Author Archives: Craig Breaden
News has reached Progarchy that Daevid Allen has left us. Sad, yes, but as founder of both Soft Machine and the inimitable Gong he brought a lot of joy in his long life. Oh, you pothead pixie! Play on….
“What are we gonna do man?”
“Eat that phone book”
Now if you want to know just how to tune into the vibes of the planet
Nobody else can tell ya everybody got their own way to do it
Oom papa zoom de zoom
a hubba hubba gubba oom sticky stucka
Oom papa zoom de zoom
a cuppa hubba dubba oom sticky stucka
Bum chicky bum chi bum
a trippa cup a trippa om boppa maia
Bum chicky bum chi bum
a trippa cup a trippa om boppa maia
Oom papa zoom de zoom
a cuppa hubba dubba oom sticky stucka
Bum chicky bum chi bum
a trippa cup a trippa om mama maia
All that you got to do is get yourself together
Don’t dither, do it
Then when you’re gong you can’t go wrong
‘Cause you’ve become the songs and the planet
Yesterday I climbed a tree
Nearer to the Gong to be
The planet was I realized,
One of the spots before my eyes
Mama maia I pray for banana
Na na na na banana bad yada da
Bo bo bo yo I pray for banana
Banana na na banana bad yada da
O mama maia he he oh oh banana
Banana na na na banana bad yada da
Ya na ne na na…
At the end of the day
When there’s nothing left to play
And you’re all alone ‘cept for radio gnome
Here’s your angel’s egg for breakfast in the morning
(from Eat That Phone Book Coda)
As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, hard rock and progressive bands were taking serious stock, re-inventing sounds that had sustained them and, for fans, defined an era. The list of bands who turned the corner of the 1980s influenced by punk and disco and new wave is long, and includes many touchstone bands of prog and heavy rock: Yes, Genesis, Led Zeppelin, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, REO Speedwagon, Supertramp, Moody Blues, Chicago, Judas Priest. Songs became shorter, tighter, glossed in reverb and electronics. In an odd way the 1960s really ended around 1979-80. It was a death knell for bands unable to adapt to the FM version of the pop single.
Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s hindsight, but looking back at those handful of years I find it fascinating that three of rock’s great survivors — AC/DC, Black Sabbath, Rush — issued essential work in this time of transition. You won’t find three bands on the harder side of the rock spectrum to be more different, but the creative spark feeding each of them isn’t dissimilar. Aussie rockers AC/DC, considered up to this time mostly a snotty and raucous punk band (believe it or not), issued their landmark Highway to Hell in August 1979, redefining the sound of hard rock. Lead singer Bon Scott promptly made good on his self-destructive promise in February 1980, and the band turned on a dime, hiring Brian Johnson and releasing their best record, Back in Black, that July. Black Sabbath had jettisoned Ozzie Osbourne in 1979, and taken on Rainbow singer Ronnie James Dio, releasing the pop metal beauty Heaven and Hell in April 1980 and its equally excellent follow up, Mob Rules, in November 1981. Rush, on the heels of its long-form prog titan Hemispheres, cut song length, distilled their pop hooks, and issued Permanent Waves in January 1980, to be followed by their widely acknowledged masterpiece, Moving Pictures, in February 1981. That each of these bands continued producing consistently good and sometimes great work, and toured, well into the 2000-teens, comes down to the dynamic that kept them artistically and commercially viable in 1979-1981.
AC/DC’s output in the 1970s was unique, an amplified, dirty, dangerous version of Chuck Berry roots rock as set in a Down Under pub. Bon Scott considered his group a punk band, with good reason. Their sound, stripped and lean, had little to do with the increasingly orchestral tendency of European prog or the overt commercial leanings of softening American rock. Brothers Malcolm and Angus Young’s wiry electric playing punctuated Scott’s leering Puckish howl, and had way more in common with the Stooges or the New York Dolls than the Stones or Zep. Songs like “TNT,” “Dirty Deeds (Done Dirt Cheap),” and “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Want to Rock’n’Roll),” say it all. 1979’s Highway To Hell was a massive leap, bolstering the sonics and tightening the pop songcraft, always in their songs while losing none of the visceral dirty-ness, lyrically and musically. AC/DC’s stock-in-trade innuendo was always meant to make you blush, make you laugh, and make you mad (objectification of women in rock is, no doubt, a double-pronged devil), all trumped by making you rock. Scott’s ode to miscreantism, the title track brims with cocksure attitude, and was echoed 11 months later on Back in Black’s “Hell’s Bells.”
