2003 / Sounds Manipulation
Review by Michael Debbage
Mars Lasar is very thematic and dramatic in his approach to his craft. Webster defines panorama as "an unobstructed or complete view of an area in every direction." Without a doubt, this would accurately describe the wanderlust of this creative artist and, most specifically, the musical themes presented here. Unfortunately, on the latter, it reflects both the strengths and the weaknesses of Panorama.
This is the fourth album in the "11th Hour" series that saw its debut back in 1993. The freshman effort of the series has been Lasar's most successful album to date. This was largely due to the highly dynamic and upbeat composition "Cellular City" that received much radio exposure. Nevertheless, that album bristled with offbeat ideas and concepts that were pieced together to create an unusual yet cohesive project. Unfortunately, this was the pinnacle of the series, which has only seen diminishing returns. The follow-up, 11:02, had glimpses of its predecessor; and, apparently, we blinked and utterly missed the third one.
This review should be taken within the context that more established melodies and continuity is a preferred taste. Lasar shows greater song structure on his impressive debut Olympus, Sapphire Dreams and Christmas From Mars. Overall, this artist loves abstract and conceptual musical exploration. 11th Hour and Karma were the most successful in bridging both arenas of musical styles.
Those of you that enjoyed 11:02 will be pleased with Panorama, which has very enjoyable moments. Though the album starts off slowly, the project really begins to stir by track 5 which features Hurricane's rock singer Kelly Hansen on the track entitled "Incarnation." This includes some effortless but tender vocal sampling. It is followed up with "Rapture" featuring some fine operatic vocal arrangements from Erin Williams who also assists with the composition. Thus, the album continues on its significantly upward swing.
This mood continues with the temperamental yet optimistic "Going Home" that beams a warm and almost organic feeling to it. However, the most ecstatic moment is "Follow Your Groove" which has an almost Earth Wind & Fire groove to it. While the keyboards generate a manufactured horn effect, the real thing would have been preferred. Along with the vocal scatting, this song is unmistakably the defining moment of the album. It is closely followed by the beautiful and graceful ballad "Untouchable" closing out the album on a pliable and insightful moment.
While the second half of the album is clearly another adventure in the world according to Mars, the highlights are sporadic throughout. While an enjoyable recording, Panorama does not quite meet the high standards that one expects from Mars Lasar. That said, any other artist would be proud of this project. So is the cup half full or half empty? Depends on your perspective.
March 3, 2003