SONIC BRIEFS: Progressive Rock From Across The Globe

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Fresh album releases are flying off the shelves at a record pace (no pun intended), making it hard to keep up. Here’s quick takes on 3 that were just released from around the globe: Chile, France and Canada/USA/UK. 

Tryo – Suramérica

Thirty five years is an impressive amount of time for a band to stick together, and no less impressive that a new album thirty five years on could prove to be one of their strongest. Hailing from Chile, Tryo has developed a career exploring an impressive range of styles, from progressive rock to Latin American folk music to metal to jazz and more. Three founding members have been augmented by a variety of musician friends over the years, playing an astounding array of instruments.

While much of their work has been instrumental, some of their most resounding pieces contain strong choruses and this is where “Suramérica” succeeds the most. The new album embarks on a bold vision: “A musical odyssey to the end of the world, in search of identity and ancestral wisdom for our times.” 

The opening title track is an immediate highlight, opening with Francisco Cortez’s atmospheric bowed cello but quickly moving to his strong bass playing underneath Ismael Cortez’s evocative lyrics. “This is where we live, here is where I grew up. Our ancestors´ souls are still here, blue pacific blue, cobalt, red and brown. They stained the earth with salt, wood, mud, and blood. South America! The Conquered! The Annihilated!” The two Cortezes weave supporting harmonies together for a satisfying blend. The words are sung in Spanish but the sentiment is clear regardless of your nationality. Francisco has the perfect tone in his electric bass to solidly support the band’s bottom end. Pablo Martínez adds just the right amount of keys over top while Ismael takes an emotional solo to punctuate the story.

“Suramérica” Album Artwork

Drummer Félix Carbone wrote the music for “Canoeros Celestes”, an engaging track that delivers a simple anthemic chorus of “Volveremos” despite the active instrumentation underneath, including riffs galore and organ and guitar soloing. “Nómades”, written by Francisco, starts off more traditionally with Quena flute and charango strings from Gonzalo Cortés before being joined by Francisco’s cello, ultimately making for another strong song lyrically and musically. Later on, “Elementos” brings the four elements together in a well-orchestrated piece from Carbone, as Ismael’s lyrics sing (in Spanish), “We are still here, always, always! We are alive inside your spirit!” 

In addition to five vocal pieces, there’s a variety of instrumental tracks, from a heavy riff rock number to a folk instrument piece to a solo piano offering. These explorations offer respite from the vocal songs and demonstrate how Tryo is much more diverse than your typical rock band.

Underlying the collection is a theme of The Hero’s Journey, hinting at a more sweeping, epic intention from the band. Indeed, they mention that this is the second album in a planned trilogy which began with the album “Órbitas”. Many of the songs are broken into sections, a classic form of progressive rock, which also delineate the stages of the Journey. Aside from their excellent “Anthology” albums (acoustic and electric), “Suramérica” makes for an ideal entry point for new fans wanting to broaden their progressive-rock library. 

Order “Suramérica” HERE.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9
Originality: 9
Production: 8.5

Nine Skies – “The Lightmaker”

France’s Nine Skies returns with a sumptuous new concept album, telling the story of Rudy, who is now living his 1001st and final life. The album retraces some of his existences through the view of several characters and the introspection of these various incarnations, portrayed by various guest singers and musicians. The band carries a dramatic, somewhat neo-prog flair, where atmospheric passages intermingle with much more heavy sections. For example, the opening instrumental “An Fanai” is an evocative cinematic moment that would be at home on a Steven Wilson album but by album’s end we’ve traveled in much heavier directions.

