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 2002, you will find below seven (7) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.
4.5 Stars; Near-Masterpieces
(Ratings of 89.99 to 86.67):
6. 35007 Liquid
A Dutch band melding several styles of Krautrock music into one (Space, psychedelia, bluesy Post Rock).
Line-up / Musicians:
- Bertus Fridael / guitar
- Mark Sponselee / sounds, synths
- Michel Boekhoudt / bass
- Sander Evers / drums
- René van Barneveld / pedal steel guitar
1. "Tsunami" (11:06) floating space synths that are joined in the third minute by a SWANS-like guitar line before the band explodes at 4:35 with a full on heavy blues-rock cascade of sound. We're definiely in the Krautrock realm of psychedelia now. In the eighth minute the heavier elements recede while synths slowly re-take the spacefield. Wonderful! But wait! It's not over! It's just the calm before the storm! At 9:00 an explosion of sound introduces a wild cacophony of rock instruments, all playing in a free-for-all of collective yet individual Kali-esque celebration of life and destruction. (18.75/20)
Total Time: 38:17
89.0 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a near-masterpiece of space-groovin' progressive rock music (rated down for brevity).
7. QUIDAM The Time Beneath the Sky
The Polish NeoProg artist's third album and last with vocalist Emila Derkowska and the rhythm section of bass player Radek Scholl and drummer Rafał Jermakow. Though I've been a fan of Quidam for some time now--since discovering their debut album around 2012--this is really my first exposure and repeat dive into this album.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Emila Derkowska / lead & backing vocals
- Maciek Meller / electric & acoustic guitars
- Zbyszek Florek / piano, keyboards, producer & mixer
- Jacek Zasada / flutes
- Radek Scholl / bass guitar
- Rafał Jermakow / drums, percussion
- Monika Margielewska / oboe (1)
- Miłosz Gawryłkiewicz / flugelhorn (2)
- Michał Maciejewski / accordion (5)
- Robert Amirian / mandolin (5)
- Grzegorz Nadolny / double bass (8)
1. "List Z Pustyni I / Letter from the Desert" (6:08) a great exposition of progified World Music, starting with the wonderfully hypnotic Arabian a cappella vocalise of Emila Derkowska. The music that follows is powerful, beautiful, excellent; prog perfection. (10/10)
2. "Ciągle Czekam (List Z Pustyni II) / Still Waiting (Letter from the Desert II)" (4:51) synth wash and muted snare open this before piano, bass and drum kit establish a gentle, spacious, and beautiful tapestry to support Emila's front and center vocals. Incredibly moving melodies coming from Emila's soothing voice. A pop ballad that is not very proggy until the Hackett-like sustained guitar note and soulful flugelhorn in the fourth minute, Simply beautiful. (9.5/10)
3. "No Quarter (Page - Plant)" (11:51) You read that correctly: a cover of the famous Led Zeppelin song! And introduced by flute and piano! They manage to do quite a nice job! Emila's voice is, of course, heavily effected (it has to be!). Embellished in the middle by a great guitar solo. You can tell how much the band love and revere this song, the performances are so impassioned and emotional. Not even the near-reggae section supporting the flute solo can spoil this for me. (23/25)
6. "Credo I" (8:07) more IONA-like prog folk; these guys really know how to make prog the right way: with many influences and lots of creative, new ideas. Great guitar and vocal arrangements here, beautiful use of organ and gorgeous flute and guitar solos. (13.75/15)
10. "(Wszystko Ma Sw¢j) Pod Niebem Czas / (Everything Has Its Own) Time Beneath the Sky" (4:16) twangy lead guitar and strummed acoustic guitar set up the back drop for Emila to sing over. This one sounds light and airy--positive and uplifting. A little too radio poppy. (Perhaps this is the direction Emila was heading--the reason she left the band after this album.) (8/10)
Total time 64:44
An album I've owned for quite a while that at first I disliked because I thought it's songs long and boring--as well as due to the fact that this was my very first acquisition that contained growls for some of its vocals. I was put off by this, especially. Now, four or five years later, I've grown accustomed to growling in prog music and The Mantle has become one of those albums whose songs always interest, surprise, and, yes, I have to admit, excite me when they come onto my iPod shuffle's random play.
