Archive for February, 2015

ALBUM REVIEW: LONELY ROBOT (John Mitchell), Please Come Home

February 28, 2015

Lonely Robot 2

“Lonely Robot is a gloriously ambitious sonic adventure, produced and performed to perfection.” – – Steven Wilson

When one of Prog’s reigning demi-gods writes the above about an album there’s not much more to be added—but I will because the Prog muse is constraining me to yell from the rooftops BUY THIS ALBUM…IT IS A MASTERPIECE!

I would not have known of this album this early (it’s set for an American release on March 10th) were it not for the ‘first-look’ shout-out it received from Progarchy reviewer “Nick” in his “First Impressions” blog post of 25 February (http://progarchy.com/2015/02/25/february-first-impressions/)   But the web-site PROGSTREAMING, which allowed me hear the complete album, sealed the deal. Steven Wilson was telling the truth: PERFECTION indeed!

With more “hooks” than a Bass Master tackle box, incredible musicianship, glorious melodies everywhere, and some of the most intelligent and sensitive lyrics to ever grace a song-set, John Mitchell has released an impressionistic, tone-poem, themed song cycle, of absolutely epic proportion. This is a concept album for the ages.  I do not exaggerate. Mitchell has penned and recorded his own Hamlet or Macbeth; he need write nothing further to be enshrined in Prog’s Valhalla, or upon its Mount Rushmore (Olympus) alongside Close to the Edge, Dark Side of the Moon, and Selling England by the Pound.

The themes of alienation, origin, loss, identity, and transitoriness, are woven together in an exquisite tapestry of existentialist aural magic.  And not to be dismissed is the very clever and apropos cover art to the album featuring a photo which includes the iconic Robby the Robot from the (also austere and existentialist) 1956 classic movie Forbidden Planet (which had its own groundbreaking Prog score—the totally electronic gem by Bebe and Louis Barron).

This album is so entrancing the passage of time stops and one is left wanting to re-listen to every track and then wondering ‘what happened to my afternoon?’ when the disc is over.

Every track receives my highest “A+” rating and I would have gladly purchased the album after having listened to only track 1 Airlock!  A detailed song by song analysis would be enjoyable for me but tedious for a reader—this has to be a blog post and not a thesis or novella.

The composite experience is so united and cohesive I even have a difficult time choosing my favorite song or two. Oubliette just melts your brain with beauty and the title track, Lonely Robot is simply the best pop-Prog tune I’ve heard; in a truly just and decent world this song would be a Top Ten constant radio play Platinum seller! But to try and pick favorite songs on this sonorous cornucopia would be like trying to choose your favorite children in a family of eleven saints.

TRACK LISTING:

  1. Airlock 3:51
  2. God vs. Man 5:41
  3. The Boy in The Radio 4:51
  4. Why Do We Stay 5:15
  5. Lonely Robot 8:09
  6. A Godless Sea 5:28
  7. Oubliette 5:20
  8. Construct/Obstruct 5:46
  9. Are We Copies 6:18
  10. Human Being 5:34
  11. The Red Balloon 2:04

Special accolades to Heather Findlay who sings an ethereal and transcendent duet with Mitchell on track 4, Why Do We Stay—sublime!  In fact, musician, vocalist, songwriter, and producer John Mitchell (performing now under the moniker LONELY ROBOT) has himself a simple, clear, earnest, and captivating voice. Kudos also to Mitchell’s entire backing cast: Kim Seviour (another soprano song-bird), guitarist Nik Kershaw, Jem Godfrey on keys, and the rhythm section of Nick Beggs (bass) & Craig Blundell (drums).

I kept thinking as listening “how good can this get…it just keeps getting better!”  The album’s ends last track, The Red Balloon, ends with the haunting theme of bittersweet departure shrouded in the hope to meet again some day.   This is now my request to John Mitchell, that he returns to the studio at the earliest possible time.

A soaring, moving, musical experience like this does not come often. This is a “Desert Island” album and I officially declare it to be my FAVORITE ALBUM of 2015 (that means SOMETHING as I type these words on 28 February).

An A+++ rating, wherein A+ is the highest there is.

