Saturday, November 5, 2022

Albums from the Year 2022, Part 3: Other Albums Worth Checking Out

Not quite favorites nor masterpieces, there were a lot of album releases in 2022 that were of very high quality that I feel would be well worth your time to check out.







COMPASSIONIZER Narrow Is the Road

Prolific and ambitiously adventurous composer/musician Ivan Rozmainsky (of Roz Vitalis fame) is back with his new collective of virtuoso collaborators for a third album release since 2020. And it's a good one!

Line-up / Musicians:
- Serghei Liubcenco / electric & acoustic guitars, rubab, doira, other percussion & drums, whistles (3), recording
- Leonid Perevalov / bass clarinets, recording
- Ivan Rozmainsky / conception, Roland Juno-D, Pribor Neofit, Arturia MiniBrute & other synths, kalimba, vibraphone, marimba (2), recording
- AndRey Stefinoff / clarinets, recording
With:
- Bayun The Cat / synth bass (4,6), kalimba (6), tbilat & other percussion (6), recording (4,6)
- Angelina Dortman / flute
- Dmitry Efimchuk / acoustic guitar (8)
- Antonina Pozdnyakova / violin
- Oleg Prilutsky / trumpets, recording

1. "Only One Road for the Wayward" (7:20) Ivan & co. here move more into the discordant world of avant jazz artists like JOHN ZORN and YUGEN. I think this one succeeds because of its slow, spacious pacing and "conscientious" note-making. (13.25/15)

2. "The Invasion of a Crying Shame" (3:53) starts off as if picking up where the first song left off, but then quickly becomes something different--a kind of middle school band practice session for the horn section. Interesting for how loose and sloppy the timing is for the instrumentalists engaging in the weave. (Yes, I can tell it's done intentionally.) The grating electric guitar injected into the final quarter is surprising and a little off-putting. It's as if a 2:00 AM jam of rather tired and, probably, drunk musicians is being recorded. Not quite sure of the reason or motivation for this song to be included on a publicly-released album. (8.5/10) 

3. "Black Sky White" (5:25) there's a bit of a Celtic or even Acadian folk feel to this one. (It reminds me very much of the music from the Québecois band, CONVENTUM's 1979 album, Le bureau central des utopies.) I like it for the predominance of acoustic instrumentation. Very nice finish. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

4. "I Need You to Help" (5:50) built around weave of comparatively sappy melodies, Serghei Liubcenco's choice for guitar sound once again mystifies me: like using a kitchen appliance, he can sure make some noise! The scaled down interlude in the middle reminds me of MASSIVE ATTACK's "Teardrop" but then we move into Asian-infused, cheesy drum-machine-led, mediæval weave while the wildest collection of disparate instruments somehow move forward together, as a rag-tag ensemble. Adventurous and laughable yet admirable! My final top three song. (9/10)

5. "Narrow Is the Road" (5:14) again Ivan & company bring together an ensemble of classical and jazz instruments to create a pathway that is somehow moving forward while taking turns giving up the leadership position, this causing some uncertain movement and moment--this despite the definitive title. Perhaps the road is old, less traveled, and poorly maintained. Anyway, against all odds, the band somehow pulls it together for the final quarter of the song to reveal some beautiful teamwork. The weave then turns to avant chamber jazz sounding quite similar to the work of Belarusian bands Rational Diet, Five-Storey Ensemble, and Archestra. Here are some quite lovely "traveling" melodies conveyed in the second half of the song. This is certainly one post-apocalyptic (or pre-industrial) band of road travelers that I would enjoy being with or encountering. My favorite song on the album. (9.5/10)

6. "In Things Too High for Me" (8:40) the solo kalimba in this song's opening does not fool me for a minute. The music quickly shifts into an electrically-founded trapse of troubadours--which occasionally turns space alien (minute #2) and Asian (minute #3). This one sounds as if it could come from some of DAVE NEWHOUSE's zany collaborations--the Moon Men or Moon X projects. In the final third the structure becomes tight, organized, almost classical, this despite the odd mix of instruments. It's a very Paolo "SKE" Botta-like sound. Not my favorite piece but interesting. (17/20)

7. "Looking from the Dome" (5:37) concertina/organ and rock electric guitar open this one before winds and cymbals join in to create a near-klezmer weave. Banjo and strings join before wah-ed guitar takes the lead. the percussion-driven rhythm and pacing remind me very much of parts of MIKE OLDFIELD's 1979 masterpiece of four "Incantations." The final stripped down minute feels more African tribal with they now-typical odd assortment of collaborating instruments. (8.75/10)

8. "Kramatorsk" (14:32) violin announces the Russian melody theme before low winds take over. Then drums This could very much be a piece by Markus Pajakkala's UTOPIANISTI--except for the fact that it doesn't change, progress, shift, or develop as dynamically as Markus' compositions. This one drags on--rather like a New Orleans funeral procession. The addtion of heavily distorted guitar strumming in the second half does little to enhance the (lack of) interesting or pleasurable development of the song. The Psycho-like violin (and, later, synthesizer) screams in the eleventh minute are surprising and, once again, do little to enhance the likeability of the song (except if you're a lover of King Crimson or Art Zoyd at their most angular/dissonant). Again, I know not the intent or message the band was trying to convey here, but it is one that is, unfortunately, totally lost to me. I understand and appreciate the adventurousness, skill, and vision it takes to compose and perform something like this, it's just not my cup of tea. (25/30)

9. "Road" (3:42) this sounds like a cute little Baroque chamber piece--something being performed for a small private audience or as background music for a museum opening. (8.5/10)

Total Time 60:13

With this album I think Ivan and his intrepid collaborators have put together their finest effort. The sound engineering and production is excellent with great clarity of each and every single instrument. My favorite selections on the album are, of course, the more chamber-oriented pieces dominated by acoustic instruments and mediæval-like folk sounds and weaves.

87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any lover of truly adventurous progressive rock music. 




MYTHIC SUNSHINE Light/Flux

Instrumental psychedelic space rock jams from this Swedish band--all fitting well into the scene that My Brother The Wind, Sula Bassana, Cosmic Ground, and even Electric Orange had been occupying.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rasmus Cleve Christensen / bass
- Frederik Denning / drums
- Emil Thorenfeldt / guitar
- Kasper Stougaard Andersen / guitar
- Søren Skov / saxophone

1. "Aurora" (8:26) a pleasant psych-Kosmische style jam built exclusively around the exact guitar strumming pattern and progression of Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven." Very nice to listen to, stop and sway, as the sax and guitars take turns soloing. (18/20) 
 
2. "Blood Moon" (4:46) a pretty standard blues-psych instrumental with kosmische effects that doesn't ever really get off the ground. Too monotonous. Plus, like the song before, it feels as if the foundational elements of the song have been borrowed from another time-honored song. (8.25/10)

3. "Equinox" (7:18) more psych-space jamming sounding very much like modern Kosmische Musik. Again, this one never really reaches any heights or moments to distinguish itself. (12.75/15)

4. "Decomposition" (10:32) founded on an old blues/blues-rock rhythm from the bass and drums, even the dual guitars seem to fall under the sway and spell of the blues elements. Other than a little controlled cacophony in the final two minutes, nothing very special comes out of it. (16.75/20)

5. "Tempest" (5:08) from a math rock, minimalist perspective, this is actually a fairly interesting and satisfying song. (8.75/10)

6. "First Frost (7:05) a very infectious, relaxing groove over which the guitars play. Without the presence/contributions of Søren Skov's saxophone(s) I find this song to have a much higher degree of engagement--it's like the spaciousness in the top allows one to get close--to get inside the music--and really key in on the individual guitars. There is a really cool mid-song break from 4:00 to about the five-minute mark in which the guitars are really allowed to get noticed--an effect that continues from here to the end of the song. This is by far my favorite song on the album. (13.75/15)

Total Time 43:15

Despite being a pleasant listening experience, my disappointment is rather profound that the band could find so little in the way of new or even slightly innovative ideas to express in the music on this album. Let's hope they're a more dynamic and intuitive band in the live setting (though I get the feeling that, like My Brother The Wind, these songs were all recorded from live in-the-studio performances).

86.94 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a pleasant listening experience that I'm sure many prog lovers would enjoy adding to their music collection. 




GHOST TOAST Shade Without Color

From Hungary! These polished artists have here created some heavy prog textures with sounds and motifs from other styles and ethnicities (many Middle Eastern/Arabic) to deliver politically-purposed sampled messages from world personalities.

Line-up / Musicians:
- János Stefán / bass, sound Fx, programming, acoustic guitar, keyboards
- Bence Rózsavölgyi / guitars
- Zoltán Cserős / drums, drum programming
- János Pusker / cello, keyboards

1. "Get Rid Of" (6:00) (8.667/10)

2. "Leaders" (6:51) Awesome grungy music supporting some awesome, cogent quotes from world personalities. A top three song for me. (13.5/15)

3. "Chasing Time" (12:18) good, solid metal jamming with some great catchy riffs and motifs but nothing really amazing or innovative to make this one stand out. (21.25/25) 

4. "Let Me Be No Nearer" (7:14) Arabian Reggae? I thought only MYRATH could do this! Don't worry: it goes full metal in the middle (but then it goes ENIGMA melodic!). I like the voice & presence of the female vocalist. (12.5/15)

5. "Acceptance" (5:37) a little jazz/R&B with attitude! Same formula where it gets heavy in the middle before redirecting into something with some pop elements and then trying to go heavy again. (8.5/10)

6. "Deliberate Disguises" (4:54) machine gun guitar metal with near-disco beat. Fine for its ilk. Good riff-stops in the middle followed by eerie vocal samples. For a true metal song, I actually like it! One of my other top three songs. (8.75/10)

7. "Reaper Man" (9:20) more Arabian sounds--though in the realm of subtleties. If all Prog Metal were like this and the previous song, I might become a convert! At times, because of the long instrumental passages and rhythmic shifts, I feel as if I'm listening to a recording of a Blue Man Group concert--or a heavier side of Ed Wynne/OZRIC TENTACLES. They even throw in some keyboard sounds and CURE-like passages! (17.667/20)

8. "Whimper" (8:15) too RUSH-like with not enough variety and separation to keep me engaged--until the second half when a passage of delicately picked electric guitar plays out for a bit before being joined by ADIEMUS-like drums. NIce effect from the Mellotron behind the music and voice quote sample of T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Man". (13/15)

9. "Rejtekből (6:49) is a continuation from the previous song, using the synth washes to transition to a more ENIGMA/HYPNO5E-like song with cool Arabian female vocalise and cello over the top of a weave of some interesting Middle Eastern percussives. Great chord progression behind cello and vocal sample in the final two minutes. Great atmospheric song and my other top three. (13.25/15)

Total Time 67:18

86.73 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




WIZRD Seasons

Nice psych rock from Trondheim Norway. The complex music here sounds a lot like MOTORPSYCHO with the musicianship being on a par (if not better) than their fellow Norwegian elders. Bands like MAGIC BUS and KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD also often come to mind.

