Sunday, November 13, 2022

Top Albums for the Year 2007, Part 2: The Near-Masterpieces

 Somewhere beneath the level of timeless masterpiece status lies a group of albums whose quality and merit deserve categorization of something like "near-masterpiece." These are albums that have either achieved a Fishermetric score of between 90.0 and 86.67 or whose high points or quality level make it remarkable enough to remain affixed in my memory.

From the Year 2007, you will find below six (6) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  



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



9. OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange

Wow! Combining high-powered, psychedelic rock and R & B like I've never heard it, Omar Rodriquez-Lopez--of THE MARS VOLTA fame--has created a monster of an album. Almost completely instrumental and, except for the guitar work and modern recording techniques, very reminiscent of lots of music and artists from the jazz fusion and electronic prog experimentalists fromt he 1970s.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Omar Rodriguez-Lopez / guitar 
- Juan Alderete / bass 
- Money Mark / keyboards, synthesizer 
- Adrián Terrazas-González / saxophone, clarinet 
- Marcel Rodriguez-Lopez / drums, percussion

1. "Melting Chariots" (3:51) starts off like something from a P-Funk album or TALKING HEADS' Remain in Light. The unusual staccato guitar solo is a quite inconsistent with the rest of the song's feel and sound. (8/10)

2. "Knee Deep in the Loving Hush of Heresy" (6:02) begins with ORNETTE COLEMAN-like free-for-all cacophony. The just as suddenly the music settles into a groove--an almost tongue-in-cheek 'sexy space' walk. The song flows intermmittently in and out of the opening cacophony, as well as into some stark bluesy sections. This sounds a lot like some of TODD RUNDGREN's wild sound/listener experiments from the 70s. The 'sexy space walk' jam is the overall dominant thread that keeps the song moving forward but there are many 'pauses' and 'interludes' into guitar and synthesizer 'tangents.' The song ends with a minute of straightforward heavy metal rock n roll. Interesting sonic and technical experimentation. (8/10)


3. "Jacob Van Lennepkade II" (18:25) is a wonderful multi-track (midi?) jam set over a very engaging, danceable groove laid down by the rhythm section. The occasional 'chorus' section is lead by saxophone melody--all the while the rhythm section keeps on groovin' away on the same pace, same riffs, same chords. The first five minutes are dominated by guitar(s) solo; second five by keyboard(s), third five by saxophone; and the final by guitars again. Awesome performances throughout. Great jam. (38/40)


4. "Fuerza de Liberacion" (5:33) begins with some odd synthesizer and vocal percussion 'noises.' At the one minute mark most of this fades away to be replaced by a kind of steady 'Carribbean' beat over which a heavily muted/treated male voice talks for over two minutes. Giving way to a multi-track guitar solo, beneath which the drummer--and then the keyboardist and saxophone player--has some real fun. The song's basic bass and keyboard structure remains steady and constant throughout. (8/10)


5. "Sparked From the Insult List" (6:08) is pure Latin groove rock--SANTANA at his jammin' best. Again, multi-track guitar (by which I mean that one guitar is being played but that it's sound is being channelled through two or more effects boxes and then into multiple recording tracks, giving it the feel that multiple instruments are being played). The presence of Rhodes-like keyboard and flute give this a very 1970s feel. Awesome feel and sound--one I can never get enough of. (10/10)


6. "Baby Fat" (2:47) has a very jazzy, KING CRIMSON feel to it--even down to the discordant free jam the song devolves into. (8/10)


7. "The Apocalypse Inside of An Orange" (11:14) is a true adventure in Psychedelic/Space Rock--even down to the "Indian" feel of the 'sitar' and bass sounds--a musical expression of pre-Big Bang (or post-apocalyptic) cosmic soup. It's actually quite entertaining and even engaging. (Again I am reminded of some of TODD RUNDGREN's work from the 70s--this time almost exactly like the middle 30 minutes of his 36 minute epic, "Treatise on Cosmic Fire"on Initiation). I quite like it! (17.75/20)


8. "Coma Pony" (6:36) is another throwback song, starting with a very cool, laid back jazz fusion (almost trip hoppy) groove set down by bass, drums, and very 60s/70s keyboard sound and style--over which the guitar again does his multi-track jamming. The ERIC GALE-like jazz guitar, BOB JAMES-like keyboard playing, TOM SCOTT/GROVER WASHINGTON-like sax play, and catchy melodies make this a very enjoyable and comfortable song--like a stroll through memory lane. (10/10)


Total Time: 60:36

Truly an exceptional album of adventurous music. Close to being a masterpiece; 89.79 on the Fish scales = definitely 4.5 stars.




10. ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE Black Tomato

Having released their debut only the year before, Black Tomato is notable for the tremendous growth in focus and song-writing skill the band has achieved. This is a tremendous album of truly engaging and trance-inducing Kosmische Musik. One of the 21st Century's best in this subgenre. Either of the long multi-part suites are stellar, "Rumble" (38:50) (72/80) or the title song (32:14) (59/65), and the finale, "Viking Cleaner" (6:29) (8/10) is a good one, too.

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



11. QUIDAM Alone Together

Polish NeoProgger's fifth studio album release and first without the full-time participation of lead singer Emila Derkowska (now Nazaruk). 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Bartek Kossowicz / lead & backing vocals
- Maciek Meller / guitars, backing vocals, co-producer
- Zbyszek Florek / keyboards, co-producer
- Jacek Zasada / flutes
- Mariusz Ziółkowski / bass, backing vocals
- Maciek Wróblewski / drums, percussion
With:
- Emila Nazaruk (Derkowska) / backing vocals (2)
- Piotr Nazaruk / xaphoon (1), zither (2)
- Piotr Rogóz / alto sax (6) 

1. "Different" (3:16) okay start, great end. (8.5/10)

2. "Kinds Of Solitude At Night" (6:00) great melodic hooks, solid, mature construct and palette. A great song--a top three for me. Nice to hear founding vocalist Emila Derkowska's beautiful voice again, if only in background support. (9.25/10) 

3. "Depicting Colours Of Emotions" (10:18) nice mellow song with many instances reminiscent of fellow Polish proggers, Collage. A near-perfect song. (19/20)

4. "They Are There To Remind Us" (7:49) trying to go heavier, the sound is decent, it just does work for me. These musicians are too talented to have to murk things up with power chords and heavy distortion. It's good when the acoustic instruments are allowed to shine--and when the electric guitar is let loose. (12.5/15)

5. "Of Illusions" (8:04) fast-moving and extremely tight throughout, just not the most interesting song; nothing stands out or grabs me. (12.25/15)

6. "We Lost" (8:26) a song that feels based on some MARILLION-like traditional folk sounds, melodies, structures. Once the vocal starts I'm reminded of the first couple LUNATIC SOUL albums (which are yet to arrive on the Prog scene). Nice jazziness develops as it progresses--becomes especialy noticeable with the chorus. Great instrumental passage follows the first chorus--with awesome drum and lead guitar work--in the middle of which the band doubles the tempo. Wow! It's off to the races we go! How these guys can stay so tight! It's amazing! (17.5/20)

7. "One Day We Find" (6:46) solid music to support a rather straightforward vocal performance. The guitar, flute, and keyboard contributions in the instrumental section are stellar. The chorus does eventually get into your head. (12.5/15) 

8. "We Are Alone Together..." (8:20) piano intro, quickly joined by Bartek singing sensitively. Very nice melodies and chords. Other instruments join in for the second verse, but they do not disturb, change, or disrupt, merely add dimension to the existing piano weave. Beautiful! Exquisite ambient textures--even from the drums! Atmospheric prog perfection. (19.5/20)

9. "... But Strong Together" (4:25) launching straight into a power drive, then turning to a Rasta rhythm and Hammond solo, the vocal section is dull, but the bridges and instrumental support passages are impressive. (I especially love the flute play.) Certainly an upbeat way to end an album. (8.25/10)

Total time 63:24

This is an album that, more than anything, showcases the virtuosity of these musicians--the seemless unity and cohesion they display in all collaborative performances of some not-so simple compositions. Kudos to these veterans: Masters of their craft(s). And band leader Bartek Kossowicz does a great job stepping into the BIG shoes voided by newlywed Emila Nazaruk.

88.33 on the Fishscales = B+/four stars; a solid prog album from some very seasoned veterans. Definitely an album that is worthy of addition to any prog lover's music collection. 




12. THE DECEMBERISTS The Crane Wife

I have the great advantage of listening to this album 15 years after it's initial release--with 15 years of getting to know "Prog Folk" and folk rock behind me. (To put this into perspective, one of the first Prog Folk albums I tried from ProgArchives recommendations was this same band's "new"[at the time] and highly acclaimed release, Hazards of Love). There's a lot of familiarity to this music. I found myself hearing Bob Dylan, The Cure, REM (and the singing voice of Michael Stipes), even some Talking Heads, Smiths and Roddy Frame (Axtec Camera). 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Colin Meloy / acoustic & electric guitars, bouzouki, percussion, vocals
- Chris Funk / electric & pedal steel guitars, banjo, bouzouki, dulcimer, hurdygurdy, percussion, backing vocals
- Jenny Conlee / piano, Hammond & pump organs, Wurlitzer, glockenspiel, accordion, Moog Bass, percussion, backing vocals
- Nate Query / upright & electric basses, cello, percussion, backing vocals
- John Moen / drums, percussion, backing vocals
With:
- Christopher Walla / keyboards, backing vocals, mixing & co-producer
- Eyvind Kang / violin, viola
- Steve Drizos / hand drums
- Laura Veirs / duet (girl) vocals (3)
- Ezra Holbrook / backing vocals

