This week’s DropBox has couple of big wins, and a near-win. It’s also a diverse collection of music, but it wouldn’t be prog if it wasn’t diverse, right?
First up is Kyros’ Celexa Dreams. Kyros hails from the UK, and they are led by vocalist/keyboardist Adam Warne. Their previous album, the two-disc Vox Humana, was a highlight of 2016, and Celexa Dreams is even better. If you miss the synth-heavy pop/rock of Thomas Dolby, Human League, and Tears For Fears, then you will love this album. Warne, along with guitarist Joey Frevola, percussionist Robin Johnson, and bassist Peter Episcopo have crafted a perfect combination of majestic ’80s anthems and 2020s production. Leadoff track “In Motion” sets the tone with an infectious synth riff and propulsive beat. “Rumour” is another upbeat earworm that wouldn’t be out of place on a Miami Vice episode.
Lest you think the album is all synthesizer confection, the 14-minute “In Vantablack” is a real prog workout that holds the listener’s interest every second. I wish Haken had gone more in the direction of this track instead of pursuing their metal side. “Technology Killed The Kids III” harks back to Vox Humana and Warne’s first iteration of Kyros, Synaethesia.
There seems to be a bit of a reappraisal of ’80s New Wave and New Romantics music happening, what with Steven Wilson’s To The Bone and other respectful homages to that era of music. Celexa Dreams is a wonderful collection of songs that take the best of synthpop and marry it to a prog sensibility. I highly recommend you check this one out.
Next up is Simon Collins’ solo album, Becoming Human. Simon is Phil’s son, and there is definitely a vocal resemblance, in the same way Julian Lennon’s vocals recall his father, John. Simon was the vocalist for the prog group Sound Of Contact, which also included the marvelously talented Dave Kerzner. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Sound Of Contact are getting together any time soon, so we’ll have to be happy with Kerzner’s In Continuum project and Collins’ solo work.
Judging by the quality of Becoming Human, we listeners are the winners, because instead of one excellent group, we get two to enjoy. I’m not sure if Becoming Human is a concept album, but it seems to have a sci-fi theme going on with titles like “Man Made Man”, “The Universe Inside of Me”, and “Thoughts Become Matter”. The aforementioned “Man Made Man” is a steamroller of a track that really pleases. Like Kyros, Becoming Human is very keyboard driven, in a good way. Stylistically, it includes spacey interludes, dance pop (“The Universe Inside of Me), straight ahead rock (“Man Made Man”), and epic balladry (“Dead Ends”). This is another album I have no hesitation giving a strong recommendation for. If you liked Sound of Contact, then you certainly need to give Becoming Human a close listen.
Finally, there is Stories of Strangers from Wellington, New Zealand. The name of the band is Grumblewood, and they obviously worship at the altar of late-60s, early-70s Jethro Tull, with lots of fuzzy Martin Barre-sounding guitar, warm baritone vocals à la Ian Anderson, and, of course, flute all over the place. This is their debut album, and it is on Robin Armstrong’s (Cosmograf) label, Gravity Dreams. It’s a lot of fun to listen to, with its English folk/blues feel. Gav Bromfield (Vocals, Flute, Guitar, Piano) , Salvatore Richichi (Guitars, Mandolin, Mandola, Banjo), Morgan Jones (Bass, Bouzouki, Harspichord), and Phil Aldridge (Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals) definitely have the chops, as well as songwriting talent. My only quibble is the production; the drums sound like they were recorded under a blanket. However, that may be deliberate. According to their website, the album “has been recorded, mixed, and mastered using only analogue equipment and production techniques for that authentic vintage sound.” So there.
When they learn to go easy on the Tull influence and start forging their own identity, they will be formidable. Meanwhile, if you’re a Tull addict, and you need a fix, Stories of Strangers will do nicely.
Three albums, two outstanding and one very good. The DropBox had a pretty good batting average this week! I’ll leave you with Kyros’ “Rumour”: