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Greylevel: Opus One

For a minute or so, I thought I was listening to "Roundabout" when I popped in Greylevel's Opus One and pushed play. The slow and methodical acoustic-guitar chords of "Sojourn" eventually give way to an expressive arrangement that's as atmospheric as Yes but more subdued. The moodiness continues on subsequent songs, including "Taken," "Your Light" and the 16-minute "Blue Waves" songs that delve deeper into a song cycle about love lost and hope found.

The brainchild of Greylevel is Canadian multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Derek Barber, backed by his wife, Esther, on keyboards and vocals, and Richard Shukin on guitar. Together, the trio has crafted a contemplative and graceful debut album steeped in old-school prog that nevertheless moves a tad too slow. Consisting of just six songs in 59 minutes, Opus One occasionally borders on New Age in its dreamy delicateness (or delicate dreaminess, take your pick). By "Possessing Nothing," the album's fifth track, Greylevel picks up the tempo a bit, with livelier drums and guitar-solo crescendos revealing newfound intensity. Derek Barber's fragile voice, however, still gets lost in the mix.

Opus One is an unusual release for ProgRock Records, a label that has issued some of the best modern progressive music of 2006 most of it heavier than anything on Opus One. That said, Greylevel indulges in progressive music's softer side, eschewing technical chops and aggression for reflective instrumentation and attention to detail. It's a nice change of pace, actually.

Track Listing:
1) Sojourn
2) Taken
3) Blue Waves
4) Your Light
5) Possessing Nothing
6) Rest

Added: June 11th 2007
Reviewer: Michael Popke
Related Link: ProgRock Records
Hits: 4956
Language: english

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Greylevel: Opus One
Posted by Kerry Leimer, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-06-11 14:25:19
My Score:

Having sympathy for both the color and the spelling "Grey" is much more to the point than "Gray" it's sadly difficult to find sympathy for much else. This trio adopts the acoustic guitar as the featured instrument and then alternates with Teshish piano crescendos and crunchy / twee electric guitar solos above and below whispered, spoken and sung lyrics. But the combination here lacks much in the way of presence or convincing purpose. This at times unintentionally folksy sonority gets set into mostly formulaic prog shifts of tempo and key which, at one point manages to reach a mind-numbing duration of nearly 17 minutes. Plenty of time and opportunity then to drop the load a few seats down from High Drama across the aisle, against the wall and right onto the well-fed lap of Melodrama.

The pieces either enter with arpeggiation (acoustic-guitar) or the slow creep of some preset drone. The vocals at times seemingly and amazingly off-key, especially given the extensive pitch-correction technology that now drives the song industry are stuck with fairly adolescent musing: "The first glimpse of truth revealed this would never last"; "deep inside enchantments call"; "through the darkness of slow decay"; and, in apparent hommage to the old Calgon Bath Oil Beads ad campaign, the declarative "blue waves, take me away". And, once more, despite such exhortations of the bleak and the dark, the music exists in mostly manageable Major.

There are tenuous stylistic gestures from a number of groups that have set the acoustic guitar into the progressive rock milieu you know who they are. But the instruments here are not yet so well integrated. There are strokes and turns which, just before they happen and even on first listening, telegraph the instrument change, or the tempo change, or the key change or all of the above. As such, it's not quite reached the threshold of music, and instead resides in the densely populated regions of influenced by. It all seems sincere enough, and there's no telling what greylevel may one day accomplish. But as for an opus, probably best to set some ambitions aside and at this point expend the effort on plain old craft.

Greylevel: Opus One
Posted by Duncan Glenday, SoT Staff Writer on 2007-01-19 23:12:28
My Score:

Canadian Greylevel's first opus is not very technical, and it doesn't have the gutsy performances we're used to from most other Prog Rock Records artists. Rather, it relies on a soft, almost somnolent atmosphere to win you over.

The signature sound is a gentle backdrop of keyboards, fronted by acoustic guitars and delicate vocals. There are a few long, piano-led instrumentals that showcase band-leader Derek Barber's mastery of that instrument. These yield solid pieces of modern third-wave progressive rock - and the band would do well to focus on that aspect of their music. The vocal harmonies are the most notable component on the record, yet they aren't the strongest - the timbres don't always blend well, the lead singing could be stronger, and the backing vocals wander off pitch in places. Having said that, though, the overall ambience is relaxing, and will definitely find an audience among those prog music fans looking for something different, and needing a break from the more frenetic records that dominate most of our collections.

With exception of the last track, the songs average 11 minutes, and although it isn't a concept piece there's a consistency across all 59 minutes, and it plays like one long, consolidated body of work. There's a new-agey not-quite-psychedelic flavor to the piece that will appeal to a market beyond the dyed in the wool proggies, although the lack of a bassist, the programmed percussion and the thin production might - in turn - limit the appeal.

So it isn't without it's criticisms, but on balance, Opus One is a strong debut and we're look forward to Opus Two.

2004 Sea Of Tranquility
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