Big Hairy Monster!
(All Album Reviews by Big Hairy Monster!)
Is this going to make for an interesting review!
This is a tricky disk to write about. I haven't met a lot of the contributors who lurk in the depths of PE, except during my rare and brief chat room visits. I've gotten to know many of the artists involved here, not through direct discussion, but through indirect thread-hopping and by perusing their own reviews of other albums. The trick in reviewing this disk is to provide a solid unbiased review of the material contained on this disk, without offending any of the artists...neighbors in this PE community. So, with all of my natural heretical tendencies guiding me, I present this review.
To those that don't know, Progressive Ears Earsongs is a prog sampler disk featuring members of the PE community. It is the first in a series of compilations put together by John Reagan (aarbyn) and available through the PE website, as well as John's Big Balloon site. A second disk (Earsongs 2) is also available, and a third is currently being compiled.
Eleven tracks in total, there are diverse styles to be found here, from avant/gothic prog to neo-prog, from symph to jazz. With minor exceptions, the overall sound production is far better than what I was expecting. These aren't garage recordings. The packaging is also very nicely put together, as long as you realize what you are buying: after all, this is not The Wall. Don't expect gatefolds and photos...just some beautiful cover art (by Progfellow - Michael Phipps) and basic liner notes. After all, it is the music that is important.
"Tidal", an offering by The Red Masque (the red masque - Lynnette) is an excellent opener that will grab you ears and not let go. Keep in mind that I had not heard any of these groups prior to picking up this disk. With that said, my first reaction to The Red Masque was "What the hell is this?" My second listen left me with a "I still don't know what the hell this is, but the drummer is good." Currently, my thoughts are "I've given up trying to figure out what the hell this is because it is F*!@ing great!" This is a group that is on my top 20 list of bands to buy...I have grown to really like their dark King Crimson meets Bauhaus feel. An excellent way to open, and my personal favorite from the disk.
"Re-define" is Cyberwolf's (Scott Mosher) contribution. I don't know for sure, but this sounds like a one-man-band project. The song recaptures the spirit of Signals-era Rush, both in structure and lyrical content. If this is a one man project, I would really like to hear this performed by a full group...it would probably sound great.
Menayeri's (weltall) contribution is "Tiempo De Volver" is a spanish language piece featuring nice instrumental interplay, especially in the keyboards. If there is any problem with this song, it is in the production...the mix does not quite seem to be there, but this is a minor complaint. I would have to say that this is my least favorite on the disk. The reason for this has nothing to do with the musicality of the group...only the fact that, in my experience, I am only just beginning to scratch the surface of foreign language prog. So far, I tend to like Italian/French stuff better than their Latin American and Eastern European counterparts.
"Trolley" by Mindworm (Dr Arp, Roto_Tom, Topographicyes) is a wonderful song in a Genesis, Spock's Beard, Hands mold. Very nice keyboard playing and vocal work make this (to me) one of the stand out tunes on the disk. I look forward to hearing more of this group as well.
John Curtis (burble) gives us "Get Thee Behind Me, Santa", an electric-fusiony piece. There is some wonderful harmonic interplay going on here...in fact I've started sitting with one of my synths to figure this piece out. Very nice, but all too short--I wanted more.
"Labyrinth Suite" by Lyle Holdahl has some nice classic prog moods which I cannot quite place...a little Yes here, a little Klaatu there, some Camel and Marillion. A wonderful mood piece, especially after the 4 minute mark, I love most of this instrumentation. Then the subtle (but very appropriate!) solo around the 6 minute mark kicks in...what a wonderful sounding synth patch!
Phil McKenna (aka Prog Owl) gives us "A Gift Unopened" reminds me of Ummagumma period experimentation with overtones of early Crimson. Mix these ideas with a little of the darkness of Balletto Di Bronzo's slower movements, and a little Gracious, and you have an idea of what he is attempting here. The ideas are grand, but the mixing/editing is a little rough. Gotta love that 'tron!
"The Waves That Tell you Nothing" is a relatively straight forward piece by Stiles (pisces). This is a short song that is very well produced, and sounds to me to be in a style similar to Spirit. It has a very catchy feel, and a nicely constructed chorus.
The group Random (wetton for president) presents us with a very tasty ballad called "Castaway". This is another rather straightforward piece, with excellent vocal harmonies and one of the best guitar solos on this disk. It sort of reminds me a bit of Alan Parsons for some reason.
"The Desert" is fantastic. Eric Kampman creates a beautiful piece of work here with loads of Jean Michael Jarre-like synth work (but not as overbearing as Jarre). Not to mention one of the best vocal performances on the disk. The children's voice samples are a wonderful touch, as are the pseudo-funk/march phrasings which kick in around the 7 minute mark.
"Kirchenrahmen" once again features John Curtis & notallwhowander. A very short song, apparently about "Top Ramen"...does that mean this is a song about noodling? Listen for yourself to hear some wonderful lyrics. It is a short but sweet dish to finish the disk, and has a way of fitting onto this disk in much the same way that "White Car" fits onto the Drama album by Yes.
This disk should be for everybody! There is enough variety to suit a wide range of tastes, and it's just nice to hear contributions from people that you have come to know, even if you have come to know them indirectly.
All proceeds of these disks go toward supporting the Progressive Ears website...so not only is picking these disks up a worthwhile way of getting to know some of the PE artists and their work, it also keeps this great site going. Buy one today!