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 relatively weak year of 2003, you will find below eight (8) albums releases deserving, in my opinion, of the "near-masterpiece" designation.
Out of Myself is like the practice or warmup for that which is to come in the next two years. One can hear the potential, the evolution of sound, but the Polish quartet--in its sum and parts--need further growth. There are compositional and engineering tricks that they have not yet learned, but which will appear with 2005's Second Life Syndrome--one of the 21st Century's crowning achievements in progressive rock music.
- Mariusz Duda / vocals, bass, acoustic guitar
- Piotr Grudziński / electric guitars
- Jacek Melnicki / keyboards
- Piotr Kozieradzki / drum, percussion
- Krzysztof Melnicki / trombone (9)
2. "Out of Myself" (3:43) a pretty good whole band weave whose trajectory almost takes it into death metal territory. (8.667/10)
3. "I Believe" (4:14) acoustic based, preview of Mariuz Duda's LUNATIC SOUL coming later in the decade. Beautiful harmony vocals and arrangement. (8.75/10)
Total Time 53:11
- Fiona Rüggeberg / vocals, rebab, bagpipes, sallow flute, chalumeau
- Elisabeth Pawelke / vocals, hurdy-gurdy
- Niel Mitra / synths, sequencer, sampler, sounds
- Rüdiger Maul / percussion (tar, riq, davul, muzhar, darabukka, timbau, berimbau, shaker)
- Jennifer van der Harten / Celtic harp (5)
- Carsten Hochapfel / cello (9,11), strings arrangements (9)
- Christian von Aster / spoken word & author (10)
1. "Prolog" (0:31) introducing the band's new lush, electronically enhanced sound.
2. "Andro" (3:44) great instrumental jam with the full complement of sounds offered on show. (10/10)
3. "Unda" (5:09) the old style with chorus-style singing. The instrumental selections of the band--and of Oliver and Fiona have all expanded tremendously. Cool electronically morphed percussion sounds in the fourth minute. (8.5/10)
4. "Von den Elben" (5:37) beautiful Celtic harp play with angelic soprano of Elisabeth Pawelke soaring above. Fiona's wind instruments are a perfect complement to Lisa's singing--and then the two harmonize so perfectly for the next section. Wow! A masterpiece of Prog Folk. (9.5/10)
5. "Ne Aludj El" (5:19) Celtic harp and nyckelharp set this one up for an adventure in Arabian vocal stylings from Elisabeth. Great weave (and soli) between Oliver and Fiona in between the singing verses. Another perfect piece of antique folk music. I really, really appreciate these artists rendering these old and diversely ethnic songs for us. (10/10)
6. "Deva" (1:37) overtone-voice-like drone over which Elisabeth sings in an Persian/Indian style (sounding like SHEILA CHANDRA's 1996 album, ABoneCroneDrone). (5/5)
7. "Punagra" (6:18) bled over from "Deva" the band tries on a Pagan Folk version of an Indian song. Turns out to sound more like an impromptu love in/sit in song from some park or commune in 1967. (8.5/10)
8. "Wind & Geige" (5:04) a fairly standard Faun folk song with some stellar flute play. (8.25/10)
9. "Isis" (5:40) interesting foreign language intro eventually transplanted by ominous, hypnotic guitar and cello while Oliver sings a beautiful if-eerie vocal. Would have liked to see it develop a little further. (9/10)
10. "Cernunnos" (5:01) percussion background while author Christian von Aster speaks from something he has written for the entire five minutes. Would probably be better if I knew what he was saying. (8/10)
11. "Egil Saga" (5:07) opens like a VANGELIS piece with a whole weave of electronic percussives and other sounds (sounding like they're from a 1980s New Wave/techno pop palette). Elisabeth sings the lead solo before a EURYTHMICS-like two-voiced chorus ensues. Interesting and . . . different. (7.75/10)
12. "Fort" (3:56) Celtic harp prefaces a pretty "Scarborough Fair"-like vocal weave. (8.5/10)
Total time: 53:03
7. Colossus/Musea Records presents: Kalevala: A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic
