Author Archives: bradbirzer

Hello, Patricia Tallman!

One of the many exciting things about writing for an active website is finding out who is following you. Every week, progarchy.com receives new followers at its own website (through wordpress—we’ve over 2,400 subscribers as I type this), through twitter, and on Facebook. We have some accounts on some other social media, but I’ve (–Brad) have never quite figured out to use them.

Maybe Chris or Carl can.

More often than not, understandably, the follows come from musicians, agents, and music fans. Makes sense. But, every once in a while, one comes out of left field.

This week, I was thrilled to see that Patricia Tallman is following us on twitter.

Patricia-TallmanCurrently the CEO of Studio JMS, Tallman will be familiar to most of you as the face of Lyta Alexander, the most powerful telepath in the Babylon 5 universe. By season of that greatest of all TV shows (EVER!), she is the post-Vorlon weapon of mass destruction. And, what a character and what an actress. I become rather taken with her from the first moment she flashed those intense eyes, red hair, and brilliant intellect on screen.

She also has appeared as an actress and stunt person in numerous TV shows and movies, including various incarnations of Star Trek, Army of Darkness, and Austin Powers.

And, back to B5 for a moment. As most of you probably know, Christopher Franke, German krautprog demigod composed all of the music for the series. Naturally, it’s rather good though now currently difficult to find.

Pat Tallman, whether you’re joining us because you’re a music fan or simply because you know we’re YOUR fans, welcome. Glad to have you aboard.

Neither Bending Nor Conforming: Fractal Mirror Comes of Age

Review of Fractal Mirror, “Garden of Ghosts” (privately released, 2014). The Band: Leo Koperdraat; Ed van Haagen; and Frank Urbaniak. Art by Brian Watson and layout by Frank Urbaniak. Additional personnel: Brent Kull (mixer); Larry Fast; Don Fast; and Andre de Boer.

Songs: House of Wishes; The Phoenix; Lost in Clouds; Solar Flare; The Hive; Solar Flare Reprise; The Garden; Orbital View; Event Horizon; Legacy; and Stars.

Birzer rating: 9.5/10.

GOG

Take a Dutch singer/keyboardist and a Dutch bassist, an American drummer, and an English artist. Add a little Kashmir-Zeppelin and a lot of Bauhaus, some Cure from the Faith period, and a touch of Gilmour-era Pink Floyd. Mix in some master jazz and prog stars to produce, contribute, and engineer. Throw in a dash of social media to connect it all. Finally, glue it all together with lyrics that might make Neil Peart blush at the timidity of his own Canuck individualism. Even with such diverse and various ingredients, you’d probably still not arrive at the genius that is Fractal Mirror.

“I will not bend or conform; this is how I’m meant to be.”

Indeed, it is. The first Fractal Mirror album proved a spectacular success. This second release, even more so. By infinite degrees. This sophomore release offers a full-bodied constitution and a virtuous soul to the emerging voice that was the new-born first album.

Fractal Mirror has come of age.

In a very definite sense, the title of this release “Garden of Ghost,” tells the listener almost all of what he or she needs to know about the whole. From the opening lyrics, Leo Koperdraat’s haunting, quavering voice shakes the listener to his deepest longings and desires as well as to his greatest fears and anxieties. This is not an album for the weak of soul, the narrow of mind, or faint of heart. This album is full-bodied, and it demands immersion, not just polite appreciation. While the ghosts fits the tone of the album completely, a “maze” might have worked as well as “garden.” The garden, if it exists, is the garden one finds in a nineteenth-century cemetery. It is certainly not the English garden of even the most psychedelic of Beatle songs. Here, if it exists, the garden collects stones, obelisks, mutated lambs and gargoyles, crumbling and cracked names, and pieces of rod iron and greened bronze and copper. A fog hovers over it all, and the damp penetrates all who enter it.

