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 Black Light by SONAR album cover Studio Album, 2015
4.33 | 11 ratings

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Black Light
Sonar RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by dion

5 stars SONOR ARCHITECTURES SONAR is an encryption standing for "SONic ARchitecture", and their music, of an unique simplicity and magic, hypnotic and obsessive, is like defining deconstructions and reconstructions of a lost kenopsystical city resembling the paintings of deChirico. The sonar fluid embraces you and set you over with it on visual dreaming phantasms. The sound rhythmical substance, working precisely like a Swiss watch, become reductive to an essence minimalism molded with fine refinement. The two guitar players in the group formula (Stephan Thelen and Bernhard Wagner), we could expect at a demonstration of virtuosity, at passionate fast speed dialogues with notes tighten tumultuous together as in the ubiquitous rock tradition. Backed up by Christian Kuntner (bass) and Manuel Pasquinelli (drums), the two guitar players builds up the dialogue in complementary in which each resonates together in unwonted and fascinating sound landscapes. The result is a rigorous build up symbiosis which thought to essence in complex polyphonies. The music of SONAR is a retrospection in the intuitive expressionism of Stockhausen, with stylistic nuances which can be associated with the music of Robert Fripp, Nik Bärtsch Ronin or Steve Reich. Founded in 2010 in the underground clubs of Zürich, the group SONAR shapes itself an unique place in the contemporary progressive music, all their albums being downright perfect. The uncanny atmosphere streaming out of the sound, so unique but so recognizable, is maybe due as well to the way as the members of the group tune up their instruments in the three-tonic module (C / F# / C / F# / C / F#), a specific feature to be found in the primitive ? tribal or ritualistic of "Maori", "Vedic" or "Herranza" music. Simple by appearance, complex by the structure of the polyphonic layer lines which overlaps in rhythmical asymmetries, the sound product is eluding the easy ways and stereotypes of the conventional compositions. The eccentricity of the SONAR sound it's not a researched one, but an undisguised vision of the idiosyncratic sound aesthetics the members of the group share together. The last SONIC album, "Black Light" from 2015, chronological their fourth, was recorded live in the studio, without any additions at editing. This technical element of recording creates in whole an organized (oxymoronic) spontaneous state of mind, as well as an emotion of a genuine kind. "Ennergram", the tune that opens the album, lines up the generic approach of the mathematical sound of the entire album. From the very first accords touches of the "Black Light" tune, we can recognize the atmospheric influence of the "Lark's Tongues In Aspic" (King Crimson) tune, theme which SONAR group is dressing it up and takes it over to a novel sonic spatiality. Already being placed on this orbit of travelling space landscapes, the follow up "Orbit 5.7" is a melodic geometry delineating even more the rhythmic mathematics in "Enneagram". The repetitive rhythmic sequence of "Angular Momentum" is inducing a psychedelic trance. "Stri Geometry" is a melodic geometry build up on contretemps measures. The last recorded tune in the studio, "Critical Mass" is the most intricate and "nervous" tune on the album. The album wraps up with two live bonus tracks: "Twofold Covering" and "Tromsö" which rounds out and emphasize this exceptional production. Listening to the album "Black Light" is a real and surprisingly pleasant experience for which I give 5 stars without hesitation ! Daniel Ionescu

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 Starcastle by STARCASTLE album cover Studio Album, 1976
3.14 | 133 ratings

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Starcastle
Starcastle Symphonic Prog

Review by SouthSideoftheSky
Special Collaborator Symphonic Team

4 stars "Set sail a crystal ship and you will fly"

It was certainly with some trepidation that I approached Starcastle given how often they are dismissed as doing nothing more than aping the style of Yes. This held me back for a long time from giving this band the fair hearing they deserve. That they are heavily inspired by Yes is undeniable, but that is hardly sufficient grounds for a quick dismissal. There are hundreds of bands following closely in the foot steppes of Genesis, for example, some of which are highly regarded. Ultimately the proof of the pudding is in the eating, and to my ears Starcastle's self-titled debut is actually highly appealing. The musicianship is strong and the result is charming and enjoyable.

I will not belabour the comparison with Yes, but I want to bring up something that is not often mentioned; how often the music found on this album evokes the jazzier Peter Banks-era and also Banks's post-Yes band Flash (whose debut also featured Tony Kaye). The production on the other hand is more in line with later Yes albums like Drama, and in that respect foreshadows Yes's own subsequent development. (Note also the very Keith Emerson-like keyboard solo at 4:18 into Lady Of The Lake.)

