Sunday, November 13, 2022

Top Albums of the Year 2000, Part 2: The Near-Masterpieces

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

From the Year 2000, you will find below eight (8) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.  


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




6. TAAL Mister Green

Loïc Bernardeau and Sébstien Constant expressing their life-in-music, music as a celebration of life point of view with intricately constructed and very dynamic and cinematic compositions through top notch musicianship. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Anthony Gabard / guitar, backing vocals
- Sébastien Constant / keyboards, backing vocals
- David Dosnon / bass, backing vocals
- Loïc Bernardeau / drums, percussion, lead vocals
With:
- Hélène Sonnet / flute, backing vocals
- Vincent Boisseau / sax, clarinet
- Mathias Curit / trombone
- Fournier Brothers / violin, cello
- Sandrine Piat / backing vocals
- Vanessa Ferjoux / backing vocals

1. "Barbituricus" (15:16) nice gentle prog music gradually becoming cabaret-theatric, on the verge of Theater of the Absurd. A wonderful, creative composition with stellar performances across the board, this song explores all speeds and dynamics, as well as several styles, despite its overall somber mood. The finish reconfirms the fact that this is a theatric production. (27.5/30)

2. "Coornibus" (8:41) opening with a very Ravel "Bolero"-like feel despite the more acoustic folk instrumentation used. After two minutes the guitar and flute lead us into JETHRO TULL territory an intricate, fast-paced weave. But then at the end of the fifth minute we are taken down a more aggressive metallic alley before coming out into a more classical roundabout (think Tchaikovsky ballet music). Flute and strings then lead us into a brief, delicate classical passage followed by bombastic prog motif before reverting to classical via piano which then is overwhelmed by aggressive guitars and rock formats. This is like Trans-Siberian Orchestra only performed by truly classically-trained and classically-oriented minds and musicians. Not the prettiest or most melodic (or sensical) song ever, but displaying some very fine musicianship as well as creative compositional inclinations. (17.75/20)
   
3. "Flat Spectre" (12:34) another classically-informed song construction with a notably jazzier flair and swing. Once again, the over-reaching arch of the song is quite theatric--taking us through many moods via many dynamic and instrumental combinations. Though I disapprove of some of the keyboard sounds used (dated "Nineties" computer keyboards), and I get a little tired of the abrasive saw-like sound employed by the lead guitarist, I can do nothing but praise the musicianship--especially that of the drummer. The classical style here imitated (or adapted to rock "orchestra") is more Gypsy-carnival flavored than previous compositions. Again I cannot help but make comparisons to TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA. Interesting choice to simplify the structure in the eleventh minute for the build up to the fiery guitar solo, Again: so theatric! (21.75/25)

4. "Ragtime" (2:40) I feel that this is just as much klezmer/Romansch as it is 1920s jazz--but, then, it's also a very modern rock interpretation. Great clarinet play. (4.25/5)

5. "No Way!" (1:24) as if a recording of an anti-Mr. Green street demonstration from inside the (safe) confines of one's own kitchen/home. 

6. "Mister Green" (4:35) in the spirit of life-theatre bands like Les Negresses Vertes, Loïc Bernardeau and Sébstien Constant are here expressing their life-in-music, music as a celebration of life point of view. (8.75/10)

7. "Mister Grey" (4:33) militaristic drum play anchors this piece that feels like it could come out of Les Miserables or some such French historical context. This gives my gut reaction a further reason to think that this band is a successor to ÄNGLARGÅRD and predecessor to Spanish band KOTEBEL. (8.75/10)

8. "Aspartamus" (7:33) such a great title! Slow footsteps of a singular man in dress shoes is followed by the band's launch into full drama of a film noir like mood and stop and go (run and wait/listen) pattern. At 2:10 there is a total switch in music--as if we've switched to the view of an entirely different scene (of the movie)--and again at 2:56--this time into a more forward-moving "countryside chase scene" like feel (with a little "Trip to the Fair"-like eerie keyboards thrown in there for good measure). The ghost-haunted pause in sixth minute is mysterious and inexplicable (except for the sake of suspending outcome and, therefore, tension) but I like it: it conveys an interesting mood and effect. (13.5/15)

9. "Super Flat Moon" (11:35) opens as if a purely 1960s Wes Montgomery or Django Rienhardt/Sephane Grappelli jazz piece, only amplified and embellished by rock instrumentation (metallic electric guitar). Various familiar themes and motifs are explored as the music shifts direction even more quickly and frequently than any of the previous songs. (How does this represent a "super flat moon"?) Again: cinematic theatricity seems the rule with the flow of this composition as we move through so many different, disparate, and seemingly unconnected landscapes--including the extended free-form and eerily spacious middle section. Weird but wonderful! Great drumming! (18/20)

Total Time: 68:31

I have to admit that this dynamic, very theatric music is highly entertaining--and usually quite engaging! Such wonderfully dextrous musicianship from all band members (and guests). Well done, TAAL! You have done much to expand the lexicon of progressive rock music!

