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Second Life Syndrome
5 stars The now infamous sophomore slump: what can be made of it? Why do bands debut with such fire and passion, but suddenly veer off course in sometimes epic fashion? Iamthemorning has not done this. Yes, it was a fear of mine, but this Russian two-piece has managed to stay my fears with a mature work of art. In fact, I would say that they have exceeded my expectations.

If you don't know about Iamthemorning, the bands consists of Marjana Semkina and Gleb Kolyadin, true artists and lovers of all things real and heartfelt. Marjana lends her angelic vocals while Gleb's masterful grand piano and keyboards are a strong foundation. On their first album "~", these two mesmerized with strong melodies, simple songs, and a hefty amount of neoclassical influence. Indeed, it was what I needed to hear at the time, as I fell in love with Marjana's brilliantly honest, emotional style and Gleb's ridiculous skill. Their combined, contrasting artistry is heavily felt, even in their production design. Naturally, then, I was hoping for a continuation of all this on their upcoming release "Belighted", snatched up by none other than Kscope.

"Belighted": what an interesting title. It literally means "in a state of spiritual and intellectual exaltation", and so I think this is an excellent hint at what this album is all about. Marjana gives her all in her vocal performance here. Her self-taught style is easily the highlight of the album, and her mastery of hooks (very difficult ones at times) never stops impressing me. But it's not just her vocal skill that impresses, it's the nature way in which she sings about very personal and intriguing, disturbing topics. She often seems very cold in her approach, yet only in a way that seems like a thinly-veiled cover for a plethora of very human emotions, from dissatisfaction and despair to hope and love. She maintains a delicate balance between vocal brilliance and fragility, especially on "Romance", "To Human Misery", "The Simple Story", and "Crowded Corridors", and this simply intrigues me.

Yet, the instrumentation on "Belighted" is equally arresting. Gleb astounds (as usual) with his elegant grand piano, creating atmospheres of sophistication and intelligence. A huge list of collaborators, including Gavin Harrison, have given use of their skills here, too, and it really shows. Iamthemorning, while still retaining some of their signature chamber sound, have decided to use a wider selection of instruments, utilizing electric guitars and ambient keys, too. You might be saying, "So what?" Well, for this neoclassical band that normally drove their music with the use of piano and violins, it's a big difference. Right off the bat, "The Howler" announces the presence of distortion with a subtle and addictive guitar lick that blends perfectly with the swirling acoustic instruments. Later on, in "Crowded Corridors", a whispering, ambient guitar adds touches of mystery to the music. As you can see, while they use some standard instruments, they use them in very Iamthemorning ways.

This small taste is an indication of the attitude present in this album. Iamthemorning, for better or worse, sounded very much the same from beginning to end in their debut album. As good as it was, it still explored the same sounds and ideas over and over again. "Belighted", however, shows the band's commitment to progress and maturation. Surrounded by their signature (and brilliant) instrumental intermissions, their main tracks are very different from each other. Like precious jewels, some are guitar driven, some are vocally dominated, some are dark, some are uplifting, and others have incredibly complex structures. "5/4", one of my favorites, showcases a carnival-esque, swirling melody that rises only once, and it's enough to leave you begging to hear the track again. This happens quite often in this album, and I'm afraid that, as a result, I can't really choose a favorite track. I would point to "The Howler", "To Human Misery", "Romance", "5/4", "Crowded Corridors", and "Light/No Light" as my favorites, and I appreciate them more every time I hear them.

Indeed, "Belighted" is often like a big teaser. It draws you back for more, and it absolutely requires 5 or 6 listens to appreciate (in addition to a big, sensitive sound system). I was speaking to Marjana about how I fall in love with this album a little more each time I hear it, and she was adamant about the fact that this album is meant to require time and persistence in order to grasp it fully. I have fallen head first into this world of invention, creativity, and pure beauty, and it has easily become one of my favorite albums of the year. "Belighted" is a monument to progression, art, human emotion, and deep storytelling that shouldn't be missed, and I certainly think many prog "veterans" could learn from this young band. With inspiring elegance, passion, vulnerability, and hope, Iamthemorning has ventured forth to present their work to the world, and I hope people will give it the time and accolades that it deserves.

Report this review (#1273018)
Posted Monday, September 8, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars Two years ago, a virtually unknown Russian band released a debut with chamber classical orchestration, gorgeous multi-layered vocals, and the occasional modern rock touch. Very few initially noticed it, but eventually by word of mouth, it became an unexpected favorite 2012 album in progressive rock, despite the scarcity of progressive rock elements. Listeners there mainly rated on songwriting and enjoyment.

Now, we have a second iamthemorning album, expanding on the elements from the first album. A confident, mature album that will likely bring rave reviews all over the place given the band is not as obscure as in 2012.

