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Paul Cusick - Focal Point CD (album) cover

FOCAL POINT

Paul Cusick

Crossover Prog


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AtomicCrimsonRush
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
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.

Report this review (#221511)
Posted Tuesday, June 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
JLocke
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars From the moment I heard the first (and title) track of the record, I knew I was in for a treat. Very witty mixture of Crossover and Psych Prog and even some light Metal moments thrown in for good measure, this album falls in the same category of innovative modern Prog Rock as Rishloo, The Tea Club, Edensong, Tool, etc.

So I suppose I can talk about musicianship first, since that is what initially struck me. Quite clever playing, but not overly show-y. Never been a fan of the technical bands in Prog, because they tend to focus more on showing off the musicians' skills instead of best serving the music. Not a problem with this entry. Multi-instrumentalist Paul Cusick can play very well obviously, but he never overstays his welcome, and his solos are always tasteful and artful. No over-the-top progfare here, and as far as I am concerned, that is best.

The drumming is also very tasteful and correct throughout, with Alex Cromarty serving duties on the skins for the majority of the album. However for one track Frost* and IQ's Andy Edwards takes the drummer role, and both men are fantastic.

The guitar work specifically is very Floydian, but not painfully so. The similarities are present in playing style alone, and that's where the said similarities end. It is still original enough music for the seasoned Pink Floyd fans to enjoy Cusick's music without cringing.

One track in particular, ''Fade Away'', really speaks to me on an emotional level. Very soft and melodic. The following track, ''Soul Words'', is very funky and heavy, and absolutely nothing like the previous musical venture. This trend continues throughout the entire album, and ensures that the listening experiences never gets repetetive or boring, something Progressive Rock sadly has been credited very closely with being. Even worse is that the claim isn't entirely unfounded. luckily, though, this album in particular breaks that tradition and never drags or irritates. The music is always flowing and changing. Very enjoyable listen overall.

I must warn the more old-fashioned Prog listeners out there: this album may not be for you. It's Prog, no doubt, but it may not be the type of Prog you are used to hearing. At times this guy sounds more akin to Godsmack than he does Yes, but not to worry; if you keep an open mind, there is no way you could dislike the music found within. It's full of surprises just like any good Prog record sould be. I'm just saying that there are plenty of 'Alt-Rock' moments along the way, so don't go into it expecting the next King Crimson. Think more like the Crossover bands of today like Dredg, and you'll be closer to what the record is about.

I really enjoyed FOCAL POINT, and I think as long as you are willing to accept a little bit of modern rock flavor, you will enjoy it, too.

3.5 out of 5.

Report this review (#224271)
Posted Thursday, July 2, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars Focal Point, the title track, opens up the album with, of all things, Chopsticks, but after about a bar, it segues into more elaborate piano. So far this is the best song on the album for me. It combines some of the simple piano with a guitar ostinato with the bass evolving a touch of Squire-esque rumblin'-n-ramblin' before it ends in a stately guitar outro akin to Hackett.

Everblue is very Porcupine Tree. It also sounds a little like Cold Play, if they did something that...you know...rocked. Although a some say Cusick's guitar is rather Floyd, I can't hear David Gilmour making the sounds in this solo--definitely more Hackett here. Gilmour doesn't usually stray that far from the blues, and this one is more abstract. Some tasty syncopation from drummer Cromarty in the part before the menacing voice comes in.

The third song, Fade Away is definitely quite a bit more Waters/Floyd-Wall in feel, with a vocal performance that echoes Waters, with just a little Wilson--but perhaps it strikes me that way because both Cusick and Wilson avoid flats better than Waters does. There is a good solo at the end that avoids being too easily taken for a pastiche.

Soul Words jumps back into Porcupine Tree territory, but the vocals a touch more of a Cantrell-Staley tension (from Alice in Chains), only more willing to resolve into a harmony. Scared to Dream probably reminds me of a mid-tempo Dream Theater ballad with less crunchy guitars with a Hackett-ish solo instead of a Petrrucci meltdown. It ends up as a pretty solid crossover piece at best.

Touch hovers in the intersection of PT and Floyd--not to mention a bit Queensryche, (but maybe in the times that they are trying to evoke a Floyd feel as well.)

Senza Tempo is solidly reminiscent of Hackett's thickly orchestrated lanky guitar athems. Cusick does this style pretty well.

Big Cars comes next, and if you can listen to it without thinking of Porcupine Tree, then I have to wonder what I'm missing. There's some good trippy guitar work on it--probably better than the standard PT fare.

Hold On is solidly in crossover territory, but nonetheless probably the most original sounding song on the album. It has a simple piano theme running through it, which is pleasant

This is by no means a bad album. It's enjoyable. It doesn't bother me that much that it doesn't seem to break new ground. It's not quite as derivative as my classifications might make it sound--except Big Cars, that is. That's okay though, Queensryche's EP was a Maiden voyage, despite that it was just the next album that they started having a unique voice. Same thing's to a degree true with Genesis, laden with Bee Gees/Moody Blues mixture on their first one.

Report this review (#224292)
Posted Friday, July 3, 2009 | Review Permalink
Conor Fynes
PROG REVIEWER
4 stars 'Focal Point' - Paul Cusick (7.5/10)

Paul Cusick is a multi-instrumentalist with a very British sound to his progressive music. While he's been an active member of the scene for quite a while - doing session work for bands and playing guitar - 'Focal Point' is his first foray into a project driven primarily by his creative spirit.

It is clear that Paul Cusick is a very talented musician. His voice and guitar style are very easily likened to that of David Gilmour, but his compositional style and production method is much alike that of Porcupine Tree's.

As I've already mentioned, this album has a very British feel to it. Being a fine example of crossover prog, alot of these songs could pass as being pop music. There's nothing on the album that really demands a major attention of the listener. Unlike alot of progressive bands of the day, Paul Cusick manages to keep his musical talents within boundaries. While he's not the most technically accomplished vocalist (not to say he isn't good) Cusick truly shines on his guitar work. His soloing conjures comparisons to that of Gilmour's.

While Cusick's forte obviously focuses around the guitar, he is also a very soulful pianist, as is illustrated in the simple, yet beautifully played passages of the atmospheric number 'Touch.'

The song that stood out the most to me was the beautiful 'Fade Away' which bears a resemblence to Pink Floyd's 'Nobody Home' without sounding like a rip off of it. It's a song that really evokes emotion.

There's alot of effort and inspiration put into this album. Orchestration, thoughtful guitar licks and powerful songwriting comes together to form a formidable first foray into the solo career of Paul Cusick.

Recommended for fans of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd's album 'The Wall.'

Report this review (#227197)
Posted Friday, July 17, 2009 | Review Permalink
Tarcisio Moura
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars Interesting release by multi instrumentalist Paul Cusick. The word crossover seems to fit just right to describe his music: a cross between alternative rock and prog rock, with some heavy metal riffing here and there. The ambient here is more melancholic than anything else, but the music is generally good. Even if Im not very fond of alternative rock I found no problem in hearing this CD from start to finish. It has some fine melodies and certain moments, like the poignant Fade Away, are very good. The production is to p notch and the playing (all vocals and instruments done by Cusick himself, but the drums) is superb.

Unfortunatly the songs dont really stick after you hear them. Very few pieces are memorable and nothing moved enough to make me want to listen to the CD over and over again. It looks like Cusicks first eford is more promising than fulfilling. Dont get me wrong, It is a good start and it is obvious that the guy is talented. But he still has to hone his songwriting skills into something stronger and more of his own. Hes got the power to go much further. Im looking forward to see his next works.

Report this review (#229955)
Posted Tuesday, August 4, 2009 | Review Permalink
4 stars Focal Point, the debut album of the highly talented multi-instrumentalist Paul Cusick, is one of my favourite finds of 2009 so far. Why is that, one might ask. The music isn't very unique in terms of being progressive rock and the songs are fairly short and conventional by today standards. The sound is also largely reminiscent of Porcupine Tree and Blackfield. With this in mind, it's not hard to believe if some people would get rather disappointed after first listen, especially when the record has been heavily promoted on this very site. I should admit that I wasn't exactly blown away myself after first listen and my thoughts at the time pretty much ties in with what's written above.

Luckily, after the disc had spent some time in my car stereo, I gradually began to enjoy this record. One of the best things with music listening is when the music grows on you. For me, this record has grown to the point that it almost left me think that I could live with this and only this record for the rest of the year. We'll see what I think by the end of the year.

