ALBUM REVIEW: PROG magazine’s The Start Of Something Beautiful

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Prog Sampler 31: THE START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

Track Listing:

  1. IF THESE TREES COULD TALK/ They Speak With Knives
  2. GOLDRAY/ Outloud
  3. THE NEAL MORSE BAND/ Agenda
  4. LONELY ROBOT/ Construct/Obstruct
  5. KARNATAKA/ Road to Cairo
  6. BRAINTICKET/ Singularity
  7. MIKE KERSHAW/ Farewell
  8. WARMRAIN/ Fading Star
  9. ENSLAVED/ Thurisaz Dreaming (edit)
  10. SUBVERSION/ Novation
  11. JU AND KJETIL MOSTER/ Hassassin

From the plastic alien figurine inside the 1960s cereal box to the cheap whistle in a box of Cracker Jack, who doesn’t enjoy getting an added bonus freebie? One reason to purchase each issue of PROG magazine is the marvelous CD enclosed each—usually running close to a solid 60 minutes. Okay, it’s not really free but is included in the price of the magazine, but still…   🙂

Prog Sampler 31: THE START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL is a real keeper due to a powerful middle section of tunes. This is the disc which is included in the Steven Wilson cover issue (# 53, February 2015).

A review of a collection is by necessity a review of each song as a stand-alone. So:

  1. The opening track They Speak With Knives by the band IF THESE TREES COULD TALK is a great lead off song. It starts off with a tight, well produced, rhythmic, and driving beat instrumental opening which leads into several nice tempo changes. This is a very nice post-rock sounding piece but with very clean guitar and no distortion. Rather than the sturm und drang of a band like EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY, this tune stays melodic for the full 5:39 and surges along even keeled rather than that normal shoe-gaze build-up and crash model. I give it an “A” and would gladly hear the album.
  2. GOLDRAY is next up with their song Outloud. The song starts off stoner/sludge-like with some heavy riffs but is soon joined by the vocals of Leah Rasmussen. The backing heaving groove and the vocals swirl the listener around into classic psychedelic rock. There’s a nice fuzz-distorted middle section before Leah’s vocals come back in at 6:05. Just when the listener thinks this sweet tune is over there’s a final coda of 50 seconds or so of tinkling and droning synths that leave a real “Eastern” tinged vibe. A sold “B-/B” effort.
  3. This short 3:43 track makes the entire disc a must keep! THE NEAL MORSE BAND with Agenda scores an “A+” and definitely means I’ll be buying his new album. Portnoy’s crisp and snappy drumming, Morse’s lyricism and always convincing voice, an overall catchy foot-stomping melody, coupled with a beautiful chorus makes the listener want to just hit repeat and forget about the next 8 tracks.
  4. LONELY ROBOT, the new project from John Mitchell, brings in the fourth track, Construct/Obstruct with a quick syncopated and sustained synth theme that has the listener at first thinking “1980s”…but in a pretty good way. The shift at around 3:20 and the melding of great lead guitar with the otherwise heavy drums & keys driven song, completes this highly rated “A” song. I will be exploring this album further.
  5. KARNATAKA follows with Road to Cairo and also scores my high rating of “A.” A nice serious 30 second orchestral synth opening is joined in by singer Rachel Jones and this orchestra/symphonic prog tune begins to soar. Jones has a nice set of pipes and the song reminds one somewhat of Annie Haslam and Renaissance. Jones’ vocals literally jump out at around the 3:30 mark due to mixing them right up front and dropping away the otherwise too heavy wall-of-sound mix. The overall muddy sonic feel lowers what might have been an “A+” down to a still superlative “A.”
  6. BRAINTICKET delivers a nice Hawkwind-lite sounding Sci-fi themed song, Singularity. This is a mostly instrumental track with a smattering of female vocalise that is a jazzy wash of synths and rhythms. The electronic bloops and bleeps and the brief science-fiction dialog make it an addictive 5:00 of solid “B+”
  7. Along with Neal Morse, this track, Farewell, by MIKE KERSHAW is the other standout on the disc. I will be henceforth buying Mr. Kershaw’s new album. Within the first 14 seconds of the song a smile appears on ones face and stays for the entire 4 minutes plus. The fetching melody, the warm likeability of Kershaw’s voice, and the catchy toe-tapping folk/rock Prog (cum Celtic) is pure infectious joy! Even without that beautiful instrumental middle section the song would still garner an “A+” A must buy!
  8. WARMRAIN follows with their selection Fading Star. Clocking in at 8:17 this would be the “epic” of the disc. And it is, in quality as much as quantity. This song actually reminds me of Robin Armstrong and his Capacitor album; a higher compliment I cannot give. What starts off as a lonely and somber instrumental piece goes through numerous changes to include emotive vocals, a background radio sample, tightly harmonic guitars, drums, and synths, and a beautiful sitar-sounding string conclusion. Another “A+” and another resolution to search out WARMRAIN’s album.
  9. If you’re not prepared for track 9, I wasn’t, the opening few seconds will knock you off your chair as you yell “what the deuce?” I have no excuse since I know how to read and do actually own an album by ENSLAVED. Nonetheless the orc-like growls of this Black Metal institution do take the listener out of the beautiful prog-mojo-cloud trance from the previous 8 tracks J I was about to thunder “THIS AIN’T PROG” until I actually gave the song a chance. Sure, I don’t like the guttural gargoyle growling but the tune actually morphs into a very cool jazz-rock, and proggy, head—nodding affair. Some very clean and normal vocals at the 1:30 mark mix in well with the melodic galloping theme. And though the rough vocals do reappear, the overall heavy and ominous under beat sustains the song with swirling and pulsing tones. This kind of reminds me of earlier Opeth. That’s a good thing.   I would listen to the album. I give this track a surprising “A” rating.
  10. The band SUBVERSION brings the disc way down. I rate their contribution, Novation, a lowly “C-” What starts off as merely annoying mediocre prog-metal, quickly turns into what I call emo-screamo non-melodic music. To be fair, these guys are accomplished musicians and there’s nothing technically wrong with their presentation. A nice theme for about 45 seconds, at the 1:20 mark, gave me a glimmer of hope, but no, it concludes as simply a generic euro-death metalish tune with no gravitas.
  11. And then sadly, the disc ends with another low rated “C” selection, Hassassin, by a group known as JU AND KJETIL MOSTER. Your mileage may vary on this one. I find it to be dry and distant jazz-fusion prog rock…and not the good kind. This is 8:41 of drum, drone, and distant screeching saxophone (or synth sax). Only in the last 20 seconds is there an interesting snippet of an intelligent theme. I’d rather go and listen to Miles.

Tracks 1, but especially 3 through 9 (most especially Neal Morse and Mike Kershaw) make this a delightful compilation disc and one that will be returning to my CD changer many more times.

Overall rating: “B+/A-

But you know, for what it costs to buy a copy of PROG magazine and get these nifty bonus discs…one could just buy the new NEAL MORSE BAND album.

Yeah.

Mellotron On!

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