Preface (1:16), Launch Overture (6:10), Voyage... (0:49), Journey Into Space (2:38), Weightless (2:24), Hard Choices (0:50), The Ones Left Behind (6:14), Life In The Outside (0:54), Among The Stars (6:06), Much Ado About... (0:36), In Our Quiet Orbit (6:36), To Be Loved (2:42), A Silver Lining (0:38), The Star Seekers (3:28)
A man of many talents, Leon Alvarado has based his latest release, The Future Left Behind, on one of his own science fiction short stories. Set on a future Earth ravaged by climate change, some humans have escaped to orbital habitats, but at the cost of their freedom. He writes the music and the narration on the CD, as well as playing keyboards, sequencers and drums.
The story is told through a narration (spoken by molasses-voiced Steve Thamer) that sets up the instrumental pieces. These are in the main, keyboard dominated slices of lovely melodic, instrumental, symphonic prog rock. Leon Alvarado states that the idea for the album is influenced by his love for Rick Wakeman's Journey To The Centre of The Earth extravaganza. And who should pop on the first music track, Launch Overture, but the very same Mr Wakeman, adding additional keys and a cracking Moog solo.
Also joining in on The Future Left Behind is another Yes alumnus Billy Sherwood who, with the exception of one track, adds his guitar playing throughout. He shines on the aforementioned Launch Overture, but he is especially good on the shimmering Among the Stars.
Leon Alvarado keeps away, generally, from the obvious floaty synth space atmospherics. Going instead for the atmospheric grandeur of orchestrally layered keyboards on the two best tracks, The Ones Left Behind and the Vangelis-like In Our Quiet Orbit. Whilst on Weightless he opts for off-kilter piano, rather than the obvious Tangerine Dream-iness. Then to mix things up a bit, you get on To Be Loved a beautiful acoustic guitar-led track, played by Johnny Bruhns.
The main problem for me is the narration. After two or three plays it becomes a bit redundant and irritating in its portentous, film-trailer voice-over way (you know - adopts deep bass voice - "In a world..."). The narration isn't integrated into the music in the way Richard Burton is on Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds. In the end though, these can be skipped, and one can focus on the very good music here.
I must give a quick mention of the cover art. The front cover image does not do justice to what is in the superb booklet.
So Leon Alvarado's The Future Left Behind is a melodically-robust, entertaining collection of symphonic prog instrumentals, which manage to sidestep one's expectations. The music is well worth a listen.
The Bells (6:45), The Kitchen Table (5:06), Unicorn (4:07), Trace of Human (5:16), To the Heart of the Bell (5:06), Wars (3:48), Paradise Days (8:14), The End of All (6:24)
Progressive music from Poland. These few words may already have you thinking: "Wait a minute, does that mean yet another Riverside?" Well, dear reader, that, it certainly does not mean. The music that Caren Coltrane Crusade delivers doesn't come anywhere close to the famous Riverside sound. What they do share, is the Polish background and perhaps a soft spot for atmosphere. The way the atmosphere is created here however, differs from their fellow countrymen.
What we have on The Bell is music that immediately had me thinking of Icelandic singer Björk, whilst the percussion and electronics used also remind me of the new romantic or even gothic style that was part of the 80s new wave in Europe. In the way Marzena Wrona sings, I hear a crossover of Björk and sometimes a somewhat less emotional Siouxsie Sioux. If you are in for an adventure, I invite you to give a listen to this album. The sounds used are perhaps not always the most difficult ones, yet what is strong about the album, is the way that the percussion, the electronics and Marzena's voice are combined.
I would say Marzena uses her voice as an instrument too. Yet her voice may appear to be an acquired taste which, I'm afraid, will not get everyone wholly enthused. However, the electronics do sometimes remind me of the sounds of early Peter Gabriel albums. Marzena takes care of the electronics, of the lyrics and of the arrangements as well. Marek Kaczerzewski plays the guitar, and Piotr Abraham is the man taking care of the percussion.