It should be remembered that Progressive Rock took off later on the other side of the pond with bands like Kansas and Rush reaching their pinnacles around the time of the release of this album (1976-1977), and Starcastle needs to be understood in relation to this. The American bands were generally not as original as their British and European forerunners, but that doesn't mean they are without merit. Starcastle's debut album should be regarded a classic of American Prog Rock and is much better than the albums of many American bands from around this time.

Excellent album!

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 Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind by KING CRIMSON album cover DVD/Video, 2016
4.53 | 58 ratings

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Radical Action To Unseat The Hold Of Monkey Mind
King Crimson Eclectic Prog

Review by Neu!mann
Prog Reviewer

4 stars A stray thought, while unwrapping this lavishly packaged 4-disc live set (three CDs, plus a Blu-ray disc) from the newly-inflated King Crimson septet...whatever happened to the "small, mobile, intelligent units" Robert Fripp was aiming toward in his Drive to 1981?

Since the 1970s Fripp has arguably been the most progressive of any first-generation Prog Rocker, adamant in his resistance to a sentimental reformation of the original band. And yet here he is, nearing the twilight of his career, on stage performing beloved chestnuts like "Epitaph", "Sailor's Tale", and (not inappropriately) "21st Century Schizoid Man".

But if the Crimson King isn't looking forward any more, he's at least assembled a formidable unit to help relive the past. And after the letdown of the too-abbreviated "Live at the Orpheum" teaser it's reassuring to see the Crimson monster back on its feet...all fourteen feet, in this case.

The flute and sax work of old friend Mel Collins provides a welcome bridge to an earlier, warmer King Crimson, and offers an effective proxy for David Cross' violin on the Larks' Tongues-era songs: note his playful interpolations of Henry Mancini and Rimsky-Korsakov during the proto-metal "Larks' Tongues in Aspic, Part One". Jakko Jakszyk 's voice is likewise a honey-toned throwback to the bygone days of Greg Lake and Boz Burrell, giving the new lineup another valid excuse to exhume such old material.

The few new songs offer encouraging evidence that the aging beast hasn't lost all its teeth yet, despite this being more of a reunion ProjKct than a creative rebirth. Nostalgia is clearly the order of the day, but with a conspicuous hole in the set-list shaped like Adrian Belew, effectively airbrushed out of the repertoire as completely and mercilessly as Gordon Haskell once was. The only selections from his more than 25-years at the front of the Crimson stage are Fripp-composed, or entirely instrumental.

And Belew isn't alone in his exile: the entire audience was amputated from these live tapes, in classic Fripp-like fashion. The guitarist as long been notorious for his reticence on stage, needing the attention of a receptive crowd to synergize his performance, but always at arm's length, and preferably without photographs. Maybe he decided to simply carry that wallflower impulse to its logical end.

The 1974 LP "Starless and Bible Black" followed the same approach, camouflaging a live recording as a studio album. But that was with all-new material, not the familiar oldies presented in these shows. Consequently there's a sense of detachment here at odds with a genuine live experience, all part of a calculated design (again, quintessential Fripp) extending to the matching formal stage outfits and choreographed song arrangements, split between three drummers.

And, outside of a few "B'Boom"-style interludes, there isn't any improvisation. Understandable perhaps, given the logistics of such an unwieldy ensemble. But it's still disappointing to see a muzzle tied around the historic Crimson ideals of serendipity and happy accidents.

All of which probably reads like excessive Monkey Mind griping about an album I'm nevertheless calling 'an excellent addition to any Prog Rock music collection'. Criticism aside, the sound is tremendous, the performances airtight, and the older songs (ignoring the umpteenth reincarnation of "Red") fresher than ever, perfectly at ease alongside the new stuff. Imagine the aging monarch donning his old robes and finding they not only still fit, but after more than 45-years are almost back in fashion.

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 Trance/Mission by SIMAKDIALOG album cover Studio Album, 2002
4.34 | 4 ratings

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Trance/Mission
simakDialog Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by aglasshouse

5 stars The Indonesian underground music scene is one that has gained quite the momentum over the last few decades. Of course what is played isn't restricted to a certain genre, but it should be noted that progressive music was heavily emphasized. Groups like Imanissimo and Discus emerged in the early 2000's, but one group came even earlier, one under the moniker simakDialog, in 1993. Of course Indonesia had experimented with progressive music much earlier such as with the diversity of Guruh Gipsy back in 1977, and I'm sure there's other examples that I can't name off the top of my head, but simakDialog was perhaps the first moderately-popular jazz/fusion act to arise from the country. Jakarta, Indonesia specifically was were they came from, a place which was and still is a potent breeding ground for aspiring artists, and simakDialog were a bright bunch even amongst their peers. Like any obscure band their history is hard to uncover, but from the looks of it simak began their studio ventures in 1995 with Lukisan, but started to gain more traction in 1999 with their sophomore album Baur. Now, those albums are all well and good, but what I believe to be the crowning achievement of the early days of simakDialog is their 2002 effort, cleverly titled Trance/Mission.