“Hells Bells”and “Back in Black” were both tributes to Scott and a declaration of a new direction. Where Highway to Hell and its predecessors were all punk-ish attitude and like Scott teetered on a precarious edge, Back in Black had a metal edge, was decidedly mid-tempo, ready for the sports bar and dance floor. Producer Mutt Lange, who had also shepherded Highway to Hell, mined gold. Back in Black was the second best-selling record of the 1980s, and for certain, it contains some of the best straight-ahead riff rockers you can imagine, facing its detractors without blinking.
Black Sabbath’s first six albums are legendary things indeed. In recent years they’ve come to signify the creation myth of heavy metal, and continue to be the genre’s gold standard. Sabbath’s last two records of the ‘70s with Ozzy Osbourne, though, were a mixed bag — tired, coked up, a bit lost (nothing against them: let’s recall this was still the era where, if you weren’t the Eagles, you took two weeks a year to make an album then toured the other 50). So while Ozzy regrouped with Randy Rhoads, Iommi, Butler, and Ward brought in Deep Purple producer Martin Birch and vocalist Ronnie James Dio, who had worked together in Rainbow. One of the most interesting singers in rock history, Dio was already 37 years old, had fronted the band Elf across several very decent rock records then, along with Ritchie Blackmore, helped reinvent the Deep Purple sound in Rainbow, bringing full-on fantasy-inspired lyric writing to heavy rock. This approach was a knife’s edge, and for the rest of his career Dio, a consummate singer and a terrific performer, didn’t always succeed in steering the fantasy metaphors toward the sublime. The two records he made with the newly Ozzy-less, and rudderless, Black Sabbath, however, showcase his strengths as a singer, songwriter, and a bandleader: pop vocal melodies soar over the metal undertow that could be conjured only by Tony Iommi and Geezer Butler.
This iteration of Sabbath was short-lived, as Dio went on to huge success as a solo act in the 80s, but it would be hard to overestimate the inspiration he brought to the band when it was seriously on the ropes in the late ‘70s. They’d make two more studio records together, the less-than-stellar Dehumanizer in the early ‘90s, and then the true return to form in the 2000s, under the name Heaven and Hell (naturally), with a tremendous live album and then an equally great studio effort, The Devil You Know. Their 2007 tour leaned heavily on that 1980 album that gave them their name, and it’s clear the energy Dio could still bring:
For Rush fans of my vintage, who were teenagers in 1980, Permanent Waves and Moving Pictures were the gateway drugs to the Rush back catalogue. Turns out those two records are the two-way mirror of the rest of Rush’s records, encapsulating the best of its past and future. Rush fans know these records intimately; I would guess since I was fourteen I’ve listened to them both several hundred times, and I revisit the pair of them every few months. For me they are inseparable, the first really heavy and difficult records I enjoyed as a kid, difficult because they were so different from anything else out there. Listening as an adult, and having experienced lots of other kinds of music since that time, I’ve been struck by several things, the first being, they are still in their way difficult, but just more familiar. Alex Lifeson’s solos, always unique in their sound, really pop with an almost avant garde tone and approach. The intro to “The Spirit of Radio” almost doesn’t make sense (almost), the solo of “Freewill” is like free jazz, and their biggest hit, “Tom Sawyer,” bristles with an angular, angry middle passage that spikes and careens over Geddy Lee’s crazy, funky bass. It restores some of my faith in humanity that these songs still get regular rotation on radio, and that Lifeson was given a gift he shared with the rest of us. The tendency on these albums — produced by Terry Brown, as were the previous Peart-era Rush records — towards shorter pieces shows growth in the sense that making a brief statement is often a greater achievement than going long. And yet the lengthier songs are among Rush’s best, “Jacob’s Ladder” containing a powerful lyric by Neil Peart, whose simpler meditations I’ve always found more compelling. “The Camera Eye,” Moving Pictures’ epic, at turns breezy and moodily dark, breathtakingly blends new wave and progressive rock.
