Author Archives: bradbirzer

Neil Getting Those ‘Lyrical’ Ideas Again

Originally posted on rush vault:

Neil Rhythm Well, at least we know Neil is thinking about new lyrical ideas. He says in the first part of his two-part article on drum soloing for Rhythm magazine that last October, two months after the Clockwork Angels tour ended, he was driving up to the Drum Workshop outside Los Angeles to play around on some new shells the company had produced when some lyrics popped into his head. “I . . . laughed at myself for having a lyrical idea,” he says. “‘You’re not supposed to be doing that yet!’)”

Whatever the band ends up doing, it’ll have to wait until after its 41st anniversary your next year, which Alex has said will likely showcase some of Rush’s “rarer” songs.

In any case, Neil’s two-part article is a walk-through of how he composed his solos for the Clockwork Angels tour. Nick Raskulinecz wanted him to key his solo off the…

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Rush, Libertarianism, and Integrity

My good friend Steve Horwitz just sent me a link to this article from the American libertarian magazine, REASON.  Enjoy.

In 1977, I bought my first Rush album. I was 13. The title of the disc was 2112, and the foldout jacket had a very cool and ominous red star on the cover. As soon as I got it home from the store, I carefully placed that vinyl record onto the felt-padded turntable of my parents’ old Motorola console stereo.

The moment I dropped that stylus, and that needle caught the groove, I became obsessed with Rush like only thirteen-year-old boys can get obsessed. I turned up the volume as loud as I thought I could get away with, and I rocked.

To keep reading, please go here: http://reason.com/archives/2014/04/22/matt-kibbe-book-excerpt-rush-and-aynrand

New Arjen Lucassen Project: With Anneke van Giersbergen

Arjan Lucassen has just released the following on Facebook:

Time has come to finally disclose my new project… it will be a collaboration between my favorite female singer Anneke van Giersbergen and me! Expect an epic concept double album, a combination of ‘classical meets metal’ and ‘acoustic folk’. More details later!

arjen and anna

 

A progarchist take: God bless the Dutch.  Yes!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The Tangent, AfterRicochet

Andy Tillison continues to be brilliant.  Homage to Tangerine Dream.

As Andy describes it:

Andy Tillison (Keyboards) and Luke Machin (Guitar) of THE TANGENT rehearse their Berlin School Electronica section of the Tangent’s set for the forthcoming European Mini Tour in May/June 2014. The tour features the two full progressive rock bands The Tangent and Karmakanic including members of Maschine, The Flower Kings and in London the band will be joined by Theo Travis, longtime associate of Tangent and currently the wind player with the Steven Wilson Band. All tour dates can be found at the Tangent website http://www.thetangent.org.

This piece was recorded by Andy in Yorkshire, England in one take and similarly by Luke Machin in Brighton, England using an internet link. The music is all live with no overdubs from either musician. There are two parallel 4 note sequencers running for the duration of the song in the same way as Tangerine Dream would have used analogue step sequencers. This piece features the (currently) new Roland FA-06 workstation which is responsible for all the keyboard sounds you hear (minus the ebow guitar patch and the Mellotrons) – regardless of which keyboard appears to be being played. The laptop computer in the video is creating these other sounds and the large desktop computer is only switched on because it happened to be switched on. It’s not doing anything. The arpeggios are generated by the FA-06.

Sigh. . .

Scandinavia: A Giant of Heavy Music – Iceland

Originally posted on The Blog of Much Metal:

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In a slight deviation to what I promised in my introduction, I want to start my more in-depth analysis of the musical strength of the Scandinavian countries with a country that I didn’t initially mention and that, strictly-speaking, is not part of Scandinavia.

Let me explain…

It may not be part of Scandinavia as such, but the country’s history is closely interwoven with their Scandinavian cousins, having been inhabited by the Norsemen well over 1000 years ago. As such, is referred to as one of the ‘Nordic countries’ and therefore, I’m including it in my series. I am, of course, referring to Iceland.

