Sunday, August 30, 2020

Top Albums of the Year 1999: Masterpieces and More

Though Prog Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century, I have decided to go back and "fill in" the years upon which the 21st Century is built upon, and not just the "classic" years of 1967-76. Each year will be given its own page, containing reviews of the albums I determine are worthy of recognition (both positive and negative). As usual, these pages will be works in progress, to which I'll be adding information as it comes my way.

Five Star Masterpieces 
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34) 


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

1. SIGUR ROS Agaetus Byrjum 

I can think of very few albums in the last 20 years which feel and sound as if they come out of nowhere--are unlike anything else that came before them--are so unique that they stand out so starkly from the rest of music of the day. KARDA ESTRA's Eve, THE MARS VOLTA's De-loused in the Comatorium, ULVER's Shadows of the Sun, and MAUDLIN OF THE WELL's Part the Second are a few of the others that come to mind. Several songs on this 1999 album are to this date among the best ever made in the Post Rock/Math Rock sub-genre:  "Svefn-G-Englar" (10:06) (19/20), "Flugufrelsarinn" (9/10) and “Starálfur" (6:46) (9/10). "Ny Batteri" (8:12) (15/15) still never fails to leave me stunned/in awe every time I hear it.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jón Þór Birgisson / vocals, guitars
- Kjartan Sveinsson / piano, keyboards (Roland Juno 106, Hammond B3, Yamaha VSS30, Yamaha SK20)
- Georg Hólm / bass
- Ágúst Ævar Gunnarsson / drums, percussion
- Gerður Jónsdóttir / double bass (3)
- Samúel Jón Samúelsson / brass (5)
- Snorri Sigurðarson / brass (5)
- KK / harp (6)
- Pétur Hallgrímsson / slide guitar (7)
- Álafosskór / choir (8)
- The String Puppets / strings
- Szymon Kuran / strings leader

1. "Intro" (1:36) let's you know you're in for something new and unusual. Kind of psychedelia-BEATLES-esque (4.5/5)

2. "Svefn-g-englar (Sleep(walk)ing Angels)" (10:04) 
So simple. So amazing. Organ, bowed electric guitar, brushed snare drum, and Jón's unusual falsetto. (19.5/20)

3. "Starálfur (Staring Elf)" (6:46) strings and keys open this classic. Jónsi uses a lower octave range for his voice. He sounds like a normal kid. It sounds like a song of reverence or worship. Awesome arrangement. (13.5/15)

4. "Flugufrelsarinn (The Fly's Savior)" (7:48) back to the sounds and styles of song #2 with a little more emphasis on moving and screeching of the "whale" guitar. Again, Jónsi chooses a different singing style--more mid-range--deeper and fuller voice. I like the bass and organ lines on this one. (13.5/15)

5. "Ný Batterí (New Batteries)" (8:10) simple one of the most unusual and powerful songs of my life. It gets me every time, from start to deep brass to crashing drums to finish. (15/15)

6. "Hjartað Hamast (bamm Bamm Bamm) (The Heart Pounds (boom boom boom))" (7:10) has a little DOORS/classic rock feel to it with the slow-bouncing organ chords--but then Jónsi's guitar enters to tell us otherwise. The vocal section truly harkens back to the psychedelic blues-jazz of the late 1960s. The chorus section sound more BEATLES-like--though more psychedelic than John, Paul, George, and Ringo ever went. Love the prominent strings in the second half and final section. (13.75/15)

7. "Viðrar Vel Til Loftárasa (Good Weather for an Airstrike)" (10:17) the title tells you exactly what it feels like you're hearing in the opening minute. Piano and deep bass eventually take over playing a pleasant, almost familiar ELTON JOHN-like piece--even when the full strings join in. Pedal lap/slide guitar joins in. Jónsi doesn't start singing till half way into the song--and then it feels/sounds secondary, extemporaneous, almost stream-of-conscious/demo-like. Slows to a standstill for just a few piano notes/chords before the whole "orchestra" unleashes it's crescendo of sound. Sounds like famous end of the HOLLIES song ("All I Need Is the Air that I Breathe"). Spectacular! Beautiful! One of the best endings I've ever heard of any song! Too bad the rest of the song didn't quite live up to that standard. (18.5/20)

8. "Olsen Olsen" (8:03) rolling bass and slow drum beat provide background for Jónsi's far-in-the-background falsetto vocals for the first two minutes. Strings join in in the fifth minute with male choral vocalise. The first and only weak song on the album. (12/15)

9. "Ágætis Byrjun (A Good Beginning)" (7:55) bass, slow drums, and piano slowly open this one before electric piano gently solos over the top. At 1:20 electric piano stops as Jónsi's high pitched voice enters (up front) singing with those long, sustained vowels. A second, higher octave piano arpeggio is added between the first and second verses and continues throughout. Electric piano (glockenspiel) arpeggio is added after the second verse. By now Jónsi is using a broader range of octaves. Okay song. Might mean more if I knew the lyrics. (12.5/15)

10. "Avalon" (4:02) opens with low end electronica filling the sonic field. Pitch-mobile "horns" join in and take over during third and fourth minutes. Great ending to a great album. (9/10)

Total Time: 71:51

90.86 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive rock music and a genre-defining album and gut-wrenching listening experience (especially the flawless first half).

THE FLOWER KINGS Flower Power (1999)

One of the better Flower Kings albums, in great part due to the tremendous epic, "Garden of Dreams"--one of my top five epics from the 1990s. The musicianship, as always, is superlative, the song constructs, as usual, sometimes confusing and overly oblique, sometimes simple and straightforward (depending on Roine/the band's leanings toward YES, KING CRIMSON, or GENESIS), and the production great, but 141 minutes of listening is a lot to demand of an audience.

Line-up / Musicians:
       - Hasse Fröberg / lead & backing vocals
- Roine Stolt / electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, lead vocals
- Tomas Bodin / keyboards, mixing
- Michael Stolt / bass
- Jaime Salazar / drums, percussion
- Hasse Bruniusson / percussion, odd voices

- Disc One
1. "Garden of Dreams" (59:57) (114.75/120) 
19. "Captain Capstan" (0:55)
20. "IKEA by Night" (0:05)
21. "Astral Dog" (8:00) nice jazz fusion slow jam-groove, kind of mellow Zappa (14/15) 

