Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Top albums of the Year 2011, Part 2: The Near-Masterpiece

    Somewhere beneath the level of timeless masterpiece status lies a group of albums whose quality and merit deserve categorization of something like "near-masterpiece." These are albums that have either achieved a Fishermetric score of between 90.0 and 87.0 or whose high points or quality level make it remarkable enough to remain affixed in my memory.

From the Year 2011, you will find below six (6) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  


4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67)



19. MOOGG Le ore, i giorni, gli anni

Wonderful Canterbury jazz in the vein of HATFIELD AND THE NORTH (without The Northettes)--all this from a quartet from Brescia!

Line-up:
- Gianluca Avanzati / bass
- Marco Dolfini / drums, percussion, vocals
- Toni Gafforini / electric piano, synths, Mellotron
- Ivan Vanoglio / guitars

1. "Le Ore I Giorni Gli Anni" (7:22) is a great jazz tune in the Canterbury/CARAVAN/HATFIELD AND THE NORTH tradition using many of the same instruments and sounds as well as constructions and stylings as those bands. Great song. And a pretty good voice from drummer Marcos Dolfini! I LOVE the both of the two different guitar soli in the fourth minute. Such a fun song! There's even a bass solo! (14/15)

2. "Classe 21" (6:38) The drumming is so 1970s! So are the keys, rhythm guitar and bass lines. Wonderful replication and execution--yet sounding fresh! I love the second section with its vocals being run through an effects box and the awesome lead guitar sound. (8.75/10)

3. "Il Perche' Di Esser Me" (5:48) great song:  pacing, melodies, mood, performances, and vocals. One of my favorite songs from the year! Like something from the great 2009 MAD CRAYON album, Preda. (9.5/10)

4. "Gli Arroganti" (instrumental) (7:18) has the definite vibe of 1970's Black Sexploitation movie soundtrack music: Herbie Hancock doing a Bill Cosby show soundtrack. Great bass and Moog play. (8.5/15)

5. "Responsabilità" (4:30) has such a HATFIELD sound and feel to it--though the vocal is so AREA/Demetrio Stratos! My favorite part of the song is the instrumental soli! (8.75/10)

6. "Lunalia" (instrumental) (4:41) is a gentle, simple, pretty, four-chord, keyboard-driven soft-jazz instrumental. Nice but nothing earth-shatteringly new or beautiful here. Kind lame lounge filler stuff. (7.5/10)

7. "Moogugni" (instrumental) (3:06) another soundtrack that could easily come from the 1970s--AREA or some African-American funk-jazz band. Very tightly performed. (8.5/10)

8. "Welfare Botanico" (14:41) opens with an almost-DEODATO "Also Sprach Zarathustra" sound and feel to it before everything quiets down and restarts with a hypnotic organ, bass, and drum line over which the electric guitar solos. By the end of the second minute, we've heard some bridges, transitions, and shifts which allow the keyboard a turn in the solo position. At 2:15 it turns back to the electric guitar until a stop-and-start bridge at the end of the third minute leads into a very pretty CAMEL-like section. This part could've been on Moonmadness
The fifth minute takes us through a few twists until at 4:35 Marco's mellifluous voice sings us into the palm of his hand. Beautiful! And powerful. Then, at the six minute mark, we turn into an awesome kind of KHAN Space Shanty-like jam section--which goes on at a great speed for over three minutes before we slow down at the 9:10 mark for a return to the Deodato electric piano sound and another spacey, jazzy hypnotic section. Nice drum play in this section! At 10:42 we move into a little more upbeat, almost disco-beat section. How HATFIELD-ish! Nice! Even the ensuing 'delicate' vocal section is fitting--especially as it precedes the crescendo of voice, synths and band into one of the high points of the album. How perfect! Not the most sensibly constructed song but it is an awesome rollercoaster ride--one that should not be missed! (28.5/30) 

These guys have not only picked up the torch on some amazing sounds and influences from the 1970s but they've embraced and made it their own. Definitely a band to keep one's eye on for the future!

90.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a very welcome revival of all that was great with 1970s Canterbury style music.




20. SANHEDRIN Ever After

Another stellar album from AltrOck Productions' Fading Records subsidiary--this one from Israel! Excellent prog sound palettes with outstanding sound and studio production for these instrumentals.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Gadi Ben Elisha / electric, acoustic, classical & 12-string guitars, mandolin
- Aviv Barness / keyboards, saxophone
- Shem-Tov Levi / flute
- Sagi Barness / bass
- Igal Baram / drums & percussion
With:
- Michael Lam / English horn
- Elinoy Yogev / bassoon

1. "Overture" (3:07) great tension in a cinematic way with flute, electric guitar, and keyboards trading time in the lead position. Great drumming. (9/10)

2. "Il Tredici" (11:46) very CAMEL-like--even down to the bluesy guitar melody lines--but the airy flute lines are more akin to those played by FOCUS floutist Thijs van Leer. Pretty, cinematic, but perhaps a little too drawn out. More great drumming. (22/25)

3. "Dark Age" (6:18) I love the anachronistic and Celtic elements of this mostly acoustic song. The main melody and sound of the opening 90 seconds is quite similar to some of the songs of Katharine Blake's Mediæval Bæbes--but then we switch gears into something that sounds more founded in the music of ELP. At 3:15 we then come to a complete stop to look both ways: first looking down the street into the town church before turning down an alley into a more shop-and-look adventure before finally turning out into some heavy traffic on the main road at rush hour: thick and heavy. A solid and well-crafted song if a little aimless and inconclusive (like a montage of several themes spliced together). (9/10)

4. "The Guillotine" (6:00) this one has two motifs, covering two very different styles and speeds, that alternate back and forth over the whole song. (Could be that we're watching a series of victims being paraded to the gallows for public guillotining.) (8.667/10)

5. "Timepiece" (5:30) a smooth, CAMEL-esque piece with a heavy presence of Hammond beneath it all. The flute play is the highlight for me. The second half becomes more hard-drivin' with some excellent pedal steel guitar. (8.667/10)

6. "Sobriety" (8:19) opens with an airy openness reminding me of Irish flute rock or Prog Folk newcomers from Greece, CICCADA. In the first half of the second minute the music slows down and becomes almost pensive and hesitating--even when the excellent guitar-and-flute melody lines are presented over the top. The flute and guitar untangle themselves to present their own separate melodies, interwoven together. Quite excellent and quite CAMEL-ish. At 3:45 things get quiet again as Hammond supports bass and spaciousness in a pretty, almost dreamy section. At 4:55 the bass establishes a new riff that is supported by drummer's rim hits. Nice groove! But, alas! it is too short lived--despite the flute's brief contribution of a most excellent melody. Instead, everything quiets down as a storm swells and finally breaks loose at 6:45--this time with bassoon and English horn taking the lead before being danced around like the wind by the flute and guitar lead. One of the best songs on the album despite it's many unpredictable twists and turns. (18.5/20)

7. "Tema" (1:08) a pretty little classical guitar duet--quite reminiscent of Ant Phillips. (4.5/5)