Lineup / Musicians:
 - Hallvard Gaardløs (Spidergawd, Draken and more) - bass and lead vocals
 - Karl Bjorå (Megalodon Collective and more) - guitar and vocals 
 - Vegard Lien Bjerkan (Soft Ffog and more) - keyboards and vocals 
 - Axel Skalstad (Krokofant, Soft Ffog and more) - drums

1. "Lessons" (4:10) poppy psych rock with a bit of a KING GIZZARD flare to the lyrics and vocal approach. Cute and upbeat music to which the lyrics are the most important aspect. (8.75/10)

2. "Free Will" (4:43) more complex instrumental start bordering on some quirky avant jazz before settling into something smoother for the singing verses. The chorus sections show a return to the more wild, chaotic music of the opening introduction. Unusual and interesting. I like it! The guitar play in the instrumental finish would make a young Reine Fiske proud. A top three song for me. (8.75/10)

3. "Spitfire" (4:59) rodeo fast and late-1960s-THE WHO-worthy, this is impressive but not my favorite.  (8.5/10)

4. "All Is As It Should Be" (8:09) a modern Kosmische Musik jam like something from the MY BROTHER THE WIND outfit. Nice shift at 2:30 to make way for the Hammond solo--which begins a section that sounds like it comes straight out of a MOTORPSYCHO instrumental jam section. Nice lead guitar work in the sixth and seventh minutes. I like the group choral vocal approach (reminding me of KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD). (13/15)

5. "Show Me What You Got" (7:44) More impressive MOTORPSYCHO-like musicianship and sonic textures with some interesting chorus. Definitely in the realm of musical expression similar to the German "Krautrock" bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Very fast-paced musicianship from every body on board resulting in a very thick, tight weave (with very busy percussion work!). Midway through, the music switches (at first I thought it was a completely new and different MAGIC BUS-like song) creating a softer, hippy blues-jazzier weave and mood. Interesting song suite. Hard to assign a rating to! (13.25/15)

6. "Fire & Water" (3:40) opens a bit like something THE BAND OF GYPSIES or CREAM might have done. Then the music settles into a rock supportive blues-rock song. (8/10)

7. "Divine" (6:03) A bit of a country / quirky folk rock feel here--not unlike that of some Canadian and Australian folk rock bands. Almost R&B poppy in the catchy/pretty chorus. A top three song for me. (9/10)

8. "When You Call" (4:24) flowing straight out of the psychedelic palette of the previous song, it quickly morphs into a kind of AIR-like soundscape before the delicate Paul Evans (MAGIC BUS)-like vocal of Hallvard Gaardløs. I like the rather abrupt and aggressive appearance and play of the sitar in the third minute--opening up another MOTORPSYCHO-like section with group vocals to take us out. My final top three song. (8.75/10)

Album length: 43:57

A refreshingly different expression of the nouveau psychedelic jam band music. I am definitely impressed with the energy and spirit of these young upstarts as well as the excellent musicianship of all members in the music.

86.67 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's record collection--especially if you're into the new youth psychedelia like King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.




YOO DOO RIGHT A Murmur, Boundless to the East

The sophomore studio release from these young Québecois Krautrockers.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Justin Cober / vocals, guitars, synthesizers
- Charles Masson / bass
- John Talbot / drums
With:
- Jessica Moss / violin (1,5)

1. "Say Less, Do More" (8:32) Post Rock with Krautrock's simplicity and voice-over. The first two minutes are pleasantly hypnotic, even melodic, but so simple. Interesting things begin to happed with Slowdive-like guitars and more cymbal action from the drums in the third minute, then the post-punk vocal rant enters (sung in accented-English). This could very well have come out of some young angry Brits in the early 1980s--like Joy Division or even The Clash (in their more introspective moments). In the end, there just isn't enough to make this anything more that good solid Post-punk Post Rock (though I do love the contribution of Jessica Moss' violin in the final minutes). (17/20)

2. "SMB" (6:42) près de Disco Post Rock. Buce sound palette coming from the two guitars but all in all, even with its Post Rock slow-build and cresecendo, it's just too simplistic and unchanging. (8.33/10)

3. "Dérive" (8:03) a mysterious, almost cinematic foundation with some great bass play and atmospheric synths, but, in the end, it's just too CAN-like. The crescendoing fourth, fifth, and sixth minutes (mostly from the glissandoing guitars) shows great promise, great energy, but then it all comes crashing down in a JAMBINAI/MONO way before resetting to the opening motif as if nothing had happened. Crazy! (13.25/15)

4. "The Failure of Stiff, Tired Friends" (6:02) smooth and pleasantly atmospheric; parts of this could come from THE CURE or some 1980s (John Hughes) movie soundtrack. I like it. Very much. (8.875/10)

5. "Feet Together, Face Up, on the Front Lawn" (16:36) A heavy start to this one puts them in the realm of Post Rock bands like SLEEPMAKESWAVES and MONO. At the three-minute mark the music shifts radically into a pure CAN mode--even with crazed vocals of the Damo Suzuki kind, but then we quite as drastically and mysteriously shift back to the heavy POST ROCK motif at the end of the fourth minute for a few bars, but then it reverts back into the CAN motif again. Back and forth a couple times before going Post Rock and drawing it out (and down) into a more SWANS-like form and style. Pretty ingenious if derivative. We kind of stay in the Swans and heavy Post Rock realms for the remainder of the song. (26/30)

Total Time 45:55

Quite a disappointment for I had very high expectations for this band after their stunning debut. Still, the album did get better the deeper you get into the album. And, overall, I do like the sound of this band! I am not done with guys yet, yoo doo right! 

86.44 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a solid album of Nouveau Post Rock that, though not as impressive as one might have hoped for after their delightfully refreshing debut, would still make a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection. 





GRECO BASTIÁN With a Little Hell from All My Friends

A diverse collection of modern Avant Garde/RIO songs from a collaboration of a veritable who's who of RIO, Zeuhl, and Avant Jazz artists under the leadership Mexican Greco Bastián--an artist who was hitherto unknown to me. (Is the album title a reference to the 2006 film of the same title from Suzanne Shepherd? If so, it would explain some of the cinematic moods and themes expressed in Greco's music.)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tatsuya Yoshida, Japan (Koenjihyakkei, Ruins, Korekyojinn) / drums
- Jean-Luc Plouvier, Belgium (Univers Zero, Maximalist!, Daniel Schell & Karo) / piano
- Ryoko Ono, Japan (Sax Ruins, Plastic Dogs, Ryorchestra) / saxophone
- Pierre Vervloesem, Belgium (X-Legged Sally, Flat Earth Society, Kings of Belgium) / electric guitars
- Matt Lebofsky, USA (Mirthkon, Secret Chiefs 3, Moetar) / basses
- Patrick Shiroishi, Japan (Corima, Upsilon Acrux, Sswan) / saxophone
- Emmett Elvin, UK (Guapo, Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof) / electric guitar, bass
- Vincent Sicot-Vantalon, France (Scherzoo, Unit Wail, Zero Zero Zero) / piano, keyboard effects
- Jon Bafus, USA (Gentleman Surfer, Afternoon Brother, Invasive Species) / drums
- Samo Salamon, Slovenia (Trio, Quartet, Sextet) / electric guitars
- José Luis Velasco, México / electric guitar, bass
- Hey Figueroa, México (Mushasho) / basses
- Armando Lagarda, México (Mushasho) / drums
- Edson Santana Reyna, México / acoustic & charango guitars
- Gerardo Ramlop, México / xylophone
- Greco Bastián, México / piano, keyboard effects, VST's

1. "Proteo Revampirizado" (6:30) I don't like the hollow and plastic drum-machine sounding sounds coming from Tatsuya Yoshida's drums but the weave of dobro/banjo and tuned percussives (including piano) is pretty engaging. The electric guitar solo at the end of the second minute is harsh while the weave that follows almost sounds like Flim and the BBs. The bass, up front and center, is great to hear but it's a little repetitious--and the banjo/dobro is also quite forward while the saxophone(s) are mixed behind. Interesting. I'm not sure I'm picking up on the vampire reference despite the horror movie plodding and chaos. Any relation to early Bondage Fruit? (8.75/10) 

2. "Zidane Racist" (6:29) I've never been able to find much like/tolerance for a klezmer-type of music--even when it is trying to be Peter Gunn-like. Also, though the collective pace and cohesive synchronization of the instrumentalists' melody lines is impressive, much of it feels either auto-aligned or MIDI(VST)ed. I wonder if the "band" could perform this tightly live. And the bass sounds so isolated, even weirdly compressed. A stop and left turn at 4:20 feels NIL-ish. Interesting. There is, of course, a lot of Zeuhlishness to the music as well. (Love the BEATLES reference with the final piano hit and long hold!) (8.75/10)

3. "Zeuhlito Lindo" (5:27) I hate these plastic-sounding tom-tom heads that Tatsuya Yoshida is using. (They remind me so much of Markus Pajakkala's Brutopianisti album from 2017.) Yech! Again, the klezmer freneticism of the opening pace and whole-band weave is not my favorite style to listen to, but, luckily, some spacious isolation of various instruments (over the very busy drums, bass, and piano) occurs enough to let me relax. Matt Lebofsky's bass play is right up front and center but not chunky enough to be Zeuhlish and not creative enough for my expectations. Again I am very much reminded of the music of Markus Pajakkala--especially in his Brutopianisti release--though there are also motifs reminding me of black midi's Cavalcade. The musicianship is excellent--so tight and so precise. I wish the drums didn't drive me to distraction. (8.75/10)

4. "Oniontown" (5:44) released in 2019, this is virtually the same MIDI(VST)ed composition performed and recorded by Greco back then with friends and members of his old band, Cobalto Circus. The stop-and-go format is more spacious than the other stuff on this new album. (8.5/10)

5. "Aclowntrenós" (4:44) rolling bas line, grating saw-guitar chord strums, xylophone and piano and, later, VST (Virtual Studio Technology) horns. Sounds like an exercise in math rock. (8.5/10)

6. "My First Metal Swing Set" (2:09) lower octave piano arpeggio starts this one before ATOMIC APE-like cinematic chase music takes over. Lead electric guitar and xylophone stand out with wailing guitar playing in a Robert Fripp/KING CRIMSON style and sound palette--which is cool, except … it's been done before. (Think: instrumental sections between Adrian Belew's vocals on "Indiscipline"). Hard driving and brief. (4.25/5)

7. "D.A.S" (1:42) rolling bass, syncopated drums, and screeching saw guitar gives this a very MIDI(VST) sound. (4.25/5)

8. "Don't Open Til Xmas" (3:13) a variation/play upon the "Jingle Bells" melody line, though the sound palette has changed quite a bit--with some fuzzy sax and synths playing the crazy lead weave with the piano--but it all sounds too tight--like it's MIDIed. (8.5/10)

9. "Exit Filming for a Muse" (4:59) quite a cinematic song--and fit for the soundtrack to a slow processional in a carnival or small town parade. Besides the drums, this one is all computer created, all Greco solo. It's actually pretty good--pretty easy to access and sync with--especially the searing "guitar" soloing over the top over everything. (8.75/10)

Total Time 40:57

My main complaint with much of this album is the frenetic pace, the use of "cold" plastic tom heads (when used), and the often too-precise synchrony of the herd of stampeding instruments--which makes me second guess the engineering: whether instruments are interlocked by engineering "auto-tune"-like computer mechanisms or by being MIDIed (here called "Virtual Studio Technology") to Bastián's keyboard. For all we've been told, the impressive list of collaborators might have contributed instrument sounds only which Greco alone could have totally manipulated and formed his song compositions with his computer technology skills. This is especially at issue due to Greco's past and his self-professed absence of skill as a musician/instrumentalist. (His Bandcamp biographical statement says, "I'm just a man lost in music. I cannot play any instrument, but I know how it must to be played, so I compose some tunes and some dear friends help me in order to make it sounds as it has to be...")

86.25 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice, though perhaps challenging, addition to any prog lover's music collection.