In the free and open-minded world that is the realm of prog, one should at least give this album a try. It is up to you to find out whether you consider it a gem, or would dismiss it. To these ears, the album may not be perfect, but is is most certainly something different.
Chile is not widely renowned for its avifauna (bird life) nor for its prolific output of rock bands, let alone prog rock bands. Yet Chilean band Hominido now greets us with their second offering called Alados, the successor of their debut Estirpe Lítica. That record obtained very good reviews, including here where colleague Jez Rowden rewarded it 9.5 out of 10. On that album Eliana Valenzuela did the vocal duties, but she has been replaced by Javier Briceño on this one. Furthermore the band consists nowadays of Natán Ide on rhythm guitar, founder Rodrigo González Mera on drums and percussion, Pablo Cárcamo on guitar and keyboards, co-founder Francisco Martin on bass, Cristopher Hernández on trumpet and the likes, and last but not least, Benjamin Ruz on violin.
Alados contains 11 songs that are inspired by contemporary Chilean indigenous birds from the south of the country. That inspiration and the interesting combination in instrumentation, promises an interesting sound. The lyrics, which came to me as a Google-translate file, deal with the comparison between the features of these bird species and the singularities from the hominids (great apes), as a link through music. Sounds promising.
The album starts quietly, with the sounds of running water and many different birds in the background. Drums fall-in, a quiet electric guitar pucks up the central theme, the vocals start with a soft trumpet in the background, and off we go into a gentle song. It flows nicely until halfway, when there is a nice outburst of the full band, which develops into a sort of "picked" guitar mid-piece that sounds a bit like a rehearsal. Fortunately the band picks up the song again and bursts out towards the end. It is a strong opening that promises a lot. Yet from neither the music nor the lyrics, can I understand why the Chilean mockingbird was the inspiration here.
The second song is about the Tufted tit-tyrant, a small and restless companion of human settlements. This song is nice and gentle again and has some similarities with the opening track in the overall mood of the music. Again the relation between the lyrics, the music and the bird species, fails to dawn on me.
Queltehue starts nicely with some sounds of the southern lapwing, the Queltehue. The drums sound very dry, dominant and driving. The guitar is sparse, the trumpet laid back. Then some heavy guitar riffing bursts out, which apart from being totally unspectacular, is also quite uninspiring and dull. The vocals are again in the same tonal range as the former songs, without any emotional expression. Towards the end it get even worse with an a-melodious outburst of shredding guitars and very ugly sounding keys. That alone makes this song one to skip on future occasions.
The music tends towards more Andean folk in Chercan, which is the house wren, again a bird species that lives close to humans. Nice percussion and very jazzy guitar and trumpet playing with wren calls in the background, fill in the central theme. It sounds a bit simple but nevertheless attractive, and represents nicely the restless hopping of this tiny bird.
Fio Fio starts with some spoken words, beautiful violin and trumpet playing and develops into a gentle, flowing song. The lyrics deal with a search for freedom, apparently evoked by the white-crested elenia that is the inspiration.
Then things definitely turn for the worse. Vari has a vocal line that sounds totally unattractive to me, worsened by a very simple, yet ugly-sounding guitar. It sounds like a bad imitation of Led Zeppelin and is again a song to skip next time. Too bad for the marsh harrier, that inspired this song!
It doesn't get much better in Pequen, the burrowing owl, that has a uninteresting guitar solo and outdated keys at the end of the song, sounding a bit like a light-weight Nine Inch Nails. The interplay between trumpet and keys is nice. The vocals alas uninspiring.
With Loica, the long-tailed meadowlark, the band recovers a bit, with a decent guitar solo, a hypnotising rhythm, and nice harmony vocals. There is emotion in the singing, there is a fine melody, pumping basses and drums, and it all comes together well.
