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 100 new releases from 2019.

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


The Rankings
 (My "Favorites")

1. TIRILL Said the Sun to the Moon
2. JAMBINAI Onde
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. MODERN-ROCK ENSEMBLE Night Dreams & Wishes
22. DIAGONAL Arc
23. IQ Resistance
24. CONSIDER THE SOURCE You Are Literally A Metaphor
25. CHARLIE CAWOOD Blurring Into Motion
26. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE Mother's Tales
27. EX CANIX Shaman
28. BIG BIG TRAIN Grand Tour
29. ALIO DIE & INDALASKA Tempus Fugit
30. RETROSPECTIVE Latent Advidity


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



The Reviews



Five Star Masterpieces
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34)



***  ALBUM OF THE YEAR!!!  ***


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. 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!




9. 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.





10. 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.




11. 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.





12. 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.




13. 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.




14. 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.




15. 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.




16. 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!




17. 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.



4.5 Stars; Excellent Additions to Prog World
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67)



18. ELECTRIC ASTURIAS Trinity

Line-up / Musicians:
- Satoshi Hirata / guitar 
- Tei Sena / violin 
- Yoshihiro Kawagoe / keyboards 
- Yoh Ohyama / bass, composer & arranger, production & mixing 
- Kiyotaka Tanabe / drums

1. "Closed World" (7:13) opens with some aggressive classical piano arpeggi before full rock band joins in with violin repeating the same opening sequence of arpeggi. The melodic pattern is engaging enough to keep the listener pinned while other instruments take turns soloing with variations on the main theme or, with stops and starts, going into other movements. The weaves of the three lead instruments gets clever with harmonized threads and chords. Very pleasant, clean, interesting, and engaging song start to finish with, of course, very high caliber skills in the composition and musicianship departments. (13.5/15)

2. "Wuthering Heights" (5:54) bouncy, peppy, though a little straightforward with melodies that become a little tiresome no matter how many different ways they play them. sounds like a song from GENESIS And Then There Were Three... without the lyrics, of course. (8.25/10)


3. "Skelter"(4:38) opens with a reversed piano chord á la YES 1972 before the band comes crashing through like a train out of a tunnel travelling at top speed. Great melodies from Tei Sena and support play--especially from the piano of Yoshihiro Kawagoe. The soloing skills of guitarist Satoshi Hirata are great though his lines aren't quite as melodic or emotional as Sena's. (Is it just the nature of the instrument? I think not.) (9.25/10)

4. "Crow" (8:08) sounding part classical, part jazz, and part country from the very start, this one could be a song from Edgar Meyer's Goat Rodeo or Jean-Luc Ponty's less electric albums. The weave begun at 1:29 is awesome but the rhythmic emphasis in the section beginning at 1:46 is amazing! Such skill! Such beauty! All this and the real meat of the song doesn't begin to reveal itself until 3:18 and 3:49! Great bass sound. Great whole-band weave. And then there's the awesome tension build in the second half of the sixth minute before the gentle tease and full dénouement for the seventh minute. Could've gone higher, but, still, I am happy with the gentle, gorgeous ending. Probably the best song on the album! (14.25/15)

5. "Rogus" (8:46) strings and tango-jazzy piano open this one before full band join in and electric guitar establishes the lead melody with violin playing second fiddle. The two trade variations on the melodic theme established first by the guitar over the first couple minutes as bass, piano, and drums float like waves in support. A quiet section exposes the piano for another tango-like movement as chunky bass solos in time with drums. Nice! I love the piano play! Dirty guitar enters to solo. Quite skilled and jazzy if still not as emotional as the violin or piano. There are a lot of similarities to this guitar sound and play to MIREK GIL and STEVE HACKETT. It gets better and more under your skin as the song progresses. Great song! Just love that tango-piano foundation! (18/20)

- Suite Of "Gorgon" :

6. I - Medusa (5:11) slow chord shifting church organ opens this one before bells join in. Ominous and awesome! Then about a minute in the full band jumps in with its own classical Phantom of the Opera-like theme music. Very Italian in it's dramatic set up. (Except for the organ opening, this could be either LA COSCIENZA DI ZENO or INGRANAGGI DELLA VALLE here). (8.9/10)

7. II - Sthenno (7:30) opening with heavily distorted bass, delicate cymbal play, and then violin before piano introduces the real pace and form at 0:50. The song is very chunky, very thick like WOBBLER and angular like ÄNGLAGÅRD. The dirty violin solo in the fourth minute is very wild and frenetic. The KOTEBEL-like music that follows ushers in the return of the heavily distorted bass as the violin seems to dance around it. Then, at 4:45 there is an emptying as the bass is allowed to repeat the opening section. Great complex and tightly performed symphonic prog song. (13.25/15)

8. III - Euryale (8:51) opens with some deliciously supported violin play--amazingly gorgeous melodies. The music switches to a little more chop in the second minute--including in the violin and guitar melody play. It's good, just quite as powerful as the opening section. Very nice technically-demanding weave in the fourth minute. The violin puts on a show in the fifth minute while the band beneath gets heavier and switches to minor chords for a little bit. I take it that the violin is representing Perseus and the electric guitar the gorgon. Quite a struggle! Won, of course, by the violin--which leads to a final section in which the powerful and plaintive melody of the opening section are repeated and reinforced. (18/20)

Total time 56:11

89.91 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of beautiful, technically skilled jazz fusion/progressive rock music.

My first question is: How, and I'm serious, HOW can someone rate this album a one star effort?!! It's not even a matter of taste, one cannot help but recognize and, hopefully, acknowledge the mastery on display here. My follow-up second question: How many one star raters can compose and play at this level of proficiency??




19. MODERN-ROCK ENSEMBLE Night Dreams & Wishes

Vlad Gorashchenko is back with another ride into the wild world of his own imagination and this time he has upped his game BIGLY! Production values, compositional and melodic sophistication, sound and engineering qualities have all improved dramatically! After the over-inflated reaction to the previous album, I was ready to skip this one--in the expectation of "more of the same" but, I am so glad I didn't! This one really is worth checking out, all you katzenjammers! Especially if you appreciate complex, layered symphonic prog in the vein of THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE, Arjen Lucassen's multifarious projects, the Colossus/Musea retro prog themed projects, and even Devvy Townsend's Ziltoid the Omniscient.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Vladimir Gorashchenko / keyboards, synths, acoustic and electric, 6-string & 12 string guitars, recorder, percussion, lead & backing vocals, composer, arranger & producer 
With: 
- Max Velychko / electric & acoustic (5) guitars, drums demos, timpani 
- Enver Izmailov / guitar, e-bow 
- Bogdan Gumenyuk / soprano & tenor saxes, flute 
- Igor Andriyevsky / violin 
- Vitaliy Leonov / violin 
- Konstantin Kuleba / viola 
- Sergey Petrov / cello 
- Igor Zakus / fretless bass 
- Dmitriy Trifonov / fretted bass 
- Taras Pivlek / contrabass 
- Evgeniy Selezniov / drums 
- Brody Green / drums 
- Alexey Gordiyenko, Vladimir Gorashchenko, Andrew Nazarenko, Eugene Sokolenko, Tamara Gorashchenko, Oksana Chernetz, Anna Danilova, Illia Yakovlev / chorus vocals 
- Alexander Kotov / backing & co-lead (12) vocals 
- Anastasiia Gorashchenko / female voices 
- Tamara Gorashchenko / kids voices 
- Anna Danilova / kids voices

1. "Intro" (3:01) a beautiful multi-instrument intro to the album, with lush key washes supporting the inputs contributions of many solo instrumental "voices." Nice start! (5/5)

2. "Overture" (5:52) introduces several of the melodic themes that recur over the course of this 78-minute suite, including one that replicates Roye Albrighton's gorgeous main theme from "Always," a song from the 2004 NEKTAR album, Evolution, and another that sounds like it comes from ELP's Tarkus. It really is an overture! (9.5/10)

3. "Night Comes - Dreams" (11:09) nice co-opting of familiar sounds. (17.5/20):

- "Night's Creeping in Town" - classical guitar with synth wash backgrounds and flute give this a very STEVE HACKETT sound.

- "Morpheus the God of Night Dreams" - Fretless bass and a switch to steel-string guitar changes things. As Vladimir (or Alexander Kotov?) begins to sing I feel as if I am in the land of THE FLOWER KINGS. Even the two different background singers, first male and then female, do little to change this impression. Fender Rhodes finishes in the lead.

- "First Voyage with Morpheus" - echo effects give the new sound an aqueous feel--like JOHN MARTYN with his Echoplex guitar. 

"Second Voyage with Morpheus" - At the 6:40 mark the electric guitar establishes a nice muted strum pattern which supports flute, acoustic guitar picking, and sustained reverse guitar soloing (á la Mr. Fripp in the Eno days).
- "Third Voyage with Morpheus" - at 8:45 a new palette still based in the Echoplex percussive strumming ushers in two competing soloing saxophones along with bass and, eventually, full drums and screaming DAVID GILMOUR The Wall-sound guitar solo.

4. "Barocco Scherzo - Fourth Voyage with Morpheus" (2:03) recorder and second flute with church organ. Nice mediæval sound to it--even the melody. (4.5/5)

5. "Childhood & School Days" (11:31) (16.5/20):

- "The Gang of Young Roosters" - opens with a little cacophonous chaos--like a school playground. What comes out of it is quite NEXUS-like--keys, prominent bass and drums, wailing electric guitars, and Hammond organ.