89.07 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of dextrous, cinematic progressive rock music--something every so-called lover of progressive rock music should lend an ear to.




7. PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element - Part 1

As creative and innovative as I've ever heard Prog Metal get, we have here one of the most highly acclaimed PM albums of all time. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Daniel Gildenlöw / lead vocals, guitar, string arrangements, co-producer
- Johan Hallgren / guitars, backing vocals
- Fredrik Hermansson / keyboards, grand piano, samplers, string arrangements
- Kristoffer Gildenlöw / bass, backing vocals
- Johan Langell / drums, backing vocals

With String Ensemble (1,4,5,8,12):
- Mihai Cucu 
- Petter Axelsson 
- Camilla Andersson
- Gretel Gradén 
- Johnny Björk

- As These Two Desolate Worlds Collide:
1. "Used" (5:23) this song is all over the place, it's beautiful and abrasive, it's complex and it's simple, and yet it works! (9.5/10)

2. "In the Flesh" (8:36) with tinges of classic rock, jazz, pop, and theatre, this one was not what I was expecting in the Prog Metal realm of possibilities. The song starts out surprisingly sedate and uniform but slowly, subtly grows in power and complexity--until the heart-wrenching vocal and piano/acoustic guitar and crashing dénouement final 90 seconds. I am speechless. (18.5/20)

3. "Ashes" (4:28) decent musical drama; perhaps a little too simple and straightforward. (8.5/10)

4. "Morning on Earth" (4:34) a very theatric vocal opening that never really lets up--remains an incredibly sensitive, emotional Broadway-like piece to the very end. Shocking! (9.5/10)

- It All Catches Up with You When You Slow Down:
5. "Ideoglossia" (8:29) quickly establishes a break-neck pace, yet the thickness of the sound never becomes impenetrable or oppressive; I can always easily distinguish every instrument, in fact, every string and note from every instrument. The second song that reminds me of the mixed-media territory that was blazed by bands like SAGA and LINKIN PARK. The flaw here, in mo opinion, is that feeling of disconnect I get between the verses and the chorus--as if two rather distinct and not-so-well matched songs have been glued together rather haphazardly. There, however, some incredible moments, unmistakable power and emotion, and peak individual performances. (17.75/20)

6. "Her Voices" (7:56) Bonny Tyler? At least until 1:45; then we get a LINKIN PARK-like bridge before returning to the plaintive vocal and style of the opening. Viking chorus at 3:00 tries to take us out of the pretty, almost convincing Daniel Gildenlöw to give up the pretty singing style, before leading us into a JC Superstar Judas/torture passage for a couple minutes. The weakest song on the album for me. (12.75/15)

7. "Dedication" (4:00) more tender, delicate singing and music? Again, I was not expecting so much schmaltz. It's pretty, and theatric, but less Prog Metal than I ever expected. Tensions rise at the two-minute mark, but, alas! it's just a tease as they remain unrealized. Still, a kind of cool, creative song.(8.75/10)

8. "King of Loss" (9:46) another song in which tensions are held in check despite little leaks here and there until the LED ZEPPELIN-like breakout at 3:30. Finally! I guess I'm getting used to the incredibly subtle razor's edge that this band and especially the vocals of Daniel Gildenlöw live on. (17.5/20)

- Far Beyond the Point of No Return:
9. "Reconciliation" (4:24) another collage of SAGA-like mood swings and JC Superstar themes and motifs. (8.5/10)

10. "Song for the Innocent" (3:02) for 90 seconds, this is pretty like GENESIS' "Afterglow," but then a "Comfortably Numb"-like breakout and guitar solo happens. Powerful but seriously too close to "the original." (8.75/10)

11. "Falling" (1:50) a bluesy ROY BUCHANAN-like guitar solo over synth washes. (4.25/5)

