Posts Tagged ‘John Mitchell’

THE BEST SO FAR OF 2015 (i.e. My “Faves”)

July 5, 2015

This is a post I’ve been meaning to write for several weeks now. I was jostled out of my vegetative state by a couple of recent posts on the premier web site for all things prog: PROGARCHY: Pointing toward Proghalla (the only site you REALLY need to be following! http://progarchy.com/ ) I am constructing this list without the benefit of reading PROGARCHY’s own “The Best So Far” list for 2015 (even though it’s a list for primarily prog metal).

By way of embarrassed admission I must plead lack of funds for not yet owning the new Neal Morse album, Grand Experiment, and the new Steven Wilson album, Hand. Cannot. Erase. Although I have heard most of Wilson’s magnum opus one time from YouTube and other on-line sources, out of fairness to these discs I’m not going to rate them yet…I need proper and extended time with music before making “best of” lists.

sparkAETHER

As it now stands the two runaway albums for me are THE TANGENT: A Spark In The Aether (the genius work of Andy Tillison), and LONELY ROBOT: Please Come Home (the genius work of John Mitchell).   These two albums are almost sure to be in a neck and neck horse race photo-finish as December 31st looms closer and closer. Look for these to be in the 1 and 2 top spots.

Lonely Robot 2

And now, in no particular order, and without any real reviewing comments, I would add the following:

BIG BIG TRAIN: Wassail (sure it’s an EP, but I don’t care…it’s just that darn spectacular and it IS BIG BIG TRAIN…nuff said)

GLASS HAMMER: The Breaking Of The World

THE GENTLE STORM: Diary (the stunning collaboration between Lucassen and van Giersbergen will be near the top 5 I’m betting)

ARGOS: A Seasonal Affair

BEARDFISH: +4636 Comfortzone

ARENA: The Unquiet Sky (great music but also a great weird story inspiration)

JOHN CARPENTER: Lost Themes (I’m a sucker for Carpenter’s stuff but this disc probably will fade out of the top ten and maybe even out of the top 15 or 20; and it’s not really prog is it?)

KARNATAKA: Secrets of Angels

SANGUINE HUM: Now We Have A Light (a sleeper; darkhorse)

MAGIC PIE: King For A Day

My Top-Ten list for 2015 will no doubt have some, or most, of these wonderful slabs of sonic bliss. I can’t wait for the next 6 months of new releases. I can’t wait for the money to actually buy them.

Mellotron set to 11

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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

 

 

Mellotron set to 11

THE MIGHTY BARD: Blue God And Other Stories

March 14, 2015

  Bard1

   What a delightful find! Sometimes the serendipitous and highly subjective art appreciation of the consumer leads to buried treasure. I would not have listened to this album but for the cool “cartoon/comic-book” style spaceman artwork on the album jacket. The cover art, along with the fact that the band was generous enough to allow the whole disc to be listened to for free on Bandcamp, well, got me to listen to it.

I’m buying this album and I’m giving it a big “thumbs up” to anyone who enjoys softer melodic keyboard driven compositions. Most of the tunes hearken back to 1st generation prog styles and themes—AND THAT’S A GOOD THING! “Nihil sub sole novum.” THE MIGHTY BARD is a tight functioning group of excellent musicians that fire up pleasurable listening memories of Al Stewart, Styx, and Starcastle (maybe even some early Ambrosia). But amongst contemporary prog geniuses I would have to say that if one enjoys Kino, Frost*, It Bites (i.e. John Mitchell) as well as Cosmograf (Robin Armstrong) I guarantee a very enjoyable encounter with THE MIGHTY BARD.

The nine tracks are essentially 7 longish compositions bookended by tracks Before and After, a pair of sound-effect laden synth heavy ambient vibrations and some back-masking/tracking on the outro (track 9). But the main core of this album is a rich stew of early 80-ish synth keyboards (Neil Cockle) and emotive electric guitar (Dave Clarke). We’re not talking Wakeman and Latimer here, but still the C&C synthesis along with some tasty Bass by Mark Cadman (especially his funky run on Bird) deliver harmonious blends and some breathtaking beauty.