- "Nostalgia for Childhood" - solo piano opens this section in a PSYCHIC EQUALIZER-like way--very emotional melody lines--joined by Mellotron, whistling, and blues COLIN TENCH-lke electric guitar in the fourth minute. Nostalgic is the truth!

- "Childhood" - electrified acoustic guitar with voices reciting a nursery rhyme before transverse flute takes the lead--into kind of an IAN ANDERSON direction.

- "Time Runs Ahead" - Music picks up with full band for a very short spell before

- "Mother's Lullaby" - settling back into original form.

- "School Days" - opens with heavily beaten toms, saw-synth, full band and aggressive vocal singing about "school days." Soloing saxophone is used to fill between vocal verses & choruses. Nice EMERSONian synth solo in the second half of the ninth minute before song moves into a more jazzy dreamy section with Aarp and bass soloing. The vocals here are a bit weak--or, rather, unfitting.

- "Time Runs Ahead" - THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE-like
- "First Love" - brief innocuous finish.

6. "Insomnia" (3:44) sounds like the Canterbury-esque music used beneath the story-telling of Gilli Smyth in MOTHER GONG's Fairy Tales only without the vocals. (8.75/10)

7. "Dark Kingdom & The Evil King, Part 1" (7:38) very good conveyor of drama. (13.75/15):

- "Dark Kingdom" - symphonic THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE-like with loads of drama in the music.

- "The Ball in the Dark Kingdom" - an instrumental section that opens full on JETHRO TULL before shifting a little beneath the flute.

- "The Evil King" - bombastic church organ with background electric guitars screaming, this sounds quite a little like DANNY ELFMAN's Nightmare Before Christmas soundtrack. It's effective.

- "Evil is Spreading Around" - great guitar solo, the best section of the song.

- "Life of the Poor People" - solo classical guitar, Steve Hackett-like, then brief harpsichord before finishing with finger-picking guitar and flute.

8. "Dark Kingdom & The Evil King, Part 2" (11:19) great story telling with just titles and instrumental music (19.25/20):

- "Despair, Fear & Hesitations" - more TPE--even the melodies!

- "Uprising" - ELP all the way! Great!

- "First Battles and Small Victories" - OUTSTANDING section! Awesome keys and truly outstanding electric guitar soloing. Really captures the action and emotion.

- "The Main Battle: a) We are Winning!? b) Trapped by the King's Troops c) King's Troops are Surrounding and Defeating the Rebels" - sounds like a section of NEXUS' epic contribution to Odyssey: The Greatest Tale plus more great electric guitar soloing.

- "Revenge of the Evil King" - presents a voice narration and music not unlike Devvy's Ziltoid

- "Rebels - Prisoners and Slaves" - contains more voice narration and music similar to Devin Townsend's Ziltoid the Omniscient

9. "Dark Kingdom & The Evil King, Part 3" (9:30) a little too scattered and disjointed (17/20):

- "Gladiators (Fight, 2ND Uprising and the Victory)" - opens with circus-like narration and fanfare before more music in drama like TPE, Odyssey, and even Arjun Lucassen

- "Hymn to Freedom" - continues before going church organ and solo convent voice

- "Gladiator's Feast" - TPE all the way

10. "Wake Up" at (5:42), thanks to morning birdsong!
     Wow, do I think I'm hearing THE FLOWER KINGS circa 1999-2000! Beautiful song with gorgeous melodies throughout! Even a fretless bass! Great use of synths and choral bank background vocals. Maybe a little too close to TFK's "I Am The Sun, Part 2"?? But, still, this is as near to a perfect song as it gets! (10/10)

11. "Final / Outre" (6:27) in effect, this song opens as a continuation or variation on the previous song, but then bursts into full prog bombast around 1:15 whereupon many of the earlier themes are recapitulated. (9/10)

Total Time 77:56

89.82 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music--hindered only by the disorder and inconsistency of the first two epics ("Night Comes - Dreams" and "Childhood & School Days") and several motifs that feel a bit over-familiar. Still: Highly recommended! A really wonderful musical rendering of a literary storyline. Vladimir Gorashchenko takes a huge step forward in terms of sound, performance and engineering quality as well as gifting us some really beautiful, memorable music! 




20. STEVE HAUSCHILDT Nonlin

New to me as of this album, I am blown away by Steve's innovative and refreshing approach to a melodic multi-instrumental (and multi-dimensional) Berlin School-type of electronic music. Steve merges recognizable instruments with computer generated "noise music," arpeggiated sequences, and even ambient techno synth washes and rhythms.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steve Hauschildt ‎/ performer, composer, co-production
With:
- Lisa Kohl / cello (7)

1. "Cloudloss" (3:45) a strangely satisfying excursion into controlled chaos as layered beauty of ambient synth washes are paired up with a cacophony discordant and, at times, disturbing computer noise "music." Somehow it works. (9/10)

2. "Subtractive Skies" (6:46) hypnotic ambient techno weave of layers of synths and computer percussives, all with a steady and driving presence of a pulsing bass line--at least until the final two minutes when bass cuts out as synth flock seems to fly slowly and beautifully fly away like a thick flock of birds all flying in perfectly synchrony. (14/15)

3. "A Planet Left Behind" (3:36) pitch-warped and warbled keyboard play is soon joined and suppressed by deep bass and slow rise of muted synth washes, thus creating space for a delicate dance of synth strings. Beautifully "orchestrated." (9.5/10)

4. "Attractor B" (5:29) opens with slow pensive electric piano chords, by the third minute has become dominated by computer techno noise music. (9/10)

5. "The Nature Remaining" (2:34) echoing electric piano play over distant etheric synth washes. (4.25/5)

6. "Nonlin" (5:15) techno track and RADIOHEAD-like synth chord with busy and heavily treated bass synth performing the lead work. Interesting for the pops and glitches. (8.5/10)

7. "Reverse Culture Music" (6:09) opens sounding like a slow Gamelan song performed by Western orchestral strings under the guidance of Phillip Glass. By the second minute it has morphed into a more Western hypno-trance piece with Steve Reich and Pat Metheny's guidance. By the third minute it's feeling more like a SEQUENTIA LEGENDA song. Cool and sly flow of transformative shape-shifting. The cello use is genius! (9.5/10)

8. "The Spring In Chartreuse" (3:26) this is no spring from my experience! Maybe the opening of discordant backward notes is supposed to represent the chaos of late Winter weather, or perhaps the title is merely an afterthought, but the weave of reverse and forward arpeggi is weird and a bit unsettling. Still, nobody else that I know of is doing taking music in this direction. (8.5/10)

9. "American Spiral" (5:35) slow arpeggio of VANGELIS-like space synth notes opens this one--notes covering the entire breadth of the keyboard. At the one minute mark a blob of computer noise music in a kind of raw Kanye West "Faster, stronger" pattern enters while the space notes continue to arpeggiate slowly behind. The noise music gets quite gnarly, like the movement and noise of a creature from Ghostbusters. Weird, ending with a slow exit/escape of the alien usurper. (8.5/10)

Total time 42:35

89.72 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars. I vouch for this album as a masterpiece of progressive electronic music though it only qualifies as a near-masterpiece of progressive rock.




21. CONSIDER THE SOURCE You Are Literally a Metaphor

Some of the strangest music I've ever heard, combining all kinds of synthesized electric guitar work and computer-glitch/noise like sounds with heavy, technically jaw-dropping stop-n-start music--and all from a trio! Some of it is like music intended as soundtrack to computer games that has gone wild and others like hyperactive traditional Middle Eastern folk-rock! And GREAT song titles!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Gabriel Marin / Guitars
- John Ferrara / Bass
- Jeff Mann / Drums, Percussion

1. "Sketches from a Blind Man" (7:29) great opening/opening song to lure listeners in: spacey eerie guitar-generated sound over chunky avant-garde bass and aggressive drums in an odd time signature. The eeirie lead guitar sound actually creates a repeatable melody that gets into your head and stays there. Lots of incidental computer-like sounds flitting in and out of the soundscapes. In the fourth minute, guitar sound drops an octave or two, tempo straightens out and bass sound and style also shift, as guitar melodies change, though also remaining engaging and interesting. The bass player is really good! Another sound change at 5:40 in guitar lead and drum-triggered bass before everybody kicks back into full octane to give one heck of a show for the final minute. (13.5/15)

2. "The One Who Knocks" (7:43) acoustic guitar (!) and high-end bass open this before drums kick in to signal shift into full song structure with chunky active bass and low-end guitar plucking. Around 0:50 there is another shift in sounds and structure with guitar producing more high end tremolo or e-bow solo melody-making. Some nice Latin chords and sounds in bridges and several sections. It's like being on a motorcycle taking a trip through some big city, witnessing the wide diversity in neighborhoods with each turn down different streets. "Trombone" sound generated by the guitar in scaled down fifth minute, shape-shifts into flugelhorn and then into MetalSantana for the sixth. Bass and drums go into wild frenzy at 6:15 to bridge to more melodic, high-powered final minute. (13.5/15)


3. "Unfulfilled and Alienated" (3:04) opens with launch into full-speed reminiscent of the classically-based power metal of Yngwie Malmsteen. The melodies are almost Gypsy/Eastern European/klezmer, the bass play just like Les Claypool. High skills on display here! (9/10)


