Saturday, December 06, 2008

The Third Ending

I wouldn’t necessarily put this in the consolation spot. This is very good music. Nick Storr has a clean voice whereas Andrew Knott lays on a layer of slick drums. The acoustic guitars operated by Andrew Curtis, well, they provide the oil & lube. Cornel Ianculovici is the machinist of the group as his bass drills perfectly symmetrical holes.

By the way, they each have nicknames: Nick, Curtis, Cornel & Knotty are how these guys like to be addressed. As for the album, it just goes by John Doe.

Anyhow, this no-name album is something worth writing home about, which is kind of why I’m writing about it now. Music buffs would be missing out if they didn’t hear these elegant verses and sophisticated riffs played out. The reason why this works is because they never go overboard. Just the right amount of spit n’ polish is supplied and nothing more. While it’s accessible enough for the usual passersby’s, its intelligence is mainly meant for people who are ProgRock literate.

It’s all good but I have a couple favorites…

“Back Home” is hospitable with its simple incense, and “Can You Hear Me?” is clever how it uses the structure of an inbound voicemail message to complete its doggerel.

Individually, those were excellent whereas the five-track epic -- appropriately named “Fingerprints” for its early and reprised refrain -- was awesome when combined into one piece.

Forgoing the progressive for a second, this music brings back those halcyon days of house parties listening to Stone Temple Pilots, Pearl Jam and Collective Soul.

Like those legendary bands of the post-grunge era, these guys quite literally rock. Aside from the drummer, each shares in the vocal duties; still, even Knotty contributes that occasional strained verse.

One minute it’s Ray Wilson’s Stiltskin; the next it’s Kevin Gilbert’s Shaming of the True. It flip-flops between Pineapple Thief and Porcupine Tree. Likewise, it ebbs and flows with Orphan Projects and Pink Floyd. In addition to all that, a Dream Theater influence can be heard now and then. They control both the horizontal and the vertical. They are fine whether they cross the line into heavy subject matter or take us back into the light.

Third Ending has landed somewhere in that crack between popular and alternative. Whether they are in or out with the cool & beautiful people, they’d be considered special in my clique. This is one heck of an album, and I am thoroughly impressed.

I’m not sure I understand The Third Ending’s numbering system; starting with their name. They commence with “Eleven” and “Part V” is towards the end. As for my class structure, I grade on a curve and only have few aces to show. Yet, they managed to coast into that upper caste. With some conceptual material in their future (and I surely hope there is more), they just might join the ranks of other star pupils after school and earn one of those limited, coveted spots on a very rockin’ squad.


Monday, November 17, 2008

Guy Manning – Songs from the Bilston House

With the buzz surrounding Phideaux’s Doomsday Afternoon, it seems as if last year’s best album may have gone overlooked. In Songs from the Bilston House, Guy Manning has totally outdone himself. When my hands weren’t giving the air guitars - or those equally phantom keyboards - their due, my mouth was agape with shock and awe.

For several days straight, I was humming this very music. I just couldn’t get these catchy tunes out of my head. And believe it or not, I’m not talking about one or two songs. In general, Manning’s latest album is littered with accessible passages and mantras. Every time I hear it, I am befuddled at how long it took him to craft this masterpiece. It seems like only yesterday he released A Matter of Life & Death, One Small Step, and Anser’s Tree. How in the heck did he fit so much onto a single disc?

Looking at the credits, I see he had assistance from Andy Tillision. This might explain why a number of the numbers parallel The Tangent. While that might fulfill a piece of the puzzle, this extraordinarily gifted Englishman deserves a glut of accolades for his wholesome efforts. He has 77 minutes and 14 seconds of confectionary goodness, and it’s completely absent of marshmallowy minutiae or fluff. Even his hazelnut gelato isn’t cut with lesser fillers.

To describe this concept album, I keep returning to the same correlation. This is like Charlie and The Chocolate Factory on shuffle. As Tim Burton has done for The Demon Barber, it would come as no surprise if the prince of dark fantasy came knocking on Manning’s door with the possibilities of a screenplay. To that end, this material is not only incredible; it’s as sing-able as an east coast musical. Then again, it’s more up to date than a sacrificial lamb on Broadway.Playing the role of Oompa-Loompas are Laura Fowles and Julie King whose backing vocals round out the equation by adding a sweet eeriness to the mix. Since they are females and neither pygmies nor munchkins, it seems as if Deep Roy, Warwick Davis and Kenny Baker, will have to keep looking for employment. Not to mention, Fowles brings her saxophone to the table; thus making her more desirable to the stage manager.

Even though every ditty is to die for, “Lost in Play” is leaps and bounds ahead of the rest. That’s my personal opinion so there’s should be no question which cocoa-covered nougat holds the golden ticket. I’m sure the fair-haired rosy-skinned demoralizing dwarves of Loompaland would agree with me that this song has the commercially acceptable vibe of the BoDeans. Piled upon the heap, Steve Dundon’s flutes are fabulous too; creating so much stickiness that it would have been impossible to flush this down a garbage chute.

Foregoing my favorite song, Veruca Salt is the center of attention in “The Calm Absurd”.

Persisting to stir diverse ingredients into the mixer, “Understudy” has David Million borrowing his lead guitar from RPWL. While his methods pass the litmus test, only when I checked the bill did I realize that Blind Ego’s front-man and shredder was absent. As I hold the highly-regarded Kalle Wallner responsible, it’s plain to see that this union buster has done his job and duplicated a precious recipe that’s one in million.

In concordance with the suspicions of Mike Tevee, Genesis is clearly referenced in “Skimming Stones” -- up until that point where Manning bribes the ferryman with delectable gelt.

