Badger - One Live Badger
Wheel of Fortune (7:50), Fountain (7:21), Wind of Change (7:17), River (6:49), The Preacher (3:59), On the Way Home (7:39)
If you have never heard One Live Badger, I would classify it as progressive rock, but not overwhelmingly so. Yes, most of the songs are of an extended legnth and contain longer instrumental passages, plus Kaye's Hammond is prominantly featured throughout. That said, there is also more of a straightforward early 70s rock vibe to be found in Badger. This is not to imply that it is a bad album by any means. Quite the opposite as One Live Badger is very entertaining. It showcases a band that had a lot of promise, that regrettably went unfullfilled. Badger's one and only studio album was released in 1974 with the disappointing White Lady. By that time, the band's line up had changed, as had their overall musical direction.
It is rare for a band to debut with a live album, but it was a wise choice. There is an energy to the performances that really benefits the material. Wheel of Fortune is a great opening track and Fountain impresses with its entertaining instrumental guitar and keyboard solos. Wind of Change is probably the most interesting track for a Yes fan, and definitely the most progressive rock track on the album. River also has its progressive instrumental moments and is an infectious rocker. Preacher borders on blues rock territory whilst On the Way Home closes the album on a spiritual note; all the way down to the final few minutes of a song that could easily be accompanied by a clapping congregation of churchgoers.
The biggest seperation between Yes and Badger is found in the lyrical content. Fantasy elements are few, as the band took things to a grittier level from a lyrical perspective.
For those already familiar with the album, I am sure you want to know how the new remaster sounds. Well, this is another great release from Esoteric. The liner notes, featuring interviews and background on the band are facinating. The remaster is a revelation and reveals an intesity not heard on other versions. Defying the fact that it was originally recorded 44 years ago, One Live Badger has truly never sounded this good. When Badger opened for Yes, the response from fans was very positive. Listening to this album, it is easy to see why.
I wouldn't rank Badger up there with the best of Yes in terms of overall quality, but thier debut is nonetheless very good. It's a shame that the original line up didn't stay together to record a studio follow-up worthy of this excellent debut. One Live Badger is worthy of updating, and this newly released edition is the definitive way to own it.
Patrick McAfee: 8 out of 10
Gadi Caplan - Morning Sun
Hemavati (3:42), Island (5:33), Good Afternoon (2:25), Vivadi Swara (5:39), Morning Sun (4:14), La Morena (5:46), The Other Other Side (5:14), Lili's Day, Pt. 1 (2:49), Lili's Day, Pt. 2 (2:28), Lili's Day, Pt. 3 (1:50), Lili's Day, Pt. 4 (2:37)
Unfortunately, Morning Sun fails to impress. The songs, ensemble efforts, are a mix of lightweight jazz and pop, along with, yes, a few moments of fusion spiced in. Vocals, from Danny Abowd, are fairly prominent. The musical styling is indeed varied, but the energy is low and the risk-taking almost absent. Indeed, the music passes by with little impact, but for the occasional lure of some guitar licks.
The best track is the opener, Hemavati, which is essentially a slow-building guitar solo layered on a vaguely Middle-Eastern background. But the tune fades and thus lacks a denouement or story. There's a similarly-interesting guitar solo that forms the second half of the successor tune, Island.
Some of the later tunes, however, including Good Afternoon and La Morena, suffer from simple fluffiness. On these tunes and throughout, Abowd seems to be straining to sound sweet and airy as a cloud. The "epic" piece here, the Lili's Day suite, is fair but uninspired. The low-pitch oinking that permeates part one is a prompt turn-off, and the apparent stab at trance music is out of place. Some fuzzy guitar on the next part of the suite, and bold lines on part three are moderately appealing, so all is not lost. In the end, the audience for this CD is unclear. Caplan appears to have the chops to produce music that offers intensity and novelty. But the sounds here are too soft for jazz-fusion fans, too bland for pop fans, and too traditional for progressive fans. A few moments of strong guitar playing are worth hearing, but they are too few and insufficiently compelling to make this CD a keeper.