1. "The Crane Wife 3" (4:18) very nice folk-rock in the vein of JACK O' THE CLOCK and even FLEET FOXES or The MOULETTES. (8.5/10)

2. "The Island" (12:26) one of the top three "songs" on the album. (22.5/25):
- a) Come And See (6:14) organ and electric bass and guitars make this extended opening proggy, a little PINK FLOYDian. At the two-minute mark we stop and set up a new, simple, one-instrument foundation over which Colin enters to sing. At the end of the third minute drums join in, then bass and then, finally, at 3:30 the full band. (9/10)
- b) The Landlord's Daughter (2:47) Hammond and fast-picking acoustic guitar accompany Colin to open this part until one minute in the whole band burst forward for the chorus. There's a kind of "Can You Hear Me?" feel to this one before it turns ELP-ish. (9/10)
- c) You'll Not Feel the Drowning (5:33) moderately fast picked acoustic guitar arpeggi play on before Colin joins in. Organ and piano add some in the chorus (organ staying thereafter). (4.5/5)

3. "Yankee Bayonet (I Will Be Home Then)" (4:18) sounds just like a Michael Stipes/REM song--despite the shared lead vocal duties with Laura Veirs. Laid back, melodic, and very simple. (8.5/10) 

4. "O Valencia!" (3:47) Bob Dylan meets Roddy Frame. (8.25/10)

5. "The Perfect Crime #2" (5:33) a pop-bluesier sound palette (with a bass sounding like TONY LEVIN) reminding me of ROSY VELA. While I love this song, it's not really proggy. More PopJazz. It's bouncy, light, and danceable. (9/10)

6. "When The War Came" (5:06) a great, truly proggy song. Also a strong vocal performance to match the music and lyric. My favorite on the album. (9/10)

7. "Shankill Butchers" (4:39) a gentle folk song that starts out as a solo Colin Meloy performance of guitar and vocal. Various and sundry instruments begin to show their simple contributions after the first verse and chorus. It has a very old-time southern porch folk feel to it. (8/10)

8. "Summersong" (3:31) strummed guitars and accordion with full rock combo supporting Colin's vocal. Nice melodies and construction. Another top three for me. (9/10)

9. "The Crane Wife 1 & 2 (11:19) After two and a half minutes the song finally kicks into full gear but the pace and styling changes little until the sixth minute. The choral vocalise in the fifth minute is a nice touch. At 5:35 there is slow down and shift to a base of acoustic guitar arpeggi (often one, long-held chord). Chorus with lap pedal steel guitar is nice. Organ joins in for third verse of this second motif though the overal mood remains reserved and sensitive. A very nice, moving song. (17.25/20)

10. "Sons & Daughters" (5:13) a great finishing song as it builds from a few droning noises into a fully textured song with anthemic lyrics sung over the top. I love the chorale vocal approach in the final two minutes to "here all the bombs fade away" lyric. (8.75/10)

Total Time: 73:48

People commenting of this band's acumen on their instruments must not have heard the amazing skills and intricacies of The MOULETTES! Colin & Co's music, style, and skills are more akin to those of Damon Waitkus (Jack O' The Clock) to me. 

87.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a very solid contribution to the Prog Folk lexicon and a nice addition to an adventurous prog lover's music collection. 





13. MOTH VELLUM Moth Vellum

Moth Vellum Moth Vellum is only my second exposure to a group whose sound is mostly neo-YES group (Glass Hammer being the other). While I agree that "Whalehead" and "Salvo" sound very much like out of some outtakes from the The Yes Album to Going for the One era of YES, it is a very much mellower YES, and the remainder of the album presents Moth Vellum with its very own identity. Sure there are guitar sounds similar to Steve HOWE, and a vocalist similar to Jon ANDERSON (though with far simpler and more accessible lyrics), but the keyboards and song structures are, IMO, much more akin to those of Tony BANKS, and the vocalist sounds much more, to me, like BUGGLES'/ Drama-era's Geoff DOWNES or Rush's Geddy LEE. Still, a very nice collection of songs setting very high standards. The drums and bass playing are rock solid if unspectacular throughout, the melodies and chord progressions are almost always very catchy and ear-pleasing. The soli are very rarely deserving of YES-like superlatives yet do a fine job of entertaining and engaging. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Johannes Luley / guitars, backing vocals
- Tom Lynham / keyboards, percussion
- Ryan Downe / bass, lead vocals
- Matt Swindells / drums, lead vocals  