Rush’s journey from Hemispheres to Moving Pictures is well-documented, and I think they acted as a bellwether for other bands making similar leaps, particularly Yes. Like AC/DC and Black Sabbath, Rush adapted, progressed, for quantifiable reasons (for instance, commercial survival, enlarging their market) and certainly for ones more fuzzily defined, to push boundaries that limit artistry, to feed inner fires. And in the end that’s why these bands are where they are today.
Nice piece on Neil Peart on NPR this morning.
Whether it comes down to talent, musical choices, or the genius of their management, Rush continues to pull off an inspired feat: embedding themselves in the rock mainstream while maintaining a reputation as music biz outsiders and, deceptively, cultural dark horses. It’s a trick most rock and punk bands would kill for and it actually does come down to a question of honesty. Rush never cared about being one of the cool kids and guess what, turns out the world’s not made up of cool kids after all. And those un-cool kids want to see their band live.
Based on the evidence of Rush’s officially released live catalog, you’d be hard pressed to find a better, or better-documented, live “stadium” rock band. For its consistent onstage delivery the band itself credits its grind in the clubs of Toronto in the early 1970s. As that decade wore on and they began writing increasingly complex studio material, their live shows became acrobatic technical workouts showcasing tremendous talent (and perhaps some excess too). But when they first started touring in support of studio albums, their music and their onstage act fit somewhere between Humble Pie, Led Zeppelin, and Ted Nugent.
Rush: ABC 1974 captures the band in Cleveland on its first American tour, with a few bonus tracks, also from Cleveland, the following year. The shows are notable because they were recorded by WMMS, famously instrumental in builiding Rush’s career, and also because the show in August 1974 was the first U.S. broadcast of the band. More importantly, though, the ’74 show includes new drummer Neil Peart. It’s something of an awkward moment: Rush’s first album is a riff metal powerhouse, anchored by drummer John Rutsey’s straight ahead hard rock pounding and suggesting as much Black Sabbath as Led Zeppelin. Peart’s still finding his feet on this set, busy-ing up songs that maybe can’t sustain his presence. Still, given they’re from the band’s early days as professionals, the performances are outstanding, with early album hit “Working Man” the obvious crowd pleaser and “What You’re Doing” as mind-bendingly great a piece of stoner rock live as on record. The duds are all songs Rush wisely never put on an album and a cover of “Bad Boy” that doesn’t really go anywhere. The three bonus tracks from 1975 suffer from poor audio quality while offering a glimpse of Fly By Night. That title track, the first real success of Rush mach II, bristles with their new sound, and is genuinely exciting to hear despite the muddy recording. The other songs from Fly By Night (including Anthem and Beneath, Between, and Behind) also distinguish themselves by containing an energy of a sort entirely different, as well as a lyrical focus stretching beyond the rock tropes that characterize Rush’s first. It’s pretty clear that the band has re-set its course.
I can’t tell you what the deal is with this record, if Rush actually has any say over its release or not, but there’s nothing here that doesn’t speak well of the band in its formative days; and, if you’re a fan of that era, then the heaviosity on display in Cleveland in ‘74 is pretty much guaranteed to take you to church.
Year-end best-of lists are a drag. Right? Day after Christmas, look out. Flip channels from one mega news station to another and you’ll get some dude(tte) with a list. Well, look no further than Progarchy for the same schlockfest. Because that’s what it is. There’s a great line from John Le Carre’s The Russia House: “I don’t like lists. Lists tell you too much about the people who make them.” And it’s true. So before I get on with it, expose my short list, know this: I make no assumption that it should have any meaning for you. I would like to send a thanks to my kids, 7 and 9, for insisting we listen to pop radio in the car, for I have found some true and unexpected pleasure there this year, in Lorde and Hozier and Pharrell Williams.
