May 2017 13

CIRCA - Valley of the WindmillCIRCA
Category: Progressive Rock
Album: Valley of the Windmill
Stars: 2
Blurb: Despite a high level of musicianship and the collective history of the band members, CIRCA’s fourth album is a less than cohesive prog/rock experience.


 

For nearly half of a century, YES has grown in stature not only as one of the progenitors of progressive rock, but also serving as a hub for some of the finest musicians in experimental rock music. Among them have been current member Billy Sherwood and former member Tony Kaye, who in 2006 joined forces for their own supergroup, CIRCA. With the band’s back catalog having been reissued by Cleopatra Records, Valley of the Windmill marks the band’s fourth studio release, CIRCA’s first with Italian prog/rock label Frontiers Music, and the lineup seemingly having settled down from its earlier revolving door of fellow YES family members to include bassist Rick Teirney and drummer Scott Connor. Described by Sherwood as “super proggy,” Valley of the Windmill lives up to that description, featuring four extended compositions that feature just what a longtime fan of these musicians might expect – precision playing, pristine production.

Alas, while the album presents these factors in fine form, the songs suffer from a lack of finesse, resulting in a disjointed listening experience. This is especially so in the two longer songs, which move from one movement to another with the obligatory shifts in mood, tempo, time signature, etc., but the transitions between these movements are not always as seamless as one would hope. “Silent Resolve” is the ultimate proof of this as it begins with an atmospheric backdrop that builds to a booming overture of guitar- and keyboard-laden symphonic grandeur, before suddenly slowing to a completely different rhythm and melodic progression, Sherwood’s harmonies presenting a lovely choral melody that is sadly underplayed in favor of yet another rhythmic and tonal shift. The musicianship on display is excellent to be sure, but while each section offers its own appeal, the collective whole simply doesn’t gel together, almost creating the impression of one switching back-and-forth between channels, unsure as to which song to settle on. “Our Place Under the Sun” begins with promise, its initial shifts in tempo handled effectively to create one of the album’s more rocking moments, but it then shifts to an almost bouncy shuffle that signals a deterioration of focus as things enter into a dizzying tug-o-war between slow ambient space rock and upbeat bluesy jauntiness. Kaye’s inspired keyboard solos in these movements are worth the endurance test the song puts the listener through, but only by so much as the song’s 19 minutes ultimately wear on to a less-than-satisfying conclusion. On the other hand, “Empire Over” is a less jarring affair as its shifts seem much more anchored to Connor’s urgent yet composed rhythms, allowing plenty of room for the music to freely flow between iterations of Sherwood’s decidedly simple but catchy chorus melody, the coda being especially noteworthy as it builds from a pensive disquiet of keyboard and sustained guitar to an energetic finish. Similarly, the interplay of acoustic guitar and Kaye’s organ solos create an airy tapestry that creates an ambience befitting the song’s title.

If not for CIRCA’s level of musicianship and the band members’ collective history, this writer would say that Sherwood and Kaye are trying too hard to live up to the progressive rock heyday of ‘70s era YES – something that even YES is guilty of one some of that band’s later releases. As well, with Valley of the Windmill being this project’s fourth album, it’s almost certain that the band must be quite secure in its creative direction, so one should be reluctant to state that some compositional streamlining might be in order. But with the bulk of the album’s running time taken up by two songs that might’ve been better as five or six individual, more refined tracks, Valley of the Windmill is not the most cohesive prog/rock experience.
 
Track list:

  1. Silent Resolve
  2. Empire Over
  3. Valley of the Windmill
  4. Our Place Under the Sun

 
CIRCA
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Purchase at:
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2016-07-08
 
Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

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