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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

The Living

The Jungle is Dark but Full of Diamonds

Review by Gary Hill

The mix of sounds here is unique and effective. Things like King’s X and It Bites are combined with Klezmer, Camper Van Beethoven, Pentwater and Frank Zappa. You have to love music with lots of violin…who says there’s too much sax and violins in music, anyway? This is catchy and yet meaty. It’s dramatic and compelling. It’s a great album.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Intro

This short intro is mostly just some ethereal non-lyrical vocals.

Earthmusher
The violin that plays across the top of this really brings some serious class to the proceedings. This is more of a straightforward prog rocker that features male vocals. There are some killer instrumental passages and in a lot of ways I’m reminded of both King’s X and It Bites here.  We’re taken through several variations and changes through the course of this beast and there are some great symphonic overtones. This is a mature composition that has a lot of class and still manages to entertain.
Designer Blindfold
More modern symphonic progressive rock, this has some rather unusual (but cool) timing changes and is a little crunchier than the previous tune. There are bits of world music in the arrangement, but only as minor influence. A jam later in the tune includes a lot more of those world music sounds, feeling a bit like Klezmer music turned prog. Then it works out to a rather fusion-like section from there. This rocker is quite a cool tune and another real winner on a disc that’s shaping up to be full of them.
Maximum Gentleman
That Klezmer element is on this one again. It’s quirky, fast paced and fun. I can hear some hints of music like Pentwater on this thing. It’s a smoking hot tune that I just love. It’s weird, yet very accessible. This is a short tune, but one of my favorites of the set. There are both symphonic and metallic aspects to this arrangement. There is a cool jam later in the track with some violin soloing.
We are the Bubble, They are the Prick

Violin and vocals open this in a rather operatic way. Then, around the one minute mark it gets more of a full band treatment. It’s got a strange, tilted timing (in a good way) along with both the world music sounds and some straight rock elements. This is rock and roll, classical, world music and a lot more. It’s an odd tune that manages to work really well. Comparisons to the kind of tongue-in-cheek, rapidly shifting sounds of Frank Zappa are appropriate, but this doesn’t sound like Zappa. It just shares that same kind of concept and exuberance. It drops to just violin mid-track and then powers out into one of the most straightforward rocking passages of the whole set. It drops down to a mellow symphonic passage to close.

Mister Feminister

And here they bring the funk, in style. After the introduction it shifts out to more of the quirky kind of prog we’ve heard throughout this album. Frank Zappa is again a valid comparison in terms of general concept. These guys have elements of Camper Van Beethoven, Pentwater and a lot more. It’s killer symphonic progressive rock with a sense of humor and of the absurd. It also works really well. The composition and arrangement are packed with twists and turns and this thing is just plain cool.

Media

In a lot of ways, this more based in world music than some of the other tracks. There is also a lot of musical theater and classical texture here. Yet, it’s also a rock tune with folk leanings. And, it still manages to really rock. There are some awesome left turns throughout the instrumental section later in the piece.

Requiem for Bessie
As one might guess, this comes in mellow and slow. It grows within those two constraints. It’s pretty, but distant and sad. It’s only around the two minute mark when a pounding rhythmic structure enters. The cut gradually builds out from there for a short time. Then it drops back to just the mellower elements again. It’s a couple minutes before it powers up again. This time it gets pretty heavy before a crescendo leads to another sedate movement. This is slow moving, and I’d have to say perhaps a little too long for the material contained within. Still, the tone and concept are good. It is one of the weaker pieces here, though, and mostly because it overstays its welcome a bit. I will say that this is powerful and at times makes me think of a more prog-oriented and more symphonic version of Smashing Pumpkins.
Dream Runner

Now, this is a great change of pace. It’s frantic and hard rocking. Parts of it seem metallic, yet there is no way I could imagine anyone branding it as “heavy metal.” There are some great shifts and changes and does an awesome job of working between the classical and rock elements. This is without question one of the highlights of the disc.

Music is Magic
This is a real change. Sure, the general musical concepts are pretty similar, but the song itself feels very much like something Jellyfish might have done. This is a killer tune and I really like it a lot. It’s another highlight of the set. It’s meaty and yet quite accessible.
Sneaky Patina
The rhythm section starts this and the cut grows out from there. It definitely makes me think of a proggier version of Camper Van Beethoven. The vocals bring a bit of a Zappa-vibe, though and world music, jazz and classical all merge on this beast…of course, along with rock. Around the two minute mark it drops to a slower section that feels like a symphonic take on a plodding Black Sabbath jam with some bits of psychedelia thrown in for good measure. It explodes out into noisy, symphonic abandon from there. It gets pretty crazed and noisy at times. Then it works out to a more mainstream (but still rather strange and symphonic) jam from there. There’s a false ending followed by silence before this turns to a short  noise fest.
Out of Office
This is a short bit of symphonic jamming that’s very well based in a RIO style.
 
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