From the folk-prog of Maybe (track 3) to my two favorites Bird (track 5) and Blue God (track 2) the listener is surrounded by Floydian instrumental runs and Barclay James Harvest pastoral vibes.

Had I heard this album last calendar year it would have made my 2014 “Honorable Mention” list—I like it that much. Listen to it on Bandcamp: http://themightybard.bandcamp.com/album/blue-god-and-other-stories or at Progstreaming: http://www.progstreaming.com/_wb/index.php

Bard2

I can’t wait for their next offering. These 6 blokes are Bards indeed; and they’re mighty!

Mellotron On!

FROST* Milliontown (A “throw-back” review)

March 2, 2015

This album might well have slipped between the cracks and never have been heard were it not for John Mitchell’s blindingly good new CD, Please Come Home just released from his latest project LONELY ROBOT. Yes, of course I’ve probably heard a track or two from his other projects over the years (no doubt on the Dividing Line Broadcast website) or seen an ad for one of them in the pages of Uncut or Mojo, or one of the other glossies before the advent of PROG magazine, but those brief encounters just didn’t stick in my memory bank. So, thanks now to Wikipedia and YouTube I am aware, familiar, and in love with Mitchell’s other two stellar projects KINO (R.I.P.) and FROST*

With no further adieu, a “throw-back” review.

 FROSTMilliontown_cover

Milliontown is a well crafted and crisply produced affair. The mixing is clean and upfront with superb musicianship from some of England’s best Prog players. John Mitchell is truly an underrated guitarist while drummer Andy Edwards turns in a blistering performance, especially on the final track. But at its heart, this is a keyboard and synth driven opus that lays at the creative and compositional feet of wizard of the ivories, Jem Godfrey!

From the first few seconds of tinkling piano (I call the sound ‘ambient owlwind’) on the opening track Hyperventilate to the final piano coda of track 6, the listener is marinated in a wash of melodies and buoyant themes of cautious but optimistic striving and rebirth. Godfrey and company do an admirable job of mixing and matching (and mashing) the louder and more raucous hard-rock elements with the delicate and intricate interplays between guitar and keys. No Me No You has a real SPOCK’S BEARD/Neal Morse vibe but with a twist of electronica and processed background voices. Snowman has such an infectious and gossamery—like opening, that this ‘dreamprog’ has one forming mental images of a sonic snowman and making beautiful comparisons to even Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band!

Even my least favorite track (but still a solid “B/B+”) The Other Me has a great give and take between heavier metal rock with industrial discordant stabs of rhythm and some delicious quiet vocal passages.

Track 5, The Black Light Machine, which clocks in at 10:06 is worth the price of the whole album. The harmonies between Godfrey and Mitchell give this a TRANSATLANTIC (there’s that Morse again ;)) feel. Mitchell just “kills” this track with his finest axe shredding. The album closes out with a mammoth 26 minute colossus titled Milliontown. This is a song of great melodies, beautiful vocal harmonies (again), triumphant soaring themes, and a flower-like resilience of stubborn perseverance and growth after a long thunder storm.

FROST* is bracing and exhilarating and never numbing. With Milliontown, these musicians thaw the spirit and freeze out boredom and mainstream sameness.

This album should in the collection of anyone who appreciates PROG music.

The album can be listened to in its entirety at bandcamp: http://frost.bandcamp.com/album/milliontown

But should be purchased then immediately: http://www.amazon.com/Milliontown-FROST/dp/B000G04UYG/ref=sr_1_1?s=music&ie=UTF8&qid=1425324615&sr=1-1&keywords=frost

Mellotron On!

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


The (n)EVERLAND of PROG

Searching For Lost Chords

Stormfields

Christian Humanism in a Post-Modern World

Progarchy

Pointing toward Proghalla