Fractal Mirror’s Garden of Ghosts is fully prog, though not the prog of our fathers. If Andy Tillson and Brian Watson (who also happens to be the main artist of FM) are correct that we have been living in the third wave of prog since about 1994—and I think they are right—2014 might very well reveal a transition to a new wave. As I look back over my posts for the past five years, I realize that every single year I write something akin to “201X, the greatest year in prog yet.” Yes, I’m prone to hyperbole, but I did mean this every time I wrote it. For the first time in a half-decade, I’m not sure this year, 2014 by Christian accounting, is the best year in prog. There have been some truly brilliant releases this year, indeed, some of the best prog I’ve ever heard. I think it is quite possible, however, that Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer took us to an unsurpassable level last year, perhaps the very culmination of third-wave prog.

The best releases of this year, such as those by Cosmograf, John Bassett, Salander, and Fractal Mirror, offer a progressively retro look, in theme and in musical styles. That is, many of the best releases this year have been scavenger hunts of the years 1979-1984 while cleaning those remaining and latent treasures and reimaging them.

What we have this year, 2014, is prog, to be certain, but it comes very close to post-post modern prog. Atmospheres, tones, and lingerings have replaced force, rhythm, and drive. “Ocean Rain” might serve as the touchstone rather than “Close to the Edge.”

To put it another way, the music of 2014 seems as intense as anything before it, but it also seems content to be contemplative and deeply intellectual, an autumnal repose of the mind and soul, an in-taking of breath, anticipating exhalation.

“This winter feels like forever, a garden of regret.”

FM has created a thing of real genius with Garden of Ghosts. I apologize that this review is so introspective and reflective, so utterly subjective. But, the 2014 prog scene has brought out the most existential questions in me. As I listen and listen and listen to Fractal Mirror, I can’t help but feel a most fundamental soul searching.

For what it’s worth, I’ve been listening to this album for roughly a month now, and I’ve found it one of the most difficult things I’ve ever reviewed. Not because it’s bad, but for exactly the opposite reason. It’s so interesting and complex, so very good, that I wanted to give my own thought processes time to catch up with it. I’m certain that as I continue to listen, I will discover even more depths as well as breadths.

I must also note: it’s well worth getting the physical CD. Brian Watson has presented us with some of his best artwork, and Frank Urbaniak’s layout sets what should be the standard for all cd layouts. The lyrics are well worth reading over and pondering, again and again. The band even included a brief description of the intent and meaning of each song. I resisted reading these until just right now, as I come to a close with this review. As it turns out, my interpretation of the themes of the album—loss, age, regret, concern, and hope—mesh with what the band has explained here. Again, a masterwork of autumnal existentialism.

For more information, see www.fractalmirror.net.

Seizing Galahad: The 3 2014 EPs

Review of Galahad, the 2014 Trilogy of EPs: “Seize the Day”; “Guardian Angel”; and “Mein Herz Brennt.”

Birzer Rating for all three: 9/10.

Galahad_Seize_EP

Two caveats as I review these three EPs.  First, I’d not come upon Galahad as a band until being introduced to them just a few years ago by the first lady of prog, Alison Henderson.  When Galahad first emerged in the U.K., we Americans missed them for some reason.  I’m not sure why, and I think this is an American failing.  At the time Galahad came together as a band in the U.K., I was firmly listening to Grace Under Pressure, Power Windows, and The Flat Earth.  But, this failing is now thirty years in the past.

Second, the moment I started listening to the band, I felt an immediate kinship.  I love these guys, and I love what they’re doing.  Exploring their back catalogue has been one of my sonic joys of the last several years.  

I hope they don’t mind the comparison, but they sound like the legitimate successors to the Midge Ure-era of Ultravox (pre-Uvox).  For me, this is not just a great thing, it’s a grand thing.  I loved the songwriting and flow of Vienna, Rage in Eden, and Lament.  Each moved me immensely, and I’ve always wondered why a band didn’t embrace the Ultravox sound and prog it up.  An album such is Rage in Eden is so full of ideas, it could easily have been three times as long as it was.  One could readily take Ultravox toward more electronica and minimalism, or one could beef the sound up, making the pop elements a part of the sound rather than the core of it.  Galahad is that second band–Ultravox on steroids, beefed up and presenting the music as a deep work of art, immersed in gravitas, and willing to be profoundly adventuresome.