The music is once again heavily influenced by classical music. Vocals and piano continue creating the foundation of the music, with orchestral instrument, drums, and modern rock sounds adding layers whenever needed. Even the modern rock sounds are used in a very classical, 'iamthemorning' way.

The added complexity of the music was a risk. After all, the debut's instantly rewarding melodies and its safe, if brilliant, songwriting approach made it very difficult for many listener to honestly hate such an album. Now, we're dealing with complexity levels more to the tune of classical music and progressive rock. This is now easily categorized as progressive rock, with less direct melodies, knotty musical ideas, occasionally long songs, more in-depth instrumentation and lyricism. The risk is that I enjoyed the first listen less than the first listen of the debut. However, I cannot decide which album I prefer now. I feel like this one has a few minor flaws based on the risk-taking approach, compared to the near-perfection pop of the debut. However, there are even more 'WOW!' moments here in my opinion, some of the very best musical passages I perceive to come across.

Flaws? I seem to only gripe about the slow development of their last full song, the samples in 'Howler' and the beginning of 'K.O.S' with a repetitive, awkward drum beat and one-chord guitar riff. Luckily, the latter two songs are overall highly interesting and dynamic songs otherwise, which is why I said the flaws are not severe as they involve a small fraction of two songs.

Strengths? It's hard to name them all. The intermissions remain impressive. The first one has such a captivating atmosphere, I can't imagine anyone being hard-pressed to say 'nah' and stop playing the album. The fourth intermission (titled XII) almost reaches song-like status in length, starting with classical violin and continuing with mesmerizing piano. The last intermission is almost transcendental in a spiritual sense.

And then you have the songs and they are so, so good. All those subtle melodies and exciting instrumentation in 'Howler', the beautiful 'To Human Misery' with a very captivating main melody yet also with a lot of subtle instrumentation. I should try not to overuse the phrase 'subtle complexity', but I think that word really describes this album. Subtle complexity is what makes this album work so well: you latch on into some obvious melodies on first listen, but then all those little details won't make you lose interest. Every instrument plays melodies, sometimes simultaneously.

'Romance' and '5/4' sound a bit like more intricate version of Tori Amos music. They are whimsical, enchanting yet quite complex in instrumentation. Those little details like the muted violin melodies and brief 'shredding' electric guitar that somehow sounds mellow. The '5/4' song is mostly in 6/4 actually, but when it shifts to a 5/4 meter playing a carnival-like atmosphere, it's pure genius, even if it sounds like a horrible idea at first listen. It's an odd choice for a single. I thought it would be 'The Simple Story' which is more instantly recognizable with its melodies and the great piano line near the end. 'Crowded Corridors' is possibly their most accomplished composition to date and also their longest by far at nearly 9 minutes. It begins relatively subdued with their typical instrumentation and vocalizations, if more haunting than usual. Something else going for it is the more 'epic', dramatic moments that work incredibly well. It'd be interesting if they revisit this approach to songwriting in later albums. A particular highlight, besides the obvious piano solo in the latter half, is a slow melody at minute 3 being revisited at the very end at a faster pace.

By the way, most of these songs deviate from a typical song structure to help make it more impactful and dynamic. The song 'Gerda' starts very soft and delicate but later sounds very empowering and grand: it's yet another great song. 'Os Lunatum' starts as an outstanding piano + vocal duet, both at their very best, especially during the song's main hook. Guitars later become dominant on the song's instrumental section. The song concludes with a full band sound, the progression from the very beginning being very natural.

'K O S' may be marginally a less enjoyable song here because of that first minute which sounds repetitive and lacks what I like about the band. The rest is an interesting experiment as they veer towards a progressive rock / alternative rock sound without fully losing their trademark vocals, pianos, and subtle way to adding melodic layers. I love the way it ends, reprising the intro in such a way that almost redeems it. The 'Reprise of Light no Light' is another lesser favorite, developing in a slow fashion that sometimes tests my patience. I do love that it, along with the last intermission, ends with peaceful, abstract noise.

In the end, they have accomplished a very difficult feat, given the high standard the set themselves with their debut. This second album is very intelligent music as well as very deep, emotional music. It touches me. In the end, despite the occasional flaw, it's a masterpiece and I anticipate it being consistently among my favorite pieces of music regardless of genre alongside their debut.

Source: Free streaming off soundcloud.

Report this review (#1279239)
Posted Thursday, September 18, 2014 | Review Permalink
3 stars I am sorry, I will have to downgrade it to 3 stars, if not 2.

Back in 2012 iamthemorning, by magic or otherwise, won the "hearts and minds" of the PA folk. The "~ " album they made then was neither prog, nor good. I found it weak, bleak and palpably pretentious, but the people of PA spoke: it soared all the way to #2 on the 2012 chart.