      - Disc Two 
22. "Deaf, Numb and Blind" (17/20)
23. "Stupid Girl" (6:49) trip hoppy start; very 80s; could've been a hit then--especially with the Peter Frampton electric guitar. (13.75/15) 
24. "Corruption (5:55) organ. Uriah Heep comes to mind. (7.75/10) 
25. "Power of Kindness" (4:25) funeral organ, solo. FOCUS-like. (8.25/10) 
26. "Psychedelic Postcard" (9:50) YES. Weird muted vocal. Nice instrumental midsection. (16.5/20) 
27. "Hudson River Sirens Call 1998" (4:20) slide guitar solo over slow-burn bass and distant drums. Fem soprano singing operatic vocalize in background. Effective atmosphere and mood. (9.25/10) 
28. "Magic Pie" (8:19) acoustic 12-string & harpsichord w/nice vocal from Hasse Fröberg. GENESIS-like rock ballad. (17.75/20)
29. "Painter" (6:45) repeat of old themes in rock power ballad form. (12.75/15)
30. "Calling Home" (16.75/20)
31. "Afterlife" (4:34) tron, organ, military drumming instrumental, builds and builds to crescendo and then falls to simple Moog. (8.75/10)

Total Time 141:13

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

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


Back when the Cavanagh and Douglas families were a little heavier; perhaps they had a little more angst to expel in their youth. (Don't we all?) Rather than call this Experimental/Post Metal, I'd categorize it as Heavy Prog or perhaps Atmospheric Prog Metal.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Vincent Cavanagh / vocals, guitar
- Daniel Cavanagh / electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, vocals (7)
- Dave Pybus / bass
- John Douglas / drums
- Lee Douglas / vocals (7, 9)
- Dario Patti / piano (12)

1. "Deep" (4:53) heavier than I expected, more in the style that Steven Wilson was taking his PORCUPINE TREE project toward. Nice guitar solo. (8.5/10)

2. "Pitiless" (3:10) ("Post" Metal is not how I'd classify this.) (8.5/10)

3. "Forgotten Hopes" (3:50) softly picked acoustic guitar is soon joined by gentle support from the rest of the band--though a single power chord at 0:50 betrays future heaviness. Is this a follow up on Pink Floyd's "Hey You"? I like the feel, music, vocal, and lyrics of this song very much--though I'd classify this music more in the same ball park as RIVERSIDE and other heavy prog atmospherics. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

4. "Destiny Is Dead" (1:46) heavier, more ominous guitar, bass, and bass drum notes with swirling synth in the background gives this an interesting post rock feel--shades of musics to come for these guys. (4.5/5)

5. "Make It Right" (F.F.S.) (4:19) "Second Life Syndrome" anyone? Mariuz & Co. must have heard this album before making the leap to their 2005 masterpiece. Even the vocal sounds exactly like Mariuz's styling on that album. I like the Cure-like keys in the post-chorus bridges. (9/10)

6. "One Last Goodbye" (5:23) a little bit of The Cure's floating guitar sound beneath this sedate first half. Now we're hearing the structure and form, in both construct and vocal style, that we've come to associate with Anathema. Nice vocal, Vince. (As it was probably created in eulogy to the Cavanagh brothers' recently deceased mother, that makes sense.) (9/10)

7. "Parisienne Moonlight" (2:09) poorly miced (or sampled) piano and Lee Douglas & Daniel Cavanagh singing in tandem. (4.25/5)

8. "Judgement" (4:20) oddly poorly engineered/mixed song--so not what we've come to expect from the standards of amazing production the band has come to be known for. (7.75/10)

9. "Don't Look Too Far" (4:56) what a gorgeous song to inspire an equally gorgeous vocal. Could be a PT or No-Man song. Not a big fan of the choice of sound for the lead guitar. (9.25/10)

10. "Emotional Winter" (5:54) starts out sounding very PINK FLOYD "Wish You Were Here"-like. After 90 seconds, the rhtyhm section kicks and it becomes another atmospheric masterpiece sounding as if it was usurped for a RIVERSIDE or PINEAPPLE THIEF album. My favorite song on the album. (10/10)

11. "Wings of God" (6:29) kicking and screaming right out of the gates, there's a bit of a blues-rocker in this one. (8.825/10)

12. "Anyone, Anywhere" (4:50) a maturely constructed emotional rollercoaster that is cursed, unfortunately, by that cheap piano sound. (8.75/10)

13. "2000 and Gone" (4:50) an instrumental sounding so much like something from the Cure's Bloodflowers--which makes sense if you've seen the band's video to this, you know it's a heart-wrenching tribute to their deceased mother. Stunning and gorgeous (both song and video). (10/10)

Total Time: 56:56

Several of these songs bleed, one into the next, eliciting the question of whether we have a concept album here. I know the Cavanagh boys' mother had only recently died (at the young age of 49) when they set to creating this music, so, I suppose there couldn't help but be a cathartic aspect linking all of the songs--if only in spirit.

89.65 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and definitely Anthema's best album to date.


Line-up / Musicians:
- Nicklas Berg / guitar, Mellotron, Wurlitzer, vocals
- Anna Sofi Dahlberg / Mellotron, piano, Rhodes, cello, vocals
- Jan Erik Liljeström / bass, vocals
- Peter Nordins / percussives, vibraphone
- Simon Nordberg / Hammond organ, piano, co-producer & mixing

1. "From Within" (7:25) usual rolling bass lines, supporting guitar arpeggi, and some truly spectacular drumming opens this one before things settle down for the vocals. The after-vocal instrumental section is highlighted by tension building Mellotron and cello work. Quite a solid, powerful song with lots of interesting ear-catching elements. (14.25/15)

2. "Kiss Of Life" (4:40) 'Tron and guitar try to establish melody over hard driving bass and drum track. Vocalist performance and sound engineering is off--almost detracting from the song. Cool pregnant slow down section starting at 3:00. (8.5/10)

3. "Groundbound (5:25) interesting strumming 60s guitar sound with alternate lead singer. Breaks into full rhythm section and full blown structure with the end of the first verse. Drumming is more distant, echoey, too--more like the sound Ricard "Huxflux" Nettermalm gets from his kit. Different, unusual, and interesting. (8.75/10)

4. "Hole" (11:09) Anekdoten's best song ever and one of the best prog epics of the 1990s. Incredible use of space to create and build tension. (20/20)

5. "Slow Fire" (7:26) this one fails to interest me both musically and vocally. Even the build up starting in the sixth minute is lackluster. (11.75/15)

6. "Firefly" (4:49) brooding rock with a different lead vocalist. Nice use of piano to spice things up.(8.5/10)

7. "The Sun Absolute" (6:39) big thick throbbing bass is joined by cymbal play and then gentle electric guitar arpeggi for the first minute before Mellotron flute and other keyboard-generated hits and notes are worked into the weave until at 2:30 a bank of 'tron strings signals a kind of chorus. Less than thirty seconds later and we're back to the original weave, building again, with more guitar lead and 'tron use, all the while the basic rhythm and structural form goes pretty much unchanged but for a total of one minute start to sixth minute. Odd ending. (8.5/10)

