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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cressida - Cressida / Asylum

While they were sort of similar to the Moody Blues with a jazzy art rock orientation to their sound, Cressida’s music could have given the band a huge burst with their sound just as more layered upbeats and groove elements as their songs would fit the landscape. Formed in the late ‘60s, the band considered; Peter Jennings (No not the Peter Jennings from Nightline) on keyboards, lead vocalist Angus Cullen, late guitarist John Heyworth, bassist Kevin McCarthy, and drummer Iain Clark. The band had an eerie and dark passage with a lot of material that was moody, sad, and touching.

That was with their first sole self-titled debut album originally released on the Vertigo label in 1970 and a touch of the soothing psych-pop meets landscape dreamland beauty in the mixes, you could tell that this was a band that could have been bigger than The Moody Blues and would have had Paul McCartney’s feet tickled if he had heard this, he would have signed the band to Apple and would have been prog’s answer to the Beatles. Touched with the Jazz-Psych-Pop flavor of the dance crowd that would have the mods going crazy over such as the opening track To Play Your Little Games, Home and Where I Long to Be, and the flourishing roar of Depression also view the psych freak out work out exercise that John Hayworth does that would have a jaw dropping momentum and would have had Jimmy Page bowing down to him.

With Jennings ballad-like swirling keyboard work, Angus Cullen’s voice, lays the groove down and for Peter, he gives Angus a chance to breathe in and its makes perfect sense. On One of a Group, you could hear a pre-Genesis sound on Firth of Fifth as if he had replaced Peter Gabriel , the band would have continued to be in a Prog-soul touch. But with a flourish organ exercise and fuzzy guitar solo, it works like a charm. Not to mention the Thelonious Monk piano feel at the end that is laid-back.

With Asylum, released in 1971, Cressida moved into an earlier reminiscent of the symphonic rock sound, but they still had the Jazz Rock flavor in them. It was darker and hidden from their previous debut album. And John Heyworth left as John Cullen along with session musicians Harold McNair and Paul Martin Layton, it was almost an experience that you would never forget. It had more of a sadness of sorrow which dealt with moving compositions and uplifting soars like no other.

You can hear the orchestral sounds on the title track, which is a killer. Featuring a crisp string quartet, explosive organ and guitar solo as it could have been a live favorite for the fans to have their mouths water over. There’s also some pop flavored soul to it on Goodbye Post Office Tower Goodbye and the mourning acoustic folk finale, Let Them Come When They Will while Reprieved and the mystical Summer Weekend of a Lifetime could have been written for the 1978 animated film, The Last Unicorn.

Even though they split up to pursue other projects with Uriah Heep and Black Widow, these two albums are now considered the unheard gems of the obscure Progressive Rock sound of the ‘70s and they are a must have in the fans collection. You won’t be disappointed, enjoy the fabulous ride of Cressida.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Steven Wilson - Grace For Drowning

Steven Wilson has been a very busy man lately since working on the new stereo mixes for the King Crimson catalog and also with Caravan’s In The Land of Grey and Pink, and the upcoming 40th anniversary remix of Jethro Tull’s masterpiece, Aqualung. Even though he’s been working really hard on the King Crimson catalogue and Porcupine Tree taking a long vacation, it proves that he’s not just a solo artist, but a true visionary in the 21st century of Progressive Rock reviving out of the dead and coming back to life in a new life and a new beginning in the 2010s.

He once said to Classic Rock Presents Prog in February of this year, “I wanted to create a musical journey, hold it in my hand and say, ‘I made this.’” And he does to make the progress work step by step and seeing how the work is done including fixing it, if it doesn’t work, start all over again. The concept of going into a darker era has shown much in Wilson’s new follow up to Insurgentes and that has taken a haunting course that’s very retro and beautiful at the same time.

One of the most perfect examples on Grace For Drowning is Deform to Form a Star. It has some beautiful Floyd-like guitar solo and a melancholic piano introduction done by Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. You could tell that Wilson has a love of the early Floyd material from 1968 to 1972 (pre-Dark Side) and a touch of the mellotron makes you feel like this track could have been recorded in 1970 and almost recorded in a dark and cavernous cave.