8. "Steam" (9:30) fading in with Genesis-like riff the music quickly turns FOCUS-like with flute and charged electric guitar trading barbs like sparring partners for a couple of minutes. Things turn to a different style for the next motif in the third minute before returning to a different FOCUS-like organ-based motif at the end of the fourth. The church organ remains as the baseline instrument over the next pedal steel guitar lead and even into the jazzier MAD CRAYON-like section at the end of the sixth minute. Fender Rhodes takes the lead while echo-pedal steel guitar notes float around in the background. At 7:15 the electric guitar and bass break the tension with some aggressive chord play but then at 8:05 a more straightforward power drive motif is launched over which the lead guitar plays a bluesy lead before backing off to reveal the prominent bass play. This then all comes abruptly to an end as the whole band goes through a very classical-music-like full chord sequence to a crashing end. Interesting journey--one that definitely felt like a journey! (18/20)

Total Time 51:38

An excellent album I saw appear on PA but was unable to hear until I discovered Progstreaming--What a great find that site is!! Sanhedrin has been a great listen--all instrumental, which I like, but not boring or predictable, and with great engineering and production. I love Shem-Tov Levi's flute melodies as well as Igal Baram's excellent drumming, but the entire ensemble is awesome. At times they veer close to cheezy 'smooth jazz,' but the layers, shifts, and sounds keep them on the side of prog. No, this is not CAMEL--or FOCUS, but . . . there are moments . . . Still, a great infusion of fresh music. Highly recommended!

89.09 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; (marked down for lack of vocals) a near-masterpiece of cinematic, classically-modeled progressive rock music.




21. AUTUMN CHORUS The Village to the Vale

A brilliant album with folk choral type vocals set over some very pastoral music (despite the presence of drums). Unusual with an amazing male lead vocalist (Robbie Wilson) and interesting use of organ, strings, horns and effects (recorded in a church??) With only one song clocking in at less than five minutes--and three over seven--I'm not sure this album deserves the "Crossover" label; I think a "Folk" label would be much more appropriate--though the band calls themselves "Post Rock/Modern Classical"--both of which there are definite presences. There is even a strong feel of church chorale influence. As Robbie sings--and the effects cause a church-like echo--one cannot help but feel transported to some sacred or angelic venue. Amazing to have this kind of voice singing over Post Rock/Folk Rock music! "Progressive" in the truest sense of the word.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Robbie Wilson / vocals, guitars, trumpet, organ
- Luke Foster / drums, glockenspiel, piano
- Peter Evans / bass, glockenspiel, percussion
- Chris Lloyd / guitars, thumb piano
With:
- Thomas Feiner
- Anna-Lynne Williams
- Bruce White
- Helen Whittaker

1. The opener, "Three Jumps the Devil" (7:06) surprises with the 1:45 minute glockenspiel bells and xylophone intro before a definite Post Rock/Math Rock sound kicks in--plus horns, strings,. Then the amazing voice of Robbie Wilson enters at 2:38. Robbie's voice is reminiscent of some of the great folk/ psychedelic voices of the late 1960s--including JESSE COLIN YOUNG, TIM BUCKLEY, DONOVAN, ART GARFUNKLE, etc. What a voice! What a song! One that my life feels so much the richer for having encountered. (14/15)

2. The album's second song, "You'll Wait Forever" (6:29) is very much like a piece of classical chamber music--with, of course, the occasional voice lead angel Robbie Wilson. Unfortunately, the strings' lead melody gets repeated a bit too often, minimalistically, wearing thin on the listener, yet, as a chamber piece it is undeniably gorgeous. (8.75/10)

3. "Never Worry" (4:00) offers another church-like / chamber setting for Robbie Wilson's voice to grace us with. I like the presence of both the horns and the lower, almost spoken male voice beneath Robbie's lead. Then it becomes more choral form. For some reason this song reminds me a bit of a song that crosses SIMON & GARFUNKLE with MARK HOLLIS. I can tell that this was painstakingly constructed and realised. (8.75/10)

4. Unfortunaely, by the time song 4, "Thief" (7:26), rolls around, the music and slow pace is getting a bit old. Still, given a chance, "Thief" does change things up a bit: it is more of a story, less chamber/ church-like, and uses piano and drums, and contains, of course, an absolutely stunning lead vocal. At 4:40 the upbeat kick in reminds one of the true rockers of Post Rock/Math Rock. (13.5/15)

5. "Brightening Sky" (5:24) is a dynamically diverse song with the other diversion being the intermittent presence of a female vocalist with voice almost as angelic as Robbie's. (9/10)

6. At 16 minutes in length, song 6, "Rosa", is the album's longest. A choral presence accompanies the neoclassical music of the first 4:20. After that it softens to present space for Robbie's plaintive voice. In the tenth minute starts a true Post Rock/Math Rock song à la MONO--starting very slowly, very quietly, very minimally, while Robbie sings an amazingly angelic vocal--soaring above the notes of picked guitar strings and floating keyboards like Icarus to the sun. At 12:20 the music breaks into crescendo as if the heavens had burst open with rain or sunshine. 
     This is a sensitive epic fit for any church venue. (26.25/30) An amazing song. If only I understood its objective. (Should I be on my knees?)

7. "Bye Bye Now" (5:33) tugs at one's heartstrings because of the presence of the spoken voices of small children. The integration of the child and mother's (and, later, father's) voices is done over the entire song, the first two minutes of which are constructed like a very slow dirge. At the two minute mark, Robbie begins singing--at first in solo, and later in chorus. The song threatens to pick up at 3:00 when the little child says "Bye!" but then quiets back down, lets the child and mother speak again, then takes the final minute to fade. 
     At the end I find myself asking, "Why? What was the purpose of this song? What was he trying to say? Did he know he was going to die soon?" (8.75/10)

It is definitely a stunning album, start to finish. The long intros and exceptionally patient, delicate fades throughout the album make it an exercise in DELIUS/ELGAR/BRITTEN listening. Overall, I come away from listening to this album feeling as if I've just heard bits of FLEET FOXES and THE DECEMBERISTS playing over music by SIGUR RÓS, PAUL SIMON, DIRTY THREE, RADIOHEAD, and, of course, the three composer giants mentioned in the previous sentence. Despite the breathtakingly delicate, sensitive, beautiful vocals on display in The Village to the Vale and the sophisticated 'modern classical' musical constructs, there is a musical sameness, a kind of ennui that prevents me from giving this album 5 stars "masterpiece" status.

Total Time 52:03

89.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of soul-enriching music--a record that is highly recommended as an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Check it out! Decide for yourself. But come to the experience with time, quiet, and patience: you'll be amazed at what unfolds.

Post Script: Band leader, composer, and voice extraordinaire, Robbie (Lloyd-)Wilson, sadly passed away from cancer on December 13, 2016. His supreme talents have been taken from us far too early. We are so very fortunate to have this album as a testament to those skills.




22. ABRETE GANDUL Enjambre Sismico 

A very impressive AvantGarde/RIO band from Santiago, Chile, Abrete Gandul's 2011 album Enjambre Sismico sounds as much as a KING CRIMSON (plus flute and more prominent synthesizers) adventure as it does like the rest of the AltrOck Productions cast--which it does.

