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Circuline - Return CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

3.89 | 18 ratings

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4 stars Circuline is a new American band from upstate New York that may just be the next big thing in prog terms, manned (and womanned) by a strong crew of vitality-driven singers and instrumentalists, mostly issued from the now defunct Downing Grey, a prog tribute band that made a name for itself on the live circuit by playing all the classics. In my opinion, US bands have traditionally excelled when stretching the progressive boundaries (Djam Karet, Herd of Instinct, Ovrfwrd, Happy the Man come to mind) even though way too many bands aim for a more AOR Kansas meets Styx style that does not always rock my world. Lately though, Elephants of Scotland, Third Degree and the remarkable Dave Kerzner, among a few others , have been providing a lot of goosebumps with some delightful releases that can rival the very best. Circuline certainly has all the attributes necessary for a long run, led by Julliard- bred Andrew Colyer on an arsenal of animated keyboards, held solidly by a masterful bass and drum tandem (Matt Dorsey is of Sound of Contact , a fabulous Kerzner-led project while Darren Brannon shows both power and dexterity on the kit). Guitars are expertly operated by Bill Shannon, who sizzles throughout. Instrumentally, these musicians can rival anyone anywhere but what matters are the compositions and the vocals. The quality of the two lead singers, Billy Spillane and Natalie Browne are a definite attraction, as they are emotionally sparkling and fluidly interactive, Browne can wail like a banshee at chosen prime moments, while Spillane has a clear and crystalline voice that is most expressive (he also fronts Led Zep tribute band No Quarter).

The music is, for all intended purposes, breathtaking and imaginative, at times bombastic and grandiose, occasionally diving into more obscure sounds that will seem dark and ominous, always propelled by first rate vocal dynamics. "Return" is their rather cleverly titled debut, a relatively short album clocking in at a mere 40 minutes but condensed into a series of highly vivid tracks that simply shine with sonic splendor. At times, very bright, optimistic and sunny, then suddenly brooding and melancholic, the pieces flow together as if a long suite of inter-connected songs that capture ones attention throughout. From the opening title track with its brisk and airy introduction, the ornate piano leads an almost typical Brit-prog melody that gets crowned by a soaring vocal, a ravaged guitar rant shoved along by a somber organ, displaying both playful technique and intense melodicism. The mellotron-driven crescendo is fabulous. Yup these guys certainly have the style down pat.

On the cloudier "Nebulae", the ability to seek out simple but effective sounds really elevate this track into more subtle realms, Colyer fiddling with his synths as Shannon caresses his fret board, a solid binary beat lays the foundation for a sense of spooky doom that is delightful! A slight Goblin influence, perhaps? The set list flow is electrified further by the manic and obsessive riff that opens up "Stereotypes", blooming into a bombastic explosion that hits all the nodes perfectly, the vocals purely divine and airy, the lyrics contemplative and engaging, all adorned by great keyboard work from Andrew. Browne starts wailing, a vocal style that always seems to make my knees wobble when done as perfectly as this. The intricate guitar solo is perfection personified, an impression of faultlessly placed little mosaic tiles as the bass rumbles and exalts into a demented finale.

The all too brief "Soleil Noir" is a true highlight, a nervy slap bass furthering its cause, slathered by a whistling synth sortie that defies the skies, topped off by great binary thumping from Mr. Brannon, I just wish this track would have developed further. But it does lead into a 'piece de resistance', a 7 and a half minute mini-epic that perhaps best encapsulates the essence of this incredible band, "One Wish" is funneled by a magical piano riff, hypnotically conceived to instill peaceful obedience, as the glorious vocal (Brown can sing like the wind) soars over the arrangement, contemplative piano emoting in contrast to the brutal guitar slashes, until the latter just takes over a la Alex Lifeson and slams into overdrive. Oh yeah! The symbiotic interplay between Shannon and Colyer with Dorsey rumbling underneath and Brannon bashing is just plain colossal. A fantastic track that deserves to be heard by prog fans worldwide.

This is followed by the delicate beauty of "Imperfect", a keyboard interlude that seeks out a very classic British prog expanse, a universe of tinkling piano that hints at classic Eddie Jobson, Hackett-ish guitar warbles and warm electronic wallpaper in the background. Gorgeous! Back to reality with the rather gruesome "Fallout Shelter", a moody instrumental insertion into gloomier regions , a sense of asphyxiation and desolation that is immediately apparent from the spacey and cymbal-heavy opening notes, this is Circuline at their most experimental and it works just fine. Shannon does some lewd things to his guitar, making it moan and howl with a combination of pleasure and pain that is quite disturbing.

Another 7 and a half minute piece put this delight to bed, "Science Revealed" focuses on the amazing vocals that both Brown and Spillane provide, here in clear duet form, a rather rare attempt in prog (it's hard enough to find one good vocalist , let alone two!). Shannon's guitar does some agonizing Holdsworthian somersaults that defy gravity and just might make your ears bleed! The second section actually has some unforeseen jazz leanings, where guitar, piano and voice forage into a fine slow groove, the vocal-led melody soaring high into the atmosphere, attempting to reach divinity. It does!

A hugely entertaining debut from a band that certainly has set its sights on becoming a prog staple, a thoroughly enjoyable recording that touches many emotional buttons while staying true to their creative yearnings. I am truly impressed and I can't wait for their next one to grace my collection.

4.5 arrivals

tszirmay | 4/5 |


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