Thursday, June 23, 2022

Top Albums from the year 2010, 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 2010, you will find below three (3) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  

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

10. MYSTERY One Among the Living

This is the album with which I first became aware of the Mystery sound--the rich, polished, emotional sound that, to these ears, epitomize all that is right with the Neo Prog movement. Replete with more-modern sounds that were pioneered by the Trick of the Tail and, especially, Wind and Wuthering albums and from which the Neo Prog movement was born, what makes Mystery such a delight to listen to is not just the wonderful standards set by their vocalists--here Benoît David--or the interesting and complex compositions of Michel St-Père or even the great evenly-distributed performances by the instrumentalists or even the oft-soul-melting melodies, but, for me, the anticipation of waiting for each electric guitar solo offered by Michel. His guitar play is so amazing, so melodic though technically proficient, that I find myself perking up every time I see him guesting on other people's albums.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Benoît David / vocals
- Michel St-Père / electric & acoustic guitars, keyboards, producer
- Steve Gagné / drums
- Dean Baldwin / guitar (13)
- Daryl Stuermer / guitar solo (14)
- Benoît Dupuis / keyboards (1,2,11,12,14)
- Oliver Wakeman / Moog solo (5)
- François Fournier / bass (12), Taurus pedals
- John Jowitt / bass (5)
- Antoine Fafard / bass (2-4,6-11,14)
- Richard Lanthier / bass (13)
- Claire Vezina / backing vocals (14)
- Dahlie-Yann St-Père / children laughter
- Damellia St-Père / children laughter

1. "Among the Living" (1:13)

2. "Wolf" (5:53) a solid, varied rocker with great vocal and great instrumental contributions spread among all contributors. Benoît David has such a gorgeous voice--in the league with the Journey and the greats of the 80s hair bands. (9/10)

3. "Between Love And Hate" (5:53) a pretty straightforward heavy rocker, power chords and all, highlighted by a powerful guitar solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)

4. "Till The Truth Comes Out" (9:25) a gentle, emotional Neo Prog song, complete with syrupy layers of imitation strings to build into the full band breakout in the third minute. Interesting time shift at 3:45 into a more dynamic, multi-instrumental instrumental section. Awesome! Wonderful performances by all. (17.75/20)

5. "Kameleon Man" (5:01) another heavy rocker, more in the vein of 1980s hair bands, spiced up a little by some awesome precision lead guitar work and Oliver Wakeman's CAMEL-esque Moog solo in the middle. (8.25/10)

 - "Through Different Eyes" (suite) (22:34) (41.5/45):
6. "I. When Sorrow Turns To Pain" (3:56) standard fare, not Benoît's best vocal melody. (8.25/10)
7. "II. Apocalyptic Visions Of Paradise" (1:48) Hackett/Genesis-like instrumental interlude. (5/5)
8. "III. So Far Away" (5:51) tender, 12-string arpeggi-based. Pretty, nice vocal melodies. Builds to an awesome bass pedal crescendo. (8.75/10)
9. "IV. The Point Of No Return" (2:21) a spacey-industrial expression of war-like conflict. (4.5/5)
10. "V. The Silent Scream" (5:57) back to sensitive acoustic guitar-based, Benoît's vocal here is similar to modern RPI singers like Alessio Calandario--more straight-foward and raw, powerful yet vulnerable, emotional. Michel picks up the vocal melody with his electric guitar and does what we've really been waiting for:  he soars. When Benoît returns, it is in a higher octave--soaring in a way to match Michel's guitar while those deep bass and bass pedal lows keep killing us. Michel really lights it up in the second half. Wow! Amazing! (10/10)
11. "VI. Dancing With Butterflies" (2:42) returning to the opening lyrics and themes, vocals expressing through multiple tracks, keys and guitars flying steady and free beneath, the song wends its way to a long, gorgeous dénouement and fade with seagull noises and children's laughter. (5/5)

12. "One Among The Living" (6:27) great sound from the start, very GENESIS-like, with Banksian keys and Hackett-esque guitar and Collins-like drum patterning. Even when it goes heavy at 2:30, the ensuing section is awesome and still very much in the Genesis-vein. Not my favorite vocal or lyric, definitely an amazing composition and sound. Best song on the album. (9.5/10)

13. "The Falling Man" (7:39) based on an ominous repeating 10-chord sequence of chunky bass and guitar power chords, Benoît sings in his best DEF LEPPARD voice while all instrumentalists do their best to promote and maintain that heavy substrate. A couple surprise twists are short-lived and only temporary tangents, the music always returning to that 10-chord base. Well done, great whole-band discipline. (13/15)

14. "Sailing On A Wing" (4:55) classic Neo Prog song, great vocal melody hook and awesome lead guitar work. (9/10)

Total Time: 69:01

89.42 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and the album that skyrockets Mystery into the top echelon of Neo Prog.

11. MOULETTES Moulettes

Part CARDIACS, part MEDIÆVAl BÆBES, part cabaret/SHEN TEH, these uber-talented story-tellers burst onto the scene with this debut album of intricately arranged shanties and more.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Hannah Miller / cello, piano, harmonium, glockenspiel, percussion, musical box, mbira, vocals
- Ruth Skipper / bassoon, autoharp, kazoo, vocals
- Georgina Leach / violin
- Oliver Austin / drums, guitar, banjo, bouzouki, cello, harmonium, mbira, percussion, vocals
- Rob Arcari / percussion, bass drum, vocals
- Emma Richardson / vocals (7)
- Neil Kennedy / backing vocals

1. "Recipe For Alchemy" (2:57) is this jazz, cabaret, or folk music? It's definitely got an old, traditional, theatric feel to it. The instrumental and vocal performances are so tight, so intricate, and performed with such smooth precision! And the arrangements are so fresh! I'm quite stunned. If I were a lyrics guy I'd probably be even more blown away. (9/10) 

2. "Cannibal Song" (3:28) another rollicking sea-shanty like composition. (8.5/10)

3. "Wilderness" (3:29) multiple cellos actively playing beneath intricately harmonized vocals. (8.75/10)
4. "Devil Of Mine" (6:17) intricate mutli-voiced harmonies dramatically singing/telling a story with chamber strings weaving beneath. Wow! What an intricate arrangement! (check out the wild choreographed video on YouTube!) (8.75/10)

5. "Horses For Hearses" (3:01) the first song whose arrangement falls a little flat (or, perhaps more accurately, fails to live up the the standards established by the previous songs). (8.5/10)
6. "What A Way To Spend A Day" (5:13) opens with solo cello playing something sad and ponderous. Joined by a second cello, and then violin and field military snare drum, it takes 75 seconds to establish the foundation for this one. The vocals, once entered, are very interesting for their gradual and sometimes weaves--and for the "open" chorale chorus (like they're in a bar). Such a dramatic song. What creative vision! (9.25/10)

