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CD REVIEW: The Neil Campbell Collective - Particle Theory
By Alex Jasperse - 02/16/2008 - 02:15 PM EST

Artist: The Neil Campbell Collective
Album: Particle Theory [2007]
Label: Independent
Genre: Progressive Rock and Instrumental Rock
Production/Musicianship Grade: 8.0/10
Songwriting Skills: 8.0/10
Performance Skill: 8.0/10
CD Review:

Propelled by a stellar lineup of musicians, The Neil Campbell Collective’s latest release, Particle Theory (2007), is a collection of predominantly instrumental pieces that combine a number of elements from the progressive rock, ambient and jazz veins.
Sparing no time for a lengthy introduction, “Particle Theory” ricochets straight into a classic Premiata Forneria Marconi (PFM) ascension, effortlessly trading instrumental partners across all ends of the musical floor. Never missing a step, intricate horn led sections flourish into guitar solos and synth washes, only to reach out moments later for the warm arms of an acoustic guitar and cello to take the lead. Suddenly, the constraints of the time signature are dropped – allowing for the ambient “More Particles” to rapidly liquefy the musical dance floor that had only been there seconds ago. Sliding downwards into a wet abyss of low-end synthesizer pulsations, just when it seems the surface has almost disappeared, angelic vocals reach out a helping hand to pull the listener back.

Campbell’s stellar guitar playing is truly a work of beauty; it’s simply all too easy to get seduced by his instrumental finesse and power, especially in such pieces as the finger picked “Aria.” A devious melodic shift led by the piano enters midway through hints at a possible change in the musical pace, however, it’s only a short, yet intriguing, melodic taste, settling back into the soundtrack grandeur of the original progression moments later.

As the crash symbol calls out for the group to join in the introduction of “517,” the bass, keys and guitars soon kick in with an ethno-fusion flare reminiscent of the works of Juno Reactor. Maintaining a similar feel in “The Line,” Mark Brocklesby’s sticks brush effortlessly across the symbols (sounding like drops of rain scattering across the paved ground), while Campbell’s fiery classical guitars rush by. Not before long, Jeff Jepson’s vocals suddenly colour the progression with a classic rock feel, as Campbell compliments the sound with a sitar flavoured acoustic guitar.

Returning to an ambient progression similar to that of “More Particles,” “The List” falls subject to solemn power of the cello’s sustained notes that tour all corners of the audio environment. While not as immersive at it could be, additional textures such as a charging synth in the background add to the haunting atmosphere, occasionally striking without notice.

As a whole, Particle Theory does an excellent job at combining a variety of genres into what can ultimately be classified as a strong contender in the prog rock arena. Where things do begin to go astray though, is in “Angel and Aeroplanes” and “Particle Theory 2.” Feeling as though certain riffs and melodic ideas had been lifted directly from the works of Enya and King Crimson, the delivery of both pieces are affected by a number of clichés, such as the laughable and almost Viking-esque rock opera vocals in “Particle Theory 2.” Neither piece leaves much of a lasting impression… and when referenced to the impact of the album’s opening tracks, the final minutes seem as though The Neil Campbell Collective was racing towards the finish line rather early.

While Particle Theory has a number of quirks that may detract from the listening experience, at the end of the day it’s still a strong contender in the progressive rock realms. It dissolves the conceptions of time and space with its instrumental richness and sumptuous compositions, and it is a delight of sounds and intense moods that will consume one’s musical imagination for many listens. One simply can’t ask for much than that, can they?

The Verdict: 8.0/10

For more information, please visit The Neil Campbell Collective’s official website.

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