I'd hate to be that guy, but I just gotta do it -- if the band's mission was to put me in a trance, it worked (I am so, so sorry). Trance/Mission is less traditional jazz fusion as you might expect, less in the vein of Return to Forever or Santana, and closer to a more traditionalist viewpoint of what exactly the genre entails in South-Asia. Elements of new age, prog-electronic, ambiance, latin-jazz, and progressive rock are all present, and collapse in on one another in an almost surrealistically well-put-together mess. The long, sprawling run-times of the more adventurous tracks like 'All In A Day' and 'Throwing Words' are testaments to true eclecticism, often divulging into numerous different pathways which never fail to lose their sense of intrigue. Now, with all these observations you might expect that this particular album is likely hard-to-swallow, or just too avant-garde for one's tastes. Funnily enough though, that's not the case. simakDialog's way of doing things may sound exuberant to say the least, but the way the band presents it is almost sophisticated in it's laidback approach. If I were to give a visual summary of what this album represents, it would be of a beach-house, front-window view of the sunset, albeit a sunset that lasts almost an hour and ten minutes. The instruments do more than just interact, they collide off of each-other and split off, not exactly in a zany way per-say, but they do tend to make their own marks separately. This could be kind of overwhelming, such as on the last track 'Sampan' where a bit too much can be happening at once and tonal shifts can be thrust in at off- kilter places, but more often than not it is very effective.

The independence is not only where the album thrives, as cohesion is the yin of the yin-yang that it invariably is. The aforementioned 'All In a Day' is likely where I found myself at my most comfortable, not only with the fantastic guitar-solo-work by Tohpati Hutomo, but also by the soft amateurish keyboard of Riza Arshad and of course the wonderful and colorful percussion section led by Endang Ramdan, Erlan Swardana, and Jalu Patidina. On that note, it would be good to mention how fantastic the percussion section really is, as it isn't exactly similar to many other bands. Instead of relying on a single classic rock / jazz drum-set, simakDialog uses a smattering of kendangs (a Southeast Asian two-headed drum), as well as a few other native instruments like the kethuk (a Javanese mini metal-gong). Fear not though, you of conservative-natures (such as myself, honestly), because there is often use of the jazzist's pride and joy, the hi-hat, which makes several appearances in faster sections. If this diverse cacophony of instruments appeals to you in any way, then this is exactly what you're looking for.

I've always maintained that some of the best albums are those that are shrouded in obscurity, and simakDialog further reinforces that. Indonesia has produced one of the most fun-loving bands of the last 20 years. Check it out. (4.5 rounded to a 5)

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 Smile A While  by BRAINSTORM album cover Studio Album, 1972
3.60 | 39 ratings

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Smile A While
Brainstorm Jazz Rock/Fusion

Review by siLLy puPPy
Collaborator PSIKE Team

5 stars It was all the way back in the late 60s that the seeds of BRAINSTORM were planted in when four school buddies in Baden Baden, Germany discovered rock 'n' roll in the late 60s and soon they would form a band called Fashion Pink (after their psychedelic heroes Pink Floyd) where they would nurture all their musical fantasies. First they started out merely as a blues rock band but after future Guru Guru member Roland Schaffer decided to yield his guitar hero worship to indulge in the sax and clarinet, the band focused on a much more aggressive jazzy style of rock with bands like Soft Machine, The Mothers of Invention and Caravan as the main influences. The band also latched on to aspects of the burgeoning Krautrock scene in their native Germany and as a result managed to craft some extremely demanding and exquisitely designed jazz-fusion chops tinged with vestiges of 60s psychedelia lurking around unexpected corners between sizzling sax solos and flirtatious flute melodies.

While still Fashion Pink, the band gained popularity as a stellar live act but one fateful day the band was involved in a serious accident which left them injured and dismayed so of course they decided to change their name to Fashion Prick! With German labels sniffing out new talent the new name was deemed unacceptable when it was at last their turn for a record deal and the new name BRAINSTORM was quickly adopted before the release of their first album "SMILE A WHILE." This album has it all really. "SMILE A WHILE" is one of those rare releases that manages to successfully stew many ingredients into the cauldron and have the end result a musical delicacy that retains its tastiness decades after its release. While heavily inspired by the free jazz greats of the era such as John Coltrane and Pharaoh Sanders, the wild complex polyrhythms bring the top dogs of the jazz fusion era to mind and BRAINSTORM has been rightfully called the German equivalent of France's Moving Gelatine Plates. Add the passion of rock with Hendrix inspired blues rock and the Krautrock influences that incorporate ÜBER bizarre harmonics and you are in for some serious royal treatment with this one.