7. "Requiem" (feat. Emma Richardson [Band Of Skulls]) (6:46) opens with solo cello before morphing into a brilliantly arranged mood-setting 100 seconds of syncopated patterning. When the surprisingly smooth MEDIÆVAL BÆBES-like vocals enter, their story is clear while it is the instruments that tell the more interesting story. There is a shift in the fourth minute before solo vocalist Emma Richardson takes the lead. Her voice seems much more "normal" mundane than the choir-like crystalline voices of Hannah and Ruth (who continue to dazzle in their background harmonizing capacity). The bassoon is a cool addition. There is another shift for the instrumental section in the fifth minute--which meanders and morphs in several directions over the sixth and seventh minutes before the chorus of voices enters for the "big finish." Great song! (14/15) 

8. "Talisman" (4:06) a jazzed up sea shanty. (8.75/10)

9. "Bloodshed In The Woodshed" (feat. Modernaire) (4:50) a theatric song of female love spurned or scorned--and the vengeful thoughts and actions thereafter. Part expression of anger and injustice, part sympathetic dirge. What genius! What talent! (9.25/10)

10. "Going A' Gathering" - silence - "untitled song" (11:29) this is not really an eleven and a half minutes long prog epic, it's more like two normal folk pop songs joined by a long gap of silence. The first (4:35) sounds more like THE ANDREWS SISTERS than any other song on this album--making it once of the more brilliant vocal performances on an album full of breathtaking vocal performances. (9/10) Then there is three and a half minutes of silence before sounds of a couple members of the band picking up their instruments and then starting to play a slow sad song with hannah singing the plaintive lead while Ruth vocalises "ooo"s in the background with two cellos and a violin. (8.5/10)

Video - "Devil Of Mine" - awesome! Well worth checking out.

Total time 48:34

While this is not my favorite kind of music or folk music, I definitely and fully appreciate the talent in composition, vision, and performance that it takes to pull together songs like these! The vocal arrangements and performances are alone worthy of raves and adulation--are reminiscent of by-gone days and groups like The Andrews Sisters. Mega kudos Hannah and Ruth! Bravo! 

89.35 on the Fishscales =  B+/4.5stars; while this may not be a masterpiece of progressive rock music, it is definitely a masterpiece of progressive folk music! So, perhaps not the essential choice for all prog music lovers, I would definitely consider this essential listening to all lovers of folk and Prog Folk music. 

12. YUGEN  Iridule

What an album! What a ride! TOBY DRIVER and UNIVERS ZERO pay attention: YUGEN is stepping ahead in the leadership of Avant/RIO/Experimental/Math/Post/Eclectic/Chamber Rock! Having very much liked both and Labrinto d'Acqua and Yugen Plays Leddi I could hardly contain my excitement to see the unexpected arrival of Iridule--and then Cesar Inca's review sealed it: I had to find it. And boy! was it worth it! The clarity and virtuosity of these performances--including that of female vocalist Elaine Di Falco (check out "Ice" and "Iridule" to get a hint of her talent)--is breathtaking. For those of your hard of heart, I recommend starting with the last song, "Cloudscape" to get your ears ready for the music that preceeds it. Then go back to the beginning and journey from there.

1. "On the Brink" (0:51) is an amazing intro followed by the most accessible of the five wild pieces of 'controlled chaos.' (5/5 despite its brevity)

2. "The Scuttle of the Past Out of the Cupboards." (6:38) A brilliant, bright, cheery, dynamic, clear, and, I can only imagine, very challenging piece of chamber rock. What a ride. What emotional impact! AFTER CRYING eat your heart out! (10/10)

3. As mentioned, "Iridule" (3:08) is amazing--one of the most gorgeous songs I've heard all year. (10/10)

4. "Overmurmur" (8:50) has a very KING CRIMSON-esque style, sound and structure to it--you almost think ole Dusty Roads himself (Prince Robert of Fripp) were sitting in on this one! A great UNIVERS ZERO meets KARDA ESTRA interlude graces the midsection before the freneticism of the wild rumpus continues. Truly a roller coaster ride to remember! Amazing musicianship on display here! (18/20)

5. "Scribbled" (1:44) (4/5) is the second of four 'vocal interludes' and another gem giving the listener some floating rest (and false hope of order and control) before all hell breaks loose in

6. "Becchime" (6:21). While I truly appreciate the compositional and performance achievements of this song (and this type of music) I fail to find it enjoyable--it goes a bit over the edge; I miss melody. Like the music of  FROM.UZ, there are many moments of interest and even beauty but, alas! they are all too brief and fleeting. This rollercoaster is too much for me. (8.25/10)

7. The stunning "Ice" (1:46) (5/5) is followed by 8. "Ganascia" (4:12) (7.75/10) which is a kind of 'son of Becchime' in that the similar feel and style is somehow a little more pretty and enjoyable--sometimes feeling like SCOTT JOPLIN era jazz with a lot of concert hall orchestra warm-up thrown in. Love the harpsichord!

9. "Thaw" (1:41) is the weakest vocal piece being a bit too contrapuntal/theoretical for me--more like some of the more difficult ANNETTE PEACOCK pieces to listen to. But, after many listens over the years, it has won me over. (4/5)

10. "Seri(alist) Killer" (5:46) only continues the lesson in music theory (and perhaps should be left for music majors and theorists), but it does turn better--signaled by the return of the harpsichord--turning into a very nice piece of 'modern Baroque' chamber music (à la AFTER CRYING and LEO JANACEK). Elaine Di FALCO's staccato chromatic vocal adds another interesting element. And the stop-start rhythmic style of play of the first half is at least something that one gets used to. (8/10)

Phew! It all comes to an end with the beautiful, uplifting, wound-healing "Cloudscape" (7:56) (14/15).

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

An amazing album but WARNING: Be prepared for the mental, emotional, psychological, and aural ride of the year. (The entire album can be heard here: Yugen Iridule.) Despite its challenges, this is truly a masterpiece of modern progressive rock music--a definitive step forward, into the future.

13. ATARAXIA Llyr (Ambient Electronic Folk) is a very pleasant neoclassical ambient world folk music album very much in the vein of DEAD CAN DANCE with a remarkably strong female vocalist singing all lead vocals while being supported by traditional instruments and synthesizers. Francesca Nicoli's enigmatic operatic mezzo soprano voice reminds me at times of ENYA or Gunnhild Tvinnereim (SECRET GARDEN) (on "Sigillat"), Ana Torres Fraile (UNIVERSAL TOTEM ORCHESTRA) (on "Quintaluna") at times of a Chinese Opera singer ("Llyr" and "Evnyssien") and others ELIZABETH FRASER (COCTEAU TWINS) (on "Klepsydra") and still others of NINA HAGEN (on "Elldamaar"). The band tends to be hide intentionally behind veils of obscurity, however they themselves call their music "a cosmogonic dark folk" ("praying for Beauty"). Beautiful music it certainly is.

Favorite songs:  5. "Evnyssien" (8:48) (10/10); 4. "Llyr" (5:58) (10/10); 9. "Borrea" (5:56) (10/10); 1. "Siqillat" (6:47) (9/10), and; 6. "Klepsydra" (4:51) 9/10).

88.89 on the Fish scale:  definitely a 4.5 star "almost masterpiece."

