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Mars Hollow: Mars Hollow

Woof! Woof!

Wow! At last! I've been waiting four months for a 2010 release to really grab my interest and, finally, it has arrived in the form of this absolutely splendiferous debut album from Mars Hollow! An album without fault: music that is at once complex, brilliantly played and yet melodic and catchy! Music! Hurrah!

Mars Hollow's music is going to appeal to a wide spectrum of progressive rock fans. It takes its roots from the classic, classically-influenced progressive rock bands of the seventies: Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Renaissance are strong discernable influences. However, don't be worried if, like me, you are now finding that, in particular, ELP's stuff sounds a bit dated, because these boys have brought what is best of the dynamism of new progressive music into their sound: the energy, verve and pure rock sound of bands like Spock's Beard and classical blitzkriegers Karcius. With catchy melody added to such heady musicianship and invention as is implied by those name checks you have a serious musical force. I'd be surprised if Mars Hollow doesn't end up as one of the year's top 5 albums, if not THE best – it's that good!

The band heralds from Southern California's San Fernando Valley and comprises four veteran musicians - John Baker (vocals/guitar), Jerry Beller (drums/vocals), Kerry Chicoine (bass/vocals) and Steve Mauk (keyboards/vocals). To be honest, that is perhaps the only disappointment – that they are "veteran" musicians; meaning that they might not be around making this wonderful music for the next fifty years. Still, they have plenty of experience playing in the Los Angeles progressive rock and pop scenes with such notables as – and revealing the source of some of the influences here – Ryo Okumoto (Spock's Beard) and The Endless Enigma (an Emerson, Lake and Palmer tribute), as well as other bands. And if you check out their website you'll see that these "veterans" don't look that veteranish, so I guess there's time for a few more albums yet. Please....

A feature of the structure of these songs, is the intermingling of technically skilful – but always pleasant, these are not technobratics for their own sake - instrumental passages with catchy, melodic vocal passages. Plenty of opportunity for the guys to show off their undoubted prowess in just about every musical department that counts.

A couple of vocal sections remind me of other melodies that, irritatingly, I can't quite put my finger on at the moment: first, the second vocal part of "Wait for Me" and then on "Midnight". No bother, these are not "stolen", merely "borrowed" – the guys do their own thing with them with great results! "Wait for Me" is a stunning opener, and the remainder of the album lives up to it!

The opening instrumental section of "Eureka" is like top-form Renaissance meeting Karcius head-on: wonderful organ sounds leading to a piano and bass blitzkrieg in the foreground, then back to the organ. The musicianship and singing throughout are first class but, in particular, the keyboards/piano playing throughout this album is a rare delicacy, worth the price of several CDs on its own!

Measured by the criterion of what music is playing in your mind when you wake up at night, then the catchiest song of the album is "Wild Animal", its sweeping vocal line giving a wonderful crescendo in the chorus is a real gem. All the songs are fairly long, comes with the genre I suppose, but none seem long, not even the 12+ minute finale, due to the excellence of the interspersed composition and strength of the melodic line.

The production is fab too: the music is not what you'd call "heavy" or "metal", but it IS loud with a fantastically meaty bass and those organs grinding away, overlay some guitar and powerful drums and the sound is awesome!

Alright, I'm waxing lyrical, but this really is THAT good; and you don't even have to believe me because I think the whole album is being streamed on the band's Facebook page for a period. Check it out!

Incidentally, the guys will be doing live performances throughout 2010 and if they can produce the album form live then they will be worth travelling many miles for – GO!!

Track Listing:-
1) Wait for Me (9:30)
2) Midnight (5:07)
3) Eureka (9:21)
4) If I Were You (7:32)
5) In Your Hands (6:33)
6) Wild Animal (7:11)
7) Dawn of Creation (12:23)

Added: March 24th 2011
Reviewer: Alex Torres
Related Link: Band's MySpace
Hits: 4476
Language: english

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» SoT Staff Roundtable Reviews:

Mars Hollow: Mars Hollow
Posted by Jon Neudorf, SoT Staff Writer on 2011-03-25 00:31:41
My Score:

I have been listening to Mars Hollow for a few weeks now, absorbing the music so to speak and have come to the conclusion that this has to be one of the best CDs released in 2010. I do not make that claim lightly as there was a wealth of excellent music put out last year and this band may have trumped all of it. What is even more surprising is that this is the band's debut album - one of the best first albums of the last few years.

So, just who are these gentlemen anyway? Mars Hollow is John Baker (guitar, vocals), Jerry Beller (drums, percussion, vocals), Kerry Chicoine (bass, vocals) and Steve Mauk (keyboards, vocals). There is no doubt Mars Hollow wear their influences on their sleeves as they go for a classic progressive rock sound; the list reads like a who's who of prog rock's glorious past and includes the likes of Kansas, Yes, Rush, Genesis, Gentle Giant, Alan Parsons, ELP and probably a few others I have yet to pick out. You may be thinking this music is derivative and while I hear snippets of the past, Mars Hollow presents a fresh and invigorating sound with modern production and an accessibility that just might turn the ears of people not overly familiar with progressive rock.

While the band has plenty of chops and all the musicians are fabulous players, this album is all about the songs. The band has a penchant for writing complex, melodic songs that twist and turn through various moods and soundscapes all the while never losing a sense of focus. While there are some excellent solos, particularly between keyboards and guitars, there is no one showing off with pedantic noodling and incessant pretentiousness. No, this is clearly the case of making every note count, leading to total musical bliss.

