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Antony Kalugin - Stellar Gardener CD (album) cover


Antony Kalugin

Symphonic Prog

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5 stars Antony's excellent follow up to Marshmallow Moondust has been released only months after. Amazing and prolific is Antony. This new albums title is 'Stellar Gardener'.

I thought Marshmallow Moondust was a masterpiece. My first listen to Stellar Gardener eclipsed that feeling. I feel 'Stellar' is even an improvement. Antony uses the same methods, similar in style and execution as 'Marshmallow'. Obviously 'Marshmallow' gave Antony the confidence to forge ahead in his art. And 'Stellar Gardener' is the result.

What is a 'Stellar Gardener'? I'm sure Antony has a firm view to the answer of this question. As to the listener, that is up to his or her interpretation. Antony's music definitely captures these galactic themes. Space and the outer worlds is ensconced in your mind when you listen to it. The tinkle of a key is the twinkle of a star, the flute sound is the ray of sunlight, the heavy guitar sound is an exploding star?

The album is mainly in two parts, 'Stellar' and 'Gardener' both 20 minute epics followed by four smaller compositions being excerpts from the main two tracks. From the start you get the feel of openness and the majesty that is space. We get the interweaving of keyboards and guitars again as we did in 'Marshmallow Moondust'. Although I would say 'Stellar Gardener' is more keyboard based which is more inline with the 'space' theme.

A section of 'Stellar' I fell in love with is approximately 15.20 in with a great bass part followed by a fast paced keyboard giving me the impression of some sort of space chase or space race which is a true highlight for me. 'Gardener' is very strongly paced and is mostly full on, very driving music. Antony excels here and you can't let go of it. You have to stay and enjoy the ride.

What is a 'Stellar Gardener'? Is there a higher life tending the garden of the universe? Organising and planning this dimension we live in? Creating the life that makes our world the wonder it is? I'm sure Antony has his firm ideas on this matter and like a true artist, he lets the listener determine their findings themselves which makes this music more personal to them.

This new album like space is a wonder. To come so quick after the last album and to be at the very least as good is a testament to the skill and imagination of Antony. May he continue. As a music lover I am selfish and just want more.

Report this review (#2504044)
Posted Tuesday, February 9, 2021 | Review Permalink
5 stars Another great symphonic art rock instrumental album! I do not agree that it's "more of the same " like was written in a previous review. Look at the latest Transatlantic album!! It's exactly the same as previous one - predicted and "safe" , exactly the same "food". Here it's a delicious dish, maybe not as much sugary as the "marshmallow Moondust " - it's different, variable and tasty. I did enjoy it's heavy aggressive edges in places and of course keyboards are superb. Also, have to admit good job on guitars! It has this feeling of the band rocking, though it was recorded by Anton only... well done! Hope one day it'll be re-released with live drums recorded. There are a few vocal passages that compliments composition. Maybe it would be nicer to have it more... it's up to taste anyway. Go and discover it. Every KALUGINs album is not alike on a previous one. For someone it's a stress) but not for me for sure . I like to hear material involve and transform. It's a high rate album. Melodic and bright. Love it!
Report this review (#2506708)
Posted Wednesday, February 17, 2021 | Review Permalink
5 stars "Stellar Gardener" is the second solo album of Ukrainian progressive master Antony Kalugin, while the first one has been released only 4 months ago. Taking into account that Antony is the main and almost the only songwriter for his projects "Sunchild" and "Karfagen" we know well what his style of songwriting is. Moreover, he used to be extremely productive latest times having 4 albums released during last 13 months (so it is getting harder writing conceptually something new reviewing his albums). And yet, "Stellar Gardener" manages to surprise its listener in a great manner. It seems to me that it might be one of the best albums to introduce the Antony's style to the new listener while the old one still find something he expects together with a number of fresh ideas.

The album contains of two (in fact, only one) songs, "Stellar" and "Gardener" 20 minutes long each that introduce a single suite in a single monolithic structure. This LP-based tradition works well as it helps not to overload the album with too long instrumental structure (yes, the album is full-instrumental except of a few vocalizes). The sound is quite bright and light, typical to the latest Kalugin's works. However, unlike the ethereal "Marshmallow Moondust", "Stellar Gardener" sounds heavy and anxious from time to time. This provides the dynamics I require to be involved into listening and helps to follow the general idea of the album.

Although in general the suite indeed sounds very bright, mostly because of a clear sound provided by acoustic guitar and piano (both were recorded by Antony himself). Rest sounds have been produced electronically. Antony is a great pianist and composer and all parts of the album are great; however, I really would like to hear them played with "real" instruments ? especially for drums. The drum parts are mostly interesting; however, it is hard to enjoy them due to their "unnatural manner".

Not dwelling on the song description (just try to hear it, the album worth it!) I just shell mention few important points:

1) The beginning of the first part, "Stellar", with its light interlude and vocalizes reminded me of a sound of Pat Metheny Group from 1970-ies. It is very nice and also seems to be quite iconic as Antony seems to finally introduce the jazz nature of his musical ideas in the clearest possible manner.

