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) 



None



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
With:
- 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).




2. 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)



3. ANATHEMA Judgment

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
With:
- 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.




4. ANEKDOTEN From Within

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
With:
- 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.




5. CAMEL Rajaz

Andy Latimer just keeps finding ways to release his continuous flow of musical ideas, no matter who's around him. Sometimes it surprises me that he just doesn't use his own name as the artist behind each album as it is obvious that he is the force/genius behind them all.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Latimer / vocals, guitars, flute, keyboards, percussion, producer
- Ton Scherpenzeel / keyboards
- Colin Bass / bass
- Dave Stewart / drums, percussion
With:
- Barry Phillips / cello

1. "Three Wishes" (6:58) building off of a famous 1970s riff (either from JETHRO TULL or SANTANA) Andy creates a jazz fabric over which to tender away on his "Shine On You Crazy Diamond"-like bluesy electric lead. At firs the background is fairly quiet and benign, but then at the 3:00 all that potential energy is released from the support staff to push Andy into some more creative playing. The drum and bass rhythm section in the fifth minutes sounds very GENESIS/BRAND X-like as Andy continues to explore variations on dynamics and textures for his play on the Tullish riff. Solid song with impressive support from his sidemen even if it is all built around one guitar riff. (13.5/15)

2. "Lost And Found" (5:38) a cello-supported Steve Hackett-sounding song with Andy's mundane voice supplying vocals before making way for the main event: the axe play--this time over some GENESIS-like chord and rhythm play (think "Back in N.Y.C" "as I cuddled the porcupine…"). Nice synth solo from Kayak's own Ton Scherpenseel before Andy takes over. The solo section over 12-string arpeggi and bass pedal thrums that finishes the song also conjures up plenty of Genesis for me. Luckily, imitation is the highest form of flattery. (8.75/10)

3. "The Final Encore" (8:07) part Rhyader, part Allan Holdsworth (guitar sound). (Great guitar playing.) There's a bit of Downer Jim Morrison in Andy's tone of voice. Interesting sound engineering choices. I've never really enjoyed the way Andy has the rest of the band "clear out" while he solos: it reminds me of NBA basketball when the team creates a lopsided congestion on one side of the basket/key while Alan Iverson or James Harden takes the ball to the hoop virtually unopposed.  (13/15)

4. "Rajaz" (8:15) acoustic guitars are nice. Vocals are nice. Cello is nice. Flute is nice. It's a nice song … but nothing extraordinary--even at the halfway point when the motif switches and the dobro enters over the organ and vibrating bass notes. In fact, that's when the re-entering vocals take on an even more pronounced Jim Morrison feel/sound. Still, nice melodic solos in the fifth and sixth minutes. ("Clear out!") There's more than a little ROY BUCHANAN in his bluesy style (though there are also very familiar DAVID GILMOUR tones and touches). (17.5/20)

5. "Shout" (5:15) More strummed acoustic guitar with very stripped down, spacious, simple bass and drum support while Andy delivers one of the poorer vocals on the album. ("He's got a voice like you and me" Don McLean said of Bob Dylan in his song "American Pie.") A little room for some adventuring from Keyboardist Ton Scherpenseel despite Andy's spacious Chris Isaak/Mark Knopfler guitar playing. Nice for its many subtleties--lack of bombast. (8.5/10)

6. "Straight To My Heart" (6:23) more slow, spacious music for a depressing late-night listen. I never thought of Camel music as being this bluesy, this slow and depressing, this simple and spacious, nor this Mark Knopfler/David Gilmour-like. Not a bad song--there's some very good guitar play and admirable subtleties in it--it's just one fails to engage me--one that I don't care if I ever hear again. (8.75/10) 

7. "Sahara" (6:44) sparse "strings" foundation over which Andy plays electric blues guitar with the sensitivity of Roy Buchanan, Jan Akkerman, Robert Cray, or perhaps Robben Ford. As a matter of fact, it sounds very much like Roy's "Fly Night Bird"--even when the band kicks in with power and pace at the three-minute mark. I can see now why guitarists and lovers of guitar-centered music love this album. (8.75/10)

8. "Lawrence" (10:46) a truly cinematic ballad about the British hero of the Arabian campaign during World War I. Andy's plaintive voice sounds like a cross between Irish ambient folk rocker PERRY BLAKE and BLUE NILE's Paul Buchanan. Also, there is a very stong Supertramp feel to this song (especially to its keyboard "orchestration"--think "Fool's Overture" and "Even in the Quietest Moments") with some nuances of a "Battle of Epping Forest" as well. 
     It definitely pulls at your heart strings as Andy wails on his guitar during the song's ending solo over the final three minutes. Definitely the highlight of the album. As fine as anything Dave Gilmour has ever recorded. (19/20)

