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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Analog Missionary

Transmitter

Review by Gary Hill

What if Tori Amos wrote music for and sang in a progressive rock band? The result would probably sound a lot like Analog Missionary. I know there are people who will question that fact that I've included this group in the progressive rock category. I actually had a back and forth on it, but in the end I find that I agree with those who consider newer Radiohead to be progressive rock. Well, if that sound fits the genre, than so does this as it has a lot in common with that genre. Certainly this music is nowhere near heavy metal, although there are the occasional crunchy segments. Without question this music nearly completely defies categorization. I suppose you could say that it's alternative rock, but that's such an overused label. This music does challenge all limits and create purely unique soundscapes. This is one of the criteria for progressive rock. Whatever your personal views on the issue, if you want to hear a band that is very different from other groups, but still quite accessible, you need to check out Analog Missionary.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Lillith
Starting with ambient tones, the vocals begin to come over a bit muted in delivery. It's obvious right from the beginning that the vocals are rather like Tori Amos'. This cut begins a very slow building process. It's well past the minute mark before drums bring in the next section of the track. This more rocking movement runs for a short time, then they drop back to a more intensified version of the earlier arrangement for the next set of vocals. This rocks out pretty well later on, but still maintains its more creative edge. It moves through a number of unusual changes in this arrangement, too. This is really a good way to build tension and energy and as such makes for an excellent album opener.
Chaser
Distorted waves of guitar start this one off. It creates sort of a unique backdrop for a ballad-like piece of music. They move this forward by creating a sound that feels a little like Mazzy Star at times. They move through a few variations here, but the real change happens when it bursts out in a fast paced jam that at first feels like Peter Banks era Yes. This then moves into a more psychedelic rock tinged jam. They eventually drop it back towards the melodic ballad mode to carry it forward. This is an unusual, yet surprisingly accessible, piece of music. It ends with one very heavy thrust of sound.
This (Can't Be Happening)
This has a more atmospheric, but still rather noisy approach. The number eventually moves through a heavy jam, then to an approach that has a rather Radiohead sort of texture. As it moves out into a more standard song structure the vocals come over and bring in the drama with their breathy approach. Later the vocals soar in incredible ways, and in all honesty the vocal performance is the best part of this track. The instrumental break later has some serious elements of space rock overlaid and then it wanders into more soaring, heavy spacey prog territory. A backwards tracked section ends the piece.
Walk to the Sun
This comes in rather dissonant and noisy. It moves into a dark and dramatic sort of texture that is quite stripped down, basically just percussion, keys and vocals. Eventually, they power this back up in much the same way a lot of the rest of the disc flows. This is another that includes some definite space rock textures in the midst of its arrangement. The cut is quite dynamic and powerful and in many ways one of my favorites. They manage to put quite a few differing approaches into a cohesive structure.
Open Star
With soaring keyboards running all over this, the vocals are in breathy sort of style. This sort of seems to combine textures of Garbage with modern Radiohead and Mazzy Star into an intriguing and quite creative arrangement. Once again they move it through a number of changes in the course of the track.
Dirty Road
Ambient textural sounds start this, but only hold it for the first twenty seconds or so. Then the cut shifts into a killer ballad like movement. They eventually power this out into one of the most dramatic and soaring segments of the whole album. After some scorching instrumental work they drop it back towards the balladic verse section. The next instrumental movement is a bit more metallic, but none less dramatic and powerful. They drop it later to a very pretty mellower section, then bring it up in a dramatic and rather organic building process. When they launch out from there it feels a bit like Rush at times. The extended outro is both heavy and spacey.
Interference
Keyboards bring this one in and the melody that comes out here is one of the prettiest and most sedate on the whole disc. Acoustic guitar and those keys weave a tapestry of sound that is quite unquestionably a progressive rock oriented ballad. These sounds serve as the backdrop for the gentle vocal performance. This one could easily have been included on any number of prog albums from the 1970's. They turn it to the more hard rocking later, but the prog elements are still all over this, granted with a bit more of a modern texture. This eventually breaks back down towards the segment that preceded it, though, and the instruments play with that melody to give it new life. When this section powers out later it is simply incredible in its evocative arrangement. The vocals and overlayers soar and it is one of the most emotional moments of the whole CD. In fact, I'd have to say that this one is my favorite track on the disc.
Satellite
This track comes in feeling a bit like Rush, but as it drops back to the verse it takes on a more pop rock approach and feels perhaps a bit like Lana Lane at times. It's another strong cut on a disc that's full of them. It gets pretty lush at times, but they also turn it heavy at points. They drop it later to a very atmospheric segment, then fire up in something that feels like Tori Amos does Led Zeppelin. This winds up moving back into something closer to the main theme of the song, but then a more Zeppelin goes prog approach takes it again. As this instrumental segment moves on (OK, there are some non-lyrical vocals, but more like an instrument) it turns incredibly soaring, but then fades down to near nothingness to end the cut.
Signals
This one starts in a very sedate manner and grows kind of like something Peter Gabriel would do, but with Kate Bush or Tori Amos singing. This one transforms in slow patterns and truly the keyboards and vocals are the best parts of the track, imparting so much of its magic. This is another of my favorite tracks. This never really rocks out anything near as hard as a lot of the rest of the disc.
Transmitter
The title track bursts in with sounds that feel like Radiohead does King Crimson. They pound this one out til it drops back for the textural verse segment. As the chorus kicks back in, though, we're in screaming hard rock territory. They move out into an intriguing segment after this, though that is pretty much all neo-prog. This is another that is very dynamic and it also manages to pull in some more of those Rush-like textures at points. It's another winner.
Sundering Sea
A mellower mode begins this one. It grows very slowly upwards from where it began. This segment never really fully transforms, though. Instead it ends and then a new (slightly odd) keyboard dominated section takes it. Then a movement that reminds me a bit of Yes (at least in terms of the musical structure - not so much the voices) takes it. This only serves for one verse, though, the cut then dropping back into an even mellower segment with an almost classical arrangement to it. As it powers out from there, the classical modes are all over this thing. Then they pump the arrangement up into an evocative and quite full movement. This is another extremely dynamic and one of the tracks that will be the easiest for old school prog-heads to appreciate. They definitely ramp up the classical elements later just before bursting out into a jam that is the most hard rocking of the piece. It's also among the most accessible on the album. This one has such a powerful and satisfying conclusion that it's a perfect choice to end the disc. The actually outro is a mellower segment but with the building that comes before you almost need the rest.
 
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