9. IZZ I Move
New York City-based band releasing their sophomore album four years after their debut.
Line-up / Musicians:
- Paul Bremner / acoustic & electric guitars
- Tom Galgano / keyboards, vocals, producer
- John Galgano / bass, electric & acoustic guitars, vocals
- Brian Coralian / drum programming, acoustic & electronic percussion
- Greg DiMiceli / drums, percussion
- Anmarie Byrnes / vocals (5,9)
- Laura Meade / vocals (10)
- Paige Rigilano / spoken word (5)
- Abigail Lombino / spoken word (14)
- Aaron Lofaro / strings conductor (11)
1. "Spinning Round" (2:59) heavy dub/trip hop opening with power chords turns 1980s techno pop when vocal arrives. Catchy pop song reminding me of THE CLASH until the jazzy piano fill and techno-hip-hop sounds join in. Clever, poetic lyrics. Nice guitar solo in the final minute. Definitely not what a prog lover would expect, but I like it! (9/10)
2. "I Move" (5:25) an XTC-like song. Nice imitation but a little slow. (8.667/10)
3. "Weak Little Lad" (3:50) this one convinces me that the band was really trying to make a mark in the Indie-pop world. A little house funky. (8.667/10)
4. "I Already Know" (3:55) slow, plodding beauty. Could be a Beatles song were it not for the proggy Steve Hackett lead guitar. (8.75/10)
5. "I Wanna Win" (5:46) more 1980s programmed drums, funky bass, and synths with choral vocals similar to ABC or NEW ORDER. I love the vocals and lead guitar work; not so keen on the rest. (8.667/10)
6. "All the New" (1:24) acoustic guitar with vocal. Nothing special here musically. (4/5)
7. "Star Evil Gnoma Su" (8:37) a foray into jazz-rock fusion albeit simplified and very organized which then, in the second minute, moves into a kind of electronic sequence. Nice keyboard work. Nice CRIMSONian weave and guitar soloing in the third and fourth minutes, respectively, before the rhythm pattern turns almost Reggae bass 'n' drums. Interesting and unlike any other eclectic cut and paste song I've ever encountered before. (17.75/20)
8. "Another Door" (4:42) like a R&B side of Curt Smith (Tears for Fears) ballad--a sound that precedes that of New Jersey band, The Tea Club. (8.75/10)
9. "Something True" (2:37) acoustic guitar & mandolin weave trying for a bit of a World/Arabian sound as the angelic voice of female vocalist of Anmarie Byrnes fills and permeates the background. One of the Galgano brothers takes over in the lead vocal department with his raspy voice--rather aggressively for this kind of folk soundscape. (4.5/5)
11. "Knight and Nights" (6:37) true 1980s GENESIS or TWELFTH NIGHT with some 1980s sounds and vocal approach. Nice Tony Banksian keyboard work--until it becomes more Keith Emersonian. Pretty well done, actually. (8.75/10)
12. "The Mists of Dalriada" (2:42) a nice instrumental Scottish folk song electrified and progged up. (8.75/10)
13. "Oh, How It's Great !" (4:46) electric guitar weave opening turns West End theatric before Beatles-esque vocal makes it more XTC. Great lead guitar solo in the third minute. (8.75/10)
14. "Coming Like Light" (11:40) classical piano opening gives this one a kind of AFTER CRYING or RENAISSANCE feel--especially when all of the electric rock instrumentation arrive. At 1:08 we move into a definitely more EMERSON, LAKE and PALMER territory--more so when the Greg Lake-like (though, if truth be told, it's more of a JOHN WETTON) vocals soon join in. Despite not really being an ELP lover, this is definitely one of the album's highlights. In the fourth minute the instrumental portion of the song moves more into the KING CRIMSON or YES range of ELP sound possibilities. Nicely creative! At the end of the sixth minute this falls away to allow a different classical-sounding piano exposé to enter and dominate--over which vocals join in before chunky bass, drums, and Steve Howe-like pedal guitar give it a very YES-like sound. Nice vocals with some poetic/romantic lyrics. Blade Runner interlude in the ninth minute precedes an awesome John Lennon/BEATLES-like passage. Easily the best song on the album. (19/20)
15. "Light from Your Eyes" (4:24) opening with arpeggi from treated electric guitar sounding very 1980s hair band. Even the presence of beautiful vocal does little to change this 80s hair band feeling. It's not until 2:07 that any shift or other instruments join in--which is kind of nice--especially since the electric guitar dominated second half is a bit less powerful than the first half. (8.75/10)
Total Time: 73:11
11. THE FLOWER KINGS Unfold The Future
One long-playing epic is usually enough but two? And then: two discs with each over 65 minutes of music--138+ minutes in total--and, I'm sorry, you're just asking too much! (It's only taken me ten years to finish this review. Can you guess why?)
