Based on these four new albums, progressive rock is doing just fine, thank you! I’m not feeling the need for a Personal Progginess Perception scale this time around, so capsule reviews and ratings of this quartet follow the jump.
iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds: The stunningly beautiful visuals on this BluRay/CD combo match iatm’s cool, brooding elegance to perfection. Recorded and filmed in an intimate studio overlooking the Norwegian Sea, singer Marjanna Semkina and pianist Gleb Kolyadin drive their live ensemble (violin, cello, bass, drums) through a mesmerizing sample of their previous work, sequenced as a non-stop chamber prog recital. Semkina’s vocal narratives of love, loss and pain woo and disturb by turns; Kolyadin’s classically-driven compositional and instrumental virtuosity consistently exhilarates — think the young Vladimir Horowitz rocking out. A fine introduction to those who don’t know this band’s work and an excellent summation of their achievement for long-time fans. Listen to and buy Ocean Sounds direct from iamthemorning on Bandcamp. First Listen Rating: 7/10.
Sanguine Hum, Now We Have Power: Oxford’s other out-there band is back with a new chapter in their multi-album “Buttered Cat Conspiracy” epic. And yes, the storyline (for all its nagging dystopian edges) is as whimsically weird as that title promises, with the world’s future hanging on the words of a time traveler way out of his depth — complete with callbacks to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Life of Brian. Sanguine Hum’s cyclical, spacious, multi-sectional pieces move the surreal plot along with understated energy and panache, referencing Canterbury bands from Caravan and Gong to Syd Arthur, but also continuing to shape their own unique soundworld. There’s plenty to absorb and enjoy here, as Joff Winks’ plaintive vocals and plangent guitar work interweave with Matt Baber’s minimalist keyboard riffs and intelligent synth solos, building their whacky yet chilling tale to a shattering climax. Though there is a room left for a sequel … Listen to and buy Now We Have Power direct from Sanguine Hum at Bandcamp. First Listen Rating: 6/10.
The Tangent, Proxy: 17 years and 11 studio albums in, Tangent mainman Andy Tillison’s mojo is still working — and the 2017 Tangent/Karmakanic tour of the US yielded this tight new edition of his band, along with most of the tunes included here. The musical range of Proxy is thoroughly progressive — spanning the Yes-meets-Sketches-Of-Spain instrumental “The Melting Andalusian Skies,” the fusion of Emersonian organ and synth with EDM blastbeats on the heart-breaking suite “The Adulthood Lie,” multiple instances of funk and beyond (all ably laid down by an all-star lineup that includes Jonas Reingold on bass and Theo Travis on winds). Tillison’s voice is craggier now, projecting his unfiltered wrath at the shambles Baby Boomers have made of life today, whether abrasively jabbing at global superpowers and their complacent citizenry in the title track/protest song, or ranting (his description!) about his generation’s sell-out ethic on “Supper’s Off.” So, not comfortable listening — the political polemics have already stirred controversy here and elsewhere — but immersive and compelling, an organic whole, and musically sublime. First Listen Rating: 8/10. Listen to Proxy on Spotify:
Tiger Moth Tales, Story Tellers Part Two: British singer/multi-instrumentalist Peter Jones is one of contemporary prog’s hidden treasures; last year’s seasonal The Depths of Winter brought him a broader international audience, which (if there’s any justice) this album should consolidate. Setting a variety of classic fairy tales to music, Jones waxes jolly (“Toad of Toad Hall”), dramatic (a framing sequence based on “The Snow Queen”, “The Boy Who Cried Wolf”), silly (“The Three Little Pigs”) and sentimental (“The Match Girl”) by turns, always with verve and invention. The music is the most retro of the four albums reviewed here, unmistakably rooted in the work of pre-stardom Genesis, but Jones has the pipes and chops to pull it off, as he channels the adventurous romanticism of his role models in fresh, fun directions. The result sounds simultaneously classic and new, an appealing exercise in prog for all ages. Listen to and buy Story Tellers Part Two direct from Tiger Moth Tales at Bandcamp. First Listen Rating: 6/10.
— Rick Krueger