The first track, a well executed instrumental with a stunning guitar outro, sets the tune of the entire album. On "Everblue", Paul shows his musician skills when placing some fine, lush soundscapes beneath the surface of the vocals, drums and the guitar. The piano is a constantly returning element in Paul's music, along with the moving soundscapes. This is evident in the song "Fade Away", a highly touching one that deals with reflections, with vocals that remind me of Phideaux. A mellow ballad-like piece with a nice guitar solo that brings the listener to David Gilmour. One of my personal highlights on here is "Scared To Dream", with its haunting piano intro and the, once again, carefully placed soundscapes. Later on it bursts in to full tune with the drumming and the guitar. The choruses are so great and so emotionally sung that I get the feeling that Paul really means what he says. "Senza Tempo" is the other instrumental on the album and a tune that basically shows Paul's amazing guitar skills before fading in to "Big Cars". A song that, to me, literally screams Porcupine Tree. The vocals are mixed in a way that it almost sounds as if it's Steven singing! Also, the semi-aggressive approach in the melody along with the song title is something that could be found on a Porcupine Tree record. "Hold On" is probably my other favourite, a track where Paul demonstrates his great musicianship with his simple, yet moving lyrics.

So, what makes this so good? Especially when it's not that original? Well, first and foremost it's the way the record, despite the rather short songs, holds together. This has obviously to do with the production that is nothing short of fantastic. Secondly, it's Paul's way of using the 'small things' in the music. The soundscapes for example, that may not be out of interest after a listen or two but truly become an essential part of the songs when the music later on starts to hit you.

Report this review (#231377)
Posted Thursday, August 13, 2009 | Review Permalink
Epignosis
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Eclectic Prog Team
3 stars Fans of Porcupine Tree, listen up- this album has quite a few similar ingredients, and should please those who enjoy Lightbulb Sun or In Absentia. Although a decidedly average album, this has a few surprises in store, and can prove quite good as a progressive pop album. It is definitely worth checking out.

"Focal Point" Recognizable chords (from a certain classical piece) begin the first track, but the stay is brief. I like the subtle Mellotron in the background, and the crunchy guitar tone is a good tone. Although short, it's a good little introduction to give an idea of what Paul Cusick can do.

"Everblue" Harrowing synthesizer and smooth vocals make up this dark track. Overall, and especially during the guitar solo, the music sounds like modern King Crimson.

"Fade Away" A light piano and some strings give a lengthy introduction before the song proper begins. This piece does sound like Pink Floyd a fair bit, like a Roger Waters-led track right off The Wall.

"Soul Words" This more upbeat track is a lot like heavy Porcupine Tree, especially due to the sound and the vocal harmonies.

"Scared To Dream" However, this one sounds more like softer Porcupine Tree, led by a gentle piano and a very good vocal melody and performance. It doesn't stay low-key the whole time though, and takes a heavier approach during the second half.

"Touch" A sparse piano with cavern-like reverb begins this one. The verses are grim and almost whispered. It's quite an interesting track with some really great bass work and drumming. The female operator throughout the track is also a nice "touch."

"Senza Tempo" This is a lovely instrumental interlude, full of Mellotron and electric guitar.

"Big Cars" The gritty guitars and electronic noises are not to my taste, but make for a pretty good rock song once things get cranked up. If anything, it's another Porcupine Tree close cousin.

"Hold On" Not to be confused with the Yes song of the same name, this actually could be, since I feel this piece was written for Rabin-era Yes- it's that good!

"Hello" Unfortunately, I find the final track to be weak, laced with soft piano and dreary vocals. I really think the previous track should have finished the album up- this should have been placed elsewhere or left off altogether. Given my apathy toward it, the latter seems the better choice.

Report this review (#244930)
Posted Friday, October 16, 2009 | Review Permalink
b_olariu
PROG REVIEWER
3 stars First of all I got to tanks to PA for having the oportunity to listen and having this CD with Paul Cusick in my collection andd second I won this album Focal point from 2009 on monthly gifts giveaway last year , I guess in october, since then I gived 2-3 spins, puted on my shelf for when I'm ready to aproach it. Now is the time for a decend review. Never heared about this musician, only from other reviews from here, but I was pleasently surprised about this album - Focal point release at Q Rock recods last year. I lso know that Paul Cusick is british multi instrumentalist, a thing that on this album is shown clearly, he plays at all instruments + vocals , but minus the drums sections made by Alex Cromarty but also as guest is the drumer from IQ - Andy Edwards. The music to my ears is something between on more mellower parts with Pink Floyd (The wall era), some Porcupine Tree moments here and thre and some psychedelic arrangements aswell. Not bad really, when I saw that the similarities are with PT, I was kinda full back from listning to this album, I'm no fan of their music and anything releated to them I considered not for me. Bu to my surprise this was good listen from capo al fine. I like the atmosphere of the album, the vocal parts on some passages reminds me aswell with Devin Townsend, little distorted, but ok in the end like on Everblue for ex. All pieces are ok, nothing bad here, all are mid tempo more rely on spacey guitars and background keyboards. I also like very much the sound of the drums, really well mixed and with full -fat sound. Anyway I liked this album, nothing really impressive, but pleasen, one of the exceptions from this kind of style that gives me some good impressions at the end of the album. So a good album that desearves 3 stars, but from my side no more then that. I have to tanks to Mr. Paul Cusick for kind words from the post card with the album cover and for his signature, recived together with the album.
Report this review (#275812)
Posted Thursday, April 1, 2010 | Review Permalink
Bonnek
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal Team
3 stars Focal Point is a good album that fits in seamlessly in the gaps between David Gilmour's solo albums, Anathema, Chroma Key and the softer side of Porcupine Tree. And I'm quite sure it will appeal to all aficionados of that kind of music.