Joel Atlas: 5 out of 10
Drifting Sun - Safe Asylum
King Of Hearts (8:45), The Hidden Truth (6:31), Intruder (10:42), Alice (7:32), Wonderland (8:33), Gods (6:06), Desolation (5:29), Retribution (3:54)
From the opening notes of King of Hearts, there is a definite nostalgic touch to be found. From Drama-era Yes, to acoustic Genesis, to Dream Theater, there is a lot thrown into the stew on this almost-nine minute track. It is clear right from the start, that the band can play, and vocalist, Peter Falconer has a fine voice. To be honest, there is nothing that shatters any music for me quicker than a sub-par vocalist. Thankfully, that isn't the case here.
After the proggy flexibility of the opener, The Hidden Truth slows things down a bit, while still containing some fine playing and adventurous moments. In particular, the song contains some impressive work from guitarist, Dan Storey. From the beginning to the end of the album, the performances of the entire band can't be faulted. Keyboardist Pat Sanders is the writer of the music, and he too provides some solid work throughout.
The "Neo" tag becomes less relevant as the album progresses, and tracks like Intruder and album closer Retribution display a modern, harder edge. Also, Alice and Gods showcase an intriguing, more acoustic side to the band.
Overall, the diversity contained throughout, gives Safe Asylum a freshness that many Neo releases are lacking. The album is certainly prog and there is no lack of entertaining instrumental moments. The band doesn't make the mistake that many bands do, of relying too heavily on their obvious ability to jam. Safe Asylum seems to always keep the structure of the song in check.
So how does the album measure up in terms of my earlier comments about the successful combination of composition, performance and production? Quite well actually. There is a consistency in all of those areas, and though I can't say that I would put this album alongside the great neo prog albums, it is nonetheless a very enjoyable listen. It is certainly one of the better albums of its type that I have heard in 2016. Ultimately, _Safe Asylum is a solid work and Drifting Sun is a band well worth looking into.
Patrick McAfee: 7.5 out of 10
Fates Warning - Theories of Flight
From the Rooftops (6:52), Seven Stars (5:33), SOS (4:34), The Light and Shade of Things (10:14), White Flag (5:20), Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen (5:13), The Ghosts of Home (10:31), Theories of Flight (4:00). Acoustic Bonus Disc: Firefly (previously unreleased) (3:15), Seven Stars (previously unreleased) (4:25), Another Perfect Day (previously unreleased) (3:25), Pray Your Gods (Toad the Wet Sprocket cover version) (3:45), Adela (Joaquin Rodrigo cover version) (2:25), Rain (Uriah Heep cover version) (4:03)
Not that Fates Warning has ever produced a bad record. Contrary to the general consensus, I really enjoy Disconnected, (especially the awesome opener One), as well as the lighter, more reflective tone of FWX. However I will admit that their last effort, Darkness in a Different Light, gave the impression of a band, and especially a singer, going through the motions.
Here, chief songwriter Matheos, and especially Ray Alder, seem to have rediscovered their mojo, big time. There is a power, passion and creativity that has been missing in their recent output. If you add melodies and riffs that keep bringing you back to the ear candy store, then Theories of Flight must be judged as one of FW's best albums.
Musically it is a true amalgamation of Fates Warning's career from Parallels onwards.
From The Rooftops opens this album with a languid guitar refrain, which echoes the mid-western vibe frequented on FWX. But within two minutes it is swept away with a hurricane of incredible riffs and solos, possessing a strong similarity to the aggression and technical playing that Matheos rediscovered with former FW singer John Arch on 2011's excellent Sympathetic Resonance.
Seven Stars has something of Parallels in the simple, sublime beauty of the verse and chorus, and with a timeless, near-pop hook that will keep you coming back to this song in 20 years time. An interesting bridge and solo halfway through, are the first of many curveballs that keep your ears engaged across this album.