“Icarus & Me” proves that this working prototype from GM is the newest model to come out of Neal Morse’s showroom. When taken for a spin, it seems as if Morse’s offshore cartel has incorporated a twist on the popular model: That would be the keyboards and brass from Spock’s Beards’ Snow.

In contrast, “Pillars of Salt” is a blast from the past that goes even further back. In a way, it’s reminiscent of The Beatles and The Doors. If I saw this on Ed Sullivan in black and white, I wouldn’t have known that the broadcast was a fake.

Bridging the connection between Italy and Ireland, the worldly infusion from “Inner Moment” comes without the layover. As it’s on the candy dot in terms of punctuality, it has no need for a flux capacitor to put a wrinkle in the time either. It does however feature an accordion and if you squint; you might find Iona running away with a piece of the action.

The only songs I didn’t mention were the title track and “Antares”. Trust me; these don’t deserve to be treated like chopped liver, but truth be told; the respective themes do correspond with Augustus Gloop and Violet Beauregarde. They also sound like The B-52’s. [That would be the band, and not the long-range working-class plane manufactured by Boeing or the uncommon gal’s beehive hairdo. To be absolutely lucid, I have cited one of the leaders of pop who has been styled after a coif that was strategically named after a Subsonic Stratofortress. Got it? Or were you just as confused as I was when trying to follow the chocolatier’s convoluted speech patterns.]

By the way, the startup program initiated from the knocker is extremely well-written. Plus, I love how the lexis posted on the artwork is chimed as we pass through the foyer.

In retrospect, my first thought was that this album was very good. Once the conclusive note expired, I wanted to hear it again. Out of impulse, I reset the player and surreptitiously hit play. Now that I’ve had time to ascertain what’s been done, I assert that he’s produced a hole in one. When weighed against his priceless ingots, bar none this is his best. It’s simply beyond compare even if it does appear to pay homage to spoiled brats.

While I purposely try not to use the same words twice, I have no qualms calling it a masterpiece more than once. Not only is it a marvel in and of itself, it puts a twist on that renowned phenomenon that queerly binds Dark Side of the Moon to the escapades of Dorothy Gale. This is more than just a clever analogy; it’s virtually reality. I was flabbergasted by the coincidence between this and Johnny Depp’s take on Willy Wonka. Also I was bowled over by the fact that an album with hair-raising effects went relatively unnoticed. You know what? It’s better than Cats. In translation, Songs from the Bilston House is just too good to miss.

So that’s the album more or less. Now that I have this critique out of the way, all I ask is for a moment of silence as I veto a misguided panel and announce the actual winner of last year. If there was something called the Programmy, the slip inside the envelope would read, “And the award goes to Guy Manning!!!”


[Don’t get me wrong: Doomsday Afternoon is an excellent album. It’s not as if it’s a stinker or being considered for the Golden Raspberry Award. To be frank, Phideaux’s latest opus is a masterpiece as well. I just think that this one is marginally better.]

Friday, October 31, 2008

The RPWL Experience

As Monty Python put it; this is something different – from the eccentric title to the blistering opening track. This Pink Floyd cover band does nothing to the effect of copying their heroes here. If anything, this is more like OSI, the slower songs of Dream Theater, Yes or the less-than-rudimentary pieces of Jadis.

Honestly, it’s more in the vein of Blind Ego than RPWL. To state the obvious, Kalle Wallner, much to the same effect as Jim Matheos, slaps a choke hold squarely on his axe. Manni Müller on drums, no doubt, moves up the heavyweight ladder. As for Yogi Lang, his conditioning is about as good as it’s ever been whilst the bassist, Chris Postl, is the steadiest of strikers in his comeback bout. Not to mention, I’ve never witnessed a keyboardist employ the ground and pound so effectively. With that said, Markus Jehle could certainly force a tap-out with his should-be-illegal small joint manipulation. When it comes to the progressive beat-down, these guys are no joke.

Hardly an exaggeration; every song is phenomenal. They feature great sound bytes plus a banshee’s scream.

My favorite is “Silenced”. In it they use this brilliant line: “Our life seems to be so bright safe in our cities of gold, standing still and doing what we’re told; because it’s none of our business at all.”

Additionally, ”Breath In, Breath Out”, ”Where Can I Go”, ”Masters Of War”, ”This Is Not A Prog Song”, ”Watch Myself”, ”Stranger”, ”River”, ”Choose What You Want To Look At”, and – take a deep breath, ahhh - ”Turn Back The Clock”, all deserve the spotlight. Come to think of it; that canvases the entire album

While I’d like to provide the comprehensive sketch upfront, let’s work over the unusual suspects before we consider this file closed:

The RPWL Experience is their best album to date. Actually, it’s shockingly good. If it doesn’t knock your socks off, you’re in the wrong genre altogether. Even if this release weren’t paramount, “Silenced” is surely their finest song ever.

If I were a fighter in the UFC, this would be my anthem as I make my way over to the octagon. It’s an amped-up version of Kino or Arena. Additionally, the lyrics are outstanding; socially conscious to be precise. If there were a Nobel Peace Prize for music, they should get it for this piece (get it, peace).

They make the scariest of observations: Not only we’ve learned how to sleep well in the night with all this warfare going on around us; we ignore it when we knew more. It’s obvious these guys grappled long and hard with sociological issues.

Aside from a message that can’t be dismissed, the music itself is potent. At the beginning, it might be Echolyn’s “Georgia Pines”. The charged particles in its final ventricles hearken back to the World Wrestling Federation. Then after all is said and done, Lang raises a sobering, empathetic point in a poignant but much subdued ending.

Even though it starts with the tenacity of Brock Lesner, it paces itself throughout the last round as it completes this ballet of violence (a term once coined by Joe Rogan) with a finishing move from the repertoire of Frank Mir. Ultimately, such extraordinary displays of athleticism demand entry into the Hall Fame.