The album starts strongly with the title track intro, a very textured affair that has a heavy prog rocking basis but that also contains very atmospheric elements and very pleasant bass guitar work. It flows into the majestic Everblue, a modern prog anthem like we've heard them from Dredg and Muse but more genuine to these ears, especially due to the vocals which aren't as emo as mentioned indie proggers. Cusick doesn't have the most impressive range but his modest voice suits this wall of noise just fine.

The album is a bit uneven though and sometimes downright derivative as on the entirely Porcupine Tree-nicked Big Cars, while Hold On makes the same offence against Blackfield. Also ballads like Fade Away are too much indebted to David Gilmour's solo album material.

It isn't until the poignant atmospheric Touch that the album returns to the excellence of the opening tracks. Both the soft opening part and the wilder drum&bass rhythms that join remind me very much of the dreamy sadness of Massive Attack. Great track.

An enjoyable album for fans of mentioned artists. Judging from the best material, this artist sure has potential for an excellent album.

Report this review (#286619)
Posted Tuesday, June 15, 2010 | Review Permalink
aapatsos
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Prog Metal and Heavy Prog Teams
3 stars I accidentally bumped into this release and remembered that it was in PA's featured albums a few months ago; and quite rightly so. Paul Cusick is a one-man band (except drums) and does really well in what he tries to deliver to his selected audience. His crossover prog is closer to the recent Porcupine Tree sound and Steve Wilson's personal projects.

Saying that, there is no attempted mimicking of any of the abovementioned, but there seems to be a natural tendency towards that direction. This is clearly a Briitish-sound influenced album - from the 70's to the 90's and back again. There are some characteristic touches from Floydian tunes, ambient atmospheres and commercial "methodologies" as in the case of Everblue. The title track stands out as the most experimental and adventurous, while Fade Away strongly resembles to The Wall. The rest of the album borrows many elements from Porcupine Tree (see Soul Words and Big Cars).

Compositionally, the album is well-thought and well-executed. Cusick delivers some exceptional melodies, primarily through solid vocal performance (Scared to Dream, Hold On). Pianos and keyboards add to the melancholic atmosphere. My main "complaint" is the shadowing of the experimental or progressive elements by a dominating commercial sound.

This album would definitely appeal to fans of Porcupine Tree, Blackfield (or any other Wilson project) or (mellow parts of) Dream Theater and friends of new ambient crossover sounds. Nonetheless, this is a nice and pleasant album of high quality music; promising for the future provided that Cusick decides to explore more adventurous paths.

Report this review (#292763)
Posted Friday, July 30, 2010 | Review Permalink
3 stars During a well attended Dutch prog night session I was pleasantly surprised when somebody decided that multi- instrumentalist Paul Cusick his first solo album Focal Point (2009) deserved wider attention from progheads. She (yes indeed, a female proghead) got 'green light' to play it for us, and soon after we were glad about her musical proposal.

The album starts with the overwhelming instrumental title track featuring a moving and sumptuous sound, with propulsive guitar riffs and lush Mellotron violins. Then the song Everblue that also sounds compelling with melancholical vocals and intense guitar work with howling runs. The third song Fade Away contains emotional piano runs, soaring strings and Roger Waters-like vocals, beautifully blended with violin, piano and sensitive electric guitar. The other seven tracks deliver a lot of shifting moods, from dreamy and compelling to catchy beats and heavy and bombastic climates, embellished with violin, piano, slide guitar or Mellotron.

On this album Paul Cusick creates pleasant atmospheres with emotion, and the focus on a song-oriented style. To me it sounds like Art-rock: music that alternates between pop, rock and prog featuring interesting musical ideas, a varied instrumentation and a melodic, harmonic and accessible sound.

My rating: 3,5 star.

Report this review (#2043526)
Posted Friday, October 12, 2018 | Review Permalink

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