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Island - Pictures CD (album) cover




Eclectic Prog

4.22 | 180 ratings

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4 stars No doubt that this album is a serious candidate to the "most complex prog-rock album ever" competition, and could successfully deal with any other complex album of the genre. I don't intend to say that I've heard every highly complex prog album; however this is my personal impression. Actually I struggle with this album for quite a long time, and things are still vague for me. You may relate to this review as an intermediate document, that won't be complete in the foreseen future.

In my opinion, there is couple of reasons for this "vagueness". Some of these may be: Free, unclear structures, a vague tonality, and sometimes a few real dissonant, atonal melodies. From a classical point of view it reminds me the end of the 19 century era, when music where very unclear, before Schoenberg came in and fixed things up with his atonal methods. By the way, according to this, I would classify this album in the RIO/Avant section, rather than any other sub genre.

Add to this, the quite low and whispery vocals from vocalist Benjamin Jäger, and uncompressed vocals in the mix, and you get something not easy to follow.

That isn't to say that the music is bad or unsatisfied. On the contrary, the music is emotional, atmospheric and haunting. This is not the 'complexity for its own sake' case, or 'too technical, unemotional music'. The opposite may be true.

The musicianship is very high: excellent drumming, Jazzy and punchy, from Güge Jürg Meier, soft, airy Saxes and woodwinds from René Fisch, and simultaneously exquisite and dramatic vocals from Benjamin Jäger. And above all is Peter Scherer, the main composer, keyboardist, and also responsible for the bass lines which provide by pedal-bass and maybe some other equipments, and done in a very peculiar, 'keyboardist' way. (Think of the Doors bass lines, but much more elaborate). As noted in other reviews, no guitars and bass here, which just add originality to this album, and characterize a unique, airy sound.

I'll try to do a brief pass on the album tracks, in order to clear things up (at least, for me):

1 - 'Introduction': an intro which presents unique sounds and vocals, in claustrophobic atmosphere, which soon comes to...

2 - An upbeat motif that opens 'Zero', an instrumental, jazzy track. The light motif soon converts with darker, long, very complex, and beautiful motif. It's hard to classify this section, maybe it relate to free jazz, but I'm far from being a jazz expert, so its just an assumption. Anyway, do not expect ordinary jazz here. After this section, the track goes back to a lighter mood, which ends with reprise to the first theme.

3 - 'Pictures', which contain the most songy, beautiful melody. It sounds medieval - renaissance, accompanied by harpsichord - like sounds, that emphasize the medieval atmosphere. But the 'comfortable' song structure is not remaining for too long: Soon this evolves into the first very vague environment in this album. As in the previous track, this is not exactly jazz improvisation on an attend theme. In fact, there is a relation to a theme, but it takes numerous listens to get it. After this section, come a sung part and a reprise to the first song.

This is probably the end of side one of the vinyl version, (I got the CD addition, not the original vinyl), so better take a break or a deep breath towards the next track.

4 - 'Herold and King (Dloreh)' is a highly complex track, featuring vocals that comes and goes, some atonal melodies, vague structure, and long and complicate passages. If you give up on catch some melodies and try to concentrate in the atmosphere - well there is a lot. Wonderful moods between quite and agitated, in overall darkness. The climax IMO is the place where the vocalists sing or yell dramatically, in reversed English (Which comes along with the 'real' English sentences). This is very unique.

5 - And then comes the last track - 'Here and now'. I must confess: after dealing with 'Dloreh' that comes after not-so-easy tracks I have not enough patience to deal with this one. I've tried to listen to it separately, but it didn't work much better for me. As in the previous tracks, this track features complicate jazzy elements, difficult melodies, and free and vague structures. The atmosphere is a little bit more light and optimistic than before.

In all, this album is recommended for those who are willing to check their own boundaries, in terms of complexity and elaboration. Again, the complexity does not come before the music, which is kept beautiful and emotional. A special record that will require your full attention.

ShW1 | 4/5 |


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