I have to admit to not having any personal history when it comes to Canadian proggers FM, so their “classic period” from the late 70s was an unknown quantity. I say was, as since listening to Transformation and by way of research I have backtracked through their earlier releases. For those interested, in 2013, Esoteric Recordings undertook their customary excellent job of re-mastering and re-issuing the band’s Black Noise (’77), Direct To Disc (’78), Surveillance (’79) and City Of Fear (’80) albums. So having taken the plunge and purchased the debut and third aforementioned re-releases I’m surprised I hadn’t come across the band before. I suppose like many followers of prog from those pre-internet days, information on the band was fairly scant and later on in the 80s, confused with the UK band of the same name.
From the original line-up only Cameron Hawkins remains, however having listened to those early albums it is evident that he was an essential part of the writing process and the band’s commercial progressive rock sound has remained a key feature. Sadly, the other founding member, violinist Nash The Slash (Jeffrey Plewman), passed away in 2014. True to his legacy the band have extensively incorporated the violin throughout and Transformation, which features two violin players – Aaron Solomon and Druckfarben’s Edward Bernard, who also takes on viola and mandolin. The line-up is completed by renowned session drummer Paul DeLong. Whilst we are name checking, the album is produced/engineered by Terry Brown (Rush, Dream Theater and more).
FM, circa 2015, seem to have consolidated their almost forty year history with the blending of 80’s synth pop into a dynamic progressive framework. This is no more apparent than in the album’s opening track Brave New Worlds which comes across as an amalgam of The Buggles and Drama era Yes. Hawkins’ sweet, high registered vocal delivery, along with the infectious melody/hook-lines, cocooned within the driving rhythm, are a instant winner. The middle section features a great violin solo and overall harks back to the band’s opening track, Phasors On Stun, taken from the Black Noise album. The violin features strongly in the opening of Cosmic Blue, taking the top line and remaining the dominant instrument throughout the song, cementing the FM sound but with firm nods to David Ragsdale and Kansas.
The opening of Re-Boot, Reawaken has a theme that is naggingly familiar and once again hideously infectious. In truthfulness the rich sweetness of the sound did cause me some issues at first – akin to a delicious dessert that just hankers for something bitter by way of contrast. So in many respects the more challenging Children Of Eve comes to the rescue at the right time. Rhythmically it cuts across the pattern of material previously laid down and adds in some disharmonious elements.
The aptly named Safe And Sound returns us to the more melodic FM. The nicely orchestrated strings form not only the bedrock, but the pulse, for what has got to be the most contagious track here, with shades of ELO, A.C.T and Jon Anderson. And Mr Anderson raises his head in the longest track, Tour Of Duty. By far the most proggy affair on Transformation, the electric violin, although not venturing too far into the realms of fusion, does take on the essence of one Jean Luc Ponty, which by association, conjures the – still to come to full fruition – Anderson Ponty Band. Tour Of Duty opens with a finely constructed and lengthy opening instrumental, interspersed with vocal sections and further solo passages. Delong who is impressive throughout gets chance to cut loose here.
The quirky rhythm of The Love Bomb [Universal Love] houses yet more catchy vocals and sees Hawkins pushing the upper boundaries of the male voice. The contrast comes with the less melodic soloing. Soldiers Of Life also chooses an odd, but hypnotic pulse. There’s also a great rumbling synth bass, along with the strings that hold an uneasy tension, which is somewhat released in the up tempo violin solo, but finally resolved as the track seamlessly segues into Heaven On Earth. A fine concluding number that almost shares its title with the last Yes album, but for my money incorporates more of their signature sound than Heaven & Earth did.
I’ve made a few comparisons within the review that might hopefully guide you near to the overall flavour of the album. But by the nature of the radio friendly melodies, Asia also entered my thoughts whilst reviewing Transformation, although this a far proggier offering. Perhaps the violin or more by association but UK’s Danger Money also sprang to mind fleetingly. But FM have their own voice and a rather unique place in progressive history. Certainly an album worth checking if you enjoy your prog with lavish production, rich in catchy melodies and innumerate hook-lines.
01. Brave New Worlds (5:38)
02. Cosmic Blue (4:43)
03. Re-Boot, Reawaken (5:31)
04. Children Of Eve (4:36)
05. Safe And Sound (6:21)
06. Tour Of Duty (7:35)
07. The Love Bomb [Universal Love] (5:29)
08. Soldiers Of Life (4:14)
09. Heaven On Earth (3:38)
Total Time – 48:28
Cameron Hawkins – Synthesizer, Bass, & Vocals
Paul DeLong – Drums & Percussion
Aaron Solomon – Violin & Vocals
Edward Bernard – Violin, Viola, Mandolin & Vocals
Label: Esoteric Antenna
Year Of Release: 2015
Main Website: FM