III by Mariachi El Bronx
I’m not going to eff around and pretend that I can construct a reason that Mariachi El Bronx’s latest could be considered progressive music, but consider: the alter ego of L.A. punk band the Bronx, MEB makes original, poppy, mariachi-style music sung in English. It is a sincere mashup of styles that could easily come off as kitsch, but avoids that pitfall with serious musicianship, lyrical directness, and a genuine love for the music they fuse. Their third full length is something of a leap, approaching a breezy grittiness, its horns, strings, and vox raising Arthur Lee’s ghost.
Arktika by Pelican
If you haven’t had a chance to hear John Bassett’s Arcade Messiah project, you should give it a listen. It’s a fine instrumental record from the genius behind King Bathmat and an edgier, heavier complement to Bassett’s more sublime “Unearth.” Arcade Messiah led me back to Pelican, who I’d listened to long ago on the recommendation of the tattoo artist who first inked me. Arktika is a live recording that captures Pelican’s mojo: layers of instrumental metal with a live, dirty approach masking mammoth structures.
Demon by Gazpacho
Demon is the most important album in a long time. It’s a sleeper, a heavy record full of light, melodically beautiful in its moody shadows. It defies genres. From its basic concept to its execution, it is unequalled by anything else that came out this year and in most other years. Its day in the sun is not done.
Iceberg Soul by newspaperflyhunting
A tremendous album from a Polish band who builds songs out of jams in the grand tradition of krautrock and the Velvet Underground, Iceberg Soul is a mind blower that could school a lot of more experienced prog bands in the art of messiness. Makes me thankful for the reach of the internet.
Garden of Ghosts by Fractal Mirror
An unexpected pleasure, Garden of Ghosts shows the value of looking back while moving forward, both musically and lyrically. Combining the sound of classic new wave melodies — check “House of Wishes,” which kicks off the album, for its rich suggestion of Modern English — and progressive rock flourishes, Fractal Mirror has a sound that I look forward to exploring further in 2015.
Lullaby and…the Ceaseless Roar by Robert Plant
What I like about Robert Plant is that he’s a mover. Having been a part of the mighty Zep, he could easily let that continue to define him, and while he doesn’t shrug his heritage off, his solo records have always worked against the grain while showing his aesthetic contribution to his former band came from deep springs. His latest album is really nice, and suggests in its laid back daring a smoothness that wouldn’t be out of place on a Bryan Ferry record.
City of the Sun by Seven Impale
As if Sonny Sharrock rather than Robert Fripp steered King Crimson. Seven Impale bring the heavy jazz, their modal metal killing it, without a whiff of any wankery shenanigans.
In 1968 Jimi Hendrix took the stage at the Winterland Ballroom in San Francisco, and as part of the set introduced a song that had worked its way into the repertoire: “Right now we’re gonna do a song by some real groovy cats, it’s too bad they are breaking up, it’s one of the heaviest groups in the world . . . it’s not sayin’ we can play the thing better than them, it’s just sayin’ we dig the cats and dig this song and we’d like to do it our own way, which will be an instrumental jam.” The song was Sunshine of Your Love, and the group Hendrix referenced was (The) Cream.
Hendrix’s powerful instrumental take on the song caps a double tribute: Cream wrote Sunshine of Your Love on the heels of seeing Jimi Hendrix perform in London, as a response to the jaw-dropping challenge he proposed as a performer and songwriter, and in its riff and melodies the song holds at once the past and future of rock and roll.
The song was penned by Jack Bruce, Cream’s bass player, chief vocalist, and lead songwriter. Bruce led the life of a musical prodigy, a force that pushed and pulled his similarly-gifted peers, to such an extent that Ginger Baker, arguably Britain’s most influential drummer and certainly one of Bruce’s few musical equals, left one band (Graham Bond Organisation) because of him and started another band (Cream) despite his presence. Guitarist Eric Clapton — another equal — insisted Bruce be a part of Cream, and Baker relented because, as he noted, both Clapton and Bruce had the same innate gift of “time.”