14. MY EDUCATION Sunrise

Such a diversified collection of songs! It's mind-boggling to try to keep remembering that this is one group, one album--and supposedly a soundtrack! (To F.W. MURNAU [yes, of Nosferatu fame]'s 1927 silent film, "Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans.")

1. "Sunset(6:06) is a chamber symphonietta in the style of KRONOS QUARTET and PHILLIP GLASS meet CLINT MANSELL. Absolutely beautiful, haunting, and certainly worthy of video accompaniment. (9/10)

2. "City Woman" (6:24) starts as a slow song in the more typical Math/Post Rock format and style--vibes, drum kit, electric guitar, saw- like electric violin and keyboard drones--all while covering their own version of PINK FLOYD's intro section to "Time." Then, at the 3:05 mark, we suddenly switch channels for a 25 second "Fiddler on the Roof" interlude before the song kicks back in for a kind of Celtic-Middle Eastern version of Floyd's "One of These Days"--adding, of course, the Post Rock climax, crescendo, and decay. (8/10)

3. "Lust" (8:47)  is another absolutely stunning song sounding like heroin-influenced version of JEAN-LUC PONTY's "New Country" with Jean-Luc playing with ALGERNON and COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE. This song, more than all the others, makes me want to watch the movie--just to see how the music and film match up and make me feel. A must hear! (10/10)

4. "Oars" (5:33) begins rather eerily with some awesome treated cymbols and percussive sounds before gelling and building as a powerful and rather concise (in the Post Rock world) rendering of more familiar post-rock music. Straightforward and loud yet melodic. More like a very polished, mature MOGWAI, RED SPAROWES or CASPIAN song. Great! (9/10)

5. "Peasant Dance" (4:50) has the feel of a rockified Rumanian/Gypsy dance. Not my favorite song on the album, but, then again, I don't know what it is from the film that they're trying to capture with this song. A very different piece for this album--upbeat but in that vodka-doused Russian/Eastern European way. Interesting instrumentation combinations. (6/10)

6. "A Man Alone" (6:01) is an amazingly full-spectrum ambient soundscape that BRIAN ENO would be very proud of. One of the best I've ever heard. Great addition to my "Songs for the Shadow" meditation playlist. (10/10)

7. "Sunrise(6:43), the album's closer (a 40-minute soundtrack for a 95-minute film?), offers a recapitulation of many of the themes and sounds from the previous songs within the minimalist strings/ chamber music framework of the opener, "Sunset." An absolutely gorgeous and truly cinematic closer--I can almost see the film's finale and the rolling of the credits! (10/10)

88.57 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece. Sunrise is definitely one of the best albums of 2010--and one of the best Post Rock albums I've ever heard. Masterful and so beautiful. An excellent addition to any prog lovers collection.

15. UNIVERS ZÉRO Clivages

Getting to know this album has provoked within me a discussion over what constitutes music, how music becomes considered 'progressive', and how the pleasure principle plays into the subjective, qualitative definition of what is 'good,' what is 'beautiful.' I do not consider this 'beautiful' music. I consider this music strongly evocative--inciting emotional responses within the listener. I do consider this music progressive and creative. I do consider the musicians dedicated to creating and performing this as accomplished, admirable, laudable. I am not drawn to listen and re-listen to this music' it is more of an effort, a mental task of trying to understand, grasp, appreciate this unenjoyable music. That is not quite correct: I can 'enjoy' this music from an intellectual perspective as I appreciate the technical and compositional skill and risks taken to create this music. I can even feel compelled to 'move' or 'dance' to some of this music--which, in and of itself, is an enjoyable experience. I imagine that being in an audience during of concert of this music I would find myself entertained, perhaps mesmerized, and, therefore, perhaps enjoying myself. But the fact that it is unlikely that this music will ever receive more intrinsic motivation to listen to it (unless impelled by a "I should"--or by the desire to show off some weird and unusual musical constructs to a friend or family member) renders me unable to rate this album as "essential: a masterpiece" or even "excellent addition to any music lover's collection" when I clearly do not feel it is either. Again, intellectually I can--and do--appreciate this music. But that is not enough. The more baroque and modern chamber pieces ("Vacillements," "Apesanteur" and the KARDA ESTRA-like "Retour de Foire") are excellent--and enjoyable. But pieces like "Earth Scream" (It's been done. Many times.) and "Warrior" (21.5/25) (I keep waiting for the sax solo's of HENRI MANCINI's "Peter Gunn" theme while picturing Anthony Perkins lurking around in Vienna's shadows) take extreme effort to try to listen all the way through. The remaining songs are somewhere in between. "Straight Edge" (26.25/30) is more akin to MILES DAVIS than anything else--which is good, and it is entertaining and changing and full of subtleties (and virtuosic playing), but.... Sorry. Not my cup of tea.

Updated 1/6/11: I've been listening to this CD more and more since YUGEN's "Iridule" came out and, while I don't find it as accessible, melodic, positive, or vibrant as "Iridule," I have been growing accustomed and even liking more and more of it--especially "Retour de foire"--an amazing piece! So, I'm going to upgrade to 4 stars with the caution: "Give it time before you judge."

Updated 2/20/13:  This album continues to grow on me--especially as my ear has grown more accustomed and attuned to the less melody-oriented prog sub-genres. At times I am tempted to upgrade this to a 4.5 or even 5 star album.

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

16. DUNGEN Skit i Allt

The Swedish band here definitely taking a foray into a more upbeat, psychedelic pop-oriented direction. They've decided they're flower children. And they're successful! It works! This is really good!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Gustaf Ejstes / piano, strings, flute, guitar (3-7), bass (2,8), organ (3,7,8), zither (6), drums (2), vocals, composer & producer
- Reine Fiske / guitar, bass (1,5-7,10))
- Mattias Gustavsson / bass (5,9)
- Johan Holmegard / drums
- Anna Järvinen / vocals (3)

1. "Vara snabb" (3:10) a poppy instrumental in which flute takes the central lead in place of a voice. Nice song. (9/10) 

2. "Min enda vän" (3:15) more upbeat pop with claps and major scale key. Sensitive vocals and strings and flute contribute to this song's universal accessibility. Definitely a top three song. (9.25/10)

3. "Brallor" (3:15) following a kind late-1960s "dirty" psych-pop musical style similar to The Association or The Pretty Things, female vocalist Anna Järvinen matches up well to Gustaf Ejstes. My other top three song. (9/10)

4. "Soda" (3:39) sensitive guitars, acoustic and electric, are matched with sensitive multi-track vocals. Reine gets some shine-time and the drum-and-strum supported chorus sections are awesome. Beautiful "Flower Child" song. A top three song for me. (9.5/10) 

5. "Högdalstoppen" (4:44) an psych-jazzy instrumental to let Reine loose--in which the Inner Hendrix is set free. Even the support band sounds and feels like Mitch Mitchell and Noel Redding. (8.5/10)

6. "Skit i allt" (2:59) back to pop--a melodic structure not as engaging to Americans because of the Swedish lyrics. (8.5/10)