4. "It is Known" (11:45) gentle two-note bass chord arpeggi and bare-bones drumming support another spacey guitar sound in the lead. The melodies played by the guitar in the first two minutes are very Hawaiian sounding. At the two minute mark a "chorus"/B section begins with more frenetic drum and bass play as guitar doubles up and plays a higher octave, more piercing sound for its voicing of the melody. The A-B cycle takes about 90 seconds to come around again, but then in the fifth minute the music drops into a spacious lounge-bluesy support mode as Jeff Beck-like guitar squeals and screams its slide-guitar-like swamp blues. The rhythm section intensifies a bit at the 6:00 mark before bridging into an all-out MAHAVISHNU jam. Wow! This guitarist can move! The bass player, too! Machine gun notes throughout the eighth minutes. I am totally caught by surprise and blown away! The eighth and ninth minutes see a trading off of rapid fire noodling between the bass player and the guitarist, the former at the high end of his instrument, the latter in the lower end of his. At 10:25 they come back together to support the recapitulation of the melody themes used in the first two sections to the finish. (22.5/25)


5. "They Call Him the Smiling Assassin" (7:29) opening like the introductory melding that occurs in a lot of Middle Eastern music, finally coming together at 0:35 to establish a very Middle Eastern sounding song. The instruments are playing in very syncopated, staccato, and unified fashion until a switch after 90 seconds in which the guitar begins to sound like a Middle Eastern violin. The pacing becomes almost a Wild West cadence as guitar changes and shifts his sound in ways that seem to mimic a variety of traditional Middle Eastern instruments--though, in the fourth minute he brings it all into the 21st Century with a highly synthetic sound. Then there is a quiet section in which guitar disappears and drums perform an interesting solo on "traditional" Middle Eastern percussion instruments. Then there is a wild and schizophrenic bass guitar solo in the sixth minute in which several lines (tracks?) are occurring simultaneously. More hand percussives in the seventh minute before an acoustic ME instrument rejoins and re-builds the comradery that the song opened with to the finish. (14/15)

6. "Misinterpretive Dance" (9:20) opens with an instrumental weave that displays some of the softer sounds and playing styles of the band members. Nice. Computer synth incidentals (from overdubs) begin making their appearances in the second minute as the second verse plays. Chorus in the third minute. The guitar sound and styling is quite reminiscent of some of AL DI MEOLA's Spanish-styled electric guitar sounds from early in his solo career. The music turns heavy with walls of sounds and PRIMUS-like humor in the music in third and fourth minutes before returning to a more steady jazz-metal sonic wall for the sixth. Odd rising guitar note in the seventh minute supports bass soloing before going bat-crazy in an Outer Limits synthesizer display while bass and drum frenzy. Things smooth out around 7:20 to return to the AL DI theme before shifting back into the SLEEPMAKESWAVES-like opening themes for the ninth minute and then going metal crazy in the final minute. (18/20)

7. "You Won a Goat!" (7:19) if Jeff Beck had been born in Harlem in the 1990s this is what he and his band may have sounded like. Again, Middle Easterns sounds, styles, and melodies seem prevalent here. It's as if the guitarist is trying to be both Jeff Beck, Jan Hammer, and Jean-Luc Ponty! (13.5/15)

8. "When You've Loved and Lost Like Frankie Has" (6:51) a This Is Spinal Tap reference (from the title)! The music opens like it's from a Hawaiian-Rastafarian ballad! So weird and surreal!  (12/15)


9. "Enemies of magicK" (11:47) like a crazy ride inside a pinball machine! Definitely the song with the weirdest sound palette on the album. (21.75/25)

Total Time: 72:47


All stunningly performed songs with totally unpredictable flows and sound palettes, I'm just not sure I like it; I don't hate or dislike this music but my brain hurts! 

89.52 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music that truly lives up to the "progressive" aspect of that title as this music is definitely pushing boundaries!




22. IAMTHEMORNING - The Bell

So lovingly crafted, it's almost too pristine and clean. The most classical-based music the duo have done. Thank goodness for Marjana's emotive, all-too-human vocal performances. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Marjana Semkina / vocals, backing vocals, acoustic guitar (3)
- Gleb Kolyadin / grand piano, keyboards
With:
- Vlad Avy / acoustic guitar, electric guitar
- Zoltan Renaldi / bass, double bass (1,2,6,9)
- Svetlana Shumkova / drums (1,5,9)
- Evan Carson / drums, percussion (2,5,9)
- Andres Izmaylov / harp (1,6,9)
- Grigory Osipov / marimba (2,9)
- Dmitry Tsepilov / saxophone (1,2)
- Ilya Leontyev / trumpet (9)
- Mr. Konin / bells, accordion, clapping

Strings Ensemble:
St.Petersburg Orchestra "1703"
1st Violins:
IIia Dyakov
Ekaterina German
Ekaterina Chernyaeva
Anastasia Litvinova
2nd Violins:
Anita Azhashkouskaya
Dmitry Kolyasnikov
Anna Melnikova
Yulia Kashshapova

Violas:
Nadezhda Savina
Dmitry Gonchar
Semyon Samsonov
Cellos:
Darya Popova
Ilya Izmaylov

1. "Freak Show" (7:09) a finely crafted song whose flaw is the way the music builds in intensity and volume as it buries Marjana's voice. The second half meets the expectations set up by the song's title.(12.5/15)

2. "Sleeping Beauty" (3:42) sounds like IAMTHEMORNING, sounds like Gleb's piano prowess, sounds like Marjana's right in her pocket. Why doesn't it grab me? (Has the band reached the limits to its potential?) (8/10)

3. "Blue Sea" (3:08) more on the delicate, acoustic side, this one really works--it let's Marjana's voice and lyrics carry the song instead of getting buried in the mix. Well done! Powerful! (9.5/10)

4. "Black and Blue" (3:58) No piano? Marjana up front and center with a floating electric background? Wow! I like this! Don't get me wrong: Gleb is a virtuoso genius, but sometimes I just want to hear Marjana do her thing--like this: a JEWEL-like performance to display her own virtuosity. Give Gleb his time in the C section or in the outro, like here; that is perfect! (10/10)

5. "Six Feet" (3:56) again I can hear Marjana! I can make out and understand her lyrics--and what  powerful lyrics they are. The eerie silent film blues-jazz piano music is a perfect Edgar Allan Poe-like accompaniment to Marjana's theatric performance. Brilliant! (10/10)

6. "Ghost of a Story" (3:58) this song, unfortunately, relies on too many elements that are already familiar from previous iamthemorning songs and albums. (8/10)

7. "Song of Psyche" (3:20)  (8.5/10)

8. "Lilies" (4:28) the trilling of Gleb's right-hand piano arpeggi do not mesh well with Marjana's vocal. Take out the right hand and then you'd have a cool Berthold Brecht/Kurt Weill song. But, then, you'd not have that wonderful C section piano solo. Still, the tension of two songs in one is not easily rectified. (8.5/10)

9. "Salute" (7:27) great song with fresh sounds, structures, melodies, and true progginess. (Great guitar work from iamthemorning stalwart Vlad Avy. (13.25/15)

10. "The Bell" (5:04) Simply gorgeous in every respect: melodies, dynamics, textures, performance subtleties, sound engineering, lyrical content and power. Perhaps the best song Marjana and Gleb have ever recorded. (Maybe the Best Song of the Year?) (10/10)

Total Time 46:10

89.32 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of classically-based crossover progressive rock music. An album that suffers, at times, from over-familiarity, yet contains some of the best songs and performances that iamthemorning has ever committed to posterity. (It's so hard to believe that an album as fine as this is not making my Year-End Top 20!)




23. DIZZY MYSTICS Wanderlost

The new ECHOLYN? or TOOL? or JACK O' THE CLOCK? or GHOST MEDICINE? With his varieties of sounds and styles, Kyle Halldorson has the skills to pave his own way into Prog World--wherever he wants to. The question is, where will he choose?