12. "The Perfect Element" (10:09) nice opening to bring us in with a promise of something more "normal." As the music builds, a story as if from a murder crime scene is told beneath, and then it breaks into full exposition around the two-minute mark. Cool, gorgeous, powerful motif in the fourth minute "chorus." This is then followed by a kind of return/refrain of musical themes from the album's opening song. Heavy bass and Mellotron work well in the next section, but then at 4:35 everything drops away for some guitar arpeggi, strings, and choral "ahh's" while multiple voices singing in and around plead their cases with varying degrees of emotion Around 6:20 we reach peak power but then, just as quickly, everything falls away and we run along at an even pace for a stretch before the ninth minute's beautiful choral vocals above the driving music. At 9:25 guitars and keys disappear leaving only the drums and effects to finish. Good song, not great, but typical of the the dramatic emotionality of the whole album. (17.5/20)

Total Time 72:37

I'll say one thing for this album: it comes at you hard, with an authenticity and identity that is unlike others of the Prog Metal sub-genre; there is innovation, there is texture, there is drama, there is abrasive and beautiful--often paired together--and there is almost constant surprise. The fact that there is so much theatre and so many highly emotional motifs--and so few Devy Townsend-like "walls of sound" power chord passages from the bass and guitars--is still shocking to me.

88.59 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music regardless of whatever sub-genre it may fall into; definitely an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection.    




8. SYMPHONY X V - The New Mythology Suite

Line-up / Musicians:
- Russell Allen / vocals
- Michael Romeo / acoustic & electric guitars, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements, co-producer
- Michael Pinnella / keyboards, backing vocals, orchestral arrangements
- Michael LePond / bass
- Jason Rullo / drums, percussion

1. "Prelude" (1:07) bombastic operatic choral opening. (4.5/5)

2. "Evolution (The Grand Design)" (5:21) full speed guitar and bass play over steady drums with synth and organ interplay woven into the mix--as if separate or below the guitar-dominant metal music. Vocals vary from solo to group conveyance systems, always mixed within the sound instead of forward or up front. The keyboard play is as impressive as the other instruments. The performances are impressive; the sound mix is nowhere near what I'd like to hear. (8.75/10)
 
3. "Fallen" (5:51) interesting but nothing really new here. (8.5/10)

4. "Transcendence (segue)" (0:38) (4.5/5)

5. "Communion and the Oracle" (7:45) nice instrumental electric piano and guitar weave (with the later addition of synth strings) to open before turning into a KANSAS "Wayward Son"-like song--but it works. (13.5/15)

6. "Bird-Serpent War / Cataclysm" (4:02) slow train chugging start before establishing a synth wash-carpeted metal complexity within which Russell Allen sings. Great guitar riffing. The full-choral chorus reminds me of a theme from AYREON's "Isis and Osiris." Cool guitar soloing in the third minute followed by Moog-y synth solo. The creepy/effective church organ really comes to the fore in the final minute. A top three song for me. (9.25/10)

7. "On the Breath of Poseidon (segue)" (3:02) organ and synth strings and synth horns give the opening of this one a Star Wars kind of cinematic feel. Just after the 1:00 mark, we jump full throttle into prog races before bottoming out into a more sedate and melodic finish. (4.25/5)

8. "Egypt" (7:04) classic anthemic 1980s power metal of the highest caliber. A little bit of Middle Eastern themage in the fourth minute with a very cool, almost laid-back soundscape for the solists to do their magic over in the fifth and sixth minutes. A top three song for me. (14/15)

9. "Death of Balance / Lacrymosa" (3:42) top notch exciting instrumental for the first half before turninginto a BRIAN MAY/QUEEN-like version of Mozart's Requiem's "Lacrymosa." (9.5/10)

10. "Absence of Light" (4:59) full-on 80s power metal. (8/10)

11. "Fool's Paradise" (5:48) more full-on 80s power metal. Great execution but just a revamping of all old themes and styles--even the fun harpsichord solo in the fourth minute. (8.25/10)

12. "Rediscovery (segue)" (1:25) synth soling over guitar arpeggi and synth washes. (4.25/5)

13. "Rediscovery (Part II) - The New Mythology" (12:01) djenty guitar riffing but this one proceeds so much more conservatively--as if it really is meant to be an overture/finale with full summation on display. Classic 80s metal vocals of the highest quality. Great keyboard use: Hammond alternating with synth banked strings and then the soloing. Great finisher for the album. (22.25/25)

Total Time 62:46

Though their sound comes out of the 1980s power metal scene, the band has done an admirable job modernizing those sounds and chops. The music is impressively complex--especially the vocal arrangements--though lead singer Russell Allen sounds way too much like 80s metal icon . Where the album is lacking, in my opinion, is in the sound engineering professional mixology department. 