LOBATE SCARP You Have It All

Ten years after Adam Sears and friends entered Prog World with their debut album, 2012's Time and Space, Adam engages a bunch of veteran prog rockers from the symphonic NeoProg persuasion of musical production (of which several contributors were members of that original Lobate Scarp lineup) to jam (in some form or other) over and with some of his songs--taking turns offering solos over some of Adam Sears' very basic groovin' chord progressions.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Adam Sears / lead vocals, synths, piano, organs
- Andy Catt / bass, vocals
- Peter Matuchniak / guitars
- Hoyt Binder / guitar (2)
- Nate Olmos / guitar (7)
- Eric Moore / drums (1,5,9)
- Jimmy Keegan / drums (4,8)
- Mike Gerbrandt / drums (2,7)
- Billy Sherwood / vocals (5)
- Jon Davison / vocals (5)
- Ryo Okumoto / B3 organs, synths, jazz piano (1,8)
- Aiko Jimena Richter / violin (1,4,5,9)
- Yvette Holzwarth / violin (1,4,5,9)
- Thomas Lea / viola (1,4,5,9)
- Hillary Smith / cello (1,4,5,9)
- Andrea Whitt / viola, pedal steel (1,2,7)
- Rachel Grace / violin (2)
- Tawnee Lynn Lilo / French horn (1,4,9)
- Steve Huber / violin, viola (3)
- Michael Bernard / synth & drums programming
- Raul Hernadez / additional guitars
- Steven Leavitt / piano, B3, Moog, synth programming, maracas, tambourine, glockenspiel, vocals
- Rich Mouser / additional rhythm & lead guitars, 12-string acoustic guitar, mandolin, shaker, tambourine, dilruba

1. "Conduit" (7:00) (12.75/15)

2. "Nothing Wrong" (6:17) spacious ambient Indian opening turns into full-blown bombastic NeoProg beneath Paul's impassioned if repetitive singing. Again, the solos are everywhere--even while Adam is singing. (8/10)

3. "In the Night I" (0:55) Are you serious?!! I've recorded better ditties than this little keyboard children's play on the toilet! (3/5)

4. "Life-Line" (5:55) sounds like a song by MISTER MISTER, GENE LOVES JEZEBEL, or MIKE + THE MECHANICS ("All I Need Is a Miracle"). Saccharine melodies, simple pop chord progression, with Adam's gentle 1980s vocal. Jimmy Keegan's drums are solid. The finish has its merits. (8.5/10)

5. "You Have It All" (14:25) a crossover prog song that blends classical instrumentation with prog rock electronic instruments quite nicely. The protracted delicate pastoral section that begins at 3:30 is particularly nice--with particularly well-matched drumming from Suicidal Tendencies' Eric Moore and some nice singing from vocalists Billy Sherwood and Jon Davidson. This pretty section builds after Billy Sherwood's vocal into a prog lover's wet dream with great lush keyboard supported electric guitar solo and then finishing with an impassioned vocal from Jon Davidson and more great lead guitar shredding (from Peter Matuchniak or Rich Mouser?) At the end of the tenth minute things smooth out for some nice violin, keyboard, and different guitar solo tradeoffs. Easily the best, most truly and refreshingly proggy song on the album. The keyboard work in the twelfth minute gets a little dull despite some great drumming. And, unfortunately the plagiarized BEATLES final two minutes is a let down for the poor vocal "hook" being repeated. (27.5/30)

6. "In the Night II" (1:14) considerably better than it's prior twin. (4.33/5)

7. "Beautiful Light" (5:46) nice MOSTLY AUTUMN or MANTRA VEGA beginning and Prog Folk foundational music before Adam's pleasant vocal. (His voice here reminds me of a West End version of Kevin Ayers.) (8.667/10)

8. "Our Test Tube Universe" (7:33) nice classically constructed song featuring Ryo Okumoto and Jimmy Keagan of Spock's Beard and, of course, the guitar talents of crossover/eclectic sessions and solo artist Peter Matuchniak. (12.75/15)

9. "Flowing Through the Change" (17:24) I know that drummer Eric Moore's presence is one of the things the band touts in the promotion of this song, but there's something about the mix that makes his drums stand out in a rather awkward way. The mix (and performance) are so much better on "You Have It All." Also, the lines/transfer points between each of the suite's five subsections are not as clearly delineated as one might hope for. Still, it is definitely a well constructed NeoProg epic. (30.75/35):
- i. Futureflow - some similarities to ASIA's "Heat of the Moment" in the opening. 
- ii. In the Night III - then things settle into a slow pleasant synth-based foundation with the most annoying bass-line front and center. Thank got it goes away when Adam starts singing (though it is soon picked up and regurgitated ad nauseum by the electric guitar). The instrumental section following the vocal contains a nice electric guitar solo followed by some nice "strings" chord progressions.
- iii. Dreamflow - instrumental section.
- iv. A New Beginning - poppy uplifting music beginning at the end of the tenth minute has some nice hooks and strings work. The repeating four chord progression over which the section is constructed grows old fairly quickly. 
- v. Dreams Are Coming True - More prog-like music with some interesting time syncopations, drumming, and interesting NeoProg solos. Nice MYSTERY-like ending.

Total Time 66:29

A pleasant, unoffensive listen--especially if you're into solos and not creative structures or stories. It is nice, however, that almost all of the album's songs have a corresponding video presence on YouTube--created by Adam and the band members.

86.20 on the Fishscales = B-/four stars; a nice addition to any NeoProg lover's music collection and not a bad listen for someone looking for more adventurous "progressive" rock music.




KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD Omnium

We're not even a third of the way through the year and King Gizz is releasing its second album of the year--and it's rumored that a total of five are due to be released this year! Well, if it's all happy music like this one, I for one welcome it! 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stu Mackenzie / vocals, guitar, bass, organ, piano, percussion, flute, vibraphone, Wurlitzer, synthesizer, keyboards, vocoder, Mellotron
- Michael Cavanagh / drums & percussion
- Lucas Harwood / bass
- Cook Craig / guitar, vocals, synthesizer
- Ambrose Kenny-Smith / vocals, organ, percussion, Wurlitzer, harmonica, synthesizer, saxophone, guitar, vibraphone
- Joey Walker / guitar, vocals, synthesizer, percussion, bass, Mellotron
With:
- Amy Findlay / drums (10)

LP 1 (40:21)
1. "The Dripping Tap" (18:17) the first 75 seconds of this sound as if the lead singer of ARCADE FIRE were singing karaoke over an instrumental version of some AL GREEN lounge song. But then the band takes a quick turn to convert to rip-roaring rock with that punk rock on speed drumming plowing through to mark the way. Multiple guitars and synths, even vocals, try to express their joy and excitement in a kind of ALLMAN BROTHERS way, jamming over Robo-Jaki (LIEBEZEIT)'s frenzied metronomic drum play. At 6:25 the Win Butler heavily-treated voice returns over a bit of a break from the instruments (they're just sipping from their drinks, toking from their bongs) but then they're all off to the races for round two. In the 12th-minute there is another brief lull from the instruments during which a chorus of vocalists organize themselves around a chant of "Drip drip from the tap, don't slip" which then goes on for a good three minutes before a swell of guitars breaks it off. Then a relative quiet of the lead instruments allows another vocal section before everyone is unleashed yet one more time for a display of frenetic passion. The final minute sees a recapitulation of the opening section only with the full rhythm section in rapid support. A good song if you're into these jam songs--if you like listening to the passionate solos of a variety of instrumentalists. (I, however, am no longer one of these.) (35/40) 
 
2. "Magenta Mountain" (6:05) a bit of a THE FLAMING LIPS feel to this. Nice bass sound and b vox. (8.5/10)

3. "Kepler-22B" (3:13) a very catchy, groovin' R&B tune that makes me think that Tame Impala might have merged with Durand Jones & The Indications. One of my favorite KG&tLW songs of all-time. (9.5/10)

4. "Gaia" (5:11) a monstrously heavy beast, chugging along as if it were a djenty metal song. Even the vocal approach is right in line with the growl vocalists of those genres, all in the attempt at presenting our planet's persona from a testosterone-driven male perspective (which is an interesting prospect in and of itself). If tongue-in-cheek, it's hilarious; if serious, it saddens me. The band is certainlly branching out into new territory with this one. (8.5/10)

5. "Ambergris" (4:27) another gentle, romantic R&B-like slow-dance groove with some awesome EW&Fire-like group vocals and wonderfully playful bass play and an awesome little microtonal guitar solo--so sexy! (9/10)

6. "Sadie Sorceress" (3:08) with a beat like a1990s Hip Hop classic, the boys take on the territory of the sacrosanct BEASTIE BOYS and do quite an admirable job of it as they do (though once again I hear much more of JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE's voice and rap style). (8.75/10)

LP 2 (39:59)
7. Evilest Man" (7:39) sequenced percussive computer notes are intermixed with the boys' full-on jam ensemble before clearing out for the Fender Rhodes chords that support a solo voce vocal performance  that sounds like it comes from the 1970s. (13/15)

8. "The Garden Goblin" (2:57) a song that sounds so straight out of the psychedelic 1960s London Scene--until, that is, the synth solos. Everytime the vocal choir sings I picture The Buckinghams or The Lovin' Spoonful up on stage in Top of the Pops. (8.5/10)

9. "Blame It on the Weather" (2:31) feels like a continuation of the previous song (same instrumental sound palette and effected choral-vocals). Nice guitar durning the choral chorus. (8.25/10)

10. "Persistence" (3:48) another song that could've come from the cutting floor of a Justin Timberlake recording session in the 2000s. Nice early Tony Levin ChapmanStick-like bass line. (8.25/10)

11. "The Grim Reaper" (3:06) harpsichord and bass open before rap rhythm track takes the fore and the group rap takes over. The overall vocal tone sounds almost like Alvin and the Chipmunks. The intent of this might be more clear if I were into lyrics. The music is okay. (8.5/10)

12. "Presumptuous" (4:53) another song that sounds like (could very well be) a tongue-in-cheek Justin Timberlake parody. It's actually quite well done--has a great melody line, vocal performance and, when the full band joins in (about halfway in) nice overall groove and sound--a bit of SANTANA being channelled in the instrumental second half (some of it quite obviously intentional). (8.75/10)

13. "Predator X" (3:46) another foray into the realm of metal music. It just feels wrong--half-hearted and thus, tongue-in-cheek. I don't think this is a direction the band should continue pursuing. (8/10)

14. "Red Smoke" (4:22) I don't which band member is the voice of these teenage Arcade Fire vocal performances but he has my permission to try another shtick. (7.75/10)

15. "Candles" (4:34) pretty sound palette and arpeggiated chords to open before a "Shaft" cymbal-play signals a shift into another gear. The dreamy choral repetition of the word "Candles" is funny in a The Lonely Island kind of way. Sounds 1960s French while, of course, coming from a 21st Century perspective, thus, funnier than hell. (9/10)

16. "The Funeral" (2:23) a nice continuation of the sound and style of the previous song. (4.5/5)

Total Time 80:00 

Whichever reviewers called this a "smorgasborg" of the band's new "greatest hits," they were spot on. I do not think that, overall, this album stands up to most of the songs on Changes or Laminated Denim's "Hypertension" or most of the stuff on Ice, Death, Planets, Lungs, Mushrooms, & Lava. Also, I don't know if it is the expressed or subversive intent of the band to make fun of old musical styles and artists, but it sure seems so--and would gain points for successful attempts at humor if it were so.

86.18 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you like upbeat, tongue-in-cheek parodies of older musical styles--rated up for volume, quality, and variety.




REGAL WORM Worm!

