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Paul Cusick - Focal Point CD (album) cover


Paul Cusick


Crossover Prog

3.35 | 40 ratings

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Symphonic Team
4 stars 'Focal Point' is a beautiful album with Pink Floyd style vocals and very innovative instrumental sections throughout. There are moments of pure melancholy with an ambient atmosphere unparalleled in prog such as 'Touch', and there are huge wall of sound guitars in tracks such as 'Everblue' and the catchy 'Scared to Dream'. There is so much to recommend this album including the well executed vocals and especially the use of keyboards and jazz fusion drum patterns from Cromarty.

There are no epics on the album, the longest track is almost 7 minutes (Fade Away) but the songs seem to blend together on one theme.

Many prog influences abound on the CD. 'Focal Point' track 1 is a terrific instrumental with ELP piano riffs and even an estranged angular guitar riff over a keyboard strings pad. A solid heavy guitar riff locks in over the prog piano. The track is reminiscent of early Dream Theater or Porcupine Tree.

This track segues immediately without break into 'Everblue' that has a great riff and very heavy handed orchestral style strings using a keyboard. It captures a rather gloomy ambience. The words are simple 'where have all the flowers gone... look the other way, nothing more to say.' You can guess the theme from this I guess which is based on destroying the planet due to carelessness. A very Rush or Yes Philosophy that have both covered this territory. The guitar solo on this is commendable too. Cusick plays so well on every instrument it is astounding how talented he is. The structure of the song is atmospheric and very proggy throughout, at times we hear piano, distorted guitar, drums, bass and keyboards that have a mellotron effect - very impressive.

'Fade Away' begins with the piano and keyboard pads that are so sublime, subtle and fluid. A trumpet type sound echoes over until the vocals begin (as low as Roger Waters) ... 'there's a house where I once played on a hill so far away.... the memories slowly fade of the childhood games I played. I sit and watch my son and daughters growing taller day by day, where are they now, these memories, as I grow older they fade away.' The theme of loss and regret is strong. It is one of the best tracks. I love the guitar solo that is simple but effective. A very calming, slow melancholy track that is somehow uplifting and continues to build in the instrumental break until the track fades down and we hear the sound of children over a sublime orchestral section.

'Soul Words' features a heavy bassline and nice harmonies of Cusick and er... Cusick. A heavier feel on this track that wakes you up, good riffing and more innovative lyrics over a sustained high keyboard strings pad.

'Scared To Dream' begins with more piano and the harmonies are once again very Pink Floyd. This is a darker track about the fear of sleep and the pain of losing everything. I love the way the drums crash in on this track over a driving incessant heavy guitar motif. The lyrics are about the sense of alienation and huge pain of loss. 'Familiar faces and those places where I go... the sudden pain of losing all the things I know, I'm scared to dream...'

On each track, there are enough time signatures to keep any metronome on its toes, and the instruments are played with virtuoso style as only Cusick can play. He is a very talented performer and at times I am reminded of the work of Neal Morse or Spock's Beard. The special effects of a telephone call and a constant ringing add to the ambience of 'Touch' - one of the highlights for certain. It begins with another isolated lonely piano using minor keys giving that empty, ethereal mood. A quiet track with very somber vocals about reflecting on what might have been. The phone calls remind me of 'The Wall' of course but they are used equally effectively here. The person calling keeps getting an answering machine so 'Nobody Home' you might say. The lyrics are potent 'I hear a voice... I hope you're in when I get there, to hold you close to show I care, hold you, hold you in my arms, hold me, hold me in your arms, take me in your arms...' the phone keeps saying the phone is out of order so we get the sense of longing for an untouchable woman, the sense of destructive feelings of loss are there - we have all felt them I guess and Cusick taps into this effectively. It is quite a chilling track, the way the instruments sound jagged and unfriendly throughout, but there is a ray of hope at the end of the track.

'Senza Tempo' is a great instrumental that begins with a low key minimal keyboard drone and an excellent guitar solo. The pads and strings of the keyboards are wonderful. They fill the soundscape with sounds of beauty and tranquility. This is a similar sound and style to Pink Floyd's 'Sorrow' or 'Shine On', though it does not emulate these classic tracks but the influences are well and truly apparent. David Gilmour should be acknowledged here as he pioneered this type of guitar playing.

The track segues seamlessly into 'Big Cars' beginning with sliding clanging guitars that are as spacey as Gong and features Hawkwind space effects. The chugga chugga metrical pattern kicks in reminding one of early Hawkwind (Master of the Universe notably). Dave Brock could have comfortably chimed in at this point. Instead the vocals begin and I was instantly reminded of Porcupine Tree. Steven Wilson style vocals are quite notable. The style of stop start lyrics and a voice vocoder processed to make the voice sound thin as though on a radio. Even the riff is similar to a 'Deadwing' track 'Arriving Somewhere' or uncannily similar to 'Scenes From A Blank Planet'. The style of vocals and instruments are almost identical to this track. I don't mind this but it's strange how new prog is coming out that emulates Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater. Nothing on the album is very heavy but it has a good rhythm overall when necessary.

The next track, 'Hold On' begins with a minimal piano and a voice over similar to a disaster news report '40,000 dead in this one town alone... imagine a town where... every other person perishing in a matter of minutes'. Then the Gilmour Floydian vocals begin 'prepare yourself to get in line, hold on to what you've got...' I like the fuzzed out guitar riff on this track. There is another news report on a Tsunami striking a family 'swept to their deaths... please help me, she says... I've lost my children...' Poignant indeed and it works on an emotional level if you let it.

The last Track' Hello' begins with Roger Waters style 'Hello, how you doing... I know how you're feeling, I don't need the words to see inside the pain behind your pride, you always try to hide.' It feels like a stripped down 'Comfortably Numb'. The piano is beautiful again on this track. The minimalist approach is very effective, almost a vocal performance without instruments but you can hear a pulsing heartbeat throughout (Yes, Floyd again I know).

I thought it was a great album from a master class instrumentalist and vocal performer. Not quite a 5 star effort but still worth listening to. There is no doubt Cusick is very talented and relates well to progressive music with all the heavy influences evident, especially Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. Parts of it are uplifting and others encapsulate a darker, somber atmosphere, as you might expect from the content. I recommend a listen as it was a surprisingly well executed album from a newcomer to the genre.

AtomicCrimsonRush | 4/5 |


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