The Colossus/Musea Records theme albums are often quite good, always containing some absolute masterpieces. Of the Colossus/Musea records that I have heard so far, Kalevala ranks only behind 2005's Odyssey: The Greatest Tale. There are some 10/10s and 9/10s on this 3 disc telling Finland's own Kalevala myth. Italy'sMAD CRAYON's gorgeous RPI classic "Il suono dei ricordi", France's CAFEINE's "Way Is Open", CLEARLIGHT's GABRIEL Era GENESIS-like "The Boat Builder (searching for the Lost World)", Finland's own SCARLET THREAD's cinematic instrumental, "Pimeästa Pohjolasta", ORCHARD's eclectic folk-jazz fusion "3" and OVERHEAD's folk/eclectic "Wainamoinen and Youkahainen (The fate of Aino)" are all perfect 10s--masterpieces of progressive rock. IL CASTELLO DI ATLANTE's "Ilmarinen Forges the Sampo", HAIKARA's disciplined eclectic mostly-instrumental, "The Creation (The Sowing)", MAGENTA's "Lemminkainen's Lament", Italy's LEVIATHAN's "Filo de lama", Italy's folk jazzy MALIBRAN's "Strani colori", Sweden's SIMON SAYS' Genesis-like "Som Floden Flyter", THONK's ELP tribute, "Kapittu 45/46", the WHOBODIES's 70s-sounding jazz fusion instrumental, "Pine", and Finland's GROOVECTOR's smooth jazz instrumental, "Tuletta" are all 9s--near masterpieces. The other dozen songs are good to excellent contributions.
4.5 stars, a near masterpiece!
- Tim Bowness / vocals, lyrics
- Steven Wilson / instruments, harmony vocals, producer
- Michael Bearpark / guitar solo (1)
- Stephen Bennett / organ & cymbal (6), "noises" (1), film director (bonus DVD)
- Ben Castle / clarinet, bass clarinet, flute
- Roger Eno / harmonium (5,8)
- Peter Chilvers / space-bass (1,2), bass (6)
- David Picking / percussion (2,5,9), trumpet (1,2), electronics (1-4)
1. "Together We're Stranger" (8:31) industrial ambient soundscape. Tim enters singing from a closet in the back of the room at the end of the third minute. Way more like a Mark Hollis song than I was expecting. Some nice, emotional electtic guitar in the middle within the synthy spacescape before some breathy, treated trumpet notes take a turn just before the music turns into the next song. (17.5/20)
3. "The City In A Hundred Ways" (2:23) more like a warm up of an John Zorn orchestra pit or Art Zoyd wind section. (4.5/5)
4. "Things I Want To Tell You" (9:03) taking over from the bleed over from "The City in a Hundred Ways" echoed Dominic Miller-like acoustic guitar notes and strums join in, almost incidentally, while Tim whisper/croons his almost equally incidentally deposited vocal lines. It's pleasant enough. I'm sure it might mean more if I were into the lyrics. (17/20)
5. "Photographs In Black And White" (10:03) gentle Americana acoustic guitar played while watching an immense open sky of Western expanse provided by thin Mark Isham-like synth washes. The song could almost pass for something by Rikkie Lee Jones or k.d. lang. Clarinet takes over the lead at the end of the third minute for a bit before Tim continues his breathy Paris, Texas confession. Roger Eno's harmonium begins rising up from the deep background as second acoustic guitar becomes a bit more aggressive and the clarinet returns for another solo. Over celestina and acoustic guitar weave Tim's muted voice sings and bass clarinet joins in before some deep bass thrums thunder the background every 16 seconds or so. This is the best part of the album (so far). After the thunder storm ends in the tenth minute, Tim and acoustic guitar finish out the song as it started (minus the synth backdrop).(18/20)
6. "Back When You Were Beautiful" (5:07) what, no drums?! Methinks we've heard this one before. By either No-Man or Talk Talk. Nice floating guitar and bank of Mellotron-like "ahhs" in the middle. Nice to hear Steven's banjo in the final third. (8.5/10)
Newly emerged from Oxford, England, comes a band whose predilection for wonderfully melodic and upbeat song quirks lands them into the Canterbury Scene assignation. Ladies and gentlemen: a new era of Canterbury styled music is upon us.