8. "For Someone (3:31) gentle acoustic guitar fingering with Greg Lake-like vocal and electric guitar inputs until the space between the first and second verses when vibraphone gently adds its own notes. Interesting and different. Gentle, soothing way to finish the album. (8.75/10)

Total Time: 51:04

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

MR. BUNGLE California 

Is this where Humble Grumble was born? The theatric-cabaret stylings of these songs are so wonderful and refreshing, I find it hard to believe that they wouldn't be entertaining and enjoyable for any and all listeners. Roll the cinematic music of Elvis in the 1950s with big band, klezmer, Dick Dale, Rocky Horror Picture Show

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mike Patton / vocals, keyboards
- Trey Spruance / guitar, co-producer
- Clinton McKinnon / sax, keyboards
- Trevor Dunn / acoustic & electric basses
- Danny Heifetz / drums
- David Phillips / pedal steel guitar
- Aaron Seeman / piano (6)
- Michael Peloquin / harmonica
- Timb Harris / trumpet
- Bill Banovetz / English horn
- Larry Ragent / French horn
- Ben Barnes / violin, viola
- Eyvind Kang / violin, viola
- Carla Kihlstedt / violin, viola
- Sam Bass / cello
- Marika Hughes / cello
- Henri Duscharme / accordion
- William Winant / percussion, bass drum, timpani
- Jay Steebley / cimbalom

1. "Sweet Charity" (5:05) theatric in an almost cabaret way, but flush with catchy and smiley melodic and quirky hooks. Great song--very memorable in a 1960s kind of way. (10/10)

2. "None of Them Knew They Were Robots" (6:03) amazingly entertaining! Even without hearing the lyrics (I can't help but catch a few of the shocking non-sequiturs), I just love this song! (10/10)

3. "Retrovertigo" (4:59) acoustic guitar and Fender Rhodes piano set the stage for a slow song. Singers join in on multiple levels, the lead being mostly a whispery high male--until, at least, the chorus--then, at 1:44, one of the background singers steps forward to deliver in a full tenor. The music stays slow and simple, almost nursery/lullaby-like, until 3:17 when a big wall of sound comes crashing in, with power chords, amped drums, choral vocals, and everything. (8.75/10)

4. "The Air-Conditioned Nightmare" (3:55) Straight out of a BEACH BOYS/ELVIS beach movie soundtrack. What fun! Is it parody or serious? Very interesting and clever vocal delivery with different vocalists injecting each word of the lyrics in places. Then, at 2:07, it moves to a saloon of the Wild West before returning to the beaches of SoCal. (8.75/10)

5. "Ars Moriendi" (4:10) Arabian melodic riffs with Middle Eastern/European instrumentation opens this one before letting everything go fast-paced crazy (in a very organic Arabian way). Pure craziness abounds! (8.75/10)

6. "Pink Cigarette" (4:55) parodying the early rock'n'roll themes and styles popularized by a California-caucasion element of the 1950s and early 60s. Clever but not really amounting to much for me. (8.25/10)

7. "Golem II: The Bionic Vapour Boy" (3:34) could be from the soundtrack of a Hitchcock or Peter Sellers or Danny Elfman movie. Interesting, entertaining, very quirky and off-the-wall, and, perhaps, quite ingenius. Take David Byrne's quirk and multiple it tenfold. (8.5/10)

8. "The Holy Filament" (4:04) dark and dramatic, the soundscape of the opening is incredible! The big deep bass chords off-set by upper octave piano notes is used to awesome effect! Then strings enter in the second half followed by male vocal choir. So cool! (9/10)

9. "Vanity Fair" (2:58) sounds like something from Peter Cetera/CHICAGO from the mid-70s. (8/10)

10. "Goodbye Sober Day" (4:29) Fully representational of the title, this was probably a lot of fun for the band to create, but it does little for me, other than slightly entertain. (8/10)

Total Time: 44:08

Perhaps this is where bands like PINK MARTINI and PINK LEMONADES got some of their inspiration.

88.0 on the Fishcales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of highly theatric musical entertainment.

Other Very Good Albums
(Ratings of 85.0 to 87.66)

OPETH Still Life

Opeth, the epitome of the chameleonic prog metal/death metal scene, here use their sonic assault to fill brains with gruel. I'll repeat my one compliment of Mikael Åkerfeldt's death metal growls:  at least I can understand his words. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mikael Åkerfeldt / electric & semi-electric guitars, vocals, producer
- Peter Lindgren / guitars
- Martin Mendez / basses (Fender Precision, Samick 5-string fretless)
- Martin Lopez / drums

1. "The Moor" (11:28) (18.25/20) = 9.125 

2. "Godhead's Lament" (9:47) a straightforward run through the juggernaut in hell. Technically, the musicianship is impressive (as always), but musically it does nothing to lure me back. Perhaps the lyrics would propel it into a higher realm, critically, but that's not my style. Again, Mikael's "normal" human voice is quite nice, almost choir-like. A song I won't ever need to hear again--despite my curiosity over what "godhead's lament" might be. (16/20)

3. "Benighted" (5:01) multiple tracks of acoustic guitars playing delicate yet intricately picked music. Mikael's whispered vocal joins in the second minute. This guy is so talented! (8.75/10)

4. "Moonlapse Vertigo" (9:00) full band opens at a good clip, though not as dense as #2; the instruments are moving slightly out of kilter with one another--which is actually a cool effect. And the drum pattern is fairly simple and spacious. I like that the instrumental opening establishes melodies that keep me interested. At 2:00 there is a hard left into acoustic-guitar based music for the singing to begin. The right-turn around 2:45 is hard but rather cool, musically. . .  until the death growls arrive. These two themes repeat until 4:30 when there is a jazzy instrumental section. (18/20)

5. "Face Of Melinda" (7:59) another multiple acoustic guitar-based opening with soft (brushed?!) drums and multiple vocal tracks (all Mikael). Interesting in an EXTREME "More Than Words" kind of way. At 4:26, several spaced apart WHO-like electric guitar power chords announce the transition into the more aggressive metal version/section of the song. The singing stays nice and the music is not too abrasive, but there are no attractive melodies to hook me in, make me want to stay. Nice build up and presentation for the low-key guitar display at the end. (13/15)

6. "Serenity Painted Death" (9:14) a hard-driving opening within which Mikael chooses to present his lyrics with his death metal growls. Nice guitar bridge into quiet shift to section B. Still choosing growl vocals. The instrumental expression may be a little too tame for these vocals and their lyrics! In the fifth minute the music moves to a more acoustic guitar-based section for some cool instrumental exposition. In the eighth minute Mikael lets loose with a nice lead guitar shredder, then the music returns to strummed electric guitar chords and normal voice singing--until 7:45 when the earlier theme and growls return. Interesting how the song ends with such delicate though intricate  guitar picking. (17.75/20)

7. "White Cluster" (10:02) kind of bland, repetitive "metal by numbers" with growls for the first 1:45. Then turns acoustic guitar strums with Mikael singing in his normal voice with nice, long, protracted notes/words. Weird break for "silent" acoustic guitar in very middle before bursting back into full force. Nice drum play with long sustained growl. More power section followed by acoustic section. Such a roller coaster ride! Nice lead guitar work as music starts to fade. Interesting song, just not always keeping me engaged. 
(16.75/20) = 8.375

Total Time: 62:31

86.80 on the Fishcales = B/four stars; an excellent display of prog metal. This may, in fact, be a masterpiece of metal/death metal music, but, in my personal opinion, this is not representative of mastery of progressive rock music. 

