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Unitopia - Seven Chambers CD (album) cover




Crossover Prog

4.20 | 74 ratings

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4 stars Unitopia is reborn! And what a line-up! Chester Thompson! Alphonso Johnson! Steve Unruh! John Greenwood and Sean Timms! Not to mention their fearless Aussie leader, Mark Trueack. My expectations, needless to say, are high.

1. "Broken Heart" (8:31) solid NeoProg--perhaps a bit on the heavy side--with some pretty banal lyrics. (17.3333/20)

2. "Something Invisible" (7:20) I like this vocal range much better than Mark's low voice used on the previous song; for some reason it makes a big difference. Great second half with all of Mark's friends putting together a beautiful folky- pastoral soundscape. A top three song. (14.25/15)

3. "Bittersweet" (6:39) another song that feels too pretty for prog, but, here it is! Great sound engineering; great performances by all! A song about diabetes and our addiction to junk food, even the odd (and rather pedantic) rap of grocery lists in the second half seem to work. (9/10)

4. "Mania" (12:30) nice music with lots of interesting individual brandishes and flourishes but, again, the lyrics are just dull and awkwardly 'forced hip.' Also, the music never really climbs out of its opening pace and rhythm. (21.25/25)

5. "The Stroke of Midnight" (9:39) interesting, quirky music reminding me of DEAD CAN DANCE and THE FLOWER KINGS--especially with Mark's singing. As we move into the middle of the song the style shifts to more classically- oriented pop music (like The Raspberries). Steve Unruh is given a spacious amount of time in which to perform some of his violin magic over gentle piano, drums, and simple bass. Then classical guitars (two) take a turn. At 7:50 we return to full spectrum prog--this is nice. Mark's vocal melodies are nice (if somewhat familiar) and his lyrics a little more filled with imagery instead of spoken vernacular. (17.75/20)

6. "Helen" (19:14) a great 1980s PETER GABRIEL-like soundscape and great song construction supports Mark's impassioned singing using medical pioneer Helen B. Taussig as its muse and subject matter. A pastoral classical section at the end of the fourth minute sets up a very BIG BIG TRAIN-like section, but then in the seventh minute the entry of Spanish-style classical guitar play creates a shift back to a more classical-oriented musical style. At the 8:40 mark we make a transition to a more contemplative yet tension-filled instrumental passage that is completely driven by two bass beats coming from the bass instruments repeating themselves while other gentle instruments flit and fly around in the soundscape--until 10:12 when full-chord strums from electric guitars amplify the same two beats as the rest of the sonic field escalates its foment. This tension quickly dissipates and morphs into a delicate classically- influenced chamber weave of mandolins, flutes, and piano (and, later, mouth organ) over which Mark sings in more staccato than usual voice. Female French passages are woven into the mix a couple of times. The music then slowly builds with the sixteenth minute being one of the ultimate peaks of the entire album. Mark & co. sing in an intensified realm in seventeenth and eighteenth minutes sustaining the heights attained by the previous section. With the eighteenth minute the piano-based music moves more into the style and sounds we're used to hearing from John Young's LIFESIGNS, Dave Longdon's BIG BIG TRAIN, or even THE PSYCHEDELIC ENSEMBLE. Sublime! Great ending! Definitely a top three song for me. (38.5/40)

7. "The Uncertain" (18:34) opens like a Indie-Folk pop song with happy-go-lucky strumming of acoustic guitar coupled with Mark's singing giving this a happy-go-lucky feel. In the second minute things ramp up into what feels like a weak attempt at a heavy prog passage: the rhythm tracks are pretty solid and convincing but the keys and vocals are just too light and happy. Very cool rhythmic music takes over at the end of the fourth minute as some British medical voice is listened to for a half a minute. Then things try to revert to the "heavy" theme without any vocals. Not great until 6:35 when Steve Unruh's violin swoops in to try to salvage the day. As this section ends things get loose and fractured before a seismic pause is filled by some acoustic guitar picking. Mark rejoins with his singing voice--this one the lower one. The background "incidentals" are cool as Mark sings about the minuscule insignificance of the human being. This is a pleasant section. At 10:30 the band kicks in with some commensurately pleasant landscape music, Steve's violin reappears for a bit, then a "forty days" kind of chorus section ensues. Again, there are enough apocryphal religious undertones to make me squirm just a little. At the end of the 13th minute we get a cut and dried transition into a new MIDNIGHT OIL-STYX-like instrumental passage in which the intermittent vocals are more background accents and fills as several musicians get their chance to shine. At 15:20 we move into a new passage in which a five-chord descending progression for Mark's singing to continue but then we calm down to basic strumming acoustic guitars for Mark to finish with a delicate if-resigned voice. Overall, I find nothing very exciting or refreshing musically about this song. Were I more attuned to the lyrics I might gain more but, alas! that's not how my brain works. (34/40)

Total time: 82 minutes

Would that every prog band had such a solid, dependable rhythm section: It makes it so easy for the composer to build something special over. My main problem, as always with Mark's compositions, is not with the music but with the vocals, vocal melodies, and especially with the wording of the lyrics; the lyrics are all well-intended--as usual, addressing major world issues (often climate-oriented)--its just that the vocabulary used is so pedestrian and jejune.

B+/4.5 stars; a near-masterpiece and wonderful addition to any prog lover's music collection--especially if you're into pristine NeoProg music. The best Unitopia album I've heard.

BrufordFreak | 4/5 |


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