To put it simply, this is a total band effort. Each member adds the necessary elements which makes for a great listening experience. The vocals (his guitar playing is also very good) of Baker are an interesting mix of Roger Hodgson, Geddy Lee and Jon Anderson. He has a higher pitched timbre but never over sings the notes and provides these songs with emotion when the mood arises. The vocal harmonies are a highlight throughout – you may have noticed all band members sing which is a real plus. Not to be outdone is the rhythm section of Chicoine and Beller who drive these songs into interesting places, creating different moods and atmospheres by way of tempo changes and musical change ups. That leaves us with the keyboard work of Mauk who is also a fine player leaving his stamp all over this disc. The musicianship throughout his top notch.

There are no bad songs in the bunch so picking individual highlights is not easy but "Wait For Me" with its Kansas inspired organ recalling Point of Know Return-era Kansas and the album ending epic "Dawn of Creation" featuring Baker's scrumptious slide work are both excellent. That said, the multi part vocal harmonies in the organ drenched "In Your Hands" and the slightly sorrowful "Wild Animals" with its edgy guitar and atmospheric organ are pretty good as well.

Folks, every so often an album comes along that reminds us why we all love progressive music and the debut from Mars Hollow is that kind of album. They may not be breaking any new ground but why do bands always have to reinvent the wheel? I measure music on the enjoyment it brings and this album does not disappoint in the slightest. Essential listening for all fans of great music. Enjoy…

Mars Hollow: Mars Hollow
Posted by Steven Reid, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-08-14 09:35:48
My Score:

It really isn't very often that you hear a debut album as assured and immediately impressive as this self titled offering from Mars Hollow. It may be true that the four musicians that make up this band can produce an impressive list of previous collaborators, that have links with everyone from The Beach Boys to Spock's Beard and many in between, however that shouldn't detract from just how impressive the seven Yes, Kansas, Discipline era Crimson and ELP (among many others) influenced songs on this album are.

All four of the musicians are impeccable throughout the entire album; however it is the manner with which guitarist John Baker, bassist Kerry Chicoine, keyboard player Steve Mauk and drummer Jerry Beller combine that really makes Mars Hollow the force they are and having Baker and Chicoine share lead vocals also adds a different dimension to the songs. None of the seven tracks are what could be described as short, however there is not a mundane moment anywhere in sight. The most instant of the seven is "Wild Animal" - the piano line that carries the slower passages is irresistible, while the harmony vocals, tumbling drum rolls and gentle guitar crashes that infuse the chorus are a joy. The beautiful clean guitar playing at the start of "If I Were You", which has made anybody I have played this album to, literally sit up and take notice, is a wonderful Howe like intro to a vocally dense, yet musically fresh song that combines numerous little sections into one deceptively simple track and really allows Mauk to show off on keys. The real tour de force is the lengthy closer "Dawn Of Creation", where Chicoine and Beller really emphasise their importance to Mars Hollow's sound with masterly displays that allow them both to really stretch out, yet keeps everything locked in place. The song is grand in scale, yet somehow still manages to contain a selection of hooks and motifs that really do make it possible for non-prog heads to get fully involved.

Anyone who has even a passing interest in progressive music based in the seventies, but brought bang up to date, really needs to have this album. The melodies are sumptuous, the musicianship superb, but most importantly the song writing is of the highest order. Mars Hollow are one of the few bands that have that elusive knack of combining intricate and complex instrumentation to remarkably accessible melodies and vocal hooks, in a way that leaves you enthralled by the music, yet still has you singing along with the choruses. The songs are never light weight, but somehow avoid being bogged down in any way by the scale of the themes and ideas that are allowed to come to fruition across this disc. This is truly an album that can and should be appreciated by real prog aficionados and lovers of catchy, but non-throwaway music who often are scared off by much the progressive genre has to offer.

Mars Hollow: Mars Hollow
Posted by Pete Pardo, SoT Staff Writer on 2010-06-30 19:12:43
My Score:

California's Mars Hollow have released their self-titled debut on 10T Records, a bright and bouncy collection of modern progressive rock songs steeped in the classic bands of the 70's, such as Yes, ELP, Kansas, Styx, and Gentle Giant. The four musicians that make up Mars Holllow are all rugged veterans of the West Coast rock scene, but this is their first album together as a band. Judging by the results here, you'd think that Mars Hollow were regulars of the prog rock circle for the last 20 years or more, as this is some spirited and tight ensemble work from the band. Steve Mauk instantly impresses with his layers of organ, piano, and synth, along with John Baker's sinewy guitar lines on the bombastic opener "Wait For Me". The deep grooves from bassist Kerry Chicoine lead in the lush "Midnight", an emotional and atmospheric prog number with great vocal melodies, and the mix of classical and prog of "Eureka" sounds like a midnight jam between Renaissance and ELP.

Addictive, lilting guitar chords and mesmerizing keyboards accompany powerful vocals on the excellent "If I Were You", and the complex ditty "In Your Hands" features plenty of 70's styled keyboard sounds and muscular rhythms. The 12+ minute closer "Dawn of Creation" is an intricate yet melodic piece, alternating between soaring vocal sections and complex instrumental interplay. Baker lays down some nifty Steve Howe-ish leads here that are quite impressive, and the weaving Hammond lines from Mauk are like the icing on the cake.

You gotta love when releases like this come out of nowhere and really bowl you over. Here's hoping that Mars Hollow's stay on the modern prog rock scene is a long and lengthy one. I can certainly see these guys becoming regulars on the summer prog festival circuit within a very short time.

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