I was happily surprised when Stu Nicholson announced that the band would spend 2014 focusing on just a few EPs rather than on a full album.  After the 2012 barrage of two albums—each astounding in its own right—the band had to be exhausted.  The release of three EPs seemed a good idea.  Of course, I’d love another Galahad album, and I assume we will get one.  So, let the guys do what they need to do to get ready for the next big one!  I can be patient, especially when it comes to excellence, and I’m positive Galahad will deliver.  These are guys who–thankfully–never do a thing half way.

Now that the last of the three EPs has been released, we can readily assess just what Nicholson and co. have accomplished in 2014.  And, frankly, it’s quite a bit.

I’ve already reviewed Seize the Day at progarchy.  This is the longest of the EPs in terms of songs.  Six total.  Two versions of “Seize the Day,” including the definitive “full version”, two versions of “21st Century Painted Lady,” and two versions of “Bug Eye 2014,” including a live version.

ga-ep-image

The second, “Guardian Angel,” came out this summer.  It presents the title song in four different versions, two of which appeared on the album, Beyond the Realms,  It also contains a piano version of “Beyond the Barbed Wire.”  Stripped down to its essence, the song reveals the delicate beauty and versatility of Nicholson’s voice.

mhb-cover

The final EP, “Mein Herz Brennt,” presents this title song in four versions as well.  I’m not familiar with the original song, and I’m still digesting this EP.  Though I was once fluent in Austrian German, I have a hard time appreciating the German vocals here.  They seem harsh and spooky, though this might very well have been Galahad’s intent.  The EP will probably grow on me.  When it does, I’ll report back.

Regardless, I’m really, really happy with what Galahad has done.  They’ve managed to remain prog while also being truly progressive, exploring new areas and sounds. 

I’m truly sorry they’ve not been a part of my life for thirty years, but I’m thankful they’ve been a part of it as long as they have.  A huge thanks to Lady Alison for sharing her love of this band with me.  Thank you, equally, to Stu and Co. for keeping alive the spirit of playful and meaningful innovation.  Galahad has always been the favorite knight of this Arthur-obsessed man, and Galahad has quickly become a favorite of this same prog-obsessed man as well. 

Long may they continue!

One may purchase each of the three EPs at amazon.com and at Galahad’s official site: http://www.galahadonline.com/

keepcalm2

Boom! Making Clockwork Angels Even Better.

Clockwork Angels by Neil Peart, Kevin J. Anderson, and Nick Robles (Six-issue comic series from Boom! Studios, 2013-2014).

A sample page from the comic series, Clockwork Angels.  The reds and blues are brilliant, as are the emotions depicted.  Art by Nick Robles.

A sample page from the comic series, Clockwork Angels. The reds and blues are brilliant, as are the emotions depicted. Art by Nick Robles.

By any reckoning, Clockwork Angels has done rather well. It is a prog-rock album, a concert, a live concert album and video, a novel, an audiobook, and now a six-book comic series from the relatively young publisher, Boom! Studios. Soon, I’m sure, Boom! will collect these six issues into a graphic novel, perhaps with a new introduction by Peart.

As the great Rob Freedman has argued at his website, Rush Vault, it could readily become a movie or a tv-series. Maybe even complete with action figures. No, I’m not exaggerating, and I’m not being sarcastic. Clockwork Angels has done very well, and I couldn’t be happier for Peart.