Total Time: 58:06

In my opinion, this is a truly unremarkable and largely forgettable album. It's an album of diverse  yet bluesy songs that remind me of the way Steve Hackett likes to construct his albums. In fact, with vocals being his weak spot (though not as bad as they used to be), the similarities to Mr. Hackett's career discography and stylistic choices are somewhat similar. But more, it's an album for fans of slow, depressing Mark Knopfler or Doors music. Therefore, I'd say this is an album appropriately left for either supreme guitar-player lovers or Camel fans/completionists only. 

88.86 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition of guitar-based bluesy prog for any music lover.
 




6. 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
With:
- 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. 




SINKADUS Cirkus

Line-up / Musicians:
- Linda Agren / flute, vocals 
- Lena Pettersson / cello 
- Mats Segerdahl / drums 
- Rickard Biström / bass, vocals 
- Robert Sjöback / guitar 
- Fredrik Karlsson / keyboards

1. "Jag, Änglamarks Bane" (13:45) (/30) 
2. "Positivhalaren" (7:19) (/15)
3. "Kakafonia" (6:26) (/10)
4. "Valkyria" (10:03) (/20)
5. "Ulv I Farakläder" (9:55) (/20)

Total Time: 46:48




Not As Good As Advertised




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
With:
- 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)

ACT 1
1. "Scene One: Regression (2:06) the opening. James LaBrie's voice has trouble hitting his pitches. Are they trying to imitate Pink Floyd? (4.25/5)

2. "Scene Two: I.Overture 1928" (3:37) impressive instrumental performances with impressive orchestral textures provided by Jordan Rudess, however, nothing really meaty or special here. (8.75/10)

3. "II.Strange Deja Vu" (5:13) okay music, okay melodies and construction; such a weak voice/vocal and basic, matter of fact music (despite Mike Portnoy's impressive nuances). (8.25/10)

4. "Scene Three: I.Through My Words" (1:02) pretty with a decent Freddy Mercury-like vocal performance. (4.25/5)

5. "II.Fatal Tragedy" (6:49) the theatric, rock opera-like feel finally makes itself felt! A song that predicts SYLVAN's wonderful Posthumous Silence seven years hence. The guitar work is a little disconnected and soul-less from the passionate James LaBrie performance on this one. Jordan Rudess' flashy synth work is more impressive, to me, and also informs me of where the Jem Godfrey style and work on his FROST* albums came from. (13.25/15)

6. "Scene Four: Beyond This Life" (11:22) here I like the performance of James LaBrie but I don't like the music: the fast, straight-time choice for the rhythm section is annoyingly mundane (despite Portnoy's beautiful embellishments). The second section is better, looser, but then the vocal performance becomes a bit over-the-top. The third section, beginning around the 8:20 mark, is my favorite: truly creative and adventurous in a kind of jazzy way. (17.25/20)

7. "Scene Five: Through Her Eyes" (5:29) bluesy female vocals is a nice twist, but Theresa Thomason is no Clare Torry or Kate Bush. After that it becomes a kind of Country-Western-twinged rock-gospel ballad. (8.25/10)

ACT 2
8. "Scene Six: Home" (12:53) The Wall can't help but fill my mind as I listen to the opening 45 seconds of this one. Then the sitar enters. And then Mike Portnoy's snare fills. It finally comes all together in a Middle Eastern/Saharan way at the end of the second minute before transitioning into a classic ALICE IN CHAINS song. This is the first time in listening to this album that I feel as if every band member, every instrument, every sound engineered here are perfectly matched and blended. But then the vocals (and especially background vocals) enter and spoil everything. Not even John's djent and flash or Mike's drum nuances can save this one from its descent into a well of run-of-the-mill (and forgettable) 1980s hair band mediocrity. (20/25)

9. "Scene Seven: I.The Dance Of Eternity" (6:13) I love the sonic playfulness of the opening 45 seconds of this. The Crimosn-like three-motif interplay within the next section is wonderful--the most interesting and daring thing yet on the album, but, by the third minute, it's already begun to feel old--as if it serves as a vehicle for displays of individual instrumental virtuosity--and yet the barrel-house playfulness continues. I was not expecting this song to be a full-on instrumental, but could see why this song alone might elevate Dream Theater into some people's minds as prog elite. (The real trick, however, is in learning how to incorporate such prowess into beautiful musical soundscapes that flow and feel purposeful and integrated instead of show-offy and disjointed.) (8.75/10)