The new album is better, but most of it is still barely prog and isn't too good. Gavin Harrison does make a lot of difference; pieces with his strong presence on are very good. The piano player Gleb is, once again, reasonably good, but not too thrilling. Overall, there is somewhat more texture and structure to the music than they had on the previous studio album.

What completely kills the joy for me is Marjana's voice; it would be suitable for a lo-fi indie endeavor, maybe for an ambient album, but for prog it's kind of important that the musicians, including vocalists, show a greater degree of talent. Having said that, she as a vocalist is not as irritating as Mr. Wilson.

You can listen to the songs on Bandcamp and judge for yourself, so there is no need for me to continue rambling :)

Three stars, and this still may go down to two.

Report this review (#1279298)
Posted Friday, September 19, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars I discovered Iamthemorning soon after they released their first album, and was anticipating the follow up with excitement and trepidation. The second album can make or break a career. It is either a disappointment or a triumph. I am glad to say it is a triumph with a few niggles. I will get the minus points out of the way first. The recording is flawed unfortunately, the vocals are too low in the mix, and in my opinion the whole thing sounds slightly over processed. Enough of the bad points,now the many positives. The intermissions are all beautiful in there many and varied ways. As for the actual songs,they are well constructed flowing and full of light and shade like any good song should be. The recording of a song cannot stop a wonderful composition from coming across to its audience.

The Howler. A nice medium paced rocker,starts the album of well.

To Human Misery. I like the mix on this one,a lot of interesting things going on in the background,it works well.

Romance and 5/4 reminds me so much of a Kate Bush structure,this is no bad thing.If talent of this stature can be mentioned in the same sentence you must be doing something right. The Simple Story.Just a good well structered ballad.

Crowded Corridors is one of my favourites, it flows majestically into the second part of the song which is as near perfection as you can get.

Gerda is just beautiful.

Os Lunatum. The piano and vocals together are stunning,the vocal being a little more predominant on this one.The guitar is also featured very well on this track.

K.O.S. This one loses its way a little, I find the drums a little over bearing in places,still a good track.

Reprise Of Light/No Light. Like the strings on this one,a nice blend with the voice.

My reservations apart about the recording,this is a fantastic album. The King Crimson textures that come across like on the Islands album are truly intoxicating. There is nothing wrong with things sounding like other things,not many things are unique. One thing is for sure,we have unique talents in Gleb Kolyadin and Marjana Semkina. I have had tweet conversations with Marjana,and I can say she is as charming as she is beautiful and talented. Gleb is an accomplished a pianist as you will ever hear. Buy the album and bask in its glory. A better recording would have given it 5 stars,then there is always room for improvement.

Report this review (#1281878)
Posted Tuesday, September 23, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars 'Belighted' is the second long play experience from today Russia's greatest music act, iamthemorning.

Being as frail, etherial and beautiful as their debut album, '~', iamthemorning's second effort is also a huge step towards the exploration of new musical horizons. If '~' was completely a chamber album with a couple of heavy moments, 'Belighted' shows the listener a much more different genre palette, including some updates of their previously well-known chamber style (the most notable update is probably in '5/4'), but also representing a more coherent heavy side (the wall-crushing opener 'The Howler' and also, though being less a highlight, 'K.O.S.') and a bunch of new influences, including folk rock ('Gerda') and even some trip hop rhythms beneath the rich and at the same time airy sound flow ('The Simple Story').

A feast of sorrow and hope, painted by beauty.

Whilst influences from so-called post-progressive music (Steven Wilson, Anathema) are quite logical, 'Belighted' has no direct stylistic connection to any other band you might have in mind as an influence.

Unmistakably iamthemorning-ish, this album would serve equally well as a gift for band's old fans and as a good introduction into band's music for newcomers.

I could list this album's virtues for quite a long time, but instead it would be enough to say it is beautiful. And it is beautiful! So beautiful you would forget everything else, 'cause nothing else can matter when such a deep and unearthly beauty flows through your ears.

So that would be a huge crime for me to give this album less than 10 stars out of ten (or 5 out of five, according to progarchives' scale). Without any doubts, 'Belighted' would be this year's finest album. Don't miss it!

Report this review (#1290303)
Posted Saturday, October 11, 2014 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars While not as breathtakingly fresh as 2012's stunning debut, ~, Belighted is a step forward for this young duo of Russian songwriters. With Belighted iamthemorning steps into modern recording studio, collaborates with seasoned prog rock musicians, and lays down a more diverse palette of songs. What for me (and other reviewers) has really caught my attention is the growth and maturation of singer Marjana Semkina. Her delivery of the lyrics adds such a powerful emotional depth and 'heaviness' as to in effect upgrade what could be fairly run-of- the-mill songs into powerful masterpieces. I know of very few singers in progressive rock music--past or present--who have this kind of effect on a song's overall impact. In particular, "Romance," "The Simple Story," "Gerda," and "Reprise of Light/No Light," and the first and last "Intermission" benefit most dramatically from Ms. Semkina's growth--though no song graced with her vocal touch fails to engage and win over the listener. I have to agree, however, with other reviewers that I think it an overall damaging flaw of the album that Marjana's vocals are not mixed more prominently into the forefront.