7. "Barnen undrar" (3:21) a kind of hybrid of psychedelic fuzz guitar into a pop song. Oddly, it works: it's as if Reine's guitar and Ejstes' voice are having a conversation. (8.75/10)

8. "Blandband" (3:49) opens like a Vince Guaraldi Peanuts song with piano, jazz drums, and syncopated clapping creating the uptempo fabric of what will stay an instrumental song. Reine's reined in guitar joins in during the second or third "verse" and is very spacious and respectful in its contributions. Flute, clapping, and excellent drumming really carry the tune start to finish. (8.75/10)

9. "Nästa sommar" (3:20) acoustic guitar and congas are soon joined by Byrds-like picked electric guitar. The song takes a minute to gel, but then Gustaf's vocal sense and Pan-like flute play bring it together. (8.5/10) 

10. "Marken låg stilla" (2:55) Paul McCartney-like piano chords open this before cymbal-heavy drums and bass join in to support Gustaf's vocal. Reine's heavy electric guitar joins in during the first chorus and then persists. Not sure Reine's and Gustaf's visions for this song/album are in sync here. (8/10)

Total Time: 34:27

Though Reine Fiske's guitar contributions are, in my opinion, not always the best fit for several of these songs, I think the band's crossover into a more pop-oriented realm of music is justified--they have the talent and skill to be successful there--especially in a world that is very much interested in a renaissance of hippy/flower child styles and dreams.

 87.75 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you love the psych pop of the late 1970s.

17. T Anti-matter Poetry

A very interesting and different --almost retro-80s--production whose music pleasantly updates and enriches some of the more sophisticated technologically-driven 'pop prog' from the Continent the 80s (PETER SCHILLING, KRAFTWERK, NENA, FALCO come immediately to mind. The DAVID BOWIE/PETER MURPHY-like voice and vocal presentation also does much to add to the charm of this music, but, on its own, this well-crafted and performed CD is a very nice find. The first three songs are all outstanding with 3. "Phantom Pain Scars" (14:15) (29/30) expertly weaving so many racing instrumental melodies behind (or perhaps, in front of) the least-Bowie-sounding vocal on the album that I feel I'm hearing the counterpoint of a symphony or big band. The mood-setting opener "The Wasted Lands" (9:38) (18/20) has many PINK FLOYD qualities to it--TV samples, lead guitar, mood. "Scavengers and Hairdressers" (10:22) (18/20) is definitely straight out of the 1980s PETER MURPHY catalog--musically and vocally. Love the domineering low end of this song! The fourth song, "I Saved the World" (7/10) again sounds like the way PETER MURPHY could almost go ambient, but ends up sounding most like a good MOBY song. Song five, the almost fifteen minute "The Rear View Mirror Suite" (14:42) (24/30) covers a lot of prog territory using a lot of very subtle instrumentation and musics. The sixth and last song on this 65 minute journey, the title song (8:14) (9/10), keeps up the very high compositional, melodic, and performance standard of the rest though also hovers mostly in the side of more delicate music, as do the last two.
     Overall, a very, very enjoyable journey that never failed to keep my attention and which draws me back in as soon as I hear a few chords of any of its songs. Definitely a musician to watch--though no listener would be disappointed if they start here.

87.50 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near masterpiece of prog music and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you're into 'progress' in the world of melodic progressive music.


The music on this album is what I think might have resulted if Jim Morrison and Frank Zappa had be come friends, Morrison got Frank to try some of the stuff in his "medicine cabinet"--which caused Frank to mellow--and then they jammed with Blind Faith--all high on the same LSD.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Christian Peters / vocals, acoustic & electric guitars, sitar, organ, synthesizer
- Hans Elselt / guitar
- Richard Behrens / bass
- Thomas Vedder / drums

1. "Singata Mystic Queen" (11:36) (17.125/20)
2. Army of Ignorance (4:35)
3. "For the Lost Souls" (9:57) great BLIND FAITH like power. (17.5/20)
4. Wheel of Life (4:27)
5. "Double Freedom" (22:44) starts off great but then gets loses its polish and becomes monotonous over the final 13 minutes. (49.75/45)

Total Time 53:19

Bonus track on CD & double-LP editions:
6. Center of the Sun (13:08) (21.75/25)

8.739 on the Fishscales =  B/four star; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you love long stoner rock jams.

19. MR. GIL Skellig

I really wanted to love this album! After reading the review by Tarcisio Maura earlier in the year, my excitement was high. Mirek Gil is my favorite guitarist of the last twenty years, and the Polish prog scene one of the most interesting and engaging during that same period. However, though, yes, Mirek is present--very present--and, yes, his distinctive wailing guitar sound is present--sometimes in triplicate--still, there are too many times when he disappoints: holding back, it seems; when you expect him to let loose in one of his frenzied, emotional solos, he just . . . doesn't. The solo in song 6, "Druga pólnoc" and the intro to song 7, "Czas i ja" are the only two times he comes close to letting go. A lot of time and effort is spent establishing repetition and melody/hooks with his lead guitar time; too much time and effort are spent showing restraint, trying to exhibit some kind of cool control, when I just want him to go shit crazy! (as we all know he can.) Luckily, the songs continue to grow on me--again, as his songs tend to do. I guess I was just disappointed at first listen because I wanted so much more. (I really was more enamored of the drumming and vocals in Polish.) During the second and third listens I must admit I heard much more of the beauty of the arrangements (mostly layered acoustic and electric guitar riffs), the melodies and harmonies, the vocals (I love singing in one's own native language).
     As I mentioned, the drumming (kudos Wojtek Szadkowski)--and often intertwining bass playing--are among the most consistently interesting themes of this album. And, Gil's guitar riffs are good; it's just that they could be . . . better! And, though I miss the lead guitar and keyboard interplay, I must say that the absent keyboards are not missed. (This aspect of the album gives it a feel similar to that of David Gilmour's second solo album, About Face.) Every successive song seems a bit better, a bit more close to the Mirek Gil we know and want; it's just that the emotional highs are rarely there. More in the drums or vocals than the lead guitar work.

1. "Skellig" (8:46) The opening song is beautiful, inviting, captivating; Gil's acoustic and lead guitar work are bold and beautiful, simple and almost cocky, the vocals very engaging. The bass and electric guitar rhythm section kicks in very effectively at the 2:50 mark. At the 3:50 mark the chorus first ensues with vocals and electric guitar lead dancing a very beautiful duet. The second chorus is followed by a lovely, long, vintage, if subdued, Gil solo. Backed by background choir and wonderful work from the rhythm section--who, fittingly, get to close out the song. (18.5/20)

2. "Mnie tu już nie ma" (5:10) is a beautiful, emotional, perhaps sad filled with lots of simple instrumental subtleties, like upper register bass play, harp-like acoustic guitar picking, delicate cymbol play, and lots of creative traveling across the toms. Here Mirek chooses to use his lead guitar to provide a very steady (one might say, repetitive) background for some stellar drum and bass playing. In fact, this song seems to have become a set up to display the excellent drum and bass play.  (9/10)

