More progressive rock album releases from 2021. These are albums that are well worth your investment of time while not, in my opinion, belonging in the masterpiece discussion. Some of these releases were interesting enough to inspire me to write reviews, some only earned song ratings, many are included because they've been listened to, judged "worthy" of serving notice, but just couldn't get me excited or engaged enough to warrant the effort of a full review. I apologize. But, as I said, I chose to include them because I deem them interesting enough for you, my readers, to know about them and know that I recommend that you might listen to them yourselves in order to form your own opinions. Lord knows I am well aware that there are as many different musical preferences as there are humans; I do think that I know music that might interest others.
Norwegian veterans of 18 years and six albums are back for another shot at increasing their fan base. Having really loved their 2018 release, Remedies, with their great sense of haunting melodies, and then after hearing Eav's AMAZING Giant Sky project's album release from earlier in 2021, I was filled with HIGH hopes for this unexpected windfall.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Erlend Aastad Viken / vocals, keyboards, guitars
- Orjan J Langnes / guitars
- Oystein Megard / guitars
- Jan Tore Megard / bass
- Espen Berge / drums
With Giant Sky Orchestra:
- Liv Brox / violins
- Ivan Ushakov / flutes
- Emil Emilson Holemsland / trumpet
1. "Burning Bridges" (15:02) a song that really never is given a chance to get going--is stop and go for the whole of its first ten minutes! I don't get it! Not even Radiohead or Sigur Rós can get away with this! And then the final five minutes is just too repetitively monotonous despite all of the creative additions (violins, trumpets, flutes) and reminds me more of an average Post Rock song. (24.5/30)
2. "Crystalline" (7:02) the flutes and picked acoustic guitars in the opening 2:30 is a nice change--more like the Indie-Pop/Prog Folkiness of the Giant Sky album--or even ANATHEMA's albums of the 2010s. The lyrics seem like quite a little lament for the loss of the world as it was before COVID-19. I just wish the chordal structure was a little more interesting, not so endlessly repetitive. (Though, I get the inference that the world is building up to a big crescendo and blow up.) (13/15)
3. "Skins Pt. 1" (1:19) nice little post-apocalyptic, post-civilization piano epitaph. (4.25/5)
4. "Kingdom of Color" (9:11) gently picked acoustic guitar matched up with piano are nice. The heavily-treated vocal is annoying (and totally unnecessary?) Drums, bass, and keys come in giving it even more of an Indie-Pop MICE ON STILTS sound and feel. Later, violins are a very cool addition--and the arrangement for the rest of the band improves nicely. At 4:35 the Post Rock Sigur Rós explosion and Jonsí vocal is unleashed. But then everything just drops away and is replaced by an arpeggiated chord sequence picked nylon string guitar joined by piano, bass & drums, flute, and bright strings. Simple gorgeous! And the dénouement finishes with some gorgeous piano chord play. Definitely the high point of the album. (19/20)
5. "Skins Pts. 2-3" (7:23) begins as if a continuation of the previous song but quickly establishes itself as something totally separate (at least, musically). The loose, almost acoustic instrumental arrangement seems but a haphazard and perhaps unsettling background for Eav's message-filled vocal. (It seems to be about the struggles to maintain mental health and healthy relationships during the fear-filled time of the pandemic.) But then it all coalesces into a beautiful, cohesive whole--as an instrumental. Very Pink Floydian. Nice finish to the album. (13.5/15)
Total Time 39:57
87.35 on the Fishscales = B/solid four stars; an excellent contribution of melodic prog to the Prog lexicon; strongly recommended.
DRIFTING SUN Forsaken Innocence
Drifting Sun keyboardist/composer Pat Sanders has surrounded himself with yet another new lineup--in fact, four new members, including prog veteran John Jowitt, a bassist who gained fame from his work with the bands Jadis, IQ, Arena, Frost*, Ark, Mystery, Blind Ego, Caamora, Clive Nolan, Steve Thorne, and last year's Rain debut release, as well as veteran vocalist John Kosmidis, professionally known as "Jargon", who might be familiar to those listeners acquainted with Greek prog bands like Verbal Delirium, Ciccada, Methexis, and 2020's superb solo venture, The Fading Thought. Then there's drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi, who comes to the project by way of bands like ZIO and KSIZ, as well as stints with Karnataka and Frank Carducci, while guitarist Mathieu Spaeter also comes from KSIZ and Carducci, as well as having worked with Antony Kalugin on several recent Karfagen projects.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Pat Sanders / keyboards- Mathieu Spaeter / guitars- John 'Jargon' Kosmidis / vocals, keyboards (6)- John Jowitt / bass- Jimmy Pallagrosi / drumsWith:- Eric Bouillette / violin (1,5), guitars (7)- Ben Bell / Hammond solo (3)- Gareth Cole / guitars (4)1. "King of the Country" (11:36) with an upbeat QUEEN/DISCIPLINE feel and sound, this fast mover finds the new band hitting on all cylinders, however, there is a weird tension between the choice of instrumentation, pace, and that leads me to ask questions like would a Yes-REO Speedwagon merger work? Does Big Big Train's music really work? Will Matthew Parmenter's solo career ever reach the heights of his Discipline output? Is a chunky Rickenbacker bass a requirement for symphonic/Neo Prog bands?
The solos are impressive, as is the overall BBT-like construct and sound palette, but is anything new really being done here? Really? It's just all a little too controlled and contrived, not loose and emotion-filled. (17.25/20)
2. "Insidious" (8:08) a cool song that sounds like The Cure and Kajagoogoo teaming up in the 80s. Sadly, the song is really just basically a 4/4 time, three-chord rocker--a nice set of three chords, but still, a little too simple. I mean, come on, guys! This is prog! Still, it's pretty--especially the soft section in the middle in which Jargon sings wordless vocalise. The way he ramps up his vocal intensity over the final three minutes is good, but it just can't save this otherwise almost dull song. Then to end it with electric piano soloing like a classical musician.... (13/15)
3. "Dementium" (9:10) opens with the same classically-shaped computer generated electric piano from the previous song over which Jargon sings in a low tone over several tracks and a more folk-rock-tinged palette joins in. Once Jargon's singing range moves up an octave or two it's very good--not unlike the rich, sophisticated multi-voiced harmonies of peak era Queen--and, later, like David Bowie! Too bad the music can't match Jargon in terms of emotion. A very impressive song, vocally. Nine minutes of that same two-chord piano arpeggio is too much, however. (17.5/20)
4. "New Dawn" (6:48) opens up sounding like something straight off of a THE FLOWER KINGS album, circa 1995-2001, but then Jargon's multi-faceted vocal performance elevates this song into a whole different echelon of artistry. This is the first song on the album in which I'm hearing what feels like a sensible, pleasing cohesiveness of all of the elements of instrumental choices to the overall sound palette. (I even like John Jowitt's Jonas Reingold-like fretless.) But, the song rather plods along without ever bursting into something special. (13.25/15)
5. "Forsaken Innocence (Part 1)" (10:51) after a rather long and protracted intro, the song establishes itself as another CURE-like bass-line with driving uptempo rhythm section. Some very nice melodies and chord progressions make it very engaging--even memorable--though they are, once again, quite familiar. For once, the band ramps it up for a crescendo of release in the ninth and tenth minutes. Nice! And the violin is a welcome addition. (18/20)
6. "Forsaken Innocence (Part 2)" (14:52) Quite a dynamic entanglement of instrumental mayhem over the opening 3:45--but it kind of works! Then piano and synth winds and acoustic guitars breathing life into a Mike Oldfield-like section (still instrumental!). At 5:22 we return to some more forceful, Trans Siberian Orchestra-like music. Impressive if a little drawn out. The next section in the seventh and eighth minutes is similar before a nice multi-organ bridge takes us back into the opening theme before a slow down at 9:10 for piano play and, later, a weave to include the synth winds and Arp synth. At 10:45 there is another shift, organs, bass, drums driving us down the highway until we slow down for another pretty, slowed-down piano-led passage over which guitars and synths join in. The weave seems to strip itself down to bare bones at the 12:50 mark but then the rest of the instruments gradually rejoin and fill the soundscape with each run through the melody theme until the piano finish. Nice. I'm surprised, though, that the band chose to devote a whole fifteen minutes to an instrumental! Still, this was, musically, the best jaunt they took me on. (27/30)
7. "Time to Go" (2:28) sounds like Roger Waters singing over an Andrew Gold piano piece. (4/5)
8. Hand on Heart (bonus track) (4:48) *
Total Time 68:41
* only on Digital & Vinyl editions
The addition of vocal powerhouse (and Matthew Parmenter sound-alike) Jargon is a definite step forward in the evolution of this Neo Prog band. And, while the compositions have also increased in complexity, there are still too many twists, turns, and hooks that are so very derivative of old prog and classic rock bands (e.g. Queen, Discipline, Alan Parsons Project, Loverboy, The Cure, The Flower Kings) as well as contemporary band Big Big Train. As a matter of fact, if one were to take out the vocals from these two groups, I think you'd find that a lot of their music sounds quite similar (as if they studied under the same masters).
87.20 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent album for any prog lover to test out for themselves.
KAYO DOT Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike
Reuniting some of the cast from previous Maudlin of The Well albums, Toby has stepped back into relativity with this, at times, stunning album.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Toby Driver / everything
- Greg Massi / guitar solos
- Jason Byron
1. "The Knight Errant" (8:21) a fascinating ride: high energy, yet, on cruise control the whole way--and narrated by an angry man with something to say. Could have used a little more variation in tempo and themes. (17.5/20)
2. "Brethren of the Cross" (8:20) engaging both musically and lyrically, the key and tempo changes are fresh and unpredictable--which makes me want to come back to it more. The instrumental seventh and eight minutes are awesome as the music slowly deconstructs. (18.5/20)
3. "Void in Virgo (The Nature of Sacrifice)" (9:10) definitely has a moTW feel to it despite its more modern/recent Depeche Mode-like synth wash treatments. The lead guitar work is my favorite element but the chord and key changes are also awesome. From the opening Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) rolling bass play and the guitar's melodic foundational chord progression, I am into this one. The sensitively sung lyrics and interjection of 80s synth sounds are wonderful. As a matter of fact, it's an extraordinary vocal performance--one of my favorites by Toby Driver in a long time. Great lead guitar play by Greg Massi--even as the walls of sound thicken. Awesome song! Great ending! (19.5/20)
4. "Spectrum of One Colour" (4:57) uptempo and fast-moving, this one sounds like a Billy Idol song. Interesting how Toby's dominant bass and the guitar's chord play weave around each other. I'm thankful to be able to understand the scream vocals, however, since I have trouble (or an innate lack of interest in) hearing words, the deep impact of the song is lost upon me. Love the oscillating synth work in the final section. (8.5/10)
5. "Get Out of the Tower" (7:06) that murky, echo bass of recent KD albums anchors a more moTW music structure--even more emphasized by Toby's screaming vocals. (I think he's actually angry, folks!) The "angry" Robin Guthrie guitar play is another great aspect. While I like this song, I'm not as enamored of Toby's fairly untreated vocal--it's too thin and weak (except when he gets into the growling in the second half)--this despite the fact that I can appreciate the target of his anger. The full soundscape of the second half is much better than the spacious opening three minutes. (13.25/15)
6. "The Necklace" (8:10) a song based over the field-filling drumming! Floating, droning synth-guitar wall-scapes and screamed vocals help give it its other shape and identity--with great, slow-transitioning sustained chords--but the real attention-grabber here is the drumming--especially in the first half. Cool song! (14.25/15)
7. "Epipsychidion" (13:13) the walls of cacophony--despite the use of Edge Evans' guitar tone from the early 1980s--coupled with the scream vocals throughout the first half of this song irritate me to no end. The song improves in the sixth minute as the walls of noise are taken down and Toby sings in a human voice (sounding drained and exhausted--a reflection of the planet and it's homo sapiens?) The second half, with it's experimental sound explorations, is highly entertaining and even enjoyable. Still, I simply can't reward those first five minutes too highly. (25/30)
Total Time 59:17
I don't know how Toby & Company manage to release album after album in which they challenge the existing norms of what is practiced--of what is acceptable
--in progressive rock music, but they do--and here, with Moss Grew on the Swords and Plowshares Alike,
they've done it as well as they ever have. Definitely the most stunning display of the combination of frustrated aggression, instrumental virtuosity, and melody I've heard in 2021. In spite of this praise and recognition, I feel as if, once again, I'm faced with rating an album from this year whose song output ranges quite drastically from extremes of "pleasing" to "irritating." Were it not for the weak aspects (the growl/scream vocals and occasional lack of change or development), this might be one of my favorite albums of the year--and certainly the best experimental/post metal album. As it is, I can only go with the metrics.
