Magus - Lucid Dreamer

Year of Release: 2005
Label: Big Balloon Music
Catalog Number: BBM1201
Format: CD
Total Time: 00:00:00

I went into this expecting something quite different that what came gently out of my speakers. I was expecting progressive rock of the "neo-prog" order; and while there are hints here and there that might qualify for that appellation, in all honesty, Magus have more in common with Tangerine Dream, despite there being some nods in the direction of Yes (the acoustic guitar in the third movement of "Rif," for example, nods at Steve Howe), and the more pastoral sections of Genesis. In fact, my thought in that regard was that, if you were to take the instrumental, pastoral passages out of the best of classic Genesis, make it a more atmospheric, intimate, and ambient, then you have the realm that Magus dwell in.

Magus is Andrew Robinson with various members of the band on each of the tracks, and Lucid Dreamer is a compilation release containing the Traveller album from 1997 (minus a couple of tracks), the entire Highway 375 EP from 1998, and two live tracks from 2000 that were previously unreleased.

I'd call Magus an acoustic electronic group as, although electronic instruments are being played, they have the feel, warmth and earthiness of acoustic instruments. And yet, don't expect everything to be moody and ethereal, as there is the decidedly more active and throbbing "Until The Sun Burns Out" which vocally is a mix of spoken-word "news report" (in voice that sounds like Murray Head - famous for that hit "One Night In Bangkok"), sound effects (babies crying, etc), and effect-treated singing - it's a mid-tempo, electronic-like prog rock track that moves along like driving a steady 65 mph (or the equivalent in kilometers), this latter owning mainly to the steady rhythm of the bass. It's a cool track, but not the overall best this album has to offer.

No, the best track here is "Rif," a prog ambio-rock epic full of those things that characterize progressive rock -- chiming, ringing, shimmery guitar solos; layers of keyboards and synths; rhythmic percussion, shifting tempos and dimensions -- and those things that define ambient or electronic rock (it's a little of both) -- complex and repeated patterns, elongated synth washes, cinematic textures, and a general unhurriedness about everything. It's a 20-plus minute track that comes in movements, although, at least here, they are not identified as such. It's instrumental prog taken to a higher order; or new age given some muscle and heft. However you look at it, "Rif" bridges and blends these two dimensions. Although I'm not doing it at the moment, this would be absolutely mesmerizing joined with the "visualizations" in your favorite media player... or what you can imagine inside your skull. It is a fabulous piece.

This is exulted praise indeed; although "Rif" maybe the jewel in the crown, the other precious stones are far from mere baubles. Opener "Traveller" contains the amorphous ambience of slowly undulating synth washes, shimmery, jangly guitar, scratchy guitar effects (almost like a violin, actually) and frenetic flute or recorder-like sounds. The lands our "Traveller" is passing through is a smorgasbord of cultures. "Khyber Pass/Nostradamus" begins as a rhythmic, ethnic, percussion journey pushed along by the gentle current of keyboards, supported by a strident and warm acoustic guitar (the "Khyber Pass" portion). This acoustic guitar takes over half way through, leading into the vocal section, "Nostradamus." In an odd way, despite it being the more "active" section, it is that which seems the most still... it's like looking at a moment from all angles (movement) and yet the moment is frozen in time.

"Until The Sun Burns Out" is a sci-fi tale; the lyrics aren't in the booklet and I've not transcribed them from listening, but the gist has something to do with the future of man, rise of machines? I'm not sure. The bit of news report, in an English voice (but Robinson is an American from Vermont (?)), details the death of a girl (or several someones in some tragedy). Perhaps it's the result of the sun burning out?

"108 Steps To Babaji" - Babaji is an Indian Saint, a Yogi, who was active in the years 1861 - 1935 (at least), the term babaji meaning "revered father." The track here is another ambient-electronic instrumental, guitar centered, just ethereal enough to feel mystical - shrouds of mist surround, obscuring but entirely hiding details...

The trio of "Highway 375" -- part of the trio from the EP of the same name that includes "Arrakis-Dune-Desert Planet," and "Highway 375 (Revisited)" -- is lead off by a high and tight toned guitar and more undulating synth passages. There is a cold, lonely, and dark (as in night, a cloudless night) feel to this section. Partly because of the name, the rhythm of the road is evoked, and some spacey keyboard effects give this a space-rock kind of feel. In fact, the pitch of some of the tones reminds me of the Star Trek theme, at other times it's The X-Files. The next section is dark in another way, but also evoking a lonely, desolate feeling. Now, perhaps because I've read the book and seen the movie, I have visual images of Dune coming to me, but twisty, turny synth passages that begin this section and the sound of a strong wind all underscore a stark and dangerous place. A third section is rhythmic, tribal with more of the tight-toned guitar soloing on top. Yet another section is rockier, and filled with reedy synths and throaty guitar; what once was ethnic drumming becoming rock drumming? Needless to say, this isn't anyone thing, but a series of vignettes. The last section reminds me the most of the music used to accompany computer animation; though it retains some warmth, it is the most synthetic of the album's music. That isn't a bad thing, as these passages are quite interesting, but it's a slight departure.

Well, it may not have been what I was expecting, but it sure was a pleasant surprise. This is terrific music, the highlight being, as I said, the excellent "Rif." Recommended without hesitation.

In/by 2011, Magus had changed their name to The Winter Tree, releasing a self-titled disk in early 2011 -ed.

Traveller (7:24) / Khyber Pass/Nostradamus (6:29) / Until The Sun Burns Out (7:29) / 108 Steps To Babaji (5:27) / Rif (20:02) / Highway 375 Suite (18:32): i. Highway 375 - ii. Arrakis-Dune-Desert Planet - iii. Highway 375 (Revisited) / Khyber Pass/Nostradamus (live) (5:35) / Arrakis-Dune-Desert-Planet (live) (5:35)

Andrew Robinson - guitars, synths, percussion, voice, bass, programming
Debbie Moore - keyboards (2, 5)
Bryce Chicoine - percussion (2), drums (3, 5)
Jeff Costello - percussion (5)
Rue Yamauchi - keyboards (7, 8)
Steve Perkins - drums (7, 8)

Magus (1995)
Traveller (1997)
Highway 375 (EP) (1998)
Echoes From The Edge Of The Millennium: 1987-1999 (1999)
The Green Earth (2001)
The Garden (2002)
Lucid Dreamer (2005)
The Winter Tree - The Winter Tree (2011)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin US

Added: December 27th 2007
Reviewer: Stephanie Sollow
Artist website:
Hits: 3935
Language: english


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