DREAM THEATER Metropolis Part 2 - Scenes from a Memory

Line-up / Musicians:
- James LaBrie / lead vocals
- John Petrucci / guitars, backing vocals, programming (7), co-producer
- Jordan Rudess / keyboards, choir arranger & conductor (11)
- John Myung / bass guitar
- Mike Portnoy / drums, percussion, backing vocals, co-producer
- Theresa Thomason / additional lead vocals (7,11)
- Theresa Thomason, Mary Canty, Shelia Slappy, Mary Smith, Jeanette Smith, Clarence Burke Jr, Carol Cyrus, Dale Scott / gospel choir (11)
- Terry Brown - voice of the Hypnotherapist (uncredited), vocals co-production
- David Bottrill - voice of Edward (uncredited)

1. Scene One: Regression (2:06) (/5)
2. Scene Two: I.Overture 1928 (3:37) (/10)
3. II.Strange Deja Vu (5:13) (/10)
4. Scene Three: I.Through My Words (1:02) (/5)
5. II.Fatal Tragedy (6:49) (/15)
6. Scene Four: Beyond This Life (11:22) (/20)
7. Scene Five: Through Her Eyes (5:29) (/10)

8. Scene Six: Home (12:53) (/25)
9. Scene Seven: I.The Dance Of Eternity (6:13) (/10)
10. II.One Last Time (3:47) (/10)
11. Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On (6:38) (/10)
12. Scene Nine: Finally Free (12:00) (/25)

Total Time: 77:12

on the Fishcales = / stars;

Not As Good As Advertised

FRENCH TV The Violence of Amateurs

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dean Zigoris / guitar, keyboards (2,4), vocals & percussion (4), synth guitar (5), synth & noises (6), co-producer
- John Robinson / keyboards (2,3,5,6), backing vocals (3), noises (6)
- Mike Sary / bass, percussion (4,5), co-producer
- Gregory Acker / flute (1,3-5), sax (1,4,5), Hawaiian nose flute (1), percussion (5)
- John Encifer / keyboards (1)
- Eugene Chadbourne / banjo (1)
- Bob Douglas / drums (1,5)
- Brian Donohue / drums (2,3,6), noises (6)
- Steve Good / sax & clarinets (2)
- Steve Aevil / tenor sax solo (2)
- Chris Vincent / drums & percussion & vocals (4)
- Kathy Moeller / violin (4)
- Kirk Davis / vocals & percussion (4)

1. "The Kokonino Stomp" (4:42) definitely opens like a stomp but then goes 1950s TV soundtrack theme streaming. (8.75/10)

2. "The Secret Life Of Walter Riddle" (8:14) opens as a true small-town bandstand military band piece before suddenly going spy theme. All kinds of tense situations and diabolical opponents are constructed through the music that ensues. Now I see the inspiration for bands like Atomic Ape as well as similarities to a lot of Adrian Belew's musique dramatique. (12.75/15)

3. "The Odessa Steps Sequence" (8:42) a soundtrack to Sergei Eisensteins's famous scene from the film Battleship Potemkin? The RUSH/VAN HALEN-like sound palette middle sequence is an interesting choice--tempered by flutes. Then it turns video-game soundtrack! Not sure this makes for a successful rendering of the intended subject matter--except to make it melodramatic as a silent film might be taken. (16/20)

4. "Mail Order Quarks" (10:27) opens very melodic and upbeat, sounding like one of WEATHER REPORT's 1970s happy songs. The instrumental sounds and performances are still a bit "wonky" though. At 2:45 things shift into a more delicate picked electric guitar based passage. Sounds like a setup for a John McLaughlin/Mahavishnu solo section. Chorused violin solos heavily, methodically, emotionally, before being joined by frantic flute, electric guitars, and synth noises. Band shifts gears again, hitting stride in third with fairly straight time signature as synth and jazz guitar take turns soloing before a final switch back into the smooth WEATHER REPORT zone for the finish. Nice song! (18.25/20)

5. "Tiger Tea" (12:13) has a "Birdland in Jamaica"-kind of feel and sound to it before soprano sax takes the lead in a Jay Beckenstein/SPIRO GYRA-kind of way. Lots of visual moods established as interludes between burst of the main theme, pastoral, circus, saloon, night driving, etc. The only real constants are the sounds of the drum kit and the chunky fretless bass. Entertaining, to be sure, but not as melodic as I need it. (20.75/25)

"Joosan Lost / The Fate" (21:42) (40/45) = 8.89  

Total Time: 65:18

83.79 on the Fishcales = B-/3.5 stars; sophisticated musical performances that are unfortunately rendered with little or no flow or consistent melody (kind of like life, not like listener-pleasing music). There's a lot of humor and skill here, but this is just not my cup of tea (and I don't even drink much tea!).


 I'm not really sure why this is categorized as Zeuhl (especially as GUAPO is not). To me this is Avante garde, at times free form jazz and even psychedic jazz rock. Two of the first three songs (bookending a quite interesting version of The BEATLES' "Norwegian Wood" [7/10]) are quite free flowing and incorporate a lot of seemingly random and improvised soloing from a plethora of instruments and effects. Unfortunately, this is just too much cacophony and screaming noise for my tastes, thank you very much. This isn't even cognitive dissonance, it's acid trip or Krautrock dissonance!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Kido Natsuki / guitar, synth, co-producer
- Katsui Yuji / vocals, violin, co-producer
- Ohtsubo Hirohiko / bass
- Takara Kuimiko / vibraphone, percussion, organ
- Okabe Youichi / percussion, trap drum

1. "Minus One" (6:46) (9/15)
2. "Prayer" (9:18) (13/20)
3. "Screen Game" (acoustic) (5:16) (7/10)
4. "Storm Bird Storm Dreamer" (11:54) My favorite song cuz it has the most structure. It's like hearing a jam war between 70s SANTANA and DJAM KARET. Many interesting sounds (Frippertronics, 'humpback bass,' TRAFFIC-like lyricon--or is it J-LP electric violin?, TANGERINE DREAM synth waves and arpeggios, and more). Great jam. (23.5/25)

5. "Sono-bank" (19:08) wild and unmelodious, this song reminds me so much of TODD RUNDGREN's 36-minute "Treatise on Cosmic Fire" from 1975's Initiation. I'll take Todd. Sorry.(24/40)

6. Old Blind Cat (4:47)

Total Time: 57:09

The question I keep asking myself whenever I listen to this album (especially after listening to the previous three Bondage Fruit offerings) is:  What happened? What happened to the tightly performed, complex Zeuhl structures of the first two albums to get to this mess of chaos?