Since Jack Bruce died last week, I’ve thought a good deal about what Sunshine of Your Love, Cream, and this firebrand musician have meant to me through the years. Cream had hits, lots of hits, scattered across their three studio albums, but Sunshine of Your Love stands out among their work (“Crossroads,” rightfully still played on classic rock radio, being the highpoint of their live recordings). The riff is simple, as if, yes, they were taking cues from Hendrix, who disassembled the blues root of rock and roll, slowed the rhythms down, emphasized their laziness while adding blistering solos and an African funk. Separation of bass and drums and guitar became important, as if the transformation was about creating rather than filling space. In Sunshine of Your Love, Cream takes the Hendrix aesthetic and writes it large, in four minutes and ten seconds mapping Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and most Heavy music for the next half century. It’s a blues made universal, and because of Hendrix’s own reaction one doesn’t get the idea that Cream was somehow playing Elvis to Hendrix’s Little Richard but, on the contrary, like Hendrix, actually embodied a much-needed cultural embrace. This wasn’t just heavy music for white boys.
Cream chugged hard and burned hot for two years before they couldn’t stand it or each other any more. Their recorded live work is mind-blowing but not for the faint of heart, and while Clapton became the superstar, with some justification, it was Bruce and Baker that ran the engine, driving each other mad while simply driving Clapton to greater heights. Sunshine of Your Love became ten then fifteen minutes long, the jams endless, the power draining as quickly as it had mounted. Clapton left for Blind Faith, not expecting Ginger Baker to follow even though he did, and Bruce was on his own. He released a fabulous solo record, Songs for a Tailor, with very non-Cream arrangements and approaches, and then from the perspective of a Cream fan like myself kind of drifted. He landed in projects like the one where he became the bassist for a power trio that Cream inspired, Mountain, hooked up with Robin Trower in yet another power trio, rid of Cream but not rid of Cream, and played various so-so groups with the jazz rock dudes of his era. He reunited with his Cream mates in 2005 for a set mostly plagued by the adult rock smoothness Clapton’s purveyed since 1972 (the stellar Pressed Rat and Warthog, a Baker chestnut that will never die because of sheer weirdness, notwithstanding). The grit, the volume, the burn were regrettably, inevitably, flattened. As with Clapton, as with Baker, Bruce’s best work was when he was a journeyman, with Cream.
It is a catalogue every bit as thrilling as it is brief. Those core Cream records remain embedded in the rock psyche, the elephant in any rock and roll room, their centerpiece Sunshine of Your Love.
Some Favorite Jack Bruce Moments
The Coffee Song
Sunshine of Your Love
Tales of Brave Ulysses
Deserted Cities of the Heart
Never Tell Your Mother She’s Out of Tune
Tickets to Waterfalls
Theme from an Imaginary Western
Seven Impale release their new album, City of the Sun, today. Progarchy reviewed the album here: http://progarchy.com/2014/08/21/seven-impale-basking-in-the-city-of-the-sun/ , but continues to be so dazzled that in honor of the occasion thought we’d post a live performance of Extraction, which blazes with energy. City of the Sun, indeed.
Amazon’s got the MP3 album for a very reasonable price ($4.95 at this writing). You could do worse than head on over and get a copy: http://www.amazon.com/City-Sun-Seven-Impale/dp/B00N2GS44S/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1409922998&sr=8-3&keywords=seven+impale
Last week on Progarchy I reviewed the new Seven Impale album, City of the Sun (http://progarchy.com/2014/08/21/seven-impale-basking-in-the-city-of-the-sun/). It’s a tremendously creative record with energy to burn, worthy of the accolades it’s getting as its early September release date approaches. The band graciously granted an interview, which I am including here and in the original review.
Progarchy: City of the Sun is an impressive full-length debut, following a fairly tremendous EP in Beginning/Relieve. It feels like a leap forward. How did you get from the EP to the LP, and what kind of progress has it been for the band?