The bass intro to Traro, the southern caracara, sounds almost like a copy of the bass intro to Pink Floyd's One of These Days. With riffing, metallic guitars and pumping drums, this song gets a Metallica drive, with which Briceno's voice can't compete. He grabs the lead in the quieter parts, but his vocals are blown away by the guitars in the louder ones, making this an unbalanced song.
Fortunately the best is yet to come. Chuncho is a slow song full of energy and drive. Starting quietly, with a nice carpet of keys over which the species that inspired this one, the Austral pygmy owl, calls. The percussion and the trumpet interact well, supporting a simple but nice guitar and vocal line. Gradually the sound gets heavier, with louder drums and electric guitar giving way to a trumpet and guitar solo halfway through the song. From that point the energy slowly fades into a nice coda in which the calls of this little owl emerge again. Simply, nicely done.
The album closes with another slow song, Garza, the little blue heron, with which the music returns to the gentleness of the first two songs. The reverbing guitar solo fits nicely into the overall lazy mood of the music, while the rest of the band supports this mood well in the background. Towards the end, the vocal melody completely changes and forms a short coda supported by keys and violin.
Although I found it hard to keep up my attention during the full album, the two closing songs are well worth the wait, as they are, to my ears, easily the best ones in terms of musicianship and originality.
Overall I found this a disappointing album, given the expectations I had. At least half of the songs sound more like a demo than a fully arranged song. The potential of the band and their attitude towards music is high, but they fail to deliver, especially in the musical arrangements. So in this case, I'll go for the birds instead of the music.
Age Of Innocence (4:39), Metamorphosis (4:58), Nature's Child (4:28), Black Magic (5:50), Haunted (5:04), Invisible World (4:00), Death Valley (4:36), Reptiles (5:18), Carved In Stone (3:08)
Too often bands and record labels are afflicted with a diarrhoea-like overuse of hyperbolic adjectives in describing their new music/new release. Thus full marks to Finland's Montage for their accurate brevity. "Classic hard rock with a prog twist," is their self-effacing description. And that's really all you need to know when deciding if you wish to checkout their second album any further.
Formed in Helsinki in 2011, there has been one line-up change since the release of their début album in May 2014; singer Mikko Heino has departed the group, replaced by Vesa Paavonen. Their début album was well received and the group supported its release with several concerts in northern European countries and in the Netherlands (read the dprp verdict here).
Metamorphosis features nine rock songs, that within the boundaries of the genre can still be described as eclectic, offering as it does a wide range of influences.
The album begins with three upbeat rock 80s anthems where the keyboard breaks give the only proggy vibe. Age Of Innocence, Metamorphosis and Nature's Child are all great driving music. The band's love for 70s progressive rock comes a little more to the fore on Black Magic, Haunted and the more balladic Invisible World, before Death Valley and Reptiles see a return to the guitars and 80s hard rock stylings. The atmospherically acoustic Carved In Stone draws proceedings to an uncharacteristically gentle ending.
There are no real attempts to modernise the 80s sound and there is very little instrumental or vocal showcasing. I'd prefer a singer with a richer "soul" or "blues" element to their voice, like all the best frontmen of the 80s had. That sound just fits the music so well. However the songs have some great melodies and offer enough variety to avoid becoming boring. For those who enjoy "classic hard rock with a prog twist", this does exactly what it says on the tin and does it very well.
Long Day (1:42), Overture (5:51), The Dream (2:28), City of Destruction (5:11), We Have Got to Go (2:29), Makes No Sense (4:10), Draw the Line (4:06), The Slough (3:03), Back to the City (4:19), The Ways of a Fool (6:48), So Far Gone (5:21), Breath of Angels (6:32), Slave to Your Mind (6:27), Shortcut to Salvation (4:36), The Man in the Iron Cage (5:16), The Road Called Home (3:24), Sloth (5:48), Freedom Song (3:59), I'm Running (3:44), The Mask (4:28), Confrontation (3:59), The Battle (2:57), Broken Sky/Long Day (Reprise) 9:58
This is the first review I have done for a Neal Morse album. Being a fan of hissince the Spock´s Beard era, one could say it´s very difficult to sit down and review this, but actually it´s the opposite. I won´t make you wait until the end of my words to know what´s my score: The Similitude of a Dream is just 10 out of 10. Or 100 out 100, or whatever. No surprises I guess.
