(All Album Reviews by Windhawk)
Originally active in the early 80's, it took 20 years and the dedication of keyboard player Martin Morgan to present the music of Yak to the world. Arguably not the best of band names, but thankfully the music is much better than what one might expect from a band with a name which gives some funny associations.
Instrumental, progressive symphonic rock is the name of the game here, with the keyboards as THE dominating instrument. Lush, mellow moods and harder majestic ones; slow themes as well as faster more complex motifs - the keys are ever present and totally dominating on all tunes.
More often than not we're served multi-layered keyboards; up to six different layers at most if my hearing and analyzing skills were up to it when going through this creation. A minimum of one symphonic layer from the tangents will be found on most compositions, and additional layers will often be provided as organ or piano. Flute-sounding layers and spacey sounds are other often-used textures from the keys, and there's also the flowing solo segments with a guitar-tinged sound to it. Additional elements utilized are synthesized versions of backing vocals/choir, lighter floating melody lines and deep, slightly ominous sound layers.
The focus is on mood and atmosphere rather than complex creations though; some dissonances and disharmonies are used as effect but most of all this is a harmonic production in a modern symphonic tradition, which I guess will be classified as neo-progressive by many.
Musically we're talking a mix of influences from Genesis and Camel mainly, with inspirations taken from the more atmospheric creations of these fine acts from the 70's. Some compositions sound more like the one than the other; but most times the music comes across as a mix of both.
It's a nice release; no filler material on display albeit nothing truly outstanding either. There's captivating moods and melodies aplenty though, and I suspect quite a few fans of symphonic rock will view this as one of the better releases of 2008.
My rating: 73/100
(All Album Reviews by maribor)
Yak was one of those bands that was around in the 80s but never managed to release an album, for whatever reasons. Twenty years later, the bandleader Martin Morgan resurrected some of the old songs and played them on the album Dark Side of the Duck with the aid of his array of keyboards and his programmed drums. The end result was anything but spectacular, but it did show Morgan's music had a great deal of potential if he would only play it with a real band. This is exactly what happened on Journey of the Yak.
Journey of the Yak is full of prog stereotypes – allusions to 70s progressive rock songs, allusions to Tolkien,... but this becomes less of an issue if you focus only on the music. Martin Morgan has finally done it. He has created an album that shows off his natural feel for good melody and tasteful lead keyboards. He knows how to play, but good melodies are always paramount.
For those of you familiar with Yak's history, you know that they were formed in the 80s when the neo movement was gaining in popularity. Therefore, you are right to assume that Journey of the Yak is full of Genesis influences. There's even a title (“Entangled in Dreams”) that obviously borrows from Genesis. There are also some influences from Camel and ELP that I notice, but Morgan never tries to hide his love for classic prog. However, I think the most important element here is that Morgan always plays with a great deal of melody in mind. Sure, there are lots of prog influences, but they are presented in a very good way, with good keyboard sounds, good melodies and fine playing.
I think it was the right choice for Morgan to enlist the help of only a rhythm section for this effort. He is such a strong keyboard player that the addition of too many other instruments would distract the listener from his extravagant keyboard skills. Morgan shines throughout the record, even using some effects to simulate a guitar on the keys. He's the star here, there's no doubt, but both other guys perform admirably.
With Journey of the Yak, Martin Morgan has finally realized the potential shown on his previous recordings. He has finally managed to put it all together – the good compositions played by a real band this time. Journey of the Yak is unashamedly derivative, but the compositions are solid and make up for the lack of originality. Hopefully, this isn't the last hurrah from Morgan and whatever group of musicians he chooses to work with and I hope to hear more from him in the future.