- Roine Stolt / guitar, keyboards, lead & backing vocals
- Tomas Bodin / keyboards, grand piano
- Jonas Reingold / bass, fretless bass
- Zoltan Csörsz / drums
- Hasse Bruniusson / orchestral percussion
- Daniel Gildenlöw / vocals (lead 9,12,16)
- Ulf Wallander / soprano saxophone
- I. Lonely Road
- II. Primal Instincts
- III. From the Source
- IV. Uphill
- V. The Stars the Sun the Moon
2. "Monkey Business" (4:20) excellent fretless bass work from Jonas (8.75/10)
3. Black And White (7:40) piano and voice of Roine Stolt open in a delicate ballad-like style. In the second minute the addition of a Broadway-styled voice of Hasse Fröberg reveals a theatric style more akin to Andrew Lloyd-Weber than prog. Once the opening vocal section is over the band leaps into a quirk-and-weird-filled section of YES-like bombast which lasts from the third minute through to the end of the song. Jonas Reingold, by the way, is going absolutely wild with his machine gun spraying of bass notes. Nice rhythm guitar "lead" work from Roine Stolt, as well. (13.25/15)
4. "Christianopel" (8:30) an instrumental of mostly atmospheric jazz subtleties. Nice drumming. (17.5/20)
5. "Silent Inferno" (14:25) heavy YES-ishness from the get-go until the singing starts at the end of the third minute, then it turns gentle and pretty with nice work from Jonas and the keys. After the first exposition of singing it amps up slightly into a great section in second or third gear with some great melodies, chord progressions and soli (electric guitar). near the halfway point we return to a second vocal section. The second half is more groovin' with some great performances though not over the top. One of the better songs/epics I've heard from TFK. Definitely a top three for me. (28/30)
6. "The Navigator" (3:15) opens with a kind of classical music sound and structure. Roine's vocals enter over this quartet-like weave and, lo! and behold, nothing changes. Interesting. Unfortunately the instruments are all computer synthesizers. And different. (8.25/10)
7. "Vox Humana" (4:30) another softer song with simple, thin weave of mostly acoustic-sounding instruments over which Hasse sings. Innocuous and forgettable. (8/10)
CD 2 (65:15)
8. "Genie In A Bottle" (8:10) opens with a heavy, more staccato fuzzy sound as Roine sings. The second section is soft, drumless, and very pretty. Again, halfway through, things get soft and pretty, with some nice vocal harmonies interlaced with guitar and piano and a gently pulsing bass line. Ends with the bouncy motif and lots of weird synth and guitar sounds. (12.5/15)
9. "Fast Lane" (6:35) opens with a steady, fast-driving bass-and drum based groove with some nice harmonized vocals from guest Daniel Gildenlöw and Hasse Fröberg. (8.75/10)
10. "Grand Old World" (5:10) a pretty, dreamy song with sparse instrumental input aside from some excellent non-stop soprano sax play throughout. Another top three song for me. (9.5/10)
11. "Soul Vortex" (6:00) another slow 1970s-like jazz groove. It's been done. (8/10)
12. "Rollin The Dice" (4:15) opens with some George Benson jazz guitar riff before drifting off into radio signal sounds. By 0:30 a slow, heavier, funk-attempt establishes itself before two singers step up to the mic. Reminds me a bit of The Mars Volta (before there was TMV!) That's the Gildenlöw effect. Thick rolling bass sliding up and down the fretboard is a nice change of pace for TFK and Jonas. (8.5/10)
13. "The Devils Danceschool" (3:45) jazz straight out of the 1970s school of BILLY COBHAM, Mwandishi-era HERBIE HANCOCK, FREDDY HUBBARD, JACO PASTORIUS, and, of course, MILES. Well played! Great drumming by Zoltan Csörsz. The other top three for me (and quite a different exploration of musical direction for the TFK). (9.5/10)
