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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

Jon Anderson

Olias of Sunhillow (Limited Edition Hybrid SACD version)

Review by Gary Hill

I reviewed the original release of this album before, and the songs are unchanged here. So, that review will follow for the sake of consistency. This paragraph, though, will specifically address this release of it. A combination SACD/CD release, this can play either on SACD players or standard ones. The sound here is so much better than the Japanese import I’ve owned for years. That one was good enough, but this is much crisper and clearer. The dynamic range is superior and it just sounds better. Add in the great packaging and the numbered limited edition collectability and it’s obvious this is a must have for Jon Anderson fans. Whether you own the earlier CD version or not, you really need to own this. It’s arguably Anderson’s best solo release and this is the definitive edition. I just can’t praise this enough. And, now, what follows is the original review of the Japanese import version.

When the members of Yes all went off to do solo albums after Relayer, Jon Anderson delivered Olias of Sunhillow. In so many ways it was the most ambitious of the discs. In the first place Anderson pretty much single-handedly wrote and performed all the music on the album. If that wasn’t enough the disc is a concept album that seeks to relate a complex science fiction / fantasy tale. It is also one heck of a great piece of progressive rock that holds up as every bit as powerful today as when it was released.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2014  Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Ocean Song
Sound effects lead this off, and then a cymbal crashing (at least that’s what I think it is) grabs the listener’s attention. As a wave of keyboard texture enters there is a feeling that something magical is about to begin. Chirps of harp (again I’m pretty sure that’s what it is) come in amidst the cushion of sound provided by those keys. This rises ever so gradually in terms of intensity and melody starts to emerge. With an almost Asian texture and a sense of drama this becomes quite powerful. An instrumental, this serves as the introduction to the whole disc. At the very end some voices that remind me of something from the “2001: A Space Odyssey” soundtrack enter and move us into the next piece of music.
Meeting (Garden of Geda) / Sound Out The Galleon

Those vocals from the last track coalesce and grow becoming rather ominous and strange. Then Anderson’s trademark vocal sound comes over this as a bouncing musical structure joins. This serves as a reassuring piece of beauty in contrast to the alien sounds that started it. After this carries for a time Anderson moves it into a guitar based ballad texture for the beginnings of the story. When he eventually transitions out of this segment it is with an almost choir like tribal sounding approach that serves like a chorus. Anderson brings it back into the more song-like movement, but I love the waves of vocals that skirt around the outsides of this arrangement. Eventually harp enters and swirls about preparing this song to end and transition into the next piece of music.

Dance Of Ranyart / Olias (To Build The Moorglade)

Harp rises gently here and a swirling, delicate texture is created that eventually begins to coalesce and become more song oriented as other instruments come in over the top of this. Some of the melodies that wander around in this mix remind me a lot of something that might have made it onto Yes’ Tales From Topographic Oceans disc. Eventually a more balladic like structure comes in, tentatively at first. This never really reaches fruition, though. Instead, screeching, electronic tones take over and then a new segment emerges from this to make up the next section of the story. This bouncing, more rocking sound is strong, but I prefer the song structures of “Meeting (Garden of Geda) / Sound Out The Galleon” to this. Waves of noisy effects flirt around the outskirts of this track and it ends abruptly.

Qoquaq √čn Transic / Naon / Transic To

Coming from the silence left behind on the previous piece, this rises slowly with atmospheric keyboard based sounds. Asian elements seem to wander through this backdrop. It’s at around the two and a half minute mark that these themes drop away and a tribal percussion takes over. As this works through melodic instrumentation that carry the rhythmic vibrations of the percussion rise up. This becomes one of the most dramatic passages of the disc. It’s always amazed me that while many of these lines are not even in English I find myself motivated to try to sing along (OK, I admit, when I try to get my voice as high as Anderson sings there are problems – no injuries yet, but this certainly gives me the urge). This becomes more and more intense as more layers of sound are stacked atop one another in this awesome arrangement. Eventually it winds down in a fade away, but what a wonderful trip this has been. Keyboards replace the other sounds and carry it on to the conclusion of this track.

Flight of the Moorglade

A Yes-like acoustic guitar texture makes up the basis of this piece of music. Over this backdrop Anderson layers his vocals and keyboards in a motif that really does call to mind the band that has made up a large part of Anderson’s professional music career. As he does throughout this disc, he takes a fairly simple song structure and augments and recreates it adding more drama and power in the varying reiterations. The layered vocals late in the track are purely magical. It’s really amazing how much he packed into a song that’s less than four minutes long.

Solid Space

Odd keyboard textures start this off, seeming to fit with the title here. Anderson creates a melodic balladic like structure out of a repeating pattern of sound that rises ever so gradually from this basis. This is another of the highlights of the CD as every sound and vocal element work together to create a moving pattern of sound that is once classical and rock oriented. This is one of those pieces of music that really typifies progressive rock and helps to define it. I’d have to say that when I see a title that includes the word “space” I always think of Hawkwind – probably because I’m such a Hawk-fanatic. The truth is, this shares one element with that band. It takes something that is in many ways a fairly simple song structure and creates a piece of beauty and wonder through the layering of elements and minor fluctuations in the repetitions of the song structures. The rather foreboding sounding keyboards toward the end remind me a bit of that band, as well.

Moon Ra / Chords / Song of Search

Space sound effects lead this off after they peak there is silence. A pounding sort of sound (again, feeling just a bit tribal) takes over from there and this starts to climb slowly out with numerous layers of voices and instruments making for some wonderfully beautiful and powerful music. This keeps building upon itself with each repetition, becoming exceptionally strong before it abruptly drops away and leaves just waves of keyboard sounds. This works through in an instrumental motif and brings in varying melody lines and sounds for good effect. This gives way to a reprise of themes from earlier in the disc and the melody that creates the mode of this segment is both evocative and inspiring. The song seems to reach for the heavens, even as the lyrics speak of similar terms. Anderson drops it way back to the sedate to carry this forward with the next vocal section. Then a new acoustic guitar structure joins to become the key element. After working along melodic patterns on its own, the guitar drops away and gives control over to a short period of silence. Then the sounds of wind and more gentle keyboard like textures enter and begin to rise up (feeling a bit like the “Soon” section of “Gates of Delirium” from Yes’ Relayer disc). This eventually works out into some pretty melodic lines of keyboard sounds as it continues on. Those Relayer-like textures still pervade the cut here and eventually serve to end it.

To The Runner

A bouncy, folk music driven progressive rock cut serves as the closer on the disc. It works up into a more energized motif, but manages to maintain the same general tones and themes throughout. This consistency paired with an accessible melody-line serves to make this a great grounding piece to close an adventurous album. A gentle keyboard mode finally ends this.

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