Archive for April, 2015

More of THE TANGENT (always a good thing)

April 29, 2015

Lest I lose all credibility with my “out-of-the-banks” rave review of A SPARK IN THE AETHER (see prior post) I should say–I haven’t heard all that much of THE TANGENT.  The only other album I’ve heard from start to finish is COMM (also brilliant).  So admittedly I’m a bit new to Andy Tillison and his genius band (thanks primarily to Progarchy and Dr. B) and had not a large corpus to compare it to.  I have a feeling I’m in for a real treat in the weeks ahead as my 2015 CD buying progresses.

In the meantime I was delighted to find a 3 hour podcast featuring THE TANGENT over at Wilf’s (David Elliott) cool podcast, The European Perspective (episode #200 from 4-4-15), hosted by THE DIVIDING LINE.

What a smorgasbord of supernal sounds!  Check it out.

http://www.thedividingline.com/tep.html

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A SPARK IN THE AETHER–Album of the Year? Yes, I think so.

April 29, 2015

A SPARK IN THE AETHER: THE MUSIC THAT DIED ALONE, VOLUMETWO                                                                                         THE TANGENT                                                                                     Inside Out U.S. (21 April 2015)                                                          Band:                                                                                                         Andy Tillison: keyboards & vocals                                                       Luke Machin: guitar                                                                              Jonas Reingold: bass                                                                              Theo Travis: saxes & flutes                                                              Morgan Agren: drums

spark

The rave reviews are starting to come in. And yes, there’s no real reason of worth or merit that gives me leave to review THE TANGENT’s new album (or any album for that matter). I have zero musical aptitude myself. I can’t “carry a tune,” play an instrument, or really understand rhythm, melody, or much else. I have a blog only because any albino three-toed sloth can have a blog. I post these “reviews” (air quotes, real quotes, ontological & metaphysical quotes) because they’re fun to write and my California best-friend enjoys them (or says he does).

But if I ever wanted, truly wanted, to review an album—THIS would be the one!

I just wish now I wasn’t “on record” (well, “record” for the three or so that read this blog) as saying earlier this year that the BEST ALBUM of 2015 was already a “fait accompli” with John Mitchell’s brilliantly stunning LONELY ROBOT, PLEASE COME HOME. But after hearing Tillison & company the “Robot” may have to settle for the silver medal.

I know that even though most readers (my “three” again) eschew reading track by track commentary I nonetheless want to share some thoughts.

Track 1: A SPARK IN THE AETHER (4:20)

What a smart “call” to open the album with this grand and soaring instro (for the first 1:12 or so) which then delivers a killer chorus of the earwig variety! A driving and surging middle and end propels the rest of the disc onward and upward. An A/A+ track.

Track 2: CODPIECES AND CAPES (12:34)

This 5-part mini-epic is, well, EPIC! Shredding guitar riffs by Luke Machin, a chiaroscuro maelstrom of synth/keys and drums, and some biting bitterness in the lyrics make this lengthy song both complex and compelling. An ultimate rating of A++

Track 3: CLEARING THE ATTIC (9:35)

Okay by now I’m just shaking my head in incredulity. Each of the first three tracks ALONE (by themselves) is worth the full price of the album. The soft flute of Theo Travis entrances the listener for the first 30 seconds or so before the keys and drums kick in. Morgan Agren is rock solid on the drums and Tillison…well, more on him in due course. The track has a nice middle section that is jazzy and fusion sounding which almost flirts with a Bossa Nova vibe. The song mixes funk with flutes in a Mahavishnu Orchestra maestro/musicianship tapestry. Tillison’s masterful compositional skills give us another A++

Track 4: AFTEREUGENE (5:47)

A tasteful flamenco-style acoustic solo starts the track and is soon joined by flute and keys. At the 2:20 mark the song morphs into a Floydian space-scape with almost a minor hint of MEDDLE like sonar pings. This wonderful homage to Waters, Gilmore & company has but one spoken lyric: “careful with that sax” and then trails off with a Coltrane like wailing. A+ rating (catching the trend?)

Track 5: THE CELULOID ROAD (21:37)

This is the albums piece de resistance. This 6-part analysis of American media culture (movies & television) is classic jazz/prog fusion but also art of the highest order. This is a tune worthy to be played with SUPPER’S READY.  Vibraphone synths, Reingold & Agren jamming out with Frontiere/Schifren referenced TV scoring, and some of the finest lyrics I’ve heard in decades ensures this song will be listened to repeatedly and with total attention each time.  Is Tillison fairly critiquing American consumerism and the Potemkin facades of hedonistic hypocrisy? Is he cynical and almost vicious in a schadenfreude voyeurism? No.  Tillison has penned a love letter.  This is a tender and yet muscular elegy to the ideals and idea of America and the entertainment (Hollywood, Broadway, and Tin-Pan Alley) hopes and dreams, as well as the actual physical grandeur, of the continent. His words demonstrate an inner hurt yes, but also a truly sympathetic prayer for a land and its exports in wonder that have enriched and bedazzled so many Britons and Europeans over the last 70 years.

