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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Moongarden

Songs From the Lighthouse

Review by Gary Hill

I don’t know much about this band. I do know that Andy Tillison of The Tangent guests on one piece. I also know that this is a CD that proves that there is some great progressive rock – and I mean progressive rock, not alternative rock or hard rock or metal masquerading as prog – being produced. It also shows that when done right a little metal infused into the mix adds another flavor, rather than taking over the music. This has healthy dosages of both old school and neo-prog and is an excellent CD. Consider it highly recommended to all neo-prog fans.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
My Darkside
Sound effects and atmospheric elements start this off with a hint of mystery and danger. It rises up ever so gradually before percussion brings in the main song structure. This feels just a bit like The Flower Kings, but with perhaps a bit crunchier texture to it. It’s dropped down to a more stripped down arrangement for the vocals, but there’s a cool driving bass line in the backdrop on that section and this climbs ever so slowly and gradually as they progress down the road. They run through a powerhouse jam later and then drop it down to a moody balladic approach that’s one of the mellowest segments of the disc for the next set of vocals. They come up from there in a cool fast paced prog jam with an intriguing staccato vocal line. This is worked and reworked through a few variations and themes in a killer jam. A keyboard solo, ambient in nature occupies the later moments, but it shifts to “the darkside” as noisy elements and sound effects come in to end the piece.
It's You
A cool jazzy element leads this off. It’s got a nice groove to it and it feels quite organic and open. This is an evocative and powerful ballad that’s quite cool. It shifts more towards guitar oriented, but still balladic, formats as they carry forward and then it powers out into a stomping sort of jam that’s very powerful. This works through in very triumphant ways and really covers some great musical ground. I can hear some Genesis in this, but with a bit of a crunchier texture. This is not metal by any means, but it’s crunchy at times.

Solaris
At thirteen minutes in length this epic is the longest cut on show here. It does feel metallic as it enters, but it shifts towards more dramatic and powerful progressive rock as it carries on. This has a lot of mystery in its arrangement, but there is also a lot of metallic crunch here, too. The truth is, though, this is how you weave metal into a tune and still have it remain progressive rock.  There are Middle Eastern textures on this piece and it’s quite poignant and strong. It doesn’t rely on the crunch to create the mood, though, but rather uses it as icing on the cake, another flavor to the mix of the stew. It works through a more metallic segment and then drops back to spacey atmosphere for a mid-song bridge. As they carry it in this fashion we get some spoken vocals over the top here. The track builds on that with sung vocals added to the mix along with percussion and other elements. They crescendo and then a Floydian keyboard solo takes over. This is built into a balladic motif over which more of the spoken vocals are placed. Once more they begin to build upon this backdrop, building it gradually upward. The vocal arrangement becomes extremely potent here and this eventually gives way to a tasty guitar solo that’s rather along the lines of David Gilmour’s work. They wander through an awesome and expansive musical journey that shares some ground with Pink Floyd while touching upon others like Genesis, Porcupine Tree and Marillion. It turns to a mellow, repetitive pattern to end.
Emotionaut
Percussion brings this in with a modern texture. Then a quick burst of “scratching” type sounds makes you think you popped in a hip hop disc. They shift out into a moody progressive rock reminiscent of Porcupine Tree from there, though. Powering out into a metallic powerhouse jam after a vocal segment, the track moves back down to the Porcupine Tree sounds after that ends. Instead of rising back up to metal from there it gives way to a killer melodic prog motif with an inspiring vocal arrangement as they move it forward. This has hints of Genesis in the mix at times, but there are plenty of other musical textures here, too. You might make out The Beatles here and there, too. Whatever the particular combination and equation, this is a great song and a highpoint of the disc. They turn it metallic one more time before they end, but really the emotional music that makes up the mellower segments steals the show. During the metal part this time around, though, we also get some killer keyboard sounds.
That Child
Piano begins things in an intricate, classically tinged pattern. This becomes the backdrop for a balladic motif as they carry forward. At around the one minute mark it feels like it might explode outward. Instead they ramp up the intensity on this with some Space Oddity Bowie sounding keyboard textures serving as the icing over the multiple layers of vocals. They build it up as they carry forward in some theatrical and rather angry patterns. This alternates between mellow patterns and harder rocking sections. The vocals are delivered as alternating sections by two different “characters.” We get a wandering into heavy metal on this one, but it’s all part of the tale. This is a song about the outsider child in our society.
Flesh
Piano starts things here, too. A fairly short (almost three minutes) instrumental, this one remains mellow and the first half is dominated by classical musical elements while the second section is more rock ballad. It’s inspired and powerful and still quite beautiful.
Dreamlord
This is the shorter of two tracks on the CD that top the ten minute mark. The intro here reminds me at once of mid-period Pink Floyd and “The Fish,” Chris Squire’s solo on Yes’ Fragile album. As they shift out from there, though, it becomes moody, rather crunchy and edgy progressive rock that’s very powerful. It’s dropped back toward more mellow motifs for the verses and they bring it back up for the chorus. The bridge is well-thought out and quite powerful with comparisons to Genesis being deserved. We get some jazzy sections as they carry on and the various elements of the track get revisited and recreated as they move along. This is another highlight of the CD and another that at times calls to mind Porcupine Tree. They drop it way back to ambience with a driving bass a bit past the three minute mark. This is built upon and reworked and envisioned in different patterns and motifs as they move it very gradually upward. With a stream of consciousness sort of vocal line deep in the mix this becomes a cool groove, rising ever so gradually upward. It’s almost to the ten minute mark before they fire out, and it’s in a killer Genesis-like powerhouse journey. It crescendos and keys take over before the track winds out with a stripped down balladic approach.

Southampton Railroad
A folky sort of acoustic guitar meets tribal percussion sound starts this out. As they grow it up a bit the vocal arrangement really steals the show. This never moves far from its main song structure. Instead they intensify and build on the general musical themes to carry it forward. It’s a nice change of pace.

Sonya In Search of the Moon (Part 5)
Not sure if the first four parts of this were on other discs or this is some kind of a joke, but this instrumental begins with keyboards and percussion. It builds gradually from there. At around the one minute mark this powers up into an energetic jam that feels a lot like vintage Genesis. The work this through a number of alterations and explorations, but the Genesis comparison really works for the whole track. This is a great tune and a nice way to give it some variety.  A cool folk music with keys for flavoring segment ends this.

The Lightouse Song
While this isn’t one of the tracks that tops ten minutes, it’s not far from the category at nine and a half minutes. This builds up gradually, coming in with a balladic motif. It’s pretty and gentle for the first sections. We get some serious crunch in the midst of this track later and the whole piece is dramatic and powerful. They do a great thing by bringing it up and then restarting it with a return to the mellow sections. The resolution of the number late is a powerhouse that does a great job of ending the CD in fine fashion. This is a wonderful ride, one of the best tracks on the disc and a great way to end things in high style.
 
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