70.45 on the Fishscales = D/2.5 stars; aside from "Storm Bird Storm Dreamer", this is an album I would recommend only for the extremely tolerant. If you like jam bands and/or free form jazz (not quite Ornette Coleman), then, by all means, try it, you might like it.

Albums on the Fringe of Prog World


A transitional album for Ben and Tracey--especially for Ben, as the influence and inputs of dub, hip hop, and trip hop have really sunk in--portends of the next amazing phase of his career as a club DJ. This album is overall of a great, engaging quality, but it's not quite as deeply engaging as the previous masterpiece, Walking Wounded. What I loved about this album, as I have with all EBTG releases, is that it arrived as yet another example of the band's fearless path of growth and experimentation. But more is the fact that the duo succeed with each and every new mask/style they try on! 

Lineup / Musicians:
Tracey Thorn - vocals
Ben Watt - bass, guitars, keyboards, strings, beats, scratching, sound editing and programming, mixing, production

1. "Five Fathoms" (6:24) (8.75/10)
2. "Low Tide of the Night" (4:45) (9/10)
3. "Blame" (6:18) (8.25/10)
4. "Hatfield 1980" (5:12) (10/10)
5. "Temperamental" (5:20) (8.5/10)
6. "Compression" (7:11) (12.25/15)
7. "Downhill Racer" (3:49) (9.25/10)
8. "Lullaby of Clubland" (5:30) (9/10)
9. "No Difference" (4:26) (9/10)
10. "The Future of the Future (Stay Gold)" (7:52) "Are the stars out tonight?" OPUS III would ask. A GREAT dance song for the club floors. (13.5/15)

88.64 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of crossover progressive pop rock and another great addition of engaging, interesting music from the band that has never let me down. 

THE FLAMING LIPS The Soft Bulletin

Lineup / Musicians: 
Wayne Coyne - vocals, guitar, keyboards, theremin
Michael Ivans - bass, keyboards, backing vocals, engineering
Steven Drozd - drums, percussion, guitar, keyboards, bass, backing vocals

1. "Race for the Prize" (Mokran remix) (4:09)
2. "A Spoonful Weighs a Ton" (3:32)
3. The Spark that Bled" (5:55)
4. "The Spiderbite Song" (4:02)
5. "Buggin'" (Mokran remix) (3:16)
6. "What Is the Light?" (4:05)
7. "The Observer" (4:11)
8. "Waitin' for a Superman" (4:17)
9. "Suddenly Everything Has Changed" (3:45)
10. "The Gash" (4:02)
11. "Feeling Yourself Disintegrate" (5:17)
12. "Sleeping on the Roof" (3:09)
13. "Race for the Prize" (4:18)
14. "Waitin' for a Superman" (Mokran remix)

Total length: 58:26

on the Fishscales = / stars; 

LINCOLN PARK Hybrid Theory

Lineup / Musicians:
Chester Bennington - lead vocals
Mike Shinoda - co-vocals, rhythm guitar, keyboards, piano, additional samples & programming, drum machine
Brad Delson - guitars, bass
Joe Hahn - turntables, samples, programming
Rob Bourdon - drums, percussion
Ian Hornbeck - bass on 1, 9, 10
Scott Koziol - bass on 2
The Dust Brothers - sequencing and samples on 3

1. "Papercut" (3:04)
2. "One Step Closer" (2:35)
3. "With You" (3:23)
4. "Points of Authority" (3:20)
5. "Crawling" (3:29)
6. "Runaway" (3:03)
7. "By Myself" (3:09)
8. "In the End" (3:36) (10/10)
9. "A Place for My Head" (3:04)
10. "Forgotten" (3:14)
11. "Cure for the Itch" (2:37)
12. "Pushing Me Away" (3:11)

Total length:  37:45

on the Fishscales = / stars ;

DIDO No Angel

on the Fishscales = / stars ;


on the Fishscales = / stars ;

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Top Albums of the Year 1993: Masterpieces and More

Though Prog Is Alive and Well in the 21st Century, I have decided to go back and "fill in" the years upon which the 21st Century is built, and not just the "classic" years of 1967-76. Each year will be given its own page, containing reviews of the albums I determine are worthy of recognition (both positive and negative). As usual, these pages will be works in progress, to which I'll be adding information as it comes my way.

Five Star Masterpieces 
(Ratings of 100 to 93.34) 


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

1. OZRIC TENTACLES Jurassic Shift 

Producing albums since 1985, Ed Wynne and company (aka OZRIC TENTACLES)'s 1990 and 1993 albums, Erpland and Jurassic Shift, respectively, achieved the blend of quality production, recording, composition, and performance to elevate the band into the pantheon of 'significant' progressive rock musicians. Categorized a "psychedelic/space rock" band because of their jam band instrumental approach and heavy reliance on synths, "world" percussives, rhythms, instruments and sounds, and Ed Wynne's guitar soloing, the Ozrics are so much more. (The reputation of their live concerts does seem to draw similarities to those of PHISH, GROBSCHNITT, or THE GRATEFUL DEAD.) Jurassic Shift is my favorite OT album. Published in April of 1993, this modern world instrument- and synthesizer-infused jazz-rock fusion band from the UK led by guitarist/multi-instrumentalist Ed Wynne had just come off the release of their second live album after eight studio albums in eight years. With JS it seems that the band had made the complete synthesis, balance, and maturation of their spacey sound with pristine sound reproduction and production.

