(All Album Reviews by dnieper)
This is one of the most important progressive albums in recent memory because it genuinely sounds new. Most of the recent releases I've heard seem to fit squarely into one (or maybe two) of the handful of subgenres: RIO/avant-prog, prog-metal, neo-prog, fusion, retro-prog, etc.
What makes this album interesting though, is that it is as complex as any avant-prog album I've heard, yet the overall sound is quite different from the overtly dissonant and intense sounds that are usually abundant on a 5uu's, Thinking Plague, or Guapo album. Keyboardist Kurt Rongey's sound (piano, analog-style synths, and stringy orchestral backdrops seem to be his main sounds) is generally more in line with "symphonic" prog, and guitarist Bill Pohl's sound is more in line with fusion. The result is that the album sounds truly unique.
There are enough changes and intricacies that the album gets better and better with repeated listenings. However, there is also a general "sameness" to a lot of the songs that make the album seem more like one long suite than eight individual songs. There certainly is a lot of variety on the album, but the changes are so frequent and abrupt within the songs that they seem to override the track divisions- not a bad thing necessarily but something that makes it very difficult to remember what each song consists of.
After I listened to the album at first, the track that leaped out at me the most was the 10-minute instrumental "Love is a Vagabond King," and I still think that song stands very well on its own as a well-developed and very memorable piece that leans closer to the symphonic side of the band's sound. The ideas are developed in a more easily comprehensible manner, with a nice opening, development, and ending. There are also some great lines played in the bass introduced around midway through the piece that persist underneath the song's climax, making for a great conclusion. Probably my favorite all-around track on the CD.
Another track that stood out a lot was "The Canal at Sunset," since it probably contains some of the most "normal" sounding music on the album, almost sounding like a regular rock song at times. It's not one of my favorite tracks on the album, but it is one that might be the most immediately likable and memorable on the first few listens for a lot of people.
The opening of the band's previous album Through and Through was a short song called "May-Fly" that was for the most part a nice piece of very proggy pop similar in some ways to Echolyn, but with a monstrous opening chord that made for a distinctive but in some ways jarring first impression. The opening cut of this disc, "Julian Ur" begins with some sound effects followed by a very accomplished modern-classical sounding piano sequence that makes for an initiation to the album that is, in my opinion, much more appropriate. The song itself is a good one, based to a large extent on a very simple but haunting phrase on guitar, with some interesting lyrics I don't really try too hard to understand, but which seem to fit the music well enough.
The last two songs on the album are both, in some sense, sequels. "Creeper (The Doorman pt. 2)" is a sequel to track on the previous UR album. It begins quietly and slowly builds to a section with some fierce soloing from Pohl before gradually quieting back down to the level of the opening. Several sections of the closer "Julian II" are based around a great 3-chord pattern that sounds like a series of boxing jabs, occasionally tempered with some instrumental jumps in between the chords. The ending fuses those chords with some great piano work and mellotron-choir-ish backing and makes for a great conclusion to the album. Also worthy of note are some maybe subtle attempts at humor; these last two tracks, maybe the most grandiose on the album, each end in decidedly un-grandiose ways; "Creeper" with a tiny tweak of a synth, and "Julian II" with a few reps of that song's 3 boxing chords and a final miniature eruption of quiet but distorted guitar chords.
This album is often difficult listening (and reviewing) because of the "constant change" and the aforementioned difficulties in detecting and remembering where one song starts and another starts. But if you've read this far, you should be up for that challenge. There are several sections, which, in and of themselves, aren't all that great, but when combined with all the others, make for an enjoyable ride. Overall this is a great album that anyone interested in truly progressive modern music should hear.