I´m not going to talk about each song or analyse them. Many have already done that, and I won´t bring anything new to the discussion. This review is not about that. I´m also not going to talk about the great musicians you can find on this album or their virtuosity, because I´m not an expert musician and, honestly, I don´t even know how to play a single note on the acoustic guitar that I have in a corner of my living room.
I´m not going to talk about Mike Portnoy´s words, saying this album is among the best in history because I haven´t heard as many classic albums as Mike, and honestly, I don´t care. We are always trying to compare new albums with those in the past, and I think that´s conditioning us. Of course it´s human to do it, but it´s better not to think in that way. So forget Mike´s words (sorry Mike) and decide for after listening to this album a hundred times.
The Similitude of a Dream is just great progressive. Or rather, it is just great music, because who cares about genres when you enjoy what you listen to? Progressive music lovers always say that this type of music is not for everyone, but when you´re talking about a great album like this, I don´t agree. This album is about enjoying and having fun while listening. It´s about the feelings that each song awakens in you. No matter if it´s a rock song, an instrumental overture or the way that a multi-voice chorus appears in a poppy way after a hard rocking bridge. This album has those things and many more. And one can feel that they are perfectly placed in each song, making the album flow effortlessly from start to finish. Every song appears just when I want it to appear. As I have said, it´s a matter of feelings.
I know many progressive rock fans have accused Neal of repeating himself in his last albums, but I think it´s time for them to give away their prejudices and listen to this one with an open mind. For those like me who enjoy every Neal Morse album, I will give the same advice: reserve two hours of your time and enjoy this without thinking about anything else. It´s just great music and you should be listening to it right now.
So this is my review. Maybe you expected something different? Maybe you think I´m too much a fan of The Neal Morse Band, but my score will remain the same: 10 out of 10.
Fairytale (parts 1-4) (16:19), Choices (6:26), Counting Chickens (5:01), Maybe (5:08), Every Day (9:15), Chasing Rainbows (6:08), From A Spark (6:42), Brand New Day (12:16)
There is marketing material for Patchwork Cacophony that states that the music contained on Five of Cups is not "retro". Upon initial listen, it struck me as a debatable comment, but in truth, it may be a fact. Yes, the music reflects on progressive rock from the 70s, but it accomplishes this in a way that is so organic that it sounds very fresh. Unlike many modern prog bands, who pick elements from classic artists, Patchwork Cacophony actually strives for the heart of what made the period so special for progressive rock.
However one catagorises it, the album definitely hit a nostalgic note for me. Much of this is a result of the instruments used, the multi-layered vocals and the overall style employed. There is a modern edge to be found, but ultimately, Five of Cups focuses on a classic prog sound.
Nostalgia only goes so far though, and like any other recording, the strength of the songwriting, performances and production are the keys. The four-part album opener, Fairytale has no issues in those categories. The song is a real tour-de-force. It truly captures that great classic prog feeling, without sounding like a rehash.
Patchwork Cacophony is essentially a solo project for multi-instrumentalist Ben Bell (Fusion Orchestra Z, Gandalf). He handles the majority of the instrumentation and all of the vocals. Regardless, the album does have a band feel to it. He performs effectively across-the-board, but keyboards are Bell's real forté. A good example of this is the great instrumental Counting Chickens. With its complex melodies and fun interplay, it is reminiscent of Happy the Man. There is also a significant late 70s Camel vibe to Every Day, which is a highlight track.
I very much enjoyed the drastic musical twist and turns that certain songs take. Chasing Rainbows starts as a fairly straightforward rocker, but morphs mid-song into an introspective piano interlude. It is abrupt, but it works. From a Spark is a beautiful piano-led instrumental, whilst Brand New Day is an epic closer that features some great guitar work from guest Tim Hall.
