Now that we are in the new year, I am compelled to catch up with some reviews and activities that unjustly fell off the plate during a very busy period leading up to 2017, right when my new book was released. To begin, one of the best new albums I heard last year was the excellent second release from prog rock band Circuline, titled Counterpoint.
Circuline was founded three years ago and released Return in 2015. That debut garnered positive reviews and the group moved forward to produce this spectacular follow up. Counterpoint features Andrew Colyer (keyboards, sound design, vocals), Darin Brannon (drums, percussion, keyboards), Natalie Brown (lead vocals), William “Billy” Spillane (lead vocals, rhythm guitars), Paul Ranieri (basses) and new guitarist Beledo. What’s really unique about the sophomore outing is that there are no less than seven guest guitarists contributing to the album, including Randy McStine (The Fringe, Lo-Fi Resistance) who also contributed lyrics and vocal melodies, Doug Ott (Enchant), Alek Darson (Fright Pig), Ryche Chlanda (Fireballet, Renaissance), Alan Shikoh (Glass Hammer), Matt Dorsey (Sound of Contact, Dave Kerzner) and Stanley Whitaker (Happy the Man, Oblivion Sun).
Occasionally I find modern prog music a bit wearing as so many new bands employ the ‘wall of sound’ approach that grates as the years go by. Yet on Counterpoint while there is epic prog intensity it is all balanced out with a deft use of dynamics. There is a separation in the field of sound, lots of space for us to hear bass or drum led passages, and meaningful lyrics delivered by beautiful vocal leads and multi-part harmonies; the warm vibrato of Brown/Spillane shines throughout. Critically, Colyer’s default keys are played on real grand piano (courtesy of Yamaha) layered with warm synth patches atop Brannon’s well-tuned toms. It’s not by accident that the music is so listenable – Brannon/Colyer write most of it and you can hear the result of how much thought and effort they put into their choices. It leads to a set list that is melodic and rhythmic in the way that a focused pairing of keys and percussion can achieve. Yet expert frets abound both at the low and high end – there is ample room for Ranieri/Beledo along with everyone that contributes.
Highlights abound across these ten songs – lush harmonies on “Who I Am,” Colyer’s gorgeous piano intro leading into long form suite “Hollow,” Darson’s searing guitar solo during “Forbidden Planet.” “Erosion” builds tension before “Nautilus” kicks in with more major tones, and great solos on frets and keys. “Stay (Peter Frankenstan)” is a favorite of the set – jazz-infused chord progressions, rumbling toms, impactful lyrics, and a smooth, winding lead from ace-guitarist Whitaker – a cycle of vocal harmonies to finish it off. “Inception” and “Summit” finish the set in a way that will please fans of prog and all-round creative music. The latter opens with a slow build and jazzy riff that pins down each verse, the chorus is set to dramatic phrasing as the band comes together, building on the themes rather than overwhelming them. The instrumental conclusion includes a section with intricate grand piano atop more tuned toms, building a theme that grows in intensity before easing it all back down to end the album. Lyrics reflect the ascent:
I left my life there
And laid my soul bare
Scaling the summit for truth
The song is a powerful coda to this excellent album – if you missed it, now is a good time to remedy that and add it to your playlist.