There’s times when listening to an album makes you torn. Hard to decide whether you love it or not, perhaps the bad parts disturb you greatly but the good parts constantly make you reconsider. Well, that’s about what I experienced when listening to some of the albums that follow. You might fall in love them instantly. In other cases, you might feel immediately alienated. Either way, don’t give up on them too quickly. You may find yourself in for some… surprises.

Jolly – The Audio Guide to Happiness Part 2
Jolly seems to be one of those bands that’s get a bit of attention to the ‘modern prog’ scene and seems to target the crowd that’s into the Porcupine Tree, Muse, Gazpacho sort of thing. The Audio Guide to Happiness Part 2 capitalizes on catchy hooks and heavy (even brutal) rhythms to reach a young generations of proggers. Garnering attention for the bands insistence of the ‘binaural tones’ guaranteeing (more or less) the happiness of the listener, the album is certainly a feat in fancy production; listen to this thing on a pair of nice studio monitor headphones and your bound to be impressed. Although at times I might even consider it overproduced, there’s no denying that this is some fine work. Whether or not their ‘binaural tones’ thing worked, I certainly enjoyed the album based on production alone, despite the fact that I was not a fan of much of the music.

Spanning everything from aggressive prog metal (like Firewell) to more poppy rock (like “You Against the World”), Jolly nails down a diverse album where there’s sure to be a few moments for everyone to enjoy, despite the fact that many (including myself) cringed a number of moments. Songs like “Dust Nation Bleak” had me hating this album at one moment and then falling in love with sections like the uber atmospheric Devin Townsend-esque chorus. Even when they do pop, there are things to like, such as the catchy synths on “Lucky” or the reggae influences of “You Against the World.” While the album was a roller coaster of love and hate for me, there’s at least one song that I can say I absolutely loved: “Aqualand and the Seven Suns.” If you’re looking for some brilliant dreamy vibes, floating textures, a bit of post-rock and nice melodies, you’ve come to the right place. Similarly, “As Heard on Tape” left me captivated by its beauty and should delight fans of dreamy prog. If nothing else, at least check out the closer, “The Grand Utopia;” it’s 8 minutes of compositional and mixing brilliance, full of nuance, and perhaps even “Happiness” (or at least a strong Danny Elfman vibe!).

My question at this point is, does a 5.1 mix of this exist? I couldn’t find myself stomaching this often for regular listening, but it could potentially make the 5.1 album of the century if executed well. Let me know if you hear anything.

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Lamanaif – L’uomo al infinito 
I’m not gonna lie, the first thing that caught my attention about Lamanaif’s latest album, L’uomo al infinito, was the brutal  album cover; there’s nothing that beats an orchestra conductor with a creepy mask. Luckily  that wasn’t the last thing that got my attention. L’uomo al infinito proves to be an interesting, and at times unexpected ride. Stemming from an effort to combine music and theater, Lamanaif is an album that seamlessly merges hints of classic RPI trends with modern rock, prog, and even metal at times. Esteban Vidoz’s passionate and, at times, aggressive voice recalls the tradition of Italian prog (don’t be confused, this is not your grandaddy’s RPI) while the music of the band is definitely forward thinking and utilizes a variety of modern styles to capitalize on Vidoz’s melodic and memorable lines. The opening rocker, “Rano,” immediately caught my attention, while the title track, “Luomo Infinito” really grabbed me with its menacing tone, heavy instrumentation, powerful vocals, and neat use of guitar effects. The album, however, isn’t without its low points. There are a number of tracks, such as “H.E.N.” that use sort of an obnoxious rap/yelling (sort of nu-metal-ish) that absolutely drove me nuts. Funny enough, they actually employ some rapping style vocals in appropriate ways as well, such as on “Girotondo” where the voice takes a low, smooth tone as it delivers some polished ‘talking like’ features. No need to worry, there’s plenty of great tracks to come, like “Insonne” with its somber tones and perhaps my personal favorite, the extremely theatrical “L’Amani,” which comes off as a sort of mix of derange rock recitative and aria. If you’re brave and looking for what’s on the cutting edge of Italian rock, this may be it.

PS: Check out their website, it’s really cool:

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Pymlico – Directions 
The sophomore release of Norwegian prog project Pymlico, titled Directions, serves up an enjoyable dish of symphonic prog characterized by shifts between quirky and smooth approaches to melodic ideas. “Compliments of Sharkey” is exemplary in this matter with its contrast between proggy/rpg battle music type rhythms coming up against relaxing moments. Along these lines also falls “The Little Grey Cells,” with its dark rhythms butting up against uncanny textures and “2280” which employs more “battle rhythms” followed by a Floydian approach to space arpeggiator. On a different stylistic approach there are tracks like “Heroes” I feel some moments of major Flower Kings vibe early on but then moving towards a sort of film soundtrack approach with recurring themes and loads of atmosphere. Similarly, R.W. cranks up the ambiance with a sort of new age feel, however, I must say that the explosive guitar climax was a treat. Closing off the album is “Regulus,” a piece that was a bit long for the material presented, but definitely fun and quirky at times. While not a masterpiece, and probably lacking a certain amount of strong identity, Pymlico’s Directions is most definitely a solid album that will be sure to gather some new fans for the project.

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