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Old 12-20-2012, 03:52 PM   #11 (permalink)
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8. Twelve Foot Ninja - Silent Machine


Australia, in recent years atleast, has become something of a mecca for unusual and entertaining rock bands who draw upon the adventurous spirit spearheaded by many a 90's act (Faith No More, Deftones, Incubus) whilst pummeling in semantic grooves learned from the halls of T&M (Tool & Meshuggah) University in equal measure. Some of these groups have even achieved international success, such as Karnivool and The Butterfly Effect.

That being said, the newest and perhaps most promising bunch of this Down Under-stated prog scene are Twelve Foot Ninja, who have slowly but surely been building their celebrity online through a series of entertaining interviews, videos and even a freakin' track-by-track graphic novel as part of the pre-release hype engine in celebration of debut album Silent Machine, released earlier this year to many an excited fan....including myself.

Listening through Silent Machine the first time, you are struck by a few things immediately as opening number 'Coming For You' stampedes into the room: these guys not only know how to bend disparate styles and genres into the great alt. rock umbrella without undercutting the songwriting....they do it really, really, really fucking well. Dispersing a Calypso/reggae bridge and hook amidst a very Tool-esque chord progression isn't something just anyone can pull off, but these guys blow it out of the water, and the rest of the album displays that same dynamic reach in spades. The title track, my favorite song off the album, glides along the theatrical borderline between Queensryche and Faith No More with an ease that's nearly horrifying....but in a way that compels repeat listens en masse.

This is a bizarre, but wonderful metalized album that will certainly be cementing Twelve Foot Ninja as a musical magnate in 2013 and beyond, vehemently reviving that experimental yet catchy sense of ferocity I thought lieth in the corpses of Dog Fashion Disco and Boy Hits Car.

As good as Deftones' Koi No Yokan was, this record makes them look almost pedestrian in comparison, and thus its here instead of them.






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Old 12-20-2012, 04:50 PM   #12 (permalink)
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That definitely sounds interesting, I will look up that album when I get home.
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Old 12-22-2012, 03:28 PM   #13 (permalink)
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Enjoy it Pete!

7. Sonic Station - Sonic Station


Although neither dead, dying nor devoid of compelling material if you know where (and how) to look, AOR is one of those genres where the pickings seem to stay relatively slim from year to year. Like progressive rock, it gets ignored by anyone who isn't savvy with the genre already by the time people put together their end of the year lists. There's a lot I could say, positive and not, about the implications of this indifference in regards to a lot of people here on MB and the music-listening world in general, but that's not the purpose of this review and thus I'll get to the point: there IS such a thing as a good modern AOR record, and this Swedish studio project's debut self-titled sets an excellent example of how it can be done.

Sonic Station is a years-in-making music endeavor by guitarist Alexander Kronbrink, who's also the chief songwriter and (to a degree) producer. After meeting singer Marika Willstedt during college, they began collaborating and bringing in various musicians and guest vocalists over the next couple of years, culminating with the debut's release back in February. The amount of work that's gone into this musical production is astounding: every skeptic I've shown this record to, even the 80's adverse among them, were impressed by how gorgeous the mixing is from song-to-song, and in this genre that's a factor that can go a lonnng way...even making up for weak songwriting at times.

Thankfully, the eleven songs that comprise the LP are not only fairly muscular on the melodic front, there's variety from cut to cut too! 'Intro', a deep synth concoction that melds some heavenly horns with Kronbrink's pedaled out axework segues into 'Love's Gonna Show The Way', a bouncy Toto/Journey hybrid brimming with cheesy but heartfelt optimism and an insidious hook to boot.

Many a band would be fine copying 'Love's Gonna Show The Way' eight more times with slight deviations and call it a day at the studio, but Alexander goes above and beyond throughout: 'Never Let The Sunshine Die' is an epic that distills the best of Whitesnake and The Eagles into something that would probably blow down the house at a live setting, whilst some L.A. Westcoast stylistic touches light up 'My Last Refrain' and 'Reasons' into an FM balladeer's wet dream. The previously mentioned Marika Willstedt is lead vocalist on both of these numbers, and I guess there's a reason she's a T.V. megastar in the Netherlands: she's blessed with some godly pipes, and knows how to get the best outta 'em.

