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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Simon Says

Tardigrade

Review by Gary Hill

Apparently the band Simon Says is a Swedish progressive rock band from the 1990’s. I had never heard of the band before, but after checking out this disc, I want more. What is it about Sweden and progressive rock? This is their third release and should be of interest to prog rock purists. There is really no neo-prog in this, although the sound is still fresh. These guys will certainly call to mind classic prog bands like Yes, Genesis and ELP. Fans of those bands will eat this up. It’s early in the year, but this will probably turn out to be one of the best prog rock releases of 2008.

Track by Track Review
Suddenly the Rain
The extended introduction here is wonderful. You might think you’ve found some long lost Yes masterpiece from the The Yes Album sessions. This runs through for a minute or so, with hints of Gabriel era Genesis in the midst and then they drop it back to a droning bass driven movement for the opening vocals. We are treated to more Genesis motifs at the end of this segment and then it’s into a stellar excursion that alternates between Yes and Genesis-like soundscapes. They drop it down for a balladic movement for the next vocals. This feels a lot like Genesis. As they power up from there it’s definitely more music that seems to merge the sounds of Yes and Genesis. Processed vocals come later as they move into a different segment – perhaps a little like King Crimson. Then they resolve out to a soaring sort of progression that’s classic prog. A guitar solo takes the number in new directions from there with echoes of Yes returning. Then it drops down to more ambient zones. We get another burst of prog pyrotechnics before they pull it back down to pretty balladic tones to carry forward. This is built upon gradually before they explode out into a powerhouse jam that again has a lot in common with vintage Genesis. Several variants come and go as they work through some stellar progressive rock. Genesis still seems a prominent influence throughout. This is very emotional music but quite technical, too. A little after the eight minute mark (the cut is over fourteen minutes long) they shift out to an ELP like journey that’s quite potent. After a time this gives way to more Genesis-like keys as an alternate segment. Serving to break up the earlier motif, this only stays around longer and they shift back to ELP-like territory becoming even more powerful in the process. This holds the track for a while with synthesized voices accompanying a driving, bass heavy jam. They move out into another soaring progression from there, this one perhaps a bit more in-line with Fish era Marillion. From here they work through a series of changes in an ever alternating prog instrumental tapestry that seems to pay tribute to all the greats. The Yesish sort of resolution segment that takes it later is great. They continue with variants and alterations on the themes before the big finish.
Tardigrade
A shorter cut, this is a fast paced romp that feels a bit like ELP, but with other elements thrown into the mix. It works through a series of differing segments, but at less than four minutes in length, you can imagine it doesn’t go too far.
The Chosen One
One could almost believe this to be a lost Genesis track. It starts in a beautiful guitar driven ballad motif, that really feels like that band. When they turn it into the harder rocking motif later in the number it wouldn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to think this could have come from the same sessions that produced Wind and Wuthering. Some differing musical elements emerge later and this has a definite unique flavor to it, but the Genesis leanings are quite prevalent here. When they move to the instrumental bridge I really hear A Lamb Lies Down.
Moon Mountain
This is a classically tinged acoustic guitar solo that’s around three minutes in length. It’s intricate and beautiful. Electric guitar is featured later as accompaniment on this instrumental. It has tinges of both Steve Hackett and Steve Howe to this reviewer’s ear, perhaps along with a bit of early Fripp.
As The River Runs
The shortest of the disc’s three epics, this cut comes in at under 11 minutes. Sound bites give way to a weird space rock sort of keyboard ambient section. Backwards tracked and processed spoken words come over the top. Other elements come and go in a very disquieting and strange backdrop. Just before the one minute mark this gives way to a keyboard solo and the group gradually rise up from there. This is in a pretty, vaguely classical, but also rather playful manner that has a very retro prog feel to it. The cut begins to take on more and more “rock” elements as it works its way upward. The first non-lyrical vocals enter at around the two minute mark and begin a scat-inspired journey around this backdrop. They shift it out to a sparser, but dramatic motif from there and the first lyrics are delivered over this in a balladic manner. This feels quite a bit like old Genesis. One could probably hear quite a bit of the Flower Kings on this. At around the four minute mark they move out into a very jazz oriented segment that has both a killer riff and bits of dissonance. Then they shift this into hard rocking music that has a definite ELP goes funky approach. An extended crescendo gives way to what feels like a conclusion. Instead they bring it back in with the ballad segment from before. This takes on some mysterious and quite dramatic elements while still remaining quiet and understated. It feels a bit like the more classically oriented early King Crimson here. We get another hard edged segment here with slide guitar lending a bit of a Steve Howe feel to it. The climbing progression also has some ties to the music of Yes. They shift out into another instrumental journey from there, soaring in killer prog stylings. You will probably hear Yes, Genesis, ELP and others in the course of this jam. A synthesizer solo dominates the band later and they move out into a frantic musical exploration from there with various instruments taking the lead. It turns very neo-classical at times. At around nine minutes it resolves out into a triumphant sounding return to the “song” portion of the track, again quite Genesis-like in nature. They move this through several powerful variants. We also get some distinctly Yes-like guitar work as this continues. The weird voice from the intro returns briefly to end it.