They cover the full gamut and then run the gauntlet in “Silenced”. While I’ve had a lot to relay to the spectator that only covers a tenth of the mat. So don’t shoot the messenger in the foot of hit me in the face to spite my lack of haste until you’ve at least heard about the rest.

“Breath In, Breath Out” is Bush’s “Machinehead”, only gentler right down to the accidental head-butts. But seriously, the well-known verse is where it has the most presidential overlap.

What’s most interesting about “Where Can I Go?” is how much its narrative plays into its beat. Only this time the posturings of the reverend are right. Other than that, this is classic RPWL, but as far as that’s concerned; it may stand alone.

The remake of Bob Dylan’s “Masters of Warfare” – yeah you heard me right – is anything but awkward. You’d be hard-pressed to pick this one out of the line-up. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought Dylan took it from them instead of the other way around. In the passionate way that Lang sings it; you would have thought Dylan stole it from him. Regardless of its origins, this ‘is’ an RPWL song. Not until royalties are brought into question, will anybody raise the question, “What about Bob?” If possession is nine-tenth of the law, they presently own it like GSP owned Hughes in the most conclusive rubber match.

“This Is Not a Prog Song” is seriously funny but bloody serious. Tripping up the profiler, this vandal is closer to “That Thing You Do” than any of the mug shots in their scrapbook. Oddly enough, it takes a quick slide from The Rubinoos to indie punk, and it’s obvious they are poking fun at the critics in addition to the hecklers.

Simply put, “Watch Myself” is Sinead O’ Conner if she were to perform Porcupine Tree. Changing stations, “Stranger” is better than anything on mainstream radio, though this Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster does star Aerosmith. Then again, its rusty girders remind me of Soundgarten.

On another front, “River”” is “Crazy Lane” before it flows into a blissfully atmospheric la la land ala Tangerine Dream. After they’ve laid the groundwork, “Choose What You Want To Look At” is this their push for the top forty. It’s not quite cheesy enough for the American playlist but it’s accessible as hell. Think Foo Figheres or U2 and you’ve precisely hit the mark.

Shortly thereafter, they end the album on a tender note with “Turn Back The Clock”. While it’s sad to see them go so soon, it’s a sweet sore nonetheless. For the moment, they’re swan song is much akin to Green Day’s Olympic anthem.

Anyhow, to wrap up the commentary, the politics they reference in this are so preposterous that they must have been influenced by Dr. Strangelove. If what they say is true; then when the spaghetti hits the fan, the western world will be in trouble.

While some have whined that festivals feature too many repeats, the RPWL of today is a completely new act when compared to their former selves. Therefore, they are welcome in my book to tour wherever the demand will take them. I guarantee that they’ll wow crowds with this material. So if you’re looking for a prohibitive good time, opt-in for The RPWL Experience before all seats are taken.

9.25/10 [This would be my highest score ever for a progressive song-oriented album. Sorry, no epics but with tracks like these – I can’t believe I’m saying this – who needs it? Also be sure to check out their web site: It’s absolutely amazing and provides another sign that they’ve made it to the big leagues.]

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Black Bonzo – Sound of the Apocalypse

These guys are world-class friends of mine. Not so much because we go a long way back; mostly due to the distance. But seriously, they were immediately friendly and quick to bring me into their bevy (by bestowing this wondrous album on me as soon as I showed interest).

BandMates Markus & Anthon remind me quite a bit of my friends Matt & Simon. Whereas the latter were English, the former are Swedish. Aside from a couple consonants and a large pond separating their continents, I feel as if I’ve known them all my life. Whereas Matt & Simon were brothers and amateur filmmakers in high school, Markus & Anthon have no relation to each other beyond the fact that they are professional musicians stationed in the same band. One could infer that you must be blood brothers of sorts to tour the world together.

In any case, I won’t just have positive things to say because they’re my best friends or a pet band. To the contrary, I’ve just met them and have only known their music for a couple weeks. Regardless, I must say that their live performance – which first turned me onto their music – was awesome and listening to their album – believe it or not – is just as startling of an experience. These young pistols and whippersnappers can do both with great success.

Finally, there is a band that defines Progressive Rock and contains all its attributes – from the Rickenbacker to the flutes. Likewise, they release material with zero filler.

If I had to choose one track for you to hear, I’d be totally perplexed when it comes to making the choice. They’re all equal and good. Though if one song had to represent, it’d probably be the “Thorns Upon A Crown” as I love the way this album starts.

Also in succession “The Well” and “Intermission – Revelation Song” bring Kansas and Jethro Tull to mind whereas “Ageless Door” splatters Deep Heep (or is that Uriah Purple) across the walls. In any case, that old joke and overused comparison actually comes into play - for real - this time.

As for that latter day saint, it brings Snow’s “Devil’s Got My Throat” to the surface and graffiti’s all kinds of Queen on its bridges. To our benefit, we get both May & Morse. With allies and guitar heroes like these, you won’t have enemies. Rather, you’ll have sugary candy-shelled acquaintances.

Actually, Joakim Karlsson makes the guitars sing. Providing full disclosure, Mikael Israelsson does drums and Nicklas Åhlund is responsible for the keys. As earlier referenced, Anthon Johansson is the bassist whereas Magnus Lindgren is their voice.

In “Iscariot”, the high hats compliment the top hats. In other words, there’s sheer classiness in the deliverance of vocals and drums. With this ditty, Black Bonzo brings the sixties and the seventies to the forefront whilst providing time signatures as odd as Clockwork Orange. Afterwards, they end the album with a title track that’s worthy of its alias. Then again, every song is on the level of “Bohemian Rhapsody” in terms of its level of melodic mania.

