Author Archives: bradbirzer

The Highlands are Alive with the Sound of NAO

North-Atlantic-Oscillation

A review of North Atlantic Oscillation, The Third Day (Kscope; October 2014).

Tracks: Great Plains II; Elsewhere; August; A Nice Little Place; Penrose; Do Something Useful; Wires; Pines of Eden; Dust; and When to Stop.

NAO: Sam Healy (lead vocals, guitar, and keyboards; Ben Martin (drums); and Chris Howard (bass).  The Third Day mixed by Sam Healy.  Artwork by Ross Macrae and Brendan McCarthy.

Highest recommendation.

***

What do you do with a problem like Sam Healy? Queue image of an Irishman-turned-Scotsman dancing around a high mountain top. Oh, and did I mention, he’s really, really smart? That is, really, really smart. Or, did I mention this already?

Of the many joys of editing progarchy for the past two years, one of the greatest has been getting to know a whole slew of truly creative, interesting, serious, perfectionist artists. Of those who reside at the very top of the top—at least in this editor’s not so humble opinion—sits Healy, dressed as an Austrian nun or not. His correspondence reveals that Sam always has that twinkle, that spark in his eye and soul. Though, he doesn’t believe in the latter, it’s there in abundance.

When I received a review copy of The Third Day, North Atlantic Oscillation’s latest aural ecstasy, I scratched my head, a little confused. This isn’t the first time I’ve been a bit perplexed by NAO’s music. When I first received a copy of the band’s second album, Fog Electric, I set it aside for a while as I just didn’t understand what it was trying to accomplish. When I picked it up again, months after its release, I realized how brilliant it was. It hit me over the head, truly a Eureka! moment. For some reason, it just took some time and several listens “to get it.” Now that “I get it,” I regard it as one of the finest albums I’ve heard in my almost four decades of listening to rock music.

This wasn’t the case, for whatever reason, when I first listened to NAO’s Grappling Hooks. That first album by the band grabbed me from the opening moments. I found it as enticing as possibly imaginable. What attracted me most to Grappling Hooks was the way in which Healy’s voice matched the music—and the music, Healy’s voice—so perfectly. The vocals sound like some of the best of early rock—the rock of my mom’s generation, the late 1950s—but mixed with the complicated and layered sonic delights made possible only by the most modern production and engineering. And, certainly, the unique quality of Sam’s ear. Well, the two of them.

Of course, there’s always the flow of the music as well. This matters for any band and any album, but none more so than for NAO. The secret to each of the band’s albums is figuring out the flow of the thing. Why did the band place this song next to this song? Or that song next to that song? Sometimes—in fact, quite often—NAO loves throwing in a curve ball, especially when the music pretends to change tracks. When you look at the chronometer, though, you quickly realize what you thought to be a track change was merely (and, by merely, I mean with genius) a shift in time signature or in the mood of a single piece. How often has it happened that I’ve looked down to see what the “new track” is called only to see the track information indicating there is still two or three minutes left of the piece you had thought had already flown by.

As evidence for the deep mystery and flow of each NAO album, simply check out the album cover of the forthcoming The Third Day.

NAO, The Third Day (Kscope, 2014).

NAO, The Third Day (Kscope, 2014).

What’s going on here? Pagan, zodiac, Plotinian, and Christian symbols intermixed (intermixing?) on some kind of biotechnology. Layers, of course, but with the infinite loop pointing us toward . . . well, whatever is beyond infinity. Only Buzz Lightyear and William Shatner really know. Under the DaVinci-esque biotech sundial doobob is a flat, Jonathan Ive type computer chip. Add in Hugh Syme-like characters and fonts from the previous two Rush albums, and you might—just maybe—start to understand the convoluted riddle that is a NAO album. I’m getting a bit dizzy just looking at the image.

Steady, Birzer, steady.

Well, I must admit, I was even more perplexed by The Third Day than by Fog Electric. I wanted so badly to like it when the review copy landed in my inbox. After all, I really like NAO and Sam. But, my reaction was somewhat muted. What was going on? It all sounded a bit “samey” to me (I’m having a hard time writing this now, as I’m laughing that it ever sounded “samey”; and, by the way is “samey” even a word?). As with Fog Electric, The Third Day took about a month and a number of listens for me to absorb. Now, though, I think I “get it.” In fact, it’s mind-bogglingly good.

Far from the neoterist “samey” the album is complex, musically as well as lyrically. It is brilliant, stunning, and glowing. While I like the entire album, tracks 6 through 10 are especially good. Far more than on the first two albums, NAO wears its influences a bit more openly on this album and especially with these last five songs. Elements of Radiohead and the Beatles emerge without trepidation. Whereas I thought Anathema almost mimicked Radiohead on their latest release, NAO honors them on The Third Day. If anything, the homage paid to Radiohead and the Beatles only increases my respect for the complete honesty of Healy and co.

Well, I’ve gone on long enough. My summary—buy the album as soon as you possibly can. NAO is, unquestionably, one of the most important and most interesting bands on the current scene. Sam Healy and co. are the future of our beloved genre.

