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Circuline - Counterpoint CD (album) cover

COUNTERPOINT

Circuline

 

Crossover Prog

3.82 | 16 ratings

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tszirmay
Special Collaborator
Honorary Collaborator
5 stars After their thrilling 2015 debut "Return", Circuline wasted little time in returning (excuse the pun) with another chapter in their soon-to-be glorious career, a near future where more prog fans worldwide will hook up to this brilliant prog band. These seasoned musicians are a quite a crew, understanding the liberating musical panorama offered by progressive rock, with so many styles to choose from and incorporate them into something entirely unique yet comfortably prog. At this level of their craft, "Counterpoint" is not in any way an improvement over their debut but rather a consolidation of their musicianship, their unending quest is to entertain and delight by involving always zesty slivers of genius. This time around the core group of the incendiary Andrew Colyer on keys, drum maestro Darren Brannon and the dynamic vocal duo of Billy Spillane and Natalie Browne overcome the departure of Matt Dorsey on bass (though he still guests on guitar here) and guitarist extraordinaire Bill Shannon by incorporating new bassist Paul Ranieri of Shadow Eden as well as inviting a cast of brilliant characters on guitars: namely Doug Ott of Enchant, Alan Shikoh of Glass Hammer, Stan Whitaker (Happy the Man and Oblivion Sun) , the thrilling Ryche Chlanda of Fireballet and Renaissance fame, Randy McStine (The Fringe) and Alek Darson (Fright Pig).

On this release, the band decides to get into fleshing out further instrumentally their compositions, a great idea in lieu of the fact that some pieces on "Return" begged for continuance, the stunning "Soleil Noir" in particular left me hungering for more. There is also a noticeable depth to the sonic palette that thickens the lavish symphonics and highlights the contrasts between softer and harder passages. Case in point, the opener "New Day" blends straight into "Who I Am", forming a mini-suite that combines into nearly 14 minutes of progressive diversity. Conjuring various effects from a NASA website of space sounds, Randy McStine layers five guitar tracks to thicken the sauce while Ranieri does some low end magic on his bass. Dishevelling drum flattery adorns the bliss out space overture to great effect. The second is a classically arranged prog-rock extravaganza, clocking in over 8 minutes and featuring Enchant's Doug Ott on the axe. Nimble piano leads the question initially, blooming into a more typical prog workout, where bombastic riffs and tectonic drumming settle down to rule and govern accordingly. The band considers themselves as 'cinematographic prog', which is actually a correct self-assessment, the dual vocals are immediately impactful, taking the arrangement into storyland, with meaningful lyrical content and expert vocal delivery. The exit guitar solo is a whirlwind of notes and ecstasies.

The thrilling "Forbidden Planet" is a musical tribute to the famous sci-fi classic, featuring the incredible Leslie Nielsen, Roby the Robot and a masterful evil performance by Walter Pidgeon that stands the test of time. Here, the synthesizers carve out another space-rock adventure, a perfect platform for Bill Spillane to exalt on his cosmic microphone, delectable choir work in tow (Natalie does some real cool wailing) and finished up with manic electric guitar work from Alek Darson that sizzles amid the symphonic asteroids.

The grandiloquent epic "Hollow" is a 10 minute romp that will blow the lid off your earphone-dominated head, incorporating multiple passages with mega thrills, truly captivating soloing and jaw-dropping vocalizations. Colyer's piano takes the front stage again, showing off his indisputable talents and reminding me a lot of Eddie Jobson's piano work with Curved Air, Natalie yanking the mike to her lips and beginning her painful lament. The effortless rhythmic work is complex, bruising and extremely clever. 'A call to action, a new distraction' warbles Spillane convincingly, amid a crest of sonic dynamics that elevate the piece to new heights, a contemplative mid-section that skirts the edges of ambient only to let Darson sparkle once again with inventive passages, rekindling the earlier raging fire. A sensational track.

The diminutive but effective "Erosion" adds more soundtrack-like depth, in a more subtle manner, blending electronic sweeps and a sense of crushing gloom. Colyer is having fun being creative with his keys. Changing the pace on a dime and crashing a champagne bottle on its bow, "Nautilus" floats off with a fluid bass guitar that may recall the legendary Mick Karn, wobbly and liquid bass bubbles that set the sail to an underwater adventure to the North Prog pole , slick little nods to Star Trek (yeah, my trusted sonar picked that bleep up), launching depth charge-like bashing from the drums, roiling organ crests, a slippery synth solo, waves of stormy guitars, courtesy of Ryche Chlanda and windswept vocal work of the highest order. The dual voices achieve another level of performance, conclusive and hyper professional. Another total scorcher.

The hard jazz of "Stay" (subtitled Peter Frankenstan) features some dervish pyrotechnics from the manic mind and fingers of Stan Whitaker, a truly Happy Man, there is also a distinct Peter Gabriel vibe (I was stunned to hear recently that Happy the man were supposed to start out as Gabriel's backing band , early in the Genesis man's solo career). The drums are straight out of the Jerry Marotta school of binary cymbal-less pounding, sounding very modern, even futuristic. Natalie sings like there is no tomorrow.

There is an eerie piano intro to "Inception", another movie soundtrackish concoction that has a definite Steve Wilson feel to it, a grandiose and dense, mellotron-laden osmosis of sound and fury, deeply disturbing and rhythmically despondent. The vocal work is once again exemplary, spooky choirs notwithstanding, and as Natalie starts her intense wailing, guitarist Alan Shikoh of Glass Hammer adds some rhythm guitar while new guitarist Beledo peels off a tumultuous guitar pirouette that sets the piece to bed.

Yes the "Summit" is reached with another grandiose finale, a monster track that slams in the final nails in the coffin of doubt about this band's future legacy. Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Kerzner) lays down some dreamy guitar escalades that shuffle between the rhythmic pulse, steered by drummer extraordinaire Brannon doing his best Pierre Moerlen (Gong) imitation. Breezy and airy on the fret board, the arrangement features Andrew on lead vocals, finding free hands to twiddle his synths with obvious trepidation. The mid-section unexpectedly features a dissonant tympani and piano dance that is straight out of a fusion of melody and rhythm. Definitely Downwind and Time is the Key.

Circuline has arrived, time for Progland to embrace them wholeheartedly. Easily one of the very best US bands in recent memory, I look already forward to their next masterpiece.

5 Kiosk tips

tszirmay | 5/5 |

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