George Roldan, the founder of RoSfest, must have superhero abilities or an extraordinary ear. Even though this band has a funky name and is landlocked far and away in the tundras of Scandinavia, something must have made his thermoreceptors dial their digits or coerced a button-click from his index. Because few had heard of Gonzo’s sun-burned brother before he had made them known.

Their symbol, by the way, looks like the circular logo that Compuware has recently retired. While this international firm makes IT rock around the world, Black Bonzo brings it to festivals and living rooms. Personally, for music enthusiasts; this is better (especially on the weekends), because I can let my tuchos rest while these pros sweat. This not only applies to technical consultants like me, but also to the techies who constitute the majority of the Prog Rock populace. Sorry folks, that goes beyond starry-eyed Trekkies or geeks since this convoluted music is freakishly modish.

In synch with corporate suits trying to make their businesses cool, these guys are legitimately hip and chic. If I had to put this in a TXT Message, I’d write, “4 PR BBz 1337.” For the record, that code corresponds with the word ‘elite’.


[I do believe that tuchos is Yiddish for – pardon my English – butt.]

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Dominici – O3 Part 3

This installment is not only the last, it’s theoretically the best. The trilogy started acoustically. For the sequel, Charlie Dominici contracted with a plugged-in crew – members from SolidVision whose talent is inversely proportional to their fame (for the record, they are relatively unknown over here at this time).

Rather than make the endeavor lopsided on one end, he continues to progress. In the final chapter, he takes this into metal-heavy waters. Even so, the moat is covered in a layer of Greek fire and Napalm.

Before this article self-destructs, let’s flesh out what happens in Charlie’s harsh realm:

“King of Terror” is the quintessential calm before the storm. Once it’s passed through the Nordic gates of Valhalla, all bets are off.

As if literally doused in lighter fluid, the guitars are ablaze in “Liquid Lightning”. From start to finish, the bass drum tests the mettle of your subwoofer.

“Revelation” not only discloses a lions share of plot devices, it’s also one of my favorites. As much as I like it, this flammable piece precludes the overall highlight.

The real harbinger would be “Genesis”. Don’t let the title deceive you! This has some very rough patches. While the beginning is the end, its demise will be most welcome to heavy metal fans. Not to mention, “Klaatu barada nikto” is spoken before the unholy rollers decide to initiate extinction.

As for the remaining fare, the unmentionable perishables are just as nefarious and severe.

3 of 03 is nastier and louder than the prior two, but for the most part; Charlie Dominici is passionate about his message. He infers that the world has become a wasteland of prejudice and hatred. Rather than come out and say it, he brings us full circle in a story that’s a microcosm of these foolish wars, unfounded phobias and fears.

In my opinion, the second album was very good, but it’s a close call. This one is excellent, and if anything; it’s the most revealing of the series.

Ultimately, this trilogy is monolithic. Instrumentally, earlier parts were great; however, it was hard to tell if there was a point. With this release, it's now apparent there was a method to his madness. Truth be told, his machinations are made of one stone.

Go ahead and tune out from the important allusions that he makes. You’re reprimand and cost will be an opportunity lost to gleam from Dominici’s magnus opus. To any true enthusiast with a melodic appetite, that sort of penalty is bloody hell. Thankfully, all it takes is a cheap insurance policy, and it’s your choice to apply.


Monday, June 30, 2008

The Tangent - Not As Good As The Book

Getting early access to this disc -- was a gift. So it’s no surprise that I waited till a certain milestone before making the decision to give it a spin: That would be my birthday. While friends and family wished me well, it was Andy Tillison who made my personal day all that more special.

To get the punch line out of the way, this is one of the best albums ever to be released. It’s not that it has strong melodies, insightful lyrics, clever artwork or a brilliant concept. It’s that it fulfills the bill in each of these aforementioned areas, and that doesn’t even get into the novella he wrote for select patrons.

Leading up to this day, I dug up some old Parallel or 90 Degrees. It is clear to see his raw potential back in those days. Rather than short out the circuitry with his imposing load, his kinetic energy has increased tenfold. With each new album he outpaces himself, and he does so in no small way. Now he’s taken this sturdy foundation and built a colossal sky rise upon it. It’s as if he’s collapsed earlier works and put all that brick and mortar into this project. Yet, it’s as exhilarating as a teenager’s first kiss.

With all the innovation cooped up in the past, it’s seems as if there is no slowdown in sight from his pen. It’s a conundrum of sorts that he has never experienced writer’s block. The musicianship could only come from practiced veterans whereas his wizened slyness is something that could challenge a lion’s lissome pride. It would make sense if this vigor and pep came from the youngsters of Engine of Earth; not a finely aged band of this caliber.

As for the actual litany applied here, he gives us seven song-oriented opuses followed by two artfully-engineered epics in the breadth of two discs. To ask me to pick a favorite would be like asking me to choose between savory entrées and delectable desserts. So I’ll give it to you quick and straight with this semi-automatic list of bulleted points:

“A Crisis in Midlife” is altruistic and astute (almost futuristic disco). The second it’s set to go, we are met by that ephemeral fork in the road. Inline with Yogi Berra’s advice, we rely on the hasty decision and take their modern transport into psychedelic oblivion. In other words, Star Trek thematically prefaces the episode, which is ironic since that distorted notion ascends later on sans the Enterprise. For the record, the new guitarist isn’t shy when it comes to carving his signature on the hull. Once the keyboards deploy and the bassist’s ballasts safely expel, he flips the switch on the propulsion system. Whether you’re progressively-minded or wet behind the ears, you’ll find that his shuttle craft warp by in a blink of an eye.