10. "II.One Last Time" (3:47) weird to transition from the previous barrage into this--and with a "classical" piano display to open it. The support of James LaBrie's Tommy Shaw-like vocal performance is nice (though not really very metallic; more like classic rock). This is/would have been a good 1980s classic rock hit/anthem--something STYX would've been very proud of. (9/10)

11. "Scene Eight: The Spirit Carries On" (6:38) another song rooted firmly in rock traditions--even the subject matter (death and the life of the soul afterwards) is nothing new. John Petrucci's solo in the fourth minute is also quite "classic" despite a few flashes and flourishes and chromaticisms thrown into it. The addition of PINK FLOYD-like vocal choir (with Clare Torry-like vocalese from Theresa Thomason) only completes the feeling that this song belongs more in the canon of classic rock tunes. Good rock song. (Could've been a great song to end the album with. Matter of fact, it feels as if that was really its intent.) (8.75/10)

12. "Scene Nine: Finally Free" (12:00) I understand the role that this song has in the play--like a meta-perspective/overview of the play--and to give the "end" a positive, uplifting momentum; we want listeners to feel hope and reason to continue their commitment to Earthly incarnation (despite its horrors and entrappings). A powerful and engaging song on many levels; easily my favorite on the album; everything here feels in perfect balance, proportional to both the subject matter and the listener's ability to tolerate such a barrage of sonic information. This feels more like a solid Prog Metal song without any of the Emperor's overwhelm ("too many notes"). (23/25)

Total Time: 77:12


Obviously the topics of human mortality and the fragility of life incorporated in this album would draw in many young and impressionable folk--people with time and interest in exploring such "big" topics. 

86.94 on the Fishcales = B/four stars; despite some stellar high points, this is an average album that many prog music lovers will enjoy, though a similar number of others may not.




UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA -- Rituale alieno (1998)

Line-up / Musicians
- Ana Torres Fraile / vocals
- Marco Zanfei / keyboards
- Dauno Giuseppe Buttiglione / basses
- Giorgio Golin / drums
With:
- Marco Mauro / lead guitar (2-5)
- Marcello De Angelis / lead guitar (6)
- Giuseppe Saiani / guitars (2-4,6)
- Giuliano Eccher / guitars, viola (3)
- Giacomo Plotegher / keyboards (2,6)
- Francesco Ciech / cello (1)
- Antonio Fedeli / saxophone (2,4)
- Gianni Nicolini / tabla (3,4)
- Francesco Festi / vocals
- Marco Festi / vocals
- Simone Albino / vocals
- Lucio Zandonati / vocals
- Pietro Maini / vocals
- Enzo Battisti / vocals
- Giuliano Lott / vocals

1. "Pane Astrale" (4:33) opens with solo electric piano which is then joined in the second round by violin and bass and then by the gorgeous, tender, operatic voice of Ana Torres Fraile--with the help of a background choir. The pace never quickens as the drums never kick in, instead cello gives us an interlude between Ana's two verses. An extended, doubled up chorus takes us into the final instrumental section in which bass, piano and cello play out in such a delicate, mutually supportive way. (9.5/10)

2. "Saturno" (21:38)
3. "Il Viaggio Di Elric" (13:06)
4. "Ipernatura Del Tempo Centrale" (9:16)
5. "Antichi Occhi Ciechi" (8:53)
6. "Meccanica Superiore "(9:10)

Total time 66:36




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
ith:
- 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)


6. 
"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!).




BONDAGE FRUIT IV

 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.




Other Highly Recommended Prog Albums
(Other albums recommended by prog lovers)




PORCUPINE TREE Stupid Dream

Line-up / Musicians:
- Steven Wilson / vocals, guitars, piano, Hammond, sampler, bass (8,9), orch. arrangements, producer
- Richard Barbieri / synthesizers, Hammond organ, Mellotron, piano (1), glockenspiel (4)
- Colin Edwin / bass, double bass (2,12)
- Chris Maitland / drums, percussion, backing vocals (9)
With:
- Terumi / vocals (11)
- Theo Travis / flute (6,11), tenor saxophone (6)
- East of England Orchestra / strings 
- Nicholas Kok / conductor
- Chris Thorpe / orchestral arrangements

1. Even Less (7:11)
2. Piano Lessons (4:21)
3. Stupid Dream (0:28)
4. Pure Narcotic (5:02)
5. Slave Called Shiver (4:41)
6. Don't Hate Me (8:30)
7. This Is No Rehearsal (3:27)
8. Baby Dream in Cellophane (3:15)
9. Stranger by the Minute (4:31)
10. A Smart Kid (5:22)
11. Tinto Brass (6:17)
12. Stop Swimming (6:53)

Total Time 59:58

As usual, Steven & Co. are exploring, thinking they are being adventurous, but, in my opinion, they are offering very little new or exciting to the prog lexicon.






