The Red Masque
(All Album Reviews by The Red Masque)
Tales from the Inflatable Forest is an impressive collection of instrumentals by Progressive Ears member Phil McKenna (aka Prog Owl). Playing all the instrumentation on the album (keyboards, guitar, bass), McKenna is primarily influenced by King Crimson, Yes, and to a some degree, Magma.
Tales features an interplay of clean, Frippian-style guitar over a mostly jazz rock keyboard style. And though I am not a fan of electronic drums, McKenna has used his to their best advantage, employing only the most "acoustic" sounding effects. The same holds true for most of his synth sounds as well, as he avoids the over-effected, digital tones that afflicts many progressive rock keyboard players in general. Instead, McKenna relies on more organic synth presets, like jazz piano, for example. On the album’s title track, he goes for a more “sylvan” melody in the intro courtesy of the gentle interplay between the strummed guitar and the meandering synth flutes. The guitars on Tales also refrain from needless noodling and instead concentrate on adding textures and ambiance to the overall mix. While fans of Dream Theatre or other prog metal stalwarts may not approve, prog fans appreciative of Fripp or Hackett will appreciate McKenna’s more subtle approach.
“There Ain’t No Such Things As Spooks” may be my favorite track on the album overall, as I enjoyed the Magma-esque baseline interplays with the Latin percussive rhythms. A close second is “Perfect Picture in Reverse,” in which the rich piano melody employed towards the end of the track moves more towards a contemporary classical slant, and is my favorite section of the album overall.
If there is one drawback to Tales from the Inflatable Forest, its that the songs occasionally seem to wander. A little choice editing, though, could take care of this minor detail. Overall, there are some really impressive ideas on this album, and I think many prog fans at Prog Ears would do well to lend McKenna an ear.