Veteran Scottish proggers Abel Ganz, Alan Reed’s alma mater, released an album this month – their first since 2008’s Shooting Albatross.
The eponymous Abel Ganz is a whopping 72 minutes of new music and marks a deliberate attempt to move in a new direction, absorbing new influences. But the key thing you need to know is that it’s utterly splendid. Just a single listen was enough to put it squarely on my ‘Albums Of The Year’ shortlist and have me staying up late to share my excitement with you here in the hallowed pages of Progarchy.
I can’t offer much beyond some basic impressions after spending such a short time with this music, but here they are, for what they’re worth:
Delusions of Grandeur is a short instrumental opener that starts with delicate piano and oboe, then a crescendo of strings – just an orchestral appetiser for what is to follow.
Obsolescence is up next – an epic in five parts, totalling nearly 22 min. Part 1 is fleetingly reminiscent of Steve Hackett’s Narnia in a couple of places, but the acoustic guitar and harmonies are mostly of the Crosby, Stills & Nash sort, setting up the lovely summery vibe that pervades the album. Part 2 layers drums, synth and recorders on top of that acoustic loveliness, yielding some up-beat pop that is sure to have you tapping your feet and singing along. Bass guitar comes to the fore in Part 3, before some classic prog synth soloing. Part 4 returns us to largely acoustic territory initially, augmenting guitar with flute, before building to a crescendo of church organ sounds. Part 5 closes the suite with some electric guitar that starts somewhat wistfully and then develops into a more epic solo.
Spring is another short instrumental track, this time played entirely on acoustic guitar, serving as a bridge to subsequent more substantial pieces.
Recuerdos takes a leaf out of Big Big Train’s book and brings a brass band into play. Brass and acoustic guitar interweave over the soft chirrup of cicadas in this delicate and rather beautiful song, one of the highlights of the album.
As Heartland begins, the sound of insects morphs into the noises of a children’s playground and then the song develops a distinctly eastern flavour, both rhythmically and melodically, the latter due largely to some heavily treated female vocals that sound like they are being played backwards.
The album’s third instrumental track, End Of Rain, has a repeating acoustic guitar motif at its core but surrounds this with more conventionally proggy sounds, Mellotron included. The outro is unusual, played solely on bass and drums.
By way of contrast, Thank You has a warm and very traditional feel, even to the point of having lyrics that are partly in gaelic. It’s part folk and part country (complete with slide guitar), but the mash-up is surprisingly effective.
The oddly-titled A Portion of Noodles is the last and best of the album’s four instrumentals. It’s a purely acoustic track, like Spring, but is melodically more interesting.
Clocking in at over 14 minutes, penultimate track Unconditional is the longest single piece on the album (the five parts of Obsolescence being identified as separate tracks). It’s a good solid prog epic that flirts with jazz for a brief period, 4 minutes in.
Brass is at the forefront in closing track The Drowning, adding a tinge of melancholy to this understated piece.
In summary: this is gorgeous, summery, acoustic prog – and you really need it in your life. Head over to Bandcamp now to listen and buy.
In case you didn’t know, 40 years ago today:
On this day in history 40 years ago, a young drummer from St. Catharines named Neil Peart officially joined Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee in RUSH… which is the line-up that has remained the same for the last four decades.
Happy Anniversary RUSH!
Virtual high-fives to all the fans for the last 40 years!
Sloan, one of Canada’s best bands, well known here in the Great White North for their mastery of rock and power pop, has brand new music coming out on September 9.
Sloan will release a double album, with each one of the four band members having the songs they individually wrote allocated to one of the four sides of the two vinyl LPs.
I like how they think! I always organize my own playlists along the lines of what I like to call “vinyl time.”
And of course you can also buy a digital copy of this new Sloan disc, which is appropriately called Commonwealth.
Two fine tracks are available already. Previews are available below: “Keep Swinging (Downtown)” and “Cleopatra”.
As I watch the political ads attempting to convince each Connecticut resident who the “right” choice for governor is, I cannot help but think of this brilliant song by The Strawbs, a band I have enjoyed for a few years now. “Mind of My Own,” not surprisingly, urges people to think for themselves, a skill which seems to be in short supply these days. I especially recommend playing this song out loud (or at least in your head) if you ever find yourself surrounded by a group of Republicans or Democrats. Now, if only this song could be heard by every American…
A postcard from Balham
You know what it is like. You wait for something progtastic to happen and then 42 bands and artists come along at practically the same time. Well, that has to be something to celebrate!
This is what is happening this weekend in Old Londontown when a star-studded cast converges on The Bedford, a Victorian former hotel, now a pub in Balham. The venue was made famous when it was used as the courtroom for the unsolved case of Charles Bravo, a lawyer who died a lingering death from poisoning, whose second inquest returned a verdict of wilful murder.
Now, nothing so sinister is likely to happen this weekend, as the venue is now very much the community hub in Balham and for four days Thursday to Sunday, it will be resonating with the sounds of 42 different shades of prog – from the gentle and acoustic, to the wild and the widdly, to the classic and symphonic, through to the downright bonkers.