Mellotron On!

jww

Sites worth checking:

INSIDEOUT Music http://insideoutmusic.com/newsdetailed.aspx?IdNews=15288&IdCompany=8

PROGSTREAMING:

http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/pages/play-album.php?activeAlbum=01098 – Lonely Robot – Please Come Home

SEA OF TRANQUILITY interview with John Mitchell:

http://www.seaoftranquility.org/article.php?sid=2978

John Mitchell’s cool FACEBOOK page:

https://www.facebook.com/#!/johnchristianmitchell

ALBUM REVIEW: PROG magazine’s The Start Of Something Beautiful

February 27, 2015

001

Prog Sampler 31: THE START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL

Track Listing:

  1. IF THESE TREES COULD TALK/ They Speak With Knives
  2. GOLDRAY/ Outloud
  3. THE NEAL MORSE BAND/ Agenda
  4. LONELY ROBOT/ Construct/Obstruct
  5. KARNATAKA/ Road to Cairo
  6. BRAINTICKET/ Singularity
  7. MIKE KERSHAW/ Farewell
  8. WARMRAIN/ Fading Star
  9. ENSLAVED/ Thurisaz Dreaming (edit)
  10. SUBVERSION/ Novation
  11. JU AND KJETIL MOSTER/ Hassassin

From the plastic alien figurine inside the 1960s cereal box to the cheap whistle in a box of Cracker Jack, who doesn’t enjoy getting an added bonus freebie? One reason to purchase each issue of PROG magazine is the marvelous CD enclosed each—usually running close to a solid 60 minutes. Okay, it’s not really free but is included in the price of the magazine, but still…   🙂

Prog Sampler 31: THE START OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL is a real keeper due to a powerful middle section of tunes. This is the disc which is included in the Steven Wilson cover issue (# 53, February 2015).

A review of a collection is by necessity a review of each song as a stand-alone. So:

  1. The opening track They Speak With Knives by the band IF THESE TREES COULD TALK is a great lead off song. It starts off with a tight, well produced, rhythmic, and driving beat instrumental opening which leads into several nice tempo changes. This is a very nice post-rock sounding piece but with very clean guitar and no distortion. Rather than the sturm und drang of a band like EXPLOSIONS IN THE SKY, this tune stays melodic for the full 5:39 and surges along even keeled rather than that normal shoe-gaze build-up and crash model. I give it an “A” and would gladly hear the album.
  2. GOLDRAY is next up with their song Outloud. The song starts off stoner/sludge-like with some heavy riffs but is soon joined by the vocals of Leah Rasmussen. The backing heaving groove and the vocals swirl the listener around into classic psychedelic rock. There’s a nice fuzz-distorted middle section before Leah’s vocals come back in at 6:05. Just when the listener thinks this sweet tune is over there’s a final coda of 50 seconds or so of tinkling and droning synths that leave a real “Eastern” tinged vibe. A sold “B-/B” effort.
  3. This short 3:43 track makes the entire disc a must keep! THE NEAL MORSE BAND with Agenda scores an “A+” and definitely means I’ll be buying his new album. Portnoy’s crisp and snappy drumming, Morse’s lyricism and always convincing voice, an overall catchy foot-stomping melody, coupled with a beautiful chorus makes the listener want to just hit repeat and forget about the next 8 tracks.
  4. LONELY ROBOT, the new project from John Mitchell, brings in the fourth track, Construct/Obstruct with a quick syncopated and sustained synth theme that has the listener at first thinking “1980s”…but in a pretty good way. The shift at around 3:20 and the melding of great lead guitar with the otherwise heavy drums & keys driven song, completes this highly rated “A” song. I will be exploring this album further.
  5. KARNATAKA follows with Road to Cairo and also scores my high rating of “A.” A nice serious 30 second orchestral synth opening is joined in by singer Rachel Jones and this orchestra/symphonic prog tune begins to soar. Jones has a nice set of pipes and the song reminds one somewhat of Annie Haslam and Renaissance. Jones’ vocals literally jump out at around the 3:30 mark due to mixing them right up front and dropping away the otherwise too heavy wall-of-sound mix. The overall muddy sonic feel lowers what might have been an “A+” down to a still superlative “A.”
  6. BRAINTICKET delivers a nice Hawkwind-lite sounding Sci-fi themed song, Singularity. This is a mostly instrumental track with a smattering of female vocalise that is a jazzy wash of synths and rhythms. The electronic bloops and bleeps and the brief science-fiction dialog make it an addictive 5:00 of solid “B+”
  7. Along with Neal Morse, this track, Farewell, by MIKE KERSHAW is the other standout on the disc. I will be henceforth buying Mr. Kershaw’s new album. Within the first 14 seconds of the song a smile appears on ones face and stays for the entire 4 minutes plus. The fetching melody, the warm likeability of Kershaw’s voice, and the catchy toe-tapping folk/rock Prog (cum Celtic) is pure infectious joy! Even without that beautiful instrumental middle section the song would still garner an “A+” A must buy!
  8. WARMRAIN follows with their selection Fading Star. Clocking in at 8:17 this would be the “epic” of the disc. And it is, in quality as much as quantity. This song actually reminds me of Robin Armstrong and his Capacitor album; a higher compliment I cannot give. What starts off as a lonely and somber instrumental piece goes through numerous changes to include emotive vocals, a background radio sample, tightly harmonic guitars, drums, and synths, and a beautiful sitar-sounding string conclusion. Another “A+” and another resolution to search out WARMRAIN’s album.
  9. If you’re not prepared for track 9, I wasn’t, the opening few seconds will knock you off your chair as you yell “what the deuce?” I have no excuse since I know how to read and do actually own an album by ENSLAVED. Nonetheless the orc-like growls of this Black Metal institution do take the listener out of the beautiful prog-mojo-cloud trance from the previous 8 tracks J I was about to thunder “THIS AIN’T PROG” until I actually gave the song a chance. Sure, I don’t like the guttural gargoyle growling but the tune actually morphs into a very cool jazz-rock, and proggy, head—nodding affair. Some very clean and normal vocals at the 1:30 mark mix in well with the melodic galloping theme. And though the rough vocals do reappear, the overall heavy and ominous under beat sustains the song with swirling and pulsing tones. This kind of reminds me of earlier Opeth. That’s a good thing.   I would listen to the album. I give this track a surprising “A” rating.
  10. The band SUBVERSION brings the disc way down. I rate their contribution, Novation, a lowly “C-” What starts off as merely annoying mediocre prog-metal, quickly turns into what I call emo-screamo non-melodic music. To be fair, these guys are accomplished musicians and there’s nothing technically wrong with their presentation. A nice theme for about 45 seconds, at the 1:20 mark, gave me a glimmer of hope, but no, it concludes as simply a generic euro-death metalish tune with no gravitas.
  11. And then sadly, the disc ends with another low rated “C” selection, Hassassin, by a group known as JU AND KJETIL MOSTER. Your mileage may vary on this one. I find it to be dry and distant jazz-fusion prog rock…and not the good kind. This is 8:41 of drum, drone, and distant screeching saxophone (or synth sax). Only in the last 20 seconds is there an interesting snippet of an intelligent theme. I’d rather go and listen to Miles.