87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very interesting and polarizing album to listen to (for me). I do not, however, hesitate to urge you to try it for yourselves.
Ever since hearing their debut back when I first joined PA in 2008 I've been interested in this band--have collected and listened to their albums with great interest. While none have really lived up to the stunning of the debut, the band continues to explore its raunchy, dirty sound that seems to pay homage to the raw and minimally-processed/effected sounds of the bands from the 1960s that they seem to revere (the early "Krautrock" bands). This new album sees the band continue to explore and perfect that sound.
Line-up / Musicians:
- David Wileman / acoustic & electric guitars
- Alex Crispin / organ, electric piano, vocals, producer
- Ross Hossack / synthesizer
- Nicholas Whittaker / alto & soprano saxophones, vocals
- Daniel Pomlett / bass
- Luke Foster / drums & percussion
1. "Amon" (8:23) great sound engineering: dirty and raunchy where it's wanted (guitars and vocals), clear and distinct everywhere else, all recorded lovingly in a 1960s way. Nice groove with hand percussion supplementing the drums and a fantastic use of saxophone (an instrument I usually do not like). At the 5-minute mark we turn the speedometer down quite a bit for a hauntingly spacious organ and picked-guitar-supported vocal section which then turns into a synth-solo space soundscape at the end of the seventh minute--which plays out till the song's end. Unusual, almost odd song. (17/20)
2. "Chroma" (4:47) opens with a little weave that, when the saxes enter, remind me of Norway's SEVEN IMPALE. Choral vocalise is added in the second minute as saxes and bass repeat a riff over and over. Then, at the end of the second minute, there is a pause for a reset, after which the cohesive band reenters with a pleasant groove for a bit. Another break serves to allow another restart, this time in support of a sensitive sax solo--one that continues in the lead for the final two minutes while several continuous instrumental riffs are woven together behind. Nice (8.5/10)
3. "Spinning Array" (5:05) opens with bass line and drum play sounding like the start of some 1970s R&B-funk tune. The rest of the band joins in with vocals--doubled leads and background harmonizing tracks. Nothing exceptional here in terms of instrumental expositions other than some traditional sounding Celtic flutes and pipes. It's actually quite a simple arrangement but always interesting as instrumental and vocal licks sneak in and out of the listener's attention. I like it! (8.75/10)
4. "Stellate" (6:29) an instrumental with a Krautrock sound that is some of the most CAN-like stuff I've heard in years (though I also hear the foundational music for Annette Peacock's great "Real and Defined Androgens" as well as the bass and drum lines of Ted Nugent's "Stranglehold"). The boys really groove here--like a long entrained expression of a drug trip. They are tight! Saxes and synths really feel like they're giving their full power to a fanfare-like royal procession. Guitar strays from his key rhythmic contribution to deliver some great little lead flourishes in the second half. Reminds me of Samsara Blues Project or Hypnos 69. The second best song on the album. (8.75/10)
5. "Totem" (11:47) opens with a gentle slow electric guitar arpeggio repeated over and over while other instruments slowly add their minimal support to the trance-inducing weave. Choral vocalise enters in the second minute with ethereal, angelic "aahs"; bluesy sax in the background in the fifth. At 5:10 we restart as a structured slow song with lyrics being sung as reflection of the guitar notes and, in the choruses, as more angelic chants--which then prompt the addition of multiple other voices in support as well as more spacey sounds (coming from guitar?) filling more of the background. This section reminds me so much of Prog Folk legends, MIDLAKE, and particularly their 2013 post-Tim Smith masterpiece, Antiphon.
Great Neil Young-like guitar solo in the ninth minute. Great drumming. This section is drawn out a little longer than is really necessary--it could have been accomplished with the same effect in half the time, but it's still great. Best song on the album. More of this, please! (22.25/25)
Total Time 36:31
Though this isn't exceptionally difficult instrumental play--no Yes-like noodling or jazzy solos--the band members are all competent and confident on their instruments and they play so tightly! The music here just grows on you--I like it more with each listening. This is now my second favorite Diagonal album, just ahead of Arc.
87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; though the album feels pretty short, it measures out the same as any single-disc vinyl album from the 1960s or 1970s. Recommended as an excellent addition to any prog lover's music.
SYLVAN One to Zero
These guys are just so professional! I don't thnk they've released a single song much less album since peaking with their 2006 masterpiece, Posthumous Silence that has felt underwhelming or "phoned in." Marco and Company always give 100%--to composition, engineering, production, and, of course, to performance. And there is no one in Prog World that I can think of who has performed at a higher, more sincere level for the past 15 years as singer Marco Glühmann. So, why should we expect anything to change with this 2021 release? IT DOESN'T!Line-up / Musicians:
- Marco Gluhmann / vocals
- Volker Söhl / keyboards & grand piano
- Sebastian Harnack / bass
- Matthias Harder / drums
- Jonathan 'Jonny' Beck / guitars
- Katja Flintsch / violin & viola (5,6,7)
- Bine Heller / backing vocals (2,5,8)
- Kalle Wallner / additional acoustic guitars
- Yogi Lang / additional keyboards
1. "Bit by Bit" (6:16) hard driving surprise. Something different! (8.5/10)
2. "Encoded at Heart" (6:42) a more-typical Sylvan tension-filled ballad-like opening over which Marco applies his plaintive tones like no one else can. Very engaging melodies and chorus. (8.75/10)
3. "Start of Your Life" (3:14) sloggy rocker. (Are the boys finally tiring?) (8/10)
4. "Unleashed Power" (7:31) a nice minute piano and picked electric guitar for the intro. Marco joins in, singing in a deep-voiced whisper up front and personal. Really nice/intriguing chord shifts after the first verse. Bass and drums join in for the chorus as piano becomes dominant accompaniment to Marco's singing. Cool thick, deep, fretless bass play over the next section. Then it gets heavy. And dark. Brooding. Until Marco goes angelic for the next "voice in my head" chorus. Beautiful! What a contrast to the bass and drumming beneath! This is what masters of their craft can do! Doesn't quite reach the heights and crescendos as promised (or as previous Sylvan works would have done) but a very satisfying, mature and masterful song--and definitely a top three song. (13.5/15)
5. "Trust in Yourself" (5:33) one of Marco's multiple personality expressions--delicate and heavy, hopeful and depressing. I just love the confidence with which he sings/performs--as if no one or nothing can disturb his groove, his craft. However, the first half of this song seems merely a setup/display vehicle precisely for Marco's talent. The instrumental C section has a nice viola solo and then an interesting searing guitar solo follows before Marco & b vox close it out. (8.5/10)
6. "On My Odyssee" (6:26) interesting synth strings play opens sounding very much like a chamber ensemble as Marco enters with his vocal. Latin-like rhythm section joins in with acoustic guitar and piano filling between the drums and bass. The classically-imitative "strings" are still present--and embellished by viola and electric guitar soli in the third and fourth minutes. Guitarist Jonny Beck is different from previous Sylvan guitarists--more classic rock instead of Hackett/Rothery-like. I think I like him! The second half of the song really blends well--especially the strummed acoustic guitar and vocal performance--but the multiple layers of soloing guitars is also very cool. (8.5/10)
7. "Part of Me" (9:16) melancholy solo piano opens this one--45 seconds before Marco enters. Another remarkably controlled, mature performance from the first note. Very cool section after the first verse in which multiple voices present harmonized lyrics. Viola joins in for the second verse to nice counter effect. At 4:30 an instrumental passage is suddenly joined by full bank of orchestra strings--this is great--but then pulsing electric guitar power chords enter to try to build tension beneath Marco's treated voice. The problem here is that the volume levels on Marco's voice are way too low--making it sound like he's singing from the next room over. In the seventh minute, we return to more of the form and motifs of the first two verses--though the drums and bass are more insistent, more driving. In the eight minute Marco pleads over the orchestra strings before giving way to an awesome Sylvan-esque electric guitar solo. Despite the remarkably slow pace of this song, it never feels boring or draggy--always remains interesting and engaging. A top three song for me--probably my favorite. (18/20)
8. "Worlds Apart" (3:58) hard hits of electric piano chords with eerie synth and guitar riffs support Marco's sensitive vocal until the one minute mark when Marco's brief chorus breaks into a contrasting abrasive aggression. A second round follows before Marco and female background vocals weave in a kind of rondo chorus. Nice! (8.5/10)
9. "Go Viral" (6:41) computer sequences provide techno-pop instrumental fabric and rhythm tracks until the band jumps heavily into the fold at 0:50. Cool! One of Marco's masterful semi-rap vocals ensues before the heavy chorus section over which he delivers his trademark power vocals. A powerful and inventive heavy metal instrumental passage fills the middle of the song, but the choruses continue to fill me with a slightly disappointing "I've heard this before" feeling. (8.75/10)
10. "Not a Goodbye" (10:14) Great lead guitar work in the fifth minute. Another flawless and emotional vocal performance over some perhaps less-than-sensational music. I mean: take away Marco's vocals from any and all of these songs and you have what amounts to very standard, almost ordinary heavy Neo Prog soundscapes. Add Herr Glühmann's magical instrument and you have the very real possibility of achieving something extraordinary--he's that important--and that good. My other top three song. (17.5/20)
Total Time 65:51
While I cannot say that I am displeased or disappointed with the songs collected on this album--they all follow the formulae that have made Sylvan such a dependable success over the past 20 years--I have to admit that I was hoping for more "new" and adventurous forms, sounds, and structures. What I can't complain about--something I will NEVER complain about--is the experience of being in the presence of the magical gifts of one of the best vocalists progressive rock music has ever seen; Marco Glühmann is on a whole other cloud of mastery and professionalism!
