FM — Surveillance
(Esoteric Recordings ECLEC2382, 1979/2013, CD)
by Paul Hightower, 2013-12-09:Esoteric’s releases of FM’s early albums have been cause for much rejoicing in progdom, since some of the Canadian band’s work hadn’t been available in ages and others never at all. Their celebrated 1977 debut Black Noise lives in most prog fans’ collections, but until now the rest of the discography had been hard to find, unless one wanted to resort to the black market. As for 1979’s Surveillance, following the debut’s success, the band — synth/bass player and singer Cameron Hawkins, drummer Martin Deller, along with new mandolin/violin ace Ben Mink — released the experimental Direct to Disc, which only saw a very limited release. So in some ways Surveillance was the true follow up to Black Noise. Aided again by synthesizer wiz Larry Fast the group delivered a nine-track collection that looks back to Black Noise’s prog rock extravagance (especially on the mini-epics “Seventh Heaven” and “Destruction”) but also attempts to grapple with changing tastes in popular music by kicking things off with the perky rocker “Rocket Roll.” But sci-fi themed, synth-driven prog rock is the prevailing mode here, from the rolling cover of “Shapes of Things” to the 3 Stooges-inspired instrumental “Sofa Back,” and perhaps best realized in the one-two punch of “Orion”/”Horizons.” Its the sort of tight, energetic prog rock fellow countrymen Rush and Saga were also making hay with at the time so maybe it was in the water. But wherever it came from, Candadian prog rock was firing on all cylinders in 1979, as this album proves. Recommended.
by Peter Thelen, 2013-04-01:For their third album, with violinist Ben Mink now fully integrated into the band, the Canadian trio left the sidelong instrumental suites explored on their second Direct to Disc, and went back to the shorter song format they started with on their debut Black Noise. As before, Cameron Hawkins plays synth, bass and sings lead, while drummer Martin Deller ties it all together. Even though the opener "Rocket Roll" is lyrically a bit on the dorky side, the three song suite that follows ("Orion / Horizons / Random Harvest") is probably among the best things FM ever recorded, each part segueing into the next beautifully, and the superb violin and electric mandolin solos on "Horizons" make it one of FM's most unforgettable tracks. Perhaps the band's best lyrics, dealing with life's end, are heard on "Father Time," and the powerful jazz-informed instrumental section for scat-vocal and violin that follows the refrain illustrates the compositional power of the trio at their very best. "Sofa Back" is a short but spirited instrumental full of difficult twists and turns that recalls Rush's "YYZ," even though Moving Pictures wouldn't appear for another couple years. The closer "Destruction" features another classic space-age sci-fi lyric and some powerful progressive moves, not unlike "Black Noise" from their debut. I would be remiss to not mention their cover of the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things" that closed the first side of the original LP, and while I still prefer the original, this version certainly has its merits. For those who aren't yet familiar with FM, this is the one to start with.
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