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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Wendy and Lisa

White Flags of Winter Chimneys

Review by Gary Hill

It’s always amazing how two objects can start at disparate points and gradually move together until they converge. So, it is with Wendy and Lisa being included in the progressive rock section of Music Street Journal. When they started out they were firmly in the midst of the pop rock of the time. Coming out of Prince’s band it would have been hard for anything but that to happen. Over the years they’ve matured and so has their music. At the same time groups like Porcupine Tree and Hogarth era Marillion have changed the definition of progressive rock. So, now, in my opinion, this CD lands in that heading. It’s definitely the shorter, more pop oriented (but often dark) sounds like Porcupine Tree that this is closest to. Sure, there are rockers here that neither fit the prog rock label or seem much like Steve Wilson’s outfit. But overall, I’d say this disc qualifies. You might disagree with that assessment, but give it a try. I’d bet you won’t disagree that this is a great album and arguably the group’s best. I followed them for quite a while in their early days – picking up every disc – so I can say that with confidence.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Balloon
Piano starts this and a gentle vocal line joins. It feels like they might be about to move into a pretty ballad. Then some odd sounds come over the top and it feels dark and ominous. From there they move out to a psychedelia meets dark pop rock motif for the main song structure. As they carry on this takes on more and more layers of sound and it’s really pretty closely related to the music of bands like Porcupine Tree.
Invisible
Here we get a cut that’s a lot more straightforward. This rocks out pretty well and has a bit of retro sound to it. There are some Beatles tendencies at times on this. There are also moments where it takes on psychedelic tones. They turn in a couple serious modern hard rock segments, as well. The multilayered vocal arrangement is potent, as well. This is a great piece of music and is very dynamic. 
Ever After
This is another dark cut. It’s another that isn’t far removed from the sounds of groups like Porcupine Tree. There are some incredible musical elements and textures on this. They take this into Beatles-like territory for a short time and then power out into a crunchy hard rocking jam as they continue. 
Salt & Cherries (MC5)
Here’s a hard rocking energized grind with some great retro textures. Old school feeling aside, though, this is modern rock – it just leans back to the older times and tunes. Besides, you have to love any song that talks about the music of MC5. That’s an homage you just can’t argue with. 
Niagra Falls
Percussion leads this off and a great fuzz guitar enters to create the opening music. This is another with some hints of psychedelia. It’s a bit like The Electric Prunes in terms of the fuzz sounds. There’s a modern prog sound here, too, though. They get pretty intense at points on this number. In fact, when the arrangement really powers into the stratosphere I can hear Radiohead and maybe even Smashing Pumpkins on this. 
Red Bike
Here’s another moody mellow piece, at least at first. We’re about a minute in before this jumps out into a more rocking, but still quite melodic musical journey. They alternate between these textures and comparisons to Radiohead can also be made at points here. I can hear the Porcupine Tree sort of sounds, too. 
You and I
Based on an acoustic guitar motif, at first that’s basically the only accompaniment for the vocals. This is moody and a bit melancholy. It’s also quite pretty. Other musical pieces are added to the puzzle as they carry on, but this stays reasonably stripped down and like a folky ballad. You might hear Heart in this a bit.
White Flags of Winter Chimneys
Noisy elements enter and this rises up from there. It shifts out to an intricate balladic sound to carry it forward. They create some intriguing melodies and counter melodies here. There are bits of noise based sounds that come and go across the top. This is another that I would be quite confident considering progressive rock – at least in the same way Porcupine Tree is prog. There’s a cool spacey jam on this that actually reminds me of old Pink Floyd. Mind you, that section doesn’t remain real long, but still – it’s tasty.
Sweet Suite (Beginning at the End)

As you might guess by the title, at nearly nine minutes in length, this is the epic track of the disc. It begins very tentatively on piano. Working slowly through a few melodies this carries it for a time. This grows very gradually with a definite moody texture to it. At times, though, it rises up to very lush and powerful territory. At around the four minute mark it shifts out to a more energized arrangement. It takes on rhythmic textures and new melodies and feels less melancholy. From there they take us on one of the most purely prog excursions of the disc. Before the five and a half minute mark, though, it drops back down to a considerably classical piano segment. Other instruments are added to the mix and this becomes very much along the lines of symphonic progressive rock from there. A little past the six minute mark it takes on more noisy, rock elements and again Radiohead comes to mind. They build upon this with some Beatles-like overtones and symphonic rock elements until it peaks and drops back to just piano. They bring back the harder rocking sounds one more time and then take it down to piano to carry forward in evocative modes. Piano eventually closes it out in a very satisfying way.

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