“Lost in London Twenty Five Years Later” is similar to that influential iceberg that tore up the Titanic. You don’t know what’s coming until it hits you. While I never expected to return to that passionate endeavor so soon; it’s a great way to spend the interim stretch of precious spare time. Go ahead and forgetaboutit cause it’s inevitable that the frosty slab will make first contact. It’s “Up-Hill from Here”, “Skipping the Distance”, and “GPS Culture” all rolled into one. If you were looking to further confirm Jakko M. Jakszyk’s skill, don’t even think about jettisoning past this timeslot. As for Tillison pipes – both piano and voice - they are shockingly spot on. Plus, it goes without saying that Reingold’s bountiful vibes sent such chills through my spine that I thought I was dipped in a vat of liquid nitrogen. At a minimum, his incessant air conditioning gave me an acute case of hypothermia. By the way, they enter into the taboo by mentioning a certain ‘S’ word more than once – well, not that particular one but a tricky topic nonetheless. So if the neighbor’s asking, “How’s the craic?” [This is the intended spelling], the correct response is not to smoke it because this bluesy rock boils way beyond a simmer. Funky jam aside; they penetrate the heat shields and cause the carburetor seals to splinter long before the toaster warms the pop tart. Resistance is surely futile in this bewildering instance. Nevertheless, when the sax sidles up against the fuselage, you’ll be overcome with respite because it set the voyager straight when it’s about to enter an uncontrollable tailspin. Before it’s over, Theo substitutes the frantic sax with a faithful flute. By now the most unbalanced audience member will be soothed into the La-Z-Boy position.

“The Ethernet” brings us something that’s both spirited and posh. This autonomous storyboard could be about Jim Halpert and Pam Beesley’s dubiously platonic love affair in NBC’s The Office. It parallels that mockumentary to a tee whilst one-upping the cynicism poignantly pointed out in “A Place in the Queue”. The comparisons hold true to such a degree that I am suspicious if this song possesses dual citizenship in its creator’s psyche. Could it be that Tillison already put this to paper and then decided to pay it forward? Like a tootsie roll tootsie pop, the world may never know. While it’s as ominous as The Police’s “Every Breath You Take”, this sacrosanct anthem gets flowery at the end. One would have expected Roine Stolt’s meticulous hands to have watered these ginger riffs. As it turns out, the surrogate is just as convincing as the initial lickster.

“Celebrity Puree” is a guilty pleasure. The reason why: This satisfyingly short feature is purely instrumental. Our instant gratification isn’t t the only reward as this naughty number leads guilelessly into the next piece.

Not until we’ve been wowed beyond belief do we encounter the quintessential title track. “Not as Good as the Book” is so fantastic that the written word cannot do it justice. Jakszyk demonstrates additional firepower from his arsenal of skill. In this scenario, he sings with a style that’s very Ritual-like in nature.

The next showing is lounge loafers followed by biker boots. The Tangent’s soles are far from tattered when they reach these consumer-approved top-shelf items hidden in the backroom. There is no telling why they were relegated to the clearance rack.

At its bleakest, “A Sale of Two Souls” is Van Der Graaf Generator and Blue Öyster Cult. As for the upbeat interludes integrated into its zealous theorem, take your pick between Jethro Tull and Procol Harum. Above all, I love the line where Tillison tells himself to, “Hold on for a moment. The sky is as blue as when I was young, and I have as much right to play here as the young guys under a billion year old sun.” The optimism of this wayward son carries on with, “I still have my fingers and they still push the keys. Everyone got older at the same rate as me.” This is poetically slick staccato if you ask me; somewhat like this pragmatic closing tag.

Pursuant to that manic depressive strain, a blind marsupial classified under “Bat out of Basildon” swoops in and skins George Thorogood’s teeth. To put a reference to the name, this ditty is “Bad to the Bone”; though it’s predominantly tongue-in-check. Therefore, it’s not exclusive to a belligerent brood of hell’s angels. By the way, they mention the ‘F’ word here – yes that sexy verb that earned George Carlin a night in the clink. I wonder if this cuss word qualified the album for an explicit label or if it went completely overlooked by censors. For the record, it’s not the easiest axiom to catch.

Anyhow, they end side one by showing us diversity in their output. By now I am convinced that they are the archetypal leaders of the progressive pack. For those of you still deliberating over their status on the totem pole, this disc just might convince you to put them on the utmost fulcrum of the stick.

That aside, there is more. We turn the page and find a twist. While the table of contents leads us to believe that there is no more than a pithy pair to chew on, each rind is long and winding. They call this anomalous section Throwing Metal At The Sky and in rapid-fire succession; this is what that couplet of keenly-coated auras entails:

“Four Egos One War” makes the Four Feathers look like a petty squabble. It also proves to be an example where the sequel is more acerbic than the setup. This gives us more than we could have ever expected from the trite premise. One of my favorite sequences is socked squarely to its midsection. Believe me; it’ll knock the wind out of you too.

Before the bibliography is reached, we finish with “The Full Gamut”. While I was more exhausted than Cloverfield’s cameraman from all the panning around in prior tracks, I refused to let go of the action. It’s so daunting and audacious that it would be an unfathomable task for a journeyman to transcribe this lively script. Even with all my know-how in regards to Progressive Rock, I could hardly keep up with this melodious monster. My consciousness was in the dust as I tirelessly tried to process the scenes that had just been witnessed. It seemed as if I was always a frame behind. In terms of speed and stamina, the last leg gives “All of the Above” a run for its money. Not to mention, this mini-concerto of sorts paces itself with necessary breathers. Those lightning quick recesses are where you have the best chance to close the gap. My heart goes out to those of you who are foolish enough to play it after a hard day’s night. Speaking of cardiovascular systems, I later found out by someone in Tillison’s camp that this was meant to be a mix between bittersweet remembrance and an apology to his longtime running mate.

