Album Review: Orange Clocks – Metamorphic

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Band: Orange Clocks | Album: Metamorphic | Genre: Space rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2020

From: Rushden, UK | Label: Bad Elephant Music

For fans of: Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Elder

Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music

It’s often interesting to see acts evolve across successive albums. Even within the realm “progressive” genres, some bands don’t change their sound very much. Meanwhile, others engage in wild genre-hopping on the regular. More often, you find something like you do with Orange Clocks. Their 20-song 2017 debut album was chock-full of narration and brief interludes. The music was also somewhat unfocused, drawing heavily both from early Pink Floyd and the broader world of funk.

Metamorphic, the band’s second studio album, alleviates many of the issues of their debut. The sound is more consistent, and the distracting narration is gone, giving their sophomore release a more mature feel. The presence of stoner/desert rock is considerably more pronounced as well, and elements of krautrock and drone have begun to be worked in.

“Space Witch” opens the album on an ominous note. Wah-wahed guitar slowly twists upward as heavily-reverbed vocals swirl over it. The song’s middle section gets a shot of adrenaline before ending on a bluesier variation of the opening riff. Following this is the more laid-back “Eye of Psybin”, which sounds like a stoner rock version of a song off The Wall. And despite my frequent decrials of The Wall as a mediocre record, I mean it as a compliment in this instance.

“Miles Away” continues with David Gilmour-y guitar lines in its opening. The verses are mellow, and the vocals remind me a lot of Phideaux. The middle eight is pretty weird and sinister, but this song doesn’t do much to stand out on the whole. Following this is “Let Me Breathe”, a good song overall. It has an inversion of the weakness that plagues its predecessor, though. The verses are energetic and immediately draw you in, but the chorus falls flat.

The choppy vocal pattern on “Floating Temple” has the most unique feel of any song on the album up to this point, finally shaking free of obvious Pink Floyd influence and indistinct desert rock. Its second half takes on a nearly-meditative quality. Chanted vocals and steady, propulsive drums carry it forward to a slightly-cheesy-but-pretty-enjoyable guitar solo. “Ammonite”, despite its grating, honky synth tone, is my favorite song on the album. The first half is instrumental, but it’s the second half which really stands out. It’s highly melodic and synthesizes their space and desert influences in a great way.

“Noggy Pop” closes the album. On Bandcamp, it looks a 28-minute monster, but its real runtime is only about nine-and-a-half minutes. There are some vague Spanish flavors in the opening minutes, which is another welcome bit of flair. The song takes a few minutes to get going, but by the time it reaches its climax, it’s a maelstrom of astral guitar and Ozric Tentaclesque synthesizers. Once “Noggy Pop” ends, it’s followed by 30 seconds of silence and then 18 minutes of drone and synth textures.

Orange Clocks made some big strides on their sophomore release. The record sounds cohesive, and the band members have made more of an effort to establish their own unique sound. However, the current prog scene is swamped with sorta-proggy stoner rock/metal acts. They’ve got the potential to put out something great. They also need to better synthesize the Hawkwind and Pink Floyd influences into something more distinct.

Score: 72/100

Album Review: Perséide – Parmi les arbres

perseideBand: Perséide | Album: Parmi les arbres | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock | Year: 2019

From: Trois Rivières, Canada | Label: Independent

For fans of: The Moody Blues, Yes, Ange, early Pink Floyd

Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music

Much of the non-metal featured on this site has its roots planted firmly in the years of 1971-73. That fact is neither inherently good nor inherently bad, but it does lead to the prevalence of certain tropes and trends. Perséide’s roots extend a few years further back. Instead of harkening to prog giants like Genesis or Yes, their music stems most obviously from late ‘60s psychedelia and proto-prog, a la The Pretty Things or The United States of America.

This Quebecois quintet is not wrapped entirely in the past, though. On Parmi les arbres (Among the Trees), modern touches of indie rock are present. These influences make the music feel like a vibrant descendent of ‘60s psychedelia, rather than a rehash.

“Hier ne saura jamais” (“Yesterday will never know”) opens with a simple but lively guitar line, backed with astral keyboard tones. This song, like much of this album, is brimming with space-age synth tones and lush Mellotron. “Istanbul”, meanwhile, is rooted in a vaguely Asiatic riff and a somewhat sparser arrangement.

A more openly poppy angle is taken on “Enracinés” (“Rooted”). The rhythm is bouncy, and the twin melody of the guitar and the organ are reminiscent of some of Pink Floyd’s earliest releases, like “Arnold Layne” or “See Emily Play”.

However, most of the tracks on this first half of the album possess detectable weaknesses. Most of the songs are about a minute too long, and “Le tombeaux d’Atuan” (“The Tombs of Atuan”) never really manages to get going and borders on being soporific.

The album’s second half is noticeably stronger than its first. “La nuit des faunes” (“The Night of the Fauns”) has a slow-moving first half that gives way to a fun, energetic extended instrumental period. Guitar and organ prance around in a nearly-folky melody before evolving into a Yes-like series of guitar exercises. “Contreplongée” is a gentle, acoustic piece which only serves to strengthen comparisons to early Pink Floyd. It’s a bit longer than it needs to be, but its placement on the album makes sense.

Parmi les arbres closes on its epic title track. The opening is slow and moody, built upon simple guitar strumming and light percussion. Mellotron flutes eventually are given a brief moment in the spotlight, adding to the dark folk character of this song’s first part. The second half is mostly instrumental and centered around an extended synthesizer solo. In a somewhat rare occurrence, the pitch bend knob is used a great deal, twisting notes in ways usually reserved for guitar solos. This gives way to the song’s finale: a menacing synth line is repeated over a dark, driving rhythm which eventually resolves with a brief return to the song’s folky opening theme.