For some people, especially around here, admitting that you like 80's rock in good ol' 2012 is the equivalent to admitting you have a drinking problem: pulling teeth is almost easy in comparison. Records like this, however, might make such a confession far easier....if given a fair shake that is.






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Old 12-24-2012, 07:49 PM   #14 (permalink)
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6. School Of Seven Bells - Ghostory


Well known amongst Adult Swim viewers and fans of contemporary dream pop/shoegaze, School Of Seven Bells are one of the few "indie" bands of the last decade that supersede their hipster trappings and have continued to grow immensely from record to record since debuting back in 2007.

So what makes them better than most of their Pitchfork-approved contemporaries? Part of is that their sonical roots are simultaneously obvious (Cocteau Twins, Lush, Curve) and at the same time unusual for their style (the progressive rock genre, Judie Tzuke, Mew), and anyone who has listened to Benjamin Curtis's previous band The Secret Machines can attest to these more subtle influences at play. The other part, however, is pitch perfect production and a penchant for writing songs that sound like auditory ambrosia flowing down in rivers from the Gourishankar.

Whilst the Deheza sisters are no longer together in the group, Alejandra works her pipes magnificently though a couple of uptempo masterpieces ('The Night', 'Scavenger') and foggy epics that build into smoking, horizon faring nimbuses that are just as keen on thunderballing through a dancefloor skyline as they are to dissolve into freezing, synthesized rainfall upon the cityscape ('Low Times', 'When You Sing').

Danceable, immaculate, hook-laden and even haunting in some fashions, Ghostory gets you floating before you even know it.

P.S. -- Merry Christmas everyone!






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Old 12-24-2012, 09:08 PM   #15 (permalink)
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I felt School of Seven Bells grew tremendously from Alpinisms to Disconnect From Desire (both of which I loved), but I actually felt that Ghostory stagnated a little. It's still a good album, but it was a little dull compared to their other 2 albums.

I'll definitely be checking out a few of those other albums you mentioned, though.
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Old 12-26-2012, 11:05 AM   #16 (permalink)
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5. Ne Obliviscaris - Portal Of I


When your name translates from Latin vulgate into "Do Not Forget', uncertainty abounds before you even attempt to dive into Australian black metal newcomers Ne Obliviscaris. Preliminary research would show you that they, along with Sydney tech-death band Ouroboros, received a sizable grant (about 20K each in fact) from the Australian government for recording purposes and whatever else they require. Putting the information in context with this review, its a miracle that Portal Of I came out at all: the band had been trying for years to get it off the ground, but thanks to government support and recognition they were able to bring this fantastic record to life for the benefit of guys like you and me. Very inspiring stuff!

Vocally, there is wonderful contrast throughout: we have a combination of voracious snarling courtesy of Xenoyr and the high soaring tenor of violinist Tim Charles. And this contrast doesn't just include mic tag teaming: the songs themselves pass back & forth along a chromatic divide between melody and dissonance. Sometimes you'll have a gregarious guitar solo sear the horizon while the earth crumbles below to the blast-beating force of the drums and bass, and other times you find yourself enraptured by what happens when the metal elements are dropped completely. 'Tapestry Of The Starless Abstract', for instance, features a drop dead gorgeous middle section where acoustic guitar, melancholic violin and eerie patches of synth muse together at sundown before the violence surges back in for the final five minutes.

Many a black metal band has reaped the benefits from a gradual shift into more multifaceted sonic frameworks that draw upon sophisticated jazz and classical elements in other genres, but Ne Obliviscaris have already eclipsed most of them as far as sheer finesse goes in the space of a single, insanely well conceived debut release.

Being progressive doesn't mean alternating your elements or shoehorning in uncharacteristic "whacky" genre-bending interludes between 50 minutes or so of aural pummeling: it's bringing in little bits and pieces of everything all at once, letting the overall result speak for itself....and from that perspective, this band is already right on track to redefining black metal as we know it. If they didn't make my top 2012 list, then something would have been really, really, really wrong.






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My Top 30 Albums of 2018
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frownland
You can't blame the Jews for everything...just most things.
Quote:
Originally Posted by OccultHawk
Trump might be the best thing since free jazz.

Last edited by Anteater; 12-28-2012 at 02:51 PM.
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Old 12-28-2012, 02:32 AM   #17 (permalink)
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I had no idea I was going to enjoy "Silent Machine" from Twelve Foot Ninja that much, and then when I clicked to watch "Coming For You," I loved it so hard I'm still in disbelief minutes later.