2) Album contains numerous references to different albums of "Sunchild" and "Karfagen". The most clear are the quotation from "As far as the eye can see" and the allusion to the "Messages from Afar" in a vocalized part

3) It has become already clear that Antony likes to create a "hidden reprise" or the "reducted reprise" in his albums. Same here, the last part on the suite that usually repeats the first one, is quite short. However, it plays its role into the general structure and brings us to the final point in the best manner, so this is far from being a problem

To sum up: the album is great and any fan of progressive rock should pay attention to this piece of music. Despite a number of non-perfect points (lack of "live instruments"; absence of Antony's concerts latest years, even before the pandemic; a huge quantity of his albums these days), "Stellar Gardener" is an awesome product and I shell recommend it with all my passion.

Report this review (#2509355)
Posted Saturday, February 27, 2021 | Review Permalink
5 stars So glad to hear another fabulous chapter! As always i was blown away by the artwork. "Marshmallow Moondust" and "Stellar Garden" both are great, so good to have them in a proper CD format. I don`t mind Spotify and YouTube - but i can not understand how this talanted musician will survive without our financial support... I really hope that one day lots of Antonys material will appear on a Vinyl and of course "Stellar Gardener". To me this album is close to the instrumental prog rock classics from Flower Kings "Retropolis" - "Stardust We Are". This fantastic time when music was so emotional, melodic - TRUE as it should be. I`m really glad that Anton continues his chosen way of creating this fairytales for us! Long may it continue. Many Thanks!
Report this review (#2510010)
Posted Tuesday, March 2, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars The only previous reviewer this far who didn't give a full rating for this album wrote that "the problem lies in constant release of the new material which don't sound new or enthusiastic. The compositions are done in the same manner, like he is copying himself". I have very similar feelings, sad to say. First off, Marshmallow Moondust (released in autumn 2020) charmed me very deeply. Probably it still does; frankly I would still prefer seeing IT as the latest one. In addition, during 2020 came out TWO albums of Kalugin's primary band KARFAGEN (Birds of Passage also containing two roughly 20-minute suites). Any great album, and especially if it's progressive rock, deserves some time to stay close to your heart and become more familiar (like a lover does) after the honeymoon period, if it was love at first hearing. If new, more or less similar albums keep coming up, the inflation factor is bound to follow. Developing a natural craving for more in the same vein takes time, at least for me.

How big an impression this album would have made on me, had it been in the place of Marshmallow Moondust? Of course that's something I can never truly know, but very likely much, much bigger than it has now done since last Monday when I received the cd. I really can't (at least not yet) evaluate objectively if this album is, in my honest opinion, less succesful than Marshmallow Moondust, or if it's equally excellent -- or perhaps even better like some reviewers say. I only know that the similar absolute charm I experienced last autumn was mostly absent this time. Instead I felt here and there during both 'Stellar" (20:04) and 'Gardener' (20:53) that the epic pieces are slightly forced, constantly going forward ambitiously just for the sake of it. "Prog by numbers".

Antony Kalugin, primarily a keyboard wizard, plays again everything by himself, and he certainly does it wonderfully. A full four-piece band would have every reason to be proud of this music. The mellow, CAMEL- reminding soaring melodies are there as well as the Wakemanesque/Emersonian rollercoaster ride led by keyboards, ie. the whole classic symphonic prog soundscape familiar from artists such as [Hackett-era] Genesis, Camel, ELP, Yes, Rick Wakeman... and later adopted in a more or less retro manner by numerous major prog bands or instrumental artists such as WILLOWGLASS (to whom I gladly compare Kalugin). Some moments are wonderous indeed, but the pompous ride forwards leaves relatively little room to cherish the emotional impressions.

Unlike Marshmallow Moondust, the cd of Stellar Gardener has bonus tracks. I had a wish that they, being relatively short, would expand the listening experience to the "less is more" elegance in opposition to the rollercoaster epic approach (think of the Karfagen album Echoes from Within Dragon Island, another of my favourites), but to my disappointment this is not exactly the case. 'Stellar Castle' and 'Stellar Garden' basically just throw you back into the epics you just left. The same breathtaking rollercoaster ride is there, instead of focussing on one specific direction.

The two-minute 'Stellar Heart' finally offers the calm oasis I was craving for. It's a very peaceful and mellow little piece mainly for keyboards and acoustic guitar, reminiscent at first of ANTHONY PHILLIPS and on the latter minute adding a (software-based) violin sound.

So, it's no five stars from me this time. Nevertheless, this is an excellently produced, composed and played piece of epic instrumental symphonic prog. Perhaps it's trying a bit too hard to be that as much as possible, sticking to the familiar approach. How about trying something different next time?

Report this review (#2526129)
Posted Thursday, March 18, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars Another solo album by Antony Kalugin? How does he do it? With his previous album only a few months old, here he is with yet another CD of beautiful progressive rock that we all know and love him for! But this album does have a strange sense of irony to me. I'll explain in a few minutes!