Kudos go to Bell, as this is a strong and consistently entertaining album. His obvious fondness for classic progressive rock is on display here, but Five of Cups undoubtedly succeeds on its own merits.
Crystals (8:15), Shaman In The Woods (4:46), I.A.B. (4:04), Tusko (5:52), The Jazz (9:55), Stoned Conceptions (12:32)
I don't know what it is about Scandinavia, but there seems to be an unlimited supply of prog bands from the Nordic lands. One of the latest is Shaman Elephant, a quartet from Norway featuring Eirik Sejersted Vognstølen (acoustic and electric guitars, vocals), Jard Hole (drums and percussion), Ole-Andreas Sæbø Jensen (bass, backing vocals, percussion, guitar) and Jonas Særsten (organ, electric piano, guitar, backing vocals). The group's début release was 2015's digital EP More, whose three tracks showed the band to be heavily influenced by 70s hard rock and psychedelia. Their progressive tendencies focused more on the musical rather than the, somewhat shambolic, vocal side of things. Karisma Records were suitably impressed and snapped the band up.
The album highlights how the band has developed in the short space of time since the release of the EP, with the opening title track displaying a less rambunctious approach, with smoother vocals and a shift towards a more progressive direction. However the psychedelic tendencies are never too far from the surface. The instrumental second half of the song showcases some very good interplay between organ and guitar. Shaman In The Woods is driven along by a heavy bass groove, with Vognstølen and Særsten simultaneously singing the vocals, something that works very well and is underused in modern music. I.A.B. follows directly on and is almost a continuation of the previous song, except that the vocals are delivered by Vognstølen alone and are closer to those on the More EP and consequently tend to distract from an otherwise fairly decent tune, with some fine electric piano work.
Tusko starts off sparsely, with a solo piano, before the rest of the band gradually make their presence felt, generating a light, jazzy instrumental with some excellent, fluid guitar work. The change of pace and style provides a great mid-album breather and it is a solid performance from the whole group.
In contrast, The Jazz, although initially maintaining the slower pace, features a heavy, fuzz-laden guitar riff that blossoms into a promising slice of prog-psych. It has all the right elements, but somehow feels lacking as a complete entity. A really nice acoustic guitar, organ and bass section starting at about 6:37 develops well, with the rhythm section taking the lead. The drums echo the bass over a background of screeching and feedbacking guitars, whilst light keyboard flourishes twinkle in the foreground.
The album is completed by the rather epic Stoned Conceptions. All the adages of 'less is more' and 'it is the notes that you don't play being more important than the ones you do' can be applied to this track; a brooding display of restraint and control, that bursts with expectation. One anticipates that there will be a freak-out at some point, but the band holds back, first with an organ, then a guitar solo, before the delightful melody is resumed. The maintenance of this suspension throughout is to the advantage of the piece and elevates it to a level that shows the band has a maturity that goes beyond its young age.
Crystals is a promising début album, and if Shaman Elephant continues to develop and advance as much as they have between their first two releases, then they have a very bright future ahead of them.
Birth of the Earth - Collision (1:28), Stone Age (8:26), Galileo I - And Yet It Moves (E Pur Si Muove) (2:52), Galileo II - Copernican Theory (5:52), Birth of the Earth - Merger (1:20), Age of Steam I- Pastoral Garden, II. Machine City (8:07), Wright Flyer 1903 (7:50), On the Radio (2:18), Birth of the Earth - Magma Ocean (1:26), E = c#m (4:36), I am Thee (Awakening of Cloneroid) (6:55), Birth of the Earth - Embryonic Planet (8:17)
I don't know that many Japanese prog bands and the ones that I do know tend to produce a rather powerful, bombastic kind of prog rock.
Clearly the Japanese taste tends to such music, just look at the glamour artists that are mega-stars in that country, but totally unknown in the rest of the world.
