Sunday, November 13, 2022

Top Albums of the Year 2002, 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 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):




4. PAT METHENY GROUP Speaking of Now

One of Pat & co.'s more pastoral jazz albums, this one does not take the listener into realms of avant or theoretical or chromatic or free jazz, nor does it take us back to bebop or Wes Montgomery, but it is more heavily reliant on acoustic instrumentation that most PMG albums. Even in the album's credits the acoustic instruments are given first citations for each of the individuals involved in the project. Still, you will hear Lyle's familiar/signature synths and Pat's familiar/signature "piccolo trumpet" electric guitar leads but all played over piano, acoustic guitar layers, the amazing Steve Rodby's double bass or cello along with newcomer Antonio Sanchez' drumming. (Shout out to the amazing Paul Wertico! You are the best!)
     Every song on the album is replete with multiple memorable melodies and gorgeous song structures, stunning solos from Lyle ("Proof"), Pat, all of the vocalists, and trumpeter Cuong Vu.

Great songs:  1. "As It Is" (7:48) which is probably my favorite song on the album (15/15); the more Wes Montgomery-styled, 2. "Proof" (10:09) (18/20); the far-away-romantic, next-the-fireside, 3. "Another Life" (7:08) with its odd almost Gregorian chant vocal interludes (13.5/15); the wonderfully bucolic, pastoral feeling 7. "A Place in the World" (9:52) a top three song for me (19/20); what sounds like a classic jazz standard--a piece of true ear candy--as if sung by Nat King Cole or Antônio Carlos Jobim but is sung by Cameroon's Richard Bona in a language I don't recognize (what should be French?) 8. "Afternoon" (4:45) (10/10), and; the album's closer, 9. "Wherever You Go" (8:03) a real gorgeous, melodic, low key tune in which all of the band members put on display their mastery of delicate jazz play. (14.5/15)

Very good songs:  4. "The Gathering Sky" (9:22) which sounds like a piece that Gene Kelley would have used as a film score to choreograph one of his unique dance numbers (16/20); 5. "You" (8:30) which is constructed much as the Brazilian pieces the band did in the 80s like Pedro Aznar's "Más allá (Beyond)" (16/20), and; the standard PMG Latin-tinged Wes Montgomery-sounding piece, 6. "On Her Way" (5:21) (8/10).

A solid, accessible release of jazz in the familiar vein of what Pat Metheny Group has been doing for over twenty-five years only oriented a bit more to the acoustic side of jazz instrumentation and the melodic side of jazz.

89.65 on the Fish scales = B+/4.5 stars; a minor masterpiece of jazz fusion applauded for the incomparable standards of technical and melodic virtuosity they uphold for their profession; a near-masterpiece to the world of progressive rock music.




5. SIGUR RÓS ( ) 

A favorite among many prog reviewers for its darkness, I find it beautiful but overall a bit too dark and depressing. Still, there is without a doubt gorgeous music here in the same vein of Ágaetis Byrjun and Takk....

Favorite tracks:  3. "Untitled 3 (Samskeyti)" (6:34) (10/10); 8. "untitled #8 (Popplagið)" (11:45) (25/25); (I love the ENO/BUDD piano arpeggio and MIKE OLDFIELD-like screeching guitars in the background; one of my favorite Sigur Rós songs), 1. "Untitled 1 (Vaka)" (6:41) (9/10); the starkly gorgeous and painfully slow to develop and release, 5. "untitled #5 (Álafoss)" (9:57) (18/20) and; the awesomely ambiguous, simplistic and yet bombastic and gorgeous, 7. "untitled #7 (Dauðalagið)" (12:59) (27/30).

Four star tracks:  2. "untitled #2 (Fyrsta)" (7:33) (12/15); 6. "untitled #6 (E-Bow)" (8:48) (16/20), and; track 4. "Untitled #4 (Njósnavélin)" (7:32) (12/15) (love the organ).

This is definitely an album that has grown on me over the years and is rated up for the start-to-finish quality and listenability. As a matter of fact, this is my highest rated Sigur Rós album--though Ágaetis Byrjun still holds a place dear to my heart.