The sheer diversity of style is the album's strongest attribute with different styles of jazz intermingled with rock, blues and even tango! The Kraut elements are never far behind as slinking 60s organ runs collide with Soft Machine frenzied distorted sax runs and Hatfield and the North styled vocal jazz styles before the supergroup ever came to be (courtesy of Soft Machine no doubt.) The tracks also vary in length from the feisty barely over 2 minute "Snakeskin Tango" to the 15 and a half minute epic Krautjazz title track that goes through no less than six movements. "SMILE A WHILE" is a true gem for the audacious audiophile who loves a good musical workout. With adventurous tight groovy rhythms chock full with 5/8 and 7/8 timings and beyond, the jazzy prog fusion workouts are replete with unpredictable variations in dynamics, tempo and style. It simply amazes me that this brilliant gem from 1972 hasn't been more highly regarded. Yeah, it's the ghastly album cover is to blame i'm sure. Not only do the members don grandma's underwear with a rather bland blank background but the album is filled with other photo ops with the group posing in their ridiculous regalia. For sure i give the album cover artwork a dismal 1/2 star on the dismal scale of doom but the MUSIC is what counts and BRAINSTORM whipped up a veritable musical smorgasbord of rock and jazz fusion like no other. I'm amazed at how much i love this one and can't recommend it enough. Just close your eyes when you reach for it and pull it out of the packaging!

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 Tubular Bells by OLDFIELD, MIKE album cover Studio Album, 1973
4.08 | 1000 ratings

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Tubular Bells
Mike Oldfield Crossover Prog

Review by Rockriffs.com

5 stars You have to have been there in 1973 when this came out. It was an era of stark musical contrasts: Glam piss-Pop, late 60s Brit Rock leftovers; momentary super nova acts like Ziggy and Roxy shined before fug and a smattering of 'head grops' still high on 60's misplaced 'new' realism.

This appeared... >> IT WAS PRICED /SOLD FOR ONLY £1.00 !! <<

As such people gave it a spin and found that it was quite good for having a spliff too or just being on whilst clumsily exchanging body fluids on a bean bag in the corner of someone's bedsit!

Then your parents quite liked it and thought at last you were starting to grow up and leave all that awful music behind you. So it instantly created a dichotomy.

It made Richard Branson and felled Mike Oldfield, but it stands as an iconic snapshot of social change as the 70s became the excruciating polar opposite of the 60s lovefest. By 1973 The batons had all but been passed over, but this one dropped on the final leg.

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 Futurama by BE BOP DELUXE album cover Studio Album, 1975
3.80 | 50 ratings

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Futurama
Be Bop Deluxe Crossover Prog

Review by Rockriffs.com

5 stars it was 1973/4 - I had had Ziggy and lost, I had had Roxy Mk1 and lost and was desperate to find another act that I could immerse myself in. Thank God for Radio1 staging late night sessions and Album reviews and I got to hear of Bill Nelson and his exquisite Gibson 345 fueled licks and riffs and a big side dollop of synthy keys.

I was a burgeoning young green-teen guitar player looking for any clues in the day before the net and DVD(!) - anyone who offered a glimmer was idolised and revered and Maid In Heaven was all it took. The opening wammy bar note sounded exactly as my Yamaha RD200 electric start did on power-up and as I swung my leg over to blast off onto the mid 1970s streets with this song in my head it made me feel vital and relevant.

The Album's soaring guitar deliveries created a life-long love of the classic Gibson Semi and I eventually got to own one too!

I may not have all the riffs and licks off to pat even now, but I have squared the circle. Hell I even got to discuss his technique and gear with him direct on his Dreamsville Inn Forum at billnelson.com - - Maid an ageing '16' year old feel In Heaven all over again!

Thanks Bill!

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 Diamond Head by MANZANERA, PHIL album cover Studio Album, 1975
4.13 | 59 ratings

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Diamond Head
Phil Manzanera Prog Related

Review by Rockriffs.com

4 stars I searched for some reviews of Phil Manzanera's Diamond Head as only just come back to listening and scrutinizing this Album and wanted to dig under the surface...