88.52 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you've got some affinity for metal and those 1980s sounds. 




9. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

There are times on this album in which one feels as if one is listening to an historically accurate portrayal of the malaise and disease of Industrial humanity as rendered unto music. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- David Bryant / guitar
- Efrim Menuck / guitar
- Roger Tellier-Craig / guitar
- Mauro Pezzente / bass
- Thierry Amar / bass
- Aidan Girt / drums
- Bruce Cawdron / drums
- Sophie Trudeau / violin
- Norsola Johnson / cello
With:
- Alfons / horn (1-i,3-iii)
- Brian / horn (1-i,3-iii) 

CD 1 (45:08)
1. "Gathering Storm" (22:32) the worst of the four, this one starts off slow, with annoying repetition, before congealing into a tension-filled volcano that erupts with a Kmart blue light special and post-apocalyptic crime scene. Interesting, to say the least. Engaging? Hardly. Compositionally, mathematically--as a study in modern counterpoint and dissonance--this might be interesting, but for someone who likes engaging melodies and harmonically pleasing music, listening to this is sometimes an exercise in torture tolerance and self-mutilation--for cutters and burners, not supporters of sanity and sanctuary. (37.5/45)
- i) Lift Yr. Skinny Fists, Like Antennas to Heaven.
- ii) Gathering Strom
- iii) "Welcome to the Barco Am/PM..." L.A.X. 5/14/00)
- iv) Cancer Towers on Holy Road Hi-Way

2. "Static" (22:36) The best of the four. (44/45)
- i) Terrible Canyons of Static - great ALIO DIE-like soundscapes (10/10)
- ii) Atomic Clock - industrial clock sounds
- iii) Chart #3 - televangelist over Vivaldi (5/5)
- iv) World Police and Friendly Fire - the longest section, very contemplative and floaty. Reminds me of Kronos Quartet/Mogwai's work on Clint Mansell's soundtrack for The Fountain (which came six years later) only it gets better in the second half (despite the Aerosmith "Dream On" climax). (19.75/20) 
- v) [ ...+ The Buildings They Are Sleeping Now] quite the atmospheric industrial post-apocalyptic soundtrack. Very Eno-esque. (9.25/10)

CD 2 (42:15)
3. "Sleep" (23:17) (37.5/45)
- i) Murray Ostril: "...They Don't Sleep Anymore on the Beach" - an elderly man's recounting of the Coney Island of his youth
- ii) Monheim - a sleepy piece of music turns more plaintively active around its halfway point and then frenetic in the final third while retaining the plaintive lead melody from the second section. (21/25)
- iii) Broken Windows, Locks of Love Pt. III/3rd Part - opens delicately, slowly, as if pensively, before drums and layers of electric guitars are added. Feels more like a post-punk anthem waiting for its words/narration. The second half, with its second go-round of the build-and-crescendo formula is a little smoother, more rock conforming, with a much more "civilized" peak and Americana finish.(16.5/20)

4. "Antennas to Heaven" (18:58) a bizarre collection of what I'd call "Sam Shepard Scenes from Americana." It's interesting, at times fascinating, but overall not what I would normally choose for enjoyable listening music. Perhaps this hodgepodge of ... stuff would be better suited as background music for a podcast or Ken Burns documentary. (35/40)
- i) Moya Sings "Baby-O"
- ii) Edgyswingsetacid
- iii) Glockenspiel Duet Recorded on a Campsite in Rhinebeck, NY)
- iv) "Attention... Mon Ami... Fa-Lala-Lala-La-La... 55 St. Laurent)
- v) She Dreamt She Was a Bulldozer, She Dreamt She Was Alone in an Empty Field
- vi) Deathkamp Drone
- vii) Antennas to Heaven

Total Time 87:23

I will offer my compliments to the BRIAN ENO/EDGAR FROESE/JOHN ZORN-like composers who were somehow able to realize their artistic vision in these musical renderings. What a tough road that must have been!

88.0 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a major signpost in the development of the Post Rock movement but only a near-masterpiece in the grand scheme of the evolution of progressive rock music.




10. RADIOHEAD Kid A 

After the guitar-centric rock classic OK Computer, the band pulled a Eno-esque Remain in Light and totally reformed their sound and instrumental palette. What results is a genre-changing masterpiece.