Jarrod has decided to go more techno-electronic with this release giving his music a feel and sound not unlike The Buggles or even Kraftwerk, combined with the frenetic, plastic drumming of countrymates Brother Ape. It would appear that he wants a more pop audience that prog.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jarrod Gosling / vocals, guitars, basses, synthesizers, electric pianos, organs, Mellotron, Omnichord, vocoder, drums & percussion, effects
- Louis Atkinson / tenor saxophone
- Mike Somerset / tenor saxophone
- Graham Mann / trombone
- Lucy Board / trumpet

1. "Regal Wishbone" (3:57) (8.5/10)
2. "Don't Freak Out the Creatures" (4:36) (8.5/10)
3. "Dindy Super "(2:45) (8.5/10)
4. "The Steppe Nomad Space Program" (9:14) (17/20)
5. "Bong Song" (2:41) (8.5/10)
6. "Chlorophyllia" (4:39) (8.5/10)

7. "Green Beetle, Plate 31" (4:27) my favorite soundscape on the album. Kind of Blade Runner-ish. (8.75/10)

8. "Is There Anything Blacker Than a Black Cat?" (3:58) a more humanly constructed (as opposed to Plastic Age AstroBoy robot-constructed) song in which the drums and bass almost sound real (similar to The Flaming Lips' instrumental sounds on Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots). Still a futuristic Plastic Age song, however: just one that I like--that I feel I can get inside and enjoy. (8.75/10)

9. "Hop" (2:38) a little of David Byrne's zaniness in the vocals with more jazzy synth-pop for the musical fabric. (8.5/10)

Total Time 38:55

The frenetic drumming and ultra-busy 1970s BUGGLES-like electo-pop soundscapes established by Jarrod over the first four songs makes this album hard for my nervous system to engage and enjoy. As much as I LOVE The Buggles, Kraftwerk, and Brother Ape--and as much as I think Jarrod is a master of catchy melody-making--there is something less engaging to this album's music than the amazing stuff on 2018's Pig Views (which I rated as a five-star masterpiece). Despite the sophistication of all of the compositions, this album is just far more pop-oriented than prog. I like the upbeat, happy-go-lucky feel Jarrod is trying to convey here--I feel it very timely and necessary for our species--but the music here is just a little too flip and naïve sounding (two things that I divine that Jarrod is not).

85.50 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; not bad music--and definitely clever, cerebral compositions--just not proggy ilke Pig Views. Definitely a step backwards in Jarrod's progression into Prog World.




GALAHAD The Last Great Adventurer

The 2022 offering from these British NeoProg veterans. The album contains a lot of words of retrospection and elegy dedicated to recently deceased friends and family.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Stu Nicholson / vocals
- Lee Abraham / guitar
- Dean Baker / keyboards
- Mark Spencer / bass
- Spencer Luckman / drums

1. "Alive" (8:20) sounds like something straight out of the 1980s. I don't really like the poppy NEW ORDER vocals and computer-enhanced/added drums. Solid instrumental section in the third quarter turns mushy when the band has to switch back to 4/4 time in order to accommodate the guitar solo of Lee Abraham. The finish is just airbowling till the 80s finish. (16.75/20)

2. "Omega Lights" (10:05) (17.25/20):
- Part One: Λ - 90s keyboard sounds through the filter of 21st Century computers opens this and plays on for three and a half VANGELIS-like minutes.
- Part Two: Ω - a bluesy Steve Hackett/The Who-like pulsing sound comes out of the Part One intro. Never comes to anything special (especially with such an awful chorus); totally unfulfilled potential. Even the big shift at the 7:00 mark does nothing to excite.

3. "Blood Skin and Bone" (8:17) opens with the first minute sounding like something from 1980s pop-experimenting TANGERINE DREAM before shifting into a hypnotic Pete Shelley-sounding piece. Again, the chorus takes us away from the good stuff, dumbs it down into something mundane. I actually like the variable-speed tempo used in the beginning of instrumental passage starting at the end of the fourth minute--and it remains engaging even when they lock it in for another Lee Abraham guitar solo. At 5:25 when break down for a walk through the fair ("the human freak show"), Stu continues a narration-like commentary on our human species (which sounds like a priest's two-pitch singing of the text of the High Mass). Then we bounce back into a smoothed-out PET SHOP BOYS-like version of the chorus. Some good, some banal. (17.5/20)

4. "Enclosure 1764" (4:07) sounds so dramatic--as if it comes from some theatric stage production. What is Stu singing about--something from British history? (8.25/10)

5. "The Last Great Adventurer" (10:35) four chord rock supports a really simply written homage to Stu's father. (Stu is no poet; he's more of a observational narrator.) I agree with Thomas Szirmay: the instrumental passage in the eighth minute has a very STEELY DAN feel to it before the Traffic/Canterbury keyboard enters. And Lee Abraham's solo in the ninth minute really builds and soars. The contemplative jazzy section in the tenth minute is interesting--especially when Stu tries to croon the same lyrics as before over/within it. (17/20)

6. "Normality of Distance" (5:50) * piano and keyboard "orchestra"-supported ballad for Stu to sing in a pop-theatre way. It's like a heart-strings-pulling ballad from the 1970s. (Think "Shannon" ao something from AIR SUPPLY.) (8/10)

7. "Another Life Not Lived" (7:55) * 1980s electric guitar arpeggi in revers and slow forward joined by piano to slow build as Stu lays down his best vocal of the album--strained, acrobatic, and nuanced. But then the power chords enter and dominate--diminishing the power and centrality of Stu's vocal. Luckily this only occurs for the choruses. Several times the vocal melody comes devastatingly close to replicating Roger Hodgson's from the Supertramp song "A Soapbox Opera"--and then the guitar solo is too close to something by David Gilmour. The best song on the album (or is it ... on the album?). (13.5/15)

Total Time 55:09

* bonus tracks on CD

85.43 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if your of the NeoProg prog persuasion. 




THE GUILDMASTER Liber di dictis

What sounds like a most excellent symphonic Prog Folk album is obscured from my reviewing it due to lack of availability for full-album listening (without purchase).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rafael Pacha / zyther, recorders, acoustic & electric guitars, frame drum, viola da gamba, Toumbeleki, Hackbrett psaltery, bouzouki, mandolin, Peñaparda frame drum, classical guitar, whistles, mrindgam, Coimbra Portuguese guitar, tabla, Venezuelan cuatro, bodhrán, claps, cajón, keyboards
- Alessandro di Benedetti / keyboards, vocals
- Marco Bernard / Shuker basses
- Kimmo Pörsti / drums & percussion
With:
- Marco Grieco / keyboards, accordion, claps
- Evangelia Kozoni / vocals
- Paula Pörsti / vocals
- Jose Manuel Medina / keyboards
- Tommaso Fichele / vocals
- Patrizia Grieco/ tamburello Napoletano
- Beatrice Birardi / tamburo a cornice, darbouka, castagnette
- Rubén Álvarez / electric guitar
- Manoel Macía / baroque guitar
- Carlos Espejo / voices, claps, "Jaleo"
- Daniel Fäldt / vocals
- Sara Traficante / flute

1. "A lo hecho, pecho (2:52)
2. "A Rey muerto, Rey puesto (4:55)
3. "Agora (6:24)
4. "Manos frías, corazón caliente (5:42)
5. "Suruista tehty Soitto (6:02)
6. "Agua pasada no mueve molino (7:01)
7. "La Música amansa a las fieras (5:15)
8. "Nea Polis (6:11)
9. "La primavera, la sangre altera (4:23)
10. "El perro del hortelano (4:46)
11. "Young Me, Old You (11:20)
12. "Suruista tehty Soitto (acoustic reprise) (3:06)

Total Time 67:57

Again, album for which I am only able to find song excerpts--all of which sound amazing--which prevents it from receiving a full review and, thus, any certain placement among my rankings and lists.




BUBBLEMATH Turf Ascension

The eclectic boys from Minneapolis release their third album. In my opinion, they're mellowing.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Jonathan G. Smith / vocals, guitar
- Blake Albinson / guitar
- Kai Esbensen / keyboards, vocals
- Jay Burritt / bass
- James Flagg / drums, vocals

1. "Surface Tension (17:57)

2. "Everything" (10:13) a very ECHOLYN-like song with some great drumming. Nice composition (though the lyrics are a bit obtuse, delivered in a 3RDEGREE kind of way). What the song lacks is a kicker/punch or climactic hook. (17.5/20)

3. "Decrypted (9:57)

4. "Refuse" (10:55) a quite adventurous song closer to the Crimsonian eclectic style that the band earned when they came onto the prog scene back in 2001. There are even many angular, stop-and-go twists and turns reminiscent of 1970s masters, GENTLE GIANT. As a matter of fact, the group vocals in the final three minutes are a stark blend of GG and modern vocal masters MOON SAFARI. A strong and interesting song, if not continuously engaging. (18/20) 

Total Time 49:02

While I like the music and methods that Bubblemath use to convey their music, I am less impressed with the consistency of the constructs of this album. Though as wonderfully melodic as always, I feel that this album falls to a level of too much simplicity, too many easy-to-follow melodies, lyrics that too often sound forced or banal. 

With this, the Minneapolis band has, in my opinion, taken a step backwards. The music is far less melodic, less quirky-fun, and less engaging than anything that I've heard from them before. The music is just more straightforward and vapid than before, as exemplified in the extremes of the two songs "Everything" and "Refuse". The former is trying to be melodic, simple and accessible but ultimately ends up just being monotonous and boring while the latter song, while better (and showing more of the style and potential of their previous work) is trying to be technically complex, clever, quirky and relevant but fails to ever engage the listener with its weak melodies and confusing shifts that feel as if they're more for the sake of shifting than for the effort of providing some constructive concrete structure for us to comprehend and maneuver within. 

Try as I might--over and over, in fact--there is nothing on this album that draws me back for repeated listening--whereas with 2017's Edit Peptide and their original debut release way back in 2001, Such Fine Particles in the Universe, there is so much joy, fun, and memorable music pulling me back time and again. (Both albums have earned--and sustained--firm places in my top 20 Album lists for their respective years.) Turf Ascension is a big disappointment for a much anticipated album and highly respected band. Perhaps they just didn't have the time and ability to truly focus and put their hearts into this one as they seemed to for their previous two.




ED WYNNE Tumbling Through the Floativerse

Ozrics Tentacles founder/leader Ed Wynne teams up with his Dutch counterpart, Gre Vanderloo, to put out an album that is every bit as Ozrics as anything Ozrics ever tentacled. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ed Wynne / guitar, synthesizers
- Gre Vanderloo / synthesizers, effects
- Silas Neptune / synthesizers
- Paul Klaessen / bass

1. "Oilyvoice" (6:27) a little faster paced than typical OT songs, making it lose some of its room for information (and appeal). Kind of like a parody of itself. (8.25/10)

2. "Seen the Sun" (11:41) disco Ozrics. I don't care much for the first several layers/motifs, but it gets better in the second minute, even moreso in the third and fourth. Overall solid song. A top three song. (17.5/20)

3. "Magnetoforia" (5:49) space dreamy sounds at the beginning sound/feel a little dated (like 1980s New Age). Improves a little with layers. Amazing that those drums aren't real drums! (8.5/10)

4. "Pelmonauts" (6:37) lush pre-desert Saharan jungle dreamscape turns into contemplative journey through the jungle--on foot and on quadruped. Nice. Great use of layering--especially with the bass line and female voices. A top three song for me. (9/10)

5. "Floating Plates" (7:12) too familiar. Don't like the Reggae beat foundation or vocals. (12.5/15)

6. "Infinity Curtains" (6:19) opens with a Prog Electronic sound and feel. Again, it's hard to believe that these drum sounds aren't coming from a real drum kit. Again, it's just too Ozrics familiar--like it's been done. Nice bass line switch at the two-minute mark. The song does switch motifs and pacings a couple times, which is nice (and unusual), so kudos here. (8.5/10)

7. "Starseeds" (9:17) synths and metallic percussives open this for the first minute before drums and bass line establish themselves and the foundational core. Full of subtleties that make this much more interesting than any of the other songs on the album: with this song, it's not about the groove and pace, it's about the delicate nuances. I love hearing the jazzy JAN AKKERMAN-like guitar strums of complex chord sequences within/beneath the music. Another top three song for me. (18/20)

Total Time 53:22

To me, the most astonishing part of this album are the drum play on "Infinity Circles" and, to a lesser degree, "Magnetoforia" and "Starseeds." They're just too real to be synthesized! Otherwise, this feels like another Ozrics Tentacles album with very little in the way of new fresh ideas.

