When you manage a record label and have several rather good progressive bands signed up, you have the advantage of being able to draw from a very deep talent pool. Along with two colleagues, Hansi Cross is a part-owner of Progress Records and besides his own band he has signed up several fellow Swedish acts such as Liquid Scarlet, Galleon, Spektrum and Grand Stand. So his talent pool is rich indeed.
The sound on Playgrounds is clearly rooted in the influences of the progressive classics. The Moog and Mellotron sounds, the long guitar and sax solos, the extended instrumentals and the long song lengths yield 7 tracks of rich symphonic music with structures and phrasings that recall both the seventies and the best of nineties-neo. While there's no disputing the quality of the musicianship, and the guitarwork is particularly pleasing, you may take a while to get used to Hansi's lead vocals which recall a more tentative version of Neal Morse.
Playgrounds is essentially 6 tracks averaging 9 minutes and a 1-minute intermezzo that seems out of place. The three 10-plus-minute songs are wonderful exercises in well composed, flowing prog. But as an interesting exercise, playing the two instrumental tracks back to back produces an even more interesting piece that constantly develops and reprises a theme that appears in many other places on the album. For many, these tracks will represent the high spot on the CD.
Cross comprises just three permanent band members. One of the guest performers on Playgrounds is Olov Andersson of Grand Stand, who is also one of the co-owners of Progress Records – and his contributions, as well as the seven guest label compatriots, contribute an important dimension of complexity and maturity to Cross's 8th album.
1. Let The Play Begin... (7:37)
2. Dejá Vù (4:36)
3. A New Beginning (10:10)
4. The Battle Of Thalÿma (5:31)
5. ...And Enter The Game (9:44)
6. Fjärilshonung (0:51)
7. Mesmerizing Enterprize (15:20)