North Atlantic Oscillation: AUGUST

nao cover THE THIRD DAY

Praise of Caesar or the month or both?  I’m not sure.  Regardless, an incredible track from an equally inspiring album and always thoughtful and masterful band.  Enjoy track three from the forthcoming THE THIRD DAY.

The Mighty Handful!

A huge thanks to Gary Mackenzie for the incredibly nice and thoughtful note and for the first installment of STILL SITTING IN DANNY’S CAR.

It just arrived safely and somewhat wondrously at progarchy’s AllThing in Longmont, Colorado.  Eager to listen. . . .

The Mighty Handful.  Of what, I'm not sure.  But, I'm excited to find out.

The Mighty Handful. Of what, I’m not sure. But, I’m excited to find out.

More (Big?) Big Big Train News–Updated

The newest member of Big Big Train, the extraordinary Danny Manners.  Photo used by kind permission from Willem Klopper.

The newest member of Big Big Train, the extraordinary Danny Manners. Photo used by kind permission from Willem Klopper.

Danny Manners, utterly amazing keyboardist and one of the two members of the band without hair, just posted this on Facebook:

***

UPDATED MON 29 SEP, 18:00
The Saturday performance has sold out. There are some balcony seats (and a very few stalls seats) still available for the Friday performance:
http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/BBT
(Or see http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on-book-tickets/ticketing-information for booking by phone.)

Please would anybody who already has tickets refrain from buying more until, let’s say, 15:00 BST on Tuesday (30th). We want to give priority to anybody who wasn’t aware that we were forced to make tickets available yesterday, earlier than scheduled.

Please also would new purchasers only buy for one night – if you want to come both nights, hold off buying for the other night until 15:00 BST on Tuesday (30th). (People who will be travelling from abroad/a very long distance to the gigs excepted.) This is just to spread the love (and tickets) as fairly as we can…

We are likely to add a matinee performance on the Sunday (16th Aug 2015), but may not make a decision for a few days. King’s Place usually have a strict “no exchange” policy with regards to exchanging tickets for a different date. They may be willing to make exceptions in some cases, but you should not rely on that.

Earlier posts from Greg and myself explain why this situation has arisen, and offer our apologies…

Big Big Train Go Live

BBT live

You may have heard the news already. . . in fact, I’m guessing almost no one in the prog world has NOT heard the news. . . . but tickets for Big Big Train live, King’s Place, August 14-15, 2015, have gone on sale.  To purchase your tickets, go here: http://www.kingsplace.co.uk/big-big-train.

As most of you probably know, progarchy.com started, in very large part, as an unofficial fan site for BBT, so we’re especially proud of the band and their desire to explore their music in a live setting.

[My own desire was for them to come to the U.S., but I'm happy to have them play live anywhere.  I worry a bit that I might have played a role in their deciding to play in the U.K. rather than the U.S.  Several years ago, I made Greg Spawton promise that if they played live in the U.S., they would do so sporting ZZTop beards as well as offering a performance of a double-length BBT blow out version of 2112.  It's quite possible that my then-forced promises are coming back to haunt me.--ed.]

Seriously, what wonderful news.  Passengers (that is, the name of BBT fans on Facebook) have flooded Greg Spawton’s announcement of the sale, which he posted 20 hours ago.  Considering that BBT represents the highest and best not only of the prog tradition, but of the rock and bardic traditions, the outpouring of enthusiasm from the prog world is quite understandable.

War Sucks

rush wind blows the wayAs an editor of progarchy.com, I have absolutely no right to publish this.  In fact, when the four founders of progarchy created the thing–almost exactly 2 years ago–we decided to avoid as much as possible the topics of politics and religion.  Each of us is a writer, and we spend way too much of our professional lives “talking” politics and religion to let either seep into our leisure activities.

But, here I am, breaking a cardinal rule.

I’m so, so sick of war.  I just recently turned 47, and almost all of my adulthood has seen my own country involved in some kind of war–here, there, everywhere.

My home country, the grand republic of the United States of America?  Well, we create and sell nearly 70% of the arms that exist in the world, and we have troops stationed (at various levels) in 150 out of nearly 200 countries.  What began as a noble experiment has been corrupted, abused, and destroyed from our own so-called leaders.  Bastards all.

In particular, I offer the nastiest gesture I can think of to the last four presidential administrations.

Neal Morse News

Hello all,

Greetings from Neal! I’d like to invite you to join me in a LIVE Q&A SESSION, TOMORROW (9/26/14), 10am (CST). I’ll be here: http://ow.ly/BSdbo on Radiant Record’s Facebook page eagerly waiting to hear all of your questions about Morsefest! And hopefully, will be able to provide you with some answers as well. Get your questions ready! I look forward to chatting with you about this exciting event!