The novel, co-authored by Kevin J. Anderson and Neil Peart is, in and of itself, quite stunning. At essence, the story is little different than the one Peart told with Hemispheres. Chaos and order vie for power, with the individual—armed with integrity, intelligence, and creativity—making his own path. Yet, Peart and Anderson have made this story as fresh as fresh can be by adopting the form of a fairy-tale. It’s a rather Chestertonian and Tolkienian fairy tale at that. Peart even inserts himself (but, not by name) as the grandfather-narrator, well pleased with his children and grandchildren.

Adorned with color prints by Hugh Syme and printed on the highest quality of paper, the ECW novel is a wonderful thing to hold and behold.

clockworkangels_01_PRESS-4At the time that Rush began to plan the tour for the album, Peart stated in no uncertain terms that certain aspects of the story could not be produced visually, as he hoped to keep them in the imagination. In particular, he was talking about the actual Clockwork Angels. Far better to leave them to the individual imagination than to the visual artists. Additionally, they needed to remain in an aura of mystery.

I must admit, when I first heard that the story would be produced in comic book form, I was apprehensive. I have nothing against comics and graphics novels. Indeed, I think the work of such giants as Frank Miller and Alan Moore probably inspired and certainly anticipated the iPads and other tablets we know all wield—a perfect blending of word and image. But, I wondered, wow could Peart’s desire be adhered to, when transferring the story to a visual medium. Would the art do justice to the story, or would it simply detract? I realize I’m in the minority in this view, but I firmly believe that Peter Jackson has come close to destroying the beauty and integrity of Tolkien’s world. Tolkien’s world is too strong to be destroyed by such technological mimicry, but still. . . I didn’t want Boom! to do the same thing to Peart’s work.

Now that all six issues have appeared, I can render judgment. The artist, Nick Robles, has done admirable work. True to the fairy-like intent of the story, Robles presents all of his images as something between a water-color painting and modern (think Jim Lee of DC) superhero art.

clockworkangels_01_PRESS-7While Robles attempts to illustrate the Clockwork Angels, he does so in a way to minimize the destruction of imagination. Various lights and shadows, thankfully, obscure the more mysterious parts. Equally important, Robles not only draws the human face beautifully, rendering each with personality, light, and emotion, but his coloring makes some of the expressions jump off the page. His reds and blues are especially good. In other words, Robles really does augment the word with image, and I found myself appreciating this story in different ways than I had the original album and novel.

Robles and Boom! have done something I didn’t expect: they’ve made a brilliant story even better. Or least, they made me look at it in a very new way. What’s not to love? Gorgeous art; Peartian wisdom; and a story that mixes the best of Chesterton, Tolkien, and Ray Bradbury.

For ordering information, go here: Boom! Studios.

Steve Babb’s Lay of Lirazel is Now Available

Progarchists, it is well worth owning a copy of Steve Babb’s first book of poetry, The Lay of Lirazel.

Photo on 11-15-14 at 12.59 PM #4

Goofy me, holding a thing of beauty.

Not surprisingly, given his intelligence and creativity as revealed over and over again in his work with Glass Hammer, Babb has tapped into the spirit of J.R.R. Tolkien with this book.  Indeed, imagine Tolkien as a lyricist for a prog band, and you’d have Steve Babb.  It would not be hyperbolic to claim this Lay is the sequel to Tolkien’s earliest writings, begun almost exactly a century ago–much of it in the trenches of France during the First World War.

Babb’s book has everything: drama, mystery, love, horror, and honor.  In particular, though, one can sense the rhythm and lilt of the poem.  I’m not sure if it makes me proud to be a lover of poetry or a lover of prog?  Of course, it makes me proud to be both.  Still, I’m not sure if the flow is prog, or if prog’s flow is poetic.

Too little poetry is published and almost never in the form of a lay.  Babb has proven his creativity repeatedly in his music and his lyrics.  As I’ve gotten to know Steve over the past two years, I can also state he is a man whose integrity matches his creativity.

What I now hold in my hands is a thing of beauty.  Congratulations, Steve.  Like Neil Peart, you never stop.  You not only get better and better in your craft, but you also take your experience into other realms.

