I feel like I’ve been sort of out of the groove lately. There was a time when it was easy to keep up with everything on Progstreaming, but somehow I feel like my time suddenly got drained into the abyss. Never fear though, because I’ve taken the last week to listen to a ridiculous amount of albums and wrestle down a few of my thoughts on them to present to you humbly. While I’m not quite 100% caught up with things yet, I’ve made some big strides, and therefore I present to you the latest offering of Bite-size Prog. Enjoy!
MOON SAFARI – Himlabacken Vol. 1
It’s certainly hard to follow up after such a great review by my colleague Rodrigo Concha regarding this record, so I’ll keep it short and sweet. Being not quite the huge Moon Safari fan as he, I still found their latest release to be very enjoyable. The opener, “Kids,” was pure gold in terms of being uplifting and did a stellar job with it’s anthemic vocals and gorgeous harmonies, breathing a sort of freshness of life into the ‘album intro’ which in so many albums by so many bands would be just throwaway; not so in this case. Beautiful vocal harmonies are pretty much the name of the game on this album, whether it be the utterly delicious arrangement’s in “Barfly” or tracks like “Sugar Candy” (with lyrics so sweet and arrangements so lush they’ll give you the diabetes!) and the amazing “Mega Moon” which brings in some brilliant syncopated vocals that strike a cool blend of GG and Queen in this strange (but cool) mix of romantic, poppy, and even theatrical moods. While there were a few moments that came off as a bit cheesy (such as on “Red White Blues”), Himlabacken is an overall joyous prog record that fans this year should not miss.
KARDA ESTRA – Mondo Profondo, New Worlds
Led by the British musician and composer Richard Willeman, Karda Estra is a group who definitely made an impression on me in terms of a first time exposure. Their latest record, Mondo Profondo most certainly isn’t something you stumble upon everyday, as it is an album that is dense in layers, ominous in tone, and magical in mood. “On Those Cloudy Days, ” the opener, rolls in some haunting mixes of jazz and chamber music, and the record’s subsequent dive into the title track, “Mondo Profondo I,” is full of analog goodness and some nice chanted vocals that remind me of a mix between Brazilian jazz and English Cantebury; Karda Estra certain is a musical presence to admire. “The Haunter of the Dark” instantly makes me think gothic horror (honestly, the choice of instruments and atmosphere here is frightening enough to make you soil yourself), while “Chronoclasm” had me imagining a sort of nightmarish version of The Snowgoose. It’s not all scary though; there seems to be a big tendency towards Brazilian influences seamlessly merged with chamber music (of which “Radiance” would be a prime example) to create a sound that would seem to fit in a plethora of movie soundtracks. While Mondo Profondo, New Worlds has tons to offer, I found that it’s an album that I need to take in chunks. Definitely something different, and while it really does just skirt the edges of prog, good music is still good music.
DAYS BETWEEN STATIONS – In Extremis
What happens when you put Peter Banks, Tony Levin, Colin Moulding, Billy Sherwood, and Rick Wakeman together? You get a band with big names and high expectations. Oftentimes the result is a huge disappointment. Luckily, however, In Extremis wasn’t one of them; I was instantly excited by the first track, “No Cause for Alarm,” which showcases some mega-bombastic orchestration and heavy work from the rhythm section. In other words, this cast of stars gets off on the right foot. From here we basically get an album which is full of nice groove and a sort of ambient, almost neo-prog atmosphere. “In Utero” works great as spacey background music, “Visionary” showcases nicely textured guitars along with some fantastic drumming along with Levin’s top notch bass playing, and “Eggshell Man” turns out to be one of the strongest tracks on the record with lots of variety, moving from pastoral and folky acoustic sections to powerful sitar, mysterious Russian sounding folk influences, and a powerful, screaming synth solo which moves the piece to a heavy and moving ending. While there are some moments which recall much of what I don’t like about the neo-prob vibe, particularly “The Man Who Died Two Times” with its poppy Asia-esque leanings, the album certain has some brilliant and epic moments, such as “In Extremis,” which opens up with epic choir harmonies leading to an ominous organ before really getting started with some fantastic lead vocals and otherworldly moods laid down by drums and leads guitars. In the end, while the various members of Days Between Stations have produced their best work elsewhere, this is certainly an album that die-hard fans of these accomplished musicians can pick up and not feel disappointed.
ACTIVE HEED – Visions From Realities
Active Heed is one of those bands that I’ve seen going around Facebook lately, and between that and having been contacted by the band regarding a review, I figured I’d give my two cents. I must start by saying that this is most certainly not my preferred style of music, and although I’ve seen it go around a little in the prog circles I would call it more prog related than actual prog. What we essentially get is an album of acoustic pop rock. I must say that as such, it is very well written, catchy, well produced, and executed quite nicely. For me though, it’s got waaaay too much pop and there’s a bit too much of an acoustic guitar/vocal, singer songwriter drive to appease my tastes; sort of a personal turn-off, I suppose. While most of the tracks didn’t catch my attention (and some like “Me Five Seconds Before” actually had me making a concerted effort to not push ‘skip’), I can say that tracks like “Melting of Realities” were actually really awesome and had this sort of Celtic meets Lion King with loads of percussion and majestically delivered vocals. Speaking of solid vocal performances, “The Weakness of Our Spinning” was certainly very heartfelt and the ease of the arrangements, sustained by some atmospheric keys; it worked quite nicely. In the end though, I feel like Visions From Realities will most likely only appeal to prog fans who have a general liking of pop music as well, despite the fact that what is written, recorded, and produced here is very well done.