The theme of having "Intermission" songs between most of the full-length, vocalized songs continues from ~ though here there are only five to work their magic between the ten full- length songs (most of which are presented in pairs). There is a difference on Belighted as the Intermissions are not so folk/neoclassical oriented. They are more like sound experiments, each showcasing a different instrument: Marjana's dreamy voice, guitar, piano & waves, cello & piano, and strings and voice, respectively. Each, in turn, is treated with various and sundry sound engineering effects.

Again, I can't say that this album has hit me with the same kind of power as their debut--but ~ was so fresh and unexpected. Belighted comes at you with Marjana's now familiar voice and a greater variety of backup and stylings, though Gleb's extraordinary piano work and strings arrangements are still quite present and essential to most every song. I am quite fascinated and taken with the five Intermissions, but there are two rather delicate piano-centric songs that don't lift off as well as my hopes and expectations desire despite Gleb's extraordinary talent ("Crowded Corridors" and "Os Lunatum"). I think I'm waiting for Marjana's input to take the songs to another level, to a some kind of soaring crescendo. These are by no means bad songs--and are intricately crafted pieces of beauty. They just could have been . . . more. And then there are three songs that simply don't click with me ("The Howler," "Romance" and "K.O.S.").

I agree that this is no sophomore slump. Belighted is a collection of beautiful, intricately crafted songs. Gleb and Marjana both display extraordinary growth, artistry, and skill. I want to give these shining young stars of modern music five stars but I think--I hope--that there is more, even better, music to come.

Five star songs: "To Human Misery," "The Simple Story," "Gerda," the Kate Bush-like "5/4, "Reprise of Light/No Light," and all of the "Intermissions."

4.5 star album that, unfortunately, leaves room for improvement.

Report this review (#1292245)
Posted Wednesday, October 15, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars 4.5 stars. A big step up from their debut.

iamthemorning made some big waves with their debut "~". Even though the Prog content was not very high the combination of Marjana's beautiful voice, the well thought out Chamber music, the incredibly lush melodies and Prog inspired rock music created something really unique and captivating. For this reason ~ was one of the top Prog albums of 2012 and 2 years later it stills competes for the No 1 spot.

Now 2 years later they have released their second album "Belighted" which has backing from the significant Prog label KScope. Its fair to say there was a lot of pressure on the band with this album. Their debut was so new and interesting that its only natural that the second album has a harder time due to it not being original anymore. I gave ~ 5 stars for its originality and beauty and in order to get another 5 stars from me Belighted had to be significantly better than their debut.

Well its a great joy to say that this album is a clear step up from their last album. The overall sound and structure of this album is very similar to the debut, but in every area possible the band have clearly worked their socks of trying to make it more complex, melodic, professional, Proggy and varied than their last work. Its just a better version of their debut with some newer ideas to keep things interesting.

These new ideas were possible due to the bigger budget which lets them incorporate other instruments into their sound. Another big addition was Gavin Harrison of Porcupine Tree fame who played the drums for all of their songs and therefore added another layer of quality to the music. The band also took some risks on the album, for example they use a recorded conversation on " The Howler" in the middle of the high energy instrumental section, which is something that again PT are very well known for doing but is new ground for the band.

With their being 15 songs I am only going to cover the noteworthy ones. "5/4" is probably their most quirky song, it goes though multiple changes however does not lose its catchiness at any point. "Crowded Corridors" is the band's first attempt at writing a long song and is very successful. The first section is incredibly beautiful and gentle. It progresses into a piece of pure classical music which is centred on the piano and then into a brief ELP sounding section. The song naturally reprises to the beginning section and they add electric guitar to give the song more energy and drama. Its a very good song.

"Os Lunatum" also goes though multiple phases while remaining coherent and infectious, it also makes for a good summary song for the whole album. Then there are other simpler but still very beautiful and well written tracks such as "Gerda" and "Reprise Of Light / No Light"

In terms of weakness's I am still not fully convinced on all these "Intermission" tracks which are either pure classical or ambient music. Some work well while others don't and like with their debut its a hit and miss affair. I would personally have fewer of them and those that are included should function as proper mini songs instead of half baked ideas. You may have noticed that all of my favourite songs are found from the middle to the end of the album. Its not like the first half of the album is bad but its not at the same level as the other half.