This decision has been brought about thanks to a couple of trips to this magnificent and intriguing country, the last of which was just a few weeks ago. What struck me during both visits, apart from the rugged beauty, the isolation and the tranquillity, was the…

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An Interview with Integrity’s Minstrel: John Bassett the Brilliant

Much to my happiness, I had the chance to talk with John Bassett, Integrity’s Minstrel, about his new solo album, UNEARTH.  UNEARTH has already received a properly enthusiastic reception from the music community.  For good reason.  John is simply brilliant, and every note radiates goodness, creativity, and substance.  For all intents and purposes, John is the Neil Peart of his generation, though with less of a Nietzschean streak than the younger Neil possessed.  So, without further blathering on my part, it’s my honor to present an interview with the mastermind behind Kingbathmat, John Bassett.  As you’ll see, John is as intelligent as he is musically talented.  His insights here speak volumes.

Unearth-Album-Cover

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Progarchy (Brad): John, thanks so much for talking with us.  I know how busy you are.  It’s a great honor to talk with you.  As you know, we progarchists are huge fans of yours.  So, let’s get started.  What is your goal with a solo album? Why do one?

JB: Hi Brad, I’ve got a bucket list of musical projects I want to achieve before I pass into the next world and one of them was an acoustic album, so that is now crossed off my list. I suppose overall, I was attempting to recapture the days when I was first started learning guitar, and writing my first songs. I was astonished to find that I could create tunes out of nothing, it was a revelation to me, an individual, who at that time was quite unconfident, lost and unsure of himself. I would listen back to recorded cassette tapes of those early songs with a sense of pride thinking that there may actually be something that I may be good at after all and that I might not be as I first thought, completely useless. Around that time I became quite infatuated with writing songs and was obsessed with the album “Pet Sounds”. So this is me now, recreating that past frame of mind and musical sensibility with the more modern outlook that I have today.

Kingbathmat OTM

Progarchy: When writing songs, do you come up with lyrics or music first? How does it all come together?

JB: Music always comes first for me. It usually happens in this order, I’ll sit down, in a comfy chair with a tasty beverage, pick up an acoustic guitar and create garbled, wordless vocal melodies over a sequence of chords which sound pleasing to me or emotionally meaningful. The vocal melodies are always very precise and there are usually no words assigned to the tune, lyrics always come later. I don’t know if this is a commonplace procedure for people who write songs but its the way I’ve always done it, especially in regards to vocal melodies. Sometimes when mumbling these incoherent melodies over these chords a word will abruptly spring out of nowhere that fits perfectly with the tune, this happened recently with the song “Comedian” (last track on “Unearth”), the word “comedian” came out of nowhere whilst composing and when this happens I feel obliged to keep that word in the song even if it means I have to change the entire concept of that song so as so to fit that one word into it. Luckily with that word “comedian” it subsequently reminded me of a situation in my childhood from which I then drew on for the rest of the lyrics for that particular song.

Progarchy: Why take the solo album into more acoustic and acid folk?

JB: I never intended for it to have a psychedelic folk slant, but I suppose I just can’t help tinkering with different sounds in the studio. I love acoustic records, there’s something pure, honest and unfiltered about that style and that’s what attracted me to making this album and for the nostalgic reasons already mentioned above.

Progarchy: Any chance you’d make a Kingbathmat album incorporating some of the style of Unearth? Maybe a concept album, alternating between soft and hard styles?

JB: I’m unsure where to go with the next KingBathmat album, I’ve got a concept idea, I’ve also got some instrumental tracks I’m curious to make. I don’t know, there are a few tracks that I’ve started working on. It will probably be more cinematic and more experimental. I do want to take that emotional vibe with “Unearth” and introduce some musical shocks within it. Set up a musical pretext and then flip it around but of course it would have to work musically and not undermine it.

Progarchy: Who are your artistic (music, lit, etc) heroes?

JB: I feel the best artists are those individuals who achieve something worthwhile for themselves and others and yet all the while, retain their original sense of self. Being honest and truthful is all important to me. I don’t like an artist who adopts a facade generated by his over inflated ego, you can see this with numerous successful artists who start to delude themselves. In my opinion, musical artists that have achieved huge success but then also remained true to themselves would include Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, Frank Zappa and Rory Gallagher, I’m sure there are many others but those are the notorious ones that first spring to my mind. This level of authenticity shines through when you observe them in interviews, there’s seems to be no bullshit with them, and I think it is this attitude that not only endears them now to the public but also enabled them to create brilliant music. Many may have died through drink and drugs, yet artistically, I feel they remained unaffected. So I suppose it is this authenticity element that I admire and would like to emulate from these people.