]Line-up / Musicians:
- Thom Yorke / vocals, programming, keyboard, guitar, bass guitar
- Ed O'Brien / guitar, programming
- Jonny Greenwood / Ondes Martenot, guitar, string arrangements, sampler
- Colin Greenwood / bass, sampler
- Phil Selway / drums, percussion, programming
With:
- The Orchestra of St. John's / strings
- John Lubbock / conductor
- Henry Binns / rhythm sampling (3)
- Paul Lansky / sample of "Mild und Leise" (8)
- Arthur Kreiger / sample of "Short Piece" (8)
Hook Horns (3):
- Andy Bush / trumpet
- Mark Lockheart / tenor sax
- Andy Hamilton / tenor sax
- Steve Hamilton / alto sax
- Stan Harrison / baritone sax
- Martin Hathaway / alto sax
- Mike Kearsey / bass trombone
- Liam Kerkman / trombone

1. "Everything in Its Right Place" (4:11) the now classic, even iconic opening chord arpeggio cements this song (and album) into music history. Just the sound of those magical three notes is enough to remind one of how amazing this album and listening experience is, was, will always be. Stunning--and brilliant. It's as if Ralf (Hütter) and Florian (Schneiderand) were reborn--but this time with a soul. (9/10) 

2. "Kid A" (4:44) more, even deeper, electronic genius on display. Like a modernized version of The Buggles' The Age of Plastic but this time the world is populated by emotion-numbed zombie people. (9/10)

3. "The National Anthem" (5:51) that chunky bass line with the syncopated drum line is yet another iconic sound byte from this album. When Thom sings it's as if he's in the middle of a drug trip--or an out-of-body experience (which the horns and synth seem to be complicit). (9/10)

4. "How to Disappear Completely" (5:56) like an ANATHEMA song, the presence of guitars is almost surprising for the rest of the album's dominant electronica. Feels like a spell for invisibility--or a soundtrack for life under Harry Potter's invisibility cloak. (8.75/10)

5. "Treefingers" (3:42) ambient horn organ/synth soundscape serves to cushion the flitting of star sparkles and shooting stars. Nice. (8.75/10)

6. "Optimistic" (5:15) another iconic song--my first favorite from the album--now relegated to one of many. (9/10)

7. "In Limbo" (3:31) yet another iconic opening sound: that of the Fender Rhodes bouncing notes--is quickly joined by jazz-avant guitar chord progressions and simple yet jazzy drums. (Polyrhythmic?) After Thom's been singing about his fantasy world some Casiotone "Frippertronics" join in. (9/10) 

8. "Idioteque" (5:09) programmed drums! We're back in the land of THE BUGGLES (or, actually, more like Newcleus' "Computer Age [Push the Button]"). Thom Yorke's vocal takes us to another world (another dimension) (though it is, in fact, a little monotonous--in the very truest sense of the word). (8.75/10)

9. "Morning Bell" (4:35) this song magnifies the two elements of Radiohead music that I most find myself being annoyed or put off by: Thom Yorke's singing style and Phil Selway's overly simplistic drum beats. (8.25/10)

10. "Motion Picture Soundtrack" (3:17) [+ untitled hidden track] Jonny Greenwood is a genius. (But everybody already knows that. I'm just figuring it out.) (8.5/10--for the first part onlly)

Total Time 46:11

Radiohead? Progressive rock? This is a contentious topic to which I have only to add that Radiohead has certainly been a leader in music evolution, whether that be pop orientation, creative song and album formats, or technological advances and achievements--and none moreso than on this album, Kid A. Therefore, my inclusion of Kid A is more intended to give special recognition to a band that has forged new innovative songwriting, performance, and marketing techniques, and this, their finest album (their only one that I fined myself listening through, start to finish.)

Favorite songs: "Optimistic" (5:16) (10/10); "Everything in Its Right Place" (4:11) (9/10); "Treefingers" (3:43) (9/10); "Kid A" (4:44) (8/10); "In Limbo" (3:31) (8/10); "The National Anthem" (5:51) (8/10); "Morning Bell" (4:34) (8/10), and; "Motion Picture Soundtrack/untitled" (6:57) (12/15). 

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




11. COLDPLAY Parachutes

Coldplay?! Another Indie-pop group/album on the list? This album was such a complete winner, so refreshing in Y2K, and remains such a favorite, again, played start to finish, that it needs to be recognized for its contribution to the pantheon of great albums. For many (including my daughters' generation), it'd be hard to imagine a world without Coldplay. This album, however, remains my favorite of theirs.

My favorite songs include "Shiver" (9/10), "Spies" (10/10), "Sparks" (10/10), "Trouble" (9/10), and my absolute favorite Coldplay song, "High Speed" (4:13) (10/10). Also great are:  "Don't Panic" (2:16) (9/10); "Everything's Not Lost" (7:16) (8/10), and; "Yellow" (4:29) (8/10).