86.80 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition of melodic, masterful and heavy Neo Prog to any prog lover's music collection. It's hard to dislike such well-crafted, well-engineered, and well-performed music.
COMPASSIONIZER An Ambassador in Bonds
Ivan Rozmainsky is back with his new band, Compassionizer. Their 2020 release, Caress of Compassion
, received a lot of respect (as do most of Ivan's projects). "Ambient RIO"? Are they going for the John Zorn look?
Line-up / Musicians:
- Bayun The Cat / synth bass, tbilat, cowbell (1), recording
- Serghei Liubcenco / electric & acoustic guitars, bass, rubab, doira, other percussion & drums, recording
- Leonid Perevalov / bass clarinets, some clarinets (5,8), recording
- Ivan Rozmainsky / conception, harpsichord, Arturia MiniBrute, other synths, bell (3), recording
- AndRey Stefinoff / all clarinets except some clarinets (5,8), recording
- Oleg Prilutsky / trumpets, recording
1. "Follow After Meekness" (8:15) an unusual collection of themes and sounds--as if we're being led through a fun house or house of mirrors at an amusement park. (13.25/15)
2. "Different Sides of Ascension" (3:54) almost like a traditional Christmas song being offered for year-round/every day use--and perhaps played by UNIVERS ZERO. (8.75/10)
3. "Caress of Compassion (Part 4)" (3:35) pretty but perhaps a little too bare and under-developed/unrefined. (8.25/10)
4. "The Man That Sitteth Not in the Seat of the Scornful" (3:34) cutesy and yet slightly unnerving. (8/10)
5. "An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 1)" (5:00) This is the first song in which the "John Zorn" alarm went off. To be sure, it's soundtracky and "unsettling dream"-like. I'm not sure I can appreciate it much less like it: it's so personal/subjective. This ambassador must be a hedge fund operator. (8/10)
6. "An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 2)" (3:05) UZed comes to mind during this whole-band synchronized chord production. It is, surprisingly, engaging and certainly very interesting. This ambassador is a realist--and a team player. (9/10)
7. "I Am Sitting on the Pier" (3:12) a bit of an Asian flavor to this one: a pier in Hong Kong? The shift at the one minute mark is cool--as is the one 30 seconds later and again at 2:45. My favorite song on the album. (9.25/10)
8. "Hard-Won Humility" (7:17) the opening two minutes of this song remind me of Eric Satie, but then there is a cinematic shift in instrumentation and pace--a drive that reminds me of a motorized gondola in the canals of Venice. At 3:35 another shift takes us on land--in a Gator ATV! into the jungles alongside the Nile River Valley! At 5:10 every thing stops, we get off, and we look around at the spacious star-filled night sky (thanks to piano and clarinet). Interesting journey! Very cinematic. (13.25/15)
9. "An Ambassador in Bonds (Part 3)" (4:10) harpsichord! plus clarinets and electronic keyboard MIDI flutes and tuned percussives. The harpsichord is quickly lost (or abandonned) (too bad: I love harpsichord), replaced by clarinets and all electronic sounds/noises (bells, buzzes, sounds meant, I think, to imitate animal noises). Definitely the ambassador to some Banana Republic. (8.5/10)
10. "Bear Ye One Another's Burdens" (13:20) establishes a rather engaging melodic structure--over jungle rhythms--despite the pitch-bending nature of many of the sounds. At 3:27 we open a door into a totally different section of the jungle: with a banjo and chain-saw-like electric guitar! (It's the Texas bayou!) At 5:40 slowly picked zither notes run solo until an eerie synth-wash chord takes over at 6:15--all by itself. At 6:55 a heavily-reverbed electric guitar arpeggio and strummed chord announce the labyrinthine entry into yet another section: Laurie Anderson's Blue Lagoon! A trumpet at 9:50 announces the emergence of a royal procession--riding on lumbering elephants! Another entertaining and cinematically evocative musical journey. Like any dream, some parts are surreal, absurd, and/or beautiful and, thus, memorable, while some parts are banal and forgettable. (26.5/30)
Total Time 55:22
I can see where the "avant garde ambient" description came from. Nothing here is too fast, dissonant, or muddled to be straight avant, and the music is generally low-key and slow, yet there is often a slightly unsettling melodic line or odd combination of instrumental sounds. My usual issues with Ivan Rozmainsky releases are not so present here (i.e. sound engineering choices, qualitative inconsistencies in the levels of both composition and performance), though the typical scatteredness in stylistic musical choices could be said to be here--are what, perhaps, give the compositions their dream-like cinematic qualities.
86.73 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an interesting musical listening experience that I would recommend to others--with the precautionary warning that one should probably give it your full attention for at least the first listen as there are instances and events that might prove jarring or even alarming if one were not braced in the safety of a chair or tub.
UNAKA PRONG Kudzu
With their fifth full-length studio album--all since 2015--the enigmatic, hard-to-pigeonhole band of boys from North Carolina continue to stretch themselves out in multiple directions while, as usual, never taking themselves too seriously (despite the customary incredibly tight, sophisticated song constructs). I have to say that with this album the band touches most closely and most consistently with that quirky intelligence of the first three Steely Dan albums of the 1970s--which is amazing since NOBODY has even come close to capturing the true, unadulterated spirit of those albums since.
1. "Kudzu" (1:53) a funny, cute, tongue-in-cheek introductory narration parodying doomer sci-fi. (4.5/5)
2. "On My Own" (4:16) sounds like a kind of collection of rambling notations from a particularly long and boring stretch of somebody's road trip. Funny in it's over-the-top exaggeration and self-deprecating lampoon--but, damn! can these guys create beautiful music! (9/10)
3. "Birdsongs" (5:35) a classic Unaka Prong, nature-inspired, impressionist piece in which the lyrics and vocal delivery are mysteriously emotionally gripping. I, too, like to pick apart birdsongs. Cool to hear guitarists Mike Welsh and Dan Stephenson experimenting with new sounds--and to hear keyboardist Chris Pope up front and loud in the mix. I don't know how these guys always seem to manage to create chord progressions that seem to pierce my soul, but that little section between 1:41 and 2:05 has done it again! Perhaps my favorite vocal ever from Dan Stephenson. And Chris is definitely channeling Zazu-era Donald Fagen here! (9.5/10)
4. "Sam the Inventor" (6:08) opens with a neat exercise in proggy time discipline before the song turns into something that sounds as if it came from Steely Dan circa 1973-74. Astounding! Even the vocal, despite not being anything like the voice of Donald Fagen, has a Donald Fagen-like quirkiness to its delivery. Then the instrumental parts are like a jam with the ghosts of Denny Diaz and Skunk Baxter (who are both still alive) duelling it out with Mr. Fagen. (8/10)
5. "Lake Jam #6" (5:30) the best of the Lake Jams (so far)! Chris Pope continues to shine though everybody is super clear, super involved, and super good on this one. Love the two guitarists' completely different sounds and styles--playing off each other magically. A kind of Larry Carlton and Donald Fagen smooth jazz classic. (9.5/10)
6. "Fishing Report" (4:18) Adrian Belew-King Crimson meets Steely Dan. Musically, lyrically great. (8.75/10)
7. "The Ocho (Lake Jam #8)" (4:48) feels like a continuation of the excellent music behind the fishing report before going more Larry Carlton/The Jazz Crusaders jazz-fusion instrumental jam on us. Incredibly tight band play with John, Jonathon, and Chris's stellar play beneath those amazing guitar rhythmists. (8.75/10)
8. "Suspend Your Disbelief" (4:11) more well-composed and tightly performed, albeit countrified music (as the Dan were also known to do) with an innocuous vocal. Appreciated but not my favorite. (7.75/10)
9. "Phenobarbitol" (7:01) the first half is a little too much like "Come on Back" from Salinity Now! for my ears, and then it oddly, and inexplicably, shifts into a four-chord country rocker. As I am not a lyrics guy, and the second half of this is totally lyrics-driven, this is just not my cup of tea. There are some redeeming parts (these musicians are too talented to phone in a whole song), like the nice Ozark Mountain Daredevil-like guitar work at the 5:30 mark and then an awesome keyboard arpeggiated passage to lead into the guitar outro. (12/15)
10. "Such a Blur" (4:18) sounds like a cross between an example of the early style of The WHO, The ANIMALS, and something by BOB DYLAN--until 2:36 when a guitar and cymbal coda leads into another section of the 1960s blues-rock chord progression that is the song's foundation. (Maybe a little Nirvana in there as well??) Cute. (8.25/10)
11. "B.C. Budz" (5:13) a great little funky, jazz instrumental on which Chris is again allowed to really shine. Such great sound! (9/10)
12. "Shifty" (2:50) the musical companion to a hilarious video. What I'll call "lazy punk" or "too-late-at-night punk jam" or "we're all out of beer" music. Nice work on that axe, crazy man Mike. (8.75/10)
I was worried after the first couple songs that this was going to turn out to be an example of a sloppy "publish or perish" / do anything to try to stay in the public eye, but I was wrong! As usual, the band step and provide incredible studio engineering and production, as well as top notch play. You can tell that these are five musicians who continue to want and work to grow and explore.
The lyrics are perhaps a little more humorous and loose than is typical over a whole album for these boys, but there is still heartfelt meaning and expression here. While I feel that each and all of the individual band members were allowed to experiment, express, and grow within this album, I do feel that Chris Pope's extraordinary keyboard prowess was finally allowed to really shine throughout the course of most of this album. Yeah! Whereas John Hargett's drumming was the real kicker for me on Salinity Now!, it's time to give the gold medal to Chris for this one.
86.46 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collections: there are gems among the weeds.
ELECTRIC ORANGE psi-hybrid
Dirk-Jan Müller and his band of Kosmisches groovemasters are back again with yet another highly engaging, enjoyable, and entertaining album release. Makes me wanna just sit back and veg!