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




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
With:
- 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)

2. "Crystalline" (7:50) rich blues-rock psychedelia from the opening notes, this could be an excellent base for a Robin Trower guitar solo or an ELECTRIC ORANGE song. At the end of the fifth minute the guitars, drums, and bass fade out while creepy space synths take over, looping into an infinite-seeming pattern before the (now expected) explosion of grist and nails comes at the end of the eighth minute. Pretty cool, if now predictable, song. (13.25/15)

3. "Evaporate" (5:53) cool bass and drum groove with floating GONG-like glissando guitars, organ, and power chords filling in some of the spaces over the top. It gets pretty acerbic and raw in the fourth minute as guitars wail away over the heavy bass and drum groove. Turns computer spacey at the end--for the final minute or so. Better than most Gong songs I know. (8.75/10)

4. "Voyage Automatique" (13:24) kickstarted by the previous song (which bleeds into it's first 30 seconds), this one quickly establishes more ELECTRIC ORANGE/GONG sounds and patterns with another groovin' bass and drum track and swirling pedal guitars weaving in an around each other over the top. Saw-like lead guitar enters in the fourth minute to add to the mix but then everything drops down to quietude in the sixth while metronomic bass and drum play show off their CAN-like discipline and fortitude. The rest of the heavily distorted electrified instruments slowly re-amp up but then recede into the background again in the tenth minute, slowly fading further and further into the background until they are gone, leaving only a weak, fragile-sounding synth "signal" to tether us to something "real" within the vastness of space--but this, too recedes, leaving us alone, abandoned, isolated in the overwhelming silence of cosmic spaciousness. Cool, soothing, engaging, yet probably could have done a little more like the previous songs.(26/30)

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
With:
- 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)

4. "Nowe Imi' / New Name" (4:56) A very simple, straightforward ballad with nary a prog lick in it even the guitar solo sounds like it could've come from Journey or Foreigner. (7.75/10) 

5. "Kozolec (Dla AgaPe) / Kozolec (for AgaPe)" (5:05) prog folk with wooden flutes and weird drum sounds (very tight snare?) while Emila and Maciek show their skill for creating great melodies with their respective instruments. I love the stripped down, slowed down passage in the fourth minute with its nice keys and wonderful flute play. Almost in the land of Iona. (8.5/10)

- Pod Niebem Czas / The Time Beneath The Sky:
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)
 
7. "Credo II" (5:13) long sustained atmospheric Bar-do period (two minutes) before new motion and motif are formed. Instrumental (other than angel voices) with not much development--though the synth solo in the fourth minute is pretty awesome. (These guys know how to solo!) (8.5/10)

8. "Jestez (w Labiryncie Myzli) / You Are (In the Labyrinth of Thoughts)" (4:40) a weird man whistling while walking through a house bridges the previous piece to this. Strummed acoustic guitar with Emila angelic voice singing a beautiful, impassioned vocal in her native Polish. Flanged guitar chords and fretless bass are used to perfection. Remarkably, the chorus is even more beautiful--but the brief bridge that follows is a bit off-putting--but then they return to the chorus to finish. (9.25/10)

9. "Quimpromptu" (9:37) pacing themselves (never in a rush to develop--masterful use of space and time to create the perfect amount of tension) this song develops from bass, space synths, gentle drums, and "native" flutes into quite a gorgeous PINK FLOYD-like hypnotic piece. Great display of impassioned flute play throughout the middle and then a great guitar solo in the eighth minute--something David Gilmour or Roy Buchanan would, I think, be quite proud of. (18/20)

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

Definitely my favorite Quidam album! One of the few near-perfect prog albums I've ever heard and definitely one of the best albums of the Naughties. A band of mature prog masters at the very top of their game. If it weren't for the weakness of the two "pop" songs this would be a veritable masterpiece. 

88.54 on the Fishscales = B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of masterful progressive rock music that should be in every prog lover's music collection. I want so badly to give this five stars but those two songs . . . .  




8. AGALLOCH The Mantle

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.
     The acoustic guitar-based music has always been attractive to me, I just resisted its magic because of the vocals. Now as I listen to these songs I am always surprised to check later and be reminded that these great songs so full of subtleties were from AGALLOCH!

