So, I just got my first exposure to Barock Project and was floored by the great melodies, delightful performances, and masterful composition of this great band. After thoroughly enjoying it and going back for another listen as I researched the band, it hit me in the face again: another Italian band. Now, if you haven’t noticed yet, I’m an unashamedly proud son of an Italian immigrant to the USA, and perhaps give somewhat biased reviews that favor Italian prog above all other. How is it that I find out after the fact that so many of these albums that I love are Italian? I mean, with a title like Coffee in Neukolln, I assumed they were probably German. Oh well, if it’s happened once, it’s happened many times, and I apologize and confess once again, my attraction to Italian prog and general lauding of their scene must be my blood. I present to you, once again, my thoughts on some music I’ve heard lately, hoping that you will forgive my sincere love for all things Italian if it should offend you.

Barock Project – Coffee in Neukolln
Wow, if there was ever an album where the cover totally gave me a wrong impression about what the music would be like, Barock Project’s Coffee in Neukolln is that album. The title Coffee in Neukolln, combined with a picture of three normal looking dudes walking down the street in a black and white photo gave about as much of an impression of ‘generic pop album’ as an album cover could possibly give. However, it didn’t take more than a few seconds to realize that my mind was going to get blown, as the album kicked off with “Back to You,” providing really great sounding synths performing awesome folky prog. These guys are all over the map in terms of giving you a variety of music, delivering great bits of folk, classical, jazz, modern, and classic prog. The thing that stands out isn’t so much that Barock Project breaks any new ground (they don’t), but they push take the level of perfection in composition and enjoyability up several notches. Just about every moment of this album is a gem. Every melody is incredibly enjoyable, every performance, from vocals to keyboards, kicks my butt with the perfect combination of tastefulness and skill, combining the proggy pretentiousness with accessible vocals and melodies in a way that really grabbed. It came to no surprise when I found out that Luca Zabbini has undergone many years of music and composition studies. All I can say is that you should seriously check this album out; expect the strong possibility of it making an appearance at next year’s Proggies!

Cosmos – Mind Games
If I ever heard a band that was very thoroughly Pink Floyd inspired, the Swiss progger’s known as Cosmos would be it. Every single nuance is there, from chord changes to textures and guitar solos. It’s all spot on, and there were moments that I seriously could have been fooled that this was not a Pink Floyde album. This isn’t to say that Cosmos doesn’t add any unique elements; there are little bits of jazz and funk sprinkled in that are not so Floydian, as well as some astoundingly beautiful female vocals making appearances. So, how does Mind Games hold up? Compositionally, it’s very good, there are never awkward moments, and just about every section counts. The entire album has a bit of a dark and dreary atmosphere to it, which I really dig (see the intro to “Close to the Edge” to see what I mean), and the performances are superbly executed. If you’re a fan of Pink Floyd and don’t get disturbed by bands mimicking the style, and doing a really good job at it (so good, in fact that you may prefer this over some Floyd albums), then Cosmos is a band for you.

Marching Mind – The Sickness and the Theory
At first, The Sickness and the Theory by Canada’s Marching mind seemed very promising. Marching Mind was proving themselves early on to have an ultra-modern sound that spanned the boundaries of prog rock and metal without feeling like they were pigeonholed into either one. I quickly caught on to what some really good songs that were catchy, proggy, and really grooved. Then what happened? Nothing. That’s the problem. The Sickness and the Theory just didn’t seem to take me anywhere. What seemed inspiring at the start grew stale as the tracks went on, until the album felt like there wasn’t really anything that stood out, getting more and more monotonous. I expect that fans with leanings towards a modern and somewhat commercial sound (especially in the vocals) will enjoy this album, but somehow it didn’t bring me into transcendent territory that good prog always does for me.