Line-up / Musicians:
- Dirk Bittner / guitars, dobro, zither, vocals, percussion, harmonium, samples
- Dirk Jan Müller / synthesizer, organ, electric & acoustic piano, electronics, samples
- Werner Wieczorek / bass
- Georg Monheim / drums, glockenspiel, timbal, tin drum
- Harald Königs / bass flute, saxophone
1. "Report (0:57)
2. "Dilectric" (7:30) groovin' with some aliens. Very CAN-like. (13/15)
3. "Season of the Bitch" (9:32) great groove jam with sax and, later, wah-guitar soloing. I could psi-trail to this forever! (18.5/20)
4. "Shingle Robe" (7:17) very cinematic--and Australian Outback sounding. Cool shift in the middle. More alien voice recordings in the final third. (13/15)
5. "Phenomenon" (6:07) another kosmisches groove with some cool infinity guitar over the top--and dobro! (8.75/10)
6. "Psycho Harmony" (4:34) a more primal, worldly, David Sylvian-like groove (though, not uncommon to Holger Czukay, either) with Eastern percussives et al. Cool contrast between bass and flute/flute synth. Love when the bass harmonics are played solo opposite tribal drums and untuned metal percussives. (8.75/10)
7. "Mesocarp Blues" (8:52) more sedate, almost quiet jazzy groove with flute. Cool when 'tron play begins. Almost Beat/beatnik-like without it. (17/20)
8. "Subcutaneous Star" (8:21) keys give an almost orchestral/symphonic feel to this shamanic journey. Then some Frippertronics in the second half. Cool! (17.25/20)
9. "Wacky Amoebatrons" (11:07) crazy effects on guitar strums with "empty" bass and drum track beneath. And then pulsing organ chord joins and guitar groove goes more Ry Kooder--until the end of the third minute, then we go back to the experimental stringed-instruments strums & strikes--this time employing zither. When the whole band joins in again for the bounciness at the halfway point, it's good. Otherwise, it's only … interesting. (16.5/20)
10. "Erusamu Basement" (7:34) dobro, cymbals, bass, and pulsing synth buzz open this one. Doesn't really go anywhere except to make room for guitarist to experiment. (12.5/15)
Total Time 71:51
86.40 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you like to just sit back and engage with the groove while musicians experiment over the top.
Denmark's current national prog treasure returns with their third album since 2014.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Asger Mygind / lead vocals, guitar
- Martin Werner / keyboards
- Nicolai Mogensen / bass
- Adam Janzi / drums
- Shahmen / vocals (4)
1. "Straight Lines" (4:22) after an awesome opening, the song develops like a heavier BROTHER APE tune until 1:45 when there is an interesting turn before settling back into a variation of the opening rhythm for the second verse and chorus. Some cool little twists in the second half keep it lively and interesting. We're off to a good start! My first top three song. (8.75/10)
2. "Head Mounted Sideways" (5:34) the djenty bass and guitars are amped up for this one--a kind of industrial metal sound. Synths and synthesized vocal continue the industrial future vibe before the "normal" voices and sounds appear for the chorus. As with the previous song, there are some very cool and interesting twists and turns--including a CURT SMITH-like vocal in the hushed middle and the thick synth-chords used for the instrumental solo section after the second chorus--and then the long-sustained growl-scream in the first half of the fifth minute. Great ending. Excellent song. A top three song for me. (9/10)
3. "24 Light-Years" (4:32) opens with heavily treated chords of glass/toy piano-sounding percussives before tom-tom rhythm is established with synth for Asger to sing in a very sensitive, airy voice. Very different from the other songs on the album--especially with its spacey, non-djenty foundation. Even when the djenty sounds do enter--in the third minute--they're controlled to take up less space. Interesting. (8.5/10)
4. "These Black Claws" (5:52) another odd opening with synth riffs and drum machine leading the way for the first sparsely populated 20 seconds. Then it seems as if all hell breaks loose as a wall of djent chords fills the soundscape. But then, surprise, the djent stops and we return to the odd, untuned synth motif of the opening over which Asger sings--until rapper Shahmen adds his shtick. Creative but weird. I'm not convinced that this works. Even after repeated listens--as I get used to the weirdness--I'm not finding myself anymore enamored (or repelled)--though I have found myself really enjoying the heaviness of the final 90 seconds. (8.5/10)
5. "Freak" (4:50) backing away from heaviness, the band steps back into a kind of modern TEARS FOR FEARS sound for this one. Perhaps a little mores spacious and simplistic than a Tears song, the melodies are allowed to win out on all levels here. Nice little Steven Wilson feel during the guitar solo. A pleasant, innocuous song that, unfortunately, does nothing great for me. Would that I hear the lyrics. (8.5/10)
6. "Napalm" (4:58) great bass lines and keyboard play. Not my favorite vocal--and definitely not a great chorus--which is then repeated ad nauseum. (8.5/10)
7. "Future Bird" (4:35) stripped down music-scape over which Asger sings in a sensitive voice during the first verse. The band amps up for the chorus before shutting down for a very cool little transition back to verse #2--over which Asger continues to sing in his pleasing voice. Very nice sound with some really nice touches but, ultimately, the song doesn't really go anywhere--even uses an overly-long fade over the repeating chorus to end the song. (8.75/10)
8. "Stone Leader Falling Down" (4:23) sounds like Proghma-C during the first verse. Keyboard strings drench the soundscape during the chorus. Vocal sounds like 80s Tears for Fears and/or Depeche Mode. Cool instrumental coda at the end of the third minute. (8.75/10)
9. "Inside Your Fur" (5:00) opens with music that sounds almost exactly like that of the previous--especially in the rhythm section. Love hearing Asger's voice during the quieter first verse. I love the tuned percussion interlude at the end of the third minute before returning to the amped up chorus. Great composition, top to bottom. A top three song for me. (9/10)
Total Time 44:06
I remember feeling so disappointed with the way Asger backed off on his vocal intensity--how the vocals were mixed so deeply within the weaves of many of the songs on 2018's Applause of a Distant Crowd as compared to those of their debut, Inmazes.
86.39 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an interesting collection of sophisticated and nuanced songs. Recommended for fans of their previous albums.
ANTONY KALUGIN Chameleonic Shapeshifter
A "live" in the studio full-band recording as opposed to the mostly multi-track solo compositions Antony has been doing so much of since the advent of the Coronavirus protocols. Very tightly rendered performances (though the very melody-oriented music is not so very demanding).
Line-up / Musicians:
- Antony Kalugin / keyboards, vocals, percussion, guitars, arrangement, programming
- Max Velychko / acoustic & electric guitars
- Ivan Goritski / drums
- Oleg Prokhorov / bass
- Yan Vedaman / tenor & soprano saxophones
- Elena Kushiy / flute
- Olha Rostovska / vocals
- Sergii Kovalov / knob accordion, vocals
1. "Chameleon" (19:41) nice TONY BANKS like foundation to the first five and a half minutes. Then there is a sudden shift to rolling jazz lounge music for a brief minute before moving back into previously exposed symphonic themes. Still, for anyone familiar with Narada Michael Walden's solo work in the late 1970 and early 1980s or Camel and Mike Oldfield's work from the early 80s, this is music bordering on full-on Prog Lite.
At 9:15 we burst out of the bucolic country roads onto a high speed autobahn into a near-Techno Disco passage until the end of the twelfth minute. When it comes back to symphonic in the fourteenth minute the music is just so slow, syrupy, and plodding as to almost be nauseating--like a cheap Harry Potter rip off. At the end of the sixteenth minute some nice symphonic orchestral sounds are ruined by some cheezy bluesy ones, but then things return to soporific cheese before a nice guitar solo starts up over an almost exciting rhythm passage. Alan Parsons would love this! All in all this is a highly chameleonic song--what could have been good but ends up being too scattered and distressing. Big piano finish. Still, it is impressive that Antony was able to get a full band to perform this 20-minute song "live" in a studio! (Or, at least, so he says.) (34/40)
2. "Shapeshifter" (6:06) pretty good, evocative instrumental song until the Mike Oldfield-like sax and choral vocals join in. Also, weird mood & stylistic shift at 4:25. The sax, as smooth as it is, turns me off. (8.5/10)
3. "Exceptional Chamel Ballard" (7:49) a very spacey, Blade Runner-like opening that shifts into second and third gears with some solid multi-keyboard work before smooth electric guitar and organ take over. It's amazing how Antony has discovered the bare-bones secrets to the power essences to the classic Genesis and Yes passages of the 1970s and now been able to build a solo career making perfect yet familiar instrumental prog. Nice Eef Albers-like guitar play in the middle before the funked up Narada Michael Walden like stuff takes over. Very melodic and accessible throughout--exactly what the best Neo Prog does. I'm sure the Hammond-heavy music at the 6:20 mark will make many progheads happy, but not me, I like the more melodic, classically-based stuff like then end. (13.5/15)
4. "House on the Hill" (4:04) so synth drenched from the opening that I'm gonna have to call a spade a spade: this is Prog Lite bordering on New Age. Paul Speer and David Lantz come to mind. Flutes, acoustic guitars, female vocalise, and hand percussions entering upon a Celtic motif only seals the deal. Nice set up for some Satriani-like pseudo-jazz New age guitar. (8.25/10)
5. "Wonderous Glory" (4:50) more Adult Smooth Jazz bordering on New Age elevator music. Synth horns, female vocalise, slow, methodic lead guitar soli and slow background arpeggi, lazy/sleepy fretless bass play, all trying to pull at our heart-strings. (8.25/10)
6. "Key" (4:16) a pleasant, nearer-to-Steve Hackett song with nice lyrics and peaceful music to engage and placate the listener for a good night's sleep. Very high quality Neo Prog. (9.5/10)
Total Time 46:46
It's all pretty, very saccharine, but too formulaic and "by the numbers" lacking much creativity or innovation. And then there's the question: How does this album, this music, this sequence of songs, fulfill the promise of the "Magical AKP Trilogy"? Plus, the overall reverberating impact of this album has left me thinking, is this even prog? Is Prog Lite even prog?
86.32 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any lover of melodic Neo Prog or Prog Lite.