With that cheerless note in the captain’s log, let’s return to my innermost thoughts…

In terms of birthday presents, there is one that I have always cherished. It was a deluxe Adventure Bound jacket from Wilsons Leather. At the time, I couldn’t afford and neither could the bequestor.

So while I cannot say this was better - because that jacket was extraordinary in its own right, I can tell you this: Not as Good as the Book is just about equal to the best present I ever received on that annual day where my friends, family and I celebrate my incremental click in age.


[This awesome album surpasses A Place in the Queue by a nanoparticle even if my review is an editorial mile shorter in length. For corroboration on the quantitative analysis, look back a blog to witness this galactic difference firsthand.]

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Tangent – A Place in the Queue

Disclaimer: This is a long, comprehensive review. It might take you awhile to go through it. To save time, go directly to your local music outfitter. Otherwise, I’m sure you’ll appreciate this sprawled out sales pitch. It’s blatantly clear that the cat didn’t have my tongue in this instance. In reality, my problem was finding a stopping point.

The album is so colorful; it's like seeing the sun after being locked up in solitary confinement for a year. It seems like only yesterday they drove us through a brilliant world of adventure. They haven’t had much time in the laboratory since then, but you wouldn’t know that from hearing this material. Concepts have been attempted, but trust me; you’ve never heard one like this in the past. It’ll break the bonds of the The Matrix and free you from that oppressive sleep-induced incarceration. Their lyrical libretto will liberate your mind and make you ponder many awe-inspiring questions. It’ll also ameliorate any lemming-like behavior that you might be prone to act out. If you listen with intent, you too will join the ranks of the enlightened. This is an out of body experience that’s so existential; it can only come from the X-Men, X-Files, tiny greenies, or extraterrestrials. In other words, The Tangent’s skill is out of this world.

The band boasts that this release is two-in-one, and they aren’t kidding. You’ll find yourself checking the timestamp often in order to see how many minutes remain. It’ll be a surprise once you realize that so much is left. Its audiences will be perplexed by how much they were able to fit into this laser-etched Frisbee. Alas, it’s wedged within a standard disc. Speaking of which, Andy “Diskdrive” Tillison is not only the maestro on the keys, but a true master who corners the market on creative writing. Moreover, if you get hooked up with the deluxe edition, you’re meal will be doused in extra gravy.

The Tangent is arguably the best offering on the InsideOut Record label. Playing host to bands such as The Flower Kings, Pain of Salvation, Symphony X, and Saga, that’s no small matter to achieve. Even so, they consistently put out art that rivals the monuments of Bellini. Their premiere was hailed as the best progressive rock debut, at a time when there was a bottomless well of highly qualified candidates. In their sophomore year, they followed it up with another quality creation. Now they do the unthinkable: They skip a grade and graduate in short succession. While Michelangelo was a master painter and Rodin the accomplished sculptor, Andy Tillison is the cream of the crop when it comes to crafting melodic worlds of wonder. Da Vinci couldn’t have architected a better design. In my opinion, he can’t touch it.

I heard a sample in concert long before it was ready for pressing. While I was enamored with the highlights of their first two albums – i.e. The Music That Died Alone and World That We Drive Through, you can instantly tell that Tillison had something tasty cooking in the kitchen. I welcomed the reprieve because I couldn’t stand the downtime. Since then, I have found that this partially juvenile display has grown from a larva to a moth.
Lest I forget, the concept is an involved one. It has to do with how we’re buried in legalese and literally administered to death. Aiding and abetting sadistic aristocrats, the populace is ready and willing to fall in line. I think Tillison would appreciate Papillon starring Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen. The morale of that tale: While we’d like to be as free as a butterfly, we often let ourselves be dehumanized and treated as slaves. This indefensible behavior only supports the despots who swat and stifle our every move as if we were a nasty horde of flies.

Tillison’s words are cynical, but it’s not altogether depressing. Although the overall attitude is quite dismal, the instrumentals are to a certain extent cheerful.

Back to the bad news: Roine Stolt, Zoltan Czorz, and Andrew Jackson are no longer a part of the syndicate. Their departures constitute a major loss to the team. It’s like displacing last seasons leading scorers. Fortunately, their fill-ins make them more than whole again. Krister Jonzon (guitarist), Jaime Salazar (drummer and also a former member of The Flower Kings), and Theo Travis (flutes; sax; anything wind, not brass) bring a variegated vibe into the equation. While it’s neither better nor worse, in some ways it is poles apart. Nevertheless, the change is utterly invigorating. Their contributions make the seasoned players young at heart. We hear ELP, Van Der Graaf Generator, Yes and The Flower Kings in their collaborative synergy. On the whole, it is unlike anything I’ve ever heard. It’s so brand spanking new; your stump will be swollen and bruised from the rapturous beating of these progressive rulers.

While everything in general is enhanced, the guitars have been rebuilt from the ground up. Even with substantial adjustments, it still steers and jeers just as straight and tight. The replacement couldn’t have been received any better. This is a testament to Jonzon’s unreal talent built upon Stolt’s completely surreal foundation. Each guitarist has their own flamboyant style. Like King Midas, Stolt has been known to drag whatever music he touches into the direction of his sanctimonious garden. His surrogate keeps the quality afloat, but has more of a candid and fancy-free approach. It’s hard to say which style I like better. You can’t beat Stolt’s patience. Then again, Jonzon is a fun guy to have in the mix. Okay, maybe he’s not wet and mossy (Get it? Fungi… I’m so funny), but his wacky solos are sure to grow on you. When comparing the pair, it’s close enough to have to go back to the cameras. Regardless of what the referees decide, many fans will disagree; most will accept to along with the optimistic decree.

