Welcome to “Round 2” of our Bite-size prog collaboration, featuring your humble servant (Matt) and my partner in crime, Markus. For those of you waiting to hear our review of the new Echolyn this week, I must say that you will not be disappointed, and by that I mean that we haven’t had the chance to review it yet, but you will get a kick out of at least one of these great albums we present to you today. Let me put in a special plug in for Afforested, a band which warmed me in a way that British medieval proggers Gryphon know how to do, as well as TEE, a fantastic group from Japan that will immediately remind you of your love for 70’s European prog. Now go ahead and listen to these album and let us know what you think :)
Afforested – Surviving Remnants Of The Medieval Greenwood (by Markus Cueva)
Damn, look at that title. I’ll bet you can’t guess what kind of music this is. For you uninitiated, I’d like to extend a warm welcome to the world of Progressive Folk Rock, a place where lutes, puffy pants and Medieval European music collide with vintage analog synthesizers and drum kits. You’re going to hear lots of acoustic stringed instruments and a few nice picked acoustic guitar solos (when do you hear those in prog music?). You’re also going to experience unique, imaginative percussion and punchy basslines, and an impressive collection of vintage and/or vintage-sounding leads and pads that add a lush texture to the album and augment the folk instruments nicely. I particularly enjoyed the song structure, which seems to ebb and flow constantly and will keep listeners on their tones. Lots of abrupt changes and good use of dynamics – the listener will really get the feeling that they’re listening to a performance, not just a collection of songs. No vocals on this one; this is 100% proggy folky nonsense, and it’s pretty wonderful.
TEE – Trans Europe Expression (by Matt Di Giordano)
It’s no wonder that Japanese progressive rock band TEE (The Earth Explorer) used to be a cover band that played material by bands such as PFM and Area. As I started listening to Trans Europe Expression, I almost immediately thought, “hey, this sounds like good, classic Italian prog.” That’s about what you get, really solid symphonic rock in a classic seventies style, full of enough flute to satisfy anyone. Of course, the good recording quality of the album updates the sound for the twenty first century, but the entire feel of the composition is very 70’s, in a good way. I must say that all the symphonic and jazz musings of the album were quite pleasing to the ear, never sounding groundbreaking, but always entertaining, and I would be lying if I didn’t mention that these cuts like “Stromboli” and “Intersection” are far above a mediocre ripoff of classic bands. While there’s not a lot in terms of innovation going on here, TEE sounds like a seasoned, confident band who is writing polished music in a classic style. In other words, if this was birthed in the right time period, it would have probably been highly acclaimed. Unfortunately, that means it most likely won’t get huge recognition, but from one symphonic fan to another, this high quality, flute-driven Japanese act is one you should take a peek at.
Spiral – Mind Trip in A Minor (by Markus Cueva)
First, I’d like to invite you to take my mini review of Spiral’s latest album with a grain of salt. Listeners must weigh my criticism against what is easily the most prolific music catalog in a band’s first three years in the recent history of music. Mind Trip in A Minor is the group’s seventh album – their debut came out in 2010. The band also has nine EPs, with the first one released in 2009, and not all of them are you’re average “2 songs, 10 minutes” EP releases – their most recent one have two tracks each over 30 minutes long. For those of you keeping score at home, that’s 16 official releases in 3 years. It’s hard to knock a band for lack of originality when they’ve pumped out that much music in that short of a time span.
That being said, I had a difficult time getting into the album at first. I can hear the influences mentioned on ProgArchives (Tangerine Dream more so than Floyd), but this album is much more of a droning, repetitive post-rock release than the psychedelic/space rock it was billed to be. Very few parts stood out, but nearly every part was well preformed and well produced. I say NEARLY because I wanted to strangle the vocalist on every track but one. You’re going to hear the full gambit of inexplicable vocal effects, from ear-cringing distortion to wet reverb to tremolo, and very few fit with the music. Maybe there’s some artistic purpose behind it, but I don’t think that makes it better. I honestly would have rather had Jonathan Davis from Korn singing on the album, and that’s sayin’ something.
Overall, it’s not a bad release. In some ways, this is begging to become a video game soundtrack for a game like Deus Ex or a similar mind-bending action game, and I hope that Spiral can parlay their impressive growing catalog into a gig like that. Sans vocal effects, of course.
*Listen to Spiral’s album at: http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/pages/play-album.php?activeAlbum=00142%20-%20Spiral%20-%20Mind%20Trip%20In%20A%20Minor
*Note: Albums on progstreaming are available for free streaming for a limited time only. Catch them while they’re hot!