BEAUTIFUL BEDLAM Beautiful Bedlam
An album of delightfully diverse musical styles--each song seeming to explore something new and different, often projected by the seven different lead vocalists.Line-up / Musicians:
- Luke Ancell / guitars
- Scott Ancell / drums, programming, backing vocals (7), guitar (4)
- Ross Taylor / keyboards, vocals
- James Van Strien / bass, vocals
- Xen Havales / lead vocals (2)
- Paul Cooper / lead vocals (6)
- Markus Saastamoinen / lead vocals (8)
- Richard Jeffrey / lead vocals (10)
- Michael Minehan / lead vocals (11)
- Matt Belleville / lead vocals (12)
- Leah Hannah / backing vocals (6,10)
- Shane Lieber / guitar (9)
1. "Flaking Paint" (4:32) opens with a sound that is part XTC, part The Police, and part Paul Weller before the song reveals its fullness beneath the pleasant Fredrik Larsson/Carson Schnackenberg-like vocals of one of the band members (James or Ross). Interesting and engaging delivery of the lyrics. (8.5/10)
2. "Breather" (5:18) using Xen Havales in the lead vocalist slot, this jazz-rock expedition is full of melody and an upbeat liveliness that makes it a winner. It's only flaw/irritant is the heavier sections of distorted guitar chord play. (9.25/10)
3. "Life, Death & Cheers (+ Slow Creepin')" (6:05) another surprisingly 1980s jazz-pop-sounding song with a delightful feel and message. Great voice and vocal from either Ross or James. There is a wonderful NEW ORDER sound and feel to it all. Even the DEVIN TOWNSEND/ heavy pulses/sections work. The stark shift into the techno-percussed final two minutes is kind of weird, though. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)
4. "Two Thirds" (4:06) great chord choice for the electric guitar to arpeggiate in the opening is soon joined by the full band and another new lead singer--either James or Ross, the other band member. Throughout this album, so far, I am reminded of young musicians Carson Schnackenberg (THE ARBORIST), Fredrik Larsson (FREDDEGREDDE), and even Boston's oddly operatic metal band NATIVE CONSTRUCT. (9/10)
5. "Cocktail Crime Scene" (5:27) back to jazz, with an interesting layering use of MIDI-ed xylophone, piano, organ, harp, and marimba to carry the song within the bass, drum, and electric guitar power chords. (9/10)
6. "Black World" (4:26) funky grooves beneath the bluesy rock vocal of Paul Cooper. Interesting work from the bass, guitar, and keys. (8.5/10)
7. "Open World (+ Apparitions)" (5:48) opens sounding a bit like The Police's "Synchronicity" before turning into a more NATIVE CONSTRUCT/STARE AT THE CLOUDS-like atmospheric synth-metal song. Great work with the vocals--both lead and multi-voice harmonized. (8.75/10)
8. "I Adore" (4:00) opens with a chord progression and sound a bit like AC/DC. Lead vocal duties are this time passed on to Markus Saastamoinen. Not my favorite song but interesting for the instrumental solos. (8/10)
9. "Dog's Breakfast" (2:57) sounds more like a musical idea that was only partially explored, partially developed, never taken to a serious conclusion. (4.25/5)
10. "Sweet Oblivion" (5:16) again, AC/DC comes to mind with this song's opening. Even into the development of the intro, I'm still thinking of 1970s classic rock "heavy metal" songs. Lead vocalist Richard Jeffries does little to dispel my presentiments. The angular guitar scales seem rather rudimentary as do the guitar power chords. The drumming is great and the bass and REO Speedwagon keyboard play are quite good. But, overall, there is nothing really special or ground-breaking here. (8.25/10)
11. "Silent to the End" (3:43) what starts out as an expression of theatric melodroma uses Michael Minehan's death metal voice to foray into darker territory. Entertaining but not really memorable or ground-breaking--even when Michael turns Maynard James Keenan at the 3:00 mark or when the keyboard play let's out its crazies in the fifth minute. (8.5/10)
12. "Pigment" (4:39) piano and growling vocals of Matt Belleville give this a very Gabriel Ricci sound and feel--a phenom that persists even as the song develops into a full-on metal song. (8/10)
Total Time 56:17
I am not a fan of these plastic-sounding drum skins. The bass is thick, the keyboards diverse and creative, the guitar play often too rudimentary, but the vocals and vocalists definitely make it interesting. A band with a lot of talent, a lot of ideas, a lot of promise, and, perhaps, a lot of youth.
86.30 on the Fishscales = B/3.5 stars; a wonderfully diversified collection of songs for this Australian band's debut.
MASTODON Hushed and GrimLine-up / Musicians:
- Brann Dailor / drums, vocals
- Brent Hinds / guitar, vocals
- Bill Kelliher / guitar
- Troy Sanders / bass, vocals
- Kim Thayil / guitar
- Jody Sanders / French horn
- Marcus King / guitar
CD 1 (43:04)
1. "Pain with an Anchor" (5:01) great drumming within well-worn metal sounds, riffs, and expressives. (8.5/10)
2. "The Crux" (4:59) impressive, aggressive drumming that sounds separate from the rest of the music (which is made up of well-worn metal sounds, riffs, and expressives). I do like the second part starting at 2:38. (8.5/10)
3. "Sickle and Peace" (6:17) opens with a very catchy whole band groove--including some nice melody present in the singing! (The drummer is in the pocket.) Something about this takes me back … to AMERICA's "Ventura Highway" (a melody I know and love very well as it is one of my all-time favorite songs). I even love the PROGHMA-C-like chorus. This is metal I can connect with! There's even a little ALICE IN CHAINS here! (9/10)
4. "More Than I Could Chew" (6:51) Mellotron?! Is this Anekdoten?! (Great title!) Interesting intro--that leads into a great, easy-to-access metal groove with heavily-treated vocals. Great Geoff Tate/Ozzie/Layne Staley vocals--easily the best vocal on the album: the dude sounds so invested, so present. What?!! Going for the Peter Hammill vocal sound in the fifth minute! This is sick! (i.e. "great"!) Not a great electric guitar solo. (14/15)
5. "The Beast" (6:03) into the swamps for some Southern Rock. Nice! Even a Billy Gibbons-like vocal! Wow! Hard to dislike this classic-sounding music. With dirty walls of sound like this it's hard for the drummer to stand out so much. Too bad about the divergent chorus. Now they've left the swamp; they're in the realm of Robotic TOTO. Trying to get back--more like switching channels--at 4:45, but something is lost: the song feels split; two-faced. Too bad. (9/10)
6. "Skeleton of Splendor" (5:04) this multi-vocalist shtick is starting to bug me. nice Blue Öyster Cult-like music. Cool Richard Wright synth work in the fourth minute--followed by a raunchy guitar solo. (8.5/10)
7. "Teardrinker" (5:20) this one sounds awfully close to 80s hair-metal bands like Def Leppard, Bon Jovi, with a little Whitesnake and Metallica. (8/10)
8. "Pushing the Tides" (3:29) the impressive drumming is back! The music and vocals more aggressive, more insistent, more Metallica-like--with a Bon Jove chorus. (8/10)
Reaction at the half-way point: 86.47 on the Fishscales. Why do these guys sound like old guys--like a heavy metal tribute band?
CD 2 (43:13)
1. "Peace and Tranquility" (5:55) another song of multiple personalities trying to work together. (8.25/10)
2. "Dagger" (5:12) Uriah Heep channeling special guest Richard Wright trying to be Alice in Chains? Simple weirdness. (8.5/10)
3. "Had It All" (5:25) despite the nice sounds, the whole vibe here is creepy for its echo of bands and musics long past (esp DEF LEPPARD, Ten-era PEARL JAM, and Layne Staley-era Alice in Chains). Nice use of the wah-effects on the lead guitar solo. (8.75/10)
4. "Savage Lands" (4:24) despite the obvious Ozzie-ness here, this song at least sounds like it comes from the 21st Century. (8.5/10)
5. "Gobblers of Dregs" (8:34) great start--sucks me in like molasses or a tar pit. The second movement that starts in the fifth minute is just too divergent. Two songs that are meant to be two songs, not mish-mashed into one. Very impressive drumming. (17.5/20)
6. "Eyes of Serpents" (6:49) Fender Rhodes?! another song built around more familiar sounds, riffs, and stylings. Interesting guitar solo in the fifth minute. Are those background choral vocals real or sampled? (13/15)
7. "Gigantium" (6:54) sounds like a Devy Townsend song--though the walls of sound aren't quite as thick and impenetrable. (13/15)
Total Time 86:17
Second CD: 86.11 on the Fishscales.
Overall: 86.29 on the Fishscales; B/four stars; an enjoyable journey through the history of late 20th Century metal music. Recommended for those who will remember; highly recommended to those appreciators of fine drumming.
It must be so hard for prog metal artists to come up with new riffs, new tricks, fresh ideas. I'm beginning to feel a little sorry for them.
MOSTLY AUTUMN Graveyard Star
Aside from the occasional country-western lead guitar or female vocal stylings, this is no Prog Folk album. Over and over, I find myself reminded of PINK FLOYD--especially the way in which soft and hard power chord sections/riffs with David Gilmour-like searing lead guitar soli are used to offset each other, time and time again. Choosing Coronavirus pandemic themes to sing about explains a lot of the gravity of this album, yet the music is usually quite pretty, engaging, and compelling.Line-up / Musicians:
- Olivia Sparnenn-Josh / vocals
- Bryan Josh / guitars, vocals
- Chris Johnson / guitars
- Iain Jennings / keyboards
- Angela Gordon / flute, keyboards
- Andy Smith / bass
- Henry Rogers / drums
1. "Graveyard Star" (12:05) opens with synth strings banked in orchestra-formation but then, in the second minute, everything switches to eerie Danny Elfman-like. Bryan and Olivia enter, singing alternately in soft, whispery voices. This is IQ! Drums enter at the end of the third minute and Olivia begins singing in a full voice before being joined to sing side-by-side with her husband. As Olivia ramps up to full-power I get a Simone Simon kind of feel. She's got some pipes! COLLAGE-like keyboard work beneath the fiery electric guitar solo before we break down to solo acoustic guitar for Bryan to sing over. He's got a voice and vocal style similar to those of Roger Waters. The song might earn higher marks were I drawn into the lyrics--or if there weren't so many riffs/sounds that seem "borrowed" (including the David Gilmour guitar soloing in the tenth minute). The song then finishes with an odd Peter Schilling "Major Tom (Coming Home)" race toward the finish line. (20/25)
2. "The Plague Bell" (2:00) the title pretty much tells all. A kind of Roger Waters song. (4.25/5)
3. "Skin of Mankind" (4:32) using straight C&W stylings and themes--reminds me of 1987 when I first heard British band IT'S IMMATERIAL's "Driving Away from Home." Sergio Leone's Spaghetti Westerns also come to mind. Even with the addition of traditional Celtic instruments, I still don't get the choice of this style. (7.5/10)
4. "Shadows" (4:14) a song that seems to fall into the BRYAN ADAMS school of Rock though the vocal is more akin to that of Robbie Robertson. Solid and well produced if familiar. (8.75/10)
5. "The Harder That You Hurt" (4:32) quite lovely--though it sounds as if it could have come off of the 2016 MANTRA VEGA album, The Illusion's Reckoning, if slightly more Countrified. Olivia has a pretty awesome voice--she can really hit and hold a note. My favorite song on the album. (9.25/10)
6. "Razor Blade" (7:09) a wonderfully spacious song almost in the TALK TALK/BLUE NILE vein--at least, until the heavy rock instruments burst in at the halfway mark. That's when the lead vocals switch from female to raspy male (not unlike Guy Manning). Musically, this is very powerful; vocally it is neither performed or mixed as well--though Olivia hits some awesomely piercing sustained notes during the "let me go" finish. Another top three song. (13.5/15)
7. "This Endless War" (6:52) is it Floyd or Airbag? The sonic scape at the opening here is interchangeable with both--though probably more with the latter. Piano and C&W twangy female vocal enter in the second minute. Her voice is so delicate, so fragile sounding, you think she's gonna break down and start crying. For the chorus slow drum travel signals the entrance of power chords and the amping up of Olivia's voice. She has some pipes! Reminds me of Joanne Hogg. A solid song, perfectly performed, though nothing really new is introduced here other than standard touchstones of drama and perhaps a topic. Very nice "raunchy" Gilmour-like solo in the instrumental section--very emotional, not unlike the "Comfortably Numb" impact until he starts running with some speed beneath Olivia's voice. A solid song made better by Olivia's power singing and Brian or Chris's awesome solo. (13.5/15)
8. "Spirit of Mankind" (4:58) more simple song structure and palette over which Olivia sings in a Heather Findlay tone--until the chorus at which time she belts it like Pat Benetar. The lyrics are a bit banal and cliché-filled, as the music travels a very white bread classic rock path. Even the guitar soli (acoustic and electric) are by the numbers. (7.75/10)
9. "Back in These Arms" (6:27) anybody for a little "Wish You Were Here"? Until the disco-programmed drums and organ sequence begin, that's what I'm flooded with. Then Bryan and Olivia sing in tandem like Martha and the Muffins or Robbie Robertson. Another solid, if Bryan Adams-like song. I'm happy for the newlyweds. I love the pipes in the instrumental passages after the "let it go" power phrases. Then the stripped bare passage over which Bryan recites his lists. Kind of anthemic in a pop-C&W way. (8.5/10)
10. "Free to Fly" (3:59) lullaby-like piano piece over which Olivia gives a nice plaintive performance. (8.25/10)
11. "The Diamond" (6:01) percussive acoustic guitar strumming like Edison's Children used on Silhouette in 2013. Olivia offers a whispery, sensitive, controlled, vocal performance--kind of Annie Haslam-like. A few instruments are spaciously added as is a second vocal track from Olivia before the whispery choral chorus is performed. Sounds like the Cranberries or the Indigio Girls. A fairly fresh and original feeling/sounding song--with an Anathema finish! My final top three song. (8.75/10)
12. "Turn Around Slowly (12:40) opens like a Renaissance/Magenta song with piano and electrified acoustic guitar playing off each other. I love the fact with a long-playing song a band can take its time to develop themes and palettes with nuance and subtlety. When drums and bass come bursting forth Bryan's Robbie Robertson-like voice comes with it. The song, then, develops like another BRYAN ADAMS/BON JOVI song. Nice guitar work in the middle solo section. The pulsing march/anthem section sounds like a cross between Roger Waters and Guy Manning. This lasts about two minutes before we rush off into another PAT BENETAR theme over which Olivia belts it out like Simone Simons. The music then finishes with everybody running toward the finish line. (21/25)
Total Time 75:29
There are no complex time signatures or complex mutli-track polyphonic weaves; the music is most often quite formulaic in either a classic (Southern) rock or stadium-filling era Pink Floyd. The sound and performers, however, are quite solid, quite confident and talented--especially the guitarist and female vocalist. And the band does not use a ton of cheap 1990s keyboards (thank god!) I guess the thing that bothers me the most about the music here is how derivative it is and how little new/fresh ideas (musically) are expressed.
