Not the Weapon But the Hand, by Steve Hogarth & Richard Barbieri: If there was ever an album that was just as advertised on the cover, this it. Take the ambient and electronic confections of Barbieri’s two excellent studio albums, add words and breathy vocals from Steve Hogarth, as heard on his solo album and countless Marillion tracks, and here you are. Judging by the results, it’s amazing somebody hadn’t thought to throw these two together like this before. It’s generally a chilled out, laid back album (with some nice guitar accents from Dave Gregory – see below), but it cranks up and throbs away in spots. A really good listen and, ultimately, more interesting that the new Marillion album (to my ears, anyway).
English Electric, Volume One, by Big Big Train: I’ve had a weird relationship with Big Big Train’s last LP, The Underfall Yard. It was heavily hyped in “best of the year” lists, but it didn’t knock me over. What it’s done, after many a listen, is sort of work its way under my skin. I can’t say I love it, but I keep wanting to listen to it. That counts for something. English Electric, Volume One (a second is due in 2013) is starting out the same way. This one’s an effort of a proper band (that includes Dave Gregory of XTC and former Spock’s Beard man Nick D’Virgilio), although there’s an awful lot of extra hand brought in to flesh things out. This one does have something that the last album lacked – a genuine, cant’ get it out of my head earworm. “Judas Unrepentant” is the story of a frustrated artist who seeks revenge on the world by becoming a master forger. Since it’ll keep me going back to English Electric again and again, I figure the rest will worm its way in, eventually.
Viljars Oga, by Anglagard: One of the first of the third-wave symphonic prog bands of the 1990s, Anglagard’s first two albums (they disbanded in 1996) sounded like the came out of a time warp from the 1970s, plunked down in the middle of the Swedish countryside by means more mystical than mechanical. Which is not to say they aren’t wonderful – they are – it’s just that they couldn’t charitably be described as breaking any new ground. Given that history, it’s no surprise that the band’s third album picks up where the second left off, albeit ?? years after the fact. Given them immense credit – they sound like a call back from the past, yet do it without sounding at all derivative of the bands of that era. It’s just classic, brooding, epic symphonic prog.
echolyn, by echolyn: An echolyn album is like a fine wine – it needs time to age properly. Via the drip drab updates on the band’s mailing list, it seems like the new album had been in works for decades, even if it’s only been sven years since their last opus, The End Is Beautiful. That album really grabbed you from the get go and didn’t let go. The new one (self titled, as was their 1991 debut – confusing, ain’t it?) isn’t that direct. But after many engaged listens it’s really gotten underneath my skin. This band somehow manages to build complex, layered tracks that are melodic and powerful all at the same time. Layers get pulled away upon each listen. The end result is a brilliant record. Hear for yourself with “Past Gravity” performed live in the studio (with special guest Francis Dunnery):