A++

Track 6: A SPARK IN THE AETHER PART TWO (8:16)

After the prior magnum opus, The Tangent is almost showing off how incredibly good they all are. This is the perfect coda to a noir-like movie of loss and redemption. The soft and jazz piano opening builds to a deep and cavernous classical jazz/prog finale. Reingold gives the best bass for the last song and Tillison is so beautiful in his playing that calling him the Mozart of Prog is not hyperbole. As the chorus comes back again at the close the listener is surrounded by triumphant closure.

A+

This loosely fitting but tightly knit (a dynamic tension of paradoxical poetry) concept masterpiece will be remembered years from now alongside CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SELLING ENGLAND BY THE POUND, THICK AS A BRICK, and IN THE COURT OF THE CRIMSON KING. It’s that good. Its almost “Future-Shock” like cornucopia of sounds and ideas overwhelms the senses leaving the listener with a silly smile and the urge to literally standup and applaud when the album is over.

A sui generis aural epiphany! Thank you Messrs: Tillison, Machin, Reingold, Agren, and Travis.

http://www.insideoutmusic.com/release.aspx?IdRelease=1779

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ARENA: The Unquiet Sky

April 23, 2015

ARENA, The Unquiet Sky

Studio album 27 April 2015

12 tracks (55:30)

Band:

Paul Manzi: vocals

John Mitchell: guitars

Clive Nolan: keyboards

Kylan Amos: bass

Mick Pointer: drums

ArenaTHEunquietSKYalbumCOVER

Arena has produced a fine piece of prog rock that belongs in the library of every fan of classic neo-prog and especially in the hands of all fans of M.R. James, weird fiction & ghost stories, and classic horror movie adaptations.

The Unquiet Sky, the eighth studio release of one of the long-time mainstays of the “third-wave” of the neo-prog revival of the 1980s, delivers what prog listeners have always enjoyed—pure entertainment, conceptual storytelling, and blistering good musicianship!

This album while not inspired or elevated to “classic” status (at least not yet; time is usually needed in making such judgments) gives us, however, more than songs and music—one is placed into a cinematic horror story of black magic, evil, revenge, and perseverance in heroism. The larger than life story & libretto come from Clive Nolan’s brilliant re-imagining of the famous British short story ‘Casting the Runes’ by master of unsettling and intelligent spectrally-speculative fiction M. R. James. (a great podcast discussing this seminal short story can be heard at:http://www.mrjamespodcast.com/2012/04/episode-12a-casting-the-runes/ )

Nolan has not given us a rote regurgitation of the prose of James but has gone for the visual and emotive power of the 1957 screen adaptation (liberal adaptation) ‘Night of the Demon.’ ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0050766/)

curse

From the striking cover art of Kylan Amos (the bass player; this guy is GOOD) to the creepy and complex lyrics, this is a wonderful old-fashioned concept prog album that gets better and better upon successive listens.

The solid rhythm section of Pointer and Amos anchors everything down and keeps the story driving on relentlessly, BUT it’s the standout performances of Nolan on keyboards, Mitchell on guitars, and most of all Paul Manzi on vocals that totally draw the listener into this dark and deadly story.

From the opening 90 seconds of instrumental madness in track 1, The Demon Strikes, the whole disc bleeds out cinematic soundtrack undercurrents, painted upon by Mitchell’s incredible solos and Nolan’s washes of melodic synths and clever samples and sound effects. I am a huge, huge, John Mitchell fan (peremptorily naming his Lonely Robot/Welcome Home album Best Album of 2015 in February) but it’s the singing of Manzi that makes the whole concept story work. Whether the music varies from neo-prog tropes (heavy synths and keyboard duets with lead guitar) to more theatrical Andrew Lloyd Weber stage music (at times almost like Styx meets Tran Siberian Orchestra), it’s Manzi that sings with power and authority holding the listener’s interest. So whether it’s a slower ballad or a rousing power metal/prog metalish anthem, the vocals are clean, clear, and up front in the great mix.  The album is so good it will make you want to track down the movie, and especially the James’ short-story!