Actually I really can appreciate some serious bombast and a wall of sound, preferably created by synths, so bands like Ars Nova and Gerard surely have a happy listener's ear with me.
The more surprised I was though to notice that this rather new Japanese prog band Yuka & Chronoship doesn't really follow that path of their fellow Japanese prog bands.
Although they also offer rather powerful and keys dominated music, it's still more varied than that of the aforementioned bands.
The band was already founded in 2009 by female keyboardist, vocalist and composer Yuka Funakoshi, along with three leading studio musicians: bassist Shun Taguchi, guitarist Takashi Miyazawa and drummer Ikko Tanaka.
This is the third album by this band, as the title already sort of gives away.
Their previous album Dino Rocket Oxygen was also reviewed on DPRP.
As a singer-songwriter, Yuka has released three J-pop albums before moving towards the prog scene.
Also Shun was more active in the more poppy corner of the music world, mostly as producer, for instance of girl band Princess Princess.
The other two band members were mainly active before as studio musicians, composers and producers.
All songs on this album were composed by Yuka and the few lyrics written by Shun who also produced the album.
As already said, the music of Yuka & Chronoship is not the typical bombastic multi-keys layered music we know from some Japanese prog bands.
I would say their music is a bit more sophisticated, a bit more European neo-prog orientated and almost completely instrumental.
And with the inevitable Japanese sense of music mixed into that, the result is quite an interesting sound.
The band describes this album as "a celestial musical journey, a grandiose concept album themes with scientific/technological revolutions in the human history" with their music as "highly reminiscent of late Seventies Progressive rock, the sound of the band is reputed for its philosophical depth, lyrical brilliance, and technical virtuosity".
Well, leaving out the seemingly obligatory superlatives on the promo sheet, I must admit that this description mainly does touch wood.
This truly is an album for every neo-prog lover that likes the traditional keys- and guitar-dominated 70s prog sound.
And still this is not another album that just relives that well-known and most-beloved sound!
Yuka & Chronoship do offer something new, their sound is modern, sparkling and fresh and this makes them truly progressive.
The first part of the song Age of Steam is very reminiscence of the sound of Steve Hackett, but the second part of the song moves in a total different direction with a crying guitar solo (much more aggressive than Steve does) and then a nice Hammond solo in an almost bluesy way.
One can really say that this band manages to put in a lot of variation in their music without losing the coherence at all and thus keeping the listener fascinated and interested, spin after spin. This album won't bore quickly.
With the concept of the human technological evolution the album runs through the history of the earth in just one hour, starting at the birth of the earth, jumping to the stone age and then directly to Galileo and the steam age, followed by the Wright brothers, Marconi, and of course not forgetting the genius Albert Einstein.
With a glimpse into the future (Awakening of Cloneroid) it all ends at (another) birth of the earth.
That's a lot to digest in 1 hour!
With the very limited amount of lyrics, just a few lines as printed in the booklet, it's mainly the music that tells the story leaving all images to the imagination of the listener.
The only songs containing some lyrics are Age of Steam (still just 4 lines) and I am Thee (just a refrain).
Vocals also appear in a few songs as a multi layered vocal choir sung by Yuka.
All the rest is just a great, very varied, well-performed offering of music to enjoy.
I really like the cover art, very creative, expressive and mystical, beautifully created by Hideji Oda and their logo is a clear Roger Dean design.
I don't think that I exaggerate when I state that Yuka & Chronoship is a true discovery and should be getting the recognition they deserve!
It's not often that an album keeps me fascinated after many spins and that I truly enjoy the complete album with a feeling of amazement.
All the elements I search in an album are present: variation, good musicianship, creative tunes and melodies, new sounds and an superb overall sound.
There really isn't much I can mention on the negative side; for people who prefer vocal songs this album might not directly be their cup of tea, but still they might also enjoy the arrangements and certainly the choir-like vocals.
This is instrumental neo-prog with a twist at its best and I just recommend you to check it out!