Line-up / Musicians:
- Kyle Halldorson / Vocals, Guitars, Bass, Mandolin, bongos, shakers, tambourine 
- Aaron Edgar / Drums 
With: 
- Kelsey Halldorson / Vocals (7) 
- Gerrit Delaquis / Vocals (7) 
- Paula DaCosta / Vocals (7)

1. "Letter" (4:42) (8.5/10)

2. "Shindigjig" (4:43) sounds so much like Jared Leach's GHOST MEDICINE project! Add a little of CSN&Y's vocal stylings and, Wow! Are Kyle and Jared brothers from different mothers? (I'm wont to throw JACK O' THE CLOCK leader Damon Waitkus into the mix) The first of my Top Three picks. (9.25/10)

3. "Fallasophy" (5:02) is there a little MAYNARD JAMES KEENAN in this guy, too? Quite a display of instrumental skill here as well. It'd be interesting to hear Kyle play with TREE TOPS' twin guitar phenoms, Cory Smith and Adam Webb. (8.5/10)

4. "The Frequent See, Consistent Seas" (2:50) hard to categorize this one as it's such a wild and intricate weave of multiple styles. (8.5/10)

5. "The Anti-Dream" (5:09) awesome gut-punching song on the fringes of heavy metal and classic blues rock. Great guitar play on display. Great vocals. My second Top Three song. (9/10)

6. "The Scythe Pendulum Swing" (7:33) taking on a more atmospheric psychedelic approach I am here reminded of contemporary bands SANGUINE HUM, 3RDEGREE, and TREE TOPS--and even a little bit of old STEELY DAN. Great pacing and vocal stylings. A top three song for me. (14.5/15)

7. "Diamond Duller" (4:56) another song that reminds me of 3RDEGREE. Great stuff! (8.5/10)

8. "Jaunter" (5:26) early Jeff "Skunk" Baxter playing with The Dan (Steely) and some of The Allman Brothers in order to try their take on Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." (Am I crazy?) Once again: great vocals. (8.5/10)

9. "Rester (Analog Chameleon)" (5:01) a more folk-bluegrass early DOOBIE BROTHERS take on  3RDEGREE or JOHN MAYER music. Nice drumming here on this very percussive/staccato song. (8.75/10)

10. "Wanderlost" (11:09) using quite a little YES style and sound (though perhaps YEZDA URFA would be a more accurate comparison), this one flows and quirks much like a Damon Waitkus composition--though the sone is also full of many instances and elements reminiscent of 2017's Antimemory by Californian one-off VANETA and even SANGUINE HUM. Great song despite it's mystifying meanderings. (17.8/20)

Total Time 56:31

88.96 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a great, exciting collection of hard-rocking, hard-driving songs from a young new virtuoso multi-instrumentalist. You go, Kyle! ARTIST TO WATCH!






24. EX CANIX Shaman

A modernized take on the music that CAN and NEU! and even POPUL VUH,  ZAO, Franco Battiato, and AREA were experimenting with in the 1970s. Sounds as if BRIAN ENO were to have produced CAN back in the day.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tjabbe Anstérus / percussion, hang drum
- Boch / electronics, cello, guitar, voice, bass
- Lars Hoffsten / drums, percussion
- Hans Bengtén / bass

1. "Juice" (4:14) rhythm-based psycho-babble/chant. A Top Three song for me. (9/10)

2. "Nights'n'Days" (4:48) bass, percussives, atmospherics, and heavily treated vocal ramblings. Throw a little DAVID SYLVIAN-JON HASSELL-sounds in there and what you have is awesome! Another Top Three song. (9.25/10)

3. "Meeting At CO" (4:57) drone like opening strums with hand drums and other percussives establish an odd-time base upon which vocal whisperings and moans enter and float around. Hypnotic STEVE JANSEN-like rhythms and HOLGER CZUKAY-like sounds! (8.75/10)

4. "When The World Breaks" (4:32) throw in a little Mississippi swamp slide guitar with some deranged-sounding vocals and you have a song! (8.25/10)

5. "Void?" (1:24) theatric scare tactics. (4.75/5)

6. "Tribunus Ultra [Hats Off To Figrin D'An]" (4:30) full on CAN with some more modern keys interspersed among the hand drums and drums. Very cool imitation! (8.75/10)

7. "Nebel" (4:32) more meditative like POPUL VUH or ENO-HASSELL collaborations. (8.25/10)

8. "Raga Muffin" (7:20) organ arpeggi open this one before bass and percussion make themselves prominent. Ultimately a pretty and very hypnotic if slightly long song. (12.5/15)

9. "Out Of The Can" (4:45) full on drums with congas, bass, and organ! A real song with a rock format! And it's awesome! Great swirling organ play, great jazzy bass lines, great drumming, and awesome "lead" from the synth and, later, the screaming electric guitar. My final Top Three song from this highly satisfying album. (9.5/10)

Total Time 41:02

88.89 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of 1970s-style Kosmische Musik and a very worthy addition to any prog lover's music collection. 





25. CHARLIE CAWOOD Blurring Into Motion

Classically-influenced instrumental acoustic folk music in the same vein as NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA, Charlie is quite the multi-instrumentalist! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Charlie Cawood / acoustic, electric and classical guitars, acoustic bass, bass VI, handclaps
With:
- Marjana Semkina / vocals (3, 10)
- Alice Barron / violin
- Georgia Hannant / violin
- Maddie Cutter / cello
- Robyn Hemmings / double bass
- Julie Groves / flute, piccolo
- Emily Suzanne Shapiro / clarinet
- Ben Marshall / cor anglais
- Thomas Stone / contrabassoon
- Lucy Brown / French horn
- Nathaniel Dye / trombone
- Maria Moraru / piano, celeste
- Elen Evans / harp
- Beibei Wang / vibraphone
- Catherine Ring / glockenspiel
- Evan Carson / bodhran, percussion
- Steve Holmes / minimoog, bass synth 

1. "Dance of Time" (5:03) nice, gentle multi-thread weave of guitars, tuned percussion, flutes, and strings. (8.67/10)

2. "The Stars Turn" (3:59) same as the previous song: a gentle weave of the exact same instrument palette. A little more Steve REICHian/NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA construction here. (8.67/10)

3. "Falling Into Blue" (2:36) fast-picked acoustic guitars behind Marjana Semkina singing in her lower registers. Winds, xylophone, and Marjana's background vocals join in the chorus. Strings and tuned percussion remain for the second verse. Again, this could be a quaint little NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA song. (4.25/5)

4. "Abyss of Memory" (3:05) multiple acoustic guitars with piano and vibraphone weave this one at another moderately slow pace. The melody line repeats over and over while myriad other instruments  join in and create other layers and harmony threads. Interesting. (8.75/10)

5. "The Dark Within" (4:37) guitar and strings open this one like a WILLIAM ACKERMAN tune. At 0:50 piano and woodwinds join in and it gets beautiful. At 1:30 double bass and percussion and vibes are added. It actually doesn't feel as dark as it feels full of 'disappointment' though it does get a little discordant toward the end. (9/10)

6. "Blurring Into Motion" (3:29) fast-picked acoustic guitars, piano, and soon, flute, start this weave. Strings join in at the end of the first minute (including bass). (8.5/10)

7. "From Pure Air" (4:05) harp and classical guitar open this one. A very gentle, soothing, calming song. (8.75/10)

8. "A Severed Circle" (4:35) another beautiful multi-instrumental weave that once again reminds me of the NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA though also some of Jesy Chiang's CICADA compositions as well. Very nice. A top three song. (9/10)

9. "The False Mirror" (3:28) More of the same; beautiful but basically background music. (8.67/10)

10. "Flicker Out of Being" (4:27) a pleasant song in which Marjana Semkina's beautiful, ethereal voice blends in as if it were another string or wind instrument. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

11. "Between Two Worlds" (4:48) flute and chor anglais over guitars, vibraphone and piano in another fast shifting NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA-like song. Very nicely constructed tapestry. (8.75/10)

12. "Voice of Space" (6:35) slow and brooding piano, acoustic guitar, harp and vibes with secondary instruments providing chord accents every sixth whole note. Reminds me of many Pat Metheny song openings. Flute and winds take over lead melody over the top while celeste does another line in the middle. Strings eventually join in, thickening the weave. Another top three for me. (9.25/10)

Total time: 50:47

While the music here is beautiful--often calming or even soothing--and the compositions quite intricate and harmonically sophisticate, there is too much a "sameness" of the music and too often a lack of fully engaging melodies.

88.70 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; wonderful contribution of neo-chamber jazzy folk music of the mostly-acoustic kind; an excellent addition to any prog lover's  




26. RETROSPECTIVE Latent Advidity

A nice return to form for these heavy proggers from Leszno (Poland). Like French band Children in Paradise (Dam Kat), they display a great command of how simple heavy prog can be. Plus they come up with great melodies.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jakub Roszak / lead vocal
- Beata Łagoda / keyboard, backing vocal
- Maciej Klimek / guitar
- Łukasz Marszałek / bass guitar
- Robert Kusik / drums

1. "Intro" (0:49) atmospherics with clock ticking. (4.5/5)

2. "Still There" (6:07) great opening chord--sound and sequence. Vocals in verse and chorus are quite engaging. Nice guitar solo in the second and third minutes. Great background vocals and SAGA-like finale. (9.25/10)

3. "Loneliness" (5:13) another great opening with female lead vocal stepping in from the start. Jakub Roszak provides some awesome background and harmony vocals. Great FLOCK OF SEAGULLS guitar to support the bridge between the first two verses (which becomes the foundation for the chorus later). Great song design and construction. (8.75/10)

4. "The Seed Has Been Sown" (7:32) a song that takes some surprising twists and turns--turning more spacious just when you expect the power chords, vocals going artsy when you expect metal screams. The song final pulses with the expected heaviness during the "C" instrumental part in support of the guitar solo but then turns very quiet with pregnant latency for a brief delicate vocal before another soaring, emotional guitar solo takes us to the end. (13.5/15)

5. "Stop for a While" (5:53) opens with gravelly voice of Jakub Roszak singing plaintively with only the support of a piano. Spacious electric guitar notes take over for the second verse before the full band kicks in with something cool. Great drumming here! Synth washes and background vocals support the next verse as Jakub sings in a higher octave. I really love this more-spacious version of Retrospective! Final verses are sung with equal vocal weight given to Jakub and Beata. It's a love song! Nice! Great finish with synths, steady bass and drums and sensitive guitar solo followed by Jakub and Beata repeating their shared story once more. Beautiful! (9.25/10)

6. "In the Middle of the Forest" (6:50) solid SYLVAN/LIZARD-esque song. (13/15)

7. "Programmed Fear" (5:24) opens with a little VOTUM-like sound (guitar arpeggi) but the near-militaristic drumming is a bit off-putting. Again, excellent vocal work on all layers. (8.5/10)

8. "What Will Be Next?" (10:41) A good, solid, engaging heavy prog epic. Great vocal harmonies in the final couple minutes. Great finish! (17.5/20)

88.68 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock on the heavy side. I swear:  I'd rather listen to Retrospective than Riverside.