Once again Antony has composed some amazing keyboard melodies and there are intricate arrangements on display here. Some chirpy synth solos, and in some places there are some blaring organ riffs. But what really "pops my cork" about this album is not his keyboard playing, marvelous though it is, something else grabs my attention. Its his guitar playing! Oh yes, that is the irony I was referring to earlier - how is a keyboard player so good at playing guitar? His playing has some great riffs and solos on both electric and acoustic guitars. Some of the riffs remind me a little of Brian May, and that's a good thing! A very good thing!

So with a perfect balance of keys and guitars, Antony has produced a most pleasing album that feels like a breath of fresh air, especially as here in UK we are still under lockdown (we were when I wrote my last review!) so if I'm to be a good boy and stay indoors, at least there has been some fantastic new music to listen to, and this CD is a must-have to anyone's collection! Great keys, great melodies, and I love the guitar parts!

I see from the sleeve notes that this is in memory of his Mother Irina. I'm sure she must be very happy and very proud of her son for composing and producing such amazing music as he has over the years. Keep it up Antony and we look forward to whatever come next.

Report this review (#2527596)
Posted Wednesday, March 24, 2021 | Review Permalink
3 stars When I reviewed Marshmellow Moondust I said I would like to hear more from Kalugin, but that it was a risk free prog by numbers album, light hearted fluff, and just a bit bland.

Well.... he's done it again. I understand why people are giving this five stars because if its in their comfort zone its perfect. But there's just no wow factor. It's difficult for me to even find 100 words to review the album because while Kalugin is obviously a multi-instrument talent, once again this just doesn't push any boundaries. If you're going to do a primarily instrumental album it needs to be interesting if there are no lyrics to sink your teeth into. And it isn't. But again, there's nothing that's actually done badly. Its. Just. Bland.

Report this review (#2529087)
Posted Sunday, March 28, 2021 | Review Permalink
4 stars ANTONY KALUGIN is still the mastermind of KARFAGEN, less of SUNCHILD and HOGGWASH from now on; he composed new age music and then became interested in progressive rock; he delivers here an instrumental opus in the tradition of his last released in November with convolutions of CAMEL and other YES, quickly joined by pure and hard progressive symphonic on the framework of a WILLOWGLASS. ANTONY KALUGIN took advantage of the pandemic (which has been going on for over a year!) To release this classic roller coaster-worthy opus, given the many hidden drawers inside. Antony who releases albums faster than his shadow.

"Stellar" for the first of the two great titles, plunges directly into an epic symphonic and multi-colored piece; a CAMEL side, another jazzy then singular convolutions here and there, a break in the religious, intimate environment, moment of meditation, introspection, then it leaves with a little acoustic on the guitar which will find the great OLDFIELD. It's beautiful, for a first I am jubilant, for his second I am less charmed, more an encore in my opinion; beware, it's beautiful from start to finish but less bombastic, less creative than its predecessor; the synths and other keyboards lead the dance in a jovial way and allow themselves to jousting for the finale. "Gardener" and a THE BEATLES intro, just the kitsch start; hop we start directly on a sound like WAKEMAN, ŕ la EMERSON, it spurts everywhere, a bit of OLDFIELD for the interrupted crescendo. Olha comes to grow her voice and gives a hook to this second long epic track for a few moments; it leaves with a little more of everything; jazzy break in the middle then nervous riff and violin, finally violin synth to give a melancholy frame of any beauty. The final of the last 5 minutes is explosive and gives a glimpse of the instrumental quality and would almost make me regret the first 15 without a real soul. In short, the more beautiful of the two titles however.

"Stellar Castle" begins the 1st of 4 "radio-edit" tracks for a breathtaking lyrical soaring, a little VANGELIS and OLDFIELD combined for a less messy tune because it is very short and a deluge of concentrated notes. "Stellar Garden" takes up 'Gardener' and quickly takes us to the same musical lands; the duration makes it more recognizable, I can clearly see HACKETT and GENESIS on it. "Stellar Age" and a YES, church organ tune leading to an end of set tune, goodbye tune; in the middle of this title, an explosion of notes makes you explode the quadraphony of your speakers, yes always listen in a specific room to take full advantage of each notes which go in all directions. "Stellar Heart" for the ending track this time is the correct one; a piano, angels' voices, a simple, delicate GENESIS proto sound, a violin or a synth that tears our ears in a delicate way, sweet rhyme to finish.

ANTONY KALUGIN, mastodon progressive keyboardist, therefore composed alone to offer this second opus, closer to a symphonic roller coaster than to the conventional progressive of his group KARFAGEN; It moves, the melodies are beautiful, intoxicating, bewitching over listening, a bit muddled too, blending CAMEL with ELP or WAKEMAN from YES. GENESIS for melodic breaks. It's bucolic, out of the bombastic 70's, it's agreed and it lacks that little extra to hit the ear a little more; well I won't be able to make two notes but I'm still addicted to "Marshmallow" for its emotional return to this day. Flawless epic instrumental symphonic prog with less creation compared to the last one.

Report this review (#2540259)
Posted Tuesday, May 4, 2021 | Review Permalink

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