Tracks 1, but especially 3 through 9 (most especially Neal Morse and Mike Kershaw) make this a delightful compilation disc and one that will be returning to my CD changer many more times.

Overall rating: “B+/A-

But you know, for what it costs to buy a copy of PROG magazine and get these nifty bonus discs…one could just buy the new NEAL MORSE BAND album.

Yeah.

Mellotron On!

A Beautiful Song; Tell Your Own Uncle You Love Him!

February 26, 2015

What a perfect little gem of a tune to put a smile on your face (especially if you’re in a wintry and frigid part of America or the UK).

‘Uncle Jack’ (written in honor of lead vocalist David Longdon’s uncle) is the second track on BBT’s 2012 album ENGLISH ELECTRIC PART ONE. It appears as the third track of disc one on their Double album (with extra tracks) of 2013 FULL POWER.

This is a song totally immune from the criticisms sometimes leveled at bands like Mumford & Sons as being only tepid ersatz folk rock or roots-rock. No! This song is so genuine and earthy that you can taste the ‘bangers & mash’ and smell the stout (or coffee).

That first 20 seconds, once the banjo (Dave Gregory) takes off, has one grinning, bopping the head, and tapping the foot. Then when the vocal harmonies join in with the lead of David Longdon you’re in heaven–which is fitting since Longdon truly has a voice of an angel.

This song has one thinking of the perfect meld of Jethro Tull and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young, only far better than both!

What a salutary love poem to localism, rootedness, and earth; GKC would be smiling…heck, Wendell Berry too.

Mellotron On!

Mailbox Gold

February 25, 2015

 

First Droopy (love me that Daws Butler 🙂 )

…then the reason thereof:

prog53

I have long drooled over, and thumbed through, PROG on the newstand–or, at least the magazine section of my local HASTINGS (which has been like a ghost-town for the last several years…no one reading or BUYING magazines anymore it seems). I would buy every issue of PROG but for the too-high (for me) cover price. Heck, for $3.99 I can buy that Cars album I don’t have or the Geo. Lynch Dokken masterpiece that’s on sale (HASTINGS is pretty slim pickens when it comes to actual Prog Cds 😦 ) So I just can’t seem to part with the $15 bucks that this journal requires.

