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Yes - Mirror to the Sky CD (album) cover




Symphonic Prog

3.43 | 226 ratings

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Prog Dog
4 stars I've enjoyed most of Yes' modern day albums up to and including The Ladder (1999), Magnification (2001) and Fly from Here (2011). However when Heaven and Earth came out (2014), I didn't race to buy it (for whatever reason) but waited to hear the word on the street- which turned out to be an almost unanimous 'nothing to see here' (I'll be digging in to review it this year though).

Then The Quest came along (2021) with it's interesting first single that caught my ear. Reviews on YouTube seemed fairly positive, if reservedly so. Seeing how beautiful the Roger Dean artwork design was, I was tempted to buy the vinyl (I haven't yet, but I'll review the full album this year).

Which brings us to today in 2023 and the release of Mirror to the Stars. It marks the first Yes studio album in 50 years without mainstay Alan White on the drum throne due to his passing, and the second album without the late and great Chris Squire on bass, replaced by Billy Sherwood.

Praises for this album seem fairly universal across YouTube. I also did a reaction video to the first intriguing 'single' Cut From the Stars (click here for the video reaction). Now, as I dive into the full disc, the main question on my mind is: will the rest of the album be as good? Will it be an upbeat affair?

Overall it's very 'new' sounding material for modern Yes, and by that I mean there is a distinct unfamiliarity about it. They've successfully carved out some new paths here, to my delight. It will, I believe, earn itself a unique place in the Yes discography of about 22 studio albums.

Does it match Yes in it's prime with classic albums like Close to the Edge? Come on! Can anyone match that, never mind the modern Yes? Many have tried, and frankly that's an unrealistic expectation. Does it bring something distinct and fresh to the table? Actually yes, it does. It is compositionally unique, varied and progressive. Is it super edgy? I couldn't honestly just blurt out 'no' to that. I have to think about it. It is edgy as far a progressive music is concerned, but not edgy literally. It's got a soft edge compared to the world of modern prog and it's many new extremes.

What's different from a majority of the Yes discography on this album is the missing vocals of Jon Anderson, by many considered the authentic voice of Yes. I tend to differ on that position. After all, Yes is expected to be around in various incarnations hopefully for decades or centuries, if the original vision for the band pans out. This requires some humility and open mindedness for all Yes fans- even me, I admit.

Jon Davison has a softer, gentler voice than Anderson- even if they have a similar timbre, which is a huge consideration since Yes are expected to perform many of the old classics live- and they are a busy touring band still. On songs like Luminosity Davison's vocals are quite appropriate (great synth work as well), but on All Connected for example, I can't help but miss Jon Anderson belting it out.

I can only touch on lyrics briefly as I don't focus on them like I do on composition as a writer myself... Hmm... Yup, they're fine. Oh, wait. Circles of Time is exceptional as a reprieve from our current attention-demanding culture..."I'm caught in a circle of time..." Howe plays beautiful acoustic guitar as well as ambient pedal steel reminiscent of To Be Over (Relayer). I really think this song, soulfully sung by Davison is going to garner attention from outside the Yes circle.

Someone in the band sounds hauntingly similar to Chris Squire, by the way, and I have to admit I like that. It's really hard even for me to adapt to the changing faces of Yes, despite all my pontificating.

Mirror to the Sky, the 13 minute track and namesake of the album deserves special attention. It's solid and generally in the Yes tradition, but a much softer-edged affair. It doesn't have the intensity and bite of the Gates of Delirium or the gravity of Awaken, but it is a thoughtful and gently inspiring piece incorporating symphonic strings. It keeps interesting throughout with a great variety in the dynamics- Howe's solo work being consistently a pleasure to the senses and the tune finishes on a strong note- perhaps hinting more long Yes songs are to come?

The new drummer Jay Schellen is great. Since a majority of the album is upbeat we get to enjoy his work on all tracks except Circles of Time which is a quiet song at the end of the album. (By the way, I'm not reviewing the 3 bonus tracks- just the main album itself).

The production is great. Everything sits well together and sounds alive. Still, I have long-wished Yes would bring back retired producer Eddy Offord. Better yet, I wish they would return to an analog tape-based studio, as I consider it to be part of the classic Yes sound. There are plenty of lush sections, even some very elegant parts featuring actual symphonic musicians performing as with the Magnification album.

The album is full of compositional surprises -one can't absorb it all in one listen. There is a tendency to be unpredictable and newfangled, even if in a retro-rock way such as Living Out their Dream which shows some influences from surf-rock to my ear, taking into account Howe's playful leads on guitar. A breath of innovation has encircled the Yes camp. There's lots of harmonies on the album- another characteristic of the classic Yes vibe.

Steve Howe's work on the album is great too. He sure loves his fuzzy slide guitar. Personally, I've always yearned for him to don some heavier guitar tones now and then- even a bit of a more metal sound, but that's never going to happen- and doesn't seem part of his DNA. No harm done though- Howe is one of the greatest benefactors to rock guitar ever.

I have to wonder, what triggered the band's new greatness? Did Steve Howe have an epiphany? Howe is not slowing down in output despite his age. He's as prolific as ever- owing in part to his life-long healthy vegetarian diet and lifestyle. He would look cool if he smoked a pipe like JRR Tolkien though. He's on that wise-wizard level (maybe Rick Wakeman can loan him a cape or two from his closet?).

Living out the dream seemed a bit 'different' to me on first listen, but with repeat listening I'm digging it- along with the rest of this album. The bass has some cool goings-on: great guitar solo, and I like the conga slaps.

Overall my expectations have been exceeded, though they weren't too high I'll admit. Onward and upward, I say.

(Again to be clear, I am not listening to the bonus tracks for this review as I want to focus on the main work of the album alone and will save them for listening to somewhere down the road. I'm interested to see how well the main disc can stand on its own).

YES carved out a very respectable and unique album that compliments and enriches an already expansive discography. It's might just earn back some straying Yes fans as well as garnering some new respect and appreciation.

Prog Dog | 4/5 |


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