1. "Hacia la nada" (4:27) sounds so much like 4 A.D.'s DIF JUZ--awesome! (9/10)

2. "Necro sistema" (3:02) drives a little harder, with drums and heavily treated guitars drawing the most attention. Nice bass play starting at 1:20. Fripp-like sustained lead guitar and piano come to foreground in the third minute. (9/10)

3. "Marejeda" (7:29) starts out more ambient New Age, with tuned percussives and weird synth-generated noises setting up the mood in the first two minutes. Drums, bass, synth washes, and dissonant lead guitar arpeggi take over at the 2:05 mark. A melodic, major key chord sequence sets up the fourth minute as heavily-flanged guitar strums and synths draw attention away from the awesome drumming. A more syncopated, odd-timed section begins and then shifts (to that DIF JUZ sound!) in the fifth minute. Shift again to melodic chords in the sixth minute but then go back to King Crimson-like rhythms and sounds again for the final 90 seconds. Cool, intricate, and well-performed song! (13.5/15)

4. "Consecuencia natural" (10:26) is an expose of very jazzy leanings--from jazz-sounding lead guitar to weave with the electric jazz bass and more delicate, syncopated drums. At 2:30 everything breaks down to simple sounds: two alternating notes throbbing off of the bass, space-flanged guitar notes, some rack lead and cymbol play from the drums. This gradually becomes the foundation for a much more avant-jazz weave over which a sonorous tenor sax plays its heart out. Not my favorite song but I certainly appreciate the creativity and emotion being expressed herein. (16/20)

5. "Colapso" (11:19) opens with about 30 seconds of heavily treated electric guitar strumming two chords before the band signals its participation. At the 1:20 mark, the band finally establish the song's foundation--around and over which it builds and twists and mellows and amplifies around and around over the next four minutes. The a mellow section supports the gentle play of a solo flute until the 7:20 mark, at which time the band restores the original sounds and foundational sounds and variations upon the previously established chord and time structures. At 8:35 a PT-like heavy section opens the way for some serious KING CRIMSON Red-era music! Awesome! To the end of the song! (18/20)

6. "Convergencia caótica" (8:01) opens with some very spacey yet-ominous sounds congealing into a heavy, fast-driving jam during which guitars and thick, chunky bass and a variety of synthesizer sounds take turns trading brief solo jabs at one another. In the fourth minute it sounds as if everyone is about to take it up a notch in intensity when things suddenly quiet down for a bit. Return to heavier drive before the flanged guitar starts to play his freaky chords. A couple more quiet sections and some more pinao-based straightforward time signature sections allow different sounds to have their moments in the sun--including the bass, drums, and electric piano. I like this one! (18/20)

7. "Intangible" (7:55) opens with piano and electric guitar weaving their arpeggi together. Bass, drums, and second guitar join in to lay foundations for some synthesizer soloing. At 1:18 the weave shifts and the pace quickens to set a Crimsonian stage for some nice though subdued Allan Holdsworth/ lead guitar soloing. Then at 3:20 things wuiet down in the background--though the jazz drums stay busy and the guitar-piano weave remains present in the background--so that some heavily flanged guitar can squeak out some lead sounds. The music builds a little until at 4:55 the Allan Holdsworth imitator is given full command. Just as quickly we're back to some King Crimson Frippisms and interesting synthesizer sounds solo in exchange with the fuzzed bass. The drum work throughout is truly worth attending to but nowhere as much as here, in the seventh and eighth minutes. (18/20)

8. "...y ahora qué?" (7:20) lets the bass establish it's initial stop-and-start structure, which morphs into a nice and easy jazzy walkabout over which soprano sax, electric piano and electric rhythm guitar have their say. A shift around 1:25 into the more syncopated, stutter-step structure allows alto sax and lead guitar to take their turns in the solo light.  (13.5/15)

are both very jazzy--though of very different styles,  is very spacey/psychedelic (and RPI sounding), and my favorite,  is full of heavy, powerful chord sequences and treated guitars and synths, but the rest could easily pass for King Crimson inventions of the past twenty years.

88.46 on the Fish scales = five stars; a masterpiece of progressive rock music. A solid effort of well-composed and well-performed music very much in the KING CRIMSON tradition. These are some very talented musicians. Definitely a band to keep following.


  

22. INTROITUS Elements

What a nice find! And how heartwarming that it's 'all in the family' Bender! What comes through most in this album is the unabashed enthusiasm for making music. The songs here are very fresh, quite unpredictable (except maybe the drums and lyrics), and full of many quite astounding soli chord, key, tempo and mood shifts. The album is basically five prog songs with four brief interludes serving a s spacers between the two. I'm not going to review each song. I find each long song to be excellent with the opener, "The Hand that Feeds You," the seventh, "Dreamscape," and the finale, "Soulprint," to be ready to be launched into the pantheon of classic prog songs. The vocals are great, the drums and the rhythm section quite adequate, the guitarist is mega-talented and quite creative--reminding me of JON MITCHELL (KINO, ARENA, FROST*) (IMO, one of 21st Century prog's two or three greatest guitarists)--but it is the keyboard player(s) that blows me away. The solos are completely "outside the box," creative/innovative, amazing, and cool. And even background key work is, to me, astounding for its unpredictability and yet perfection.

Definitely a band to watch--and an album I will listen to again and again. While the lyrical content is a bit sappy and atypical for prog, I enjoy the personal and familial sentimentality.

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




23. TIRILL Nine and Fifty Swans (2011) (Literate Prog Folk) is a much more mature and sophisticated version of the Tirill from 2003's A Dance with the Shadows. Her voice styling has become more breathy, her choices in instrumental support and pacing more diverse, and her male companion on background vocals helps present a nice contrast and edge to her music. The lyrics are all taken from the poetry of W.B. Yeats--which makes for gorgeous English lyrics. Great idea!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tirill Mohn / vocals, acoustic guitar, Mellotron, violin & percussion (10), composer, arranger & producer 
With:
- Dagfinn Hoboek / vocals (1,2,5)
- Kostas Stefanopoulos / vocals (9)
- Tonje Ettesvoll / backing vocals (9)
- Johanne Gallagher / voice (Gaelic)
- "Wandering Finn" /spoken word (8)
- Nils Einar Vinjor / guitar, bass
- Jan Tariq Rahman / piano
- Audun Kjus / flute & vocals (10), arrangements
- Nick Jones / violin (4)
- Sigrun Eng / cello 
- Herman Schultz / double bass 
- Øyvind Sørensen / percussion

1. "O Do Not Love Too Long" (4:42) synth drone with effected electric guitar notes are joined by picked acoustic guitar, seashore bird noises, double bass, and strings. At 1:10 Tirill enters singing "sweetheart" wish such endearing surprise. Awesome vocal arrangements for the three voices at the end of the second minute. Flutes. Gorgeous interplay between the flute, cello, and ethereal electric guitar in the final 90 seconds leading up to an amazing finish! What an opening song! My first top three song.(9.5/10)

2. "The Cap & Bells" (4:05) flute and strings open this with a gentle weave before falling back for finger-picked guitar and bass to support Tirill's singing. The brief chorus adds several instruments and a male backing vocalist (Dagfinn Hoboek). Flute is added to brief instrumental interlude. Pretty if rudimentarily-designed song. (8.25/10)

