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Liquid Scarlet

II

Review by Josh Turner

Coming off their impressive debut, II is another gratifying stick to chew on. This time, however, it doubles your pleasure. As good as we felt about their initial impression, I think fans will find this one much better. It features balladic pop and orchestral arrangements. It's quite progressive, has Canterbury sequences, and exploits many fads around the world of "seventies" music.

Three out of five band members sing and I'd highly recommend them. Like Roine Stolt or Neal Morse, it's irrelevant whether or not they have good voices or precise pitch for that matter. They know how to use them and that's what's important. Each demonstrates respectable resonance as they effortlessly climb the chords and step through the scales. They spend a lot of time flaunting their fashion in falsetto and when they do it creates quite the fascination. Additionally, each has a voice that's distinct and enticing. The variation adds tufts of intrigue to their tone and causes puffs of air to wisp upon the atmosphere.

In addition to singing, almost everybody in the band contributes multi-instrumental skill. Typically, when a band does this, they spread themselves much too thin. Many groups are guilty of throwing bodies into roles, resulting in a glut of mismanaged plays and people in all the wrong positions. This band goes against the grain and does it quite well. Each part is carefully shaped, sanded, and glued. When it's constructed, it adheres firmly in place. The only member who settles on one instrument is Olle Sjogren. He takes permanent residence at the symphonic side of the spectrum. Nevertheless, his hovel provides just as much security and shelter as the rest. Therefore, no big bad wolf will be blowing this one down. He is a keyboardist with an ear for the most passionately progressive passages and his devotion is driven. His contributions alone often add depth. Markus Fagervall and Olov Andersson both play the guitars and Olov even finds the time to contribute a clarinet. Joel Lindberg is the bassist who concatenates additional keys while Johan Lundstrum is the busiest of these worker bees. He plays drums, percussions, accordion, harmonica, acoustic guitar, keyboards, and even slips in strings. That's quite the mouthful, wouldn't you say?

