CIRCA – Valley Of The Windmill

Circa - Valley Of The WindmillWhen I first saw the track list for this album, I though it was a mini-album or an E.P. But then I saw the length of the songs – 14.41, 9.24, 7.32, 18.43 – and stood corrected. Four songs in about 50-some minutes can only mean one thing – this is prog music of some sort. Since I have never heard of this band before I didn’t know if I could expect pop, rock or metal – or all of the above. But a quick google told me that the band has been around since 2006 and this album was their fifth, preceded by Circa 2007Circa HQ (2009), Overflow (2009) and And So On (2012). They have also released two live albums, one in 2008 and one in 2013, which means that if I dug this record, I have missed out. The members are no new beginners either. The band consists of Billy Sherwood who recently took over bass duties in Yes after Chris Squire died and was also involved with the band as a keyboard and guitar player for a short while earlier on,  on lead vocals and guitar, Tony Kaye who played keyboards in Yes on their first three albums and on 90125 (1983) and Big Generator (1983) and has also played with David Bowie, on keyboards, Rick Teirney on bass and Scott Connor on drums – two of these names here tells me what kind of music I can expect from this lot. The very long songs also tells me that this will probably not be easy listening and the music will probably take a lot of turns. To tell the truth, I’m not the world’s biggest prog fan even though there are some really good bands working in that genre, but most of them passes me by unnoticed. So I’ll might as well admit right now that I might not be the most fit guy to write a review of a prog rock album. But I will do my best. Bare with me.

The almost 15 minute long opener “Silent Resolve” kicks off with some 70’s prog rock right in the vein of Yes, but I also hear traces of early Magnum and Marillion. There is a pretty cool organ solo after a minute or so but different musical passages keeps popping up every now and then and after a while the song makes me think of a non-metal Dream Theater. There are times when the song is really catchy and actually hummable, but there are also times when it’s almost hard to grasp. It really is a good song but all in all, I think the 15 minutes are a bit of an overkill – I would have prefered if they had made two songs of it instead because that is really how it sounds to me. “Empire Over” is “only” nine and a half minutes long and in the beginning I get a bit of an 80’s feel. But there are both heavy blues and rock influences here, with the progressive touch always present. It’s a brilliant song full of catchiness, hooks and musical escapades that will send fans of Yes and Flying Colors to prog Heaven. The title track is the shortest song on the record – or least long, if you will – and lies on the ballad side of prog rock. It’s not easy listening per se but it has a lighter side, a more direct side that makes the song stick – at least somewhat but it still takes more than one listen for the song to really stick. There are lots of pop influences here and I can’t help but to think of a more progressive Asia when I hear it. Even though I usually have difficulties with songs that are too long – I guess that is where my suspected ADHD sets in – the almost 20 minutes long closing track “Our Place Under The Sun” is my favorite song on the record. It starts off like a 70’s progressive pop song, pretty straight forward for a prog band and the Yes-ish influences are present and at times pretty obvious, but the song takes different musical turns all the time. In the more mid-tempo parts I can hear parallels to more popish bands that moves in those territories such as Styx and Kansas – and again even Magnum. But there are also heavier moments that moves in a direction that got me thinking about Bigelf, but all the different passages returns from time to time. The song might be very long and breaks out in different and unexpected ways, but it always sounds like the same song all the way through and the almost 20 minutes runs by in a rush – that’s the way I like it.

I must say that I’m pretty impressed by this album even though this isn’t the kind of music I usually listen to and I guess that it is probably heaven for prog fans. Four songs in 52 minutes are usually too much for me to digest and even though this album is kind of too out there for me, I actually like it. Maybe die-hard prog fans might beg to differ about some of the stuff that I have written in this review – and there’s a good chance that they’re right too – but this is what I hear when I listen to it. Still, it’s not under any debate that Circa consists of great musicians, a great vocalist, great harmonies and a really good production, so in an age when prog has grown big again and – how weird it might sound – almost hip, an album like this just have to be a success.

7/10

Tracklist:

1. Silent Resolve
2. Empire Over
3. Valley Of The Windmill
4. Our Place Under The Sun

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