1. "Let the Race Begin" (9:14) has a nice neo-symphonic prog feel to it, some YES feel to it, but, largely establishing Moth Vellum as their own entity. Something about the lyric and vocal melody I don't like--but not the voice: the vocals are angelic. Perhaps they're a bit too simple. (17/20)

2. "Whalehead" (7:13) has a 'mellow YES' feel with a RUSH-like vocal chorus. Steve HOWE-like guitar playing must surely be the aim for the familiarity is unquestionable. Here, as with "Salvo" the vocal harmonies are most imitative of the above-mentioned 1972-76 period of YES. Nice song. I like it more than Rush. It would fit in well among the songs collected on MAGENTA's Seven. (12.5/15)

3. "Salvo" (13:34) begins a bit like a GENESIS Nursery Crymes, or Selling England by the Pound song (and ends like "The Knife" or "Giant Hogweed"), though the first solo, given to the keys, is taking full advantage of all of the technological advances made in the 80s and 90s. The 3:15 mark marks the first time of many on this album in which I thought I was hearing a female lead vocalist. (Nice voice, Ryan!) Really a beautiful voice. (Same effect whenever Ryan sings slowly, as on "Against the Suns" and "Against the Suns (Reprise)"). The 'Yes Effect' really makes its presence known at about the 6:30 mark. From there one feels as if you're floating between grooves of The Yes Album and those of Close to the Edge. Really quite a pretty song--very engaging in a way that YES sometimes . . . wasn't. (24/30)

4. "Against the Suns" (11:22) slows it down quite a bit. Melodies and chord progressions are quite simple--kind of a Wind and Wuthering feel to it. I like the vocals of this song quite a lot--as cheesie as they kind of are. The slow pace also allows for enough space in which to hear many of the subtleties that are often lost among fuller, more dynamic, power-chord crunching songs or song parts. A nice "Close to the Edge"-like quiet period beginning at the 4:00 minute mark preceeds a RUSH/MARILLION vocal, Howe guitar bridge to a beautifully melodic love-groove section right out of a great GINO VANELLI song. Enter a very cool and unexpected Wes MONTGOMERY-Chris SQUIRE conversation and then lead to fade with a Hackett-Rutherford-Banks foray. Great song. Very fresh even after 50 listens. (17.25/20)

5. My favorite song on the album, "Walk it Off" (11:23), I had trouble liking until I finally got the lyrics. Now I can get passed the songs ONLY flaw: the chorus. Sounding somewhat like our friends from Down Under, UNITOPIA, this song is very exciting with several melodic 'hooks' which get introduced separately, repeatedly, and even get layered harmonically at times. Very reminiscent of the winning tricks of Big Big Train, especially as used on their masterpiece, The Difference Machine. I also love the moments of almost campy Broadway musical theatrics (e.g. 7:45). But then we return to one of the great instrumental riffs--this time taken over from the keys by a very un-Howe-like fuzz/distorted guitar before fading out with the intro's guitar's harmonic arpeggios. (18.25/20)

6. "Against the Suns (Reprise)" (5:11) is a mellow "Afterglow" type of piece in which everybody seems to get to loosen up and let the last bits of expression fly from their fingertips in a kind of "late-night, it's time for bed" loosely structured jazz format. A great wind-down song. (10/10)

Total Time: 57:54

A VERY pleasurable and OFT-repeated listen. I think it will stand up well over time--perhaps even better than a lot of Yes because of its simpler, more melodic sounds. Can't quite give it a five, but I sure want to! 86.96 on the Fish scales means four stars and an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.




14. KNIGHT AREA Under a New Sign 

A really enjoyable album of Neo Prog--the kind that is filled with great warmth, great melodies, great drama, familiar sounds, and stellar production. The only detraction here is that there's really nothing new here, at times it even sounds a bit too familiar. Kind of like SPOCK'S BEARD.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Mark Smit / lead & backing vocals, Fender Rhodes (5)
- Rinie Huigen / guitars, backing vocals
- Mark Vermeule / guitars
- Gerben Klazinga / keyboards, producer
- Joop Klazinga / flute, recorders
- Gijs Koopman / bass, Moog bass pedals
- Pieter van Hoorn / drums, percussion
With:
- Ruben van Kruishum / cello (5)
- Bas Immerzeel / 12-string guitar (5), lead guitar (6) 