88.0 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music recognized for its whole-album consistency, fresh sound from a (then) new group, and fine use of space and subtlety.




12. WHITE WILLOW Sacrament

An oddly engineered album of fine prog songs from these adventurous Norwegian prog revivalists--their third, lead singer Sylvia Erichson's second with the band. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Sylvia Erichsen / vocals 
- Jacob Holm-Lupo / electric, acoustic & classical guitars, keyboards, bass, vocals (4), co-producer
- Brynjar Dambo / keyboards & glockenspiel 
- Ketil Vestrum Einarsen / flute, recorder, melodica, keyboards
- Johannes Sæbøe / bass guitar 
- Aage Moltke-Schou / drums, percussion, glockenspiel
With:
- Øystein Vesaas / wordless vocals (1), co-producer, mixing
- Simen E. Haugberg / oboe (1,3,5)

1. "Anamnesis" (9:11) a very gentle, spacious opening with a wonderful reminder of the talents of singer Sylvia Erichson. Such a delicate pastoral weave as this is such a welcome change from the usual prog bombast. Sylvia's nearly a cappella folk performance in the fifth and sixth minutes confirms how folk-based this music is. Even when it gets amped up at the end of the sixth minute it still retains a folk rock feel to it. The church organ YES-like section building and developing in the eighth minute is quite well done. Impressive! (17.75/20)

2. "Paper Moon" (6:44) weird sound engineering, weird vocal on this NeoProg song but I like the instrumental section in the fourth minute and the clarity given each track. (8.75/10)

3. "The Crucible" (7:32) opening with anachronistic folk guitar, flutes and recorders, and more traditional street-performing percussion instruments is a brilliant move. The collective weave is right in line with that "mediæval" or old folk sound that I think the band was going for. Flautist Ketil Vestrum Einarsen even leads with some melodica in the third minute before music ramps up into the more rock realms of prog rock. Despite the pulsing Genesis foundation over the course of the final four minutes of this, the wind instruments and pseudo wind synthesizers and other keyboards maintain a kind of folk conversationality to the lead instruments on the top. The music moves into a summatory motif for the song's final 30 seconds. Interesting finish--a little inconsistent with all that had transpired leading up to that point. (13.25/15)

4. "The Last Rose of Summer" (3:23) acoustic guitar and flute performing a very relaxing folk duet are suddenly joined by the very pleasant (very Anthony Phillips-like) doubled up voice of Jacob Holm-Lupo. Definitely a folk song. Beautiful. Jacob is joined by the lovely voice of Sylvia Erichsen to sing the lyrics in beautifully harmonized fashion. Lacking the melodic and lyrical hooks to make this a classic, it is, still, quite lovely--beautifully composed and performed. (9/10)

5. "Gnostalgia" (10:18) another gentle, oft-times ethereal folk-rock-like song and soundscape quite reminiscent of the work being done at the same time by prog folk band IONA. Gorgeous multi-reed led instrumental passage in the bucolic sixth minute with flute and oboe weaving in and out of each other's melody lines so perfectly. Unfortunately, it is the vocal passages taht are the most incongruous in the song, often upsetting the perfect pastoral tapestry and mood set down by the instruments. At the eight minute mark the band amps things up a little with the drums and foundational instruments like bass and Mellotron--a bit like Änglagård here. The carefree, quiet, lilting final minute is quite a nice send off. (17.5/20)

6. "The Reach" (10:59) ominous bass drone and flute melody build as Sylvia recites the "Ring-a-ring of roses" nursery rhyme in a crazed, voice. As soon as she finishes, the band launches into a rather jazzy rock direction while flute soars into the sky like a playful, active bird. At the three-minute mark everything shuts down to make space for Sylvia's still-scary recitation of some other dark poem. The next instrumental foray is more blues rock oriented with Hammond organ dominating the foundation as Sylvia sings in a low tone a new and different poem. A weird song that covers a lot of musical territory in the apparent effort of presenting some rather somber literary passages. Theatric and exploratory if nebulous in intent. (17.25/20)

Total Time: 48:09

An album I like far more than my rating scores would seem to indicate. The subtly folk-infused weaves are magnificent. What I think is lacking are the melodic or dynamic hooks and and heights that one would hope for in order to make it (or any song) particularly memorable. 