86.58 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.




ARENA The Theory of Molecular Inheritance

The 30-year old band of "NeoProggers" are back with another album, their tenth and first in four years. Thanks to the absolute perfect fit of power-singer Damian Wilson, this may be their best.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Damian Wilson / vocals
- John Mitchell / guitars, backing vocals
- Clive Nolan / keyboards, backing vocals
- Kylan Amos / bass
- Mick Pointer / drums

1. "Time Capsule" (5:30) incredible vocal performance--perhaps the best I've ever heard from prog veteran Damian Wilson. (9.5/10)

2. "The Equation (The Science of Magic)" (6:29) rather dull despite the excellent final 90 seconds. (8.25/10)

3. "Twenty-One Grams" (6:34) stereotypic drum play beneath the heavy verses but not in the more delicately textured soundscapes in the choruses. Another nice vocal performance from Damian. (8.667/10)

4. "Confession" (2:20) sounds a bit Broadway theatric. Perhaps Damian has done Phantom or Cats. (4.25/5)

5. "The Heiligenstadt Legacy" (5:42) a story song with wide dynamic range, it sounds so much like a classic rock song by JOURNEY or BON JOVI or something like that (I wouldn't really know: I was never a fan or collector of that kind of music). (8.5/10)

6. "Field of Sinners" (6:27) has a cinematic quality as well as a Thin Lizzy "Jailbreak" sound and feel to it. Nice guitar work from John Mitchell. I'm a little tired of these "borrowed" drum tracks: its as if Mick Pointer plays from programs injecting little or none of his own personality into his performances. When Damian is belting it he sounds so (too) much like some classic rock singer from the 1980s (if not Phil Lynott). (I'm too tired and lazy and disinterested to find out who.) A solid song with nice textures and layers but nothing new or special here. (8.75/10)

7. "Pure of Heart" (6:18) Standard heavy prog with a 1980s Power Rock/Metal sound and feel. (8.5/10)

8. "Under the Microscope" (6:51) perfectly matched music and vocal performance for the first two minutes before a PINK FLOYD "Comfortably Numb" chorus takes over. Speeding along after that is  some excellent racing prog with both Clive and John firing on all cylinders. (13/15)

9. "Integration" (4:48) Damian singing some very powerful lyrics about the topic of nature v. nurture over piano and later synth. At the end of the third minute, Damian finishes, releasing the hounds to express themselves in a kind of Clive Nolan-dominated Scottish reel. Very Tony Banks/Genesis-like. (8.75/10)

10. "Part of You" (5:54) Damian sings "the world has done" over pulsing keyboard "strings" for the first minute before a more metal bass musical soundscape establishes itself as the foundation for the rest of the song. Like an old LOVERBOY song. Too cliché. (8.33/10)

11 "Life Goes On" (5:11) piano chord arpeggi are joined by Damian for a little intro before the rest of the band joins in. The music is rather unexceptional, the lyrics obtuse to me, and John Mitchell's solo is seasoned and fiery. The band ramps up for the final 90 seconds with its choral repetition of the song's title. A very solid studio song. (8.667/10)

Despite being the most likable Arena album I've heard (so far, I've only heard The VisitorImmortal? and Contagion), this is, to my ears, nothing more than splicing and dicing of recapitulated sounds and riffs from past masters with a great singer singing about topics more relevant to current times. 

86.52 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very good addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially for the masterful performances of singer Damian Wilson. 




SIIILK Eemynor

A French band that only came into my awareness by way of their excellent 2017 release, Endless Mystery, though they've been around since at least 2011.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Richard Pick / vocals, handpan
- Catherine Pick / Indian vocals, harmonium
- Gilbert Gandil / acoustic & electric guitars
- Jacques Roman / keyboards, sounds
- Guillaume Antonicelli / bass
- Clement Vullion / drums
With:
- Alain Chaléard / Iranian daf (1,4)
- Roland Richard / clarinet (6)
- Attilio Terlizzi / drums (5)

1. "Eemynor" (8:27) interesting Giancarlo Erra soundscape with Middle Eastern instruments and sounds peppering the sonic landscape. At the two-minute mark Gilbert Gandil's Fripp-ish "infinity guitar" (e-bow?) enters. Pretty. At 3:05 we switch to a plucked electrified acoustic guitar chord progression as the stark foundation. More blues rock-sounding guitar solos intermittently between and around Richard's whisper-sung vocal.  (17.5/20)

2. "Signs in the Sand" (9:40) Part One sounds like Steven Wilson's 1990s Porcupine Tree. (17.667/20)

3. "Burning Hopes" (4:52) graced by the gorgeous voice of Catherine Pick, this sounds a bit like a Scandanavian dream pop band--like something by Anna Järvinen or Stina Nordenstam. (8.75/10)
   
4. "Monsoon Lights" (4:49) dobro-like stringed instrument strummed with Indian woodwind (daf) while Richard and Pick perform a vocal duet. Their timing, unfortunately, is not very well synchronized. Nice music beneath, though. (8.5/10)

5. "Spandam" (4:42) opens with guitar picked like something rom PINK FLOYD's The Wall ("Goodbye Blue Sky"). In the second minute it ramps up with full band for a nice HACKETT-like guitar solo. Interesting how close this sounds to several other famous songs (including Crhis Isaak's "Wicked Game"). (8.667/10)

6. "Morning Rain" (5:12) picked and plucked electrified acoustic guitar descending chord sequence support vocals from both Richard and Catherine, alternating and together. Catherine's choruses have the support of the full band with drums; verses are sparse with only the complement of guitars and bass. Instrumental "C" section is sparse with "lonely" clarinet soloing over guitars and delicate cymbal play. (8.75/10)

7. "Song for Syd" (6:34) with the arrival of this very Tim Bowness (No-Man)- or Giancarlo Erra (NoSound)-like song I am reminded of the effect that those two respective artist's albums have on me: I enjoy the beautiful songs and soundscapes they present to the listener--tremendously--on an indivicual song-by-song basis but find myself getting quite fatigued and disinterested over the course of an entire album. Nice song but I'm starting to get fatigued. (8.667/10)

8. "Number 9" (3:18) a looped monastic-like chant opens the first minute of this song as walkie-talkie-like vocal samples plays within. A Harold Budd-like treated piano scape then takes over before more military-like radio talk and Tibetan-like chant loop return. I also really enjoy the computer clicking used for the percussion track. A cool, refreshingly innovative song. My favorite on the album. (9/10)

Total Time 47:34

Endless Mystery received my personal dedication as prog's "ear candy" album of 2017 and Eemynor falls right into the same vein but it's just not quite as compelling.

86.50 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




TIGER MOTH TALES A Song of Spring

Line-up / Musicians:
- Peter Jones / vocals, keyboards, drum programming, guitars, clarinet, recorder, ukulele, percussion
With:
- Andy Latimer / guitars

1. "Spring Fever" (6:52) song that starts out rather unremarkably but eventually earns its welcome and praise. A combination of TONY BANKS, ASIA, and 80s YES. Peter's compositional skills have certainly progressed: excellent development, nuances, and divertamento interspersed as the song goes along. (13.25/15)
2. "Forester" (7:51) /15)
3. Dance 'til Death (10:20) (/20)
4. Holi (2:46) (/5)
5. The Goddess and the Green Man (2:39) (/5)
6. "Mad March Hare" (4:00) a campy STEELY DAN feel opens this one. (Makes me miss Colin Tench.) The theatric vocal performance is pure Peter Gabriel circa 1973-4. (8.75/10)
7. Rapa Nui (7:34) (/15)
8. "Light" (15:25) simple, folk-pastoral with acoustic guitars and woodwinds over which Peter gives a DAVE LONGDON-like impassioned vocal. Nice build and fill to the Andy Latimer solo (/30)

Total Time 57:27




THE TANGENT Songs from the Hard Shoulder

Another massive album of millions of musical ideas, many borrowed, many from the mundane life of Andy Tillison and his merry little band of merry virtuosos, all smashed together this way and that (and sometimes other ways) into five songs. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Andy Tillison / vocals, keyboards
- Luke Machin / guitar, vocals
- Theo Travis / saxophone, flute
- Jonas Reingold / bass
- Steve Roberts / drums

1. "The Changes (17:06) after a rather moving reflective opening couple of verses, we get to Andy's view of life on the road. It sounds very nostalgic, though not as much fun since COVID-19 for these career musicians. The hooks are good, especially in the first five minutes, but then they become too fleeting: as if the band finds them but then gives them up for the next greatest idea. The musicianship is above excellent, but oft-times (as usual in Tangent work), it seems so for questionable reasons (I mean: does every musician always have to be performing at their top speed and with their most flashy stylings?) (30.75/35)

2. "The GPS Vultures" (17:01) Latin grooves to support a prog-jazz blend (aka: Jonas is busy!). Again, do these musicians, excellent each and everyone, really have to be soloing, showing off their flashiest chops, at every moment of these epic songs? Can't repeating motifs be established to allow the listener something to anchor one's self in? As usual, Andy (& Co.) flirt with imitation/borrowing other well known classic riffs, sounds, and themes to build upon, only oft-times they're too close for comfort--too much like the original. Then, how do you explain passages like the sixth and seventh minutes when it "appears" as if the band has broken down--where nothing flows, gels, or works. I suppose that's part of the "genius" of virtuosi: they can make any structure work … even chaos. Then they can fall into holes of such sappy styles like the blues-rock-by numbers passage in the tenth and eleventh minute, or the acoustic John McLaughlin jazz passage in the fourteenth. Again, the execution and performances are top notch (amphetamines included) just, kind of, over the top. And it's all instrumental! (30.25/35)

3. "The Lady Tied to the Lamp Post" (20:52) a very nice, melodic and emotional opening leads to a lot of choatic noodling. As much as the heart-string-pulling music and lyrics seem to come from Mark Johnson's THE THE sound and chordal palettes, this start is, for me, the most engaging and enjoyable part of the album. Unfortunately, in the second quarter of the song the composition strays from melodic niceties until the soft instrumental passage in the tenth minute. This is then broken up by an abrasive screaming saw-synth solo in the eleventh (which does get better over time, with repetition). A stripped down jazz-rock section is then peppered with space synth and spacey electric guitar bent-note play. Good section as delicate piano and hard snare hits move the song forward into more delicate, airy music over which Andy sings quite sensitively. At 14:10 we're back to full force and more of Andy's narrative singing of current events in his surroundings. (35.5/40)

4. "Wasted Soul" (4:40) a kind of Neo-R&B pop songs à la The Style Council or The Blow Monkeys with plenty of hits from the banks of computer horns. The chord progressions and melody line kind of follows the Keith Jagger David Bowie collaboration for the remake of "Dancing in the Streets." It seems as if old age is hitting Andy hard. (8/10) 

5." In the Dead of Night / Tangential Aura / Reprise" (16:11) * (a cover of the classic UK song from 1978 plus the Andy Tillison touch.) (I can see that some of these musicians might have tried making a living covering songs like this in their younger days.) I like the "Tangential Aura" jam all right (except for the drum machine sound of Steve's programmed drums). Then, in the Reprise, Luke has his best (most Allan Holdsworth-like) runs. (26.25/30)

Total Time 75:50

* bonus track on limited edition (U.K. cover)

86.25 (*87.167) on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an album of excellent musicianship with a busyness that is sometimes off-putting. At the same time, there is no denying the infectious charm of Mr. Andy Tillison's world perspective as well as my respect for his very sincere passion for music (and high standard of musicianship).




