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Progrock: 48 Cameras, Phil Miller's In Cahoots, Protos

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48 CAMERAS: I Swear I Saw Garlic Growing under my Father's Steps (CD on Carbon 7 Records)

This release from 2007 offers 51 minutes of dark music.

From Belgium, 48 Cameras are: David Coulter, Jean-Pierre Devresse, Pascal Lacroix, Calogero Marotta, Jean Marie Mathoul, Shri Bernard Petit, and Madam Pascale Tempels. They are joined on certain tracks by Jem Finer, Michael Gira (from Swans), Andrey Kolomytzey, Agnes Ponizil, Chris Long, Philippe Poirier, Gerard Malanga, and Rodolphe Burger.

Achieving tension and maintaining it is the purpose of this tuneage. The band blend modern elements with chamber music stylings to generate songs of unease and disquiet.

The instruments achieve an ominous foundation full of desperation and edgy portends. Guitars provide smoldering support for eerie harp and dire keyboards. Percussion produces a rhythmic undercurrent, punctuated by bells and rumbling bass.

While melodic, the gist of this music revolves around omnipresent anxiety. This apprehension is superbly evoked by harmonic discord as the instruments strive to agitate through their own contention. Passages flow, yet the aspects are in constant strife with each other, endearing chords dogged from the periphery by instruments in eerie dispute.

There's a vocal presence, but the voices are rarely lyrical. Non-verbal vocal strains establish a spooky and often painful embellishment for the haunted music. Other times, spoken word recitations lend elucidation.

These compositions capture a world of stress and channel that tension into tunes of trembling gloom. The use of lilting female vocals is counterbalanced by the wail of tortured guitars, creating an oppressive mien that is inescapable. One cannot call this music despondent, though, for there's always an optimistic presence, albeit one that is ultimately crushed by the reality of life and death. This balance of diametrically opposing emotions dominates everything in the songs.

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PHIL MILLER'S IN CAHOOTS: Conspiracy Theories (CD on Moonjune Records)

This release from 2006 features 71 minutes of progressive jazz.

The band is: Phil Miller (from Matching Mole, Hatfield & the North, and National Health) on guitar and synth guitar, Pete Lemer on keyboards, Fred Baker on bass, Mark Fletcher on drums, Simon Picard on saxophone, Simon Finch on trumpet and flugelhorn, Annie Whitehead on trombone, Didier Malherbe (from Gong) on saxophone, flute, doudouk and ocarina, Doug Boyle on guitar, Dave Stewart (from Egg, Hatfield & the North, and National Health) on tuned percussion, Barbara Gaskin on vocals, and Richard Sinclair (from Caravan) on bass.

With a line-up of seasoned pros like the above, one must expect the music is going to be excruciatingly tight and slippery slick. It is.

The horns waft and sway with amiable emotion. Maintaining a very jazzy disposition, the horn section delivers tasty riffs with delightful expertise. Comfortable melodies are imbued with molten passion. The saxophones wail with cheerful melancholy. The trumpet warbles with earnest fervor.

Enchanting riffs spill from the guitar with glorious agility. Each note is meticulously placed to elevate the entire instrumental gestalt. And when the guitar gets the chance to elbow its way into the spotlight, the glory becomes ecstatic and amazing.

The keyboards provide delicate embellishment to the melodies with often dramatic sweeps. Nimble-fingered chords slide into wondrous melodies that serve to connect the other instruments' riffs.

The percussion is skillful and knows exactly how to drive from a submerged vantage. Never too strong, never too elusive, the rhythms fit perfectly between the rest of the notes.

The basslines are intricate, fluid, and lend particular nectar to the tunes.

These compositions are dazzling and engaging. Their ability to immediately put the listener at ease is eminent. While steeped in Canterbury roots, this music is very straight-ahead jazz, merging old school traditions with modern delivery. The result is mesmerizing and rewarding, with wide appeal.

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PROTOS: The Noble Pauper's Grave (CD on New Horizons Music)

This release from 2007 offers 51 minutes of grandiose progressive rock music.

Protos is: Rory Ridley-Duff (on keyboards and drum programming) and Steve Anscombe (on guitars, percussion, and effects), with Nigel Rippon (on electric cello).

Powerful keyboards deliver intricate tuneage with enthusiasm and passion. The melodies are presented in a variety of modes, grand and fragile, romantic and fierce, reed-like and symphonic and every other sort of sound you can imagine. Heavenly passages slide into severe drama with shrill pitches, while lilting stretches explode into blazing displays of torrid declaration.

The guitars display equal versatility, sometimes forceful and fiery, sometimes delicate and tender. Whatever the mode, though, they resound with authority and grandiose scope. The riffs constantly strive for altitude, connecting the audience with divinity.

The percussion is quite emphatic, providing powerful propulsion to the already-dense tuneage.

This is a concept album that tells the tale of a nobleman who rejects his lofty position to seek solace and redemption among the poor. This storyline is outlined through narrative tracks that separate the instrumental pieces.

The compositions are dazzling, emphatic and full of dynamic verve. A distinct aura of optimism is predominant. Each song celebrates accomplishment and infuses the listener with that same sense of success. Few modern progrock releases embody an abundance of grandeur as this one does.

This album is released in two versions: the CD which features the music interspersed with narratives which tell the story; the online download version which features just the music tracks.

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