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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic

Dawn of the Cycads

Review by Gary Hill

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic are a unique outfit. They have a definite classical edge and lots of jazz in their mix. The closest you can probably come is to call them “Rock In Opposition,” but they are still unique in that vein. King Crimson is probably an influence on these guys, but only to a certain degree.  This double disc set reissues their first few recordings which had very limited release on their own label. The last seven tracks (well eight, but one is just a spoken introduction) are live recordings. It’s interesting to know that as studio act as these guys sound they pull their musical wizardry off live, too.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at
Track by Track Review
Disc 1 - from Birdsongs of the Mesozoic EP
Sound Valentine
Dramatic ambient textures start this and piano joins after a time. When it does we get a rather fast paced and somewhat jazz meets RIO musical journey. The piano dominates much of this track, but another distinguishing factor is a bit of a distorted sound and some drum machine rhythms. It’s weird, but also cool.
Transformation of Oz
A noisy, piano based pounding starts this. They build upon this in a dynamic arrangement. It’s as dramatic and powerful (with world music elements) as it is strange. It twists and turns as it moves along.  “Transformation of Oz” has some decidedly classical music moments.
This begins pretty and mellow on piano. That motif carries on and yet there are weird noises, pounding and other elements in the backdrop. This in addition to some chaotic musical elements from the piano. Eventually the spacey noises (at times reminding me of Dr. Who’s Tardis leaving) take control. This becomes very random, very noisy and very odd.
The Orange Ocean
The piano is also the driving force on this number. The composition is far prettier, though – and more melodic. It is a dramatic piece of music and one of my favorites of the whole set. 
Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous
Unsettling and weird, frantic music is overlaid with sounds of nature. It gets quite fast paced and jazz like as it carries on. This is quite dramatic, even if odd.
Disc 1 - from Magnetic Flip
Shiny Golden Snakes
This has a more “rock music” oriented mode. It’s pounding and strange, but there is more real progressive rock in the mix. There are both cool keyboard and guitar sounds. 
An awesome keyboard texture starts this and they build this classical oriented composition with rock instrumentation and textures. Somehow it reminds me a bit of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. 
(Excerpts from) The Rite of Spring
Stravinsky’s Classical music meets Birdsongs music on this killer track. There are definitely some elements here that remind me of Emerson Lake and Palmer. It’s quite a cool and dramatic piece of music. At nearly seven minutes in length, this is the longest cut of the whole set. It’s also quite a dynamic one with a number of varying themes and musical directions. 
International Tours
This starts quite sedate in stark contrast to the fury of the last parts of the previous piece. This is gentle, slow moving and delicate. 
Terry Riley's House
A fast paced piano line starts this and as it carries on other instruments join and they turn this into a frantic swirling sort of progression that’s both classical and jazz in texture. It works through a couple changes along the road. This is far less left-field than some of the other music on show. 
Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle
Here Birdsongs bring us their own version of the theme song from our favorite squirrel and moose. You can definitely make out the central musical motif, but they turn and twist this in all kinds of directions. It’s cool and recognizable enough to be a bit nostalgic. Now, watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat. Nothing up my sleeve...
The Tyger
More “rock” oriented for some reason I pick up bits of Starcastle on this. Mind you, the main modes are still in keeping with Birdsongs’ trademark combination of classical, jazz and RIO music, but I can still make out a little of that more mainstream progressive rock band. This is more readily accessible than a lot of the group’s catalog. 
The Fundamental
Pounding hard-edged RIO is the order of the day here. This is cacophonous, but also very cool. No one would ever accuse this of being accessible or mainstream, though. There is some really dramatic and quite tasty melody later in the number. 
Bridge Underwater
While in some ways the electronic rhythm meets keyboards approach of the opening track on this CD is present here, this is much more involved. There is a King Crimson sort of musical texture on a lot of the composition. This is pretty, multi-layered and powerful. It drops way down mid-track and they take us on a mellower, but no less dramatic, excursion. This really does feel like it’s underwater. 
Chên/The Arousing
Bouncing, off kilter patterns are woven from a jazz meets RIO thread to create a dramatic tapestry. An odd sound, at first seeming like a tape reel spinning round and round joins toward the end. After the music goes away it’s obvious that this sound is a lawnmower, which moves from one side to the other to end it. 