Arena has made an album I needed to hear. I rate it a solid A-/A.

http://www.arenaband.co.uk/

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00U0S0MBE/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_8?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DER

 

 

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Who’s The Band That Gets All The Chicks?

April 19, 2015

The TANGENT…you’re damn right!  🙂

The lyrics to this masterpiece of funky Jazz-Prog are so incredibly cool, that I’m back in 1968 with my Mustang 🙂

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United We Stand: A Review of 3RDegree’s THE LONG DIVISION

April 18, 2015

3rdegree2

3RDegree: THE LONG DIVISION

Released 4 September 2012

CD Baby

Listen at Bandcamp: https://3rdegree.bandcamp.com/album/the-long-division-cd-quality-24bit-441khz

Band:

George Dobbs/ Lead vocals, keyboards

Robert James Pashman/ bass, keyboards, backing vocals

Pat Kliesch/ guitar, backing vocals

Aaron Nobel/ drums, percussion

Eric Pseja/ guitar, backing vocals

Political manifestos aside, this is a darn fine album that I recommend. Political manifestos that in reality are passionate socio-economic critiques of injustice and manipulated inequality are both needed and welcome. From the striking album art on the cover to titles of several of the tunes (A Nihilist’s Love Song, Incoherent Ramblings, The Socio-Economic Petri Dish) this album is pure Prog-concept “BIG” in theme and rewarding in execution.

Track 1: You’re Fooling Yourself (6:51)

There is almost a Spock’s Beard vibe with this tune; something about the vocal harmonies hearkens back to Neal & co. The lyrics plead for self introspection and reflection, i.e. “take the read pill” therapy. I wish there had been more melody lines but then…

Track 2: Exit Strategy (5:44)

This second song told me where the album was going with both its 28 second instrumental opening, which had me hearing “library music” cues from the late 60s, as well as a mellow yet jazzy late 70s California vibe. There are hints of Ambrosia in this tune. I like Ambrosia.

Track 3: The Socio-Economic Petri Dish (6:51)

And now we have the style kicking on all cylinders. This is some fine Jazz/Funk prog with rhythm and base thick as gumbo, raspy-edged vocals, intelligent lyrics, and a cacophonic 2 minute instrumental opening. This song is Steely Dan meeting early Chicago (sans horns) and is simply “smart” music!

Track 4: Incoherent Ramblings (7:44)

This is 3RDegree’s masterpiece. Critically biting and socially conscious lyrics coupled with minor tonalities and numerous tempo changes weave a thematic Prog classic. Did I mention that the band really plays well?

Track 5: The Ones To Follow (3:12)

The prior track notwithstanding, this is my favorite song on the album! Changing up a bit with this shorter tune, the band gives us a light YES-like chimed opening that is then juxtaposed against darker vocals. In addition the almost English-folk melody produces a strange pastoral aftertaste.

Track 6: A Work Of Art (2:50)

This is another short song that falls a bit flat due to dry, almost emotionless, vocals. But with a crystal clear delivery (the mixing is superb) and intimacy, when the synth-saxophone lines come in, all is well.

Track 7: Televised (6:52)

A heavier piece with nice jazz piano and drums coupled with plenty of tempo changes. More Fusion Prog that gets the head a nodding!

Track 8: The Millions of Last Moments (2:06)

A nice short instrumental interlude of soft guitar that sounds like something Peter White would do. This simple understated melody is well placed in the albums’ song sequence.

Track 9: Memetic Pandemic (7:29)

Again, the bands use of vocal harmonies works well and makes up for lead singer Dobbs’ average pipes. This multi-layered track has a beautiful 2 minute piano and vocal introduction that segues seamlessly into the building volume and quickening tempos. This is a “feel good” song with an almost earwig-like catchy chorus. There is real feel of Pop/Prog era Genesis when the beat starts to swing.

Track 10: A Nihilist’s Love Song (3:39)

The band ends their concept work with gradually building and almost rousing anthem like coda. The repeating chorus “all that is—it’s meaningless. And all that was—it’s meaningless” is refuted by their own energy and underlying defiance of blind fate. Not wishing to be a deconstructionist reviewer, I nonetheless maintain that the emotional power of the song “trumps” the pessimistic lyric. This last song is like a Dylan Thomas shout into the void saying “fight on; keep swimming towards shore.”