All to the good.

For information, go here.

Tears for Fears on Jimmy Kimmel

Looks like Nick D’Virgilio got to spend his 46th birthday live on the Jimmy Kimmel Show, playing with Tears for Fears.  TFF is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of their pop-prog masterpiece, Songs from the Big Chair.  Roland’s voice sounds off to me, but Curt is in great form.  Definitely worth watching.

Review: Lunatic Soul, Walking on a Flashlight Beam

Review of Lunatic Soul, Walking on a Flashlight Beam (Kscope, 2014).

Birzer Rating: (6/10)

WOAFB-coverLet me begin by offering my Mariusz Dudas streetcred. I love Duda’s voice as well as his compositional skills. He possesses a profound sense of flow, allowing his music to move seamlessly from emotion to sentiment to feeling and back again. His voice is the kind that pulls one in, calling for full immersion. I’ve also always appreciated his lyricism, especially given that he’s not a native English speaker. He always seems to know the perfect lyric for the music and the perfect music for the lyric.

For a decade, I’ve been following his work. For a while, I thought I saw a continuity in all of his work: First Three Riverside Albums—Lunatic Soul—ADHD—Lunatic Soul.  Lunatic Soul, beautiful and gorgeous in its own way, seemed the perfect interlude to accompany the drama of Riverside. For better or worse, this scheme has broken down almost completely now, especially after Shrine (Riverside) and Impressions (Lunatic Soul).

For any of you who have heard Riverside or Lunatic Soul (and I assume it’s all of you), you know have very captivating the music is. Walking on a Flashlight Beam is a reviewer’s purgatory. It’s quite good and well worth owning—a must for any fan of Riverside and Lunatic Soul—but it doesn’t captivate in the way that the first two Lunatic Soul albums did or the first four Riverside albums. Duda’s lyrics are as good as always—despite the weird pedestrian title of the album—as is his sense of flow. But, the flaw in this album is that it attempts to make the Lunatic Soul sound fresh by adding in a bizarre mixture of sound effects, many of which sound like old, recycled Depeche Mode noises from the early 80s. It’s not as extreme as, say, U2’s Pop, but it is leaning in that direction. So, a conundrum—all the things that make a Duda album here are great, but the attempt to experiment and innovate sounds false and clunky. Admittedly, Walking on a Flashlight Beam is sounding much less clunky after several listens.

Just to experiment, however, I played the first Lunatic Soul album immediately after listening to the new one. The first made my soul soar. This one made it want to soar, but it merely hovered.

Matt Stevens News

Matt, second from the left.

Matt, second from the left.

Hiya

How is it November already? Here is the news:

This is a previously unreleased track from the Ghost album sessions. It’s called Blue Filter, I played it live a lot around the time when the album came out..

https://mattstevens.bandcamp.com/track/blue-filter-2

Available to download for the next week then it’ll be deleted :) Buying music like this allows me to keep on making music.

New video – playing Big Sky for Auden Guitars

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AVE0iSdM7w

I’m selling some of the my gear on Ebay. The Kaossilator I used on the song Lake Man on the Ghost album and delay pedal from the Stabbing A Dead Horse tour.

http://www.ebay.co.uk/usr/trinovantes1

Other than that it’s heads down writing and recording new material for new projects/Fierce And The Dead and the next solo record. One gig coming up in Milton Keynes in on the 31st January with Solstice.

Thanks for all your support.

Matt Stevens

http://www.fierceandthedead.com

http://www.mattstevensguitar.com

Glass Hammer at Rosfest 2015

Great news this morning from Steve Babb and co.

My copy of Lex Rex, signed by Steve Babb.

My copy of Lex Rex, signed by Steve Babb.

http://home.rosfest.com/glass-hammer-announced-as-the-third-band-on-sunday-enchant-to-headline/

The Madeira in Champaign, Illinois: Friday Night

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