1. "Sunhair" (5:43) from the opening percussive synthesizer sequence I knew that this was going to be a band I like and that this song album and song were to be amazing. Once full band joins in there are sections of Japanese garden-like sounds, odd crowd/bird sounds, swirling synth solos and wailing rock guitar soli all alternating in perfect time durations. Awesome opener! (9.5/10)

2. "Stretchy" (6:51) here the band puts on display the unique way in which they have incorporated the awesome array of synthesizer sounds and capabilities becoming available at the beginning of the Nineties--many of which were rather unfortunately relegated to the realms of New Age and Buddha Lounge/World Music. The song cruises along at a fast pace from the get go with a vast array of synth sounds being incorporated over the driving drum and bass play. Great tune for moving! (9/10)

3. "Feng Shui" (10:24) opening with flute soloing meditatively over garden-like synth washes and incidental percussives until a synth sequence and drums and bass enter at the 1:30 mark establishing a Lots of Holger-Czukay-like radio samples woven into the tapestry. At the end of the third minute some really gorgeous synth chords enter before leaving to isolate the bass and Jamaica-like drum/percussives in order to throw a veritable flood of idiosyncronous synth-generated spacey-"jungle" sounds at us. Koto takes the lead within the mix for the sixth minute. Then a more familiar organ-like synth bumps some chords at us during the seventh minute before devolving into more synth soloing from some odd & delay/echoed synth sound. The 8:00 mark sees a dramatic shift into high octane power rock with a whole change in tempo (faster) and style. For creativity this is an astonishing song; melodically it may be found lacking a bit. (17.5/20)

4. "Half Light in Thillai" (5:36) this one opens with sounds and style that are very familiar to me for my obsession with all things the Brothers Gordon (Steve and David) founders of Sequoia Records and musicians behind many of the great New Age yoga and drum circle/dance albums of the 1980s (the Inner Music and Sacred Earth Drums series') as well as bands like DEEP FOREST. Slow, methodic and aboriginal, the rhythm tracks allow for some nice flute, guitar, and synth incidentals. The final minute and more finds some excellent acoustic guitar work. (8.5/10)

5. "Jurassic Shift" (11:06) simply the best song on the album and the most truly prog of them all with some outstanding electric guitar work--both lead and rhythm--over the amazingly engaging groove coming from the rhythm tracks. This is where we get served notice that Ed Wynne is a guitar god--eleven minutes of such service! The quiet middle section is quite reminiscent of some Al Di Meola's softer stuff--like from Scenario on. (20/20)

6. "Pteranodon" (5:41) takes us back to a Jurassic-kind of time with heavy, plodding bass and drum lines supporting long sustained decaying synth "screams." The island/jungle/tribal-like percussives only add to the effect as do the "alien"-like synth ejaculations in the second half of the second minute. Searing electric guitar solo opens the third minute before relinquishing its lead to more of the synth (and violin?) ejaculations and "screams." Again, from a creativity aspect, this song is incredible! AND it hits on all cylinders with the engaging groove and story being "told." (9/10)

7. "Train Oasis" (2:46) opens with a quickly established PAT METHENY GROUP-like groove (though using a synthesizer for bass). Creative midi-synth soloing on multiple levels (tracks?) and nice chord progressions and melody constructions. (9/10)

8. "Vita Voom" (4:48) Timbales and bass & guitar open this one presenting an almost punk/techno pop beat before incidental samples are thrown at us from the computer keyboard. At the end of the opening minute the lead electric guitar gives us a little more structure with its ostinati. Flute gets a turn to shine in the third minute--though its treatments sometimes almost obscure it. Spanish-flavored acoustic guitar is added and then Spanish-flavored lead electric guitar wails over the now distinctly Latin-infused song. (9/10)

91.50 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of innovative progressive rock music, especially valuable for its example to other space jam bands.

2. CYNIC Focus (1993)

 I just purchased both Traced in Air and Focus. While I am enjoying Traced, I can't help but notice how much more engaging and interesting Focus is. Every song, every nuance, every treatment, every instrument comes as such a surprise--delightful surprises! There is absolute genius in creativity and innovation with regard to sound structures and use of sound technologies. This is quite possibly the finest metal album I've ever heard--one that is immediately accessible--and enjoyable--to even me, a non-metal head. I own the CD version that has the 2004 remixes of "Veil of Maya," (10/10) "I'm but a Wave to?" (9/10) and "How Could I" (8/10) as well as three songs that were not on the original 1994 issue, "Cosmos," (8/10) "The Circle's Gone" (9/10) and "Endless Endeavors" (10/10) and, I have to say, I like all of the additional material equally if not better than the original stuff. There's more clarity and definition to all instruments in the remixes--everything is seemingly 'brought forward' in the mix instead of left back in a cloudy atmosphere. The three additional songs show a less technical metal side to Cynic--even a kind of MAGENTA/MARTHA & THE MUFFINS-like sound in both "The Circle's Gone" and "Endless Endeavors."

The musicianship is so high, the band plays so tight, the compositions and individual performances are so creative--even innovative--I'm simply astounded. The weakest part for me are the vocals--even though I like the call and response technique--growl & 'vocoder'--but not used over and over like this. On songs like "Textures" (10/10)1994's version of KC's "Discipline/Indiscipline"), "Sentiment" (10/10), and "I'm But a Wave to ?" (9/10) the vocals are often almost incidental and allow the listener to better appreciate the work of the instrumentalists and the overall composition. And I actually quite like the occasional and very effective presence of a female vocalist, (Who is this--she is uncredited. It can't be Paul Masvidal, can it?) and I like the Earth doom/human spirituality/quantum physics message of the lyrics. The sudden and unexpected 'tender' sections are delightfully fun--and quite interesting from a compositional perspective. Unquestionably, the lead and 'rhythm' guitar playing, drumming, and bass (esp. the PASTORIUS-like fretless) is absolutely brilliant throughout.

At the time of this album's publication it was like none other that had ever come before it. It is my belief that  Focus  contributed more to the formation of the new genre of extreme technical metal than any other. The arrangements and performances are so technically challenging and yet at the same time mind-bogglingly tight as to leave my jaw on the ground and shaking my head over and over and over again.  Focus' pacing and vocals may not be to everyone's liking but one cannot help but appreciate the skill and vision of these musicians (who came from other bands such as DEATH to make this one-off). Again, there can really be no argument that this 1993 album contributed to the "progress" of music.

on the Fishscales = / stars; 

3. DEAD CAN DANCE  Into the Labyrinth

I LOVED Aion. This is going back to explore more of the Middle Eastern sounds as they began on Serpent's Egg.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Lisa Gerrard / performer
- Brendan Perry / performer, producer

1. "Yulunga (Spirit Dance)" (6:56) starts very powerfully with some extraordinary overtone vocals, but then comes down to Earth with the second half and the hand percussion. (13.25/15)

2. "The Ubiquitous Mr. Lovegrove" (6:16) despite Brendan's attempt at passionate vocals, it's not believable and the song is nothing very exciting or dynamic. (8.25/10)

3. "The Wind That Shakes The Barley" (2:50) Lisa sings Celtic a cappella. (4.25/5)

4. "The Carnival Is Over" (5:28) Brendan's best song ever! So nostalgic and almost eerily sad! (10/10)

5. "Ariadne" (1:54) Silk Road campfire music. (4.75/5)

6. "Saldek" (1:07) music for Silk Road ablutions--or scarf dance. (4.75/5)

7. "Towards The Within" (7:06) one of the rare songs on which both Lisa and Brendan sing--together, bobbing and weaving with each other--on multiple tracks! When Lisa takes over solo voce in the middle it sounds a bit like OFRA HAZA. (13/15)

