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Mask

Technopia

Review by Gary Hill

It’s still early and this is possibly the first 2010 disc I’ve heard – in fact, I’m pretty sure it is (since I often get discs weeks before release it's hard to be positive). It is really a testament to the quality of this, then, that I can say it will probably be in my list of ten best albums of 2010 – and I mean that very sincerely. Combining elements of sound like Enigma and Art of Noise with more organic instruments and textures, this is a wonderful soundscape. Parts of it approach classical music and others are close to jazz. All of it is beautiful and entertaining in an almost otherworldly way. Mask is essentially a collaboration between singer Sonja Kristina (Curved Air) and classical composer and musician Marvin Ayres, but there are other musicians on board here. This might not be the most obviously progressive rock entry out there – but it is an incredible album and one I’ll be listening to for years to come.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Technopia

Starting percussive, this electronic tune has a great groove to it. I love the melodies that the vocals bring into it. There are definitely Eastern music elements on this. The guitar actually gets a bit crunchy, too. Yet there is a lot of spacey psychedelic sound.

Ice Winter
The space rock sounds that start this remind me a lot of Hawkwind. World music is brought in and overall this cut is essentially a lot of rhythm with some ambient melody here and there. The vocals are sort of whispered over the top as other noises create a wash of sound in a way. This one really reminds me a lot of Art of Noise, but with some freeform things, too.
Time To Let Go
A more lighthearted texture pervades this. The melody is more instantly accessible and some of it reminds me a bit of David Bowie for some reason. That’s kind of odd because the next track is a cover of a Bowie piece, but this one is original. There are more layers of vocals and the music here is less atmospheric. It’s another great number. 
Sound and Vision
This is a cool cover of the Bowie song. It has enough of the original and enough of Mask in it to make it a unique and yet familiar experience. It’s pretty and accessible and yet very prog.
Space In Between
The music here is definitely consistent with what we’ve heard to this point, but there are some differences. It feels more organic for one thing. There are both jazz and classical elements in this one, too. All that said, this gets incredibly intense at times and the violin really brings a lot of drama and emotion to the table here. This is one of the most powerful and evocative cuts on the set – and one of my favorites.
Precious Hours
A cut that feels more in keeping with the sounds of Enigma, but more organic and classical at the same time, this is another strong one. Some of the string arrangements here are especially effective and there are some space rock elements that at times make me think of Hawkwind.
Faithless
Much more like a lounge jazz number, this still has enough of the elements that make up the rest of the disc to both make it feel at home here and keep it in the realm of progressive rock – although the rock end of it is less obvious. This is quite pretty. The piano and violin later really bring a lot of emotion to the proceedings.
Is This a Wrong Turn
This short cut is pretty and atmospheric, but also rather melancholy. Its vocals differ from everything we’ve heard thus far because they are male. 
Deep Creep
There’s a weird nature to this piece, but it’s also very cool. Multilayered vocals and other sound give it an almost psychedelic chanting feeling. It’s another that’s quite short. 
Pumpin Up The Whisper
Here we have the hardest rocking number of the set. Sure, this is recognizably related to all the music here, but a noisy guitar screams at times in the background and at other points over the top. There’s an almost Jefferson Airplane kind of feeling here – with the addition of more progressive rock trappings.
Before I Leave
Another noisy cut, this has a lot more symphonic fuel to that cacophony. It’s got a great, nearly RIO element to it and in many ways reminds me of Gong. Still, as with everything here, it doesn’t feel out of place with the rest of the material, but pushes it in different directions. They move this particular piece out into some decidedly jazz-like territory later with some dissonance built into the mix.
Your God
Especially classically oriented and melancholy, this one features symphonic instrumentation and male vocals. It’s very pretty and sedate. 
Undulations
Nine minutes in length, this track is all about ambience and gradually moving walls of sound. Nothing is quick here – or overt. Instead this is a slowly morphing universe for the senses. It’s a cool track, despite being a little understated. The vocals are all non-lyrical here.
 
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