Albums on the Fringe of Prog World




PERRY BLAKE Still Life

This Irish singer-songwriter has one of the most soothing, hypnotic voices I've ever heard. I LOVE this album!

Line up / Musicians: 
Vocals, Backing Vocals, Keyboards – Perry Blake
Bass, Double Bass, Acoustic Guitar – Glenn Garrett
Drums, Percussion, Timpani – Steve Jansen
Guitar – Alan MacFeely (tracks: 1, 5, 7, 8)
Keyboards – Graham Murphy (tracks: 1, 2, 4 to 13)
Piano, Organ, Additional Keyboards – Jamie Wright
Backing Vocals – Fiona McGeown (tracks: 1, 3, 6, 8, 10, 12)

Strings [Live] – The Wired Quartet:
 - Cello – Rosie Wetters
 - Viola – Bruce White
 - Violins – Everton Nelson, Lucy Wilkins

Written-By – Garrett* (tracks: 6, 9, 11 to 13), Murphy* (tracks: 1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10), Blake*, Cullum* (tracks: 3)
Strings Arranged/Programmed By Graham Murphy 
String Quartet [Live] Arranged By Rosie Wetters
Engineer – Jamie Cullum (2)
Engineer [Additional] – Graham Murphy (tracks: 4, 8, 11)
Mixed By – Neville Bengali
Producer – Perry Blake, Ross Cullum
Art Direction, Design, Photography [Statue] – Andy Greetham
Photography – Sonja Mueller

1. "Sandriam" (6:14) as haunting of a song as I've ever heard; once you're heard it you can never unhear it! Great vocal with awesome xylophone "hook". (10/10) 
2. "This Time It's Goodbye" (3:55) (8.75/10)
3. "Leave It All Behind" (6:35) made great by its awesome chorus. (8.75/10)
4. "No Lullabies" (4:13) beautiful on all levels--especially ingenious to use the xylophone. (9/10)
5. "If I Let You In" (5:02) another soul/R&B slightly funky vibe-infused masterpiece. What a earworm is that chorus line! (10/10)
6. "Bury Me With Her (Julia)" (7:13) the line "catch a falling star" just about says it all for this gorgeous homage. Great restraint yet nuances throughout this song's music. (14/15)
7. "Still Lives" (3:57) one of the few more traditionally constructed songs on the album, this one has another amazingly gorgeous chorus: "What is his name? / It doesn't have to have a happy ending"   (9.5/10)
8. "Friends (You've Been Whispering Again)" (4:43)  (8.5/10)
9. "War In France" (6:11) a nice Gaullic swing behind this song reminiscent of THE STYLE COUNCIL as well as so many French songs from the 1960s. I always love it when Steve Jansen plays his kit with brushes! I also love the stronger presence of Fiona McGeown's voice; it's almost a duet. (9/10)
10. "Stop Breathing" (5:00) solo piano opens this one before electric bass and Perry join in. Astonishing vocal talent here on display. (9.75/10)
11. "Driftwood" (3:37) another favorite, this nearly flawless song has so many genius sound choices: Graham Murphy's orchestral "strings", Fiona's mirroring vocal, the sensitive acoustic guitar, the floating Fender Rhodes beneath and behind it all, and, later, the Wurlitzer organ. Steve and Glenn's drums and bass, respectively, join in later. (10/10)
12. "Give Me Back My Childhood" (4:42) another beautifully constructed and nuanced soundscape supports Perry with another anguished vocal performance. The contributions of the cello and viola in the final section are wonderful. (9/10)
13. "Wise Man's Blues" (3:56) acoustic guitar provides the lone accompaniment for Perry's somber, largely untreated voice. (8.5/10)

Though it's the magical, hypnotic effect of Perry's deep voice placed so far forward (deep inside your brain), the musical landscapes created to present Perry's exquisite vocals are a perfect match. Mega kudos for the prodigious use of the talents of Steve Jansen, Glenn Garrett, Graham Murphy, Jamie Wright, Fiona McGeown, Ross Collum, and the Wired Quartet. 

92.93 on the Fishscales = A/five stars; a masterpiece.




EVERYTHING BUT THE GIRL Temperamental

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




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
With:
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) (9.5/10)
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




DIDO No Angel




THE BETA BAND The Beta Band