27. UNITED PROGRESSIVE FRATERNITY Planetary Overload, Part 1 - Loss

From the ashes of UNITOPIA, Mark Trueack marches on with his messages of human potential and spiritual possibility through melodic Neo Prog. In this current format, Mark seeks out collaborations from some of the all-stars of Prog and turns out stunningly beautiful and poignant musical compositions. A special shout out to the added value brought by Steve Unruh.

     Planetary Overload, Part 1 - Loss is constructed and performed like an amazingly well-produced sound recording of an original cast performance of a stage musical on climate change. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mark Trueack / vocals, composer, co-producer
- Steve Unruh / violin, guitars (electric, acoustic 12-string, slide), sitar, mandolin, flute, keyboards, congas, kalimba, floor tom, tabla, percussion, composer, co-producer
- Christophe Lebled / keyboards, piano, synths, soundscapes
- Cornel Wilczek / orchestration & conductor
- Matthew Atherton / synth, soundscapes, vocals
- Marek Arnold / sax
- Daniel Mash / bass
- Mark Franco / fretted & fretless basses
- Joe Toscano / drums, drum programming, vocals
With:
- Jon Davison / lead vocals (1,11)
- Lisa Wetton / vocals (1,3,10,11)
- Hasse Fröberg / vocals (5)
- Grace Bawden / soprano vocals (12)
- Angus Keay / guitar (2)
- Ettore Salati / electric & acoustic guitars and arrangements (3)
- Matt Williams / electric & acoustic guitars, bass, synth & vocals (7)
- Valentine Halembakov / guitar (9)
- Steve Hackett / nylon-string acoustic guitar (11)
- Michel St-Père / guitar (11)
- George Perdikis / guitar (8,10)
- Angelo Racz / keyboards (3)
- Raf Azaria / piano & synth solos and slide & electric guitars (3,4,12)
- Nick Magnus / keyboards & soundscapes (5,10,11)
- Alex Grata / piano, synthesizers, loops, electric & acoustic guitars and vocals (9)
- Gordo Bennett / keyboards & arrangements (11)
- Charlie Cawood / oud, saz, bouzouki, dulcimer, zither,sax, bass, guitar, pipa & liuqin (3,9)
- Marc Papeghin / French horn (11)
- Clive Hodson / alto sax, trombone, trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,7,10)
- Brendon Darby / trumpet, digital trumpet & flugelhorn (2,3,8,10)
- Guillermo Cides / Chapman stick (2,12)
- Colin Edwin / fretless bass & soundscapes (5)
- Jerry Marotta / drums (2)
- David Hopgood / drums (7)
- Hans Jörg Schmitz / drums (5)
- Phill Sokha / drums (9)
- Jesús Gancedo García / drums (11,12)
- Satish Kumar / narration (1)
- Dr. James E. Hansen / narration (1,2)
- Sir David Attenborough / narration (1,5)
- Mark Maslin / narration (1,7)
- Dr. Jane Goodall / narration (1,10)
- Alanna Mitchell / narration (6)
- David Suzuki / narration (7)
- James Lovelock / narration (8)
- Little Brodie Byrne / spoken word (9)
- ?Ghost Girls? / haunting voices (9)
- Dr. Cary Fowler / spoken word (11)

"- Phase I - Dawning On Us" :
1. "Loss (Anthem)" (3:25) droning instruments and voices, as if Nature were gathering for an early morning ritual or celebration. All kinds of comments by world scientists and elders are clipped over this introductory overture. By the second minute there is a congealing of instruments; by the third there is a wonderful layering of voices singing among the flutes, strings, harps, guitars, percussives, and violin. Has a refreshing JON ANDERSON Olias of Sunhillow feel to it. (9.5/10)

2. "What Happens Now" (4:04) a jazzy, cinematic (think "James Bond") backdrop to a multi-voiced rock opera about the realities of and human awakening to climate change. Powerful, masterfully engineered, just not the catchiest music. Feels as if it belongs on a stage with a full cast of actor/singer/dancers. (Is this possible, Mark?) (8.5/10)

3. "Cruel Times" (8:05) slow, steady, emotive pit orchestra music to support the important plaintive  message of the singer. In the second half, the music goes on a walkabout to support the very jazzy soli of piano, violin, and multiple synths. Nice bass play beneath. A nice performance from a big chunk of the all-stars. Again, it all feels so theatric--as if it's all meant to be spread out over 90 minutes and accompanied by acting and choreographed dancing among professional sets, lighting, and costumes. (12/15)

4. "What Are We Doing To Ourselves" (3:19) berimbau, oud, bazouki, dulcimer and other instruments from various world folk traditions (thanks! Charlie Cawood!) participate in this atmospheric piece. Not unlike a nice early ALAN PARSONS PROJECT song. (10/10)

"- Phase II - Destraction and Destruction" :
5. "Stop-Time" (6:56) raw, raunchy rock'n'roll in the order of URIAH HEEP with some awesome clavinet (is that you Nick Magnus?) and guitar chord play arranged with vocal bursts often expressed during complete stops from the instrumental music. The multi-voice staging is brilliant--but so meant to be seen, on a theatrical stage! Great "dulcimer" solo in the fifth minute. Nice performances by guests Nick Magnus, Hasse Fröberg and Colin Edwin among others. (12.5/15)

6. "One More" (2:37) pensive guitar arpeggi with intermittent violins, fretless bass, and mandolin contributions behind Mark's succinctly voiced lyric. Brilliant voice clips spliced into the end. (4.5/5)

7. "Mercenaries" (6:48) again, theatric stage craft at its finest. I just want to see the play! Great contributions from the musicians--especially Steve Unruh. The frenzied, chaotic second half is sheer brilliance. What I'd give to see the stage presentation of this one--the lights, sets, costumes, and choreography. Not a fan of the "in the dead of the night" choral section in the sixth minute, but am very impressed by the guitarist. (Matt Williams?) (13/15)

8. "What If" (1:44) pensive performances from guitars, muted trumpets, and lead singer, Mark Trueack. (4.25/5)

9. "Forgive Me, My Son" (7:46) with kalimba and hand drums and other Sahara-area instruments providing the PETER GABRIEL sound--as well as Mark's vocal approach! (13.5/15)

"- Phase III - Growing" :
10. "Dying To Be Reborn" (5:19) Mark singing with a single acoustic guitar opens this one, but not for long as the full band jumps in before the end of 30 seconds. Really nice guitar and sitar work as fast moving chords of orchestral hits travel and build in the background. Then multi-voice "ba-ba-pas" with sitar and horns preempt a rock anthemic support for a great electric guitar solo. This ends and we return to the opening structure and palette (with a little more Nick Magnus magic added in the background). (8.5/10)

11. "Seeds For Life" (19:33) another Trueack song who's message may be more important, more beautiful than the music. Brilliant concept, wonderful construction, thank you! (Special thanks to the wonderful contributions on classical guitar by Steve Hackett.) (36/40)

12. "Loss To Lost" (5:15) opens with ocean sounds before dramatic piano, flutes and sitar float and flit in the mix. At 0:50 the music transitions into the body with a slightly Latin-based rhythm driving the rock instruments. Nice contributions from unusual world instruments--percussive and stringed. The vocalise of soprano Grace Bawden playing off of the subtle piano and violin work is really cool. A beautifully conceived, constructed, and performed song. My final top three song. (9.5/10)

Total time 74:51

If you're into rock opera, music theater, or musical stage craft of the importance and relevance of something like Hamilton or Jesus Christ Superstar you'll love this album. Also, if you look at that list of all-stars making their very real and integral contributions to this album, you will expect to think that you're in for some quality performances and exciting music--and you will be right! Check it out! Pick it up! You won't regret it!

88.59 on the Fishscales = B=/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of gorgeous progressive rock with a very important message for our current world.