Sketch of Bassett by the lovely Anne-Catherine de Froidmont.

Sketch of Bassett by the lovely Anne-Catherine de Froidmont.

Progarchy: Anyone currently you’d love to work with?

JB: There’s loads of people I’d like to work with, If I was to start mentioning names this page would turn into an infinite scroll of people that would never unravel. Ideally the best people to work with in a musical sense are those that can do what you can’t do or what you’re lacking in. Someone who has a different musical sensibility to you and therefore can inspire you to think in a different way which then resets your sonic freshness button.

Progarchy: Your lyrics and videos possess both surrealism and biting cultural criticisms? What message, if any, would you like the listener to take?

JB: Well I suppose with this latest album I’m just speaking from my own personal mindset, yes I maybe overly paranoid, and I may have a deep mistrust of authority but I’m hoping that other people will identify with my individual thoughts and emotions, as effectively we are all the same aren’t we? I don’t really have a pre-composed message that is deliberate I’m just literally expressing my thoughts as they come. Fear is a commodity that is openly traded virtually through mediums, I don’t believe it exists in of itself, it’s only created in our minds, but fear can and is placed into our minds by others for means of control through suggestion and the success of that placement of fear is dependent upon their power of influence. Music is a hugely motivational and powerful force that can inspire and influence people, it can remove the obstacles of imposed fear and encourage people to be brave and make a change. Yet popular mainstream music as supplied by the music industry into the millions of homes around the world has never been so uninspiring, worthless and devoid of any true meaning. If there is a message to be taken from popular music today it is that of a uniformly materialistic message to go and buy unnecessary things that will help you inflate your own personal idea of status. It is unbelievable really, the turgid, vacuous, corporate entities that are bandied around and promoted with serious money under the banner of music. This is now considered the norm for mainstream music. I find it hard to believe that this is a natural stagnation that has occurred as some state and rather more so a deliberate removal of an influential and motivational force available to the public, perhaps it is a controlled demolition of music? There is plenty of good music out there, whether its pop, rock whatever, but unless you actively search it out, its not going to find you and your not going to find it. I like this quote that I read last week from a guy called Tim Hall – “Never forget that the majors’ business model is based on keeping the public from hearing music that the majors don’t own” – this I feel is very true, and over the many years I have been doing this, the options for self promotion seem to be decreasing, and if any new avenues appear they are very soon closed off. In some ways its a reflection of the world today where corporations grow bigger, monopolise and restrict individuality, creating an identikit world of mundanity. The only real way for any music that is both created and produced independently to become successful is through people power, word of mouth and endorsements from the public, just as any change in society can only truly be achieved through a collective show of strength. So if you like my songs or any other musicians/bands that self release their own music, please share and tell your friends about them as it means so much.

Progarchy: Thank you so much, John, for your time as well as your insights.  You are the future of prog.

 

PROG, edited by progmaster Jerry Ewing.

PROG, edited by progmaster Jerry Ewing.

You can order John’s solo album through Burning Shed as well as from his own website.  He’s worth supporting!

Progarchy Background 2014 No. 4: All the Pieces

progarchy-cove-4-april-2014-001.jpg

The Madeira Live: Sonic Cataclysm

Artwork by the incomparable Stephen Blickenstaff. Out on June 14th on Double Crown Records.

Artwork by the incomparable Stephen Blickenstaff. Out on June 14th on Double Crown Records.

ODE TO ECHO: The Confidence of Glass Hammer

[A review of Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO (Sound Resources, 2014).  Please excuse any typos.  I composed this on my ipad while waiting for a very, very delayed flight at the Detroit airport.]

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For Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO means two things. First, and vitally, it’s a reference to a story of antiquity by Heroicus and dealing with the greatest of warriors, Achilles. Second, it’s a tribute to two decades of success as a band.

In every way, this album is packed with brilliance, beauty, and treats around every corner.