- Matt Baber / keyboards
- Joff Winks / guitar, vocals
- Paul Mallyon / drums
- Brad Waissman / bass
2. "Little Machines" (4:50) my favorite song on the album has some very catchy melodic, structural and vocal moments. (10/10)
3. "M.O.D.A.R" (4:50) ambient techno-space house music for the first two minutes, pauses for a very spacey section before reacquiring the weave of techno sounds that it opened with. MIDIed solo from lower mid-register keyboard is mixed in with all the other. Is this the soundscape the Canterbury artists of old would be experimenting with if they were still doing their stuff in the 21st Century? Interesting if not great. (7/10)
4. "Keeny Woka Phoola" (3:08) sounds much more Canterbury-ish--even the squeeky synth taking on part of the lead melody making. At 1:35 it becomes much more poppy with the "beautiful people everywhere" vocal section--kind of like a 60s song from or from one of today's retro-psychedelic groups like Tame Impala or Arcade Fire. (9/10)
87.27 on the Fishscales = 4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece of progressive rock music--this one in the psychedelic experimental spirit of the 1970s Canterbury artists.
11. CHROMA KEY You Go Now
Kevin Moore's second and final solo album after leaving Dream Theater and Fates Warning--before the launch of OSI. It is, like it's predecessor, quite laid back and richly atmospheric. Obviously, Kevin has been impressed and affected by the manned space missions accomplished since the 1950s. Also, he is very much enjoying building songs around media voice samples.
- Kevin Moore / vocals, keyboards, bass, co-producer
- David Iscove / guitar
- Steve Tushar / additional guitar (2), co-producer
1. "Get Back In The Car" (5:05) nice sleep-inducing fare. The vocal performance is, for my tastes, a little too laid back--almost as if he does really care. (8.5/10)
2. "Another Permanent Address" (5:05) a little more up-tempo, this one has a piano base that sounds like Bruce Hornsby. The vocal here is more engaged, the lyric a little more engaging, than that of the opener. Nice choruses and nice gentle piano solo in the instrumental section. (8.667/10)
3. "Nice To Know" (4:31) a slow, plodding, dramatic pace and CURE-like low-end leading soundscape supports Kevin's vocal. Too bad every vocal is fed through the exact same effects boxes; being a keyboard master, he obviously has choices of how he'd like his voice to sound. Still, it is one of the more interesting vocals on the album. The song has some cool heavier chords/sounds in between the vocals as well as an overall cool vibe to it. A top three song for me. (9/10)
4. "Lunar" (3:14) opens with TV anchor's news about an Apollo mission then piano with actual voice tapings of Apollo 11 astronaut and Mission Control intercommunication. Nice jazzy tropical outdoor lounge music in support. (8.667/10)
5. "When You Drive" (5:27) another vocal sample--this time from an Indian man--giving relaxing yoga-like driving lessons. Another vocal sample of a young girl singing in a foreign (Southeast Asian) tongue is used as well. A song with a nice groove that could fit well on one of the Buddha Lounge collections. I like it very much ... I'm just not sure how proggy this is. (8.75/10)
6. "Subway" (4:37) Vocoder Kevin sings over World Music / Buddha Lounge music for the first couple minutes until at 2:26 a heavy synth chord ups the intensity of tension for the following Peter Gabriel-like electric piano solo and then finally takes over and dominates for about a minute before VK rejoins. PG piano and African-like drums to end. (8.667/10)
Total Time: 39:17
7. Colossus/Musea Records presents: Kalevala: A Finnish Progressive Rock Epic
20. EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY The Earth Is Not a Cold Dead Place