Your Future
This 29 second cut is essentially a synthesized voice and reminds me quite a bit of something from Genesis’ Lamb… album.
Strawberry Jam
This two and a half minute instrumental is a frantic Genesis-like rocker. They drop it into some short keyboard oriented sounds for a short interlude. We also get a funky bass solo that ends this.
Circles End
A pretty balladic approach serves as the main structure for this piece of music. This is pretty and rather neo-classical at times. Echoes of Genesis and King Crimson are here and perhaps a bit of Pink Floyd in a rather moody motif. There is some cool theremin usage on this. Of course, any use of theremin is cool in my book.
Brother Where You Bound
The final epic of the CD, this is the longest one at over twenty six and a half minutes.  It jumps right in with a powerful progressive rock sound and vocals that start out of the gate. They work through one verse and then we get a cool instrumental surge and then back into the main song structure. This one really feels a lot like The Flower Kings. After another vocal section they turn out into a frantic jam that serves after a time to back the next vocal movement. The cut keeps changing and altering. We get an extremely evocative segment around the two minute mark. Genesis can once again be heard at points along this ride. At around the four minute mark they crescendo to go into another motif, this one feeling a lot like something from ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery album. At first it’s in a pounding, but stripped down motif and then they soar out in full arrangement power. More moments of Genesis are grafted in at points on this extended and powerful instrumental section. At a little past the five and a half minute mark they drop it back for a keyboard solo that encompasses hints of Emerson and Wakeman while still showing off some early Genesis. A number of changes and alterations ensue and they gradually power this back up. A fast paced prog progression serves as the backdrop for the next vocal movement. More ELP serves to separate this verse from the one that follows. We move out after this segment into some exceptionally Genesis-like (and extremely potent) music. The guitar line that soars over a bit later calls to mind Nektar and The Flower Kings. This gives way to another keyboard interlude. Steve Howe-like guitar soloing at around the nine minute mark showcases a break into another high energy section. Genesis, ELP and Yes seem to merge through here. They drop back to an acoustic guitar based ballad sound at the ten-minute mark. Other instruments and additional voices are added and the Genesis comparisons are strong here. They begin to shift this towards the more lush after roughly a minute. A keyboard solo leads the way here. As it moves through a number of changes it becomes quite powerful and emotional. Then they shift it out in rather light-hearted way. This is just a transitional mode, though, giving way to a return to earlier themes. Then it drops back to the ballad portion. Once more they grow upward from there and I’m reminded quite a bit of the mellower section of “In the Court of the Crimson King.” This explodes out into a dramatic and powerful harder rocking section. Genesis and ELP are both echoed a bit here, but they don’t weigh on either too heavily. A cool Pentwater like movement takes it and they launch into a funky jazzy jam from there. This includes some tasty retro keyboards. Then ELP is back in high fashion. They work through several different alterations of the musical themes and we get some more killer keyboard work. A solid hard rocking guitar solo takes the piece for a short time at around the fourteen minute mark. Then we modulate into some extremely dramatic ELP-like sounds. They shift this towards the neo-classical and then move more into the space meets powerful neo-classical mode of that threesome. This goes through a number of changes and alterations and this particular jam is one of the most powerful on the whole set. They adeptly alter from one progression and style to another. All the while it seems quite seamless and effortless. Around the seventeen and a half minute mark they shift a bit harder in a motif that reminds me a lot of Pentwater. Then it’s off on a number of other side roads from there. This is hard rocking and very powerful. It’s also exceptionally dynamic seeming to shift gears with nearly every extended line. A short piece of weirdness takes over and then gives way to a piano and vocal ballad segment. As they bring this up to triumphant sounds from there comparisons to the Flower Kings are obvious. Just when you think they might stay here for the duration, it drops back to a sparse keyboard arrangement. Processed, synthesized vocals come over this pounding, undulating background. After a time this gives way to the triumphant soundscape that preceded it. We get another powerhouse instrumental movement after this. A number of changes ensue from there. Another vocal section is delivered over a different backdrop. Then they shift out to a powerful Genesis-like segment that builds in emotion and power. The guitar sings a beautiful melody as the instruments work together towards creating a powerhouse conclusion to this epic piece. I’d have to say that the closing instrumental section – OK, there is a false ending and then a short reprise that actually serves as the outro – is amongst the most powerful music on the CD and amongst the most satisfying conclusions I’ve ever heard to one of these epic pieces.
Beautiful New Day
This is a short, less than a minute, catchy little dittie. It’s not anything overly dramatic or powerful, but it presents a bit of a “catch your breath” moment to end the CD.
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