It's not that your album picks aren't good -- on the contrary, they are all exotic and fun and flavorful -- but I just wasn't really expecting to be in to any of them that hard because I'm not familiar with any of the genres.

Thanks so much for the awesome reviews!! Keep 'em coming
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Old 12-28-2012, 01:52 PM   #18 (permalink)
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A merry Christmas t'ya, Ant!
I also reviewed "Ghostory" for my journal. I was rather amazed at a) how unlike what I expected it to be (prog rock) it was and b) how much I enjoyed it despite that. Great album and although not usually the sort of thing I listen to I'm glad to have discovered School of Seven Bells, and glad to see you're also listening to them.

Great reviews as always. I'll give that Sonic Station crowd a listen soon as I get a sec. Sounds right up my particular boulevard!
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Old 12-28-2012, 09:50 PM   #19 (permalink)
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misspoptart & Trollheart: A Merry Christmas to both of you, and thanks for the 'vonderful feedback! And yes Troll, I think you'll dig Sonic Station quite a bit.

4. Big Big Train - English Electric (Part One)


Let's be quite clear here my fine feathered friends: I listen and appreciate a variety of genres. That doesn't mean I'll fall in love with your favorite post-hardcore record at first ring, but even the people out there who don't like me will concede (grudgingly) that I have an uncharacteristically open mind. That being said, progressive rock is and always will be my favorite genre of music: for every pretentious over-indulgent half-assed record that stumbles out bloated into the marketplace, there's usually two or three records a year that set the bar rather high for other bands (other genres included) to aspire to. English Electric Part 1, the latest and greatest album from the modern era's heir to the Genesis throne, is one such record, and also my big pick of the year for the genre too.

Although Big Big Train started off as yet-another neo-prog. outfit back in the early 90's, this was a band whose evolution is something to be in awe of: 2007's The Difference Machine was about as contemporary as you got, blending the best of Radiohead and Tears For Fears into their own harrowing atmospheric prescription, and 2009's The Underfall Yard saw yet another shift stylistically into a highly wound, modern take on the Genesisian sound circa A Trick Of The Tail/Wind & Wuthering, due in no small part to the recruitment of new vocalist and flautist David Longdon.

Three years from that point and lots of good music later, English Electric Part I is a monstrously fun outing for anyone with even the slightest interest in a symphonic, multifaceted take on modern progressive rock, contextualized thematically and lyrically on incidents and individuals from England's industrial era. Led along by the warm, yet furnished vocals and flute skillz of Longdon (who really does sound a helluva lot like a hybrid of Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins), the fluid guitar work of Dave Gregory (of XTC fame), longstanding bassist Greg Spawton and keyboardist Andy Poole, soaring numbers like 'The First Rebreather' and the banjo-pop of 'Uncle Jack' come to a vivid sort of life and stand out even more thanks to the incredible production that provides the canvas.

This is a very rich sounding record: lots of finer details are embellished from song to song, including a full-blown brass band and orchestral elements that serve to expand the arrangements. Nowhere is this awesomeness more evident than at the end of a cut like 'Summoned By Bells', where the climax segues into a lonely horn solo that echoes, subdued yet starkly visible, into the high end and out of sight as things drawn to a close....and there are so many other moments that stand out just as much.

For my readers living in the U.K., you'll probably appreciate this record far more intimately than some Yank like me could, but this is a masterstroke by anybody's standards. If you're going to pick up only one prog record before the end of the year, make this your first and final stop!






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My Top 30 Albums of 2018
Quote:
Originally Posted by Frownland
You can't blame the Jews for everything...just most things.
Quote:
Originally Posted by OccultHawk
Trump might be the best thing since free jazz.

Last edited by Anteater; 12-28-2012 at 11:11 PM.
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Old 12-30-2012, 10:38 AM   #20 (permalink)
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Nice one Ant! I've just started my own review of my top 20 albums for this year, for which I expect to be jeered and laughed at, and "English Electric" features high in that too. It's only not higher than it is because I came across some tremendous albums that just shoved it down the list. But a great album for certain, not only for prog fans but for anyone who enjoys well-crafted, thoughtful and insightful music.
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