3. "He Wishes For The Cloths Of Heaven" (2:47) fretless bass, Celtic harp, electric guitar, and gently picked acoustic guitar set up this one in a proggy soundscape for Tirill to breathe her delicate vocal over. Great interplay between all of the electric instruments in between the vocal passages. (4.5/5) 

4. "To A Child Dancing In The Wind" (3:04) breathy, the Celtic-infused as flute, bass, and strummed guitars open this one. At 0:38 cello and violin join before dropping out for Tirill and hand drum to enter at 1:00. More force in Tirill's vocal delivery than usual. She sounds like a cross between Delores O'Riordan of The Cranberries and Harriet Wheeler of The Sundays. A top three song for me. (9.5/10)

5. "Parting" (2:33) male-voice-led with Tirill performing a prominent harmony/background vocal though occasionally being the lead. Cello, double bass, gently picked effected electric guitar and picked acoustic guitars support throughout. Again, I am intrigued and enamored of the electric guitar's subtle yet important contributions. (4.25/5)

6. "The Fisherman / Carolan's Ramble To Cashel" (5:03) bicked stringed instruments, hand shakers, Celtic flute and harp are joined by subtle electric guitar sounds to create a gentle Celtic weave long before Tirill joins in--this time reciting the poetry of Yates (in a Celtic-infused accent!) In the "instrumental" sections between Tirill's recitations a wizened voice whispers phrases in some Gaelic tongue. Interesting song! Very creative. (8.75/10)

7. "Before The World Was Made" (3:10) delicate, Spanish folk sounding guitar supports Tirill's beautiful breathy vocal. Bass joins, as does background vocal and a second nylon stringed guitar--Spanish--for solos and support in the second half of the song. Beautiful! (9/10)

8. "The Song Of Wandering Aengus" (4:00) tingling windchimes and Fripp/Eno-esque electric guitar sounds open this. Picked acoustic guitar chords support Tirill's vocal. At the end of the first minute she is joined by the eerie, almost disturbing voice of "Wandering Finn" doubling up the lyrics in a theatric Celtic spoken voice as well as bass, hand percussives, and cello. Interesting! (8.5/10)

9. "The Song Of The Old Mother" (2:33) spaciously picked notes of acoustic guitar and humming open this one before Tirill's up-close and personal voice breathes Yates' words into my ears. At 1:08 she is joined by a male voice harmonizing and the strumming of an additional acoustic guitar. (4.25/5) 

10. "The Wild Swans At Coole" (5:30) opens with Tirill's a cappella voice but is soon joined by Audun Kjus in harmony and by gently picked acoustic guitar, bass, hand percussion, violin, and, in the instrumental section, flute and cello. (8.25/10)

Total time 37:27

87.94 on the Fishscales = B=/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive folk music and an excellent addition to any music lover's album collection. Beautiful and subtle renderings of some of the English language's most beautiful poetry.




24. PENDRAGON Passion

like the heavier way Pendragon re-invented themselves in the Naughties--and it continues here only with far more catchy melodies. Great sound production and engineering creativity. And I love Nick Barrett's mastery of the electric guitar solo (though there is far less of it on display here than what is typical for a Pendragon album).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Nick Barrett / vocals, guitars, piano (7), keyboards, programming, co-producer
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals
- Peter Gee / bass guitar
- Scott Higham / drums, backing vocals

1. "Passion" (5:27) industrial-style rhythmic foundation over which Nick delivers an awesome vocal. Wow! What a start! If the rest of the album lives up to this high it will be amazing! The heavy PT/metal influences are showing. (9/10)
2. "Empathy" (11:20) (17.5/20)
3. "Feeding Frenzy" (5:47) nice multi-faceted song. (8.5/10)
4. "This Green And Pleasant Land" (13:13) INCREDIBLE lyrics; pretty song. (22.5/25)
5. "It's Just A Matter Of Not Getting Caught" (4:41) (8.75/10)
6. "Skara Brae" (7:31) heavy but lushly "orchestrated" and vocalized with plenty of melodic lines and dynamic shifts. Lots of signs of mature song construction and confident performance skills. (13/15)

7. "Your Black Heart" (6:46) harkens back to Gabriel-era GENESIS with its sensitive picked acoustic guitar start and vocal. The dominant chords (basically, two) over the entire song give it a …And Then There Were Three... or TONY PATTERSON feel--very much like a FLOWER KINGS song passage. Almost a reprise of "This Green And Pleasant Land." (12.75/15)

Total Time: 54:45

After starting off with such a bang, the album started to peter out and soften noticeably as one approached the end. 

87.62 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a shining example of mastery of a cross-sampling of styles though still well within the Neo Prog umbrella.




25. THE FUTURE KINGS OF ENGLAND Who Is This Who Is Coming? 

This is really more of a soundtrack to the chilling short story by M.R. James called "Oh Whistle And I'll Come To You Lad." The music matches up amazingly well with the story, progressively getting scarier with each song. The band has diverged quite a bit from the Post Rock/Math Rock/Psychedelia of a few years ago.

1. "Journey to the Coast" (2:04). The arrival in the bucolic East Anglia beachside town is well represented with this folksy mandolin-based tune. There is even a track in the song dedicated to songbirds sounds! Feels like a place that I'd like to visit! (8/10)

2. "The Globe Inn" (4:26). Organ, simple drums and notes slowly picked on a guitar are superceded in the B section by eerie synths and voices. Decending guitar scales and reversed guitar and organ enter for a kind of C coda before the B part returns. Very BLIND FAITH-like. A lull at 2:14 allows the eery bass line to present, alone, before the band returns with a doubled-up lead bottle-neck guitar solo in the vein of ERIC CLAPTON or even GEORGE HARRISON takes over. Then, out of the blue, at 3:18, a very cool, very powerful and fully CAMEL-like 'controlled' crescendo section takes over till end of song. (9/10)

3. "Finding the Whistle" (2:01) is a lot like a GENESIS interlude song from The Lamb. (9/10)

4. "Watcher Part 1" (1:56) sounds as if ROY ORBISON, FLEET FOXES, GREEN LINNETT RECORDS, and MIKE OLDFIELD all collaborated. Very cool song. (10/10)

5. "Who Is This Who Is Coming?" (9:09) opens with very odd bending synth notes, joined by sustained fuzzy guitar notes. It has a bit of an Ambient ENO feel to it for the first two minutes. Add horn-like and girl-screaming synth notes until at 2:57 an non-English-sounding male voice says something which ushers in a new eery theme of music--though it's really more like a scary movie soundtrack, complete with samples of clock ticking and someone's boots trampsing through tall grass. At 5:34 a slow synthesizer section begins--using sounds like TANGERINE DREAM. Long-held acoustic guitar strums and more synthesizer play join in. Eery and synth mastery. (8/10)

6. "Convinced Disbeliever" (3:59) begins with the alarm of a windup clock. Guitar power chords and drumming sounding like IRON BUTTERFLY or BLACK SABBATH enter. Cheesy switch at 0:58 to B part. The music is rather "B movie"-ish. At least until the all-too-brief, but wonderful OLDFIELD-like guitar solo at the 1:38 mark. Return of cheesy two-chord rock theme. Give it lyrics and it would fit right onto an early 1970s SABBATH/BUTTERFLY/or even GRAND FUNK album. I guess it works. I'm smiling, though I might be cringing. (7/10)

