Phideaux might well be the best of the modern wave of progressive rock bands. They seem to be the most consistent. Their last disc was a masterpiece and so is this one. It’s sure to be one of my picks for best album of 2009. They create a modern musical texture that’s so rooted in classic prog that it will please fans of both neo-prog and old school prog purists in equal numbers. Phideaux is building quite a musical legacy and this is another stellar entry into that legacy.
Track by Track Review
One: Dormouse Ensnared
Dormouse - a Theme
An acoustic based instrumental, this is brief and very pretty.
Waiting for the Axe to Fall I am absolutely enthralled about the killer keyboard textures that open this and carry the extended introduction. This piece is moody and very pretty with a sound that reminds me both of Porcupine Tree and Pink Floyd. There is a definite symphonic nature as it carries forward. Around the two and a half minute mark it powers out into a more Genesis meets Yes-like approach. The vocal arrangement here, with multiple voices – is powerful. As this continues to evolve other elements are added to the mix. This has bits that make me think of King Crimson, others that call to mind Kansas. All in all, though, this is amazingly cool prog rock that is very well rooted in the traditional 1970’s version of the sound but yet still fresh. We are taken back to a more energized version of the earlier motifs further down the road.
Hive Mind Take something from early Genesis – perhaps along the lines of “Harold The Barrel.” Add in a more modern sound and an almost ELP-like arrangement. Stir well and create lots of drama. You’ve got this great tune. There’s a faster paced symphonic rock movement that’s just plain awesome, too. As this continues we get some more Emerson, Lake and Palmer, more Genesis, some rather pure classical music and perhaps a bit of Queen all woven into the mix.
The Claws of a Crayfish This comes straight out of the last number and is a powerhouse piece that feels like a continuation of that one. There are definitely Lana Lane elements here – combined with the other sounds we’ve heard thus far. It gets quite symphonic at times and there is some awesome bass work. There is an awesome keyboard dominated instrumental section later and this gets very powerful and dramatic. It drops way down to a potent balladic motif later. It moves back out to more pure prog, but still rather restrained and very classical in nature to take it to an almost unaccompanied, non-lyrical, vocal movement. This section calls to mind Yes a bit – with some 1960’s psychedelia in the mix.It segues from their straight into the next piece.
My Sleeping Slave Take keyboard oriented Pink Floyd and join it to something from Rick Wakeman’s solo career. You’ve got a good idea of the sound of this track. As least if you add some psychedelia to the mix.
Two: Dormouse Escapes
Darkness At Noon
Starting with a Spanish acoustic guitar sound as the vocals are added and this is worked out into a folky sound it reminds me of Traffic’s “John Barleycorn.” It’s less than two minutes in length and never really goes far from its origins. Instead the focus is on rethinking and reworking that element.
Prequiem This is another that’s about the same length as the last piece. It’s more pure prog, but seems to continue the musical themes of that one. It’s also almost an instrumental.
Gift of the Flame Coming in with a definite Pink Floyd texture, when it shifts out to more jazzy elements later that image is even more apparent. This works through a number of changes and is one that seems to shift almost endlessly. There are funk bits here and other cool sounds as it continues to evolve. You’ll probably hear just about every classic prog band at some point on this dynamic powerhouse. And that’s just the first two minute introduction. It drops way down for the vocals and that section seems to combine Lana Lane with Terrapin Station era Grateful Dead. They build upon that basis before powering it out to more pure prog rock that brings in some of the elements of the previous segments. We get both a smoking guitar solo and some killer saxophone on this.
Interview With a Dormouse Less than a minute and a half in length, this is essentially a keyboard dominated instrumental segue. The thing is, it’s also incredibly powerful.
Thermonuclear Cheese An acoustic guitar ballad based motif starts this off. It grows into a folk prog number that would have been quite at home in 1973.
The Search for Terrestrial Life A dramatic and powerful piece of music, this is nonetheless understated. Its lyrics tell the tale of ancient life on planet Earth. The female vocals on this (there are male ones, too) are waiflike and beautiful. There is definitely an organic, folky texture to this and it reminds me a lot of something from Renaissance. Honestly, it wouldn’t be a huge stretch of the imagination to hear Annie Haslam and company making their way through the various sections of this.
A Fistful of Fortitude Coming out of the music from the last track, this is somewhat a continuation of that one. That said, there’s a bit of a “spaghetti western” feeling to some of this music that works quite well. Renaissance is still on hand here, but there’s also a killer keyboard solo.
Three: Dormouse Enlightened
Love Theme From Number Seven Dramatic and powerful this builds gradually to a crescendo and then becomes a classical piano solo. It moves back to a more powered up version of the opening section – female vocals bringing in more of that Renaissance feeling. They take us out into a classical jam from there, though. This is based on the piano movement – at first and evolves into a killer ELP-like jam. Although this track contains vocals, their non-lyrical format makes me consider this an instrumental. It’s also a very powerful piece of music that’s dynamic and creative. There are some great world music textures and classical elements later. At over seven minutes in length it’s also the longest cut on show here.
Storia Senti I believe the lyrics to this one are in Italian. The track comes out of the previous one. It has a definite powerful ballad-like sound to it. It’s mellower and more piano and vocal based. At least that applies to the first couple minutes. From there it moves out to Genesis inspired progressive rock that’s bouncy and powerful and again has hints of Renaissance in the mix. It’s also very dynamic.
Infinite Supply In many ways you can call this a piano and vocal ballad. Certainly it has a lot of that element. The track is really completely based on that concept. They power it up with the addition of other instrumentation, but this basic element is the core of the piece. It’s also quite strong.
Dormouse - An End A short closing number, this is nonetheless vital or powerful. It makes for a great end to an incredible album.
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