Going into the ballad mode is not from what you hear from the mastermind of Porcupine Tree, but the acoustic melody, Postcard, is very much one of the touches of Thom Yorke’s songwriting that Wilson influences on his writing for a touch of electronic and orchestral rock that has been around the frontyard. One of the most mind-blowing songs that Wilson does here is Remainder The Black Dog as it starts off as a ‘70s space rock homage to Eloy with Steven speaking through a leslie speaker as it goes into a dramatic sinister Crimson mode that brings a dosage of Fusion and Frippertronics combined together.

Then we go into the scary mode. You got to admit, Steven Wilson has a love of the darker side as its shown with his touches on his admire on Radiohead’s experimentation’s on Index , an evil piece that deals with a collector who’s been misunderstood while Track One, almost could have been a sequel to Paranoid Android into disturbing and dangerous territory. But it’s where he begins to go into the epic mode with the 23-minute piece, Raider II.

With a touch of jazz gone haywire, an homage to King Crimson’s Lizard-era, and dooming mellotron beauty to make you get ready for a touch of melodic hell, Wilson really is the mad scientist of doing an epic so beautiful that its almost could have been recorded for the graphic novel, Batman: Knightfall. With a touch of sinister electric guitar passages, pound cake drum sections, and an explosive flute solo from Theo Travis, this is a powerful epic that is about to become a live favorite among PT and Prog fans to go ga-ga over this.

You might be familiar that some of the people with names you might recognize who worked with Wilson on Grace For Drowning like Steve Hackett, Trey Gunn, Tony Levin, and Pat Mastelotto to name a few, is quite an understatement for Steven to give them the OK. Grace For Drowning is one of the most dynamic and explosive albums for a musician to push the envelope and blowing the door down so hardcore, that you won’t come out alive. Steven Wilson makes some haunting and evil pieces of music that would give the so-called mainstream music scene on the top 40 the middle finger. The product and reception means it’s a must have to have Wilson to go beyond the dog fence and see which direction he goes to.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Matt Stevens - Relic

The sounds of Porcupine Tree and Radiohead are really kicking the door down with a mighty fist and they know a thing or two about dark and haunting music sounds that are perfect for Halloween music beyond their compositions and dark territory. Here, we get the same views of the dystopian future gone horribly wrong in a sci-fi plot twist, but here it goes to show that the 21st century looks bright and the future is uncertain and the genre of experimental futuristic rock really goes into the atmosphere.

Here with Relic, Matt’s third follow up to Ghost, sounds almost like it could have been recorded as an alternate soundtrack for the 1982 cult classic, Blade Runner. It’s almost as if he’s doing the score with Steven Wilson of Porcupine Tree to help him out for Harrison Ford’s character Deckard to find out if he’s human or one of the replicant’s at the very end of the director’s cut version of the film and taking Sean Young’s character to a new beginning, and not to mention that plot twist that comes with at the end.

There’s a lot of views of the future and goose bump motions to lend your skin crawling for Matt Steven’s new album for his new album and it’s pretty damn good. I’ve been now a fan of his guitar playing since hearing his first album Echo back in 2010 when he contacted me to review his debut album, and believe me, he’s going to become the next Jonny Greenwood or the next Robert Fripp. Pieces like 20 goto 10, Nightbus, and the title track, shows his love of the electronic sounds of the Krautrock-era of the early ‘70s. But it proves that he doesn’t just love the prog genre, he takes it and understands where the music and its origins come from.

Along with his side project, The Fierce and the Dead, Stevens takes the guitar as his best friends and his experimental sounds with synths, electronic drumming as if he’s recording the pieces as if its 1980 all over again. But there’s some alternative instrumental rockers like Rushden Fair and Up that would be well worth listening to that has some dance values with a Spanish way of dancing the tango in a flourishing way.