Favorite songs: "...And The Great Cold Death Of The Earth" (7:14) (15/15) "The Hawthorne Passage" (11:19) (18/20); 3. "Odal" (7:40) (13.5/15), "In The Shadow Of Our Pale Companion" (14:45) (27/30), 6. "You Were But a Ghost in My Arms" (9:18) (16/20), 1. "A Celebration for the Death of Man" (2:25) (4.5/5); 9. "A Desolation Song" (5:09) (8/10), and; 5. "The Lodge" (4:40) (8/10)

A solid album--one of the best from a . . .  well, a pretty poor year, in my humble opinion.

A solid 4 star effort whose esteem has raised in my mind over the years. I now find myself truly enjoying and tuning in to the songs from The Mantle when they come across my playlist.

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




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
With:
- 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)

10. "Believe" (3:33) AMERICA-like multi-guitar weave with multi-track vocals opens this before being enriched by bass, drums, and keys. With the female & background vox it almost sounds like STARLAND VOCAL BAND or some other Americana band from rural America. Pretty nice! (8.75/10)

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

87.667 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; an excellent addition of eclectic prog rock for any prog lover's music collection.  




10. THE FLAMING LIPS Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots 

This album has such an awesome sci-fi story paired with some really great psychedelia sound- and vocal-scapes that it immediately sucks the listener in. That whiney plaintive singing voice of Wayne Coyne is so unique and endearing--like Don McLean's proverbial "voice that came from you and me" (though heavily doused in reverb). The simple though catchy rhythms and drum and bass sounds are also masterful at seducing the listener into an undeniable full-body sway and groove. Plus, the story is so emotional, so considerate of the feelings of all life, all intelligence. Here artificial intelligence--robots--are given emotions--a whole can of worms both ethically, morally and metaphysically, but here the topic is treated with great respect and sensitivity--even compassion and empathy. It's such a sad and yet beautiful story conveyed equally beautifully and emotionally through this exquisitely crafted music and libretto. The music is so wacky and yet founded in such engaging melodies. No wonder it won Grammy Awards and was made into a Broadway musical!

1. "Fight Test" (4:14) (7/10)

2. "One More Robot/Sympathy 3000-21" (4:59) (10/10)

3. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 1" (4:45) (9/10)

4. "Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots, Pt. 2" (2:57) (7/10)

5. "In the Morning of the Magicians" (6:18) (10/10)

6. "Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell" (4:34) (8/10)

7. "Are You a Hypnotist?" (4:44) (8/10)

8. "It's Summertime" (4:20) (8/10)

9. "Do You Realize?" (3:32) (9/10)

10. "All We Have Is Now" (3:53) (10/10)

11. "Approaching Pavonis Mons by Balloon (Utopia Planitia)" (3:09) (10/10)

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




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?)

Line-up / Musicians:
- Hasse Fröberg / lead & backing vocals
- Roine Stolt / guitar, keyboards, lead & backing vocals
- Tomas Bodin / keyboards, grand piano
- Jonas Reingold / bass, fretless bass
- Zoltan Csörsz / drums
- Hasse Bruniusson / orchestral percussion
With:
- Daniel Gildenlöw / vocals (lead 9,12,16)
- Ulf Wallander / soprano saxophone
- Anders Bergcrantz / trumpet

1. "The Truth Will Set You Free" (30:40) solid, well flowing, not too bombastic, just not as memorable as one would like. (53/60)
- 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

I like the forays into jazz world and the mixing it up with three lead vocalists but the keyboards are just too aged, the "orchestral" sounds too obviously keyboard generated. Otherwise this is very skilled songwriting and often virtuosic performances (especially from bass, drums, guitar and Daniel Gildenlöw). 

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




12. GRAND STAND Tricks of Time

A NeoProg band out of Sweden who creates a near-perfect replication of the lush Genesis sounds of 1975-80.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Göran Johnsson / lead vocals, bass, keyboards
- Michael Rank Jensen / guitars, bass, vocals
- Olov Andersson / keyboards, synths, vocals
- Tomas Hurtig / drums, voice
With:
- 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) 

3. "Waiting For Water" (9:39) nice enough sound palette and IQ opening, but the song just kind of goes nowhere, repeating the same melody lines over and over over the course of quite a long time. The singer repeats this same melody with a pleasant enough voice but no real force or enthusiasm. The Leef Elbers-like guitar and the "I'm Not in Love" Mellotron chords are really the only things saving this one from total failure. (17.75/20)