Rating this album has been tricky, its definitely better than their debut but the question is if its worth 5 stars when its no longer original? I thought to myself what could they have done to make Belighted better and I could not think of a solid answer beside removing some of the intermissions which is a very subjective viewpoint. Especially as all of these mini songs do fit well enough into the flow of the album. That combined with the fact that the band really have worked hard to better themselves on this album and succeeded (when the bar was already high) is enough in my opinion to justify the 5 stars.

1st April 2016 Edit; After listening to their new album Lighthouse several times I've decided to drop this album down to 4 stars, due to the new album being far superior to this one. Besides this album has always been a borderline between 4 and 5 stars so making the drop is not a unfair rating. This is still a excellent album that has not lost its luster over the last 2 years, but it does not stand up to the originality of their debut nor the mastery of their third album. I would recommend those other 2 albums before this one so I must rate Belighted appropriately.

Report this review (#1315706)
Posted Wednesday, November 26, 2014 | Review Permalink
5 stars This album is indeed an excellent addition to any prog rock music collection. BUT! It is an essential listen for anyone who appreciates a greatly crafted piece of art.

I fell in love with iamthemorning's music by listening to their first album. They were my companions in one of my trips this year. Walking around Times Square and Central Park while listening to Marjana's voice is quite a beautiful experience. I have to be grateful to this amazing page for publishing artists like these.

Now, their second album. This time iamthemorning sounds more like a prog band. I got the first hint even before listening to the record just by realising that they are now part of the Kscope label. I quite enjoyed the intermissions on the first album, they give the whole "concept piece" (if I may) a very classical touch. This time, the intermissions sound more experimental, which, for me is not a bad thing at all because it shows an sonic evolution for the band.

The songs are just, plainly, amazing. The opener "The Howler" gives you the idea that this band now wants to rock by now using more prominently an electric guitar and a more rocking drum beat. A very different approach to what the previous album showed. Then, starting the second song "To Human Misery" we get that "iamthemorning" harmony with a lot of experimentation, I believe that a lot of it has to do with the inclusion of master Harrison on drums. Me as a drummer immediately identified his chops which give the whole album an excellent touch. There are far more prog elements on this album than the predecessor, like I said, mainly thanks to the drummer's input but also we hear now longer compositions like the beautiful "Crowded Corridors" and now more complex time signatures like the 9/4 on "K.O.S."

This band had set their bar extremely high with their first record and, with this second album they just blew past that bar and created one of the best prog albums from this decade. I don't feel like that's an overstatement because prog is about finding new sounds, creating original, and artistic musical expression, which this album does in one of the most beautiful ways. I really hope we get to hear more from them and that I get the chance to see them live!

Report this review (#1316372)
Posted Friday, November 28, 2014 | Review Permalink
4 stars Iamthemorning's debut record is my favourite debut album of all time. By a fair amount too. The amount of compositional maturity and uniqueness this obscure Russian duo showed on their very first outing was beyond impressive. Melancholic chamber pop melodies adorned with strings and intricate drumming, all working around the wonderful fingers of classically trained pianist Gleb Kolyadin, who also has a place as my favourite pianist (which is also my favourite instrument, so he could even be my favourite instrumentalist, ever). It's a record I recommend to absolutely everyone, have played over 25 times, and own three (yes, three) copies of. Are we starting to see the expectation that I put on Belighted?

Belighted is still a good album. I think it's impossible for it not to be - the very essence of Iamthemorning's music is something I am a huge fan of - Marjana's sweet and delightful vocals, Gleb's virtuosic and intense piano playing, and the way their compositions flow from melodious chamber pop to some dark and almost heavy art rock sections are all things that I adore in music, and add to what made ~ such a great album. And since all of those things are still here on Belighted, I can't really say that this is any less than a good album.

But. Belighted is not the album it could have been. I'm a bit split on my opinion about this, and how Iamthemorning should have gone about writing a follow up to ~. On the one hand, this is a distinctly different album - it's not just completely rehashing the same ideas as before, it's looking for change and shifting their sound, which is something I respect a lot in music and is always a good sign when trying to avoid the sophomore slump. But, on the other hand, I am not a fan of any of the new elements that they have added to their sound. At all. An attempt to freshen and shift the Iamthemorning sound has, to me, resulted in some awkward and unnecessary elements being thrown on top of otherwise good songs. And thus you see the dilemma, and why so many bands suffer under the pressure of the follow-up, especially when the debut is near-perfect. Drop the new parts and this is just a weaker version of ~ with no change, but keep them and it changes the defining sound of the band in ways that doesn't really work.

But I'm going to stop being negative for a while and talk about what I like about this record, because isolated, and ignoring all comparisons to the debut, there is still more good than bad here.