This is the Resonance Festival, the brainchild of The Gift’s mainman, Mike Morton, who had a eureka moment last year. His vision was to stage a festival where all the proceeds would go to charity, in this case, the wonderful Macmillan Cancer Support, which does so much amazing work to help cancer sufferers and their families through some challenging times.
Scouring all corners of the prog firmament, he has gathered together some of the most happening names in prog. The biggest coups are the two main headliners on Sunday night comprising LA prog metallers Bigelf and Swedish sensations Änglagård who are making their one and only appearance in the UK this year.
The list of must-sees is endless but some of the highlights are going to be The Enid on Saturday who continue to wow audiences throughout the land with their pastoral, theatrical brand of prog. Also on the bill for Saturday is Tim Bowness and Henry Fool who will be joined by the legendary Theo Travis.
The redoubtable and weekend birthday boy Matt Stevens will be multi-tasking with an acoustic set before he then cranks up the volume with The Fierce and the Dead.
Elsewhere, you can see the much loved Mostly Autumn on Thursday evening and Friday’s line-up heralds another show from Lifesigns whose live reputation grows ever stronger, their creator John Young one of the most passionate of all the prog maestros.
There is a rare appearance on the Sunday from the quintessentially English composer/guitarist/lutist Francis Lickerish and the Secret Garden, and that other great exponent of olde Englande, Guy Manning, will be gracing the acoustic stage on Saturday.
If ever proof was needed that the future is so bright, prog now has to wear shades, then look no further than the Sunday when Synaesthesia, Maschine and HeKz, all comprising some prodigiously talented Twentysomethings, will show why they are regarded as among the vanguard of the next wave.
Last but by no means least, there will be a performance by Mike Morton’s band The Gift who have just released Land of Shadows, an album which has garnered some rave reviews from a number of prog scribes.
It’s a very laudable thing that Mike and his dedicated team are doing to bring together so many spectacular names under one roof and spread them across three stages. So let’s party on down to Balham to charge our glasses and raise a toast to our beloved prog; and to celebrate a couple of birthdays which may also may be happening around this time.
Wish you were here. http://www.resonance-festival.com/
Love and light,
As far as I know, I have the very proud distinction of being the very first North American to review “Wired to Earth,” the first release from the Tin Spirits. Greg Spawton had recommended it as a unique form of guitar prog, and I ordered it immediately. That Dave Gregory played on it didn’t hurt my decision, either. I had just written something about Alex Lifeson, Matt Stevens, and Dave Gregory being among my all-time favorite guitarists, and I was certainly elated to have more proof of the truth of this. So, yeah, I’m proud to have reviewed Wired to Earth immediately upon its release. It grabbed me from the moment I first heard it. And, as my wife can verify, I pretty much listen to it all of the time, especially when The Birzers are on the road. Which is quite often. And, because of some very personal family history, the fourth track on the album, “Broken,” means as much to me as any song. If you’re not religious, forgive me–but I can’t help but thank God for the health of Penny. You’ll see why in the interview.
When I heard that “Scorch” (forthcoming, September 15, from Esoteric Records) would be the second release from the Tin Spirits, I put away my very shy nature [for those of you who know me, you're laughing] and ask Mark Kilminster about the album. Not surprisingly–after all, he’s an incredibly nice guy–he responded with enthusiasm. So, wonderful, say I! Thank you, Mark.
Progarchy: Mark, thank you so much for taking time to talk with us. We know you have to be incredibly busy, and we’re honored [honoured for our English readers!] you’d spend some time with us. About half of our readership is North American, and, despite my best efforts, Tin Spirits is still not as well known on this side of the Atlantic as it should be. For our benefit, would you mind giving a bit of history of the band? How it came together? How you knew and recruited Dave Gregory? Where the name comes from?
Mark: No problem Brad, the honour is all mine. I’ll attempt the short version! Dan, Doug and I had been in a functioning band together since 2006, playing standard rock covers. Dan was already friends with Dave through Dan’s GigRig company (amazing guitar pedal switching systems) and through a bit of superfan stalking (sorry Dan!).
Our first meeting with the four of us came about when Dan wanted to create an “Amp Shootout” video to demonstrate the different tonal capabilities of different amps. He asked Doug and me to play drums and bass respectively in the video and as a long shot, he asked Dave if he’d like to take part, too. Much to our surprise and excitement, Dave happily agreed, and we spent the day jamming in a studio. It was clear to all that the four of us made a pretty decent racket so Dan suggested asking Dave if he would be interested in joining us to create a new band, initially playing covers we would normally not be able or allowed to play. Dave happily agreed, and Tin Spirits was born.
With regards to the name, it’s actually one of the hardest things to come up with. That and album titles. We spent weeks bouncing name ideas backwards and forwards via email. If no-one replies, you know it’s a duffer! Then, all of a sudden, Dave just turned up at rehearsal one day and said “What about Tin Spirits?” and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
Incidentally, exactly the same thing happened with the album titles, “Wired To Earth” and “Scorch.”