This gets three thumbs up: Ebert, Roeper’s, and mine. The movie critics may be ignorant to Progressive Rock and I may have made their alleged evaluations up, but the vote from me is tried and true. As a loyal fan of this symphonic genus, I’ve witnessed many great albums in recent years, but this is as close to greatness as a band can achieve. Tillison will probably come out with another tour de force. Despite that, this should stand the test of time. In the interim, it’s freshly squeezed, so expect it to be frequently revisited and then slurped.

As The Tangent takes us on the lamb from our tedious existence, let's check out their latest and greatest escape:

In Earnest – I heard an earlier rendering of this song before the Cray mainframes had filled in the empty pixels. That version was good, but this one’s drastically better. Maybe my stereo system is that super. Most likely the tweaks can be ascribed to Andy Tillison’s attention to detail. Either way, they deliver the Motts right on schedule. As usual, each piece is custom-crafted and made to order. What is more, the music is much warmer. The keyboards receive totally sufficient representation in this release. It’s bluesy and bombastic at times; clawing at the crust like Derek Sherinian’s ivory teeth in Platypus. Successive to this listening session, I’m scheduled to see The Syn. I cannot help but think of Chris Squire as I hear Jonas Reingold belch from the bass. If these gestures mean you approve of the meal then Reingold is really enjoying himself. This concoction is time-consuming (20 minutes to be precise). What’s more, it’s opaque. You’ve been forewarned! It will take several gasps to fully breathe in and more than a few gulps to suck down the regurgitated bits. It soars with the spitfire of Big Big Train and orbits with the poetic flight of Satellite. It’s also ingrained with the classiness of Genesis. That’s complimented by the organic earthiness of Echolyn. If it’s not already embedded with enough wonder to take flight, it also contains the pop-laden subtleties of The Beatles. Plus, it has the suave coolness of “The Canterbury Sequence” pooled within the symphonic whirlpool of Kansas. While Jonzon sets off a slew of rockets, it is Reingold who lights the wick. This flickers with the glint of the old but reliable Van Der Graaf Generator, and as I’ve conjectured and shared; I detect the molecules of Mei beside the pretentious detonations of Spock’s Beards “Crack the Sky.” They open with an epic that travels far and wide. It’s derived from Disney’s Fantasia and has a trajectory that intersects with the arcadia of Atreyu. Its radiant all-around, but to be explicit, the bass playing is top-notch. As it will take dozens of listens to truly appreciate, this is what I’d label a “delayed” masterpiece. So it’s contrary to Folger’s motto. All this and I haven’t even touched upon the thought-provoking storyline that pays homage to an old-timer and a ragged ace. While we're on the subject, it’s a whole different mission when your perspective is on the lyrics. That is why it’s wise to rack up your frequent flier miles here.

Lost in London – My oldest brother is an opera singer. He has a degree in music and he’s sung around the world. He’s been in the company of many renowned vocalists from Billy Joel to the understudy of Pavarotti. He’s an established expert in this art form, so his hypotheses are academically valid. With that said, he seriously thought Tillison was the best singer ever to perform at RoSfest. This is ironic since Tillison lists himself on the roster strictly as a keyboardist. Like Michael Vick, his talents surpass a single position. I agree… He is an outstanding singer. This album is a showcase of each of his many talents including his press permed voice. It’s not only his reputable pitch but also how he uses it. He demonstrates passion and grace, and this introspective parable depicts the paradigm best. Many singers could learn something from his technique, and his endowment doesn’t end there. He is an exceptional songwriter too. This composition especially is as delicious and austere as a cream cracker. It serves its purpose and adequately fills insatiable tummies. However, his pudding is not runny oatmeal or watered-down soup. It’s more like a viscous pancake or thick paste. Maybe that’s due to the fact that he is an Englishman. Consistent with every song on the album, he escorts us through a secret passage. It’s as if they took us on an Easter egg hunt. While it may be as straightforward as sticky rice, its belly is filled with tapioca and fruity jelly. You’ll be happy to get lost in the hidey-hole of this hazy mix. Just when it seems the point has been dispensed, current topics are insightfully referenced.

DIY Surgery – This is the most economical article to be furnished by this group of musicians. It’s as if it came from IKEA. As long as we’re talking acronyms, I thought the Swedish retailer would be credible to cite in my testimonial. In its succinct space, it pegs Far Corner’s self-titled debut to the corkboard. Additionally, the tacky assembly adheres to The Flower King's Unfold the Future. In other words, it’s vastly jazzy and very weird. The sax is one of the most frequently used tools involved in this witty episode of Home Improvement. When perusing the how-to handbook, it concludes by saying you might as well, “Do it yourself!”

GPS Culture – This intersects with Yes’ “Roundabout”, which might explain why it was initially my favorite song. When it hits the road, it’s really pound the tar. The transitions are so smooth; there is no need for a flimsy click track to guide it. As long as we're talking quasi-car analogies, it puts the pedal to the floorboards and revs on all cylinders. Due to its heedlessness, it slaps hard into a pothole and loses more than a heat shield. What’s more, it rattles to the sounds of Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water.” Speaking of which, this hydro-racer’s pit crew consists of Karmakanic. Once they’ve bridged the bottleneck and installed the navigational unit on the dashboard, they go on to complete the work order with very little resistance.

Follow Your Leaders – As promised, once you’ve voided the sodden sack, there are multiple goodies to snatch. There is nothing bitter or salty about this ichorously pulpy piece. It cracks with the verve of Kaipa, but sizzles with the sweltering sting of Pop Rocks Candy. This carbonated limestone fizzes when it damp. As you might have guessed, there is a lot of Reingold drilled into its trenches. His furious bass constantly chafes against this ditty’s fleshy thighs. They’re riding with no power steering and all brakes out. That doesn’t stop them from proceeding onward. When he arrives at the inevitable solo, his instrument purrs like a tabby cat. At this intersection, there are timely sound effects that make me think I’m being pulled over for speeding every time. I hate to admit it, but it got me on several passes before I memorized its unexpected ETA. If you’re out on a joy ride or asleep at the wheel, you potentially risk a heart attack when traversing through this cloverleaf.