14. "Man Overboard" (3:40) opens like some innocuous children's music--all keyboard-driven. Roine starts to sing in the second minute, leaves for a guitar solo in the third, returns for the second verse and second solo, then the song shifts into a weird TONY BANKS-like multiple keyboard exposition to the end. Weird. A throwaway. (7.75/10)
15. "Solitary Shell" (3:10) opens with solo piano and Roine singing. Synth strings and atmospheric electric guitar join in with chorus and second verse. (8/10)
16. "Devils Playground" (24:30) opening with a very cinematic sound, the music slowly builds a story instrumentally, as if we're unveiling something monumental. At the three minute mark we jump onto a fast moving train with some horns and hand percussives in the mix as keys and bass lead the way. We slow down at 4:30 for a nice vocal section. This is a nice section, great chord and melody lines. Hopping back on the train at 6:15, we turn off into a Yes-like bridge before stopping again for the vocal motif. A little different instrumentation but same melody lines. At 8:11 Daniel Gildenlöw's soaring voice joins in with a continuous line of vocalise and then we shift into a new, slightly heavier section for some "take it away" vocals. Nice lead guitar melody line. At 10:15 everything stops as we enter a hallway to a different room. Ominous heavy guitar chord progression and add-on instrumental chatter thrown in make it feel quite unsettling. This then segues into a bit of a SUPERTRAMP-like sounding section for some circus/fair distractions--led by horns and other odd incidentals. At 13:40 we're off to dreamland with some very gentle, spacey instrumental play. At 16:00 we've launched into another new movement. Organ with classic rock chord and rhythm structure for singing and electric guitar solo. Another transition at 18:55 leads into another eerie hallway before the band reforms in a mid-tempo funked up motif which becomes more jazz-oriented after the wah-guitar solo as sax and drums lead the new way. Wah-guitar riff returns until another stop and restart at 21:30. We recapitulate the nice section from the fifth through seventh minutes with Daniel G taking the vocal lead from Roine. Man, that guy can sing! Nice low-register guitar solo ensues, trading off with Jonas' bass, before jumping up to the mid- and upper registers for the climax. Great solo to take us into the spacey end (but could have been better). (43/50)
Total Time: 138:35
- Göran Johnsson / lead vocals, bass, keyboards
- Michael Rank Jensen / guitars, bass, vocals
- Olov Andersson / keyboards, synths, vocals
- Tomas Hurtig / drums, voice
- Hansi Cross / backing vocals, co-producer
- Fredrik Andersson / backing vocals
1. "Jurassic Spark" (11:24) nice familiar sounds (of GENESIS) to open the album--the motif in picked up in the second minute even moreso. The vocal of Göran Johnsson are a little bland--having a tone and style quite like that of GUY MANNING. Nice Phil Collins-style drumming throughout. It's not until the eighth minute that the next motif (a brief break) is used, but then it just reverts to the same as before. Göran's limitations begin to show more as he tries to stretch his pitch in the ninth minute. (17.25/20)
2. "Words Are Not Enough" (4:01) beautiful intro of melody and chord progressions. The synth begins soloing at the one-minute mark, just at the perfect time for something new to happen. Then wonderful/beautiful Jan Akkerman-like electric guitar solo ensues. Beautiful! I am blown away! This is so gorgeous! Would that all of this band's music could be like this. Easily my favorite song on the album. (9/10)
- I- Make Way For The Old Man - organ sounding as if background/intro for a children's story hour.
