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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Pentwater

Ab-Dul

Review by Gary Hill

I don't remember when I've anticipated a CD release as much as I did this one. I've been a fan of Pentwater since their first incarnation in the 1970's. In fact, I'd put them into my short list of favorite bands. Now, I should explain something here. For a band to get into my list of favorites, it normally has to be through a series of consistently great releases. Before this CD came out, Pentwater had only one real album (a compilation of unreleased material was also released). So, for them to make my list of favorites, it really speaks to the strength of their material.

The big news here – this disc was worth the wait and anticipation. If not only lived up to my expectations, but exceeded them. It seems a foregone conclusion that this album will be in my list of top discs of the year – and that statement is being made in March. That's how strong this is. Fans of Pentwater's unique take on the prog rock genre will definitely want to pick this one up. It is, if anything, stronger than their self-titled disc. If you haven't heard the band, I'd suggest this as a first impression. It does a great job of capturing the best of that which is Pentwater – quirky arrangements that are at once all their own and reminiscent of such acts as Yes, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Gentle Giant and Starcastle. I just have one more thing to say on the issue – this directed to the band. Thanks, guys for putting together such a killer release. Now, how about getting the next one out a little more quickly!

For more information (including sound clips and ordering information), check out Pentwater's website.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
It Feels Like Stealing
This brief introduction starts with nature sounds. Atmospheric textures enter to serve as the backdrop for the vocals. There's not a lot here, but it's quite cool, nonetheless.
Luncheon at the Parade
This one jumps in fast and fairly hard rocking – made all the more so by the contrast to the sedate tones of the last number. The group work through several variations and changes in an arrangement that feels like it could have come from the first disc. The frantic and rather noisy instrumental break late in the track is simply a killer with multiple timing changes and left turns. It feels a bit like Yes, ELP and others all rolled up into one. Another highlight is the trademark multilayered Pentwater vocal break. The cool thing is, as quirky as this composition really is, it's extremely accessible – one might almost say “catchy.” At less than four minutes in length it's amazing how much they pack into the tune.
Autumn
Coming in like a rock ballad, this evolves into a killer melodic prog arrangement. Overall this first two or so minutes of the cut have less frantic changes than a lot of Pentwater's music, instead feeling a bit like a Yesish sort of composition – in terms of the mood and tones, at least. That doesn't mean, though, that they refrain completely from moving in other directions. Indeed, they shift this out later into Red-era Crimson like directions. This gives way to an ELP-ish instrumental segment and then turn the corner towards territory that calls to mind Starcastle. Keep in mind, all of this is delivered with a sound that is vintage Pentwater. A more powered up incarnation of the main musical themes enters lat e to serve as the outro. This is pretty and inspiring and a highlight of the disc.
Kill The Bunny (solo piano version)
As one might guess, this is a classically inspired piano solo. It's very strong and serves as a great change of pace. One might hear flashes of Keith Emerson and Rick Wakeman on this, but really, when you are dealing with a composition of this type don't those references always show up? This moves through a number of cool changes and moods, turning a little chaotic and dissonant at times.
The Tale of Clear Fog
At less than half a minute this is one of several extremely short pieces on show here. It's essentially a textural seque/introduction.
Sealed in Today
Bounding in with classic Pentwater sounds, this is fairly hard rocking at first. It drops back to sedate tones for the first verse, then builds back up in dramatic tones. They move through quite a few changes and reinventions of the piece. There are times when the track turns quite jazz-like. Still, at other points they create a traditional world music based classical sound. A killer jam later takes on elements of Yes, Flash and even vintage Genesis – all rolled up in a blanket called “Pentwater.” There is definitely some Chris Squire-like bass playing on this one. It's without question packed with enough twists and changes to keep the most demanding prog head happy. The melodic vocal segment later and the Beatlesish breakdown afterwards are definitely great. So is the dramatic and gradual classically tinged building that follows. For me, though, the building segment after this, with it's swirling lines of sound really steals the show on this. Still, with so much wonderment to be had, it's hard to pick a favorite movement. This is another that really feels like it would have fit quite well on the first album. It's also another highlight of this release.
Across The Mediterranean
Here we get a more raw sound from the band. With psychedelic overtones, this feels like what H. P. Lovecraft might have sounded like if they had done a progressive rock disc. An instrumental, this has plenty of killer classically oriented sounds and lots of great musical textures. This train jumps from one track to another a few times in a twisting sort of jam that is both challenging and tasty. I can hear a lot of “War” (the song from the self-titled disc, not the band) on this. While it's definitely a keyboard heavy number, there is plenty of the other instruments shining through the arrangement. I even make out a little “Bolero” on it.
