As promised/threatened, here are some thoughts about the first batch of new albums I picked up at 3RP a couple of weeks ago. I divided them into three roughly equal groups. Today, the Anglo/American group:
Oblivion Sun, by Oblivion Sun (2007): Oblivion Sun is the afterbirth, so to speak, of the short lived Happy The Man reunion from a few years back, with HTM mainstays Stanley Whitaker and Frank Wyatt soldiering on. As you might expect, the result sounds a lot like HTM, although with fewer new agey moments (perhaps that’s down to the absence of Kit Watkins?). Regardless, it’s expertly written and played melodic prog with a jazzy edge. Highly recommended.Back tomorrow with the Swedish/Norse hunk!
Favorite track – “Catwalk”
The Old Road, by Martin Orford (2008): This is Orford’s swan song, released after he somewhat suddenly left IQ and turned his back on the music business in pursuit of an idyllic bucolic version of England that probably never really existed (its American version that conservatives so long for certainly didn’t). That’s a real shame, because The Old Road shows that, musically, Orford was far from the end of his. Joined by some powerhouse talent – John Wetton, Nick D’Virgilio, Dave Meros, and more – he displays compositional and arrangement skills that were obviously key to IQ’s sound over the years. Be warned, though, it’s not all epic New Wave prog – some is closer to something like Asia (the good parts) - although it’s all very good. Most surprisingly to me, Orford’s voice works as a lead and he plays some nice guitar.
Favorite track – “Grand Designs” (or maybe “Out in the Darkness,” for the sentiment alone)
In the Land of Grey and Pink, by Caravan (1971): Based on the artwork, you’d think this was a sword and sorcery, Tolkeinesque concept album. In fact, it’s a collection of light, airy, sometimes goofy, laid back Canterbury prog. One thing’s true – the only other Caravan album I have, For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night, “rocks” quite a bit more. Having said that, there’s a lot of infectious stuff going on, both in the epic “Nine Feet Underground” and elsewhere (I’m growing fond of “Love to Love You (And Tonight Pigs Will Fly)”).
Favorite track – “Nine Feet Underground”
A Miraculous Container, by Mandrake Project (2009): The most instant difference between Mandrake’s sophomore effort and their debut album is the presence of vocals on a few tracks. They worked better than I expected, honestly, since what really appealed to me about Mandrake was their lush, spacey, hypnotic instrumental passages. Overall, I’m not as take with this one as I was by A Favor for the Muse, but that’s probably down more to my memories of the band at 3RP last year and the thrill of discovery rather than any difference in quality. Either is highly recommended.
Favorite track – “Laluna”
Of All the Mysteries, by Singularity (2007): Although their 3RP performance had some rough patches, I liked the tunes they played enough that I picked up this album after their set (the only album I bought from a band at the fest, actually). It’s a solid work of occasionally heavy melodic prog. There’s a great deal more subtlety and shading to the songs on disc than live (“Sleep”, for example, has some really nice acoustic guitar and flute bits), which is really nice. The instrumental “XOT” reminds me a lot of Glass Hammer, for some reason.
Favorite track – “Smile”
Blood, by OSI (2009): The First OSI album has really grown on me over the years, so I had high hopes for the new one, even given some lineup shifting (Gavin Harrison in for Mike Portnoy isn’t exactly a step down). I’m not overwhelmed. IMHO, it’s similar in style to the first album, but not quite as good. Still has its moments, though. One huge negative, however is the design of the packaging. Dark red lettering + black background = damn near impossible to read. Whoever thought that was a good idea needs to find another line of work (or get his eyes checked!).
Favorite track – “Blood”
Insurgentes, by Steven Wilson (2009): You’d think that between Porcupine Tree, No-Man, various engineering/producing duties, and other things, Wilson would hardly have time or material left over for a solo album. Not so, as he proves on his debut stand alone effort. Appropriately enough, it doesn’t really sound like anything his other groups pump out. The best description I can think of is a gritter darker No-Man with occasional bursts of PT-style fury (particularly on the longer tracks). It won’t please the fans of all Wilson’s different facets, but it’s rewarding to see him get a chance to mix and match them at his whim for once.
Favorite track – “Salvaging”
Creatures, by Frogg Café (2003): Frogg Café’s second album, this one is a little more traditionally a progressive “rock” record than the follow up, Fortunate Observer of Time. That being said, it’s still done in very low key, laid back way. Yes, they play their asses off, but they’re not in your face about it. In the middle of this collection of tuneful, jazzy prog, there’s the really way out Charles Ives inspired “The Celestial Metal Can.” I wouldn’t want a whole album of that kind of stuff, but it’s a neat atonal oasis as presented here.
Favorite track – “Creatures”