8. "Bird" (5:00) * (8.75/10)

9. "Tell Me About The Forest (You Once Called Home)" (5:42) interesting instrumental choices to weave with Brendan's vocal. Not sure they belong together (or if it works). For once the DCD computerized synth sounds sound old and dated. (8.5/10)

10. "The Spider's Stratagem" (6:42) definitely a song projected straight out of Asia Minor or the Arabian world. Lisa is so talented! (8.75/10)

11. "Spirit" (4:59) * musically very similar to Massive Attack's "Teardrop" as well as some fairly recent Cure and U2 work. (9.5/10)

12. "Emmeleia" (2:04) another duet--this one a cappella and sounding very Balkan monastic. Amazingly well executed and recorded! (4.75/5)

13. "How Fortunate The Man With None" (9:15) the only epic-length song on the album opens with very pleasant sound palette and a very strong Brendan Perry vocal. Very cool! The "strings" build out in the fourth minute is perfect. Through two verses and I'm LOVING this! I love how the music keeps shifting beneath the very steady storytelling of Brendan's vocal. Wow! I am shocked at how much I like this one! Really captures some kind of ancient milieu. (19/20)

* Absent from CD editions--they're both good songs that enhance the whole.

Total time 65:19

91.15 on the Fishscales = A-/five stars; a minor masterpiece of progressive World Folk music that has some extreme highs and some relative low points.

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

VOIVOD The Outer Limits

These Quebecoise do know how to make good music--even if it does sound somewhat dated-UK scene stuff!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Denis Bélanger "Snake" / vocals, Fx
- Denis d'Amour "Piggy" / guitar, keyboards, Fx
- Michel Langevin "Away" / drums, keyboards, Fx
- Pierre St-Jean / bass

1. "Fix My Heart" (4:57) pretty straightforward rock song. (8.25/10)

2. "Moonbeam Rider" (4:11) more movement from this song leads to a more interesting listen. I like the EDGE/U2 chords between the verses and choruses--and then NEKTAR arpeggi in the soft part of the third minute--which is followed by an awesome little solo section. (8.75/10)

3. "Le Pont Noir" (5:43) Leonard Cohen gone dark? Works for me! A top three for me. (8.75/10)

4. "The Nile Song" (4:00) interesting cover of Pink Floyd. Almost OZZY-SABBATH-like. (8.75/10)

5. "The Lost Machine" (5:53) I love the start to this one! Then it settles into a kind of heavy CARDIACS feel, with a surprisingly straightforward structure. The switch at 2:40 is rather drastic and not altogether engaging. Luckily, it doesn't last long--we're back to the main motif by 3:25. Another top three song. (9/10)

6. "Time Warp" (3:54) I like the vocal of this one; the U2-like music is okay. The chorus is great. (9/10)

"Jack Luminous" (17:28) a very cool song, great construction. My other top three. (32/35) 

8. "Wrong-Way Street" (3:50) "Radar Love" with more U2/EDGE guitar. (8.5/10)

9. "We Are Not Alone" (4:27) another amped up U2-War-like intro before the song takes off into KINGSTON WALL territory. Interesting! (8.75/10)

Total Time: 54:24 

88.96 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a surprising score for this album that is much more interesting and accessible that it's score would seem to indicate. Hmph! Still, a near-masterpiece of prog-oriented Heavy Metal.

PATRICK GAUTHIER Sur les flots verticaux  

Very good keyboard-based Zeuhl prog from the former HELDON, MAGMA, and WIEDORJE keyboard artist. It is obvious that Patrick is an accomplished pianist and loves the Broadway vocal medium.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Patrick Gauthier / piano, programming
- Alain Bellaiche / vocals, guitar
- Pierre Marcault / percussions
- Antoine Paganotti / drums
- Christian Mathurin / bass
- Marc Eliard / bass
- Bénédicte Ragu / vocals
- Julie Vander / vocals
- Stella Vander / vocals

1. "Des pygmées dans la ville" (6:34) I kind of happy Calypso Zuehl. (9/10)

2. "Sur les flots verticaux" (10:01) One of the greatest prog/Zeuhl 'classical' études ever written. The Coltrane, Orff and Débussy influences are strong here. Gorgeous vocal arrangements and renderings. (20/20)

3. "Le train fantôme" (7:18) odd and unusual but hypnotic in the Zeuhl fashion, so I guess it's a success. Just . . . weird. (13/15)

4. "Odessa" (4:11) is pure classical/jazz piano soloing. Very Gershwinian. (8.5/10)

5. "Eleutheren" (8:17) is founded, unfortunately, on almost the exact same rhythm as song #3. The vocal expedition is different--more Magma and Broadway music styled (Manhattan Transfer)--though I hear monastic chant as well. Amazing "piccolo" bass play. Well performed, interestingly and creatively composed. (13/15)

6. "Zawinal" (8:26) another Broadway-esque/Manhattan Transfer-like song. Too repetitive, over-dramatic and drawn out. (11.5/15)

87.06 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent ambassador of both Zeuhl and of progressive rock music.

Other Very Good Albums
(Ratings of 83.33 to 86.67)

ATHEIST Elements

What?! A jazzier, moodier, more BLACK SABBATH- and TOOL-like version of Atheist? (I know the Tool reference is unfair as this band predates Maynard's breakthrough. But the music has at times a strikingly similar sound to it.) I happen to like the production of this album less than its predecessor, Unquestionable Presence, but appreciate the growth that the instrumentalists have done in terms of diversifying/broadening their stylistic influences and sonic choices. Though the bass and drums maintain their prominent places in the sonic mix (though neither of these newcomers, Choy and Greenbaum, impress in the way that their predecessors did), the voices and high end sounds just feel murkier (especially when you listen to Unquestionable Presence before or along side Elements. The new, Latin-ized Atheist is indeed interesting but I think the previous version of the band was more impressive.

Favorite songs: the proggiest ones, which happen to be the final three, "Earth," "See You Again," and "Elements."

86.64 on the Fishscales = B/four stars;  Still, this is without a doubt a solid four star album, just not on the same par as their previous (albeit short) album.