The second half of this album is when it really starts to come to life, although that's not to say the first is without its merits. From the album standout "Gerda" to the closing of the album we have a string of songs that really start to show the same compositional consistency they had on the debut, albeit to a slightly lower level. "Gerda" is Marjana's best track on this album, containing her best melodies and vocal performances by a bit of a margin. I love the way this track builds in an almost linear way, slowly adding in instruments as it raises in intensity, and the whole way Marjana's voice and Gleb's piano stay strong and in focus. I especially love how lush and strong the strings are in this track, and its a great relief after the sore overuse of bad guitar on this album (which I'll get to in a minute).

This is followed by "Os Lunatum", and if "Gerda" was Marjana's strongest track on this album, this one is the strongest for the string players, especially during the second half with cellos and hard struck violins (and even a fretless bass guitar) all coming in under the atmosphere of Marjana's reverbed vocals. And then we have "K. O. S", which demonstrates the other major player in Iamthemorning's repertoire - Gleb's piano, and despite playing in an awkward (and totally unnecessary) 9/4 time signature, really gets some brilliant lines in, and is the only real time on the album when the piano gets to the level of moments like the bridge of "Inside" off the debut album. This song also feels like the logical climax of the album, in a similar way to how "I B Too" was for the debut, but in a lesser manner. The final crescendo brings in Gavin Harrison's heavy drums for the first time, as well as some guitar that doesn't actually suck that much (for once), but Marjana's vocals don't hit the intensity that they did on "I B Too" and despite some awesome melodies in the first half, it doesn't have a full punch. The album's final track (technically), "Reprise of Light/No Light" is another good one, and completes the run of quality material in the second half as another building, rising track featuring great strings again and a really nice drum part from Gavin.

And the first half? Well, it's not bad, but aside from maybe "The Simple Story" and to a lesser extent "Romance" none of the tracks here are up to the quality of their second half counterparts. "The Howler" has a nice jazzy piano/vocal part for its verse, and "To Human Misery" has a great chorus hook, but both that and "The Simple Story" had better versions released earlier this year on the Miscellany EP.

But all of these good parts and segments get shrunk down when put into context with the debut. Only "Gerda" and perhaps "Reprise of Light/No Light" can even get near the seven or eight incredible songs from the debut. While this album has good songs and some nice moments, getting completely blown away is a rare feat here with comparison to its predecessor. And even moreso when you thrown in the parts that I'm not really a fan of.

For those who don't know the rather impressive story of Iamthemorning's rise to fame, it happened in a rather odd way, through a rather odd group of fans - namely the internet's progressive rock community. Anyone who heard the debut blank would struggle to hear much progressive influence, but it is there in tiny parts during the louder tracks. But for some reason the prog world took them on and branded them as their own, despite the fact that their prog influence was fleeting. The number one album on ProgArchives, multiple features in Prog Magazine, and eventually signing to a (slightly) prog label with Kscope, this in combination with the fact that vocalist Marjana is a bit of a proghead herself, meant that many of us were anticipating a bit of a shift towards true progressive rock. And despite the fact that modern progressive rock is pretty much my favourite genre, I can't quite say that this shift has done their music any good. At all.

The most notable difference is the massive inclusion of guitar on this album - from a couple of distant guest appearances on the debut to a prominent part in pretty much every track here, coming right in with a wall of distorted power chords in "The Howler". And I mean no disrespect to the guitarist himself - the parts are played proficiently and he is no means a bad guitarist, but it does not fit with the music in any conceivable way. Iamthemorning's music is quaint and delicate, and when the dark moments come in they are characterised by the cello and double bass, not the sound of a poorly mixed electric guitar. Honestly, remove the guitar from this album completely and replace its parts with a cello or violin, and I would love this a whole lot more. My distaste for the tones and mixing of the guitar go so far that I actually switched out the album versions of "The Simple Story" and "To Human Misery" with the versions that were on the Miscellany EP. Especially during "To Human Misery", we have the awkward hard-panned guitar fluttering around in the corner during the chorus, and even worse for the hook after the verse when it follows Marjana's vocal line in the distant background.

But it's not just the fact that the guitars sound poor and are mixed very strangely, it's the fact that it doesn't fit their sound. During the aforementioned "The Howler", the entire song feels like Iamthemorning pandering to their newfound rock audience, complete with some irrelevant and annoying samples. But it really becomes evident when you hear how weak Marjana's voice is when she is forced to sing these kinds of songs. Her voice is of subtlety and frail beauty, and the only time it really feels good in the loud sections is with layers and layers of phone-box distortion. During "The Howler" and "To Human Misery" she sounds dwarfed by the loud guitars and drums, like she doesn't belong there at all.