3. "Otwieram drzwi" (5:57) is the first song to really show a little of Gil's old heavy/neo prog roots--more use of thumping bass and electric power chords with a touch more volume on his lead. The vocal work here shows some weakness in the ability to deliver the higher end power; he seems to excel at the delicate, more ballad-like singing. Once more I find myself more drawn to listen to the drum work. The lead soli begin with a brief one at the 4:00 mark which is notable for the layering of two different tracks playing over one another. Trouble is, none of these soli "go anywhere." (8/10)

4. "Rzeka" (3:20) is a short, very standard rock song--sounding very similar to MIKE & THE MECHANICS' big hit, "In the Living Years." Nothing special here. (7/10)

5. "Odmieniec" (9:20) tries to rock out in a kind of BAD COMPANY "Ready for Love" way but the best part of the song are, in fact, the very delicate vocal section that precede GIL's first guitar solo and the soli themselves which finally, nearly, live up to expectations--yes, he ALMOST lets go. It's killing me: It's like listening to/watching ROBERT FRIPP: waiting and hoping that emotion will for once win out over mental planning and technical execution; he gets close but never quite leaves that seat on his stool, can't quite let himself go--show his human side. Too bad. Still, this is a pretty good song--and the solo is still better than 90% of the others out there. (18/20)

6. "Druga północ" (5:36) is a peppy song with perhaps the album's best vocal--with a very melodic vocal chorus, and some fun acoustic, rhythm and lead guitar work. Another set of classic, catchy lead guitar riffs to hook you in, and here we get to again experience Gil layering his guitar leads (and some pretty decent ones, too). Excellent song. (9/10)

7. "Czas i ja" (5:14) an instrumental, the best song on the album, where Gil finally gets moving, and his guitar is screaming, but it never reaches the heights we know he could go to. Again: the drums and bass deliver big time. (9/10)

Love the singing and Polish lyrics, drumming bass, and acoustic guitar work, and, of course, the distinctive--you might say, trademark--sound of Mirek Gil's lead guitar. Disappointed in the lack of innovative or "progressive" elements in the music. Happy to hear Mirek Gil under any circumstances; just wish he could have been a little more emotional and less mental/scientific in his playing.

4(-) stars. A good album. (Recommendation: Give it 3-4 listens before judging it completely.)

Post-edit: This is one album that has stayed on my radar and seems to have grown in my appreciation and esteem over time. I think it's due to the uniquely wonderful singing, melodies, and guitar of Mirek Gil. He may not be soaring to the heights of other solos but his solos are still better than 90% of all guitarists out there.

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


COLLAPSE UNDER THE EMPIRE The Sirens Sound is a june 2010 "EP" release (approx. 34 minutes) from Hamburg, Germany duo Martin Grimm and Chris Burda. CUTE's contribution to the Math/Post Rock genre is significant, IMHO, because of the integral and, in this genre, unusual role of keyboards/synths and because both band members are drummers/percussionists. Their songs are also quite amazing for their very engaging melodic and harmonic constructs. This EP is, again IMHO, their by far their best effort to date--and one of the most enjoyable and pleasurable Math/Post Rock albums I've ever heard.
1. At just under ten minutes, "The Sirens Sound" (9:54) begins the album with an electronic loop, quickly joined by a heavily treated piano (de-trebled) riff which soon yields to a slow moving synth. The treated piano riff and synth wash alternate with each other until the 3:00 minute mark when drums and guitars slow it down, heavy it out, and take over. The synth buzz eventually rejoins with new guitar arpeggios playing over the top of the rest of the music until the drums and heavy guitar chords suddenly drop out at the 4:30, only to rejoin at the 5:00 mark to build the song into one amazing wall of chaotic, mentally-disturbing sound. Awesome! Then they staccato stop and start the music several times before rejoining in the cacophony of beautiful sound. At 7:30 another hiccup reprieve before the whirling synth drone climbs to the top and makes you question your sanity. The last minute is a gradual dismantlement of the layers to fade. What a trip! One of the best Post Rock songs ever! It may be my favorite! (20/20)

2. "Grade Seperation" (sic) (4:45) begins with organ and bouncy, pop sounding synths and drums before the guitars come crashing in at the 1:00 mark. Some rather SIGUR RÓS sounding interludes make up the quiet breaks between waves of thrashing guitars and cymbals. A bit too repetitive and predictable. (7/10) 

3. "Violet Skies" follows some pretty standard-sounding rock guitar power chord progressions--almost punk-like at times--mete out a more familiar sound. Unfortunately, this familiarity is also the weakness of the song. (6/10)

4. "Beware/lost" (4:57). An awesome uptempo song with very catchy layered synth melody lines and single string guitar strumming and cymbals leading the way. Vibrating/vibrato bass notes are also very engaging. (10/10)

5. "A Different Complexion," at 8:50, is the second longest song on the album, begins with cowbell and meaty bass before piano, sustained electric guitar notes, treated snare and other percussion noises join and carry the melody and intricate harmonic weave. Except for the cymbal work, it has a definite KING CRIMSON feel to it, and is very hypnotic and pleasant. (18/20)

A band definitely worth checking out. All their back catalog--which only begins last year--is outstanding, including Systembreakdown (2009) and Find a Place to Be Safe (Jan 2010). The Sirens Sound is their best. A very emotional and engaging album. Were it longer and not without two weak songs I would rate this with five stars. 4(+) stars.

87.14 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

The Rankings for 2010

1. BROTHER APE  A Rare Moment of Insight
2. AMOEBA SPLIT Dance of the Goodbyes
3. FUNIN Unsound
4. GIFTS FROM ENOLA Gifts from Enola
5. IL TEMPIO DELLE CLESSIDRE Il Tempio delle Clessidre
6. VESPERO By the Waters of Tomorrow
7. DOMINA CATRINA LEE Songs from the Breastbone Drum
8. CICADA Over the Sea/Under the Water
9. CICCADA A Child in the Mirror
10. STICK MEN Soup

11. MYSTERY One Among the Living
12. MOULETTES Moulettes
13. YUGEN  Iridule
15. MY EDUCATION Sunrise
16. UNIVERS ZERO Clivages
17. T Anti-matter Poetry
19. MR. GIL Skellig

21. ARANIS RoqueForte
22. HYPNOS 69 Legacy
24. THE TEA CLUB Rabbit
25. FOURTEEN TWENTY-SIX Lighttown Closure
26. JAGA JAZZIST One-Armed Bandit
27. ALCEST Écailles de lune
28. ANATHEMA We’re Here Because We’re Here
29. FROGG CAFÉ The Bateless Edge
30. DUNGEN Skitt I Allt

Honorable Mentions:
SUNWRAE Autumn Never Fall
ALGERNON Ghost Surveillance
RATIONAL DIET On Phenomena and Existences
KHATSATURJAN Disconcerto Grosso
QUANTUM FANTAY Bridges of Kukuru
AREKNAMÉS In Case of Loss
ARGOS Circles 
ELEPHANT9 Walk the Nile

Top Albums of the Year 2009, 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 2009, you will find below 7 albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  

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

14. CIRRUS BAY A Step into Elsewhere

I've just come into full awareness of this wonderful album of beautiful, uplifing music. As a real lover of female vocalists--and RENAISSANCE/ANNIE HASLAM in particular--this group comes as quite a refreshing reward. IONA, MOSTLY AUTUMN, THE GATHERING, PURE REASON REVOLUTION, and THE REASONING have all been teases. Hello world! This is CIRRUS BAY! Like previous reviewers, this group's excellent song structures and instrumentation choices remind me of a GENESIS-RENAISSANCE mix--or, rather, what might have been if Annie had been invited to step in once Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett had left Genesis. The song structures are very similar to the Wind and Wuthering and And Then There Were Three era--which produced beautiful music that was then diminished (IMO) by weak-to-weird-to-downright-awful lyrics. The songs (aside from the AYREON-sounding "Walking in Shadows") sound like collaborations and performances from TONY BANKS and MIKE RUTHERFORD.