Then he’s back at the atmospheric quality that comes in with a ‘70s obscure progtastic adventure that would have your jaws dropped like Scapegoat. With heart thumping drum beats, guitar double tracked between rhythm and lead, and keyboard spooky sounds, its almost as if this piece was almost used for Aphrodite’s Child's infamous concept album, 666. You can imagine Peter Hammill of Van Der Graaf Generator fame playing this album to his band and suggesting that Matt is the right guy to open for them and he would come in and sing about the dystopian world of hell and singing about Total Annihilation. That would get the crowd going. Sounds like one hell of an idea!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Von Hertzen Brothers - Stars Aligned

Taking the influences of Muse, Pink Floyd, and the Foo Fighters up a notch, the Von Hertzen Brothers have really got a huge influential sound of Progressive and Alternative Rock like no other and it’s hard to imagine that this trio know the score about taking the indie sound into a different level. What they do is put a little bit of prog into the punch and the result is phenomenal and with those three bands and add a little sugar of early Queen into the mix, the Brothers really make music into something that is quite out of this world.

Here on Stars Aligned, the trio put a touch of Prog-Pop with a vengeance with a bit of the song and melodic touches. While the ingredients work and having achieve a cult status in their hometown in Finland and a wonderful job at High Voltage according to Classic Rock Magazine, the future is ready for the Von Hertzen Brothers. Are they the next Muse? Maybe, but let’s get to the album and see what makes it a kick-ass album.

Miracle opens the album off as a moody 20-second dreamland nightmare before going into volcanic guitars, synths, and pounding drums that sort of realms in the Mars Volta’s Bedlam in Goliath-era while Gloria almost sounds like a sequel to Knights of Cydonia with its spaghetti western guitar licks and epic vocalization in the background that is quite breathtaking and could have been used in the Man With No Name trilogy and would have Ennio Morricone’s feet tickle for joy over this roller-coaster track.

Meanwhile on Voices in Our Head, which has a ‘80s electronic synth new wave retro sound, deals with isolation, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and hallucinations with a mesmerizing eerie haunting guitar synth attitude, sees the Brothers going deep into the caves of lunacy and dealing with darker issues of schizophrenia. Angel’s Eyes, the Middle-Eastern Alternate Rock with a touch of an homage to Dave Greenslade’s keyboard sounds in the midsection, keeps the album growing like a tidal wave as Down by the Sea brings a haunting view of the dystopian world of hell in a touch of Radiohead’s OK Computer-era.

And while Always Been Right has a Celtic Hard Rock edge to it with a folky crisp flavor, I Believe the final track on the album closes the album with a gospel ‘70s rock edge to it, they go far beyond the ideas in what Muse are doing right now and knowing how Prog is done and the way it’s meant to be sound for the 21st century. Stars Aligned has the Von Hertzen brothers in full circle and the adventures of their music has only got the better of it this year and seeing where the road will take them into.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Barclay James Harvest - Taking Some Time On: The Parlophone-Harvest Years (1968-73)

This 5-CD set contains the first four albums that Symphonic Prog Rock band Barclay James Harvest released at the time they were on the Harvest (Parlophone) label as it features unreleased material from the BBC Sessions, Singles, and alternative tracks that were used before they polished it up before the release date. It has been a rocky ride for BJH that has been on. First they lost drummer Mel Pritchard from a heart attack in 2004 and the loss of keyboardist and founder of Maestoso, Woolly Wolstenholme who took his own life after battling mental illness that he was suffering from in 2010.

And if anyone like a young teenager who wants to take a huge swim into the deeper voyages of obscure progressive rock and want to know who BJH really are, this is a must have of the band’s collection and here in this set including liner notes from Classic Rock Magazine writer, Malcolm Dome about the band’s history, this is it. Before the band released their sole self-titled debut album in 1970, the group debut as a singles band at first with the release of Early Morning and Mr Sunshine in 1968.

These two tracks showed the band into a little bit of psychedelic prog pop as the first track almost has a reminiscent of the Zombies Odyssey & Oracle-era while the flipside folk rock beauty, could have been used for the sessions of To Our Children’s Children’s Children. Meanwhile, the band did some sessions for John Peel’s Top Gear Sessions showed the band at their earlier flower psych rock glory.