Perséide’s second full-length album, particularly its second half, is a shining example of how sounds from decades past can be married with modern trends and sensibilities to yield impressive music. Not only do they draw from late ‘60s psych and modern indie rock, but they also channel the unique sounds of Francophone prog, such as fellow Quebeckers Vos Voisins and the French act Ange.

Score: 81/100

Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019

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legendryBand: Legendry | Album: The Wizard and the Tower Keep | Genre: Power metal, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

For all the hackneyed, cliché, sword-and-sorcery heavy metal imagery Pittsburgh’s Legendry evoke in their artwork and lyrics, the music is ambitious and inventive while remaining surprisingly accessible. They walk a fine line straddling traditional metal, power metal, and progressive rock with their speedy riffs, dramatic vocals, and soaring solos. The Hammond organ adds a distinct character that helps Legendry stand out from other traditional metal acts.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – December 2, 2019”

Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson

pt deep diveWelcome to the third installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and this is an element often missed in a ranked list.

My first two entries in this series focused on some of the giants of progressive rock’s 1970s heyday. For this entry, I wanted to focus on something heavier, which means someone more modern. After weighing a few options and starting Deep Dive entries on a couple other artists, I settled on Porcupine Tree and Steven Wilson.

Porcupine Tree covered a wide style of music until their disbandment in 2010, ranging from space rock to art pop to progressive metal. Wilson has maintained that experimental spirit in his solo career, covering similar ground across his five solo albums. The early-21st Century progressive rock renaissance we’re currently enjoying may not have happened at all, had it not been for the wide success of Porcupine Tree, which opened the door for many, many other acts.

As a disclaimer, this essay does not cover all of Steven Wilson’s myriad musical projects. The man is too prolific for me to reasonably address all those projects in this one essay. I am solely focusing on Porcupine Tree and his solo material. No-Man and Bass Communion don’t fit this site’s purview; and while Blackfield and Storm Corrosion may fall under the margins of progressive rock, I simply don’t like their output and would not enjoy reviewing them in-depth. I also do not plan to discuss his remastering work on classic prog albums. I do highly recommend his King Crimson remasters, though I’d avoid his work on Too Old to Rock n Roll: Too Young to Die!, as mentioned in my Jethro Tull Deep Dive. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Porcupine Tree & Steven Wilson”

Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind

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Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: One Step Behind | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019

From: Rutherford, (NJ,) USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

For fans of: The Grateful Dead, Gong, The Moody Blues

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Garcia Peoples’ 2018 debut album, Cosmic Cash, easily made my personal top 10 of last year, with its mixture of inventive song structures, psychedelic textures, and fun, loose garage rock atmosphere. Their album from March of this year, Natural Facts, while enjoyable, didn’t quite hit the same highs as their debut. It was more overtly folk-influenced, with significant touches of Americana. It seemed they were charting out a trajectory reminiscent of the Grateful Dead. With this context, this album took me by surprise.

One Step Behind is nearly 40 minutes long but contains only two songs, one of which stretches over half an hour. There remain ample doses of Dead-like jangly guitars, but the band have also included krautrock-like meditation and repetition, as well as technical guitar and keyboard lines I would expect from the likes of Yes. Continue reading “Album Review: Garcia Peoples – One Step Behind”

Album Review: Sonora Sunrise – The Route through the Canyon

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Band: Sonora Sunrise | Album: The Route through the Canyon | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Krautrock | Year: 2019

From: Barnaul, Russia | Label: Trail Records

For fans of: Hawkwind, Can, Ozric Tentacles

Buy: Bandcamp

After running across this band, I’m starting to doubt if the American Southwest puts out any desert rock. I’ve previously discussed acts from Venice, Sydney, and The Netherlands that draw inspiration from the arid lands of California and Arizona, and now I’ve found this band from Siberia. Perhaps I shouldn’t be too surprised; the band name would be a bit too on-the-nose for a group actually from the region. It’s not as if the Altai region is entirely dissimilar to the Southwest. It’s mountainous and semi-arid in places, albeit much, much colder.

Despite the desert imagery in the band’s name, and despite the fact that the music itself on this album evokes desert imagery, Sonora Sunrise don’t rely much on the blues. Instead, they opt for a more expansive, meditative sound full of lush synth pads and cosmic guitar arpeggios. The individual songs are unhurried yet mostly feel to be appropriate lengths. There’s also an impressive amount of sonic diversity. Krautrock, space rock, stoner rock/metal, and ambient music all get their own turn to be in the foreground. Continue reading “Album Review: Sonora Sunrise – The Route through the Canyon”

Odds and Ends – March 21, 2019

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Odds and Ends is a segment where I do brief reviews of albums I either didn’t prioritize for longer-form reviews, or ones for which I don’t have that much to say.

a1945761875_10Band: Cheeto’s Magazine | Album: Amazingous | Genre: Progressive rock, Pop, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

This album was a disorienting experience. Cheeto’s Magazine blend sunshiny pop with metal riffs and complex structures. The closest analogue I can think of would be A.C.T., though this has an even more aggressively poppy edge. The songwriting is consistently ambitious, and there are some moments reminiscent of Dream Theater’s better output. I give them a lot of credit for ambition, but the juxtaposition of metal with those bubblegum synths is often jarring.

Score:  69/100 Continue reading “Odds and Ends – March 21, 2019”