1. "Serenity in a Nutshell" (13:12). The album begins with its best song, a near flawless epic. Crashing in with thick waves of heavy mellotron and bass pedals, the song suddenly transitions into a much more pastoral piece with acoustic guitar arppegios and recorder, before our stellar vocalist enters. And surprise:  There are two lovely voices harmonizing with each other (I wish they'd do more of this on the rest of the album for this is in fact one of the elements that makes this song stand so much higher above the others--as great as they are!) so many key and chord and tempo changes that all work--they all serve to suck the listener into prog bliss--like Ulysses strapped to the mast listening to the song of the Sirens. This may be the song they were singing/playing!!! I love the multiple guitar strumming and alternating acoustic and electric leads combining RENAISSANCE's "Can You Hear Me?" and end of "Cinema Show" between the 5:28 and 7:25 marks. Amazing! Then those amazing vocal harmonies! A masterpiece of progressive rock music for all times! (25/25)

2. "Out of the Cold" (5:48) begins with a definite Mike Rutherford electric guitar solo over some of Tony's finest chord progressions and organ playing. The vocals enter during a particularly straightforward "poppy" section before a Lamb Lies Down on Broadway organ bridge at the 2:15 mark brings me back to prog heaven. Love this organ sound! The Lamb similarities continue with the song's progression into a 30-second instrumental section beginning at the 3:10 mark. (Too bad it's not Phil's drumming! He was amazing!) Love the slide guitar and 12-string work--and mandolin strumming--just before the slowed-down outro. (8/10)

3. "The Exposure of Truth" (9:23) took the longest for me to like because of the many chord, key and tempo changes. Also, the vocals on this one felt a little less "stable"--i.e. because they are so isolated above the music there are times when my ear can't help but question her pitch accuracy. But then, I remember sometimes wondering the same thing about Annie H. in the earlier (less treated/filtered) Renaissance days. A great song of which Tony Banks should be quite proud! I love the (oh-so-rare) upbeat, "happy" feel of this (and many of this album's) song(s). (8/10)

4. "Walking in Shadows" (5:58) sounds so ARJEN LUCASSEN! Maybe the 'best song he never wrote'! An awesome song whose heaviness gives the album a little bit better 'fullness' or 'balance.' (8/10)

5. "The Secret Country" (3:33) sounds to me more like a 1970's collaboration between ANTHONY PHILLIPS (Private Parts and Pieces' "Tibetan Yak Music") and RICK WAKEMAN (Six Wives of Henry VIII). Great song except for the odd sounding 'lonely' electric guitar solo near the 2:45 mark. (8/10)

6. "Zenobia" (16:47) is definitely "One for the Vine, Part Two." And what a beautiful song was the first! This one does not shame or disparage the first. Some actual heart-wrenching chord changes--so beautiful! Love the single strums of the flanged acoustic guitar at the 4:40 mark, followed by the nylon string solo over marching piano and snare 5:35 to 6:20. Then: Woah! Steve Hackett tries to make an appearance, only to find himself confronted by a brief duel with Tony at the 7:20 mark--which is then interrupted by a brief vocal before everyone backs into true GENESIS support of a classic HACKETT solo at the from the 8:10 to 9:12 marks. 9:42 sees Tony's turn--AAAHHHH! I'm in GENESIS heaven! And with that angelic yet-sultry voice in the mix as well! I've died and gone to heaven! And the finale escalates into a truly Genesis-like melodramatic ending. (32/35)

I'm going to give this album five stars for its consistent level of beauty and for the gift of finally merging the sounds and styles of my two favorite 70s bands. Step into Elsewhere is so right! I will not hesitate to say that this is truly a masterpiece of Neo-Prog. (I apologize to Bill, Anisha, Sharra, Mark and Alex for all of the GENESIS and RENAISSANCE references/credits. Marvelous work you guys! More, please. LOTS more!)


Re-evaluation October, 2010.

Upon repeated listenings over the last few months, I have decided that my initial exuberance was a little over blown. The album lacks musically--in depth, variety, and complexity. The band will be interesting to follow to see how they 'mature.' Great sound, great instrumental choices, great music, great vocalist; their compositional skill needs more development--more risk-taking (better drumming and more sophisticated rhythmic choices). Adjusted down to four stars.

89.0 on the Fish scales.

15. PRESENT Barbaro (Ma non troppo) 

Impeccably performed and recorded compositions that are both intricate and complex in a way that is more similar to modern classical music than progressive rock music (like Änglagård, Kotebel, All Traps on Earth, Yugen, and, of course, Univers Zero), the music contained here is remarkably engaging despite the angular rhythms and chromatic scales used. Still, there is enough of a lack of "grooves" and  melodic "hooks" that I would have trouble recommending this for casual listening (less so for "A Last Drop" as there are some basic elements of groove and melodic hook throughout this one). I understand that "casual listening" has never been a signature of progressive rock, so perhaps I should lighten up my judgment, I just don't find myself interested in returning to this music (whereas I am so inclined with the works of the above-mentioned bands). Thus my lower than average rating for this album: it's based on accessibility and popularity over longevity

1. "Vertiges" (16:38) filled with a lot of nuanced and fast changing motifs, this is truly a masterpiece of composition and performance without being memorable or very likable; I appreciate it's brilliance without ever wanting to return to it. (26/30)

2. "A Last Drop" (11:26) the most engaging composition on the album due to its "groove" and melodic "hooks." And yet, it is long... (18/20)

3. "Jack The Ripper" (16:41) One of the more captivating musical renderings of the legend of and mood created by the White Hall murderer (especially the "slasher" work of the viola and electric guitar). But, is musical representationalism enough to merit high marks? Is this "perfection" of songwriting? (27/30)

Can an album be a masterpiece of modern Avant garde/RIO music without being a masterpiece of progressive rock? If it's possible, this is one of the albums one would use to make your case.

88.75 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music and a boundary-pushing masterpiece of avant garde/Rock-in-Opposition music.

