Forever Twelve - Spark Of Light

Year of Release: 2004
Label: self-released
Catalog Number: FT-04-02
Format: CD
Total Time: 57:41:00

This will reveal how long this CD has been awaiting review - Cat Ellen (vocals, flute) gave this to me to review at CalProg. CalProg 2004, that is. Yes, more than a year ago now, and it was new then. And I've been playing it off and on at least over the past year, never quite getting to where I was ready to review it. Not that I didn't have anything to say, but not sure of everything I wanted to say - all of it good. In fact, I've been playing this CD a lot - and I mean a lot - such that just thinking about it has it going through my head. Does that mean instantly that this is a great CD? Well, no. Well, it is, but not just because I can't get it out of my head.

Forever Twelve are an American progressive rock band in the mold of Echolyn, and more so one of their short-lived offshoots, Finneus Gauge (especially on the first song "Rama"). Except I like the vocals here better than on One Inch Of The Fall. And while I?m sure this is not what Cat would want to hear, she often sounds like Madonna. Wait, wait, before you start protesting that comparison and writing me nasty letters, I don?t mean she sings like Madonna - nothing here sounds like ?Lucky Star? or ?Borderline? or uh, like ?Like A Virgin.? What I mean is that her tone is um? Madonna-ish. When Cat doesn?t sound like Madonna, she reminds me of many female prog vocalists - Karin Nicely of Persephone's Dream, for instance. Though, having said that, I do have say that there's a particular phrase delivery in "Mouse" that reminds of "La Isla Bonita" ... without all the Latin-music-isms. There's just a particular vocal phrase that... erm... sent off echoes. Okay, I bet if Madonna did ever really record a prog album, it might sound like this...*

So, anyway, Forever Twelve are an American prog band with lotsa parpy (proggy) keyboards (Steve Barberic), tart, sinewy, fiery, nuanced guitar lines (Tom Graham), deeply throbbing bass (Kenny Hundt), powerful, dynamic drumming (Fernando Martinez), and the mostly warm vocals of Cat. It's hard to describe any piece as being any one thing as each has various and contrasting movements... but each are natural evolutions. Forever Twelve don't draw from one well, or even from one genre... as you can find elements of jazz, folk, rock, fusion, neo-prog, classical and pop all used to serve a musical purpose, express a certain mood or idea. As I said, each naturally flows into the other. Nothing really seems forced. And pieces are a mix of vocal and instrumental. It's not a strong release throughout, as there are some parts that I wish were smoother, or approached differently, but I think with subsequent releases, the quintet will get the mix and balance right and they'll tighten up a bit.

On the first track, "Rama," Barberic goes from very gothic tones to something high and reedy and flute-like (don't think it's Cat on flute, though) that are Emersonian in phrasing, only the sharp edges have been smoothed out. It wasn't until I really listened to this piece that I got why they called themselves Forever Twelve (and maybe it was clear on their debut Remembrance Branch). It's a magical age, really... and I think in the context of this song signals a certain period of innocence, when this quintet were 12 in the mid-to-late 70s (some a tad earlier than that). I was 12 then (1979) and uh... yes, I'd go back to that time myself... This piece takes that idea and sets it against a "post-9/11" world... which wasn't really the start of something, but rather the culmination. I mean, in 1979 we were focused on the Iran Hostage Crisis (I can still see yellow ribbons tied around the trees at my school). But also, 12 is the last year before one enters their teens, a semantic bridge between childhood and young adulthood. I turned 13 and suddenly I was too old for those things that were okay at 12... enough about me.

"Spark Of Light" is balladic, but also a piece that at times made me think of a lighter, early period Marillion (circa Script...). By lighter I mean lighter toned parpy keyboards, sweeter guitar leads that more Howe-like than Rothery (or Hackett) like - or, in some ways, more like Italian prog. The "lightest" element being the lilting vocals. Take "Script..." or "The Web" and strip away all the dark cynicism, moodiness and such, paint a few pastel strokes - some nice acoustic guitar work here, by the way. The song is dark lyrically - though in a way far different from the Marillion references. There are also a few um... Misplaced... touches, too. The snickering percussion, the keyboard phrases at 8-plus minutes in all flirt with MC, and then don't go there at all, which is just fine.

Hundt's bass and Martinez' drums are very prominent in the mix of "Brown Cloud," where they take the lead playing a bouncy, choppy rhythm. At least during the first portion of the song, this balance seems odd since Graham is playing a fiery and fuzzed guitar lead that is instead set too far back in the mix. In the next part, it's Barberic's parpy keys that take the lead compositionally, but drums and bass are still mixed up front. Only Cat's vocals sit ahead enough that the balance there is correct. That "Brown Cloud" is, surely, the haze that blankets Los Angeles (as FT are based in Ventura, which is north of LA). That as a microcosm to what we're doing to the environment globally, of course. For such a gloomy topic, this is such a musically upbeat and cheerful sounding piece, when it isn't lilting.

"Mouse" goes from lilting to snarlying earthy and sarcastically sultry, vocally and immediately echoed by a brief guitar solo from Graham that prances around tauntingly - thematically the protagonist sings about having gone from timid to bold in her life (mouse to lion). We then get one of many instrumental interludes, where Barbaric and Graham stretch out... before bringing it back in.

Barberic plays a delicate but not timid rolling piano solo to open "Life Changes," which is soon joined by breathy flute. Then a tentative bass and percussion toy with breaking loose. They don't; instead we get a piano and guitar duet that made me think a moment of Christopher Cross (various pieces, one of them "Arthur"). If you can imagine a reflective sunset, this is the part of the song that would paint the picture - both in soothing oranges (vocals, keys) and angry reds (guitars, percussion, piano in a jazzy fashion). It's the longest track at 15-plus minutes (and bits of earlier pieces are echoed here in small hints).

"Keep It Alive" seems at first to be the mellowest piece, beginning as an acoustic based composition that could be described as a mix of Yes (especially Graham's guitar playing) and Crosby, Stills and Nash (the vocal harmonies). When Graham goes electric, and the heavy percussion and keyboards are added, we get a busy (in a good way), complex piece, with Cat's vocals and flute fitting in perfectly.

I said that this CD is great and that's overstating it just a bit. It's very good, though there are some weaknesses - the balance on "Brown Cloud" for instance, some muddied and not-pleasing to the ear harmonized vocals on "Life Changes." Yet, despite those flaws, I've very much enjoyed listening to it (as I said, the songs rattle around in my head, mostly "Brown Cloud" and "Mouse").

* By the way, Madonna does have a prog connection ... Patrick Leonard wrote material that Madonna has sung (some co-written with Richard Page (Mr. Mister), with whom he recorded the sole 3rd Matinee CD). Leonard was the other half of Toy Matinee (pre-cursor to 3rd Matinee) with Kevin Gilbert. And, to take it further, Kevin Gilbert worked with Spock's Beard... whose drummer recorded with Genesis.

Rama (8:03) / Spark of Light (10:03) / Keep It Alive (8:50) / Brown Cloud (6:40) / Mouse (9:43) / Life Changes (15:02)

Steve Barberic - keyboards
Cat Ellen - vocals and flute
Tom Graham - guitars, keyboards, backup vocals
Kenny Hundt - bass guitar, keyboards, backup vocals
Fernando Martinez - drums and percussion

Remembrance Branch (2002)
Spark Of Light (2004)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: August 10th 2005
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 1096
Language: english


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