86.14 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a pleasant, solid run through pandemic themes using many musical styles and themes from rock history (especially the 1980s).
BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Colors 2
Prog Metalists' favorite from Raleigh, NC, Between the Buried and Me are back with another highly acclaimed exposition of their eclectic tastes and ideations.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Dan Briggs / bass
- Blake Richardson / drums
- Tommy Giles Rogers Jr. / vocals, keyboards
- Paul Waggoner / guitars
- Dustie Waring / guitars
1. "Monochrome" (3:15) this is is Prog Metal? If so, it's the most benign, simplistic, and melodic metal I've ever heard. 2:20 death metal growls and more djenty guitar rhythm play. Okay, now I feel I'm in the metal jungle. (8.5/10)
2. "The Double Helix of Extinction" (6:16) one minute straight of pure and continuous death metal spew before a human-voiced chorus breaks things up for a few seconds. This is the pattern of this quite monotonous song. Though the instrumental performances are not as constant and metronomic below, they are lost (for me) in the of the turbulence caused by the vocals. I'm sure the vocals have lyrics but, what's the point? Only one mood/emotion could be being expressed by these sounds. Not interested. Even the cutsey electric piano at the end can't sway me: it's all fake. (7.5/10)
3. "Revolution in Limbo" (9:13) more growls open this one but at least it's not constant--which allows me the opportunity to pay attention to the music--which is actually quite varied and interesting here. The PETER NICHOLLS-like voice of the human singer are actually quite good and the music is decent (despite the plastic sound of the drum heads as they are mercilessly beaten--something that I always find quite irritating). I laugh while hearing the two growl voices "duelling" or conversing with one another around the five minute mark--and then the music shifts into a bassa nova! What the! As a non-death metal group of musicians I find their music quite straightforward metal, even familiar and IQ-ish. (17/20)
4. "Fix the Error" (5:01) It's the Ballroom Blitz! At least, that's how this song starts out. Then power chords, soloing underwater bass, and growl vocals follow. Other than the vocals, I feel as if I'm listening to Thin Lizzy--at least until the drum and cowbell solo with underlying talking bass and Baptist organ hits. At 2:30 it starts making fun of itself with what sounds more like some child cartoon/video game music. The next section reminds me of Opeth, but that church organ becomes more prominent again, taking things back into the comical (at least, for me). Nice execution and engineering. (8.5/10)
5. "Never Seen / Future Shock" (11:42) At the 7:00 mark, I can find myself relaxing and engaging with the less abrasive "Future Shock" section--especially since the vocals become human/humane. This is very Porcupine Tree-like--and melodic! Even mixed with some growl vocals, it's tolerable--and the music is nice--with some great lead guitar play going on in the background. Two songs, one I am unable to penetrate and enjoy, the other that I love. The second half would be my favorite song on the album, the first my least. (17.75/20)
6. "Stare into the Abyss" (3:54) opens with gentle piano chords played within a spacey sonicverse. This is nice. Kind of IQ-ish. At 1:37 the metal side of the boys bursts forth, but it's gentler--melodic, even. The singing that ensues is actually very nice--very powerful with long, beautiful notes not unlike --until 3:00 when the djenty guitar riffs and growl vocals take over (multiple tracks, which, I have to admit, are kind of cool!) before the song steps through a sudden door into the next song. A top three song. (9/10)
7. "Prehistory" (3:08) travels instrumentally as if a song by CAST or LINKIN PARK until 1:23 when a kind of carnival music and MC-voice take over. Then, stepping into second metal gear, they start singing in a partialgrowl about Creature Features and the like before falling into third gear around 2:35 for the finish. Not a great song; more like filler. (7.75/10)
8. "Bad Habits" (8:43) organ-foundation to some country-roads-cruisin' prog metal. I could actually see enjoying this one as I drove through the open lands of Nevada with the top down on my convertible. But then things change--as URIAH HEEP-like as the band tries to keep it with that organ and those classic rock guitar riffs, as soon as those machine gun bass drum notes start firing away I feel compelled to hit the ground and yell, "Blood makes the grass grow!" Must be PTSD from too many war movies over the course of my lifetime cuz I've never served in the military. Then the growl vocals take over and I'm dissociating again--what I thought was an innate (natural) human coping mechanism, but this would not help explain all of the humans who are drawn to/even "like" metal music. The more humane vocals here again remind me of one of LINKIN PARK's lead singers: both in tone and style. (17.5/20)
9. "The Future Is Behind Us" (5:22) opens as a fairly simple construct built around a kind of annoying child-toy-like keyboard arpeggi. The human voice vocals, however, help me to stick with it. Again, I'm reminded of a kind of cross between OPETH and IQ for the first 2:15. Then an ART OF NOISE-like bridge leads us into a more stop-and-go/staccato section with growl vocals. (From the band's official video for this song, I'm able to discover for the first time that the vocals--human and otherwise--all come from one singer! I'm impressed!) The walls of sound expand and fill in the fifth and sixth minutes beofre emptying out into a kind of RUSH-like "Tom Sawyer" outro (which bleeds into becoming the intro for the next song). At least this song kept my attention. (8.75/10)
10. "Turbulent" (5:57) from long "Tom Sawyer"-like intro to SAGA "Turn Me Loose" like and then Thomas Dolby/Peter Murphy, we get a real smattering of old sounds and melodies in this one--though still anchored in rapid-fire bass pedal play and occasional bursts of growl vocals. Interesting! A top three song for me. (8.75/10)
11. "Sfumato" (1:09) an instrumental interlude/intro that could have come from any one of several dozen modern prog rock artists. Nice. (4.5/5)
12. "Human Is Hell (Another One with Love)" (15:08) opens with machine gun guitar, bass, and drum riffing before collapsing into a fairly melodic standard 80s metal sound structure. But then the growl vocals enter and everything goes grey/static/white noise. The first five minutes give me very little to hang on to, but then at 4:19 Tommy Rogers' voice turns human and I can finally latch onto something. But, this is short-lived. The next metal section that ensues varies only in the effects used on the lead guitar's rapid-fire riffing. In the seventh minute the music tries to go toward Dick Dale island, but then turns back--until 7:25 when a new meaty rock riff and structure is established--giving way to a little more Math Rock/Crimsonian weave at 7:53--which is then slowed down for some sensitive, spacious whole band interplay. I like this! Vocals (with harmonizing b vox!) join in. Then David Torn-like guitar solos. This is really cool music! At the ten minute mark we switch again, a kind of "Mr. Roboto" keyboard one note bass-line is established over which various unusual computer percussive sounds are woven with keyboard until LINKIN PARK vocal and growls are intermixed, side by side, one over the other, while the rhythm section play with odd syncopations and staccato playing. Overall, an odd song that, for me, puts on display the band members' rock roots and contrasts and melds them with their extreme metal explorations (and preferences?) (26.5/30)
Total Time 78:48
Despite the technical proficiency of this band, I find very little enjoyment from listening to this music. As much as I try, the head-banger supposedly laying latent within me has never emerged. It's even difficult for me to find musics/bands/songs to compare with music like this because my neurological and DNA makeup have been so resistant to picking up the supposed nuances in this music--and the sounds and styles that make each band and song distinctive from one another. All I hear is very competent musicianship, no melody, one rhythm/speed (rapid fire/machine gun), and, of course, due to my learning disability, no message--other than the underlying angst and anger. Sorry! Sometimes I think I should recuse myself from reviewing bands like these because I am so rarely able to find pleasure/enjoyment or connection to their music, but, hey, we're all here to share our opinions--which are inevitably coloured by our likes and dislikes.
86.06 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an interesting addition to any prog lover's music collection and one that more eclectic, prog metal lovers will certainly enjoy.