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2006 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Lines Are Drawn Again
This is so much like Coldplay it's creepy. The canter opens up the services with a single nomadic note. This gives you a chance to acclimate yourself to the climate before experiencing the brisk breeze that ensues. Eventually the icicles begin to thaw from the tepid coils turned on by the singing. The chord progressions are exquisitely executed while the piano is polite and cordial. While this song is sparse, the instrumentals flow in such a way they fill the kettle with steam. It's as catchy, creative, and aloof as Queen. Like many of the tracks, first it simmers and then it gets much wilder. It bubbles, froths, and boils, forcing the teapot to scream with a shrill whistle. While it's hot enough to scorch your throat, it goes down smooth with several patient sipping motions.
The Carafe (Part II)
The long epic comes second and it's more aggressive than the first. It's neo-progressive in the vein of classic IQ, but it also has the syncopated timing found in Thoughts Part One, not Two. Eventually the serrated edges smooth out, but before it does, it momentarily rubs against the jagged rim of Izz. The intermediate sections run through The Doors and wake up the neighbors. In the process, they perturb an angry Bob Dylan who is still in his pajamas. The slower parts, conversely, lounge about in Eyestrings and The Amber Light.
The Marriage of Maria Braun
This has a quasi-commercial temperament. It contains Moody Blues, Procol Harum, and Morissey in its frame. It also features an agreeable use of backing strings. Sequences from Kevin Gilbert's "Shaming of the True" and Toy Matinee's title track, they too find themselves among the trinkets on the rack. I also hear Gazpacho "When Earth Let's Go" and Rain's "Cerulean Blue". Due to all the proper commercial placement and appropriately advertised promotion, this is surely one for the highlight reels.
Rhododendron
This song is a lot like the opener with an emphasis on the accordion instead of the piano. It picks up like the rockers in Spock's Beard's Octane as well as the blockbuster dubbed "A Flash Before My Eyes." That heroic hit is a favorite of mine. It's for that reason; I like the chewy progressive goo stuffed within its center. This one acts mostly as a transitional piece, a snack between the main courses if you will, but it won't spoil your appetite. It takes us to the boondocks before returning to the melodic land mass. There is a long pause in the middle that works as a break before it continues to travel down the intended path. The earthier elements remind me of Echolyn's Mei. A Yes sequence is snuck into the fold and it's followed by Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. They go to the past, but then they come a little closer. It concludes with a whistler that resides within the recreational area of The Scorpion's "Gorky Park."
Everywhere
It starts dramatically with the same kinds of crazy outbursts spotted in Yes' "Machine Messiah" and Izz' "Star Evil Gnoma Su." They incorporate earlier themes, but tie in new lyrics and guest what, a xylophone. They relish in the privilege to reprocess. Even when the ideas stay the same, they are tweaked enough to make them special. Then again, they don't relinquish the right to reuse good solid riffs either. They choose wisely in what they decide to reincarnate, but when they do, into them they breathe new life. When given a second chance, the antediluvian deities adapt quickly to their environment. There is playful and contemporaneous jazz in the amalgamation. It dates back to the scores in age-old comedies from Woody Allen. The heavier parts swell inside a greater capacity. It's probably Far Corner's properties that occupy this less restricted space.
Just Like You
They take earlier vocals and put them over completely different instrumentals. While the earlier iteration was more of a pop piece, this is definitely more classical in nature. Again, this is another great use of string arrangements. Basically, every time the strings appear on the album, they are not gratuitous in any manner. Many bands put orchestral instruments into rock just to say they did. This, however, is certainly not the case. The garb is snug, but in no way is the fit epileptic. Also, as you eavesdrop the idiosyncrasies of the recurring themes will only become more apparent. This is why this album will certainly grow on repeat listens. This song is sliced down the middle. Where it parts ways is the calm before the storm. There are aspects in each split that almost make it an art song. There are classical orchestrations, acoustic guitars, and tribal drums then just like that, out of the brush comes King Kong. As for the concept, this composition and the next make me believe the "II" refers to criminal contempt. The mischief most likely comes from a pair of rabble-rousers such as the infamous Bonnie & Clyde.
Killer Couple Strikes Again
This is out of place as it operates as if it were meant to be played on the radio. Regardless of their alignment or affiliation, this could be a crossover hit for fans on either side of the fence. It's still progressive enough to require an open and hungry mind to fully digest. It's partly Echolyn, but other times it's Wilco. In general, it has the punch of Tom Brislin's Spiraling, but keeps in line with the mission plan from Splinter Cell. The keyboards sneak in covertly and strike without notice. In addition, the spy aspires to shock and awe with its engaging chorus. With this submission, they've committed the perfect cut. While that's never the case, they happen to have a rock solid alibi. If you get the album, this song is enough of an excuse to make it justified. The guitars and bass are like Billy Joel's "Pressure." Everything else, on the other hand, is quite different altogether. The keyboards to be precise are more along the lines of Corey Heart's "Sunglasses at Night". While the actors try to take five, the director keeps them working throughout the night. He makes it known that it is he who calls the shots and directs the show. Then, it's a wrap and just like that it's over.
There's Got To Be A Way to Leave
This is fortified with a convincing false ending. Like spirits drifting off to heaven, Moody Blues and Procol Harum reappear once again at the pearly gates. This time they gain admission and monopolize the mix. It's for this reason, this song has a significant seventies feel about it. Also, since these passages are so passionately potent, it's obvious these emotions will return before the end. I feel as if the last three songs comprise the ending. However, the string arrangements and piano are strongest in this track's closing stages. I would say the final moments of this song are my favorite part of the album. I like how the harmonica and mellow keyboards mend the gash that's caused the cut's achy breaky heart. In this City of Angels, the bridge crosses over to the other side, but like Moon Safari, it's the harmonica that brings us back. Whether I'm right or wrong, I hate to admit it, but I'd say this sounds a bit like Barry Manilow's "Mandy."
The Thorns In Your Flesh
This starts with a few notes of the keyboard then it accelerates. The same caffeinated kick is used to relieve the migraine and pull you back. This is the most edgy, aggressive, and rocking number on the album. Again, I see the Izz influences in this one. However, the singing might be slightly more monotonic than the outgoing and expressive Galgano brothers. I hear parts from Yes' Fragile, but what's odd is that the guitar is throttled in the way that Chris Squire treats the bass. At times it's six feet underground. Other times it's ten feet tall. Its oppression resembles Napoleon's reign. Before crowning him king, Elvis has left the building. The story carries the same kind of curiosity as Rosebud from Citizen Cain. While the mystery behind the lyrics can be audacious, they can also be a thorn in your side. Based on what they communicate, solidarity is not for them to care.
Lines
After a series of shorter pieces, this one goes on a little longer. It takes us on a musical adventure through unbridled melodies and into an uninhabited countryside. Parts of this song touch upon Morissey's posture and panache. There is a guitar, voice, and piano, but they are deliberately sloth-like, seemingly dawdling on purpose. The main theme returns in a sequence of lullabies, making this a soundtrack to a chick flick. The last song is put on a pedestal and receives the highest form of flattery. It pays attention and shows respect, romanticizing with the musings of its secret admirer. There is an instance of question and ponderous frustration. Seconds later our couple smiles, hugs, and holds each other. This is the appropriate time to roll credits and fade to black while the camera pans to the side and goes out of focus. If you are hopelessly romantic, you won't wait long to see this again. In times of triumph, it finishes with a rainbow of colors and a symphonic wall of sound. Help yourself to another handful of these fruit-flavored Skittles. I think you'll find the first is good, but II is twice as nice.
 
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