Progarchy: Youtube is full of videos of the Tin Spirits covering great rock and prog songs. You cover XTC (naturally), Rush, Steely Dan, Yes. Can you tell us a little bit about this? Why these, and how much did they influence the style of original Tin Spirits music?
Mark: Well, the initial idea was “let’s play the songs we love and have always wanted to play but couldn’t.” Mainly because if you play Roundabout at a wedding, you won’t get paid! [The interviewer is laughing very, very hard at this—ed.] So we each went away and created a “dream setlist,” and it became clear very quickly that we were all big prog fans. So once we’d gone through everyone’s list and picked the ones we all agreed on, that’s what we ended up with.
We also covered Radiohead, Frank Zappa, Free, and Jellyfish to name a few. After we’d done a few local gigs we decided to have a go at writing our own stuff and see how far it went. That’s basically what “Wired To Earth” became, an experiment to see if we could write songs as a band. There was no agenda as far as whether it should be prog or rock or whatever, but I guess because we all have a penchant for that genre, “Wired to Earth” naturally leans towards it (without keyboards).
Progarchy: In the end, you chose to cover a Genesis song for “Wired to Earth.” Was this a hard pick?
Mark: In hindsight, perhaps we shouldn’t have included a cover but as we’d spent such a long time rehearsing the songs, we thought it would be worthwhile sticking one in. I think we chose “Back in NYC” as it was the one we could knock out fairly quickly.
Progarchy: Mark, as you know, my favorite [again, favourite for our English readers!] song on the first album is “Broken.” The lyrics are much more than lyrics. They really reach toward poetry. Can you give us the background to that song?
Mark: Thank you very much Brad.
It was the last song written for “Wired To Earth” and nearly didn’t make it, to be honest.
We had a deadline of early March 2011 to finish the album and were still working on it up to the Christmas 2010 break. We recorded a rough demo without vocals so I could work on the lyrics over the holidays.
My wife was pregnant at the time so the lyrics were initially about my second chance in life, essentially going from being single at 32 to having a family at 35. She was due in May 2011, so the album would be all done by then. However, on 6th Feb our daughter was born 14 weeks premature, weighing just 785 grams [1.73lbs.] and everything turned upside down.
As I remember it, the lyrics were written around the end of February and convey what we were going through at the time. It was a 50-mile round trip to the hospital each day, hoping our little girl was doing ok. So the song was recorded right up to the wire and, in fact, Dan and Dave recorded the twin guitar parts in a freezing, converted church hall one night until 3AM in order to meet the deadline.
Penny is now 3, by the way, and you’d never know to look at her what a tough start to life she had.
Progarchy: We’re in the middle of a glorious moment for prog and for rock—despite what the doomsayers claim. How do you see the Tin Spirits? That is, when someone is looking back at 2014, twenty years from now, how do you want the Tin Spirits to be placed and remembered?
Mark: You know what? It would just be nice to be remembered. There is so much new music out there these days that it’s very difficult to hold anyone’s attention before they move on. I’m as guilty as anyone of that. Ooh, great album. Next! It would be great to think that in 20 years, someone will see a Tin Spirits album in their collection and think “Ah, I think I’ll listen to that today.”
The Tin Spirits are: Mark Kilminster (vocals; bass); Dave Gregory (guitar); Daniel Steinhardt (guitar; vocals); and Doug Mussard (drums; vocals). “Scorch” is produced by Tin Spirits and Mitch Keen; mixed by Paul Stacey (Oasis).
The tracks for “Scorch”: Carnivore; Summer Now; Old Hands; Binary Man; Little Eyes; Wrapped And Tied; She Moves Among Us; Garden State.
Progarchy will let you know as soon as it’s available for preorder. Or, of course, go straight to the official website: http://tinspirits.co.uk
You can order “Wired to Earth” from amazon.com and other outlets, including directly from the record company: http://www.cherryred.co.uk/esoteric-exd.asp?id=3598. Please do. Not only do I give the Tin Spirits my highest recommendation in 2014, but I think I’ll still be promoting them in 2034, should I still be wired to this earth.
Jason Notte on how “Weird Al Yankovic Just Made a Joke of the Music Industry“:
Google CEO Larry Page watched Psy’s now-ubiquitous Gangnam Style rake in $2 per 1,000 pageviews on its way Ito a $1.2 million payday by November alone. Page called Gangnam style “a glimpse of the future” as Psy was able to make a bonafide bankable hit through a video/download approach that had since been reserved for novelties like The Bed Intruder Song or Rebecca Black’s Friday. Songs no longer need airplay, major label backing or televised videos to be hits: They just needs to catch people’s attention and hold it as Yankovic has done for years.
If you applied that $2 per 1,000 to the 20 million views Yankovic’s four videos received during their first week of airplay, that’s $40,000 in one week alone. Not $1.2 million, but still not shabby for a week’s work.
But how does a company monetize that, you ask? Most of Yankovic’s partners do so through advertising: A concept that’s lost on many companies trying to make a dime off of streaming.
A glimpse of the future and the way prog bands can perhaps make some money to keep the music alive?