CHEER-ACCIDENT Here Comes the Sunset

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dante Kester / snarlbass (1), bassbass (3,6), electricity (4)
- Amelie Morgan / keyboards (3,4), oboe (6)
- Jeff Libersher / guitar (1,3,4,6)
- Mike Hagedorn / trombone (3)
- Carmen Armillas / vocals (3), backing vocals (1)
- Cory Bengtsen / baritone saxophone (1)
- Julie Pomerleau / violin (2), viola (2)
- Sophia Uddin / violin (3)
- Erin Casey / flute (4)
- Thymme Jones / drums, vocals (1,3,4,6), keyboards (1,2,4-6), trumpet (1,4,5), mouth trumpet (4), chair (4)

1. "Star Vehicle (4 Flats)" (5:22) (8.25/10)
2. "Maison de Velours Écureuil" (3:21) one of my favorite "dance tunes" of 2022. (9.5/10)
3. "Dream Police" (5:58) (8/10)
4. "Here Comes the Sunset" (5:07) (8.75/10)
5. "Les Vandales de Paris" (3:18) (8.75/10)
6. "Then Again" (6:32) (8.5/10)

Total Time 29:38

86.25 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection; perhaps rated down for brevity (really more like an EP).




DAAL Daedelus

Italy's RUSH-like soundtrack masters, DAvide Guildoni and ALfio Costa are back with their first album since 2018 (Navels Falling into a Living Origami).

Line-up / Musicians:
- Alfio Costa / keyboards, noises
- Ettore Salati / electric guitars
- Bobo Aiolfi / fretless basses
- Davide Guidoni / acoustic & electronic drums & percussion, keyboards, noises

1. "Journey Through the Spiral Mind Part 1" (14:10) reminiscent of past DAAL works, this one seems unfinished and unenthusiastic. I don't feel any connection to any "spiral mind." I like, however, the band's choice to return to less-treated, more analog-sounding sound engineering choices. Bravo! 
     Halfway through, we get an almost full shift in sound, textures, style and mood with lots of cacophonous guitar, industrial synths, and untethered drumming before things settle down into a rather meditative synth & organ passage at the end of the tenth minute. This then yields into a piano-supported section in which guitar, bass, and Mellotron take over as the lead instruments (with drums right there with them). Very nice melody-supporting chord progression here. (26/30)

2. "Icarus Dreams" (7:30) Active human drumming beneath more conservative, slowed down "21st Century Schizoid Man" chords and soundscape. If the sophistication of the drumming were only matched by the other instruments. (12.75/15)

3. "Painting Wings" (9:22) slow, simple MIDI keyboard arpeggi and chords leave one thinking this is a contemplative play by an artist alone with his keyboard. Near the end of the second minute saw and two-note guitar arpeggi join in with bass to give this a little more chordal structure and progression. Bridge at 3:!3 into heavy organ-centric VDGG-like passage is not weak, clichéed--as is the organ play. Some Crimsonian chord progressions and sound palette follow. At the six-minute mark the full soundscape retracts to the second motif with saw and guitar, bass, and keyboard arpeggi woven together into a simple fabric. Song deconstructs nearly symmetrically to the opening. (16.25/20) 

4. "Labyrinth 66 Part 1 & 2" (13:07) sinister and old (1970s) sounding, like GOBLIN, the music slowly develops into a zombi-paced nighttime scavenger hunt with boots-marching, metallic clanging, harpsichord-imitation, and saw-synths, establishing quite a somber cinematic walk through the cemetery. Part 2 sees a shift into jazz-rock mode with heavy use of Mellotron and arpeggi coming from every which way. I very much like the old "analog" sound of this piece as a whole. Calming "flute" and searing electric guitar take off at the same moment, providing quite an interesting contrast--with a third droning electric guitar later added to complicate the mix. Interesting! Very cinematic. Well done! Definitely my favorite song on the album. (22.5/25) 

5. "In My Time of Shadow" (6:30) Too conservative and controlled; everybody feels confined and expressionless. Nice guitar work in both the "strings" passage and the wah-guitar section. I also like the fretless bass play. Melodies make such a difference for me--to a song's likability--and this one I like. (Cool video!) (8.75/10)

6. "Journey Through the Spiral Mind Part 2" (7:51) solo electric guitar strums through the chord progression established in the second half of the album's opening song, "Journey Through the Spiral Mind Part 1." When the full compliment of rock instruments join in it sounds quite a little like the final song of the film score to 1981 James Caan film, Thief, "Confrontation" (a song credited to Craig Safan due to Tangerine Dream's completion of their own commitments to the soundtrack.) At 2:40 we get a full transition into a Emerson, Lake and Palmer-like passage. Then we hear more GOBLIN-like references from a piano riff before the music settles into a more typical, plodding DAAL section until 6:30 when a pretty solo Mellotron passage takes over to the song (and album's) aqueous end. (12.5/15)

Total Time 58:30

Bonus tracks from limited edition:
7. Minotaur (4:36)
8. Sunrise (7:06)
9. Moonrise (6:34)

I like the "live" in the studio sound and feel of the drums. I don't like the conservative, Math Rock-like structures of the rest of the music: it's as if the musicians are trapped into the forms of the song's chord structures with little of no freedom to express individuality (except for the drummer).

85.869 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very nice addition to any prog lover's music collection.




TONY PATTERSON & DOUG MELBOURNE Dark Before Dawn

The first release to come from Tony that I've heard since his 2016 solo masterpiece, Equations of Meaning.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Tony Patterson / lead & backing vocals, piano, synthesizers, church organ, flute, acoustic & electric guitars, programming, string arrangements
- Doug Melbourne / piano, keyboards, programming, backing vocals (3)
With:
- Nigel Appleton / drums, acoustic guitar, percussion (8)
- Carrie Melbourne / backing vocals (3), Chapman Stick (6)
- Steve Anderson / lead guitar (1)
- Tina Guo / cello (7)

1. "Maybe" (3:48) good opener. The music is a little more insistent and then pop-jazzy than I was expecting. Nice vocal sound. (I like it when Tony sings in his upper registers: it's just very soothing/comforting.) I don't really like the chorus, thought. (8.75/10)

2. "My Happy Place" (4:53) nice synth orchestral sound/arrangement. This is not the only song on the album that conjures up the feeling of the presence of jazz stylist MICHAEL FRANKS. (8.667/10)

3. "Flags" (3:40) sounds like the same chord progression as the previous song, only using Spanish guitar instead of keyboard synths. Nice background vocals and synth strings arrangements.(8.75/10)

4. "Leaving" (3:32) a very nice song that builds beautifully. (8.875/10)

5. "Old School Tie" (4:10) a fun little romp back into the pop sooth jazz of the late 1970s/early 1980s in the vein of NARADA MICHAEL WALDEN and others of his ilk. (8.75/10)

6. "Burn the Skies" (5:06) nothing very special here. Even the presence of the ChapmanStick offers nothing very exciting.(8.5/10)

7. "Stopping Time" (4:05) an electric piano-accompanied song that sounds very much like it came out of a PETER GABRIEL song. Nice but rather ordinary. (8.25/10)

8. "Reach Out" (6:55) despite the "Eminence Front" rhythmic keyboard pattern, this is another song that never really climbs out of its rut of second gearishness: three and a half minutes of intro before it clicks into third as a PETER GABRIEL clone! The chorus is pleasant, but the PG similarities are rather annoying--as much for their lack of originality as for their sappy-syrupy quality. (12.5/15)

9. "Dark Before Dawn" (5:00) another song that is way too close to PETER GABRIEL's musical past. (8.33/10)

10. "Come Home (for Angela)" (2:20) sounds like Peter Jones---in voice, music, and lyrics. (4.25/5)

Total Time 43:29

Definitely an album of synth pop / dream pop / jazz pop. Too bad Tony's voice is sounding so much older than he did on his 2016 masterpiece, Equations of Meaning. The vulnerability of his now-frail-sounding voice sometimes works as an advantage but the soundscapes miss the lushness his vocals and multi-track, reverbed voice had on Equations

85.625 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; an enjoyable album that I would only recommend to lovers of melodic Peter Gabriel-like prog pop. 




GANDALF'S FIST Widdershins

More 1970s worship from Cumbria's #1 Tolkien tribute band.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Dean Marsh / lead vocals, guitar, banjo, mandolin
- Luke Severn / lead vocals, keyboards, narration, percussion
- Stefan Hepe / drums
- Keri Farish / vocals
- Ben Bell / synths, vocals
- Chris Ewen / bass

1. "Sacrament" (7:04) Heard it before. In 1972. By URIAH HEEP or BLUE ÖYSTER CULT, I'm not sure which. I think both. Or maybe Spinal Tap. Nice rendition. Nice gritty Hammond. A band who owes a lot to late 1970s THIN LIZZY and AC/DC. (12.25/15)

2. "Widdershins" (13:32) pretty solo piano opens this one. (Is it in D minor like "Lick My Love Pump"?) Singer Keri Farish gets the first shot at lead vocal. It's a sincere attempt at storytelling that she's emoting over. At the end of the third minute the full band kicks in, establishing a steady sonic landscape that sounds as if it came right out of a theatric stage production from the West End. Keri continues her sincere Yvonne Elliman performance. Little heavy musical interlude in the seventh minute before downstepping to a slow piano-led chord progression for the eighth in which guitarist Dean Marsh lays down a decent solo with some David Gilmour/John Sykes panache. Mid ninth minute we're up and running again. More fun Hammond soloing in the 13th minute before everything stops for 30 seconds of odd quiet time. I guess they were just giving time for the audience to offer some warm applause. (26/30) 

3. "The Haruspex" (8:26) a heavier, spooky Hammond-dominated opening is paused for odd sprite-like synth noises before female 'tron choir banks enter and the real song is established for Keri Farish's heavily effected voice to sing. Very nice drumming, bass, and Hammond on this one. Guitar solo in the fifth and sixth minutes sounds just like Donald "Buck Dharma" Roeser. The vocals sound like Ozzie coming out of the body of Loverboy's Mike Reno. A top three song for me. (17.75/20)

4. "Dreamcatcher" (5:24) piano and jazzy fretless bass support Keri singing another sentimental vocal. Her emotions feel pretty heart-felt. (Good performance.) Nice ballad with fitting Whitesnake-like guitar wailing away. (8.75/10)

5. "Wisp" (6:56) opens with some rolling soundscape like a CURE song. Then Uillean pipes enter. Engaging melody established by the male lead singer for the first verse. This is followed by "Don't Fear the Reaper" guitar arpeggi with pipes for a brief bridge before returning to a fuller instrumental field for the second verse. The next bridge then goes for djenty power chords to establish a heavier sound before finally divulging the chorus within a medium-to-heavy weave. I feel as if I'm listening to a new take on BÖC's "I Love the Night." At 4:56 there is a stop before aggressively strummed acoustic guitar launches us into a Irish reel for the finale (with a different male vocalist--Luke?--in almost Ian Anderson-like). Interesting song. Another top three. (13.25/15)

6. "Man of Signs" (8:21) introspective piano and strummed electrified acoustic guitar open this once before male vocalist (and haunting Greek chorus choir) join in with their interesting vocal performance. A shift into fourth gear in the sixth minute provides a bouncy gallop for Marsh and Severn to duel their guitar and Hammond, respectively. The persistent dominant presence of the piano and acoustic guitar certainly give this one a different feel from the others. Weird end with bass and cymbal. Interesting. (17.5/20)

7. "Witchmonger" (4:18) another Celtic-infused song--the vocal is even organized like a folk song--with the whispery lead vocal of Dean Marsh. Not really a very good song--unless you like Fish-Marillion. (8.25/10)

8. "Cave" (19:45) all of the great sounds of the early pioneers of heavy rock/"Heavy Metal" in the proggy setting of 1980s compositional styles. I find the guitarist dueling with himself eighth minute laughable. And "Would you stir up Widdershins?" definitely deserves multiple repetitions and tubular bells. Isn't the arrangement in the 13th minute straight out of some classic song from the 1970s? Haven't puppet themes been worn out? Then a switch to "mediæval" mode for the 15th minute. Classic gothic storytelling! (Or else classic Spinal Tap.) And what's with the three-minute computer synth piano & strings piece tacked on to the end? Shouldn't this be listed as a separate song? (34/40)

Total Time 73:46

Well produced and, I'm sure, well-intended retro rock. Everything that was great about the 1970s pioneers of heavy rock is present here--including an outstanding, if familiar-sounding, lead vocalist. 