28. JORDSJØ Nattfiolen

A band I've been following since their first Jord releases. I was highly critical of their initial releases due to their lack of maturity both as songwriters, instrumentalists, and cohesive band mates. This album displays how far they have come--as well as how hard they've worked. I'm so glad they took criticism well and continued to persevere cuz it's really paid off.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Håkon Oftung / vocals, guitar, flute, Hammond M100, Mellotron, Clavinet D6, ARP Pro Soloist 
- Kristian Frøland / drums, triangle, percussion 
With: 
- Vilde Mertensen Storesund / backing vocals 
- Ståle Langhelle / ARP Pro Soloist synth (2) 
- Geir Opdal / Bucha Music Easel synth (7) 
- Christian Meaas Svendsen / double bass (5) 
- Håkon Knutzen / percussion, mixing 

1. "Ouverture" (1:19) flute-driven acoustic instrumental (4/5)
2. "Stifinner" (7:52) opens with proggy bombast but the band is not rhythmically tight! Acoustic guitar sets tone for next section. Flutes, bass, drums, and organ join in before vocals and fuzzy electric guitars can enter. Lyrics, sung in Swedish, are adequate with a nice melody. There's a little 60s psychedelia in here, as well--in both sound and tension. The instrumental section in the third and fourth minutes has some amazing chord progressions with very nice soli over the top. Things slow down while a swirling organ arpeggio keeps things moving as flutes, fuzz guitar, bass, and percussive rhythm guitar add their flourishes and riffs. This morphs into a more whole-band section with some cohering power chords, but then acoustic guitars, bass and flute take over in a very beautiful, delicate section. The final minute has drums, spoken word, and a kind of GENESIS Trespass/Nursery Cryme ending. Nicely crafted; these guys have really matured. (13.5/15)

3. "Solens Sirkulære Sang" (7:39) opens feeling very much as if it could come from GENESIS' album Trespass but then moves into KING CRIMSON "Moonchild" territory. Despite the delicate instruments used by this band, they do a very convincing job of portending a deep and heavy mood. (12.75/15)

4. "Septemberbål" (1:49) a folk instrumental on some kind of lute-like instrument with some sounds and stylings that feel as though they came from the Late Mediæval or Renaissance worlds. (5/5)

5. "Mine Templer II" (6:29) flute over jazz guitar accompaniment is soon joined by piano, double bass, organ, and, later, drums. Suddenly at the 0:50 mark a fuzz guitar chord introduces an ominously heavier section--one that feels quite VDGG or DISCIPLINE-like. Piano trills, Stephen Stills-like guitar flourishes, and Hugh Banton-like organ play with multi-voice vocals. The fourth minute ends with a thicker whole-band theme before lapsing back into the ominous main theme. All instruments seem to take a turn offering their tasteful soli until it finally fades with Stills-guitar and Hammond. (14/15)

6. "Til Våren" (9:02) some CAMEL, YES, and GENESIS sounds and styles are melded into this one. When the music quiets down to allow for the singing to start it feels very much like WOBBLER. The music flows in the common A-B-A-C-A-B format with slight and over variations within each repetition of a section. The harmonized vocal sections happen to be my favorite parts of this one (which are, unfortunately, the "B" sections). (17/20)

7. "Ulvenatt" (5:45) feels like a smooth jazz remake of a pop ballad: it's pretty and melodic and bluesy but not the prog I gravitate to (more like CAMEL or some of FOCUS' old ballads). (8.25/10)

Total time 39:55

Nicely crafted music--intricately constructed songs all. These guys have really matured.


88.23 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of intricately composed and performed prog music.





29. BIG BIG TRAIN - Grand Tour

Despite the departure of founding member Andy Poole Big Big Train have crafted one of the best albums I've heard from them since 2008's The Difference Machine. The return of a more frequent use of a more acoustic, folk-tinged sound combined with a diminished influx of bombast, pretense and Anglo-centricity makes this a much more enjoyable listening experience for me than much of the Dave Longdon-era BBT output. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- David Longdon / lead & backing vocals, flute, guitar, mandolin, keyboard, percussion, co-producer
- Dave Gregory / electric & 12-string guitars
- Rikard Sjöblom / keyboards, electric & 12-string guitars, accordion, backing vocals
- Danny Manners / keyboards, double bass
- Rachel Hall / violin, viola, cello, backing vocals, string arrangements
- Greg Spawton / bass, bass pedals, 12-string guitar, brass arrangements, co-producer
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums, percussion, keyboard, guitar, backing vocals
With:
- John Hinchey / string arrangements
- Rick Wentworth / conductor
- Everton Nelson / violin, concertmaster
- Emil Chakalov, Richard George, Kathy Gowers, Oliver Heath, Ian Humphries, Martyn Jackson, Oli Langford, Kate Robinson, Nicky Sweeney / violin
- Max Baillie / viola
- Fiona Bonds / viola
- Jake Walker / viola
- Ian Burdge / cello
- Chris Allan / cello
- Tony Woollard / cello
- Paul Kimber / double bass
- Richard Pryce / double bass
- Dave Desmond / trombone, brass arrangements
- Ben Godfrey / cornet, trumpet
- Jon Truscott / tuba
- John Storey / euphonium
- Nick Stones / French horn

1. "Novum Organum" (2:33) sounds like glockenspiel, kalimba, and other hand percussives before piano joins in. Singer Dave Longdon soon enters. At least we try. (4.5/5)

2. "Alive" (4:31) opens sounding just like RUSH's "Subdivisions." A real upbeat, uptempo song to get your blood pumping.  (8.75/10)

3. "The Florentine" (8:14) a folk rock opening with mostly acoustic instrumentation and strummed acoustic guitars fills out into a kind of Southern rock-tinged jam in the vein of THE OUTLAWS before coming round to a more majesterial STRAWBS-like finish. (13/15)

4. "Roman Stone" (13:33) (25.5/30):
- Part 1: Foundation
- Part 2: Rise
- Part 3: Ne Plus Ultra
- Part 4: Fall
- Part 5: Legacy


5. "Pantheon" (6:08) opens like an ANDREW LLOYD WEBER instrumental overture or bridge song before the real song slowly establishes itself, layer by layer, over the full length of the second minute. Surprisingly, it remains an instrumental, though stepping out of its original theatric clothing. (8.5/10)

6. "Theodora in Green and Gold" (5:38) piano-based opening allows Dave Longdon to sing one of his more emotive vocals in a lower, slightly softer register. One of my favorite vocals from Dave since his debut on the The Underfall Yard album. Some nice key and dynamic shifts also make this a top three song from me--including a lead vocal part for (I assume) Nick D'Virgilo in the second half. (9.25/10)

7. "Ariel" (14:28) (26.75/30):
- Part 1: Come Unto These Yellow Sands
- Part 2: Noises, Sounds and Sweet Airs
- Part 3: New Place
- Part 4: O! There are Spirits of the Air
- Part 5: Music, When Soft Voices Die
- Part 6: Casa Magni, 1822
- Part 7: Approach, My Ariel, Come
- Part 8: Coda: The Triumph of Life


8. "Voyager" (14:03) (27.32/30)
- Part 1: On the Ocean 8.75
- Part 2: The Farthest Shore 9.25
- Part 3: The Pillars of Hercules 9
- Part 4: Further Beyond 9.5
- Part 5: Grand Finale 8.75
- Part 6: The Space Between the Stars 9.25
- Part 7: Homecoming 10


9. "Homesong" (5:12) opens as another folk song like something by IONA before the cool, driving piano, bass, and drums rhythm track settles into play. Horns and other instruments enter during the second verse to enrich the palette while also somewhat drowning out the cool rhythm theme. Electric guitar and violin trade solo flourishes beneath and within the music--even when Dave is singing. It's unusual to have Dave's lead voice mixed this far back into the music. I like it. More like the old BBT. (8.75/10)  

Total Time 74:20


88.213 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and, overall, one of my favorite Big Big Train releases.




30. THANK YOU SCIENTIST Terraformer

How is this not the runaway Best Progressive Rock Album of 2019? My theory is that it's because of the band's machine gun approach to instrument playing: it numbs the brain of the listener into a state of cowering apathy.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Salvatore Marrano / vocals 
- Tom Monda / guitars, producer 
- Ben Karas / violin 
- Joe Gullace / trumpet 
- Sam Greenfield / saxophone 
- Cody McCorry / bass 
- Joe Fadem / drums

1. "Wrinkle" (2:32) What an opener! So positive and upbeat! Reminds me of something from a MONOBODY or TREE TOPS album. (4.75/5)

2. "FXMLDR" (7:56) incredibly catchy melodies within a very complex, fast moving jazz tune. Reminds me of 3RDEGREE or MOTH VELLUM or very early RUSH ("Fly by Night")--or how bout if early RUSH and early KANSAS had merged! The very complex instrumental performances are so clean and tight! (14.5/15)

3. "Swarm" (6:25) Though the horns are smooth and melodic, this is the first song whose metal qualities make it a little grating to these ears. The chord, horn, and vocal melody lines are quite pleasant, it's just the pace and rapid-fire notes from drums, bass, rhythm guitar, and violin--excellently performed but just a bit overwhelming for my sensitive nervous system to accommodate--that is, until the smooth section in the fifth minute. Still, I cannot deny the amazingness of this song. (9/10)

4. "Son of a Serpent" (8:06) led by the stunning vocals of JOHANNES LULEY- and JOFF WILKS-sound-a-like Salvatore Marrano there is a fresh creativity to this song that is in its ability to bridge heavy and metal prog sounds and pacing (machine gun bass drumming, djenty fast-changing guitar chord sequences, chunky virtuosic bass). (14/15)

5. "Birdwatching" (3:41) very soft and scaled down in comparison to other songs. The vocal is central and delicate though very strong. I love the bass chords, the simpler yet insistent drums and the spacey keys. (8.75/10)

6. "Everyday Ghosts" (10:03) opens with some more sensitive though intricate instrumental displays, morphing into a bit of a Spanish sound as the horns come together, but then things turn a different direction to establish another quirky, spasmodic drive through some MOTH VELLUM-like territory (though always a little harsher and with more fast-paced charts from each of the instruments in the weave). Were it not for the fast technical speed of the instruments this might even be a kind of Journey-like classic rock song. As it is, it sounds a lot like a song from contemporaries FREDDEGREDDE or PERFECT BEINGS. (17/20)