7. "Watcher Part 2" (1:59) begins like a ELP song, GREG LAKE sing while being harmonized by another GREG LAKE-like b vocalist. Very nicely done. Could be a TRAFFIC or STRAWBS tune, too. (9/10)

8. "A Face of Crumpled Linen" (10:17) begins with the recorded sound of wind buckling at the windows and doors. Guitar, bass, and synth introduce a theme which is then taken over by a different keyboard sound. Cymbol play begins and then full drum play as bass and guitar play establish quite a nice groove over which portamento synth plays. Additional guitar and tracks (two that I count) enter, one strumming a partially muted strum, the other playing a distorted, untuned lead. By 4:30 all instruments have faded away leaving an organ-sounding synth slowly forming odd diatonic chords by moving an upper note against an unchanging mid-keyboard note. At 6:20 full band returns in a kind of TANGERINE DREAM/PINK FLOYD style. (The instruments are all recorded in quite a raw, under-processed and not-necessarily cohesive way.) Things quiet down again briefly before letting an electric guitar arpeggio take over the base rhythm. Drum and synth play build before horns and the full band comes crashing in for a kick ass groove--but only for the final minute. Then the groove--and the song-- end quite suddenly! (9/10)

9. "Spectacle of a Scarecrow" (5:54) begins with an electric guitar establishing a chord progression with arpeggios. When the full band joins in it is with a fury that quite reminds me of CRAIG SAFAN's ripping "Confrontation" from TANGERINE DREAM's soundtrack of Michael Mann's 1981 movie, Thief. (9/10)

While the music here is sometimes not so proggy, more soundtrack-like, and often reaches back to styles and sounds (even production value) of the early 1970s, it is a really admirable rendering of a story to music. One to experience, say, alone in a shack on a stormy night. One of the few albums I've heard that is actually better without headphones.

86.7 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.



The Rankings for 2011


1. THE AMAZING Gentle Stream
2. CORDE OBLIQUE A Hail of Bitter Almonds
3. ANATHEMA Falling Deeper
4. FAUN Eden
5. THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE The Dream of the Magic Jongleur
6. CICADA Pieces
7. FAUNS Awaiting the Sun
8. NORTH SEA RADIO ORCHESTRA I a Moon
9. WOBBLER Rites at Dawn
10. ALIO DIE Honeysuckle

11. MY BROTHER THE WIND I Wash My Soul in the Stream of Infinity
12. GA'AN Black Equus
13. CAMEMBERT Schnörgl Attahk
14. FREQUENCY DRIFT Ghosts…
15. LAGARTIJA Particelle
16. AKT Blemmebeya
17. SLEEPMAKESWAVES …and so we destroyed everything
18. FEN Epoch
19. MOOGG Le ore, i giorni, gli anni
20. SANHEDRIN Ever After

21. ABRETE GANDUL Enjambre Sismico
22. INTROITUS Elements
23. TIRILL Nine and Fifty Swans
24. PENDRAGON Passion
25. KATE BUSH 50 Words for Snow
26. WHITE WILLOW Terminal Twilight
27. SOLUS3 Corner of the World
28. KARDA ESTRA New Worlds
29. TUNE Lucid Moments
30. TENHI Saivo

Honorable Mentions:
THE FUTURE KINGS OF ENGLAND Who Is This Who Is Coming? 
AUTUMN CHORUS The Village to the Vale
SANHEDRIN Ever After
IONA Another Realm
SKE 1000 autunni
HUMBLE GRUMBLE Flanders Fields
FACTOR BURZACO II
BON IVER Bon Iver
EDISON’S CHILDREN In the Last Waking Moments
UNEXPECT Fables of the Sleepless Empire
AMPLIFIER The Octopus
LEPROUS Bilateral
DISCIPLINE To Shatter All Accord
SEAN FILKINS War and Peace and Other Stories of Love and Hate

Top Albums of the Year 2012, Part 2: The Near-Masterpieces

   Somewhere beneath the level of timeless masterpiece status lies a group of albums whose quality and merit deserve categorization of something like "near-masterpiece." These are albums that have either achieved a Fishermetric score of between 90.0 and 87.0 or whose high points or quality level make it remarkable enough to remain affixed in my memory.

From the Year 2012, you will find below ten albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  


4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67)




16. VAURA Selenelion

This is an intriguing and surprisingly easy album to access and like. Over and over I find myself being reminded of 2011's excellent album by FEN, Epoch, but also a great deal of Selenelion sounds like I'm hearing the reincarnation of one of rock's all-time greatest bands, THE CLASH. Though Mellotron Storm calls this a Metal album, I am in no way having to brace my ears (and soul) as I have had to for metal bands (even for early maudlin of the Well albums). The engaging melodies and copious and numerous special effects take all of the rough edges off of this music. The opening song, "Souvenirs" begins like something off of an early U2 album. Heck, the mostly acoustic title track hails back to some of the psychedelic folk stuff from the 60s and 70s! (remember early Moody Blues and Greg Lake's contributions to ELP everybody?) Vocalist Joshua Strawn's very laid-back, pleasant voice is so heavily reverbed that I feel like I'm listening to THE CLIENTELE! (though Strawn's vocals are much further back in the mix.) There isn't a song on the album that I don't like. I definitely think this Experimental/ Post Metal album should have the added "Psychedelic" label somewhere.

Favorite tracks: "Souvenirs" (4:43) (9/10); "En/Soph" (5:11) (9/10); "Relics" (4:49) (10/10); "The Column's Vein" (2:29) (8/10); "Vanth" (5:53) (10/10); "Selenelion" (7:03) (10/10), and; "The Zahir" (7:42) (10/10).

89.9 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 star album that I'm going to rate up because of consistency of quality and freshness, variety, and the fact that album keeps sounding and feeling better and better with each listen. Try it! If you like Fen, The Clash, Toby Driver, and "gentle metal," you'll probably like this one.




17. DEAD CAN DANCE Anastasia

After a 16 year break, this album is the "comeback" album for the team of Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard. Though Lisa had been traveling quite a successful path as a solo artist and soundtrack composer (with award-winning contributions to Insider, Ali, Gladiator, and Whale Rider as well as lauded collaborations with Klaus Schulze). The album opens with the stunning duo of "Children of the Sun" (15/15) (on the short list for 2012 Song of the Year) and "Anabasis" (14.5/15), this latter song establishing a trend of Middle Eastern-influenced or -sounding songs that permeates most of the album. Nowhere is Lisa's incredible vocal talent in question, it is in the band's choices of computer-driven percussion tracks and loops or the quality of the computer-generated Middle Eastern instrumental sounds samples that sometimes bring the album's overall feel and effect "down."

