks in, turns into a kind of horn-muzzled chant before screaming once more before the guitars unleash some high octave chord tremolo strumming. Nobody's doing music like this today as far as I know. (8.75/10)

4. "Dizzy Delusions" (1:51) gorgeous seascapes provided by heavily effected guitar. Adrian Belew and Kevin Shields would be proud! (or, at least, they should be.) (5/5)

5. "Each Ether" (5:07) breaks into the race straight out of the blocks with lots of fast-pounding drum kit, machine gun bass lines, and layers of guitar and electronic sheaths. The screaming Mimi of "Bleeding Decay" returns after the 1:30 mark. 30 seconds later we're caught in some kind of David Sylvian-Robert Fripp-Brian Eno time warp as all instrumentalists repeat over and over their little four-beat riff for over a minute. Around the four minute mark a more "normal" ghost voice sings--and is backed! Quite lovely! Sounds a bit like MEW and TAME IMPALA. (9.25/10)

6. "Alienage Syntropy" (1:59) industrial noises from the percussion and electronics while drums play along with intermittent syncopated cymbals and snare rudiments. Kind of cool in a "The Waiting Room" kind of way. (4/5)

7. "One Hit Wonder" (6:57) weirdly hypnotic combo of electrostatica with groovy bass and disco/house drum beat (creating an awesome Kevin Moore/CHROMA KEY/NO-MAN/ANATHEMA kind of feel) until the half way point at which time a strange human voice begins to "screowl" over the music in a voice that sounds like a scratchy-throated cat from OOIOO who is probably being strangulated. The music is so awesome that it makes the weird vocal seem like an anomaly and, therefore, tolerable, even amusing. A top three song for me. (14/15)

8. "Discreet Channeling" (6:26) OPUS III sounds, MY BLOODY VALENTINE guitars, COLIN EDWIN bass, militaristic drums, CYNIC or DEATH's death metal growls (in female form), TOBY DRIVER's emotional intelligence, PETER GABRIEL creative production genius. The band really amps it up a couple notches for the final two minutes. Awesome track! I'd go to a disco just to dance to this one! (9/10)

9. "Interface Your Shattered Dreams" (5:37) opens as a KTICHENSCOCTEAUSLOWSTEREO DIVELABLUSHTWINSOF DISTINCTION song with a COWBOY JUNKIES BRIAN FERRY singing lead vocals...until the death metal screams at the one minute mark force everything to fall apart into a cacophonous section of sound being sucked into a black hole, riding through the eye of the needle (the Taint), and then coming back out the other end reformed, reversed, rewinded, and reborn. With more shoegaze! Wow! Brilliant! Extraordinary! Definitely a piece of prog rock genius--on par with something from prog chameleons ULVER--and my final top three song from the album. (9.5/10)

Total Time: 39:08

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/Five stars; a minor masterpiece of refreshing electro-retro-shoegaze prog rock.




Special Mention



DE LORIANS De Lorians

A new Canterbury-oriented Jazz-Rock Fusion band from Japan, of all places.

1. "Daytona" (6:14) opens with a little cacophony similar to the musics of MAGMA and the 1960s free jazz innovators like Sun Ra, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Pharoah Sanders before settling into a multi-tempoed groove that could be something The Soft Machine could've done in the mid-1970s. In the fourth minute things slow down to an almost childish, tongue-in-cheek pace and style (like a National Health maneuver) before clicking into overdrive again. Sax and electric guitar are doing most of the work up top while the bass and drums are working hard to provide the solid base below. Interesting and complex if not always enjoyable. (8.75/10)

2. "Magso" (3:59) opens with some of the drama of one of countrymen BONDAGE FRUIT's dinosaur homages. The tribalistic drums and synth "vocal" diatonic growls are cool. In the second minute, things smooth out into the purer sound of jazz-rock fusion à la CARAVAN. Then things slow down into a more hypnotic groove to the racous thirty- second end. (9.25/10)

3. "A Ship Of Mental Health" (5:21) Quirky, bouncy lounge jazz with saxes and keys enriching another CARAVAN-like soundscape before a beer-and-chip break inserts itself into the song for a bit. (I'm reminded of ANTIQUE SEEKING NUNS.) The guitar-led two chord groove that follows is great but then it dissembles into a spacious stop-and-go interlude before restarting with the sax taking a turn screaming out the lead. A switch into more John Coltrane sound turns quirky-pop with angular guitar and sax interplay. (8.75/10)

4. "Gomata" (2:01) back to some of the jazzier BONDAGE FRUIT music before a CARAVAN-like groove establishes itself while synth "saw" solos over crazy weave of all of the other instruments. (5/5)

5. "Roccotsu" (3:29) quite reminiscent of some of the most memorable CARAVAN passages: slow and deeply emotional with its melodic lead saxophone. The kind of stuff that Picchio Dal Pozzo made such a great debut album off of. The second part picks up the pace with a 1970s film score type of rhythm and keyboard tracks. Most excellent. (9.75/10)

6. "Himalia" (3:06) opening with a militaristic drum and bass pulse, keys, guitars, and sax punctuate their melodic inputs over the top in robotic fashion. In the second minute there is a shift in tempo and foundational structure as space opens up for treated sax, ebowed guitar, and wacky synth play off one another in crazy King Crimsonesque melodies. (8.75/10)

7. "Daytona - Reprise" (0:34) nice non-percussive weave of the Daytona theme.

8. "Toumai" (7:19) another classic jazz opening--almost big band-like--which settles into a slow groove for a short while before shifting into a HOMUNCULUS RES-like quirky pop weave followed by some more CARAVAN/SOFT MACHINE soundscape motifs. I feel as if CARAVAN sound palettes are common yet the structures are arranged into styles and forms that are more consistent with mid-1970s SOFT MACHINE. (13.25/15)

Total Time 32:03

Overall an enjoyable listening experience both for the sounds and styles but also for the complex tapestries pulled together by this band of tightly collaborating skilled musicians. 

90.0 on the Fishscales = A-/4.5 stars (rated down for brevity); an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you like the Canterbury side of Jazz-Rock Fusion.



Soundtrack Album of the Year


NICHOLAS BRITELL - Original Soundtrack Music to the Netflix Film The King

1. Ballade in C# Minor: Coronation (2:28)
2. Estampie – Eastcheap (1:16)
3. Song of Hal: Strings in C# Minor (5:12)
4. Tetrachord – War and Fate (2:14)
5. Canticle in E Minor (1:58)
6. Hymn – Mvmt 1: Prelude (3:53)
7. Ballade in F# Minor: Trebuchets (1:56)
8. Song of Hal: Strings in B Minor (4:20)
9. Ballade in B-flat Minor: Descent (2:23)
10. Antiphon (2:16)
11. Marche – Agincourt (2:46)
12. Hymn – Mvmt 2: Lament (3:41)
13. Tetrachord – Rex (1:26)
14. Hymn – Mvmt 3: Elegy (2:46)
15. Song of Hal: Conclusio in C Minor (4:50)