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Art Rock Circus

Tell A Vision

Review by Gary Hill

John Miner's Art Rock Circus has released a new double disc set called "Tell A Vision". While his vision has elements that I like, frankly, I think the album could have benefited from a little editing to create one exceptionally strong CD. It's not that this is bad, because it isn't, but it seems like it might have been a stronger showing had some of the pieces been shortened and others been dropped off entirely. In my opinion they could have taken this from a good disc to a great one. The music here combines all sorts of musical elements into a sound that is more often that not truly unique. You will hear moments of familiarity, but still there will be a fully new nature to those sounds.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at

Track by Track Review
Disc 1
Tell A Vision
Keyboards and other ambient waves of sound present the backdrop for an echoed spoken word vocal. Waves of melody seem to threaten to emerge. Then bass heralds a new segment, which launches into a psychedelic somewhat weird space rock type musical adventure. They wind through in this weird way for a while until they move into a short '70's prog type section, and then it shifts again to a ballad based section that starts a slow growing process. This shifts into space (part King Crimson, part jazz, part Hawkwind) but then returns to where it came from. Next it drops to an almost atmospheric melodic journey that has a guitar and bass combo that feels like Chris Squire and Steve Howe. It moves back to its ballad like section. Then this is expanded into a Rick Wakeman-like musical excursion until returning. As that segment ends a new mode with '60's type elements and Squire like bass in the background takes over. A false ending brings back the section that preceded it. Eventually it winds back to its first vocal segments as recurring themes. Then it modulates it to a slower '60's dominated section. They build it up from there into something that feels like came from a prog rock ensemble casting of "Hair". The never-ending riff on this is cool, but gets a little annoying. They drop it back to exceptionally mellow instrumental work to carry it forward and gradually work this into a slow jam. Then it moves back to the movement that came before. This takes on a cool staccato back beat later. Eventually this gives way to another prog jam. This one feels like it's dancing and has Yesish texture. This takes it to its abrupt conclusion ending this epic (nearly 20-minutes) piece.
The Cell
Keyboards that feel a bit like Rick Wakeman start this and eventually other instruments come onboard very gradually. As it carries on the vocals enter and this reminds me a bit of Klaatu. The song is kind of weird, but cool nonetheless. After quite a time it intensifies and the occasional short instrumental section come. I really like this a lot. At about five minute in this shifts to a weird Russian sounding jam, then a number of quite changes ensue as this turns into a quick paced series of instrumental prog movements.
Art of Bells
Clanking, clinking, but seldom tolling, the sound of crashing bells makes up this very brief cut.
Begins Before Becomes
Tentative melancholy waves of keys start this and gradually begin to converge to create a melody - this feeling again quite a bit like Klaatu - a moodier side of that band, anyway. The vocals come over this weird ambient backdrop. This one wears a little heavy, as it is 3 1/2 minutes before anything really changes. Only ambient keyboard textures and vocals make up the song until then. Even when it transforms it's just through the addition of a guitar line over top and it returns to where it came from afterward to end.
Ballad of Joan Allen
This comes in as a balladic prog rock number. It is a slow moving oddly textures mellow one. After a time a cool keyboard line is introduced, elevating the track a bit with it. Back it goes to the original section to continue, though. After another verse another instrumental segment, this one with a twisted almost world music texture takes it. It returns to the ballad to continue, but with more oomph this time. It ends very abruptly. The story line to this one is quite sad.
Disc 2
Oregon Trail Song
Weird acoustic patterns begin this. The cut develops on that for thirty seconds or so, then a new acoustically driven mode that feels like old Genesis takes it until the song moves back to its earlier territory this time with more energy and even hints of flamenco. It goes back to Genesis like progressions again as it carries forward and this sees it to its conclusion.
Cult On Hammer Hill
This feels a bit like a slightly whimsical take on early Genesis modes with a small touch of Klaatu thrown in. The vocals here don't seem to gel very well, coming across with a strange sort of texture, but this whole arrangement feels a little "bent". It shifts later to something more melodic and they build on this with the psychotic sorts of sounds still there, too. Later it bursts into an energized noisy jam that feels just a little bit like Emerson Lake and Palmer at times.
Poem From The Sea
With an acoustic guitar that reminds me a bit of Led Zeppelin's third album, a female vocal carries the melody and lyrics. This gains its power as it carries on from the intensification of the vocal performance. Then later the band bump up the showing here and turn it a bit down home acoustic blues in arrangement during an instrumental segment. This is a bit awkward, but interesting and a definite change of pace.
String Theory #1
Feeling at first like something from Dick Dale, this shifts gear to a classically oriented instrumental. There's not a lot to this, but it's a nice short mood piece.
Rainbow Sun
The Dick Dale sound is back to start this one, but then it shifts to weird ambience with a poetry reading over top. This one is odd and just a little like something you might expect from Hawkwind. Short bursts of louder instrumentation occur from time to time, but this one doesn't really go far until it eventually explodes into a new jam that has a lot more energy, but still maintains a lot of the strangeness of the piece. As it seems poised to burst into a killer prog jam it suddenly shifts to a weird '60's hippie type mode with joined male and female vocals - talk about a left turn! It moves after a couple more changes into a Grateful Dead like jam, then that hippie thing returns. More Dead like territory follows that. Then they change it into a '60's soul based take on prog and then a '60's rock and roll guitar takes it only to move back to that other section. Then they work together for a time until keys take it to end.
Desert Song
This one comes in quietly and gradually, dramatically begins building up. It moves into jam territory and then very spacey melody as it carries on. It feels a bit like old Pink Floyd, but with more of a Dead texture. It becomes a more mainstream pretty prog excursion later.
Song For A Fifth Season
Pretty acoustic guitar based balladic sounds start this, weaving a slowly growing melody. This instrumental feels a bit Beatlesesque at times.
The Ripper
No, this is not a cover of the classic Judas Priest track, but an off kilter '60's rock inspired quirky number that feels a little like a twisted take on the same musical territory as the old Batman TV show theme song. It shifts to a very odd cacophonic banging section, then moves back to the main theme. Next it moves to a new balladic like section that slowly gains intensity. They move this through for a time, then drop it back again to a more rock and roll based jam - very stripped down in texture. Then they ramp it back to the prog themes that got us there. They drop that way back, but continue the theme after a while before transforming the arrangement to just voice and keys to take it thought to its conclusion.
Synopsis In "A" Minor
Does anyone remember Steve Howe's pre-Yes band Tomorrow? This cut sounds a lot like a less psychedelic take on their sound at times, but then it also wanders into Crimsonian weirdness at other points. It also manages to move into a spacey section that feels a bit like the weird segment of Rush's "Bytor and The Snow Dog" mixed with Eastern elements. They speed that up, end it and start an acoustic hoedown. Then it moves to another Tomorrow like section with some flamenco like spicing. It moves through a number of quick changes, eventually resolving into a more melodic prog for a short time. Then an abrupt false ending gives way to less developed music forms for a while based on a free form jazz approach until a short classically tinged acoustic guitar section heralds a new mellow section. It then wanders into more Dead-like territory, but the changes keep coming quickly. Then a rather metallic Rushish crescendo shows up and the track is back to the "Bytor" zone. They eventually take that to a crescendo followed by a new acoustic guitar pattern with dramatic percussion that seems to bubble up from underneath. Next we move back to more crunchy territory, but with a classical bent to end.
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