3. "Agape" total exploration of Middle Eastern sounds with Lisa's vocalise playing right into the mood (13/15)

4. "Amnesia" a very cinematic spie movie-themed melody over which Brendan takes a turn at the lead vocal. (8.25/10)

5. "Kiko" a long, simple, and monotonous attempt at a Middle Eastern sound. (12.5/15)
"Opium" Brendan's turn. The deeper, darker sound, and percussion tracks work on this one--the strings banks from the computer keyboard, too. (8.75/10)

6. "Return of the She-King" opens with computer-bagpipes and evolves slowly into a beautiful exposé of Celtic stylings.  (13.25/15)

7. "All in Good Time" opens with bare bones and Brendan's heart-felt vocal. Stunning. Great melodies and textures. Almost like an old-fashioned crooner's ballad. Me like. My other top three song. (9/10)

89.76 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of atmospheric progressive world music.






18. I AND THOU Speak

Upon first listen I thought this piano-based, soft-voiced collection of four long songs a bit too syrupy, and, because of its being piano-based, a bit too simple. I am so glad I continued to give this one more listens (thanks once again to progstreaming.com!) because it is not the music of a simpleton! (Though ear candy it is--BIG TIME!)

1. "Speak" (12:19) starts out sounding like a SUPERTRAMP song until the vocals enter giving it a very SPOCK'S BEARD sound. At the 4:00 mark an awesome upbeat driving groove is established by layers of synths, bass, piano, and drums. By the 6:00 things are developing more melodically. At 7:00 there is a YES-like shift with piano and guitar establishing new melody. At 8:05 another exciting section is introduced before the band falls back into a little heavier version of the section established at the six minute mark. At 9:25 the song returns to the beginning vocal section. Song ends with the final two minutes giving the song a very Wind and Wuthering feel. Good tune. (18.5/20)

2. "... and I Awaken" (11:31) begins with an AUTUMN CHORUS feel, until the same SPOCK'S BEARD-like vocalist enters. The very pleasant layering of harmonizing vocals at the 1:30 mark is the 'hook' that sucks me in. This is followed by a brief but very effective section of some symphonic call and response layers. The song's first part ends about 4:10 with a beautiful little classical piano bridging the way to a little STYX/STARCASTLE section. The excellent classical piano bridges are so RICK WAKEMAN-like! The fuzz guitars so MIKE OLDFIELD! Beginning at the seven minute mark is a dreamy almost RENAISSANCE section--with a touch of BURT BACHARACH key and chord changes! Beautiful! Church-like and yet folkish as well.The section beginning at 8:20 has an amazingly dramatic "Great Gig in the Sky" feel to it. There are even female vocals in the background! Again, PHIDEAUX comes to mind--but this is better! Then the song ends with a bouncy, upbeat section that is so catchy and memorable! Amazing how many "hooks" this song has! This song alone is worth the purchase of the album. (18.5/20)

3. "Hide and Seek " (16:30) begins with a classical chamber section featuring piano and strings (yes, real ones!) Quite lovely. Then it melts with a single strum of an electric guitar into a classic GENESIS/PINK FLOYD section--which turns into a TONY BANKS "Mad Man Moon" solo section. Gorgeous. Vocals enter giving it again a PINK FLOYD ("Comfortably Numb) like feel. The background synths and acoustic guitars keep it vacillating back to GENESIS territory, while the addition of vocals make me think of some of early ALAN PARSON PROJECTS' dreamier vocal sections. The voice of female KEREN ANN first makes its presence known in the seventh minute, just before the big shift into an upbeat driving groove--over which a PAUL WELLER-like guitarist solos. Fun, catchy section--gets me to my feet to move a little. At 9:50 we fall back to the dreamy "Mad Man Moon" section--complete with "Banksian" piano arpeggios and Hackett-esque volume pedal-controlled sustained guitar notes. The APP dreamy vocal section resumes with some beautiful vocal harmony work from KEREN ANN (among others--or using several tracks). A GILMOUR-esque "Comfortably Numb" solo begins at the 12:40 mark before the song descends back into a more acoustic though more folk than classical section reminiscent of the opening section. Acoustic guitar is here featured. An fast paced section reminding me of something from Selling England begins around the 14:30 mark. Excellent composition of beautiful music if perhaps a bit too familiar and dreamy. (27/30)

4. "The Face Behind the Eyes" (13:35)  begins with a classic GENESIS sound (Tony Banks chord progression) but turns into something that is nothing very special until the fourth minute when a bouncy piano-based, jazz-classical fusion section begins--sounding very much like a great TONY BANKS soundtrack piece. Awesome stuff! a BEAUTIFUL song! (27/30)

5. "Go or Go Ahead " (6:41) begins with a very simple chord sequence of fast-played piano arpeggios over which first Jason Hart and then Steve Hogarth take turns singing. A song in whose lyrics both singers evidently find quite a bit to connect because it is delivered quite emotionally. To me it is nothing very extraordinary--and too monotonous. It could be a Christmas carole. The last minute and a half is pretty good. (7/10)

89.09 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music; it is definitely an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. Highly recommended! Especially for those lovers of melodic neo-symphonic/crossover prog.




19. MYSTERY The World Is a Game

This is a pleasant surprise--and my favorite Mystery album yet. The musicians are all clicking on the same wavelengths, the songs are sufficiently constructed to raise this band from what I call "second tier" prog into the halls of the real thing. (Obviously, M. David has learned a lot from his experiences with other bands--most notably, YES. And Nick D'Virgilio continues to only get better with the years--his intuitive skill at meshing his drumming with the musicians and ideas with which he works is IMHO unsurpassed in present-day prog. Just look at what he did for BIG BIG TRAIN!) 
     In Michele St.-Père MYSTERY have the real deal: a guitarist of the very top echelons. I cannot name four other guitarists so well in command of their craft, their skill, their sound, their connection with the music, their ability to evoke and provoke intense emotion with their "voice". Truly remarkable. And I don't know if Michele has much control of the recording/engineering of his guitar sounds but the sound captured on these albums is head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. Michele St.-Père is the full package. 
     Aside from the two wonderful intro/interlude songs (1. "A Morning Rise" [1:19] and the ominous 4. "The Unwinding of Time" [0:050]), we have here six meaty songs with mature compositional value and great sound production. This latter aspect is one reason I give this album the bump up to the 4.5 star level.

The second song, "Pride" (11:28) has a fairly simple construct and nothing terribly surprising--feeling like a cross between RUSH Signals-era and GENESIS And Then There Were Three: lots of catchy melodic hooks and some awesome drumming--though the soft section at the eight minute mark (beginning with the acoustic guitar arpeggio riff from the Midnight Cowboy theme) owes everything to maestro, JON ANDERSON (and a little of LOVERBOY). The individual performances are perfection and are especially noteworthy for the coheseive "team" feeling to it all. (19/20)

The album's jewel, however, IMO, is the third song, "Superstar" (6:59). A laid back tune with heart-breaking melodies much in the same vein as MOTH VELLUM. The vocals, guitar soli, drumming, bass and keyboard work are all absolutely perfect! One of my Top 10 songs for Y2K12. (10/10)

The title song, (7:57), has its gorgeous parts--including the guitars and piano--but the vocal and melody lines feel a bit too syrupy---like the group AIR SUPPLY from the 70s and 80s. Even when it hits third gear at the four minute mark it feels too much like 707, STYX or JOURNEY (three of my "second tier" "prog-wannabees"). (7.5/10)