For the first time ever, you can join Neal in his home town for a two-day music festival! Special guests, like Mike Portnoy, will be joining Neal in performances of the entire “One” and “Testimony 1″ albums. Hear the music in the very place it was inspired! This weekend will be full of legendary status events such as:

  • an exclusive, free INNER CIRCLE ONLY acoustic set
  • VIP Meet and Greet with Neal and special guests
  • VIP contest of “Name that Tune” – PROG style with Mike Portnoy
  • special prizes… and so much more!

This is sure to be a once in a lifetime event that you do not want to miss! Make your travel plans to Nashville now for November 14-15!

 

Tickets on sale now at Radiant

(details here)

God bless,

Neal Morse

RochaNews: In Search of the Sun

In Search Of Sun
The World Is Yours
Raging Demon Entertainment
7 October 2014
LONDON, ENGLAND – U.K. rising rock/metal quintet, In Search Of Sun, has announced an October 7 release date for its debut album, The World Is Yours, to be released digitally via Raging Demon Entertainment.
Formerly known as Driven, The World Is Yours marks a significant step up in songwriting, production and maturity for In Search Of Sun, with head-bopping beats, epic choruses and ambient soundscapes replacing the groove-laden metalcore roots of its debut EP, ‘A Breakdown of Character.’ The album itself is built upon a foundation that’s been developing over the last three years, with the name change being the final piece of the puzzle in terms of crafting and sealing the band’s identity.
Commented the band, “The World Is Yours has been a while in the making, but it’s a big shift up for us in terms of direction and sound and we can’t wait to get out there and start playing these songs live. Expect an uplifting and hard-hitting journey through groove-ridden riffing and punching beats.”
The World Is Yours was produced by Phil Kinman at MTR Studios (Deadly Circus Fire, Tank, Paul Di’Anno) and mastered by Harry Hess at HBomb Mastering (Cancer Bats).

Track list:

01. The World Is Yours
02. Give In
03. 51 56
04. In Search Of Sun
05. Idle Crown
06. Burn
07. To The Axe
08. Skin
09. Draw The Line
10. The Eyes Behind I

New TransAtlantic Video and the Elegance of Second Nature

Radiant Records posted this just today.  Well worth watching and admiring.

***

Album cover of the year?  Rivaled only by Cosmograf's Capacitor.

Album cover of the year? Rivaled only by Cosmograf’s Capacitor.

Also, though I will offer a proper review soon, let me take this moment to praise the new Flying Colors’ album, Second Nature.  I thought the first album was a great AOR album.  It’s become my oldest son’s favorite album (all of the Birzers love everything Morse does, to be completely honest).  For me, it was amazing, but it should’ve and could’ve been a bit more so.

Not only is Second Nature “a bit more so,” it’s a HUGE bit more so.  I’m not even sure quite how to label it except as proggy-AOR or gospel AOR.

The song writing is excellent, but what really makes the album is the intertwining of McPherson’s and Morse’s vocals.  They seemed a bit stilted as a team on the first album.  On this album, they’ve clearly discovered how to play off of each other, to better the other.

The end result of Second Nature is something that can only be described as elegant.

Karisma: Bjorn Riis’s Forthcoming Solo Album

Bjørn Riis

Lullabies in a Car Crash

Karisma Records

3 November 2014

A 1,000 years ago, this guy would have terrorized your monastery.

A 1,000 years ago, this guy would have terrorized your monastery.  Now, he wields the guitar rather than the double bladed axe.

OVERVIEW

Airbag lead guitarist and main song writer Bjørn Riis is releasing his debut solo album, “Lullabies in a Car Crash”. The album is very much a personal statement, with lyrics dealing with fear of abandonment, alienation and loss. It’s also homage to many of Bjørn’s musical influences.

Bjørn is one of the founding members, the lead guitarist and main songwriter of the highly successful Norwegian band Airbag. Their three releases have all received great reviews worldwide and all become favourites among fans all over the globe.

“Lullabies in a Car Crash” feature six songs with a coherent and thematical composition. Bjørn’s soulful guitar playing and low-key vocals creates a rich listening experience. Although Bjørn as a guitarist have developed his own sound with a unique tone and his own technique over the years, the playing and tone are reminiscent of David Gilmour, Steven Rothery and Steven Wilson. As a singer this is the first time he takes the lead, normally doing the backing vocals in Airbag. His singing style is in the area of the mellow vocals of Tim Bowness and Nick Drake.

In addition to playing with Airbag, Bjørn is a highly respected guitarist within the guitar community, where he has a huge fan base. His guitar page “Gilmourish.com” has, with more than 40 million hits in total and an average of 150000 hits every week, become a centre for gear and music discussions online.

“Lullabies in a Car Crash” feature Airbag’s Henrik Fossum on drums and Asle Tostrup providing loops and effects. Long-time Airbag collaborator Vegard Sleipnes has co-produced the album together with Bjørn. The album is mastered by Jamie Gomez (Orgone Studio).

TRACKLIST

1. A New Day

2. Stay Calm

3. Disappear

4. Out Of Reach

5. The Chase

6. Lullaby in a Car Crash

Band website: www.bjornriis.com

Label website: www.karismarecords.no

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