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




13. EVERON Fantasma

Pompous heavy prog, almost on the metal and/or 1980s "classic rock"vein. Nice clean sound production and enough space to hear everything--which is nice.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver Philipps / vocals, keyboards, piano, lead guitar, co-producer
- Ulli Hoever / guitar
- Schymy / bass
- Christian Moos / drums, percussion, co-producer & mixing
With:
- Axel Ruhland / violin (5,6)
- Raffael Sacher / cello (8)
- Tom Locher / classical guitar (8,11)

1. "Men Of Rust" (6:20) opening with a Iona-like near-Celtic Prog rocker, there is a great reverb effect on the prominent grand piano. The sound is so clear and clean! Great use of frequent changes of temp and motif with very smooth and comfortable/believable shifts--a feat which can only come with mature songwriting and highly proficient musicianship. I'm not quite as impressed with the vocal or vocal melody choices. (8.75/10)

2. "Perfect Remedy" (5:19) straightforward ballad with great melodic hook and catchy, pleasing music. Oliver's vocals work very well in this style and medium. (8.75/10)

3. "Fine With Me" (3:33) opens heavy and abrasive like a great BLUE ÖYSTER CULT or URIAH HEEP song. Oliver's voice here sounds quite different--nearer to Geddy Lee and Ozzie Osbourne than previously. Everything on this song is working. Great prog song. My first top three song. (9.25/10)

4. "A Day By The Sea" (5:47) 
some fine anthemic music with awesome textural and mood change in the mid-section and three different tempo shifts. My favorite Oliver Philipps vocal performance on the album and a top three song for me. (9.25/10)

Fantasma Suite: (55.5/65)
5. "Right Now..." (2:04) a sound that seems to combine RUSH and late-1970/early 1980s YES. (4.5/5)
6. "... Til The End Of Time" (5:16) …turns more AC/DC w/Brian Ferry singing, though a little more sophisticated on all levels. (8.25/10) 
7. "Fantasma-Theme" (0:38) computer-piano solo. 
8. "The Real Escape" (4:24) cello, classical guitar, and synth strings provide the foundation for three quarters of this vocal ballad. (8.25/10)
9. "Whatever It Takes" (2:10) repeat of Fantasma piano theme, this time with band support and vocals. Sounds more like a finale. (4/5)
10. "Battle Of Words" (3:42) solo computer-piano opens this one before YES-like rhythm section joins in. At 0:49 the music shifts slightly before the addition of STEVE HOWE-like lead guitar--which really picks up and shines over the course of this pleasant instrumental. (8.75/10)
11. "May You" (4:33) Oliver and piano open this delicate song, singing softly in a JOHN WETTON-like voice. (How chameleonic is this man?) Ballads on heavy prog/prog metal albums always feel a little out of place to me--and this one is very much like a Disney anthem. (8.5/10)
12. "Ghosts-Intro" (1:52) could be a Paul Speer or Chris Spheeris New Age piece. (4/5)
13. "Ghosts" (5:55) another RUSH- and THOMAS THELEN-like anthemic ballad. Great guitar solo featured in the sweet spot of the song. Nice. Great last impression to leave the listener with. My final top three song. (9.25/10)

Total Time: 51:45

While I love the sound production on this album--this despite the use of some of those dated 1990s keyboards that I never liked--the musical style choices and vocals don't always hit the mark for me--and the "Fantasma Suite" is just one big splat--totally lacks meaning, cohesive flow, or redeeming features to me.  

87.14 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition to any prog lover's music collection and something even more attractive to someone that loves the sounds and styles of those 1980s power rockers.




14. PORCUPINE TREE Lightbulb Sun

Herein contains STEVEN WILSON & Company's most consistently interesting, melodic, diverse and engaging song collection (album). These songs are not as heavy as later PT will produce and not quite as Floydian as previous. In my humble opinion, this is the perfect Steven Wilson/PT album. Yes, it's poppy. It's light.  It's full of simplicity and beauty. The obvious replication of the styles and sounds of older musicians is one way in which Wilson excels--above ALL others--and yet, he manages to make everything sound original, modern, his own. I especially like the songs that harken back to the pop-psychedelic sounds of the 60s ("How Is Your Life Today", "Four Chords that Made a Million", and "The Rest Will Flow"), the STEVE HILLAGE-like "Shesmovedon", the haunting NEIL YOUNG/CSN&Y-like "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recylced", the bass work, treated piano chords, 'sitar' work, and BLACK SABBATH-like middle section (You go, RICHARD BARBIERI!), and GILMOUR-like guitar work at the end of "Hatesong", the RENAISSANCE "Midas Man" 12-string strums, amazing vocals, and Frippertronics of "Where We Would Be", the mood setting jazzy electric piano intro, slow, ominous buildup, PF vocal harmonies, strings, delicate jazz guitar and emotional GILMOURian lead guitar work, and amazing synth work of Richard Barbieri, and the heavy bass line and powerful drumming in the heavier instrumental section on "Russia on Ice", and the BEATLES-esque strings and ending Enossifications on "Feel so Low".

