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(50:13, ‘Tributary Music’)
TRACK LIST: 1. Planet X 6:59 2. Variation 7 2:09 3. Crystal 5:33 4. South of France 4:07 5. String Theory No-8 2:06 6. Junk Male 3:56 7. Gothic Sun 8:15 8. Sains 2:15 9. SOS 3:02 10. Russian Spy 6:52 11. Planet X Revisit 4:59 LINEUP: John Miner – guitars Kelton Manning – bass Sage Adams – drums Ken Jaquess – bass Nolan Stolz – drums Milo – keyboards
Prolusion. The US band ART ROCK CIRCUS has been a going concern for more than 20 years at this point on time, with guitarist Miner and bassist Manning the sole members that have been with the band since the beginning. Five albums have been released under this moniker in those years, and "Variations on a Dream" is the most recent of these. This production was released in 2013 through the indie label Tributary Music.
Analysis. As one would expect by a band that has named itself Art Rock Circus, the material presented to us resides safely within the borders of what some call art rock and others call symphonic progressive rock. For many the definitions of those styles are just about non-existent, but for those who do have the opinion that these are related but different genres of music I'd place this one in the progressive rock category. In terms of orientation I'd supplement with words like instrumental and retro-oriented. We're taken on quite a ride on this disc, and one that incorporates a myriad of different sounds and details, of which the greater majority can be traced directly or indirectly back to the more influential of the ‘70s bands. Dramatic and bombastic keyboards and organs of the kind that makes namedropping ELP a natural detail in this review is a key element throughout. Booming bass guitars of the kind fans of Yes may recognize are also a part of the picture here, as are dream-laden guitar soloing that does share at least some tendencies with the work of Camel and Andrew Latimer. Sharper, vintage guitar solo runs also have their place, more sedate funk-tinged supplemental guitar licks too, as well as the twisted, melodic adventurous guitar style many progressive rock fans will always associate with Robert Fripp. Jazz-tinged rhythms are used on occasion, cosmic-tinged keyboard details flavor the occasional sequence - Check Russian Spy, for instance – and there's even room for calmer passages with a slight folk touch to them, cue references to Camel and Jethro Tull in that department. Many of these facets are explored within each track, and some of them are given a separate composition to explore them in, but then always accompanied by at least one different style. Variety and diversity is the name of the game, and just about always of a retro-oriented nature. Miner and his band aren't afraid to toss in some additional flavors either, as I at least on one occasion heard some guitar playing that made me think of Santana alongside all the other ongoing prog references. The compositions tend to twist and turn in multiple directions, and just about always with a playful and uplifting nature and spirit to the moods and atmospheres visited and sometimes explored more thoroughly. As enjoyable as this production is from a mere music perspective, albeit a tad chaotic at times, this is an outing that does suffer quite a bit in the technical department, sadly. Many, if not all, of the tracks sound like live recordings, presumably live in studio rather than in concert, I'd guess, and the recording quality isn't always the greatest. A lo-fi sound is prevalent throughout, and some of the recordings are of what I'd describe as being of demo quality, material that is lacking in quality on the technical side to such an extent that, at least personally, I wouldn't have chosen to release it as part of a commercial product, other than perhaps as a bonus feature.
Conclusion. While the music of Art Rock Circus as presented on this album is a somewhat chaotic, but ultimately enjoyable take on retro-oriented instrumental progressive rock, the recording quality of this material will most likely narrow down the potential audience of this album. Those who enjoy the giants of the ‘70s, and perhaps bands like ELP first and foremost, are a likely key audience, as long as they are able to appreciate material also when recorded, mixed and produced in less than ideal quality, with words such as lo-fi and demo quality defining the greater majority of the material in that specific context.
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