But my best friend in the universe, Reliops of California (the Spoiler of plebian music), bought me a subscription for Christmas. My first issue just arrived. I can’t wait to listen to the free Cd sampler on my way to Kansas City tonight. I also can’t wait till March 4th when Steven Wilson’s much lauded new album drops. Stay tuned.

Mellotron On!

 

Beatific Beauty By Bodin

February 25, 2015

Due to my other, other gig (i.e. my full-time vocation) I’m probably not going to be able to post as often as I had hoped during this period of “re-launch.” We’ll see.

But in the spirit of my vocational music (no, I’m not an organist but I’m married to a musical lady who can play the organ) I present a marvelous little “minute-plus” piece by the amazing TOMAS BODIN, keyboard wizard extraordinaire of The Flower Kings. This virtuoso snippet would be well suited for our Lententide services…just sayin’ 🙂

Mellotron On!

A (rare) Merchant “Shout-Out”

February 24, 2015

I don’t usually do commercial “shout-outs” but I’m making an exception. In a perfect prog-world BORDERS would still be here, and both BARNES & NOBLES along with my own local HASTINGS would have a wide-ranging selection at internet prices. We don’t live in that EVERLAND do we?

I try to funnel as much of my money (ah, limited funds) to CD Baby as I can.  Unfortunately most of my CD purchases come from amazon.com due to their low prices and huge selection. I say “unfortunately” not because I have a vendetta against amazon.com but rather due to a strange quirky “localism” and love for the “little guy”  that I’ve always had.  Too much Chesterbelloc in my soul I guess.

DIGRESSION: READ “The Napoleon of Notting Hill” by GKC, and your world will never be seen the same way again.

The good souls at Progarchy brought to my attention the Scottish band Abel Ganz.  Wow!   Their 2014 self-titled disc is stunningly beautiful and landed on my own Top Ten list for the year past.  But their 2008 album Shooting Albatross is even better…maybe even a ‘desert-island’ disc.   CD Baby had it only on Mp3 download (I’m still a physcial media kind of guy)  and amazon had it for $35.00 plus s&h.    My other valued source Syn-Phonic (Greg out of Utah is a great guy by the way) was out-of-stock.

And then… (here comes the “shout out”) I remembered back in my mid two-thousand-ought purchasing days perusing a music seller by the name of The LasersEdge.   Pay-dirt.   They had it and it was for an insanely reasonable price of $16.00.  They took a credit card without making me go paypal.  And they got the disc in my hands even faster than CD Baby usually does (and that’s fast).

I heartily recommend any and all prog-heads checking out this great merchant The LasersEdge.  An “EVERLAND of PROG” mega-kudos!  https://www.lasercd.com/

Also, a “‘tip o’ the prog-cap” to Bandcamp which allowed me to first hear Abel Ganz albums in their entirety. You owe yourself a listen to check out how superlative Abel Ganz and Shooting Albatross are.  http://abelganz.bandcamp.com/

Mellotron On!

you need to be reading PROGARCHY: POINTING TOWARD PROGHALLA

February 24, 2015

One thing this blog is NOT, is a news source for progressive music, bands, upcoming releases, and conert tours.  There are some pretty decent internet sources for that kind of material–this isn’t one of them.

The one absolutely indispensable cyber-source that you must follow is PROGARCHY: POINTING TOWARD PROGHALLA.  This serious, literate, and multi-authored blog is found at: http://progarchy.com/   While all of the reviewers are top-notch, anything written by blog co-founder Dr. Brad Birzer is worth reading, learning, and inwardly digesting.

Thanks to many excellent essays and reviews, as well as the various “best of 2014” lists that PROGARCHY provided last year, I was introduced to Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf), John Bassett, Salander, Fractal Mirror, Cailyn, Abel Ganz, and Dave Kerzner, to name just a few.  There’s not a week that goes by that my daily dose (sometime there is no daily blog post–and I’m sad 😦  ) of PROGARCHY does not make me a “better person” (to paraphrase Dr. Tom Woods speaking to a slightly different topic of prog’s overall therapeutic/spirit/soul value).  THE EVERLAND OF PROG is just one non-musical fan mucking about to share some thoughts and favorites with a few friends…PROGARCHY: POINTING TO PROGHALLA is your mother’s milk.  Bookmark/‘favorite it’ and surf over there RIGHT NOW!!!

EVERLAND

February 22, 2015

So why do I have a new blog name? As a huge fan of Al Stewart (my favorite singer/songwriter) and an admirer of the fiction of Kurt Vonnegut, I wanted to go with The Sirens of Titan. As that title was already taken on blogger I used a spelling variation. It was to be an all-purpose musical blog primarily directed at a very limited audience. Now that I’m going to focus primarily on progressive rock music I decided to change it.