7. "Chromology" (9:49) such virtuosic performances throughout the length of this frenetically paced frenzy of crazy weaves. Every single instrument in this ten-minute instrumental is on such a wild and yet tightly scripted contribution to the overall fabric, yet beautiful melodies are flying at us in the form of both single lines as well as those shaped by the amazing chord sequences. Despite all of these amazing displays, both individually and collectively, Cody McCorry's bass play steals this one! (And I am amazed by the way he is recorded so cleanly, so "visibly," so perfectly in the mix!) Definitely a "big band jazz" feel to this one. (18/20)

8. "Geronimo" (6:15) again JOHANNES LULEY comes to mind in this more sensitive song. A little sappy. More like a BIG BAD WOLF pop-jazz song. (8.25/10)

9. "Life of Vermin" (8:11) a trend here: the quality of the songs remain high the ability to suck me in and keep my attention seem to be diminishing as I move down the album's song list (except for "Chromology"). This one is creating the same effect on me that Rush albums do: can't keep me interested, inaccessible. It's a good song with excellent performances, just not a great song, not a fresh or refreshing arrangement. My theory is that my increasing boredom and inattentiveness is the result of the Franz Josef effect: "Too many notes!" My brain has become numb from being pulverized by too many notes! (12/15)

10. "Shatner's Lament" (1:13) a kind of horn-led jazzy Broadway interlude. (4.25/5)

11. "Anchor" (9:56) this sounds like a great song from a KLONE, VOLA, or even PLINI album. (17.5/20)

12. "New Moon" (2:01) floating, lilting on an old wind up clock, Sebastian sings about the effects of the new moon. (4.25/5)

13. "Terraformer" (8:07) is a song in which the horns are doubling up on notes within the chords being played by the rest of the rhythm section, thus, the song has a much more tech-metal feel to it than some of the others. The vocals here sound as if they come straight out of one of AC-DC's classic albums. Awesome guitar solo in the seventh minute. The band tightens up for the final minute into more of a classic rock spectrum--at least until that final instrumental 20 seconds. (13.125/15)

Total Time 82:15

88.11 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection. I think the lesson I've learned thanks to this album is that no matter how excellent are the musicians and how clever and technical the song constructs, a brain can only take so much of being constantly peppered by such an onslaught of notes.





31. A FORMAL HORSE Here Comes A Man From The Council With A Flamethrower

Interesting and mostly delightful indie prog punk from Angleterre. I am reminded of THE CARDIACS, FACTOR BURZACO, INNER EAR BRIGADE, HUMBLE GRUMBLE, PINGVINORKESTERN, BLONDIE, THE SMITHS, MARIANNE FAITHFULL, LENA LOVICH, TRACEY THORN, and a whole bunch of late 1970s and 1980s artists of a type of music that I was not into (short, guitar and lyric-based witty protest songs).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Hayley McDonnell / vocals
- Benjamin Short / guitars, vocals 
- Russell Mann / bass 
- Mike Stringfellow / drums

1. "Magazine Zooey Deschanel" (2:08) Nice lyric. (8.5/10)

2. "Bird" (2:35) Nice lyric. (8.5/10)

3. "I Just Called to Say I Like You" (3:49) Awesome vocalise. A top three song for me. (9.5/10)

4. "Petroleum" (2:55) (8.75/10)

5. "Boarded Doors in Bedford Place" (1:19) sounds like Tracey Thorn! (4.5/5)

6. "Bee" (3:40) like a PINGVINORKESTERN or INNER EAR BRIGADE song. (8.5/10)

7. "Last Track on Side Fun" (3:40) (8.25/10)

8. "Coda" (1:46) (4/5)

9. "Lonely Doe Young Doe" (3:47) a more sensitive, almost operatic side of Hayley. (a song about "roadkill"?!) Gets quite heavy in the instrumental mid-section. Another top three. (9/10)

10. "Here Comes a Man from the Council with a Flamethrower" (2:05) (8.25/10)

11. "Unison One" (1:56) an instrumental exercise in staying together in odd and syncopated time signatures. (4.5/5)

12. "Commons" (3:22) sounds like a previous song. Great vocal with nice vocal harmonies from the background vocalists. My third top three song. (9.25/10)

13. "Cherub" (2:07) an old-style, full-length 1960s pop song. Could be a BEATLES song. (9/10)

14. "Unison 3" (3:58) more odd tempoed, syncopated rhythm play in a complex, high-powered instrumental. Nice team work! (8.75/10)

15. "Boarded Doors Reprise" (0:48) not very similar to the first. (4.25/5)

16. "Anyway" (3:25) children's playground voices open this one before guitar and metallic guitar riffs establish the song structure and pace. Hayley singing in her lower registers. What a remarkable voice. Not unlike k.d. lang. Love the "scor-PIon" shift of voice into operatic soprano. (9/10)

Total Time: 43:34

87.86 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music of a kind of Indie Prog Punk variation.

This is an album that really grows on you as you listen to it--especially with repeated listens. Hayley McDonnell is an extremely talented singer, storyteller, and lyricist (unless someone else is writing the lyrics that she's singing.)

P.S. If you like this you will probably LOVE Inner Ear Brigade, Pingvinorkestern, and Ut Gret.




32. DEVIN TOWNSEND Empath

I have to admit that I lood forward to every Devin Townsend album despite the fact that I rarely come away wanting to hear them again. I just appreciate this guy's unique genius and unpredictable chameleonic eclecticism. What a talent. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Devin Townsend / vocals, guitar, bass, synth, computer, orchestrations, co-producer, mixing 
With: 
- Rayne Townsend / vocals 
- Elliot Desgagnés / death metal vocals (2-5,7,10) 
- Ché Aimee Dorval / vocals (2) 
- Adam Getgood / vocals (5) 
- Josefa Torres / vocals (5) 
- Chad Kroeger / vocals (6) 
- Jess Vaira / vocals (8) 
- Anneke Van Giersbergen / vocals (6,10,bonus 2) 
- The Elektra Women's Choir / chorus vocals (2-5,7-10) 
- Moma Edmundson /choir director 
- Mike Keneally / guitar & keyboards (2,7,8,10), vocals (8), co-producer 
- Shaun Verreault / pedal steel guitar 
- Ryan Dhale / guitar & keyboards (8) 
- Scott Reinson / guitar & keyboards (8) 
- Steve Vai / guitar solo (10) 
- Callum Marinho / whistle (10) 
- Nathan Navarro / bass 
- Anup Sastry / drums 
- Morgan Ågren / drums 
- Sam Paulicelli / drums 
- The Lords Of The Sound / orchestra 
- Erik Severinsen / arrangements, vocals (8) 
- Niels Bye Nielsen / orchestrations 
- Ron Getgood / spoken voice (5) 

1. "Castaway" (2:29) spacious echo guitar--to Hawaii and beyond! With the joinder of the angelic choir for the final minute, this must be suggesting that we have arrived at Heaven. (4.5/5)

2. "Genesis" (6:06) where this song begins and "Castaway" ends is unsure, but I'm filled with a kind of ecstatic religiosity as I listen to this (aren't I?). Weird timelessness to this: it has moments that seem to span all of my six decades. You sure you weren't channeling EDGE OF SANITY (Crimson) when you created this, Devy? (8.25/10)

3. "Spirits will Collide" (4:40) This is the first song I heard from Empath. My reaction was similar to the one I had when I first heard Kirk Franklin's "Stomp!" and The Nu Nation Project in the late 1990s:  someone taking church/religious music into a (refreshing) new direction. A church choir! (Is Devvy a Christian rocker?) With hard-drivin' rock/metal. I'm also reminded of the Christian thrash metal song from the 1990s in which the lead singer screamed one word, "repent," the entire song. This is not those songs or artists, but the one-track, one-dimensionality of this song does remind me of songs like those.  (7.75/10)

4. "Evermore" (5:30) contains some very interesting dynamics, styles, transitions, and messages but, to these ears/mind it's too disjointed and all-over the place; there's not enough coherence and directness here to make a point. (7.75/10)

5. "Sprite" (6:37)  Devy's contribution to fairy tales (in the UTOPIA "Singring" tradition). Dull and one-dimensional for over half of the song, then, after it goes church-religious, too weird (though I do like the Tangerine Dream-like fairy-travels bit in sixth minute). Devy's really stretching himself with the Celtic sprite in the beginning to the Gollum finish. (8.25/10)

6. "Hear Me" (6:30) sounds like cartoon music. Until the women's choir joins in. Then Devy takes over and it really is loony toons. The chorus is decent. The group skill to keep in time is insane (unless it's all auto-synced.) The song actually works because of the contrast of extremes. (8.75/10)

7. "Why?" (4:59) opens like a BBC theme song. Boy, Devy has a gorgeous voice. I truly wish he would sing more like this--give Josh Grobin and Roy Orbison a run for their money. LOL! (9/10)

8. "Borderlands" (11:03) a wild hodge-podge of styles melded into "one" while, thankfully, staying away from the freneticism of thrash/doom styles. I LOVE the centre section (ending with "it's tragic, it's love"). (18/20)

9. "Requiem" (2:47) an interlude into heavenly clouds and eternal light. Again, this talented dude could compose music for any genre he likes! GORGEOUS cinematic choir piece! (5/5)

10. "Singularity" (23:33) an excellent song with great movement, great stylistic shifts and development, brilliant use of his choir and, believe it or not, less thrash metal walls of sound than I'm used to hearing on a Devin song. My one beef with this (and many of Devvy's songs) is that we get sensitive, angelic pre-pubescent- and Josh Grobin-like vocals alternated with Ziltoid growls, doom metal guitars, and machine gun bass drumming: Is Devy all tongue-in-cheek--is he just laughing as he makes this music and laughing at us for taking it seriously? 
Nice to hear him shredding in refreshing ways in the "Silicon Scientists" section. Nice to hear the uplifting feel and message of the final "Here Comes the Sun" section. (45.5/50):
- Part 1 - Adrift (4.75/5)
- Part 2 - I Am I (5/5)
- Part 3 - There Be Monsters (9/10)
- Part 4 - Curious Gods (8/10)
- Part 5 - Silicon Scientists (9.75/10)
- Part 6 - Here Comes the Sun (9/10)

Total Time 74:08

Devin Townsend is a genius: he is uber-creative, mega-talented, warped, and totally unique. It this is an album that I'll want to revisit. I like it!