84.50 on the Fishscales = B-/3.5 stars; a nice addition to the retro-prog/rock loving music collector's music collection.




THE RYSZARD KRAMARSKI PROJECT Books That End in Tears (Duets Version)
(A remake of last year's release of the same title.) 

Nice melodic music which often This reminds me a lot of some of the missteps Robert Reed's MAGENTA project have taken when they've tried to render historical or cultural / literary themes into musical expression. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Karolina Leszko / vocals
- David Lewandowski / vocals
- Marcin Kruczek / guitar
- Krzysztof Wyrwa / bass
- Grzegorz Fieber / drums
- Ryszard Kramarski / keyboards, acoustic guitar

With:
- Zdzislaw "Bat" Zabierzewski / spoken words

1. "Lord of Flies" (12:15) uses PINK FLOYD's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond" with a Magenta- and Kate Bush-like perspective/attitude. The "We are lords of the flies" lyric, repeated over and over during the course of this 12-minute song, just sounds inappropriate. (I recall nowhere in the book that the boys felt themselves as such). Female vocalist Karolina Leszko possesses a gorgeous voice, but her approach to delivering the lyrics is so lackadaisical--even feeling at times as if she's bored or apathetic. The speed up in the seventh minute to provide a more exciting, dynamic bed for the instrumental solos (synth and electric guitar) does nothing to improve or impress--other than to confirm that Ryszard has, in fact, admirable David Gilmour imitative skills. (20/25)

2. "The Trial" (11:02) the most uptempo song on the album, presents some tension-filled blues-rock music (which reminds me for some reason of Chile's HOMÍNIDO) over which the two vocalists ramble on and on about Kafka's protagonist's predicament. The pace of the music is appreciated but gets pretty boring and monotonous over the course of ten minutes. While I do like the turn-taking approach to delivering the narrative (with Karolina's strong Eliana Valenzeula/Sara Aliani-like vocal)--but then my main complaint is that this sounds and feels just like that: a narrative rendering of the Cliff Notes synopsis of the story. Nice bluesy guitar solo in the fourth minute--but then it draws so much from both David Gilmour's "Time" solo as well as some other famous "rock standard" solo. The delicate seventh minute is a nice change. This song feels like it has so much promise and potential but just fails to develop and deliver on all counts--even those dynamic guitar soli and the transition to the delicate passages and the Pink FLOYD themes over the second half can save it: they keep returning to that format of the first half. (16.25/20)

3. "1984" (12:51) uses The Eagles' "Hotel California" for its musical base while David and Karolina trade narrative singing. Again I am so reminded of Robert Reed and Christina Booth the Magenta albums of the past decade. Definitely a big step forward in the lyrical department--this time using "Look out, Big Brother is watching" as the repeated mantra throughout and having David and Karolina represent Winston and Julia, respectively, but that all-too-familiar musical backdrop is rather distracting/detracting. Ryszard's dynamic guitar play are nice distractions--as is the "Run Like Hell" rhythm track used to back the motif in the song's middle section--but the constant sameness of David and Karolina's vocal deliveries often gets a little boring. The delicate "never see you now" passage is a nice break--followed by another nice Ryszard guitar solo--but then we're back to "Hotel California" and the same vocal melodies repeated ad nauseum. (21.75/25) 
 
4. "Animal Farm" (11:47) singing about an animal rebellion (against humans) and the details of the political contract you've negotiated among your fellow farm animals--not your most exciting subject for a musical expression. After yet another duet delivery of the story by David Lewandowski and Karolina Leszko I'm reminded of the Broadway play, "Hamilton." Is Ryszard feeling inspired to offer to his fellow humans an alternate, more-accessible entertainment form for the telling of these amazing stories--in hopes of, perhaps, helping the stories (and their ground-breaking ideas) reach a wider audience?
     The musical foundation this time feels like a cross between more Hotel California-like chord progressions and pacing (there's even a "Hotel California" melody blended with "Comfortably Numb" in the final guitar solo of the song!) with with a little more Richard Wright chord play in the keyboard department and Roxy Music's "True to Life" melodies. 
     This song just confirms for me how far superior are the elements of poetry for musical storytelling than straight narrative prose. (21.5/25)

5. "The Little Match Girl" (7:28) a very pleasant, engaging beginning is diminished a bit by a kind of hokey guitar play during the chorus section. Sensitive guitar solo in the long instrumental bridge before the second verse begins. A more fiery guitar solo in the second extended "bridge". Nice. I like the way the lyrics of this one are not as synoptic but, instead, expressive of the story's mood. (13.25/15)

Total Time 55:23

I have to commend Ryszard for some nice sound engineering throughout--one of the album's saving graces. I just wish the music--especially the foundational stuff--was more original, less monotonous in long stretches, and more complex.
The music is nice though never complex or exciting (all performances good, with nothing virtuosic or complex enough to displaying the musicians' skills [or not]). One of my ratings principles has always been to compare the music and product being reviewed to my own skills and talents: I ask myself "Could I do as well or better?" and this is one of those rare occasions in which I think that I might just have been able to "do it better"--at least on the conceptual/compositional level. Another criterion is whether or not the music contributes to making the world a better place than it was before (or without) it. The efforts Ryszard and company put into this album release may, in fact, contribute to making the the world a better place--except for the possibility that a better male English-speaking singer might have served the story retellings better than David Lewandoswki and Zdzislaw "Bat" Zabierzewski. These are stories that were originally published in English, German, and Russian and should, in my opinion, perhaps have been rendered/delivered as such by this project. Also, though imitation is a high form of complement, I really wish Ryszard had been more original instead of synthetic in his musical output here. 

84.32 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; a nice-sounding product with some great David Gilmour-like guitar soloing, but the verbal and kinetic realization of the band's ideas seem weak, not as satisfying as, say, the Colossus Magazine/Musea Records literary interpretation commissions.





KARCIUS Grey White Silver Yellow & Gold

An interesting foray into Heavy Prog from these former jazz-rockers from Québec.  

Line-up / Musicians:
- Sylvain Auclair / lead vocals, bass, percussion
- Simon L'Espérance / guitars, synths, percussion, keyboards, loops programming
- Sébastien Cloutier / piano, B3, Mellotron, backing vocals
- Thomas Brodeur / drums & percussion, programming & sound design

1. "Parasite" (6:06) could be any heavy metal band from the 1980s--especially with that overly familiar lead vocalist. (7.75/10)

2. "Supernova" (5:58) taking the band into a more delicate palette of instrumental sounds really works for these guys; it's awesome to hear the piano, acoustic guitars, and more delicate side of Sylvian's voice. A top three song for me. (8.75/10)

3. "The Ladder" (13:46) solid heavy rock with an interesting construction. (24.5/30)

4. "Cosmic Rage" (7:05) starting from the softer, more spacious side works better for this band. Still so familiar--so much like the many "hair metal" bands I'd heard in the 1980s and 90s. (12/15)

5. "Distance Kills" (8:03) interesting Peter Gabriel Passion-like opening leads into a more smooth, easier to engage with full bloom. A top three song for me. (13/15)

6. "A Needle Tree" (15:23) once it gets going (1/3 of the way into it) it sounds like classic heavier BIG BIG TRAIN, MAD CRAYON's Preda, MYRATH, and PINK FLOYD. If this song hadn't taken so long to get started, I would have called this the best song on the album. (26/30)

Total Time 56:21

83.64 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; a good if inconsistent and sometimes monotonous collection of heavy prog from some very competent musicians.




KAPRECKER'S CONSTANT The Murder Wall

Straight-tempo NeoProg Folk storytelling in the Spirogyra tradition, only simplified, prettier--not so raw.

Line-up / Musicians:
- David Jackson / saxophones, flutes, whistles
- Mark Walker / drums & percussion
- Bill Jefferson / vocals, backing vocals
- Dorie Jackson / vocals, backing vocals, vocal arrangements
- Mike Westergaard / piano, keyboards, backing vocals
- Al Nicholson / guitars, piano, keyboards
- Nick Jefferson / basses, keyboards
With:
- Judie Tzuke / vocals (6)

1. "Prologue" (4:57) melodic and dramatic, but so simplistic. NeoProg-by-the-numbers. (8.5/10)

2. "Theme - Hall of Mirrors" (2:23) the music here opens with a processional that sounds like it comes from a children's television show--until the soprano saxophone enters. Embarrassingly simplistic. (4/5)
3. "Tall Tales by Firelight" (5:00) like a story recitation with a live soundtrack from a band of minstrels from a Renaissance faire. Turns into an AL STEWART song as piano and, later, sax and electric guitar soli are added. (8.25/10)

4. "Failure Takes Care of Its Own" (4:21) piano continuing its play and theme from the previous song over which the soothing voice of Dorie Jackson tells another story. As the rest of the band joins, they form a decent tapestry of sound. (8.25/10)

5. "Another Man's Smile" (6:02) a simplistic early-Genesis/Strawbs/Gentle Giant NeoProg soundscape supports a story about a man with a broken tooth in his smile. While I enjoy the mix of instruments used to create the musical weave, the songs is just so simple and dull. Nice background vocal work/arrangements. (8.5/10)

6. "Years to Perfect" (2:30) nice long intro slowly builds. This is gorgeous. Guest vocalist Judie Tzuke has a great, wispy-raspy voice. A top three song. (4.5/5)

7. "Hope in Hell" (3:00) more NeoProg pseudo folk, this is a lot like or Heather Findlay and Dave Kerzner's MANTRA VEGA project in 2016. (4.25/5)

8. "Victorious" (6:13) more simplistic soft pop rock to support another story. Bill Jefferson sounds exactly like Spirogyra's Martin Cockerham. The song is so straightforward three- and four-chord pop prog. Nice chorus and pipes. Earworm memorable. (8.5/10)

9. "The Rain Shadow" (2:07) another SPIROGYRA-like song that does nothing if you don't hear the lyrics. (4/5)

10. "Third Man Down" (7:20) long, dull intro turns to electric piano to lead into the Strawbs-like melody and story. Bill's voice here sounds like a cross between Roger Waters and Dave Cousins (or Guy Manning and Andy Tillison). The all-in following of the melody line wouldn't be so if it weren't being so insistently drummed into our heads. I do admit that I prefer this style of song construction and presentation with the smooth vocals, but at times this causes the effect of losing it's progginess. Wonderful final 90 seconds. A top three song for me. (13.25/15)

11. "A Silent Drum" (5:00) built on the melody of the previous song, anachronistic Prog Folk instrumentation establishes the structure and soundscape before rhythm section and singer Dorie Jackson join in. The chorus vocals switch over to Bill's Martin Cockerham styling. A slightly more interesting/complex song than what one might have heard trying to enter the Top of the Pops back in the late 1960s. (Think music from the Broadway musical Godspell.) (8.25/10)

12. "The Stormkeeper's Daughter" (3:28) over strummed 12-string and piano accompaniment, Dorie's multi-tracked voice establishes a pleasant melody that, unfortunately, sounds quite familiar (from one of this album's previous songs). Wind instruments, simple drums & bass, and, later, orchestra strings embellish and fill as does Dorie's melodic and harmonic journey. One of the better constructed songs here. (8.5/10)