4. "Empty Barrels Rattle The Most" (9:34) a somewhat bluesy GENESIS instrumental. Nice sound production (except for the drums). Why repeat the "Waiting for Water" theme in the final minute? (17/20) 

5. "Old Man's Tale" (16:00) a well-intended suite falls a bit short despite the rather faithful imitation of GENESIS sounds and motifs. (25.75/30):
- 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.
     All in all, Tricks of Time contains some very nice music--especially if you are a fan of Tony Banks' keyboards (and solo work), Phil Collins' drumming 1970s style but 1980s sound, Mike Rutherford's bass/bass pedals and solo albums, and Steve Hillage, Steve Hackett, and John Mitchell's guitar styles and Eef Albers' guitar sound, and, most of all, the music of GENESIS between 1974-1977. The album's last song, however, the 16-minute, seven-part suite, "Old Man's Tale" has (mostly) a different (non-Genesis) sound and style to it--it sounds more like some of GUY MANNING's work (except for the middle section which is almost stolen straight out of "The Cinema Show"). 

86.75 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a nice collection of Genesis-like NeoProg that many prog lovers will love despite the fact there is a lot of imitation here and not much fresh, new sounds or ideas.




13. DOVES The Last Broadcast 

Doves' second album came with a second EP bonus disc which, for me, vaults this 'album' into my All-time Favorite Album's list (#23). "Intro"/"Words" (9/10), "Where We're Calling From"/"N.Y." (11/10), and "Caught By the River" (10/10) are amazing songs that are almost able to offset the disappointing ones, but "Far From Grace" (10/10), "Northenden" (10/10), and "Willow Song" (10/10) make this an album that I come back to quite regularly--even if I do skip around a lot. "Far From Grace" and "N.Y." are both among my all-time favorite songs. It is, however, on this album that doves' weak spot starts to glare: the drumming is so one dimensional. Many people like other songs on The Last Broadcast that I don't particularly care for. To each his own. These 'sub-par' songs keep me from giving this album 5 stars. (A 'masterpiece' shouldn't sport six songs that are mediocre at best.) Still, the good ones are so far better than anything else offered during 2002 that I have to give it

86.67 on the Fish scales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece.




14. FAUN Zaubersprüche

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.

Line-up / Musicians:
- Oliver "Sa Tyr" Pade / vocals, bouzouki, nyckelharp, Celtic harp, jaw harp
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, recorders, whistles, bagpipes, sallow flute
- Elisabeth Pawelke / vocals, hurdy-gurdy
With:
- 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)

8. "Keridwen & Gwion" (3:07) Alan Stivell-like instrumental. (9/10)

9. "König Von Thule" (3:23) wonderful pastoral folk music with three voices working in gorgeous harmony. (8.75/10)

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

86.67 on the Fishscales = B/four stars; a wonderful debut of antiquated Prog Folk--one that is highly recommended to all lovers of the sub-genre.



The Rankings for 2002


1. PÄATOS Timeloss
2. PAIN OF SALVATION Remedy Lane
3. BONDAGE FRUIT V - Skin
4. PAT METHENY Speaking of Now
5. SIGUR RÓS ( )
6. 35007 Liquid
7. QUIDAM The Time Beneath the Sky
8. AGALLOCH The Mantle
9. IZZ I Move
10. THE FLAMING LIPS Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots

11. THE FLOWER KINGS Unfold the Future 
12. GRAND STAND Tricks of Time
13. DOVES The Last Broadcast 
14. FAUN Zaubersprüche
15. KENSO Fabulis Mirabilibus De Bombycosi Scriptis
16. LA MASCHERA DI CERA La Maschera di Cera
17. TAAL Skymind
18. FROGG CAFÉ Frogg Café
19. PORCUPINE TREE In Absentia
20. PETER GABRIEL Up

Honorable Mentions:
ECHOLYN Mei
GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR Yanqui U.X.O.
TÉMPANO The Agony and the Ecstacy
MOTORPSYCHO It's a Love Cult
PARALLEL OR 90 DEGREES More Exotic Ways To Die
ULVER Lyckantropen Themes

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