But it's not just the focus on rock and guitars that is a negative on this album, some poor progressive influence starts to seem into their compositions, too. "Crowded Corridors" clocks in at four minutes longer than anything on the first album, but instead of playing a longer, more developing song, they play a pretty regular length track and then just end it half way through. And then go straight into a three-minute piano solo. Now, me two years ago would have got so excited at the prospect of a three-minute Gleb Kolyadin piano solo, but honestly this isn't pleasant at all. Shifting from his usual Beethoven and Bach-inspired parts, Gleb goes full Mozart- meets-Keith Emerson in this solo, and yes it is as atonal as that implies, with unnecessary time changes stacking up and even a feature from a rather gross-sounding organ underneath. And the worst thing about this is that the first four minutes and fifty seconds of the song are absolutely glorious. Not only is it one of the best songs on the album, if they did indeed choose to increase this first half out to eight minutes, in the style of something like "Comforting Sounds" from Frengers, it could possibly even be the best song of their career (funnily enough, the following track, "Gerda", is really a shorter version of the style this song should have followed). It's a beautiful piece, slowly building up in intensity and using layers of Marjana's vocals to create a serene and brooding atmosphere. And then for some reason they choose to end it before it hits any form of intensity, then do a bit of a dance and walk off.

The biggest problem with this album, in the end, is how forgettable it is. There are good moments here and there and overall there isn't really a bad song on it, but whenever I hear it I can't help but think to myself "well, this would be a lot better if the guitar wasn't here and if the compositions were more concise", and then 10 seconds later I say "wait a second, the debut is exactly that." There is no real reason for me to return to this record when ~ still exists. And even moreso, as their label debut, many new fans will listen to this as their first introduction to the band, and this honestly is nowhere near as captivating or exciting as its predecessor and might fail to grab them as that one would. Again, I'm becoming too negative about it simply because of its context. This is a good album. Would I recommend it? Not wholly, but if you're craving some more of the debut's glory then the second half has some great moments. But otherwise, just go listen to that.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

Report this review (#1322478)
Posted Wednesday, December 10, 2014 | Review Permalink
2 stars This is a big disappointment !!!!

I bought "Belighted" on the basic of the excellent reviews it has received on Progarchives. To date 35% of reviewers have given it 5 star rating. Usually when a new band without a big biased fan base gets that many 5 star reviews it indicates that they have produced something exceptional. But this is no masterpiece of progressive rock in my book.

I have listened to the disc a number of times now and again as I am writing this review in case I was missing something. One word sums it up: Boring.

Mostly fairly monotonous female vocals backed by keyboards. Sure there is some nice keyboard playing but it mind boggling how this could be considered a masterpiece, I just dont comprehend why.

It is off to a bad start with the spoke words on the first track. That is just annoying. I hoped for an improvement after that but to me the album is just repetitive. The best track is track 13 K.O.S. which is a bit more of a band effort with some real drumming, its also the longest at 6:06 minutes so no prog epics here !!!

I could only give this two stars.

Report this review (#1345546)
Posted Wednesday, January 14, 2015 | Review Permalink
5 stars This young russian ensemble takes us to an enchanting promenade amid very original musical landscapes, sometimes soft and quiet, sometimes tormented and even furious. Marjana's sensitive and sensual voice is a perfect guide to follow and it is made more moving again by Gleb's omnipresent, subtile and skilled keyboards play.

In my opinion, "Delighted" is more mature, more accomplished than their very promising debut album. The combination of classical instruments and rock elements is not an innovation in itself, of course. But, here, it's not only an addition (like it has been so often since rock bands want to prove they can create elaborate music !) ; it is a total fusion. We can not conceive this music in another way. And that is very innovative.

Moreover, icing on the cake : the packaging is splendid and that can not be neglected.

Report this review (#1372860)
Posted Wednesday, February 25, 2015 | Review Permalink
3 stars "iamthemorning" is a Russian band which has gained some attention among prog people since their debut record "~" in the year 2012. I haven't heard that record so I could not give you any points about development and so on but I have carefully overheard their second, 2014 year record "Belighted". The cover is very delightful with a nice house in the middle of a road in a powerful nature. The main musicians are Gleb Kolyadin(grand piano and keyboard) and Marjana Semkina(vocals) and also a lot of other talanted musicians you can read about on the record information.

If you are looking for true progressive rock you can directly put this record away. Iamthemorning is clsoe to prog rock sometimes but mostly the music isn't so much rock. Though is the music alternative or progressive and there are similarities with Kate Bush's expressions here and there also other prog influences. Marjana Semkina has integrity and a very artistic and high feeling way of doing her singing. On "5/4" you hear Gentle Giant ideas in this happy song(7/10). The intermissions(three) on the record are also very pleasant, especially "Intermission X"(8/10) which feels very progressive. The album's best track is "Os Lunatum" which is mystical, very melodic and powerful(9/10). Some other songs are worth mentioning as more than just good: "The Howler", "Intermission XI", "Gerda" and "Reprise of light no light"(7/10) and the other songs are also good, except a couple of less interesting things in the beginning: "Intermisson IX" and "To Human Misery".