SOS is the album's most direct song, with another crazily inventive riff and another great hook. Here we sense the alternative edge and groove that was familiar on Disconnected and Darkness ... but with a ferocity that has not been present in the band's music for some time. This sounds like a band in their early 20s, not late 40s.
As ever with the lyrics of Ray Alder (Matheos is credited with the words on just one song here) there is a timely thoughtfulness and honest reflection in life's personal journeys. The album title, Theories of Flight, refers to the over-riding themes of transience, disconnection and the search for solid ground. After five decades on Planet Earth, one often has a keener regard for upcoming change, and the need to make careful choices when considering a different direction in one's life.
On the track Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen, Alder advises us to trust our memories as we go into future unknowns: "See the dark road ahead/lit by memories you knew."
It sounds as if Alder has found a real connection with the messages in these songs, delivering every syllable with a conviction, power and passion that has not been present as of late, either with Fates Warning or Redemption.
The Light and Shade of Things would have been a good contender for the album title, as it is both the most powerful track and good description of the dynamic variety that makes this such a great listen. Here we begin with a refrain and mood similar to those on APSOG or even Matheos' OSI project. One of two ten-minute-plus tracks, it soon turns into a much heavier beast, before returning beautifully to the original theme.
White Flag is just superb song-craft and one of the best songs Fates Warning has ever written. It offers more insane riffing and a melody to sing to your grave. Meanwhile The Ghosts of Home (Matheos' sole lyrical credit) is the best example of how the band is still able to push out the boundaries, offering a very different vibe, and a guitar tone and vocal phrasing that they have not utilised before.
Sandwiched between these two tracks, Like Stars Our Eyes Have Seen does not fare too well. It is the lightest and weakest song on this disc. The title track, which closes the album, is more of a coda than a complete song, but works well. These two tracks are all that stands in the way of me judging this as a perfect album.
That said, Theories of Flight is definitive Fates Warning. More than three decades after they helped to define progressive metal, this is a band still creating fresh and innovative music, with songs as powerful and poignant as anything they have done before. A genuine return-to-form!
Andy Read: 9.5 out of 10
Zanov - Open Worlds
Electric Dust Field (4:09), Next Trip (5:30), Magical Area (5:53), Strange World (6:48), Robot Valley (4:17), Signal From Diamond Desert (4:17), Vital Obscurity (4:26), Last Secret Time (4:35), Remote Impact (6:04)
The sound on his new album, Open Worlds, is a mixture of Jean Michel Jarre's populist electronic fare, mixed with the more structured of Tangerine Dream's soundtrack work. The pieces here are generally shorter than those on his previous albums. He plays all the music, which is entirely synthesiser based.
There is a warm, analogue feel to the album, which is quite an achievement given that, by its very technological nature, electronic music can seem sometimes cold and remote. This may be because of the structure and purpose displayed by Zanov over the course of this work. There are no epic-length instrumentals here, and so there is no reliance on drifting, ambient soundscapes. But having said that, as with all electronic music, there is a requirement on the listener to concentrate, or risk losing your place in the flow of the work.
The music on Open Worlds is cyclical and pulsing, rather than consisting of overlapping washes of sound. The melodies are gentle and evolving, through sequenced sounds that rise and fall throughout the pieces, that are integrating patterns of melody, that swirl and mesh with rising and falling cadences. Each piece creates its own Sound World, but they never really veer off in any surprising directions.
The best tracks, such as Strange World and the theme and variations of Robot Valley, go through many moods, whilst retaining a melodic integrity. If synthesisers can be said to get heavy, they do on Vital Obscutity, whilst there is a dark ambience to Last Secret Time, with its disjointed, melodic line.
Zanov's Open Worlds is an album of delicacy and dynamism in equal measure, having an attention to detail in both the production and its Sound World. It works well. It's not going to persuade a non-believer in the virtues of electronic prog, but it is a solid addition to the genre.
Martin Burns: 7.5 out of 10