13. "A World Beyond Man" (3:44) folk guitars woven together to set up another saccharine Prog Folk story presentations. As the soundscape fills and expands, a bombast is on display unlike any of the album's previous songs. But then it returns to the simple folk weave for Dorie and Bill's beautifully performed twin-voiced performance. I don't like the bombast, but I love the sensitive, well-synchronized vocal performance. A top three song for me. (8.5/10)

14. "The Stormkeeper's Reprise" (3:48) just as it says, but this version has a bit of a MOSTLY AUTUMN country twang to it. It does nothing to expand the story--but fulfills a predictable format if one were building a full musical for stage performance. Gives the musicians a chance to unwind before the dénouement and big finish. (8/10)

15. "Endeavour" (3:43) opens sounding like a 1980s Bruce Springsteen or Bruce Hornsby song. After a minute of waiting for development and further exposition, one begins to get the feeling that this is going to be an instrumental. Bruce Hornsby songs are far more interesting and developed than this. (7.75/10)

16. "Mountaineers" (4:58) so simple and straighforward! One would think that the storytellers/ composers would be much more enthusiastic and persuasive about their subject matter as we get to the end. But this feels so lackluster! (8/10)

17. "Hall of Mirrors" (6:15) Starts out with the same tired, lackluster performances and construction of the previous song before gradually (finally) building to a crescendo of enthusiasm--but then it all gets so muddled! (You'd think the world would have learned one thing from Big Big Train!) (8/10)

Total Time 74:49

The length and density of this album has kept me busy trying to get to know it so that I can write a proper review. Obviously inspired by the success of fellow Brits, Big Big Train, this collection of tribute songs about some of the undersung heroes of human history--people that might be in danger of being lost--begs the question: Do we really need a bunch of songs about the failed attempts to climb the north face of the Eiger? Melodic but so simplistic. Despite the thematic intent, at times I found such cheesie music/songs making me feel embarrassed for the musicians. (Don't worry: I've had the same sensation for songs by BBT, Mostly Autumn, Mantra Vega, and Magenta, as well.) Were I more attuned to lyrical content, perhaps I would like and appreciate this more. Also, I don't quite understand how the band allowed the final four to flatten out the mood and enthusiasm for their subject matter.

83.22 on the Fishscales = C+/3.5 stars; as an offering of pleasant Prog Folk music, this is nice. As a tribute to some forgotten or overlooked era or event in history, it can probably be ignored. As a demonstration of the potential and actualization of the artist expression of progressive rock music, I consider this is rather prosaic.




FREN All The Pretty Days

The second full-length studio album from this collective from Poland.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oskar Cenkier / piano, organ, synthesizer, Mellotron
- Michał Chalota / guitars
- Andrew Shamanov / bass, synthesizers
- Oleksii Fedoriv / drums & percussion
- Fren / vocals (6)

1. "Hammill" (6:06) the reference is obvious. Though instrumental, the phrasing is quite like Peter Hammill's vocal pace and style. Some don't seem to hear it, but I feel this is a rather direct emulation of Hammilltonia--a place I appreciate but do not often feel like hanging out. (8.75/10)

2. "Wiosna" (10:23) a nice heavier bass and piano chord progression opens this before softening and morphing at the end of the second minute for a bit before kicking back into a support groove for some adventurous lead guitar work. Technically, I'm not so very impressed with these musicians, but they do have a penchant for creating engaging if simple groove melodies. Soft again at the end of the fourth miunute for the usual 45 seconds--allowing the drummer some show time (he's much better keeping time than soloing)--before settling back into some PINK FLOYDian SOUP-like spacious groove. Nice STEVEN WILSON guitar tone in the second half of the ninth minute. (Is it Steven?) There just seems as if there could have been so much more development and flash in this song. (17.25/20)

3. "Romantik" (9:31) interesting use of fast echo effect on piano for establishing opening foundation--and for building the first 2:20. Then we rock before we jazz swing. (I hear the "Take Five" motif another reviewer mentioned!) Then we use the piano echo to create a kind of classical base over which the rest of the band creates a kind of reactive cinematic pastiche. Despite the electric guitar taking over the lead, it's the echoing piano that continues to draw one's attention. A curious albeit creative song.(17.5/20)

4. "Bajka" (3:04) melodrama. Like Richard Wright and Elton John. (8.5/10)

5. "All the Pretty Days" (11:40) for the first four minutes, piano and cymbal play support a prolonged bass solo. Then tempo sows down to a snails pace as main themes/motif continues but then gets built upon by guitars and synths--turning into a proper weave. Nice chord changes but, ultimately, kind of a boring, too-repetitive song--I mean, it's not until the tenth minute that we finally get a change in the four-chord progression used by the piano from the start--and it's not even that great of a crescendo/climax! (17/20)

6. "Turque (24:23) like a collection of themes offered in tribute to a variety of early rock icons and film soundtrack artists. Some really dated sounds, styles, and passages--all showing more a respect and reverence without any virtuosity, dexterity, or talent (meaning, virtually any music-loving, equipment-rich garage band could've practiced and spliced these themes together. Quite unimpressive and even dull. Still, the theme developed in the fifteenth and sixteenth minute does suck one in nicely until turing to blatantly into something TD/FLOYDian. (38.5/50)

Total Time 65:07

82.69 on the Fishscales = C/three stars; a good album that many prog lovers will like for background music and for conjuring up some nostalgic memories.




ROSALIE CUNNINGHAM 
Two Piece Puzzle

Theatrical Prog Cabaret of the bluesy-sultry raven form. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Rosalie Cunningham / vocals, guitars, bass, Hammond organ, piano, Mellotron, percussion
- Antoine Piane / drums
With:
- Ric Sanders / violin

1. "Start with the Corners (2:45) (8.25/10)
2. "Donovan Ellington (5:39) (8.5/10)
3. "Donny, Pt. Two (3:39) (8.5/10)
4. "The War" (0:54) I gotta admit, she's entertaining! (4.5/5)
5. "Duet" (7:25) Rosalie's vamp version of "Monkberry Delight"? Definintely some "look at me" story-telling. (13.25/15)
6. "Tristitia Amnesia" (7:08) very unusual theatric song. (12/15)
7. "Scared of the Dark" (3:35) Rosalie's QUEEN "Killer Queen" tribute (8/10)
8. "God Is a Verb" (1:34) the music is just a vehicle for Rosalie's clever lyrics. (4.25/5)
9. "Suck Push Bang Blow (5:09) This is the Rosalie I remember: raunchie blues-rock á la Alannah Miles "Black Velvet." (8/10)
10. "The Liner Notes" (6:34) Rosalie's rip off of VAN MORRISON's "Moondance." (/10)
11. Number 149 (4:09) *
12. Fossil Song (4:43) *

Total Time 53:14

* bonus tracks (not on LP)

I admit that the songs are cleverly constructed, the theatric vocal performances riveting and cleverly written, I just don't like blues-rock! And I don't like such blatant rip offs of other people's hits.




KIKAGAKU MOYO Kumoyo Island


Line-up / Musicians:
- Tomo Katsurada / vocals, guitars
- Daoud Popal / guitars
- Ryu Kurosawa / sitar
- Kotsu Guy / bass
- Go Kurosawa / drums, vocals

1. Monaka (5:15)
2. Dancing Blue (6:14)
3. Effe (3:22)
4. Meu Mar (6:07)
5. Cardboard Pile (4:06)
6. Gomugomu (2:04)
7. Daydream Soda (3:25)
8. Field of Tiger Lillies (1:19)
9. Yayoi, Iyayoi (6:58)
10. Nap Song (2:58)
11. Maison Silk Road (6:20)

Total Time 48:08







HANNAH PEEL & PARAORCHESTRA The Unfolding

The Unfolding is another expression of music that I would categorize as "possible future musics." Hannah Peel is an innovative thinker (and talented singer!) with truly visionary perspectives of the possibilities for orchestral musics. Thanks, Epileptic Gibbon for turning me onto this amazing artist and her game-changing album!

Line-up / Musicians:
Conducted by Charles Hazlewood
Vocals - Victoria Oruwari
Vocals - Hannah Peel
Alto Flute and Flute - Chloe Vincent
Recorders - James Risdon
Bb Clarinet - Guy Passey
Bass Clarinet - Lloyd Coleman
Bassoon - Linton Stephens
Percussion - Harriet Riley
Drums - Jonny Leitch
Synths & Electronics - Hannah Peel
Programming (track 2) - Kincaid
Cello 1 -Tom Wraith
Cello 2 - Hattie McCall Davies
Double bass - Patrick Phillip

1. "The Universe Before Matter" (10:58)
2. "Wild Animal" (3:55) an instrumental whose tribal dance rhythms make me think of Norwegian culture blending artists Marit Elisabeth Svendsbøe Stedje and Gaute Stedje (FUNIN and STILLEHAVET). (8.75/10)
3. "Passage" (5:22) the impact and presence of orchestral instruments is really felt on this one. Even the structure and sound palette feel classically-derived. Victoria/Hannah's angelic wordless vocalise renders into the category of Elgar, Delius, Stanford, and Britten. Beautiful. (9.5/10)
4. "The Unfolding" (5:47) this beautiful song sounds similar to the music of Wim Mertens. After the more calming opening three minutes the vocal and strings expand as if metamorphosizing into something bigger, fuller, new. (8.875/10)
5. "If after Weeks of Early Sun" (4:16) a fast drive down the coastal roads of the British Isles. Percussion, electronic beats, and spaced out symphonic triplets drive this music to a Thelma and Louise finish. (8.667/10)
6. "Perhaps It Made Us Happy for a Minute" (4:17) deep dark soundscape coming from the big/deep registered instruments of the orchestra (cello, bassoon, bass clarinet, double bass). (8.677/10)
7. "We Are Part Mineral" (6:06) bird-chirping female human voices orchestrated in a minimalist fashion. 
8. "Part Cloud" (10:31) part Klaus Schulze, part Christian Fennesz or Alva Noto (/20)
9. "The Unfolding Credits" (2:19)






IN-DREAMVIEW Spires

Excellent instrumental Post Rock from this New Jersey-based band.

Line-up / Musicians:
Matt Stober - electric guitar, vibraphone, glockenspiel, acoustic guitar, piano
Ben Coniguliaro - drums, percussion
Quinn Coniguliaro - bass, fretless bass
Alex Verbickas - electric guitar
Peter Kim - cello

1. "Spires" (4:41) because of the prominence of the tuned percussion, I find this quite reminiscent of the Post Rock done by Chicago-based band ALGERNON. The song has quite a lively, upbeat mood to it, which is quite nice for the Post Rock sub-genre. (8.875/10)

2. "Tower" (4:03) more reminiscent of another Chicago-based Post Rock band, MONOBODY, but then shifts into ANATHEMA territory with its guitar melody in the transitional bridge to the more CASPIAN-like body of the song. I like this more upbeat, optimistic strain in Post Rock. Then it just kind of stops, ends without any resolution, warning, or fanfare. Odd. (8.75/10)

3. "Belfry" (5:28) a more math-rock "Discipline"-like weave to open things up into a more Texas-twang sounding Post Rock. (8.667/10)

4. "Pinnacles" (4:53) a refreshingly unusual palette of instrumental sounds leads into another more Math Rock weave but that's just the first first 90 seconds of the song. Things start to morph and shift after that to make things very interesting. The drums, in particular are quite animated and remarkable, as are the bass and vibraphone contributions, but it's those guitars that really get me. Great tune! (9/10)

5. "Steeple" (6:42)

6. "Obelisk" (8:34)

7. "Finial" (11:01)

It's been a minute since I've heard anything new in the Post Rock world that interested me and invited me to stay.






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