Iamthemorning is an interesting piece of music. Harmonic and poetic songs with talanted instrumentals and a great vocalist with her own expression. I lack sometimes more challanging music here so three stars is an honest rating from me(3.23).

Report this review (#1376534)
Posted Monday, March 2, 2015 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Russian band iamthemorning, which revolves around the creative partnership of keyboardist Gleb Kolyadin and vocalist Marjana Semkina, quickly rose to prominence following the release of their debut album "~" back in 2012. Since it's release they have released an EP, and in 2015 they also released a live album documenting their efforts on stage. "Belighted" is their second studio production, and was released in the fall of 2014 on prestigious UK label KScope.

I belong to those people who thought it was a brilliant idea for KScope to snap up this fine, talented band. I really enjoyed their debut album, and found the music they explored there to be one that would fit quite nicely in to the KScope roster of bands due to the emphasis on moods and atmospheres, and was of course interested to hear how this band had developed since that event took place.

iamthemorning continues to explore their particular brand of what one might call atmospheric laden progressive rock in a fine manner. We're treated to interludes with a firm nod in the direction of classical music, Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition" did come to mind on a couple of occasions for those, mainly due to Kolyadin's piano motifs I guess, as Mussorgsky's piece originally was one made for that instrument, and did feature interludes between the main parts of the composition. Marjana's vocals are more sparingly applied in those sections when present, naturally enough I guess, as these atmospheric interludes for me first and foremost comes across as ones that highlight the talents of Kolyadin.

As for the rest of the songs, they are by and large of the same general orientation as the ones on the band's debut album. Marjana's vocals combines fine with orchestral backing, piano and careful use of rock instrumentation. Drummer Harrison makes his presence heard obviously, but by and large the instrument aspects of the compositions are mainly mellow, although a recurring element is how these compositions builds up to the occasional layered, majestic and dramatic crescendo prior to subsiding again. In that context this band has something of a post-rock spirit to it, and it is very much appropriate when some of the tracks also features careful use of delicate guitar textures of a post-rock orientation.

There's a lot of positives to this album, and second to last track Reprise of Light / No Light, with it's careful build up to a sound, mood and arrangement more than a bit like Kate Bush' massive hit Cloudbusting, is perhaps the main positive for me, alongside Marjana's expanded vocal repertoire: At least to my ears she appears to use a few more approaches and variations to her singing now than on the band's debut album, indicating a vocalist still intent on development.

The downside for me is that the album as a whole feels, in lack of other words, safe. There are few edges to the material, other than the blazing guitar riffs that book-end second track The Howler, and I get the impression that Marjana's vocals are somewhat restrained too. Partially due to mix and production I guess, but she also appears to stay within the scope of the careful and dream-laden vocal delivery a bit too much. Memory is rarely trustworthy, but my recollection is that there were at least a few more emotionally laden, powerful vocal details at play on the band's debut album, even if subtly rather than dramatically so, but this aspect isn't much of a feature this time around. The combination of these two for me results in an album that lacks those moments of pure magic and brilliance I treasured when I encountered the band initially. I should add that these are minor points though, and rather subjective at that.

In many cases, especially in the past, there were comments about the dreaded second album, when an artist had created a good debut but then ran out of steam the second time around. Thankfully this isn't the case with iamthemorning, who have made a quality effort with their second CD "Belighted". Perhaps a little bit on the safe side musically, but the compositions continue to be compelling and to blend inspirations from classical music, rock and post-rock in a generally appealing and interesting manner. A band with a potentially broad reach too, I wouldn't be all that surprised if they develop into a unit that makes an impact also in the mainstream music market if they manage to keep at it.

Report this review (#1507338)
Posted Tuesday, January 5, 2016 | Review Permalink
3 stars The key iamthemorning duo of Marjana Semkina and Gleb Kolyadin were able to step into a professional studio environment for this followup to surprise hit "~", thanks in part to the contributions of Kickstarter backers. The end result was presumably an important learning experience for them, given that they were able to keep their recording career going afterwards and follow it up with the masterpiece Lighthouse, but I find that Belighted itself is a bit less interesting either than what preceded it or what followed. It's all very pretty, but there's a certain irony to a song here being called "The Simple Story", since it does feel like they are playing it safe and keeping things simple here rather than really stretching.

It's probably worth a listen for anyone who likes their particular chamber folk style of art rock, but at the same time I wouldn't put it on the level of either of their other two studio albums.

Report this review (#1774707)
Posted Thursday, August 24, 2017 | Review Permalink

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