Songs like So Tomorrow, Eden Unobtainable, Pools of Blue, and the bluesy trip to Small Time Town capture the innocence of freedom and power. Even though these were rare songs, the band moved into Prog territory as they teamed up with Robert John Godfrey who would later form The Enid, decided to give the band a huge kick into Orchestral Rock territory and almost were the answer to the Moody Blues Days of Future Passed-era.

Their first album was a combination of hard rock and theatrical rock with a huge rumbling attitude with mind-blowing homage to the Pretty Things S.F. Sorrow on Taking Some Time On, the spooky folk haunting ballad of The Iron Maiden, and the garage rocker Good Love Child showed a touch of Power Pop with their sound reminiscing of Badfinger’s Magic Christian Music. And bringing the thunder down with electricity of the rumbling 12-minute eerie punch as Woolly acts almost like something out of a Shakespeare play as he gives a disturbing opening speech before going into mass madness with the orchestra on the epic, Dark Now My Sky.

Then all of a sudden, their second album which has become a fan favorite and a classic in their career in 1971 with the release of Once Again, the album itself isn’t track by track, but the songs and emotional beauty including the swarming swoosh opening of the mellotron on She Said, the political theme on pollution of Happy Old World, homage to Tolkien with Galadriel, and the fan favorite, Mockingbird still brings a tear. The bonuses which were featured on the 40th anniversary edition is almost like seeing what tracks were left off.

Including the non-orchestral version of Mockingbird, the dazzling BBC version of She Said for Whistling Bob Harris of the Old Grey Whistle Test that they did including the atmospheric heavenly version of Someone There You Know could have been used for the anniversary edition as a 2-CD set. After tensions and disagreements over Godfrey’s charts on Once Again, the band moved on as they released And Other Short Stories.

The follow up to Once Again, And Other Short Stores was a darker and mellowing album and the band still had the symphonic touch in them and knowing that trouble between them and their record label wasn’t going to be easy. But the songs like the sci-fi opener Medicine Man is another live favorite while Ursula (The Swansea Song) could have been written for the Last Unicorn as they go into a little bit of a Beatlesque attitude with Blue John’s Blues and the dooming After the Day are jaw dropping and breath-taking.

Then came Baby James Harvest, their last album on the Harvest label was done very quickly and they knew that it was time to move on after the release of their fourth album in 1972. The FM Rockin’ sing-along song Thank You could have been a massive single anthem while 100,000 Smiles Out and Moonwater are lukewarm touching swan songs as the upbeat rockin’ single Child of Man, I’m Over You, and the funky glam rock bliss of Breathless showed the band had a touch of healing the world and having a ball to get a sense of humor.

Now while they moved to Polydor label, it’s hard to describe which era of Barclay James Harvest the fans they prefer whether it’s the early days of the mid ‘70s period. It’s almost like drawing a line in the sand and they have to jump which they prefer. But it doesn’t matter, this box set will take you on amazing journey that you’ll never forget forever and ever.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Opeth - Heritage

Now there will be a drawing a line in the sand for some Opeth fans whether they prefer the death-growling era or the Prog-soft sounding arrangements that is exampled on Damnation, but might I digress as we move forward as Mikael Akerfeldt goes into the ‘70s prog sound with a mellowing taste on their new album, Heritage. This is moving leap forward for Opeth because even though they were giving the growling voices which they are known for in their early days in the ‘90s in the Death Metal scene, Heritage is a home run in the baseball fields of Prog Rock like no other!

We have the jazzy piano haunting opening title-track to get us going that is almost set to a mournful apocalypse aftermath as it kicks in with the time signature changing speed racing rocker The Devil’s Orchard, filled with the King Crimson Red-era with some meaningful and angry chords and not to mention the line “God is Dead!” It looks as if Mikael is paying homage to thrash metal heroes Slayer as if to let them know, he still has the Metal spirit in him and never let’s go the genre.  I Feel The Dark has a gothic folk touch, but kind of carries the Bo Hansson treatment.

