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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Karmacoda

Illuminate

Review by Gary Hill

This is perhaps not the most obvious choice for progressive rock inclusion, but it really has a lot in common with bands like Porcupine Tree. Comparisons to Enigma are also warranted, but for my money those guys border prog rock, too. This never really rises to the level of hard rock, but it’s definitely got plenty of energy and emotion. It’s a great disc that seems to straddle a number of musical styles. They even incorporate a bit of hip hop here and there. The group manages to be adventurous and catchy at the same time. Now, that’s skill!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 3 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Something
An interesting bouncing texture is melded with soaring, non-lyrical vocals. Acoustic guitar enters to complete the picture. Occasional waves of space rock keys come in. The main vocal line enters and we’re on our way. This has a clean, neo-prog sort of texture with electronica paired with mellow musical modes for a powerful introduction. This is not crunchy or very “rock,” but yet it has a driving beat. It’s catchy and yet complex in terms of its overlayers and added touches. There’s a tasty acoustic guitar solo and some great layered vocals later in the piece. I like this a lot and it’s a strong start.
Skylines
With quite a bit of techno textures here, this reminds me musically of Radiohead’s “Creep.” The overall performance has bits of space rock in the mix and it comes in close to something like modern Marillion or Porcupine Tree, but with female vocals. The vocal arrangement on this is extremely powerful.

Wonder
This is a major change of pace. For one thing, it’s a lot less proggy than much of the rest of the CD. For another male vocals are the main driving force here. I’d have to say that this sounds a lot like Duran Duran to me, but the soaring female vocals that accompany and some of the powerhouse musical elements late in the game elevate this one quite a bit.
Make Like Mine
This is a unique combination of sounds. We get hip hop mixing with techno, soaring new age ala Enigma, bits of Tori Amos and neo-prog along the lines of Porcupine Tree. While this lends some variety to the CD it’s not one of the standout cuts.
Delay The Sun
This moves back into the musical zone of the first couple tracks. It seems a lot more lush in terms of layered sounds. It also feels more powerful, while still not moving into the zones of “hard rock.” This is pretty and potent and a highlight of the CD.
Turn
Perhaps not the most proggy number on the disc, in some ways the rhythm to this track feels like hip hop, but other than a bit of a backing vocal loop on the chorus, the comparisons end there. In many ways this is close to the first couple tracks, but with a bit higher energy level. It’s a good track, and certainly in the upper half of the disc, but I wouldn’t really think of it as a standout.
Hope Over Hope
This is an intriguing piece and one of my favorites here. It’s a complicated beast to describe, but I’ll do my best while trying to keep this succinct. In general we’ve got an acoustic based ballad, but the percussion has more of a tribal feel bringing in more of a “rock” element. In some ways this calls to mind the more mellow output of early Hawkwind, but there is also plenty of Enigma in the midst of this arrangement. It’s a simplistic song structure made complex through the various layers of sound and vocals over the top. This is a piece that seems to thrive on contrasts. No matter how it thrives, though, know that it does. This is a killer.
Chapel
With an almost R & B like groove, sound loops and a great vocal duet make up much of the charm and variety of this piece. It’s got a cool texture and works quite well. You’ll probably hear echoes of Porcupine Tree here.
Glow
Percussion and rhythmic structures lead this off. There is a backwards tracked feel to some of this. Even when the melodic instrumentation and vocals join that rhythmic structure still drives it for a while. Once the lyrical singing takes over it drops back a bit, but is still quite prominent. This is a pretty and emotionally poignant number that works quite well.
Spectre
This one probably fits the closest into the sounds of Enigma – at least in the beginning sections. They turn it rather dark and into a gritty groove. This is sweaty and sexy and a great tune. It’s got some of the least prog music in it, but still manages to pull enough unusual atmosphere to keep it reasonably prog like. This one is a highlight of the disc, even if a bit unusual.

Ambient Song
Rising in textural ways, this one grows gradually. Just over two minutes in length (and a good chunk of that is an extended silence), it never really comes up far. It’s a pretty and spacey instrumental that feels a bit like Pink Floyd meets Porcupine Tree.  In keeping with its title, it is ambient.
Endings
This is pretty and spacey. It’s got an echoey sort of texture that calls to mind Mazzy Star, Pink Floyd and Porcupine Tree. It stays fairly mellow for about half of the track and even when it rises up more to the level of a rocker we still have layers of space sounds bringing a different texture and air to it. This is a cool tune and a good way to end things.
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