16. GAZPACHO Tick Tock  

While a pleasant listen, this album needs careful, attentive listening to be truly appreciated--which, then, becomes its downfall: When not listened to carefully, this album can become very boring, the lead singer's voice can become very tedious and whiney. So: if you have the time, sit down, put on the headphones and enjoy a very well put together album; If you aren't going to be able to concentrate and give it your fullest attention, better to avoid it and wait for time when you can. All songs are good, though the "Tick Tock" trilogy is my favorite (if you can listen to it in its entirety) and "Winter Is Never" is nice. Nice subtle effects and shifts in sound and mood, even if the vocals get a little monotonous. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jan-Henrik Ohme / vocals
- Jon-Arne Vilbo / guitar
- Thomas Andersen / piano & keyboards
- Mikael Krømer / violin, mandolin
- Kristian Torp / bass
- Robert Johansen / drums
- Kristian Skedsmo / accordion, flute, mandola

1. "Desert Flight" (7:39) (11.625/15)
2. "The Walk" (13:41) (26/30)
3. "Tick Tock" (22:24) (43/45)
4. "Winter Is Never" (4:55) (9/10)

Total Time: 48:39

88.625 on the Fish Scales = B=/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music; an excellent addition to any prog music collection. Not the highs of Night, but not the lows either. 

17. TOE For Long Tomorrow

This is an interesting and enjoyable album that has a lot of the King Crimson Discipline sound and stylings that I love, especially songs 2, 3, 12, and 13. Though categorized Post Rock/Math Rock, it is far more that that, for in it I hear snippets that remind me of ALGERNON, IVY, KOOP, PAUL SIMON, JONI MITCHELL and many others. But most of all I hear DRUMS! AMAZING drumming!

The first song is a brief 39-second sonic introduction that bleeds directly into the brief "Shoushitsu tenyo fue" (2:40) (9/10) which is, in effect, an introduction and set-up for the album's third song (and, IMO, crown jewel). Arpeggio

3. "After Image" (3:59) featuring female vocalist Harada Ikuko reminds me of an awesome upbeat song from IVY or FIONA APPLE. (10/10)

4. "Esoteric" (4:15) is the album's first song to fully fall under the familiar/more usual Post Rock/Math Rock formats--and it is an excellent one! Sitar, arpeggiated acoustic and electric guitars, and amazing drumming! This is like MASERATI at its best! (10/10)

5. "Say It Ain't So", with the vocals of Dry River String's Hoshikawa Yuzuru (3:42), sounds like it wants to be pop and maybe even rappy. It's laid back, very repetitive and uses multiple tracks for its vocals. (8/10)

6. "Two Moons" (4:11) begins rather delicately, involving a synth, glockenspiel an acoustic and an electric guitar interweaving polyrhythmic melody lines. Until the bass and drums arrive at the 1:49 mark. Then we have a full-out jam! Kind of reminds me of ALGERNON. (8/10)

7. "Mosikiiton wa mou kikoenai #1" (2:32) (9/10) is a very cool piano over tuned and electronic percussion intro/variation for the next song,

8. "Mosikiiton wa mou kikoenai #2" (2:20) in which drums, bass and acoustic guitars play a more prominent role. Together the two variations rate a pleasant KOOP-like (8/10)--lacking enough development and change to make me reach for the replay button. This one is the drummer's song!

9. "Last Night (Album Version)" (4:56). By this time into the album I am looking for a little more variety. The one-note-at-a-time Kool-and-the-Gang synth is starting to get on my nerves, the interwoven tuned-percussion and acoustic guitar leads are getting a little old, the bass and drumming are the only things still keeping it interesting. (9/10)

10. "Goodbye (Album Version) featuring Toki Asako" (7:06) establishes another IVY-like groove using acoustic guitars and rolling COCTEAU TWINS-like bass before the vocalist and drummer get engaged. Again, the drummer is stealing the show! At the four minute mark ends a peak and things settling into a bit of a mellow, more simply and controlled section-- though the drummer apparently has difficulty with this mode, as he seems to always sneak in, or bulldoze his way into . . . taking over! I think the rest of the band shows admirable restraint in the face of his "lead" though I also believe the drumming is what makes this music work on such a high level. (10/10)

11. "You Go" (3:35) begins like one of DAVID BYRNE's Brazilian-influenced or PAUL SIMON's South African-inflluenced songs of years ago. The drummer is held a bit farther back in the mix on this one--and shows more than his usual restraint, though even in quiet restrained mode he continues to shine and attract the attention of the listener. (8/10)

12. "Our Next Movement" (4:48) begins with a very blatant folk drum style--large African hand drums and other hand percussives. Saxes play around in the background--as if I'm reminded of JONI MITCHELL's "Dreamland" from Don Juan's Reckless Daughter. The random sax play, bass play, and replacement of hand drums by drum kit reign this jazzier tune in a bit. Horns come together in a bank format as guitars pick in their arpeggiated KING CRIMSON way. I like the looseness of this one. (8/10)

13. "Long Tomorrow" (5:18) displays the same controlled "Discipline"-like weave of electric guitars, drums, and bass as the album began with. I like the bass being a bit more forward in this one. Static-screeching synth enters around mid-point. Finishes in a much more PostRock/Math Rock way. I can't explain why I like this time of "controlled chaos" so much-- that KC "Discipline" weave--but I do. (9/10)

Though this album often threatens to slide into background music, it is definitely one of the best Math/Post Rock albums I've ever heard--one that I will play again and again. I look forward to the growth and maturation of this great little combo.

88.46 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars: An excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.

This is an album that I liked from the start, every song was listenable and diverse. Now, after the twenty-somethingth listen, I can say that I know and like this album very much. A near masterpiece, with lots of theatric vocals, very competent playing from all of the musicians, and some sound songwriting. The album's weakness is two-fold: 1) it relies on old hooks from classic soli or chord progressions (mostly from PINK FLOYD and GENESIS, some YES)--and not just as "hats off" tributes to those bands, and; 2) many sections of songs are rather simply constructed (i.e. do not really take virtuosic competence in order to perform them--not unlike MUSE, THE DEAR HUNTER or AIRBAG). However, the longer songs have a very nice diversity of sounds, tempos and moods in them and are the highlights of the album. A great album, excellent for any prog lover's collection. Not a masterpiece, though. Not sophisticated or emotional enough. Close, though. Definitely an album that deserves more listens--more attention.

Album highlights: 2. "Leaving Here Tonight" (4:42) (10/10); 6. "The Bond of Mutual Distrust" (9:36) (17.75/20); 8. "Flying/Falling" (2:54) (10/10), "The Collapse' (12:10) (22.25/25); 4. "The Waterfall" (5:26) (9/10), and; "Disinfected and Abused" (17:38) (31/35). (The sample provided is a medley "preview" released to promote the album.)

 88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music (and, IMHO, much better than 2011's A Tower of Silence).