Somehow Feelin' Fine
A brief effects introduction leads this one off. It drops down to a melodic rock motif from there for the verse. This one has a definite late '60's early '70's type song and is heavily laden with psychedelia. This is probably the least “prog” of anything here, but with the direction and sounds that make it up, I don't think any prog fans will mind. It feels a times rather like early Pink Floyd.
The Tale Of Clear Fog (reprise)
This revisiting of the earlier track is another that's less than half a minute in length. Once again it's an atmospheric interlude.
The Cry of Eugene
Here the band are covering Keith Emerson's band The Nice. This is a pretty, psychedelic balladic number. While not the most powerful piece on show here, it's catchy and quite cool. The group lay down a great interpretation, preserving much of the piece while still making it their own. Beatles textures are all over this. There are also plenty of classical elements to the track, too. And, as one might guess, it feels a bit like ELP at times.
Entropal Pause
At almost seven minutes in length this is the second longest track on the CD. Sounds of birds lead it off, joined shortly by atmospheric tones and textures. As these build the song feels a bit twisted, but still very sedate. Various keyboard based and other sounds rise in an ever more cacophonous arrangement. At times it sounds like an old British siren. This extended introduction is dissonant and chaotic. The sound of an alarm clock ends this movement, though. From there they drop to the song proper, a Pentwater styled balladic segment that's both beautiful and strange. They rise up from there into a more full blown prog jam that gives way to a staccato segment for the next set of vocals. From here it turns to another twisted jam that calls to mind King Crimson quite a bit. Lines of sound surge across this for a time. Then it shifts out to another off-kilter and rather challenging jam.The “round” sort of vocal segment later is simply incredible. I call it a “round,” because it feels like that, but technically it isn't. The effect is produced by a process of having a different voice sing each word. While that might not sound all that Earth shattering when described, it has to be heard to be appreciated. This gives way to one of the more melodic movements of the piece, but they come back up from there into more chaotic progressions. This is by far the strangest cut on the CD, but it's also very cool. It ends abruptly. 
Chasing
An acoustic guitar based ballad motif serves as a stark contrast to the last piece. Don't get used to it, though because this ends, giving way to some ambient sound effects. Then they launch into the song proper. It's a dramatic and powerful jam that's among the best on the disc. This one is both catchy and strong. It might be my favorite piece on the whole CD. They work in plenty of intriguing changes and shifts, but quality and emotion are solidly placed all over this cut. It's probably the most accessible piece on the disc. They move it out into a killer, prog jam that has elements of ELP, but is still all Pentwater. You might hear a bit of Tommy era The Who on this. Alone, this is worth the price of admission.
Descends
Acoustic guitar modes lead off this killer Pentwater ballad. This is a track that shows off how well these guys can produce powerfully emotional passages of music relying heavily on slowly sung vocals – notes stretched way out. They turn it at around two and a half minutes into a psychedellically tinged jam that has both elements of classic prog and more of that H. P. Lovecraft type sound. That movement, though, is a fairly short change of pace, giving way to the song proper to eventually end it. This one might not be the most dynamic piece on show here, but it is one of my favorites. It's both pretty and dramatic.
You Knew
This rises up gradually and becomes a dark, yet bouncy motif. This shares lyrics with the opening number. They build up slowly by bringing in more layers of sound and little side movements in the musical progression. After a time it turns into a more folky sort of prog sound. This is just a short change up, though, giving way to a more high energy take on the musical themes. This is another that calls to mind Yes quite a bit, but I still hear ELP on this arrangement, too. It's a cut that seems fairly simple, but yet when you really listen to it is very involved and complex. This is also exceptionally powerful. The later segments have a very triumphant feel to them.
Turn The Key
Some of the most traditional progressive rock textures lead this one off in a potent jam. This introduction, though, works its way through and drops to more ambient elements that serve as the backdrop for a classic Pentwater vocal arrangement. It shifts out later into a smoking dramatic musical texture based around the main themes. This is another of my favorites. The combination of climbing musical textures and vocals that seem to reach higher and higher at times is extremely powerful. It works out into a killer instrumental segment later to serve as the outro.
It Feels Like 3 AM
Another brief piece, nature sounds make it up, followed by a period of silence. It does, in fact, feel like 3 AM. 
Awakening
This slightly raw sounding piece is a frantic piece of classic Pentwater instrumental fury. It's a great way to end the disc in style. Rising and falling lines of sound swirl around and over the listener in an energetic workout.
 
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