Petri Walli & Company mature and polish, try a little more adventure, unfortunately it's Petri who has done the most work, the most growing; Jukka and Sami are really not in the same league. Petri's guitar has so much to say that almost every song has to go over six minutes just to fully express himself.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Petri Walli / guitar, lead & backing vocals
- Jukka Jylli / bass, backing vocals
- Sami Kuoppamäki / drums, percussion
- Sakari Kukko / saxophone (8)
- "Ufo" Mustonen / violin (2)

1. "We Cannot Move" (4:39) let the Indian influences begin! (8.5/10)

2. "Istwan" (4:02) acoustic guitar picking with droning strings leads into a kind of BEATLES/BEACH BOYS C&W song style. Interesting! (8.5/10)

3. "Could It Be So?" (5:52) back to psychedelia: guitar drenched heavily in reverb leads of and solos from the get go. This is HENDRIX/Frank MARINO heaven! And the band does very well to keep up with Petri. (Maybe they've finally awakened.) And he's singing about reincarnation! A top three song for me. (9/10)

4. "And It's All Happening" (6:07) slowed down, spacious blues-rock instrumental. Pure Hendrix or maybe Gilmour amped up by ten. Masterful and emotional. (8.75/10)

5. "Love Tonight" (6:40) though the electric guitar is bleeding over from the previous song, strumming acoustic guitars, Indian-sounding percussion, and either bowed electric guitar or violin establish a TRAFFIC or Alvin Lee-like song structure before Petri begins singing and then turning full on LED ZEPPELIN. Amazingly piercing electric guitar playing during the solo section. And then he's holding back--turns to strumming for his lead work! Absolutely amazing! (8.5/10)

6. "Two Of a Kind" (6:23) returning to the Arabian deserts with acoustic guitar strumming, joined by odd synth-sounding bass before Petri starts singing and the rest of the band joins in. During the first instrumental section, Petri's solo is full-on HENDRIX. It's as if he's channeling the master! Drums get a chance to show off (nice job Sami!) before second verse of singing starts. Another blazing, faster-than-light guitar solo follows. Wow! (8.5/10)

7. "I Feel Love" (6:39) Yes! THE "I Feel Love"! Done Euro-Petri-style! It almost works! (8.25/10)

8. "Shine On Me" (7:05) introduced with a heavy, bluesy picked electric guitar chord progression accompanied by soloing saxophone, Petri's almost-whispered voice delivers the first verse as the band's rhythm track kicks in, before the first guitar solo. Sax does a great job of dancing around Petri's vocals--and the bass and drums intensify nicely after the second verse, encouraging Petri to amp it up for his second guitar solo. Unfortunately, it's rather blues-rock solo by the numbers--the sax is actually outshining the guitar! The music tones down significantly after the third verse, paving the way for a much more sensitive, bluesy GILMOUR-like solo. (13.25/15)

9. "You" (10:11) the opening feels like something from an AL DiMEOLA album. The Latin flavor soon diminishes (@1:15) as electrified guitar sound amplifies. Petri's vocalise and Jukka's bass play are strongly entrained. Then everything backs way down for a spacious, more RY COODER-like acoustic guitar section before electric guitar reenters in a dramatic fashion. Soft, spacious in the fifth minute as Petri finally starts to sing--in a soft, relaxed, Robert Plant-like way. Amped up drums in the sixth minute signal a shift in dynamics: bass and guitar take off, with Petri's wah-ed lead taking us through some Pete Townsend moves before settling on a more staccato approach. Around 7:40 it begins to sound as if there are multiple guitar tracks contributing. New Spanish chord structure at 8:00 leads to another round of Petri alternating between vocalise and lead guitar. Then, at 9:00, we switch back to the soft, spacious motif for Petri to finish the singing off. (17.5/20)

10. "Palékastro" (4:54) a fast paced instrumental rocker to finish off the album unfortunately showcases the discrepancy in skill level between Petri Walli and both of his band mates. (8.25/10)

Total Time: 76:36

86.43 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent step forward for this guitar god--the possible reincarnation of Master Jimi. 

Not As Good As Advertized

PENDRAGON The Window of Life (1993)

1. "The Walls of Babylon" (10:50) (17.25/20) 
2. "Ghosts" (8:02) (13/15) 
3. "Breaking the Spell" (9:18) (17/20)
4. "The Last Man on Earth" (14:46) (27/30) 
5. "Nostradamus (Stargazing)" (8:23) two minutes of sensitive guitar soloing before the full song kicks in. Too 80s Brit Pop sounding (especially in singing style, diction). (16/20)
6. Am I Really Losing You? (4:47) big guitar hook is stolen from YES's Soon. (8/10)

85.43 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid contribution to the prog lexicon and a nice step forward toward the Neo Prog top tier.

IQ Ever

Like a lot of 1990s Neo Prog, IQ's antiquated synths tinge the band's musical contributions from the middle half of their 40 years. Even then, I used to cringe at some of those "inaccurate" sounds generated by the sampling technologies available from the 1980s (which happened quite a lot, actually, as my brother is a collector of keyboards and computer sound-generators. Nothing like the 70s synths.) The imitation of classical and world instruments via computer has never been a very advanced science--which is probably why so many bands have reverted to hiring strings, choruses, and orchestras to accompany/embellish their music fantasies. The 90s Neo Prog band keys sound like fairy music.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Nicholls / lead & backing vocals
- Mike Holmes / guitars (synth-guitar?), producer
- Martin Orford / keyboards, Mellotron, synths, flute, backing vocals
- John Jowitt / basses, Taurus bass pedals, backing vocals
- Paul Cook / drums

1. "The Darkest Hour" (10:52) (16.25/20)
2. "Fading Senses" (6:36) (8.5/10)
- i. After All
- ii. Fading Senses
3. "Out Of Nowhere" (5:10) a fast start into GENESIS-land is delayed and switched to standard hairband rock at the one minute mark. Nice coda at the 3:00 mark. (8.5/10)
4. "Further Away" (14:30) 
5. "Leap Of Faith" (7:22) 
The instrumental parts become so Genesisian. Aside from the vocals, the best track on the song. (13.5/15)
6. "Came Down" (5:57) again, the opening sound and chord palette feels too Genesis-like. Drums, bass, and b vox are horrible--just tired and dragging! Ouch! (7/10)

Total Time: 50:27

Maybe the messages of their lyrics are important. Otherwise, I'm not all that impressed. There's too much of a sameness to every Peter Nicholls vocal delivery.

85.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a valid, if somewhat derivative, contribution to Prog World's Neo Prog effort.

Albums on the Fringe of Prog World

THE CRANBERRIES Everybody Else Is Doing It, So Why Can't We?

The debut of this Scottish dream pop band, the combination of the LUSH-like sound and Elizabeth Frasier-like vocals justifiably earned this album COCTEAU TWINS comparisons. 

1. "I Still Do" (3:16)
2. "Dreams" (4:32)
3. "Sunday" (3:30)
4. "Pretty" (2:16)
5. "Waltzing Back" (3:38)
6. "Not Sorry" (4:20)
7. "Linger" (4:34)
8. "Wanted" (2:07)
9. "Still Can't..." (3:38)
10. "I Will Always" (2:42)
11. "How" (2:51)
12. "Put Me Down" (3:33)

on the Fishscales =  / stars;