6. "Dear Someone" (6:21) has quite an awesome beginning (even if it reminds me of one of my favorite JOHN DENVER songs), which evolves into an equally gorgeous DEF LEPPARD-like section, thanks to an awesome electric guitar sound. Great melodies throughout this one--and some really hopeful, heart-warming lyrics (I hear you, Benoit! I have children!) Incredible work sur le batterie, Sir Nick, from the fourth minute on! Love the el gtr, flute and drum interplay at the very end. (8/10) 

7. "Time Goes By" (6:04) has a bit more use of odd, thoughtful, melody lines woven together in an interesting and, I would guess, (for this band) risky way. The chorus melody reminds me tremendously of THE BUGGLES' "Rainbow Warrior". This one never really grabs me unitl the last minute and a half when the drums, bass, and guitar start playing off each other in an awesome display of instrumental "inter-PLAY." I appreciate this song's 'adventurousness'. (7.5/10) 

8. "Another Day" (19:02) is one of my favorite epics of the year--mostly because I feel so strongly as if I am back listening to the best stuff from COLLAGE's Moonshine or SATELLITE's A Street Between Sunrise and Sunset. And you will find some awesome work by Nick D'Virgilio here! (36/40)

The World Is a Game is not a masterpiece that propels the evolution of progressive rock forward, but it is a very solid, excellent sounding piece of prog ear candy--with some excellent group and individual performances. Definitely recommended for 'classic rock' and prog lovers.  

89.09 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music. 




20. ANATHEMA Weather Systems

A fine Anathema production with their usual spiritual-curious orientation. The music, however, as does nearly all Anathema music for me, continues to drag on and change little, sometimes using multiple themes to try to make the songs more interesting but, in my ear, only making things busier and distracting. Still, the Cavanaugh brothers pick great chords to lock into and create very emotional and melodic vocals. Plus, the band's production acumen has only grown with time; since about 2009, Anathema albums have certainly become some of the most lush and beautiful-sounding albums out there.

Best songs:  3. The Gathering of Clouds (3:27) (10/10); 6. "The Storm Before the Calm" (9:24) (10/10); 8. "The Lost Child" (7:03) (9/10); 1. "Untouchable, Pt. 1" (6:14) (9/10); 7. "The Beginning and the End" (4:53) (9/10), and; the spiritually messaged 8. "Internal Landscapes" (8:52) (9/10).

88.89 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




21. THE GATHERING Disclosure

The band has returned once again in this, the post-Anneke era, and does so with quite some success. They are refreshed and recharged, returning to exploring the edges of trip-hop, slow, subtle song and melody development, and use/experimentation with odd strange sounds. "New" vocalist, Silje Wergeland, a Norwegian late of Goth metal band OCTAVIA SPIRATI (three albums from 2001 to 2007), is by no means no slouch. In fact, one might say that Silje might just have a bit more diversity than Anneke while still possessing the tone and strengths of past Gathering vocalists. Silje's tone quality and vocal style is remarkably similar to that of Anneke's. It is not only remarkable, it's uncanny.

     I have to agree with other reviewers who have remarked that Anneke's departure may have provided the band with the kick in the butt it need to get back on track with its adventurous, experimental musical expressions. This is my favorite album of theirs since 2000's If_then_else.

Best songs:  the amazing epic (thanks, trumpet!) 4. "Heroes for Ghosts" (10:42) (10/10); the "classic" Gathering tune in the Anneke tradition (Silje's tribute to her predecessor?), 3. "Paralyzed" (5:05) (9/10); the "new" Gathering style experiment--kind of a CURE/NEW ORDER approach--introduced in the opening song, 1. "Paper Waves" (5:33) (9/10) (Does anybody else hear the vocal similarities in this song to IAMTHEMORNING's Marjana Semkina?); the first and trip-hoppy of the twins, 5. "Gemini I" (4:55) (9/10); the driving, Post Rock-updated variation on the Byrds classic, 7. "I Can See Four Miles" (9:04) (9/10), and; the gorgeous vocal-centric finale, 8. "Gemini II" (5:04) (9/10). 2. "Meltdown" (7:56) (8/10) and the piano-based, scaled down 6. "Missing Seasons" (3:26) (8/10) are also pretty damned good.

88.75 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music.




22. THINKING PLAGUE Decline and Fall

An album not far below their 1998 classic, In Extremis. Dissonance and surprise still rule the roost in TP land. Vocalist extraordinaire Elaine Di Falco has a kind of sultry smarmy Annette Peacock-Annie Haslam thing going on: crystal clarity delivered with whimsical tuning.

Five star songs:  2. "I Cannot Fly" (8:38) (10/10); 1. "Malthusian Dances" (6:43) (9/10); 4. "A Virtuous Man" (11:53) (9/10); 5. "The Gyre" (4:47) (9/10), and; "Climbing the Mountain" (8:38) (9/10).

Four star song:  3. "Sleeper Cell Anthem" (6:15) (8/10).

88.33 on the Fish scales = B+/a 4.5 star album; a near-masterpiece and a great album of Avant/RIO prog.




23. GRAVENHURST The Ghost in the Daylight (2012) (Literate Prog Folk) A collection of incredibly powerful Prog Folk songs by Bristol's Nicholas John Talbot, a young man who only took his own life in December of 2014. 

1. "Circadian" (4:11) dreamy folk music (in the vein of THE CLIENTELE) that lulls you to submission while some very eerie, creepy lyrics and equally disturbing heavily-treated electric guitar leads are unleashed over you. Hypnotic. (9/10)

2. "The Prize" (6:38) starts out tame and subdued (while Nick sings) though there is a full band present (drums, bass, and multiple guitars), but then goes crazy for the final 90 seconds afterwards. (9/10)

3. "Fitzrovia" (8:08) again, masterfully tranquilizing us with some beautiful music that must be conveying some deeply disturbing message (and power). The constant clock-like finger strike of a muted guitar string is perhaps the most unsettling of all noises, despite the preponderance of multiple floaty synth creepers and ghostly washes far beneath but ubiquitous with the guitar and voice. Masterfully creepy. (13.25/15)

4. "In Miniature" (4:34) beautiful guitar picking of a steel-string guitar for a minute before Nick enters with his voice, singing in a fairly fast cadence. Warbling high-pitched synth note joins after the first verse and stays with us to the end. (8.75/10)

5. "The Carousel" (1:30) like waking up and finding yourself trapped inside a wind-up music box. 

6. "Islands" (8:07) cool techno-pop synth drone and synth drum program with organ beneath and various creepy incidentals injected over the top and into the sides. In the third minute, Nick's heavily reverbed voice joins with the "side" noises, sounding as if a ghost were permeating the walls, whispering messages, talking to itself while totally oblivious to our existence. (8.5/10)

7. "The Foundry" (4:23) a chilling indictment of the consequences of human submission and complicity. (8.75/10)

8. "Peacock" (2:44) lone steel-string guitar up close and personal. So intimate! (4.25/5)

9. "The Ghost of Saint Paul" (6:02) more intimate guitar, odd tuned percussive (guitar harmonic?) occasionally floating underneath as Nick sings about a long overdue or missing saint. High synth note begins floating in the background during the second verse and Nick begins doubling up his vocal withs some gorgeous harmonies. (8.5/10)

10. "Three Fires" (4:17) what a chilling song! Such a calm, beautiful voice telling such a disturbing story. The music is absolutely perfect for the conveyance of psychological instability--of detachment from causing harm and destruction. (9/10)

The pain of Nick's existence can be felt in every song, including some that I've posted from his back catalogue. He uses such a calm, beautiful voice to lull us into a false sense of security when, in fact, he is telling some deeply unsettling stories. The music here is absolutely perfect for the conveyance of psychological instability. (The whole album is.)