I had purchased Brave by Marillion back in 2005 and while impressed with its scope and emotional depth, was not as overblown as I had hoped. Limited funds (the universal cry of all music nerds and especially progheads—dang double albums and bonus editions 😉 ) kept me from buying more of their back catalog. It wasn’t until Dr. Thomas Woods had Marillion vocalist Steve Hogarth on his podcast http://tomwoods.com/blog/marillions-steve-hogarth-on-the-past-and-the-future/ that I dipped back into Marillion. I followed Dr. Woods’ suggestion to view the live version of Neverland and I was hooked. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWFuzjqJYpY

I think my credit card was humming the amazon.com theme song within minutes of that YouTube video. The performance was everything and more that Woods said it would be. Now, several Marillion albums later (only “several”…dang limited funds) Hogarth and company are in heavy rotation and enshrined in the Beatific Tonalities Pantheon.

The current blog title is a “take” on that song title Neverland with the added twist that the letter “n” is put in lower case in parenthesis. A bit of a play also on J.M. Barrie’s Neverland (magical, mythological, fantasy lands seem to be very prog friendly in my mind) but also a bit of theological/teleological commentary on the inaugurated eschatology of “now/not yet.” We live in a broken world where all around us everything decays and dies…even our music. Our attempt at lasting fulfillment in the here & now is a Lenten trek through a “Neverland.” But beautiful and melodic music (prog) need not be some inane Hegelian game of Sisyphean pop culture. Lovers of the transcendence that comes from the best of prog (Yes, Camel, Genesis, Spock’ Beard, Flower Kings, the Tangent, Big Big Train) and yes, Marillion’s  Neverland, believe, teach, and confess that in heaven (or whatever afterlife they may posit) we will be not only be in Everland, but that we will have found all the lost chords.

Small We Begin

February 22, 2015

I would like to begin at the beginning, but this is only the initial blog post to restart an inconsequential blog and not a bloated autobiography.

My love for music comes from my Dad. Though our musical tastes were not identical he did help shape my love for melody and an appreciation for beauty in music. He loved to whistle; that says a lot.

I was very unmusical in Junior High at a time when watching too much television had me missing out on the golden age of mid to late 60’s rock and pop. I knew the Beatles of course, watched the Monkees on the tube, and had friends who liked the Doors, Simon & Garfunkel, and Dylan, but I did not become a regular listener of music until my Junior year in High School. My clock radio introduced me to AM top forty but also to the almost prog sounds of Procol Harum’s Conquistador. Thanks to the Midnight Special and other sources I also became acquainted with Three Dog Night (remember, melody) and the Bee Gees (ditto) pre-Saturday Night Fever. I also loved the Guess Who.

It was at a party that a friend introduced me to a band that forever has changed my musical life. PD who helped provide music for the party brought her collection of Moody Blues’ albums…and she loaned them to me to re-listen to at my leisure. Have I mentioned melody? While this is not a post about the magnificent Moodies I can honestly say that the succeeding 40 years has been a quest in finding bands that might touch me with the supernal joys that I first experienced from journeying from Days of Future Past to Seventh Sojourn.

I quickly discovered Queen and Electric Light Orchestra (there were things on AM radio worth pursuing) and my cousin Dave introduced me another band that would forever mold my musical tastes—Genesis.   I also started exploring the discographies of Yes and Jethro Tull, two bands I met via their top forty hits: Roundabout and Aqualung.

And now decades later, I re-launch this music blog originally started in early 2014 under the name Seirenes of Titan (even though blogs are so 2009) because my long-time best friend “the Spoiler” has re-kindled my love for prog which had dwindled and burned out back around 2005/6.   I also acknowledge a debt of gratitude to both Dr. Thomas Woods and Dr. Brad Birzer. The love these two marvelous Christian scholars and amateur prog musicologists have for progressive music, and the joy in which they share their passions, caused me to discover BIG BIG TRAIN. This band alone can fuel a plethora of future posts. But I have also been diving back into the Flower Kings, Marillion, and Steven Wilson.

I only scratch the surface here.

That’s why there will be more posts to come.

The Moody Blues were only the beginning in this trek to the (n)Everland of Prog. I continue searching for lost chords.


The (n)EVERLAND of PROG

Searching For Lost Chords

Stormfields

Christian Humanism in a Post-Modern World

Progarchy

Pointing toward Proghalla