- II- Questions & Answers - bluesy guitar establishes interesting drumming pattern.
- III- Floating Among The Clouds - the exciting pace and textures of this section are weighted down by the vocals.
- IV- The Rumble Dance - an instrumental passage very much like Genesis' "Back in NYC", "Dance on a Volcano" or "Los Endos"
- V- Second Thoughts - more Genesis motifs explored.
- VI- Back To The Park -
- VII- Live Your Life, Be On Your Way - pulling it all together for the finish. Competent just not enough newness.
Total Time: 50:38
A very polished prog band in the vein of TONY BANKS/GENESIS, it is in their wonderfully clear, precise production that I actually find my issues: the way the drums are recorded (are they computerized? or just super cheap and super gated?), and the way the voice is mixed (seemingly without effects). The lyrics are a bit banal and the singer, though possessing a nice voice, is the least polished "instrument" in the band. In fact, some of his vocal attempts sound outright amateur.
86.67 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece.
Zaubesprüche is Faun's first release from a major music label. The album has a sound throughout--especially the first three songs--that makes it sound as if it were harnessed straight from the stages of Renaissance Fairs. The band has a very warm and engaging sound--which is captured very nicely through some very nice engineering. The individual performances are not quite as tight and polished as they could be but, again, the sound is great (better, IMO than on quiet Licht or the washed out & over-produced Von den Elben). The mood captured on Zubersprüche is quite relaxing though mesmerizing. I can imagine sitting on my wooden bench beneath a cool August night sky being lulled into a pleasantly hypnotic state by these songs. The vocals have a ways to go before they reach the heights of Renaissance, with Oliver and their harmonies, in particular, as yet unpolished. Also, this is the era before electronic textures were added--before Niel Mitra joined the band.
- Oliver "Sa Tyr" Pade / vocals, bouzouki, nyckelharp, Celtic harp, jaw harp
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, recorders, whistles, bagpipes, sallow flute
- Elisabeth Pawelke / vocals, hurdy-gurdy
- Robert Geldner / bagpipes (3)
- Kenzo Gasain / percussion (3)
- Birgit Muggenthaler / hurdy gurdy (6)
1. Bean Sidhes (0:42)
2. "Rani" (3:20) great fast jam building and maintaining great tension from start to finish. (9/10)
3. "Nechein Man" (6:55) The Fiona show! Fiona and her recorder trade leads with minimal support until full sound enters at 0:45 and Elisabeth (and "distant" track of Fiona, Elisabeth & Oliver) harmonize with Fiona. Robert Geldner's bagpipe solos in the third and fourth minutes. Jaw harp at 5:00. (12.75/15)
4. "Das Schloss Am Meer" (4:56) folk guitar with Oliver and Fiona trading lead vocals. Could be FOTHERINGAY or FAIRPORT CONVENTION. Nyckelharp is the featured instrument on this one. Amazing what can be done with a drone-like foundation. Great tension. (8.75/10)
5. "Par Veneris" (2:47) ancient troubadour music! Elisabeth's turn in the lead. Brilliantly captured, rendered. (8.75/10)
6. "Tempus Transit" (4:15) another song that sounds as if it could come from the early Prog Folk movement in the late 1960s. Vocals are not recorded very well. (8/10)
7. "Des Wassermanns Weib" (3:30) Oliver and Elisabeth's gorgeous vocal duet. Beautiful soundscape created by picked guitar and Fiona's recorder. (9/10)
10. "Mehrnoush" (4:20) nickelharp solos for the first minute and a half. It then becomes a slow, plodding, dreary dirge-like tune--despite Oliver's wonderful performance on the nickelharp. (8/10)
11. "Vom Truge" (2:50) electrified acoustic guitar over which Oliver sings solo. (8/10)
12. "Troum Unde Spiegelglas" (7:37) the jewel of the album; what amazing vocal arrangements and performances; great creation and maintenance of tension. Portends of the wonderful things to come for this band. (14/15)
Total time: 47:42