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Magus (The Winter Tree) - The Winter Tree  (as Winter Tree) CD (album) cover

THE WINTER TREE (AS WINTER TREE)

Magus (The Winter Tree)

 

Neo-Prog

2.76 | 14 ratings

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Finnforest
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
3 stars A strong start!

The Winter Tree is the new moniker for the American outfit formerly known as Magus. Both are the main creative vehicle for composer/musician Andrew Laitres, and his latest collaborators Deb Bond (keyboards) and Mark Bond (vocals and guitars). Magus dates back to the mid 1980s and has many full length releases, but in 2010 Andrew changed the name to The Winter Tree after a song from one of his favorite bands, Renaissance. I can detect a bit of Renaissance influence I believe, and The Winter Tree also reminds me of other independent progressive projects like Willowglass, Epignosis, Syd Matters, and Us. It also reminds me a little of the Yes track "Turn of the Century" and at times Alan Parsons Project.

This is really a very fresh album given the retro sensibilities I perceived upon my first listening and viewing of the wondrous cover art. Laitres blends many musical styles and flavors, from 70s Renaissance and Ant Phillips/Jon Anderson territories, to folk, electronic music, ambient soundscapes, world/ethnic tones (Babylon) and indie rock/pop. The comforting/pleasing (though not mind blowing) vocals of Bond and Laitres are backed by great synth atmospheres and e-piano, from swirly and spacey to pulsing and a bit of new age, but mostly just a knack for beautiful presentation of the melodies. An abundant acoustic guitar presence is bolstered by the occasional ripping electric guitar solo, full of welling emotion. I don't ever pay much attention to lyrics but here they often seem very uplifting and positive. "Stranger" is an exception, a rather devastating piece about missed opportunities (I think) which reminds me of Supertramp's Rick Davies. The closer "Prince Caspian" is pure fun, a full prog rock ride with a playful instrumental spirit.

Laitres is an eclectic composer who likes to mix things up. Just when you think the album could slip into a predictable single mode, he throws in some ambient sound or electronic part that breaks the mold and skips off sideways a bit. Yet it manages to not sound contrived, which is a problem sometimes when composers try too hard to be clever. Here the oddities and morsels all work well with the more grandiose pastoral prog pieces to create an experience I enjoyed much more than I anticipated, given my usual tastes. Another contrast at work is that there is complexity in the music but lightness to the sound. The components of the songs are very well thought out, interesting, complex, but not buried in mud or density. Music which can take you to some distant imaginary realm while staying tethered to the modern. Not always an easy trick to pull off.

The Winter Tree is a great debut for the next chapter of these musicians, who have just been signed to ProgRock Records and are working on new material. The album should please fans of sweeping, beautiful prog who like relaxing and pastoral adventures, but with some unexpected twists. 7/10

Finnforest | 3/5 |

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