Final Motif
This piano based cut is quite dramatic and classical in nature. As this grows through a more potent rhythmic element more keyboards are added to bring in more melody. This is a pretty cut that’s more accessible than a lot of Birdsongs’ music.
Disc 1 – Bonus Tracks
Pulse Piece
Synthesizers bring this in with a more traditional progressive rock texture. As it intensifies, though, a drum machine type rhythm track is added along with other instruments. This is fast paced and quite electronic in nature.  There’s a weird sort of pulsing as the waves of sound bounce off one another – and I’m guessing that’s where the title comes in.
The Common Sparrow
Textural Crimson-like music moves across this as piano lays down a repetitive pattern. A spoken voice is heard somewhat in the background, but at times further up. I believe the voice is reading off the different types of sparrows. 
POP Triassic
This careens this way and that with a classic Birdsong’s frantic jam, while nature sounds work their way around. It’s similar to “Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous.”
Disc 2 - from Beat of the Mesozoic
Lost in the B-Zone
 A more rock music based sound leads this off. It’s quite frantic and rhythmic in nature. There’s a lot of King Crimson in this mix. Although this is decidedly left of center it’s not jarring. It’s actually rather accessible and gets quite intense. 
Atmospheric elements begin this and they build from there. This is another that gets quite accessible without sacrificing any of Birdsongs’ musical heart or soul. It’s a cool track that grows organically. There is some extremely tasty keyboard work here and there. 
Excavation No. 32
Much like Brahms, perhaps, there is a definite classical motif to this piece. As it carries on, though, weird elements come in at times. Just before the minute and a half mark drums enter and the cut moves into a noisy RIO rock and roll hell approach. This sound takes it to its close. 
Scenes From a....
Coming in with a gentler, pretty tone, this builds out into something closer to mainstream progressive rock. After a couple minutes like this it drops back to ambient weirdness that reminds me of some of the spacier of early Hawkwind music. As they build back up, I’m still reminded of Hawkwind, but this is more piano driven than their similar stylings. 
The Beat of the Mesozoic, Part I
Fast paced and driven, this is dramatic as it enters. Synthesizers bring new levels of sound to the table as this is built upon. Other instruments and textures join as they continue to develop this. Around the two minute mark it drops back to just percussion and that motif carries it (appropriate for the title) for a couple minutes. Then Crimson-like sounds enter and take us in new directions.
Disc 2 - from Between Fires
Jay Reeg Intro
 This is literally a spoken introduction to herald the band hitting the stage. 
Carbon 14
When you hear Birdsongs of the Mesozoic it’s easy to think that the music exists within some kind of studio vacuum. It has that sort of a texture. Well, this careening sort of Crimson meets RIO jam shows you that the group can deliver live, too. This is noisy, but also very fun and quite cool. 
Chariots of Fire
This has a far more melodic and less frenzied approach. It’s downright pretty with its keyboard melodies moving here and there. After the minute and a half mark, though, this becomes ominous and a bit dark. Then it moves out to a different segment to carry forward. It doesn’t move out into dangerous weirdness, though, but rather becomes a more full group arrangement with some Crimson-like elements going over. This holds it to its close. 
Lqabblil Insanya
Bouncing sort of pounding, classically tinged music makes up this cut. At times it reminds me of the music from the first “Planet of the Apes” movie (the real one with Heston) and at other points I think of the soundtrack to “Reanimator.” We also get some more pure prog rock, and they take us into Hawkwind-like territory at points. We also get some more Crimson-like sounds later and it gets pretty intense. Chaotic cacophony ends it. 
Modern Warfare
Keyboards start this and as the percussion joins it feels a lot like Emerson, Lake and Palmer. This definitely has more of a mainstream progressive rock approach, but there is still plenty of Birdsongs’ trademarks here, too. We get a little bit of pirate music later in the track, too. 
Mellower, more melodic motifs make up the start of this. It never moves far beyond this sort of a backdrop, but does get a little less melodic at times. It’s basically a keyboard solo segment. 
Laramide Revolution
This is a far more “rock” treatment. Still, this isn’t straight-ahead rock. It’s got plenty of Birdsongs’ quirkiness. A bit past the minute mark they drop it back to just piano and as it grows back up it has a more mainstream prog feel to it. They shift it out to more jazzy RIO around the two minute mark. Then it dissolves towards space, but the jazz/RIO regains control. It peaks with some noisy sounds and then drops back down to just keyboards to carry on from there. Then we get a burst of more mainstream progressive rock from there. A noisy section comes in to end it.
Pulse Piece
Here is a live version of the track from the previous disc. Keyboard dominated, this is a great track in either rendition.
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