I was a mad Roxy fan from 1972 and in the post Eno debacle, I struggled to hold on to anything that may hint at those highs from For Your Pleasure. I dabbled with the unfathomable No Pussyfooting and the rather awkward Here Come The Warm Jets (and even went to see Eno live before his collapsed lung) but by the time Diamond Head had arrived, I had had to admit defeat and accept the new Roxy/Bryan Ferry Lounge Lizard makeover.

As such, Diamond Head sounded (from radio track plays of the day) too much like dis-articulated parts of Pussyfooting/Warm Jets/new Roxy (ala Eddie Jobson) and was nothing to ignite a 16 year old with a cheap copy guitar and Woolworths amplifier looking for adrenalin riffs and inspiration.

++

Roll by 42 years and that 16 year old is now 58 and has access to all the sound machines and guitars that made up this canvas and suddenly it makes sense - hell I may even introduce this work into my guitar teaching!

However, I still feel awkward with Eno's singing though... Oh and Phil - those less than perfect pitch bends are an anathema to me still!

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 Hoping Against Hope by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 2017
3.94 | 17 ratings

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Hoping Against Hope
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

4 stars Fast forward to 2017, and Thinking Plague show no sign at all of compromising their ideals. Mike Johnson is the only person who has been there throughout, but he is steering this ship on a very clear path. The line-up now is Mike (guitar, samples, midi instruments), Mark Harris (soprano and alto saxes, B-flat standard and bass clarinets, flute), Dave Willey: (bass, drums, accordion), Elaine di Falco (voice, accordion, piano), Robin Chestnut (drums, percussion) and Bill Pohl (guitar). Now, I have come across Bill quite a few times previously, having reviewed his solo album 'Solid Earth' back in 1994, plus some other of his bands since then such as The Underground Railroad, so I was intrigued to see his involvement. He has always been a fine guitarist with a passion for music that can be somewhat different and difficult to listen to, and here is being allowed to give that full rein.

In many ways, this is a more melodic and easier album to listen to than some of their others, but that isn't to say that they have moved away from their core purpose of RIO, just that it has a slightly different flavour. There are times when the different woodwind instruments take the lead, repeating motifs, but this just allows the guitars to break in and out of the song with extremely quick runs. Elaine doesn't have the same natural other worldliness displayed by Susanne on the classic 'In This Life', but fits in perfectly with this adjusted style of music.

Thinking Plague may have changed somewhat in the intervening thirty years between these two albums, but hasn't everyone? But, they are still true to their roots and this could never be any other band. Exciting and enthralling, there really is no-one else quite like them. They will only ever appeal to a select few, but those few will be greatly enriched by hearing this.

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 In This Life by THINKING PLAGUE album cover Studio Album, 1989
4.03 | 61 ratings

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In This Life
Thinking Plague RIO/Avant-Prog

Review by kev rowland
Special Collaborator Crossover Prog Team

4 stars Reissued as a remastered edition in 2015, 'In This Life' is not merely a fascinating album of extraordinary rock-based songs. It is a landmark recording in the life of one of America's most distinctive bands and in the international spread of Rock in Opposition-style sophisticated post-rock. Recorded in 1988-89 by Denver-based Thinking Plague, one of the most esteemed and longstanding American avant-progressive ensembles, 'In This Life' marked Thinking Plague's stylistic coming-of-age. The band had recorded two earlier albums in the years since its 1982 co-founding by Mike Johnson and Bob Drake: those early works brought Thinking Plague national "underground" acclaim. But the line-up responsible for In This Life, with Mike Johnson handling composition and Susanne Lewis supplying lyrics and vocals, proved to be the early group's ideal creative brew. It was originally released on Recommended Records (ReR), the London-based label run by Chris Cutler, founder of the Rock in Opposition movement and member of renowned band Henry Cow. One track on the album featured a guest appearance by Fred Frith, the legendary Henry Cow/Art Bears guitarist. It became ReR's first-ever release on the then-radically-new format of CD - a format that simplified the disc's international distribution.

Even now, all these years on from when it was originally released, this is in many ways quite a frightening and disturbing album, almost as if Art Zoyd have gone to another level and have then brought in a female singer who is totally at odds with what else is going on musically behind her. This was never meant to be an album that was easy to listen to, and with its discordant melodies and other worldliness, is one that will repel far more people than would ever listen to it. It is off key, it is controlled, it is anarchic, yet for me is also deeply compelling. It isn't an album that I will ever play a great deal, but I find myself drawn back to it time and again. This isn't music for a large audience on a bright sunny day, but is to be enjoyed in the night, when nothing else will suffice. RIO doesn't get much more inventive and important as this.

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