Publishing songs since 1999, here are some great ones from his backlog--which is well worth exploring:

88.33 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a masterpiece of mood-setting music and a near-masterpiece of Prog Folk; something everyone should hear though I suppose not everyone will want to add this to their music collection.  




24. ALIO DIE Deconsecrated and Pure

Stefano Musso, the genius behind the "Alio Die" albums, is perhaps the only Progressive Electronic artist who is sounding new, different from those that have gone before. Most everyone else sounds like they came out of the 1970s, imitating or carrying forward certain sounds and styles, only using the advantages of advances in technology for sound engineering to their advantage. Though Stefano's frequent foundational employment of zither does produce reminders of Brian Eno's third "Ambient" album--Eno's production of the recording of New York City street musician Larry Gordon or "Laraaji" and his electrified zither playing--Stefano's use of layers of synthesizers with re-engineered sounds of other instruments makes for a 'new' or expanded version of the Laraaji/Eno sound. Plus, Stefano's music seems often to be strongly steeped in overtones of the musics of various religious traditions--especially Christian and Arabic. There are many times while listening to Alio Die music that I've thought I was listening to the music inside some vast Christian cathedral (as in the first two songs here) or an Arabian mosque. Also, Stefano's openness to collaboration with other musicians has fostered an ongoing shift and variation in the sounds and styles of his musical outputs; Stefano is not afraid to grow, to take risks, to learn from others, to collaborate, to try new things, and yet Stefano's music is clearly his own--of a style that I can almost recognize immediately upon hearing it.

Five star songs: the ethereal music of the reverence of religious traditions, 1. "Layers of Faith" (15:47) (28/30); 2. "Obliterated Alcove" (12:10) sounding like a modern day Gregorian chant (25/25); the Celtic-sounding parade of joy and celebration, 3. "Peel Away This Mortal Coil" (9:22) (18/20); the wind-chime infused, Eno-esque ("Lantern Marsh"), 4. "Cerulean Façade" (10:21) (17.5/20), and; like "Peel Away...," a mélange of world sounds of celebration, 5. "De-Altered" (18:09) (27/35).

The first two songs of this album alone are worth the price of admission as they are two of my all-time favorite electronica songs.

88.08 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and Prog Electronic music.




25. CICADA Let's Go

Taiwanese NeoClassical Chamber composer/band leader Jesy Chiang has now pumped out three stunningly gorgeous albums in three years. (If you haven't heard 2010's Over the Sea/Under the Water or 2011's Pieces you are really missing some timelessly beautiful music.) This one continues the string of superlative work though the compositions seem to have become much more piano-centric than on the previous works. In fact, there are several songs in which piano is almost the only instrument for over half of the songs' lengths. This is not meant to be a complaint; Jesy continues to present us with masterfully beautiful melodies and structures full of breathtaking use of space and charming cadence. Even the band's videos capture--even sometimes add to--the timeless GEORGE WINSTON/ERIK SATIE supra-pastoral, archetypical human soundscapes.

I cannot recommend this music any more highly. This music makes me feel proud that I am human--it reaffirms for me the amazing creative potential of this often misguided, thoughtless, and destructive species. Try sampling a few of the album's songs here performed live by Jesy and her friends: "Here We Are!" (3:12) "Boom Boom" (2:19); "Sunshine Smile" (4:17), and video presentation of the album version of "Floating over the Street" (4:52).

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




26. ARANIS Made in Belgium

I love Aranis. To me they represent the bravest of artists--being all acoustic, they have no space for mistakes, no means to cover up or hide behind effects or treatments; they represent the possibilities of intelligent, virtuosic music without electricity. Mega kudos!
     I love this album--getting to know and re-know composers of modern chamber music (Belgian, all). Where this album suffers is the same place that all Aranis albums thus far have suffered: the songs, musics are lacking melodic "hooks" to lure the listener in and make them feel welcome, secure, at home. The pieces composed by WIM MERTENS ("Gentlemen of Leisure" and "Salernes") are the most melodic, mostly due to the smooth, minimalist style that Mertens wrote, so the Avant/RIO-shy listener might want to start there, but eventually all the songs grow on you. Aside from the two Mertens pieces, my favorites have become the gentle and folksy #5. "Where's Grommit?" (10/10) by Arne Van Dongen, the high-spirited "Bulgarian Flying Spirit Dances 2" (9/10) by UNIVERS ZERO/PRESENT/ ART ZOYD's Daniel Denis, the circular and percussive #6. "Le Mar t'Eau" (9/10) by Geert Waegerman, the intricately layered yet smooth #8. "L1" (9/10) by Joris Vanvinckenroye, the Gothic KARDA ESTRA-like #2. "Le Feu" (9/10) by Wouter Vandenabeele, and the Bond movie soundtrack-like #3. "Inara" (9/10) by Ward De Vleeschhouwer.

87.5 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near masterpiece. As much as I believe in Aranis and their magical mission, I'm holding out for their next album of original songs. These serious virtuosos are so close to breaking through!



The Rankings
(My Favorites)

1. BIG BIG TRAIN English Electric, Part 1
2. KOTEBEL Concerto for Piano and Electric Ensemble
3. METHEXIS The Fall of Bliss
4. BATTLESTATIONS In a Cold Embrace
5. ÄNGLAGÅRD Viljans Ôga
6. THE TEA CLUB Quickly, Quickly, Quickly 
7. VIOLETA DI OUTONO Espectro
8. IAMTHEMORNING ~
9. L'ESTATE DI SAN MARTINO Talsette di Marsantino
10. MOULETTES The Bear's Revenge

11. SYLVAN Sceneries
12. NINE STONES CLOSE One Eye on the Sunrise
13. SWANS The Seer
14. MAGMA Felicité Thosz
15. MOTORPSYCHO The Death Defying Unicorn
16. VAURA Selenelion
17. DEAD CAN DANCE Anastasia
18. I AND THOU Speak 
19. MYSTERY The World Is a Game
20. ANATHEMA Weather Systems

21. THE GATHERING Disclosure
22. THINKING PLAGUE Decline and Fall
23. GRAVENHURST The Ghost in Daylight
24. ALIO DIE Deconsecrated and Pure
25. CICADA Let's Go
26. ARANIS Made in Belgium
27. DAAL Dodecahedron
28. NEEDLEPOINT Outside the Screen
29. JENSEN CODE The True Colors of Mars 2
30. 3RDEGREE The Long Division


Honorable Mentions:
EKOS Luz eterna
ROZ VITALIS Patience of Hope
DEAN WATSON Imposing Elements
SANGUINE HUM Diving Bell
TO-MERA Exile
DISTORTED HARMONY Utopia