19. AIRBAG Identity

What at a nice surprise! While some reviewers are displeased at the sameness of this collection of songs, I am pleased by this consistency. IMHO, there are three pieces that I would nominate for that pantheon of greatness known as 'classics' in "Safe Like You," "Colours," and "Feeling Less." Plus, for DAVID GILMOUR lovers, you have not one but two amazing 'Gilmour' solo in "Steal My Soul." A collection of very pleasant, very listenable, and memorable Neo Prog songs.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Asle Tostrup / vocals, producer & mixing
- Bjørn Riis / guitars, vocals
- Jørgen Grüner-Hagen / keyboards
- Anders Hovdan / bass
- Joachim Slikker / drums
- Beate Schei / backing vocals (5)

1. "Prelude" (5:11) slow, soporific PINK FLOYD-ish instrumental. (8/10)

2. "No Escape" (5:45) Emotional. Reminds me of PINEAPPLE THIEF. Masterful support keyboard work. Love, love that atmospheric final minute. (8.25/10)

3. "Safe Like You" (7:58) The best song on the album and one that has haunted me and remained an all-time favorite ever since my first listen back in 2009. Heart-wrenching. Incredible keyboard layering and textures. (15/15)

4. "Steal My Soul" (8:02) for DAVID GILMOUR lovers, there are two amazing 'Gilmour' soli here. (12.5/15)

5. "Feeling Less" (5:05) great song, lyrics, performances, balance, and emotion. (9.25/10)

6. "Colours" (8:07) great slow-paced song that builds up to some amazingly emotional guitar-over-synths work in the final two minutes. (14/15)

7. "How I Wanna Be" (7:04) very eerily emotional opening. (13/15)

8. "Sounds That I Hear" (7:26) previews of the more dominant PINK FLOYD-like sound we'll hear on future Airbag releases. Very nice, subtle instrumental work--especially Hammond organ and strumming acoustic guitar. (13/15)

Total Time 54:38

While some reviewers are displeased at the sameness of this collection of songs, I am pleased by this consistency. The engaging quality of these songs is of a very high and consistent level. IMHO, there are three pieces that I would nominate for that pantheon of greatness known as 'classics' in "3. Safe Like You",  "6. Colours", and "5. Feeling Less". 
Overall I agree with other reviewers:  There are no "new" innovations or complicated structures or time signatures on Identity; instead, what you have is a collection of very pleasant, very listenable, and memorable neo-prog songs in the same melodic vein as classic PINK FLOYD.
     I would like to point out, however, that the supporting keyboard work by Jørgen Hagen is perhaps the finest I have ever heard on any album. It's subtle. It is never flashy--never draws attention to itself--yet I doubt whether the other artists' contributions--or the album as a whole--would have come off half as good as it did without his work. Amazing. What Ricard "Nuflux" Nettermalm is to 21st century drumming Jørgen Hagen is to the keyboard.

88.09 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of Neo Prog and an excellent and enjoyable addition to any prog lover's music collection. Definitely one of my favorite albums of the year 2009!

P.S. Does anybody else out there think that the keyboard work on this album is masterful in the way it fills space, fills the background with such gorgeous yet subtle chords and washes?


French jazz guitarist Yves Potin has contributed another sophisticated and thought-provoking contribution to Prog World in this decidedly cooler, more unsettling collection of soundscapes. While Yves instrumental and computer prowess is undeniable, the music here is quite dystopian and bleak. I shouldn't be saying that as if it's a bad thing, it's not--it's just the reality of the way things are progressing--especially on the human-disrupted surface of our planet. In that respect, the music presented here is quite powerful in its representation and reflection of the harm and chaos we have wielded upon our Mother. Ridley Scott and Vangelis would be quite appreciative of this music.

1. "Stress" (5:12) Though the power as a support of some tense, deep-in-the-night scene is undeniable, this one is a little too soundtrack-like and less the kind of music that you'd want to play without something theatric or visual to go with it. (Are there videos to any of your songs, Yves?) Virtuosic modern jazz-rock fusion guitar play (in a JERRY DE VILLIERS, JR. kind of way). (8.5/10)

2. "Anguish" (4:22) is like standing in a big city train or bus station and trying to fathom the surrounding chaos. Amazingly affective. (9/10)

3. "Stoned and Blurred" (5:26) unfortunately uses the same guitar sound and arpeggiated chord from the previous song to introduce the theme over the stark industrial soundscapes established by the computer synths.  (9/10)

4. "Inverted Twilight" (8:06) Disc Two of Gone to Earth! Awesome job of replicating the ambient soundscapes that David Sylvian created on that awesome album! (12.75/15)

5. "Those I Left Behind" (9:17) More from Disc Two of Gone to Earth! This time with similar guitar parts to the ones that David Sylvian, Robert Fripp, or Bill Nelson added to those ambient landscapes. Add the fretless bass, water drums, and Steve Jansen-like percussive rhythms to the final section and it's a perfect Sylvian replica! (17/20)

6. "Cold Bright and Quiet" (9:09) reminds me of the music from Vangelis' 1995 album, Voices. Spacious, deeply engaging and magically hypnotic. Though the lead instruments are nothing but hand percussives and a kalimba-like or kalimba-MIDIed vibraphone, it is eminently effective. The bass and synth washes could be higher up in the mix. (18/20)

An aural masterpiece in its representation of mankind's self-created troubled times, this is music that you don't want to listen to if you're already depressed. I commend and laud Yves' efforts and skills, but this is one of his discs that I'll probably not return to very often. (But then, you never know!)

87.35 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music though this is probably a true masterpiece of progressive electronic music.

21. THE APPLESEED CAST Sagarmatha 

A seasoned Post Rock/Math Rock band from Lawrence, Kansas, THE APPLESEED CAST creates, for the most part, melodic, engaging music of the highest realm of the Post Rock--including one of the exceptional groups that uses effectively lyrics and vocals. One of my favorite Post Rock/Math Rock albums.

Album highlights: 1. "As the Little Things Go" (8:15) (14/15); 3. "The Road West" (8:08) (15/15); 6. "Raise the Sails" (6:27) (9/10), and; 9. "An Army of Fireflies" (4:28) (9/10)

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

The Rankings for 2009

1. PROGHMA-C Bar-do Travel 
2. MAUDLIN OF THE WELL Part the Second
3. GA'AN Ga'an
4. CORDE OBLIQUE The Stones of Naples
5. MAGMA Ëmëhntëhtt-Ré
7. BEARDFISH Destined Solitaire
8. KOTEBEL Ouroboros
10. ARCANE Chronicles of the Waking Dream

11. AISLES In Sudden Walks
12. WOBBLER Afterglow
13. BIG BIG TRAIN The Underfall Yard
14. CIRRUS BAY A Step into Elsewhere
15. PRESENT Barbaro (Ma non troppo)
16. GAZPACHO Tick Tock
17. TOE For Long Tomorrow
18. ANUBIS 230503
19. AIRBAG Identity
20. YVES POTIN Out of The City

22. JUDY DYBLE Talking with Strangers
23. THE BOX D’après le horla de Montpassant
24. IZZ The Darkened Room
25. iNFiNiEN iNFiNiEN
26. DELIRIUM Il nome de vento
27. KARNIVOOL Sound Awake
28. KARDA ESTRA Weird Tales 
30. CASPIAN Tertia

Honorable Mentions: 
SUBSIGNAL Beautiful and Monstrous  
MONO Hymn to the Immortal
RISHLOO Feathergun
PINKROOM Psychosolstice 
THE CHURCH Untitled #23
LEPROUS Tall Poppy Syndrome