BAND OF RAIN The Sun King
The inclusion of superstar JON CAMP in this lineup automatically makes this and all-star band: he just makes everything and everyone else sound better. But, this is Chris Gill's project.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Jon Camp / fretted & fretless basses
- Zsolt Galantai / drums
- Chris Gill / electric & acoustic & 12-string guitars, keyboards
- Michael Steinbacher / saxophones, flute
- Robert Webb / main keyboards, vocals, lyrics
- Mordecai Smyth / jazz guitar (6)
- Norman Macbeth / narration (5)
1. "Distant Land" (5:45) nice instrumental sounds woven together with some incongruous vocals added over the top. The Country Western and Who/Led Zeppelin undertones here are a bit awkward. (8.5/10)
2. As the Crow Flies" (7:23) a pleasant sonic landscape with awkward story and cheezy choral vocal chorus added. The music feels unfinished, one-dimensional, and incongruous with the story being told over the top. (13/15)
3. "Black Book of Carmarthen" (7:45) pitchy vocal performances here at least sound more fitting with the music (and the story, as well). But why is the drummer so busy beneath such smooth vocal/lyrics?It's like the musicians are trying too hard to impress--to express a mood--and end up missing the mark. (13/15)
4. "Taking the Long Way" (6:17) Interesting 196s-feeling psych-pop with YES-like background vocal harmonies. Interesting and entertaining but, again, feeling unfinished/unpolished. (8.75/10)
5. "The Sun King (7:42) at times this mostly instrumental song sounds very much like some of the soundscapes from FOCUS' album, Focus Con Proby. (13.25/15)
6. "Gospel Oak" (10:45) flute, piano, and fretless bass open this with a nice pastoral weave. Eventually turns into a cool variation on PURE REASON REVOLUTION's amazing song, "Aeropause" (from The Dark Third). Wonderful guitar, keyboard, and bass tracks are woven together in a very satisfying journey before turning a little bluesy around the six-minute mark. (Anybody else thinking of "The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys" here?) Then, in the eighth minute, everything empties out leaving a methodical piano arpeggiating with Jon Camp's mellifluous notes interspersed within. Then, at the end of the ninth minute, spacey synth washes and "trumpet" bursts give it an almost Stravinsky "Rite of Spring" sound--to the end. Nice song; a very enjoyable ride. (18/20)
7. "68 Carnaby Street" (7:37) multiple guitar tracks--several of them screaming in competition with one another--with treated piano, bass, and woodwinds mixed in--turns when math-rock weave establishes itself with drummer's cymbal play. Jon Camp solos in a smooth-jazzy fashion over the top until the middle of the song when an almost smooth jazz Cure-ish sound is assumed. Very relaxing but, again, really on the edge of being instrumental smooth jazz. A little pep is added for the final 90 seconds as drums and poppy fretless turn more rock-like. Interesting and ambiguous. (13/15)
8. "Once a Hippy..." (5:28) fairly straight four chord slow rock song--like the foundation for some 1980s hair band ballad. "Let me take you on my spaceship … " The psychedlic wailing guitar soloing over the chunky, treated fretless only adds to the feel. Perhaps a water metaphor would be equally appropriate. Really just an unfinished idea--a jam the boys were enjoying but never took further than pressing "record". (8.5/10)
Total Time 58:42
Beautiful sound palettes create some very engaging instrumental weaves which, unfortunately, feel unfinished--as if vocals or more dynamic and thematic shifts should/could have been worked in. Not very high quality vocals. Or lyrics.
86.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an interesting collection of nice musical landscapes that you might want to check out for yourself--might be just your cup o tea.
HIMMELLEGEME Variola Vera
From Bergen, Norway, this is a band that only debuted in late 2017--to some very favoriable reviews (including one of my own) with vocalist Aleksander Vormestrand earning great praise. The coronavirus pandemic obviously put an obstacle into the path of the band's plans but I for one am glad to see that they made it through and have decided to persist as a band.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Aleksander Vormestrand / vocals, guitar
- Hein Alexander Olson / lead guitar
- Lauritz Isaksen / keyboards
- Erik Alfredsen / bass
- Thord Nordli / drums
1. "Shaping Mirrors Like Smoke" (5:47) (8.75/10)
2. "Heart Listening" (5:21) (9/10)
3. "Blowing Raspberries" (3:43) almost disco-techno pop. (7.75/10)
4. "Brother" (5:02) this one could be an attempt to make a song like MIDLAKE or MICE ON STILTS or even Justin Vernon's BON IVER. (8/10)
5. "Let the Mother Burn" (4:56) My favorite (9.25/10)
6. "Caligula" (4:17) (8.5/10)
7. "Agafia" (5:55) rich sound (8.75/10)
8. "Variola Vera" (3:54) picked acoustic guitar with subtle, spacious keyboard support opens this instrumental. Very pretty in a Pink Floyd or LUNATIC SOUL way. (8.75/10)
Total Time 38:55
The band has certainly grown and changed in their approach and stylistic expression since Myth of Earth. There seems to be a lot more use of simpler, more pop-oriented folk music on this album. After Myths I have to admit to feeling quite some disappointment at the lack of presence or development of Aleksander's voice: his voice is much less prominent or attention-drawing. I feel much more as if I'm listening to other bands--or covers of other bands' music/songs here than I was prepared for.
85.93 on the Fishscales = B-/four stars;
AQUASERGE The Possibility of a New Work for Aquaserge: Made to Measure, Vol. 46
More avant garde modern chamber music from these creative Frenchpersons, here inspired by modern avant garde classical composers.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Audrey Ginestet / vocals, electric bass, synthesizer
- Benjamin Glibert / electric guitar, electric bass, organ, synthesizer, backing vocals
- Camille Émaille / percussion, vibraphone, tubular bells
- Julien Chamla / drums & percussion, organ, synthesizer, bass harp, backing vocals
- Julien Gasc / vocals, synthesizer, rattle
- Manon Glibert / clarinet, backing vocals
- Marina Tantanozi / flute, backing vocals
- Olivier Kelchtermans / baritone saxophone, backing vocals
- Robin Fincker / tenor saxophone, clarinet, backing vocals
1. "Un grand sommeil noir" (4:28) Pleasant but not brilliant. (8.75/10)
2. "1768°C" (À Edgar Varèse) (7:04) a little too dissonant for my tastes. (13/15)
3. "Hommage à Giacinto Scelsi" (6:29) obviously a study of harmonics. (8.25/10)
4. "Only" (1:16) a little discord and dissonance balanced by some very pleasant melodies, chords, and sounds. Male leader singer. (4.5/5)
5. "Comme des carrés de Feldman" (5:11) These crazy humans! Stretching the boundaries of what is music. Creative but, to what end? To make me smile? or run away? (7.75/10)
6. "Only" (version 2) (1:36) Female lead singer with choral version in second half. (4.5/5)
7. "Nuit terrestre" (À Gyorgy Ligeti) (10:02) long sustained single notes held by each instrument for over one minute before a change is made or new note added. Interesting. With each new note added or changed there is a definitive change in mood and memory/sensory trigger. VERY interesting! By the fifth minute we have painted quite a scene--kind of like watching scenery fly by from a window.of a TGV train. At 6:27 we get the first low end, percussive notes. But then we return to the long wind instrument notes--though this time moving and shifting their chordal structures much more quickly (though NOT fast). Difficult to rate. Is this prog? (17/20)
8. "Nuit altérée" (À Gyorgy Ligeti) (2:38) with lazy jazz drums, the aurora borealis chordal curtain of sustained and shifting notes receives a more humane foundation/anchoring. Also, the addition of tubular bells and organ adds something. (4.5/5)
Total Time 38:44
A little too post-modern classical for my tastes. It's more of interest as to how my bodymind reacts/responds to the music, rather than a question of enjoyment. The bigger question for me coming from listening to this album is: "If Aquaserge has been admitted into the coverage of "progressive rock music" then why shouldn't Five-Storey Ensemble also be included?"
85.3125 on the Fishscales = B-/interesting by not necessarily something I'd want to return to very often--and certainly not as a whole. I definitely prefer their previous albums.
JOHN HOLDEN Circles in Time
I am always excited to see a new John Holden project; his compositions and productions are almost unparalleled in terms of quality and scholarly sincerity.
Line-up / Musicians:
- John Holden / guitars, bass, keyboards, orchestration
- Robin Armstrong / bass (5)
- Marc Atkinson / vocals (3)
- Zaid Crowe / guitar (6)
- Oliver Day / acoustic guitars, mandolin (3,4)
- Nick D'Virgilio / drums, handpan (1,2,6)
- Frank Van Essen / violin, viola (2,3)
- Peter Jones / vocals, saxophone (2,6)
- Sally Minnear / vocals (3,5)
- Jean Pageau / vocals (1)
- Eric Potapenko / guitar (1,2)
- That Joe Payne / vocals (6)
- Henry Rogers / drums (4,5)
- Vikram Shankar / piano & keyboards
- Jeremy Irons / narration (6)
- Elizabeth Holden / backing vocals
1. "Avalanche" (6:18) a very polished, professional YES/Neo Prog opening with some amazing drumming (thanks, Nick D'Virgilio!) and awesome guitar play lead into a very theatric Jean Pageau (MYSTERY) vocal set within a very stage-appropriate soundscape. In the fourth minute we get a little keyboard-centered interlude before returning to main vocal themes, but the at 4:25 we're off into another, more serious, instrumental passage. Nice soli all around from LA session guitarist Eric "Potz" Potapenko and John's keys. My favorite song on the album. (9/10)
2. "High Line" (6:58) led by an excellent, emotional vocal by prog journeyman and devotee, Peter Jones (Progzilla, The Colin Tench Project, Red Bazaar, Barock Project, Tiger Moth Tales, Cyan, Camel, etc.) A solid song; my second top three song. (13/15)
3. "The Secret of Chapel Field" (7:36) a spacious, simply constructed and arranged song created to accompany a father-daughter ballad as performed by Sally Minnear and Marc Atkinson (Mostly Autumn, Nine Stones Close, Riversea). Guitars, piano, violin, mandolin, double bass, and synth strings make sparse contributions to airily accompany the lovers tale. Very theatric. Marc's performance as the father feels much more invested, genuinely emotional, than that of Sally as the daughter. The music is quite lovely--especially in the passages that fill space between the vocals. My other top three song. (13.25/15)
4. "Dreams of Cadiz" (5:17) classical-sounding piano--sounding very much like the stage showy stuff that Liberace would perform--opens this before stepping out in lieu of Oliver Day's multiple tracks of Spanish guitars. Piano returns with guitar accompaniment, and the two take turns dancing with the lead, sometimes at the same time, while bass and hand drums lend intermittent support. Electric instruments and jazzy drum kit join in for the final 90 seconds. Impressive but, is this prog? Plus, it feels more like filler. (8.75/10)
5. "Circles" (5:47) piano and acoustic guitar accompany Sally Minnear (on multiple tracks supporting herself) for the first 90 seconds. Bass and incidental synth sounds joins in for the second verse and then programmed drums and percussion and more synths are added for an instrumental passage. Enter drums and the soundscape fills and broadens out a bit, but then we strip back down to bare bones for the third verse. At 4:20 drums, electric bass, and other synth-generated sounds fill more of the field as Sally sings the chorus. We end with a simple version, bringing us back to the beginning. Cute, enjoyable, and innocuous but nothing to write home about. (8.5/10)
6. "KV62" (19:23) a truly theatric epic about the discovery of the tomb of the Egyptian Pharoah Tuth-Ank-Amon. It's gorgeous and definitely ordered as a sequential narrative with great performances from vocalists Pete Jones and That Joe Payne, Vikram Shankar's piano, and John's keyboard orchestration. It is, however, in this latter department that the song falls short, I'm afraid, as either the computer keyboards John had access to during the recording were inferior to some of the modern sample/replicators or else he should have hired the real orchestra to perform the score as he tried to do on his computer keyboard. I appreciate the scoring and effort to carefully realize the orchestral parts on keyboard, but it just doesn't measure up to the real thing. Then there is the fact of so few emotional high points in the song--it seems to travel along at one and the same pace and energy level from start to finish--which is something no one would expect from a prog epic. And the talents of those enlisted within the 20-minute piece are sadly under-utilized. (32/40)
Total Time 51:19
I have to admit that I'm disappointed with this new release of John's. I'm not really sure that this is prog rock--especially as rock drum kit, electric bass, electric guitar, and electric synths are absent over fully 50% of this music. While the quality of his compositions and engineering are top notch, I'm not as drawn back to the songs of this album as much as with his previous two albums.