One of the most noticeable features of Glass Hammer’s latest, ODE TO ECHO, is its sheer diversity of styles and moods. Having four lead vocalists and three backup ones adds significantly to this, and it provides a wonderful listening experience. Over the course of eight songs, Babb and Schendel provide a journey into the fantastic and mythic. One could never find a dull moment here, even if one tried.

The second most noticeable aspect of the album is its self-assuredness. Progging since the early 1990s and rocking since the early 1980s, Babb and Schendel have every right to be confident. Creating Glass Hammer, a project that has always been self supporting, self sustaining, and impressively profitable, has proven significant not only for the history of American rock but, critically, for third-wave prog overall. These two geniuses emerged on the prog scene at the moment the genre was, almost certainly, at its nadir of popularity and influence. Through immense and never faltering talent, entrepreneurial initiative, and intense tenacity, Glass Hammer has reshaped much of the genre over the past two decades.

In almost every way, ODE TO ECHO, is a tribute and—musically—an autobiographical statement.

A third aspect of the album, and intimately connected to the second aspect, is Glass Hammer’s willingness to innovate as well as to borrow. Many reviewers have criticized the band for being too Yes-like. Babb and Schendel are nothing if not feisty, and such criticisms only fuel their desire to do whatever they want. If they want to reference Yes, they do so. If they want to reference Genesis, they do this as well. If they simply want to try something new, they do this, too! It’s endearing, frankly, contrarian, and very American. Hence, at a few points, this album references Yes from Going for the One as well as Yes from Magnification. At other points, it references Kansas (having David Ragsdale as a guest musician doesn’t hurt!). The Beatles creep in at points, too. Mostly, though, the album reveals the love Babb and Schendel bring to the art of music.

Frankly, I’m relieved Glass Hammer followed up their masterpiece, PERILOUS, with ODE TO ECHO. PERILOUS was so good and so mysterious as well as so profoundly moving that it would be most difficult for any band to follow. By moving away from a single story and embracing diversity of vocals and music styles, Babb and Schendel very successfully create a totally different kind of masterpiece.

While this is probably heresy in some circles, I find Jon Davison’s vocals fine but not glorious. I much prefer, for example, the vocals of a David Longdon, a Leah McHenry, a Sam Healy, a Jan-Henrik Ohme, or a Andy Tillison. Davison’s voice just comes across a little too fey at times. But, Susie Bogdanowicz? Be still my beating heart. She can sing, and she can sing with the absolute best of them. Indeed (and again I’m on possibly heretical ground), her version of Yes’s “South Side of the Sky” is better than the original. That she’s as gorgeous on the outside as she is in her vocals, of course, doesn’t hurt. But, once you’ve heard her vocals, you can’t imagine her as anything other than a truly beautiful person, nearly angelic.

Carl Groves and Walter Moore have much to offer as well, as do the backing vocalists.

No review of this album would be even close to complete without a reference to the actual playing. Babb and Schendel are certainly at their best. Indeed, their vast experience lends itself not to complacency but to the drive to perform better than ever. I have a feeling, these two do nothing half way. If a thing is to be done, it is to be done well. And, indeed, very, very well. I must also note the sonic excellence of the new drummer, Aaron Raulston. Sheesh, I’ve not heard anyone this good since Neil Peart and Nick D’Virgilio. Wow is all I can write. This guy will make his mark in the rock world, to be sure.

2014 has already proven to be a year every bit as good as 2012 and 2013, though we’re only in the fourth month. Whatever you do, do NOT bypass this album. ODE TO ECHO is not just great prog, it’s brilliant and shimmering Glass Hammer. Considering Glass Hammer never does anything that is not at the highest of standards, this is saying something.

Norse Macabre: Gazpacho’s DEMON

gazpacho_demon_2014[A review of Gazpacho, DEMON (Kscope, 2014—digibook edition).  Lyrics by Thomas Andersen and Jan-Henrik Ohme.   Please forgive any typos.  I composed this on my iPad in an airport waiting area.]

Everyone’s favorite artists from Norway have released an eighth studio album, two years in the making. And, not shockingly, it’s brilliant, stunning, and ingenious. If NIGHT is the Poetic Edda of modern progressive rock, DEMON is the Prose Edda.