Nine Skies enjoys bringing in guest musicians to cameo for a solo here and there but in some ways this is perplexing because the core 5-member band is impressively gifted in their own right. The duo guitar attack of Alexandre Lamia and David Darnaud is thrilling throughout the album, these guys really excel on their soloing particularly on “The Dreamer”, an emotional highlight. Sure, John Mitchell delivers one of his meticulous guitar solos on “The Architect”, but Lamia and Darnaud could easily have this covered. Likewise, our ears prick up when Marco Minnemann’s name is mentioned (he drums on “The Architect”), but band drummer Johnny Marter is no less impressive on every other track. Alexis Bietti lays down a solid bottom on the bass for most of the album (save Kristoffer Gildenlöw’s cameo on one track), his tone spot on for this kind of material. Adam Holzman does perform a fantastic keyboard solo on “The Chaotic” but happily, keyboardist Anne-Claire Rallo covers the rest of “The Lightmaker” with style and grace, supplemented by Lamia’s piano. 

“The Lightmaker” Artwork

Vocally, the guest artists are welcome as the band does not feature a lead singer of their own. Riccardo Romano gets things off to an intriguing start on “The Explorer”, followed by Martin Wilson truly owning “The Dreamer”…it seems a shame he’s not featured on further songs. Kristoffer Gildenlöw makes an appearance on “The Lost”, his gravely vocals pairing well with the nylon string acoustic accompaniment. Charlie Bramald gives a great singing performance on “The Haunted”, though admittedly the ending section of the repeated line “I don’t panic…” gets a bit much. The lengthy album closer “The Architect” benefits from Achraf El Asraoui’s vocals, both sung and spoken. All lyrics are in English, but hearing Asraoui’s accent is most welcome. 

“The Lightmaker” makes for an intriguing listen, considering the stories told in a variety of voices and the accompanying music offered. Musically speaking, the band are wanting for nothing, they’ve locked in a powerful sound which gels together well and have obviously mastered their instruments. Their diverse approach could appeal to fans of bands as varied as Marillion to Opeth. Check it out and see if Nine Skies speaks to you. 

Order “The Lightmaker” HERE.

Songwriting: 8
Musicianship: 9.5
Originality: 8
Production: 9.5

T.A.P. – “Paradigms”

When the time comes to don a pair of headphones, kick back and immerse yourself in eclectic prog instrumental abandon, T.A.P’s “Paradigms” will certainly fit the bill. This project is a unique collaboration of artists from various countries, held together by Michael Jobborn who plays keyboards, synth, soundscapes and drum programming. The primary musicians include Suzi James from the UK on guitars and bass, Mark Cook on Warr guitar and strings arrangements, and Gayle Ellett on Hammond organ & Moog. Paul Sears and Bill Bachman sit in on drums for a track each, too. Oh, and Cook even brings in his fretless guitar, fretless bass, soundscape, tamboura, beat construction, electric piano, and samples as well. 

Sound promising so far? The album gets off to a good start with “Infinite Names”, its intoxicating groove setting the stage for psychedelic soloing to weave in and around the beats. Cook’s Warr guitar is a fairly distinctive sound that reappears throughout the album, conjuring memories of Crimson and other similar bands, and it’s a compelling style of playing. Suzi James brings in a different tone on her guitar, sometimes following a more bluesy technique which contrasts well from Cook. The cleverly titled “The Progbient” follows, a strong track that again carries a solid groove – Jobborn’s knows how to work his midi drums to sound convincing and satisfying.

“Paradigms” Artwork

“Silence From The Storm” is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the album, so much so that two versions are included here, each with different drummers. The primary 12+ minute epic flows from one solo and soundscape to another, while the shorter 8 minute version is punchier and more direct, called the “Herd Of Instinct” mix thanks to the membership from that band. Although the HOI version is a bonus track, it actually is one of the highlights of the recording and a good pointer for where the collaborative could go in the future. 

All of the other pieces travel through ambient soundscapes, jams, improv collaboration and composed sections, the four members gelling in an unexpected manner at times. Cook pulls out all the stops on “Terminus”, his fretless bass and array of other instruments making a significant impact. Often quirky and always diverse, T.A.P provides adventurous listening for instrumental prog aficionados.

Order “Paradigms” HERE.

Songwriting: 7
Musicianship: 8
Originality: 9
Production: 8


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