84.5 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a collection of well-composed and impeccably-produced theatricities; just not up to proggy par of John's previous albums.
ELECTROCOMPLUSIVE THERAPY Electro Compulsive Therapy
The debut progressive rock album release from a quartet of veteran Mexican rockers from Monterey.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Guillermo Garcia Herreros / lead vocals, keyboards
- Andres Jasso / guitars
- Rodolfo Gonzales / bass
- Javier Villareal / drums, percussion
1. "Glow" (6:02) opens like a PORCUPINE TREE song until the more classic-rock-oriented vocals enter, then it sound almost like a cross between Black Sabbath and some kind of Southern grunge rockers. (The music when there are no vocals, however, are very much in the PT wheelhouse. Not very complex musical construct, the synth solo in the fourth and fifth minutes is pretty original and cool. I'm less impressed with the AIRBAG/Southern Rock-like guitar solo that follows. (8.75/10)
2. "Colors Fade Away" (9:53) sounds like a beginning band's first attempt at a mellow long-playing song. Comes out more in a style like a 1970s Southern rock band's ballad(think mellow side of LYNYRD SKYNYRD). It's melodic but rather plodding and simplistic/straightforward. The transition in the sixth minute to a more "Sky Moves Sideways" sound and style with a Thomas Thelen vocal styling is interesting but eventually boring. I do seem to like the vocal arrangements during the multi-voice passages. (17/20)
3. "Blackstar" (8:27) again I am drawn to Thomas Thelen comparisons with the opening of this one. As the song develops, it does so so simply and rudimentarily that it almost puts me off. A sparse keyboard passage at the beginning of the fourth minute fills me with hope, but the instrumental passage that follows disappoints big time. The vocal chorus that follows is also far beneath hopes and expectations, but the mellower guitar tone and solo used in the sixth minute is much better--and gets better as he gets warmed up, channeling a little David Gilmour, even.. (16.5/20)
4. "Gemini" (5:05) more of a soft bluesy grungy song, even after the 2:25 mark when the RIVERSIDE-like instrumental passage opens up. Again, the lead guitarist is showing more stylistic and sonic talent. (8.5/10)
5. "In Through the Light" (7:41) More of a beginning attempt at a Riverside song. Way too elementary. (12/15)
6. "Walking Ghost" (4:44) another song that falls close to the early Thomas Thelen sound--with a little CURE guitar, U2 chord structure, and church Hammond added as it goes--alls topped off with an BJÖRN RIIS-like solo in the final minute. (8.25/10)
7. "Stop... Wait and Transcend" (6:42) a mid-PT (before Deadwing or In Absentia)-like song. In the third minute it slides into a more classic rock ROXY MUSIC or U2-like song. The fifth minute brings out some of the best music of the album: great drumming with a keyboard, bass, and guitar weave that develops into some very nice Mellotron and guitar solo weaving. Almost Trespass-era Genesis! Great finish. (8.5/10)
8. "Supernova" (5:51) gentle whole-band music supports a tender vocal--maybe Guillemo Garcia Herreros' best vocal style of the album--which, unfortunately, slowly deteriorates as he gets more impassioned and dynamic. Could be from an ARIBAG album. The fourth minute sound additions and rhythm are awful, even when the guitarist tries going crazy--there's just something really off in the mix of the soundscape. This could have been the best song on the album but it's unpolished, poorly engineered sound make it seem rushed and under-served. (8.5/10)
Total Time 54:25
Music that sounds like it comes from a band that is just starting out. Complexity has not arrived (and may never--which is perfectly fine/their choice), yet there are enough refreshing ideas to warrant paying attention for future releases. I think I'd categorize them more in the space/psychedelic rock sub-genre even though they're based in some deeper, grungy/bluesy classic rock stylings. I think their engineering choices need to step up a little too: the drums don't sound right and the mixes are often a little a little unpolished. The vocalist is adequate but not great and lyrically they could use some help, as well.
83.81on the Fishscales = C/three stars; while no masterpiece or even an album deserving of "highly recommendation," this is an interesting debut that warrants attention for future potential.
EVERSHIP The Uncrowned KingLine-up / Musicians:
ALCO FRISBASS Le mystère de Guy Pucelle
The French jazz-lite band is back with their third album release. Since their self-titled debut came out in 2015, Alco Frisbass' pseudo-Canterbury sound has received a fair amount of attention--even some acclaim among year-end top album lists. Here we have an album that sees the band's diversity in sound and complexity of sophistication in the composition department both taking nice steps forward.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Patrick "Paskinel" Dufour / keyboards & synths, drums programming
- Fabrice "Chfab" Chouette / keyboards & synths, electric guitars
- Frédéric "Tourneriff" Chaput / bass, electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, synths & Modular, percussion
- Jean-Luc Payssan / classical guitar, sitar, mandolin & voices (4)
1. "Le Mystère du Gué Pucelle" (10:13) glockenspiel and Mellotron open this before a organ, thick bass, and "flute" take this into the realms of retro heavy prog. Several changes in motifs and pace help to dispell any signs of monotony until 3:35 when a slow down and stop leads to a nice, gentle Fender Rhodes space section. By the end of the sixth minute, this has moved into a kind of slowed down Caravan motif. Then, in the seventh minute, we here more of an Alan Gowan sound before some Camel synth and Ray Manzarek/Doors-like Vox Contintental organ take over the soloing. Nice drumming behind the next synth soloing section. Another break takes us to the end bell. Nice despite the fact that the musical weave lost a bit of its whole-band-complexity in the second half weave. (17.25/20)
2. "Histoire diffuse" (9:55) some very nice melodies throughout this sone--from the opening to end--often giving this much more of a CAMEL sound than. Even the drumming is sounding like Andy Ward. The synth chord progression at the end of the eight minute is a blatant Camel steal! And what follows is definitely straight from Ryder /The Snow Goose. Still, it is a very pleasant song ten minutes to while away. Probably my favorite Alco Frisbass song ever. (18/20)
3. "Sélénite" (9:14) opens as a bouncy jazz number with a chunky prog bass. Synth, guitar, and Hammond take turns leading the weave until the one minute mark when saw-guitar takes the first real lead. This is then followed by a different guitar. The keys here have quite an Alan Gowan kind of feel--especially in the chord progressions. This could be quite a nice Gilgamesh or even National Health song. The melodies throughout--even in the solos--feel kind of upbeat and light--like something you might hear at a county fair--yet most of the solos feels more mathematically contrived instead of emotional. This would not be a bad thing were the song to rise to some kind of crescendo of tension and then release, but it never really does. Still, very nice, melodic song with great sounds used throughout (though, again, I hear some pretty blatant steals from Camel). Another all-time top three AF song. (17.75/20)
4. "Pulsar" (7:18) chunky bass jumping all over the fretboard is joined by a bouncy Eumir Deodato-like Fender Rhodes before a Phil Miller/Hatfield guitar joins in with the drums. Great soundscape with very engaging, excellent melody lines including sitar and vocalise from guest Jean-Luc Payssan. (13.25/15)
5. "Alchemical Corpus" (8:05) a fast-tempo, countrified song that sound as if Waterloo Lily-era Caravan were trying to create music for a computer game; it sounds like the soundtrack to Donkey Kong! I just can't get past the ridiculous sound and my associations to them in order to get into the music and their compositional and/or instrumental merits. A throw away song that, to my mind, belongs on a progressive rock album about as much as a piece of coal belongs in a salad. (9/15)
Total Time 44:45
I must say, the band has really improved its compositional level--as well as their continued imitation and emulation of the 1970s Canterbury sounds and styles.
83.611 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; were it not for that final wastrel, this would be my favorite of the three Alco Frisbass album releases. Take "Alchemical Corpus" away, and this would be a highly recommended listening experience for any and every lover of prog music.
- Beau West / lead vocals
- Shane Atkinson / keyboards, drums, vocals, percussion, theremin, sound design
- James Atkinson / lead guitar (3b,4,6b)
- John Rose / rhythm, classical, acoustic & lead guitars (1,3a,4,6a,7)
- Ben Young / bass
- Matt Harrell / 12-string guitar (1)
- Poem Atkinson as "The Voice of the Evening Wind"
- Mike Priebe / additional backing vocals
- The Charles Heimermann / choir
- The Adriatic Sea / sea organ
1. "The Pilgrimage" (10:38) Yes! (imitators) Then Genesis (with Jean Pageau-like vocal)! Some of the nicest synth strings in the final section I've ever heard! (16.75/20):
- i. "Desert of Facts"
- ii. "The Temple of Truth"
- iii. "The Quiet Room"
2. "The Voice of the Waves" (3:08) The Waiting Room? and then, what? (8/10)
3. (a) "Crownshine" / (b) "Allthetime" (10:50) too much cliché bombast. Sounds like Head East, Styx, Starcastle, Kansas, Uriah Heep, and Camel. (16/20)
4. "The Tower" (9:47) Just bad--vocals very pitchy and lyrically ridiculous. (15.5/20)
5. "The Voice of the Evening Wind" (4:23) bar far the best song on the album. Gorgeous! Especially the gift that is the gorgeous voice of Poem Atkinson. (9.5/10)
6. (a) "Yettocome" / (b) "Itmightbe" (16:42) I swear in Beau West I'm hearing a clone Jean Pageau! The music is competent but totally prog by-the-numbers. (24/30)
7. "Wait" (5:12) a very upbeat, bouncy, polished pop song in the vein of Sweden's Moon Safari. Nice. Maybe this is more of the direction Shane should take this band in. The Jean Pageau reminders continue but the musica accompanying Beau is nowhere as rich and mature as that of Jean's MYSTERY compatriot, guitarist extraordinaire Michel St-Père. (8.25/10)
Total Time 60:40
81.46 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; a nice addition of pretty Neo Prog-by-the-numbers for any prog lover.