Johannes Luley – Tales from Sheepfather’s Grove (by Benjamin Holt)
Tales from Sheepfather’s Grove is, simply put, an absolute joy of a listen. Here are beautiful soundscapes, crafted with a very pleasing pastoral feel using primarily folk instruments quite suited to the aesthetic Johannes Luley presents. Accompanying these are subtle, often minimalist synths, surprisingly well-fitting in an otherwise very natural setting. Electric guitar, rather than being the star of the show, is used to sparingly punctuate musical themes of a track. Others have commented on the 70s feel of the album, so I’ll spare you. Instead, I’ll bring to attention a lesser-cited influence: new age. I’ve read reviews citing Vangelis as a potential progenitor, but the new age influence bears more than a passing mention. There are even several parts of the album that felt like they could have come from an Enya album (see: the beginning of “Give and Take”). That may or may not be positive – I happen to think it is. (Sue me – I dig Enya.)
In general, the eight tracks found here are very upbeat, but not exclusively so; at points Luley introduces just the right amount of tension through subtle changes in texture and timbre before returning to the soothing folk-flavored prog characteristic of most of the album. This is particularly present on the penultimate track, “Atheos Spiritualis”. This is also perhaps the only point I’d take issue with on the album – I feel like more play with tension and drama would create a more dynamically interesting album. As it stands, however, Tales from Sheepfather’s Grove is still an exceptionally worthwhile listen, and its beauty will call you back time and time again.
Oblivion Sun – The High Places (by Markus Cueva)
Ah yes, the brand new album from members of Happy the Man in their new project, Oblivion Sun. I haven’t had a chance to listen to Sun’s debut, so this is my first foray into their new generation of “eclectic” (an overused term) American progressive rock. “The High Places” is certainly a mixture of styles and influences that ebb and flow throughout an interesting album, and like most of the music in Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun doesn’t necessarily mirror the stated and assumed influences (i.e. Gentle Giant, Frank Zappa, Genesis). In classic prog style, the album is divided into four stylistically and content-unrelated tracks with one long, epic piece at the end. Tracks 1, 2 and 4 are nice instrumental numbers; I especially appreciated track 4, “Dead Sea Squirrels”, for throwing in what sound like a baritone sax, which I haven’t heard in some time. Track 3 is a singer-songwriter type composition that just wasn’t my cup of tea.
The long piece and title track is separated into six movements. It has a few moments where it dragged a little bit, but it mostly represents a great composition with classic prog roots. I was reminded of The Flower Kings at various points, especially with the mature song writing and vocal parts. Lots of great piano and many fantastic solos. In all, I’d recommend this album to most and feel confident giving it a solid 4.
Herd of Instinct – Conjure (by Matt Di Giordano)
My second contact with Herd of Instinct comes off as even more fascinating than the first. The band remains equally fresh, although I feel they dropped a bit of their avant-garde edge in favor of more catchy songwriting; this is not, however, to the detriment of the band as they maintain a unique style. The opener, “Praxis,” demonstrates right from the get-go that Herd of Instinct is all about a great mix of electronic/prog/avant-garde that is powerful, dark at times, and always entertaining. Tracks like “Dead Leaf Echo” display a bit of the bands brutal style while displaying some very Crimson-esque elements at time. “Mother Night” puts the Mellotron to solid use creating a haunting atmosphere that is full of nice mood changes as it goes through just about ever classic tron sound. Then there’s mesmerizing songs like “Vartigmenn,” a piece that will surely put you into a trance with its good use of vintage and modern sounds. All in all, Conjure is a fun album that goes equally well in the foreground or in the background as you’re multitasking and should appeal to a number of proggers.