***** 5 stars: "Lightbulb Sun" (5:31), "Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled" (4:48) (10/10); "The Rest Will Flow," "Where We Would Be," "Russia on Ice" (13:04) /25).

**** 4 stars: "How Is Your Life Today," "Four Chords that Made a Million," "Shesmovedon," "Hatesong," "Feel So Low."

This is a near masterpiece of beautiful 'psuedo-', proto- and crossover prog. Highly recommended. In my opinion, an essential addition to any music lover's collection. 

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




15. FATES WARNING Disconnected

Heavy prog, almost on the metal and/or 1980s "classic rock"vein. 

Line-up / Musicians:
- Ray Alder / vocals
- Jim Matheos / guitars, additional keyboards, sequencing, Fx
- Mark Zonder / drums
With:
- Kevin Moore / keyboards
- Steve Tushar / additional keyboards, sequencing, Fx
- Joey Vera / bass
- Laurie Matheos / voices
- Amy Motta / voices
- Bernie Altman / voices
- George Hideous (?) / voices
- Fidel Horrendous (?) / voices
- Arthur Letsgoberg (?) / voices

1. "Disconnected (Part 1)" (1:16) ominous, portentous opening. (4.25/5)

2. "One" (4:23) the opening sounds like 1970s/80s metal--Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden, Blue Öyster Cult. When the vocals enter it becomes even more SABBATH-like. Solid performances but very little ground-breaking in the sound or music structures. (8/10)

3. "So" (8:07) cool Blade Runner-like opening turns LOVERBOY-like at 1:10. At 1:37 things stop for vocal entry. Now the song gets interesting--especially with the excellent chorus. Where it feels deficient is in the choice for pacing: it's just a little too slow. (I know: he's tired.) (13/15)

4. "Pieces Of Me" (4:24) A little more energy in this one but, again, there really is nothing new or refreshing here besides a little sonic play with the guitar in the quiet of the third minute. (8/10) 

5. "Something From Nothing" (10:58) fairly simple and straightforward--nicely melodic--but hits all the right buttons to be awesome. (17.75/20)

6. "Still Remains" (16:11) firing on all cylinders, this one rocks like a RUSH classic. (27/30)

7. "Disconnected" (Part 2) (6:07) finishes like an end, bookending the album in a perfect way. Classic Kevin Moore keys beneath the recorded voice passage in the second and third minutes. Great subtle transition in the fourth minute with some techno-support. I have to admit that, with this length,  I was rather surprised that there are no vocals. But, still, it's great. (9/10)


Total Time: 51:26

The album has nice clean sound production and enough space to hear everything--which is nice, but I'm not a big fan of the lead vocals--Ray Alder's competent and confident but there's really nothing special here. The highlights for me are the two epics: the spacious, atmospheric "Something from Nothing" and the more melodic though more neo-oriented, "Still Remains," on which I can really hear the Kevin Moore contributions.

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





The Rankings of 2000


1. KBB Lost and Found
2. IONA Open Sky
3. DOVES Lost Souls
4. THE GATHERING If_then_else
5. CABEZAS DE CERA Cabezas de Cera
6. TAAL Mister Green 
7. PAIN OF SALVATION The Perfect Element - Part 1
8. SYMPHONY X V - The New Mythology Suite
9. GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven
10. RADIOHEAD Kid A 

11. COLDPLAY Parachutes
12. WHITE WILLOW Sacrament
13. EVERON Fantasma
14. PORCUPINE TREE Lightbulb Sun
15. FATES WARNING Disconnected
16. THE FLOWER KINGS Space Revolver
17. OZRIC TENTACLES The Hidden Step
18. TRISTEZA Dream Signals in Full Circles 
19. DEADWOOD FOREST Melodramatic 
20. CAFEINE Nouveaux mondes 

Honorable Mentions:
CHROMA KEY You Go Now 
ULVER Peredition City 
DON CABALLERO American Don 
STEVE WALSH Glossolalia
ECHOLYN Cowboy Poems Free
STEVE & JOHN HACKETT Sketches of Satie

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