A special shout out to Progarchy’s Brian Watson (no relation) for featuring 3RDegree on his debut prog-podcast AMERICAN PROG. This must-listen-to show is featured on Progzilla Radio.

http://www.progzilla.com/podcast-american-prog-edition-01/

The album reviewed above is also given a great review by SEA OF TRANQUILITY’s Pete Pardo at: http://www.seaoftranquility.org/reviews.php?op=showcontent&id=13024

Final Analysis:

This is a slab (I love that old vinyl term) of top-notch American Jazz Fusion Prog. These guys have some real ‘Jamming’ mojo that bring together both rhythmic drive AND, strange though it may see, a Big Big Train sense of care, concern, and seriousness about the way things are and the way things should/could/may be again one day. This band and album deserve to be discovered.

https://www.facebook.com/#!/3RDegree

http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/3rdegree2

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High-hat Hagiography

April 15, 2015

 

TOP TEN Reasons Mike Portnoy Is Not The Best Drummer Ever

 

  1. I’m old…I still remember Bonzo’s awesome Moby Dick!!  He was a beast.

 

  1. Sense of humor, could work well with those “others,” and did keep the beat: RINGO!!!

 

  1. Phenomenal rhythm genius AND strong-willed enough to drive even Miles a bit nuts—which counts for something. Not only should every prog head own Bitches Brew but also this drummers own, Lifetime: The Collection.  Tony Williams!

 

  1. Okay, okay, Portnoy is the better stick-man, (heck he could play better with amputated feet stubs) but he couldn’t match the smoky alto range: Karen Carpenter (just listen to Solitaire)

 

  1. Sure we all love Carl Palmer, Alan White, Nick D’Virgilio, Terry Bozzio, & Phil, but c’mon, we bow before Crimson’s original King: Bill Bruford.

 

  1. Gene Krupa…just because he was cool.  That, and Drum Boogie!

 

  1. Because everyone has a sentimental favorite: Max Roach, Keith Moon, Ginger Baker, Billy Cobham, Bill Ward, and, for me: GRAEME EDGE!

 

  1. Animal!

 

  1. Buddy Rich. Because not only was he as good (probably better) than all the others. He used to do “it” in wearing a tight suit and necktie 🙂

 – – – Drum Roll Please – – –

And The Number One Reason Mike Portnoy is NOT the Best Drummer Ever:

peart

  1. NEIL PEART (nuff said!)

 

p.s. Portnoy is awesome by the way and on my best/fave list

 

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Ian Anderson Interview

April 14, 2015

I recently discovered on YouTube that Rick Wakeman has (or had) and interview show called Face to Face with Rick Wakeman.  I’ve enjoyed his interviews with Tony Iommoi and Jon Lord immensely.  But Wakeman’s interview with Tull frontman (heck, Tull “heart/soul/mind/& body”) Ian Anderson to be the grand-slam winner.  Anderson is brilliant, witty, congenial, and comes across not only as a true “maestro,” but just a decent chap!

Well worth the time spent to listen to this epic conversation between “cape & codpiece.”  🙂

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Tillison Interview

April 11, 2015

You may have already heard this interview with the amazingly cool ANDY TILLISON…but if not: http://progreport.com/andy-tillison-the-tangent-interview/

A special “shout-out” to THE PROG REPORT, a darn fine web site that I recommend.  http://progreport.com/

Be sure to purchase the new album by The TANGENT, A Spark In The Aether, which will be released 21 April!

 

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A Very Moody Top-Ten

April 8, 2015

The TOP-TEN Reasons The Moody Blues ARE Prog!

 

  1. Have you not looked at the cover art of their first 7 LPs???       Plus: Gatefolds!

 Favour

  1. They are not now, or ever will be, in the “Rock and Roll” Hall of Fame (sic).

 

  1. The concept album Days of Future Passed with the “London Festival Orchestra” (some Decca classical musicians)

 

  1. Camel and Tull had flute players…Ray Thomas, anyone?

 

  1. Res Ipsa baby:

  1. 12 years of participation by one-time YES keyboard wizard Patrick Moraz.

 

  1. Songs with Graeme Edge’s poetry (Robert Frost he wasn’t)

 

  1. They’ve got to be old Prog dinosaurs…they’ve done an Ocean Cruise gig…and they ARE British.

 

  1. Justin Hayward took part in Jeff Wayne’s musical version of The War of The Worlds…that’s got to count for something.

 

Drum Roll Please

And the Number One Reason The Moody Blues ARE Prog!

 

 

  1. Three Words:  Mike Pinder: Mellotron!

PROG magazine issue # 54 CD review

April 8, 2015

I could hardly be happier. My latest issue of PROG magazine just arrived—the one with the Marillion cover (and a great article about the neo-prog bands of the early 80s).