The Sun In My Eyes – This melee of mainstream contentment comes to us in the spirit of a progressive affirmation. When they go contemporary, they give us “Owner of a Lonely Heart.” I’d sooner expect to find this song on the latest Earth, Wind, and Fire. Still, it’s warranted for this short recess. Not to mention, this could be the lone symphonic ballad that blasts them into the commercial charts. The keyboards cook while the bass really boils. Last but not least, the spotlight shines brightly on Jonzon. He wholeheartedly rocks the Kasbah with a religious recitation of the Kaballah. Also worked within the words is a truly funny line. Tillison despairingly admits to, “Getting his head bashed in for liking Yes.” For those who have been with the niche brethren since its inception; in a figurative sense, this is a true confession. While this relic is all right, the extended rendition found in the special edition in and of itself necessitates an upgrade.

A Place in the Queue – The “coup de gra caps the stack. As it’s sans pareil, this is what you’ve been - unknowingly - waiting to hear. It’s best described as Tillison’s “Tales from the Topographic Ocean”. I hear Transatlantic and Kansas in many of its sectors. There is so much in there; something’s gained with every listen. Along with Morse, Wakeman and Emerson, Tillison proves to be nothing like a hound dog as he reigns supreme as the king on the keyboards. The line between metal and rock gets blurred with every one of The Tangent’s albums. In actuality, parts of this sound like Dream Theater’s “Octavarium.” Supposedly, that’s a heavy band and this one ain’t but by scrutinizing these samples under a microscope, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. In accession to these similarities, it has its own unique features too. Theo Travis’ solos abound with delectable complexity. In a cameo appearance, Guy Manning monopolizes one of the segues just as he did for “Gap in the Night.” When you snap this disjointed jigsaw into place, its picturesque image is no less than one in a million. There isn’t a single spot where the concept gives up. The lyrics or melody parallel each other in perfect harmony. When one is inactive, the other is very much alive. While there is a front and a back, it’s easy to lose yourself in the pleat of its middle. Like a gobstopper, this opus is everlasting. Yet that doesn’t matter in the end. Each moment is precious and in retrospect; that applies to the patently abstract passageways as well.

In the studio, Tillison is a surgeon with the software. As I witnessed in person, he has no problem with the hardware either. No wonder he was once a part of tech support. The only fault - if anything - is that this release might be a tad too ambitious. For me, their greatest fan, that is never really a problem.

We do get two-for-one with this offer, but if you’re smart; you’ll dinosize the Big Kids Meal and get the doublestacked edition as a cheap means to gain access to more great stuff.

Let’s flip the supplementary patty:

It actually comes in thirds. The first constitutes prime cuts. In this section, the chunks are good enough to eat even if they didn’t make the standard release. In “Promises Were Made”, Sam Baine sings a tune that’s Mostly Autumn in nature. The second, “The First Day at School,” is elementary for someone like Sherlock to assess. While simpler in form, it bears a rough resemblance to “Lost in London”. Then the last in the superfluous batch, “Forsaken Cathedralsare” should have been metered with a first-class stamp and distributed wholesale to the masses.

The section to follow has just one song. It’s the alternate version of “Sun in My Eyes” and it’s vastly different than the uncola. While it may not be radio-friendly by today’s standards, it could have been a #1 hit in the seventies. The instrumentations remind me of Yes’ Magnification. What’s fascinating is that there is a substantial amount of disco deposited in this and only this take.

Assigned to the anchor position, there are two ambient heirlooms. “Grooving on Mars” is a live track that puts the razzmatazz in the jam whereas “Kartoffelsalat Im Unterseeboot” has natural juices in a concentrated block of mash. It’s a challenge to believe there would be room on the auction block for anything else. Somehow they’ve crammed it in.

While this series of songs is worthy of our full attention, we won’t cover them in any further detail as we already have a huge load of cargo on consignment.

The evaluators of Antiques Roadshow would very much like to have a personal showing of this extensive collection. These authentic artifacts are sure to earn a quick quote. For the most part, these works of art should earn extensive looks by prospective buyers even if their intrinsic value isn’t immediately apparent. By the time you cash this inconspicuous attaché of priceless trinkets in, you’ll realize it was more than worth the wait in line. If this is what fans get for their loyalty and patience, just tell me where to sign up for the pre-order. I’ve never camped out for anything, but I’d surely like to be the critic with admittance to the subsequent sneak preview.

Basically, the concept is hard to ascertain. Without the proper frame of mind, I thought it was their worst album to date. Now I’m convinced it is their best. Whatever they do, add my name to the spreadsheet. I’d gladly take my place in their queue.


Due to many reasons including my deliberation over the rating plus an inability to pipe down on my delight over this release, the review has taken me longer than any to date - come to think of it; I logged my first impression back in ‘06 and still had things to fudge together in ’08. All joking aside; I temporarily lost the material to a flood. Later, I became reacquainted with my notes and the CD when rifling through a moldy box. Likewise, I have never played an album this many times: Too many to count. The present tally is probably in the hundreds. This release certainly did not deserve procrastination or reckless abandonment from me. Since the delay was somewhat out of my control, I should be forgiven. Not to mention, it was ultimately submitted. So please let this unpardonable sin pass. To own up to the crime and state my reason to come clean, what finally pushed me over the edge was the fact I made a pact with myself to not hear “Better than the Book” until I addressed this one first. Now that I have, you can be assured that there will be more diarrhea of the mouth to dole out on its successor. Hopefully, the praise will come substantially sooner and be a whole lot more concise.