Seven Impale: We feel that we’ve come far, both as musicians and composers, in the ~4 years we’ve been playing together. Even though it has only been a year since Beginning/Relieve was released, the material was made in the space between when the band was formed and when our current line-up had just been assembled. Wind shears, the second track on the album was actually composed around that time, but it’s been revisited and rearranged many times since then. The best thing is that we feel like the process has just started when we continue working together, making music that we enjoy, which challenges both the listener and us.
Progarchy: There is a lot going on in these songs. What’s your writing process like, and how would you describe the narrative of the album?
Seven Impale: It differs a bit between the songs, but generally we start off with some guitar riffs or a rhythmic idea, and we jam for a while. Each of us gets to know the new parts and start to find our places, while we figure out what kind of musical landscape we are aiming for. And the songs take their form, one way or anther, often over the course of a few months.
Progarchy: City of the Sun makes the connection between modal jazz and heavy rock seem effortless. The spirits of both inhabit this record seamlessly, as if John Coltrane and Deep Purple are smiling down benevolently. This is what I hear, and it’s wonderful, but was this your intention?
Seven Impale: We have always enjoyed a lot of different music, but I think the progress and musical direction of Seven Impale has been more based on randomness than intentions. It has been our intention from the very start to make complex and exciting music, but the sound we have today has more to do with the individual musicians and what they bring to the table. A lot of details on the album came about through experimenting and/or “mistakes” during the recording process.
Progarchy: How did the band come together, what are your backgrounds?
Seven Impale: Fredrik and Benjamin are brothers (that’s the obvious one), and have grown up in the same area as Håkon and Tormod. The four of them have worked a lot together in various projects for a long time. Fredrik got to know Stian and Erlend through mutual friends, many years before Seven Impale, and the rest of the story is mostly random and about being at the right place at the right time, with the right instrument.
Progarchy: Is there a story behind the band’s name?
Seven Impale: Stian found the name before the band even existed. It came about kind of randomly when he was thinking about what to call the next project, and thought it has a nice feel to it. Also the number seven is often associated with religion, and the word “impale” brings more of a dark or heavy feel. And we are all somewhat critical towards religion, so it fits quite nicely.
Progarchy: What music are you listening to?
Seven Impale: We listen to a lot of different things, and we agree on most things musically. Stian has a bit more of the opera/classical music side, he is currently studying to be a classical singer. We listen to alt./prog rock like Mars Volta, King Crimson, Zappa, Motorpsycho and Porcupine Tree as well as heavier stuff like Tool, Pantera and Meshuggah. And then there’s the weird avant-garde/jazzy side of it, with Jaga Jazzist, TrioVD, Shining(NO), WSP, Ephel Duath, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin. In between there is some hip-hop: Hopsin, Side Brok, Bustah Rhymes and then there’s the electronic music like Noisia, Justice, Aphex Twin, Todd Terje and Venetian Snares.
Progarchy: Do you see yourselves as a Norwegian band, that is, do you have a sense that geography makes a difference in your music?
Seven Impale: Not really. But being from Norway means that we’re probably more exposed to and inspired by Norwegian bands, adopting what has been known to be the “Scandinavian sound”. Otherwise I don’t think it is significant, but what do we know?
Progarchy: Is there a city of the sun?
Seven Impale: There is a fictional book about a “City of the Sun”, by a 17th century Italian philosopher. In reality, I don’t think it ever will be.
Progarchy: What’s next for Seven Impale?
Seven Impale: Get rich or die tryin’
Progarchy: Please don’t die. We like your records too much.
Ezekiel (Zeke) Graves has a new demo out under the name Gravaphone. Graves’s music, which I’ve reviewed on the pages of Progarchy before (http://progarchy.com/2013/11/15/chthonic-journey-by-ezekiel-graves/) emerges from his North Carolina upbringing but is also informed by deep soundings of electronic music, British folk, and Krautrock. I saw him perform this song live a few months ago, accompanied by a Fender Rhodes and fiddle, which gave the song a unique coloration, but I like what he’s done with it here as well, made it darker, spare, and electric.