And even though there’s a bit of a chugging mid-section, I just wish that he could have worked on the track a little bit more and give it a real bullet speed. Speaking of bullet speed, a perfect example is Slither, this time they go through the race track as it goes 600 miles per hour with some impressive guitar lines, organ crunches, drums flying off the wall, and Mikael’s vocals will give you a mighty touch like no other.

Nepenthe gets the prog genre up a notch, cranking the volume up a notch in the realms of the Gentle Giant album, Acquiring the Taste homage with a bit of Martin Mendez’s bass lines going through a Jaco-like reminiscent as Per Wiberg pays homage to Kerry Minnear and Martin Axenrot goes through the patterns in the realms of Neil Peart, shows that the band are not ripping off the old guard, but sort of paying tribute to them and lets them know they still have the touch and the power. 

With the homage of the Acid Folk touches of Haxprocess and the middle-eastern turned Mars Volta powerhouse on Famine, and The Lines in the Hand gives Opeth a time to move away the boundaries for a while as they do a psychedelic jam session that would have made the fans open their mouths saying, “What the hell just happened?” It gives them time to go into the mellotronic Crimson Lizard-era sinister beauty of Folklore with a pure midas touch as it segues into the finale, Marrow of the Earth, a wonderful finale to close the album with an acoustic mellowing Ottmar Liebert classical boundary that gives Mikael and Fredrik Akesson a chance to pay tribute to Liebert and Hackett. But wait there’s more!

The two bonus tracks which are featured on iTunes if you buy the Special Edition version of the album, Pyre is a mellotron space rock sound while Face in the Snow which at first sounds like a Wes Montgomery guitar intro as it goes into a haunting Moody Blues and Barclay James Harvest-era which might have had Mikael interested to listen to them and could have a touch of the emotional feeling on Heritage. Though it will piss people off that Opeth had moved away from the Death Metal sound, Heritage sees the band going forward into a new light and a new chapter.

So let’s see what Mikael Akerfeldt and the four musketeers will have up their sleeves and see where the new direction that Opeth will take them to.

17 Pygmies - CII: Second Son

Like a soundtrack to Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner with a mellow atmospheric new age soundtrack, you could honestly believe that something had just opened the door and taken the ‘80s Tangerine Dream sound in the realms of Hyperborea or in the Gilmour-era of Momentary Lapse of Reason with an electronic attitude, Now I’m not crazy of electronic sounds of the ‘70s and ‘80s, but I do respect the music very much and the sound they carry to the core and this band who was launched in 1982, have a real sci-fi taste of Orwell and Philip K. Dick.

17 Pygmies have a real approach of the Space Rock and New Age sound and the second part of Celestia (CII: Second Son) is a dark and eerie twisted album that the band carries on like a cabbage of unbelievable territory that you are about to embark on. It’s not an easy album to listen to, but with spooky female vocals, soaring keyboard chords, and not forgetting moog-like dreamland sounds that have the solar system unique to it and would have Jean-Luc Picard jumping for joy in the Starship enterprise.

Meaning, they have a bit of the Space Music sound in their background almost as if it was a rock opera to the 1950s classic, The Day The Earth Stood Still for this lukewarm 22-part pieces almost as if its written for a classical symphony. But this might have some scratching heads with some ‘80s Neo-Prog elements with some moody and quite breathtaking simplicity that comes in with a nice fresh clean jewel that is destined to be restored.

Some of its Free-Jazz, Radiohead meets Sigur Ros with an electronic touch as if OK Computer and Aegits Byjurn had teamed up to create a disturbing yet spiritual journey, symphonic, moogy, and avant-garde at the same time. It may look like that Jonny Greenwood would have appreciated this album and he and Thom Yorke would have done something like this during the Kid A sessions and not to wonder, the journey into space has only just begun.

It took me a few listens to understand what the band is going through, a touch of new age space rock and prog like no other that you’ve heard before. And again while it may give you a few listens to get into the music, it’s not a great album, but is still a fresh and twisted disturbing adventure that you might want to sit back and close your eyes.