1. "A Different Man" (7:50) excellent drumming, guitar work, melodic hooks. Great Trick of the Tail- or Steve Hackett-like sound palette. Love the keyboard work and sounds but I don't like the way the Hammond is used. (13.25/15)

2. "Exit L.U.M.C." (7:41) great IQ Neo Prog sound palette with stellar structure and compositional elements. Vocal is the weak spot. Love the tones and soloing of the lead guitar and lead synth. (12.75/15)

3. "Mastermind" (6:17) different start! Turns heavy after distorted chunky bass intro--more like something from 707, Winger, or Loverboy--or SYLVAN. It's a solid if heavier song. Nice vocal performance. (8.25/10)

4. "Under a New Sign" (5:44) A-B-A-C-A-B instrumental with very pleasant melodic hooks in both the A (Hackett) and B (Genesis) sections. The organ-and-lead guitar C section is very cool--very nice soli. (8.75/10)

5. "Courteous Love" (7:08) the prettiest song on an album filled with very pretty music--a true prog ballad. I love the flute and cello work and the gorgeous instrumental section in the second half. Powerful use of bass pedals. (12.75/15)

6. "Dreamweaver" (7:38) No, not the Gary Numan song! This one is almost metal with those flourishes of bullet kick drums and heavy power chord riffs. Mark Smit does a pretty nice job imitating Eric Bloom on this very BLUE ÖYSTER CULT-like song. (12/15)

7. "A Different Man - Part ll" (13:07) opens with recorders (as did Part I) before being supplanted by two arpeggiated guitars. Then solo recorder and bass join in, solo flute providing the gorgeous melodies. Mellotron joins in for the second verse--and then "harpsichord" before "Tom Sawyer"-like full-band entrance over which Mark sings. Very nice set up and transition! I don't really like the next, slowed down section set up for the (two) electric guitars soloing--but I do like the second guitar's solos. The stepped down piano-led recapitulation of Part I's main melody in the fifth minute is so perfect! And the spacious section that follows is equally welcome--which perfectly sets up the burst of GENESIS-perfect bombast in the tenth minute: bass pedals, Hackett-like guitar melodies, lush layers of Mellotron, emphatic drumming. It's prog heaven! Put this with the album opening "Part I" and you'd have one monster epic--and one of the best long-playing prog epics of the Naughties. (23.25/25)

Total Time: 55:27

Album highlights: "A Different Man" (both Part I and Part II), "Courteous Love," and the wonderful instrumental, "Under a New Sign." The rest of the album is not far below these, hovering in the B/B- range, which makes for a beautiful listen, start to finish. This remains my favorite Knight Area album despite some good ones since.

86.67 on the Fishscales = B+/four stars; a very solid Neo Prog album and one that is most worthy of any prog lover's music collection.
 


The Rankings for 2007


1. BIG BIG TRAIN The Difference Machine
2. ULVER Shadows of the Sun
3. HIROMI’S SONICBLOOM (HIROMI UEHARA) Time Control
4. ELECTRIC ORANGE Morbus
5. KLAUS SCHULZE Kontinuum
6. JAZZCOMPUTER.ORG/YVES POTIN Elsewhere
7. THORK Nula Jedan
8. VIOLETA DE OUTONO Volume 7
9. OMAR RODRIGUEZ-LOPEZ The Apocalypse Inside of an Orange
10. ØRESUND SPACE COLLECTIVE The Black Tomato

11. QUIDAM Alone Together
12. THE DECEMBERISTS The Crane Wife
13. MOTH VELLUM Moth Vellum
14. KNIGHT AREA Under a New Sign
15. CORDE OBLIQUE Volontà d'arte
16. RITUAL The Hemulic Voluntary Band
17. GAZPACHO Night
18. FAUN Totem
19. DEVIN TOWNSEND Ziltoid the Omniscient
20. SATELLITE Into the Night 

21. OUTER LIMITS Stromatolite
22. LAZULI En avant doute…
23. PORCUPINE TREE Fear of a Blank Planet
24. RIVERSIDE Rapid Eye Movement
25. RATIONAL DIET Rational Diet
26. RETROSPECTIVE Spectrum of the Green Morning 
27. SETNA Cycle I
28. NIGHTWISH Dark Passion Play
29. EPICA The Divine Conspiracy
30. THE FLOWER KINGS The Sum of No Evil

Honorable Mentions 
MANNING Songs from the Bilston House
SENOGUL Senogul
OCEANSIZE Frames
NEW TROLLS Concerto Grosso, The Seven Seasons
PHIDEAUX Doomsday Afternoon

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