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


33. ROBERT JAN STIPS - SUPERSISTER PROJEKT 2019 - Restis Repus 

RJS is the founder and key composer, keyboard player, and singer of the early Canterbury band, SUPERSISTER. Once he left the band around 1974 (to join GOLDEN EARRING--after their world-wide hit album, Moontan with the monster hit, "Radar Love") here, in 2019, RJS reveals a collection of songs that are either holdovers from that early 1970s period of his life or recent compositions that demonstrate how deeply the SUPERSISTER spirit has held steadfast within him. Refreshing in their upbeat, fun, and beautiful melodies, they remind one of how special those 1971-73 Supersister albums were

Line-up / Musicians:
Robert Jan Stips (The Nits) / Keyboards,Vocals (3,8) 
With: 
Peter Calicher / Keyboards (7,9) 
Bart Wijtman / Bass (1,2,4,9,10) 
Rinus Gerritsen / Bass (5-7,11) 
Bart van Gorp / Bass Trombone (1,4-7,9-11) 
Cesar Zuiderwijk / Drums (5,7,10,11) 
Leon Klaasse / Drums (2) 
Marco Vrolijk / Drums (4) 
Rob Wijtman / Drums (6) 
Rob Kloet (The Nits) / Drums (1,9,10) 
Henk Hofstede (The Nits) / Vocals (1,10) 
Joke Geraets (The Nits) / Vocals (1,10) 
Freek de Jonge / Narrator (10) 
Junior Huigen / Trombone (1,4-7,11) 
Marieke Brokamp / Violin (1,4-7,9-11) 
Thijs Kramer / Violin (4-7,9-11)

1. "I Am You Are Me / Transmitter" (4:44) (10/10)

2. "Memories Are New IV" (3:26) (8.5/10)

3. "For You And For Nobody Else" (7:59) (12.5/15)

4. "Sister Talk 1" (0:44) (4/5)

5. "Max Eco" (3:00) (8.25/10)

6. "Hope To See You There Again" (5:28) cool song that plays out like a cinematically emotional Post Rock song. (9.25/10)

7. "Yellow Days" (4:31) (10/10)

8. "Sister Talk 2" (0:35) (4.25/5)

9. "Next Door Movie" (3:12) another nice soundtrack song (8.5/10)

10. "Cuckoo" (3:58) live one room stage recording? Too goofy--though I like Robert Jan's narrative in the second minute. (7/10)

11. "Hope To See You Again" (1:24) (5/5)

Total Time 39:01

87.25 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a welcome contribution from one of the early leaders of the Canterbury sound and a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.




34. THE ANCESTRY PROGRAM Tomorrow

Heavy Neo Prog perhaps in the vein of countrymates SYLVAN but, to these ears, more like now-defunct Aussie proggers, UNITOPIA and some of Arjun Lucassen's AYREON albums. This year's satisfier of my need for djenty guitars with beautiful atmospheric synth-washed melodies and GREAT vocals.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Lind / drums, keys, vox
- Thomas Burlefinger / keyboards, guitars, basses
- Mani Gruber / guitars, keys, vox
- Ben Knabe / voices

1. "Intro" (1:16)

2. "Silver Laughter" (8:46) wonderfully engaging music and vocals bouncing from melodic symphonic sounds to heavy guitar riffs, this is Neo Prog at its best--like UNITOPIA taken to the A Level. I love the multiple ways the engineering staff chooses to treat and locate lead singer Ben Knabe's voice throughout. (18.5/20)

3. "Pun Intended" (7:24) opens with some funny-punny lyrics and music. There's a little QUEEN-meets-THE CLASH feel to this until it turns into a nice DEVIN TOWNSEND piece with the chorus. The clavinet-supported Jeff-Beck-like instrumental guitar section in the fourth minute is unexpected--as is the death metal screams that follow. Even Yes and KANSAS' "Carry on Your Wayward Son" are conjured up several times in this complex, convoluted song. Interesting, refreshing, and, ultimately, entertaining if not thoroughly engaging. (13/15)

4. "Another Way To Fly" (6:27) opens with some great bass-grounded Neo Prog sound like Nick Beggs or IQ before synth-support and treated vocal enters in the second half of the second minute. In fact, there is quite a little similarity to the sound of LIFESIGNS' debut album on this song. Great chorus (that I can't stop humming long after the album has finished). (9/10)

5. "Easy For Us" (10:01) more UNITOPIA sounds in the one minute intro. I love the delicately fingered electric guitar! Great bass with multi-layered guitar soundscape over which another awesome Ben Knabe vocal performance occurs. There's even a little DOVES sound here (in the chorus) just before the song goes (briefly) screamin' heavy. The instrumental section that follows has some very nice understated guitar and synth soli. I also love the gentle and prolonged end section. (18.5/20)

6. "More To This" (9:27) solid but lacking in development (too lyric-dependent for me) and having a poor chorus. (15.34/20)

7. "Tomorrow" (11:12) opens like a DOVES song, gorgeous multi-vocal weave over organ until at lead vocal pops up right in front of us at 1:12. Chunky intermittent bass riffs appear as synths washes fill the background until guitar arpeggi at 2:11 signal an amping up--which occurs big time ten seconds later. Powerful though the vocal melodies are not engaging to me (nor are they quite fitting with the music). Perhaps the mix of the instrumentation is too big, too forward, making the vocals seem really small and distant. (17/20)

Total Time 43:21

86.98 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice Neo Prog contribution to the Prog catalogue. It's as if UNITOPIA went on break and came back better than ever!




35. OPETH In Cauda Venenum

As my esteemed colleague siLLy puPPy stated in his review of this same album, the OPETH sound has never been one to draw me into the fold of Opeth lovers (or haters, for that matter). I totally respect and admire Mikael Åkerfeldt's tremendous talent and commitment to progressive rock music--it's on a par with that of prolific stalwarts STEVE HACKETT, STEVEN WILSON, and ROINE STOLT. And I completely recognize the masterful performance skills of all musicians involved, I'm just not drawn back to any Opeth music--songs, albums, periods, or styles. It all washes over me--wows me while I listen, but then I'm done, I leave and move on.

"Heart in Hand" is the standout song for me. It's awesome! It kicks some ass and haunts me like the ear-candy of Terry Jacks or ABBA. I happen to like the Swedish version better because I can't understand a word the singer is singing which plays perfectly into my disability of only hearing voices as other contributors to the overall weave of music--as creators of threads of linear melody making, just like another instrument. (I cannot sing the entire lyric of any song--even my favorite songs from childhood--because I do not have a compartment in my brain for the comprehension of their meanings). Still, the heavy first half and the gorgeous sensitive second work for me!  Some of the others feel/sound like other OXYGEN radio play bands or like Grunge era classics, Jimmy Page acoustic stuff. I also like the subtle intricacies throughout "Continuum."

The hard-drivin'/heavy vs. soft/delicate interplay is okay once or twice but in every song (sauf the opener)?  Not even Pearl Jam can get away with that!  There are no bad songs, not even any "bad" sections of songs--I even enjoy/smile at the forays into new and unusual musical styles Mikael has the band explore (á la GINO VANELLI-like "Garroter").

1. Garden Of Earthly Delights (3:29) (7.5/10)
2. Dignity (6:37) (8.75/10)
3. Heart In Hand (8:30) (19/20)
4. Next Of Kin (7:10) (12.75/15)
5. Lovelorn Crime (6:34) (8.25/10)
6. Charlatan (5:29) (8.5/10)
7. Universal Truth (7:22) (12.25/15)
8. The Garroter (6:44) (13/15)
9. Continuum (7:23) (13.5/15)
10. All Things Will Pass (8:31 (8.25/20)

All in all this album sounds like a more complicated, more mature form of early 1970s URIAH HEEP.

86.96 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection despite the Jeckyll and Hyde musical circles it leads one in.




Special Mentions:



DURAND JONES & THE INDICATIONS American Love Call
A recent phenom that has seemingly reluctantly risen out of the cornfields of Bloomington, Indiana, this is one of those "retro" bands that has taken the classic artists and sounds that inspire them
beyond the art of imitation; they have created fucking gorgeous, timeless music that is all their own--and I, a Detroit born, soul/R&B loving music lover am so glad they have! More power to Durand and Aaron and the band!



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)