 003

But as fun as the magazine is, I submit it’s worth the price of subscription just to get the CD sampler. I am of the generation that has been (is) fighting (within my own brain) the battle for physical, “hard copy” media and thus I don’t download. Being too cheap to have satellite radio in the auto, I love CD samplers. PROG’s latest collection, “LORDS OF THE BACKSTAGE” is a corker; maybe the best one I’ve heard.

001

With 10 tracks clocking in at about an hour I only found one song that gets a less than an “A” rating.

 002

Track 1: “The Storm” from Arjen Lucassen and Anneke van Giersbergen’s latest magnum opus THE GENTLE STORM kicks of the disc in epic fashion. This driving and rhythmic guitar and drum driven song starts off in almost a NWOBHM/power metal way but when Anneke starts to sing (accompanied by chorus) it morphs into a symphonic metal masterpiece that sounds like a gutsier Annie Haslam singing with Nightwish.

Track 2: MARILLION deliver big-time with a 7:30 live version of “Sounds That Can’t Be Made.” I can’t really be objective right now with this band—as it’s my favorite. I feel myself starting to go “fan-boy” in my adulation. Pete and Ian are simply the “tightest” rhythm section in rock. Mark Kelly as the king of both sampling and digital programming also lays down some lush and lyrical “story-telling” cinematic score-worthy keys. Rothery stays mostly “behind the scenes” with his axe, ever so gently guiding the melody till he cuts loose a bit at the 5:40 mark. And Steve Hogarth…just “wow.” “h” is raw, visceral, melodic, and moving…as always. MARILLION remains the one band that always sounds as good, if not better, in their live performances.

Track 3: AISLES, a Chilean band, delivers a slower love-song with some great harmonies and a beautiful soft acoustic guitar opening.

Track 4: One of the treats on a sampler is when one encounters an unexpected surprise. LUNA ROSA delivers a 4:58 song filled with smoky flute, deep rumbling bass & synths, an almost prog-lounge (but in a good way) key board theme, and the strong, dark, yet mellow vocals of song bird Anne-Marie Helder. This is a band I will explore!

Track 5: HAWKLORDS with their short and “to-the-point” (3:01) “Sonic Seven Kiss” gives the listener exactly what a fan of the Hawkwind/Hawklords genre of music expects—SPACE MUSIC LIVING AND ORGONE ACCUMULATING!  When the music starts you’re instantly blasting to Neptune with punk-tinged vocals smashing into noisy crunchy guitars. There’s all the mud, vocal distortions, head-banging, and electronic noises to cause your space-suited glove to register a big “thumbs up.”

Track 6: This 4:50 song “Frozen Processions” by BARREN EARTH is the only “meh” tune for me. My lower rating is not due to any sonic deficiencies or lack of stellar musicianship, but simply due to my lessening interest in melodic Death Metal. There’s some great shredding, nice double-kick drumming, and requisite growling vocals, but it just didn’t “do it” for me. Sorry guys.

Track 7: Another real treat with “Traveling Man” by M-OPUS. This 5:30 song has tons of Hammond organ and synths, but it’s the outer-space sounds/mojo and the rich & varied melodies that conjure up images that run the gamut from Nektar (Down To Earth) to the neo-prog crop of UK bands in the early 1980s. M-OPUS is also now on my radar for future purchase!

Track 8: I’ve already enthusiastically praised THE MIGHTY BARD and their “must-buy” album “Blue God and Other Stories” in a prior post. The song “I Know” is a pure gem of (9:15) melancholy grandeur and sad and mournful battle-weary beauty. This is an “A++” track that hearkens back to the more pop-Prog/cross-over genius of early Procol Harum and Uriah Heep. Put down whatever you’re doing and buy the album!

Track 9: RA RISING and their song “Again” instantly puts a smile on my face whenever I listen to the first 43 seconds of its lilting Canterbury folk-prog meadow jauntery. This track is such a feel good Ray Davies (or maybe Donovan) meets Barclay James Harvest, that one can’t but help be transported into rural England and the proverbial “village green.”

Track 10: MAGIC BUS gives us the final song on the disc with the 5:10 track “Ballad of Lord Sogmore.” Slow flute, psychedelic droning Mellotron, Hammond organ, and early King Crimson-ish vocals, produce a pleasing swirling conclusion to a wonderful hour of Prog.

The song selectors have really outdone themselves with this edition.

If you’re not a subscriber, I heartily recommend picking this issue up on the newsstands (Hastings, Barnes & Noble) if you can. Astounding Sounds and Amazing Music, indeed!

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The (n)EVERLAND of PROG

Searching For Lost Chords

Stormfields

Christian Humanism in a Post-Modern World

Progarchy

Pointing toward Proghalla