Our own progarchist editor, Craig Breaden, has already offered his always excellent thoughts on the album, but I can’t let a Gazpacho release go by without also discussing it. So, please consider this review a supplement to Craig’s, certainly not a replacement.

As with every Gazpacho release, on DEMON, Jan-Henrik Ohme’s vocals are immaculate, and Thomas Andersen’s and Ohme’s lyrics reach toward the highest of the high, the most beautiful of the most beautiful.

As with all of seven of their previous albums, on DEMON, the notes linger in a Mark Hollis fashion, melodies emerge through punctuated walls of sound, Ohme’s vocals soar in an introspective aural empire, every instrument is played with loving perfection and always contributes as a sonic res publica. One can find guitar, base, drums, and keyboards here. But, strings, accordions, umpa brass, and Eastern European folks instruments abound as well. Old phonographs spurt statically operatic voices, dinner party crowds murmur, wind howls, and the natural elements create a wash of color in the background, all adding to a perfectly late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century haunting. Though frightening, DEMON’s story reflects an eerie Ray Bradbury horror rather than an H.P. Lovecraftian terrifying one.

It would be hard to find a band in 2014 more suited to long epics than Gazpacho. Really, the band’s only serious rival would be Ayreon. Here, I exclude bands such as Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer, as they rather happily create both concept albums and non-concept albums. Ever since NIGHT, though, Gazpacho has created concept after concept: NIGHT (a dream); TICK TOCK (a journey and escape): MISSA ANTROPOS (a pagan Mass); and MARCH OF GHOSTS (a series of short stories). The last especially offers a thematic prologue to DEMON.

While Ayreon reflects a deep knowledge and a loving embrace of science fiction and is close to infinity in its longing expansiveness, Gazpacho creates a fantastic and fabulist aura of quiet darkness and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our ancestors (our ghosts).

In a previous post here at progarchy, I noted that Gazpacho produces what might be called Eddic prog. DEMON only confirms that. Edda is a word that has no definite origins. It’s seemingly neither of Germanic or Latin origin, yet it appears as a vital word in Medieval Scandinavia. In our modern times, we attach it to the work of Snorri Snurlson. Not quite a Saga (also a perfected art form in Scandinavia), an Edda seems, by best definition, to be an “utterance of the soul.” Really, nothing could better describe the lyrics, the vocals, and the music of Gazpacho.

While I have no intimate knowledge of the band (though J-H Ohme is quite gracious on Facebook in answering my pesky questions and putting up with my innumerable tags of him), I suspect that DEMON is meant to be a second or third chapter in a long line of stories dealing with the supernatural. It began either with MISSA ANTROPOS (the calling of the Muses into this world) or with MARCH OF GHOSTS. The latter, though, seems more of a follow-up rather than a beginning. MISSA ANTROPOS certainly has the makings of a prologue or opening chapter to a long novel. If I could offer Gazpacho one piece of advice, it would be this: make the next album about Scandinavia. Images of Sigurd (baptized St. Michael after Christian evangelists appeared), the gods and heroes of the Seeress’s prophecy of Ragnorak, and the modern works of Sigrid Unset would all serve to continue this story so imaginatively begun by Gazpacho.. Imagine the use of traditional Scandinavia folk music (which bled readily from the pagan into the Christian/Lutheran), melodies, and instruments; and the imagery of Nordic prowess, AllThings, rune stones, and the Stave churches. My wannabe Viking heart swells just thinking about the possibilities.

Many reviewers have compared Gazpacho’s music to Radiohead or Sigur Ros, but I don’t hear that. If anything, Gazpacho offers a much more energetic vision first expressed by Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene in 1988’s SPIRIT OF EDEN and 1991’s LAUGHING STOCK. Yet, these comparisons are inadequate. Gazpacho, as with all great bands and artists, is at once backward looking, inward looking, and forward looking. Rarely, however, do artists display the kind of confidence that this band so joyously does. Gazpacho is its own band and never a mimicry of another band. They may very well build on the music of Hollis and Friese-Greene, but they have taken it in directions that Talk Talk never could or would.

No, Gazpacho is its own. Its own beauty, its own excellence, and its own genius. Long may they pursue goodness, truth, and beauty, even while examining the horrors of the macabre.

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