Author Archives: Thaddeus Wert
Mr. Wesley is very generous with his music; you can download for free mp3 versions of his previous albums. They are available here, or simply click on the banner above.
InsideOut Music recently signed John Wesley to its label, and his new album, Disconnect, will be available March 31 in Europe and April 1 in the U.S. I’m not pulling an April Fools’ joke when I say that it is my favorite album of 2014 so far (despite stiff competition from the likes of John “KingBathmat” Bassett, Gazpacho, and Transatlantic).
Who is John Wesley? Hailing from Tampa, Florida, he’s an enormously talented guitarist and vocalist who has toured with Porcupine Tree, Fish, and Steven Wilson. Check out Porcupine Tree’s DVD, Anesthetize, to see how integral he was to their live show. As a matter of fact, after watching that DVD, I wondered why Steven Wilson didn’t go ahead and make Wesley an official member. His guitar playing and vocals added a new and exciting dimension to Wilson’s songs.
Approaching Wesley’s new solo work, I had low expectations – sidemen often fail to carry the load of an entire album. (Tony Levin is my all-time favorite bassist, but his solo stuff just doesn’t do anything for me.) Suffice it to say, from the opening chords of the first track, “Disconnect”, to the spacey fadeout of “Satellite”, this is a jaw-dropping collection of songs. There isn’t a weak track in the whole bunch as Wesley runs through a wide range of styles, all the while rocking like a maniac.
I hear hints of Pink Floyd in the aforementioned “Satellite”, Rush (none other than Alex Lifeson lends a hand on “Once a Warrior”), and Lindsey Buckingham in “Windows”. “Gets You Every Time” is an aural blast of pure joy in the vein of classic Cheap Trick.
The highlight has to be the transcendent and chiming “Mary Will”. In it, Wesley sings like a desperate man clinging to his last hope:
“In the cleansing rain, you stand by her.
In the roses, miracles will occur.
Never to forgive, never yourself,
Not even Mary’s son dared to offer help,
But maybe Mary will stand for you.
Maybe Mary will stand for you.
Maybe Mary will have a word for you”.
A spiraling, yearning, yet perfectly restrained guitar solo brings this brief masterpiece to a close.
John Wesley is a major talent in rock, both as a performer and a songwriter. Kudos to InsideOut Music for making his music available to a larger audience. Disconnect is a must-have if you value passion, brilliance, and depth in your music.
Here’s the official video to “Mary Will”:
One of Progarchy’s favorite artists is John Bassett (KingBathmat). His new solo album is due out March 31, with preorders beginning next week. Here’s a sneak peek at the album trailer:
What a bountiful year 2013 has been for good music. All the albums on my Best Of list are destined to become classics, I’m sure! So, let’s count them down, all the way to Number 1:
11. TesseracT: Altered State. I’ll kick the list off with the most unabashedly heavy album, but one that has grown on me over the past few months. Ashe O’Hara is a terrific vocalist, and the band lays down a multilayered bed of crunching guitars, drums, and bass for him to soar over. The songs are divided into four groups, “Of Matter”, “Of Mind”, “Of Reality”, and “Of Energy”. These guys know their mathematics, as well! One of the songs is “Calabi-Yau”, and the artwork includes the E8 Root System, a hypercube, and an Apollonian sphere. Best track: “Nocturne” (Check out the moment of transcendence at 3:14) -
10. Riverside: Shrine of New Generation Slaves. Mariusz Duda’s side project, Lunatic Soul, has had a pronounced effect on Riverside’s music, and that’s all to the good, in my opinion. SoNGS is more melodic and varied than anything they’ve produced so far, and even though it came out early in 2013, it still stays close to my sound system. Go for the two-disc set, which adds two extended tracks that flirt with ambient jazz. Best track: “Feel Like Falling” -
9. Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing. Very few artists push themselves as hard as Steven Wilson, and TRTRTS is another leap forward for him. I’m thinking at this point he’s left the world of prog, and he is his own genre. Not everything works – “Luminol” is too much Yes-jams-with-Herbie-Hancock for my taste, but when he clicks, no one comes close. Best track: the achingly beautiful “The Raven That Refused To Sing” -
8. Big Big Train: English Electric: Full Power. Much has been written on this site about the sheer wonderfulness of this collection. The care that went into the accompanying booklet is a joy to behold. The resequencing of songs works well, and the new opener “Come On Make Some Noise” is as fun as a classic Badfinger single from the 70′s. I’m a Tennessee boy, but I could easily spend the rest of my days in the pastoral Albion depicted in BBT’s Full Power. Best Track: “Uncle Jack” -
7. Cosmograf: The Man Left In Space. A sci-fi concept album about the dangers of all-consuming ambition and the isolation that results, this is a very satisfying album both musically and lyrically. One of the most-played discs of the year in my household. Best track: “Aspire Achieve” -
6. Ayreon: The Theory Of Everything. A recent release, so I haven’t had a chance to fully absorb this sprawling work. Arjen Lucassen is the Verdi of progressive rock, composing magnificent operas that explore what it means to be human in today’s dehumanizing times. For TTOE, Lucassen gathered the most talented roster of musicians and vocalists yet – including John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess, and Steve Hackett. The story itself leaves behind the sci-fi thread that previous Ayreon albums followed to chronicle the travails of a small group of family and colleagues torn apart by autism, deception, envy, academic ambition, and pride. Throw in a dash of the supernatural, and this is a very thought-provoking work. Best track: “Magnetism” -
And now it’s time for the Top Five!
5. Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster. This band has been very prolific lately, releasing Truth Button and Overcoming the Monster in a matter of months. OTM is a fantastic set of songs about the different “monsters” we all encounter in our day to day lives. Most impressive of all, Kingbathmat have developed a truly unique sound that is accessible yet new. I can’t wait to hear the next iteration of it. Best track: “Kubrick Moon” -
4. Sound Of Contact: Dimensionaut. I’m sure SoC’s vocalist and drummer Simon Collins is tired of comparisons to Genesis (he’s Phil’s son), but that is what first strikes the hearer of this outstanding album. Fortunately, repeated listening reveals SoC’s extraordinary talent in their own right. The songs themselves are perfectly constructed gems, and the production is top-notch. The band moves effortlessly from straight pop (“Not Coming Down”) to the most complex prog epic (“Mobius Strip”). Best track: “Pale Blue Dot” -
3. Days Between Stations: In Extremis. I’ve already written a full review of this immensely rewarding album in an earlier Progarchy post. Suffice it to say that this is already a classic. And Sepand Samzadeh is one of the nicest guys in the prog world! Best track: “Eggshell Man” -
2. Sanguine Hum: The Weight of the World. If XTC and Jellyfish had a child, Sanguine Hum might be it (with Frank Zappa for a godfather). This album is simply a delight to listen to, from start to finish. It’s one that reveals new details, regardless of how many times you hear it. Their secret weapon is Andrew Booker on drums. Reminiscent of Stewart Copeland’s work with The Police, Booker has a light and inventive touch that often becomes the lead instrument. The entire band generates an organic sound that is seductive and playful. Best track: “The Weight of the World” -
Album of the Year
1. Haken: The Mountain. Until a couple of months ago, I had never heard a note by this band. Fast forward to now, and there hasn’t been a 48-hour period when I haven’t listened to this album, in its entirety, at least once. An extraordinary meditation on the importance of never giving up on overcoming obstacles, The Mountain is a deeply moving work. Musically, it is progressive metal in the same vein as Dream Theater, Devin Townsend, and even Rush. Every single song is indispensable, but if I had to pick one, it would be “Pareidolia” -
Well, reader, thanks for hanging in there to the bitter end. I hope I’ve affirmed some of your own opinions and perhaps piqued some interest in an artist or two you’re not aware of yet. Here’s hoping 2014 is as good as 2013!
Last month, we posted Haken’s very entertaining “Cockroach King” video. Here’s the official video to another song from their excellent The Mountain album, the epic “Pareidolia”. Blending Indian and Greek elements (bouzoukis anyone?) with scorching guitars and tremendous vocals, Haken has come up with a prog/metal classic.
Pareidolia “is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant” (according to Wikipedia). You can watch the curling smoke and cascading light in the video and experience your very own pareidolia.
Fans of Rush, Dream Theater, Ayreon, Riverside, and Devin Townsend will be all over this album.
Unlike Eric Perry in his earlier, excellent review, I approached the new Flower Kings album from a position of relative ignorance. I greatly admire Roine Stolt’s work with Transatlantic, but I do not have any Flower Kings in my music library. However, after listening closely to Desolation Rose the past few days, that is about to change!
21st century media provide wonderful benefits (could something like Progarchy have even existed 15 years ago?), but any technology can also be perverted into something terribly harmful. Desolation Rose is a dark and brooding jeremiad on the dangers of corrupt media and government, perpetual war and violence, and religious fanaticism. Freedom is not a given, and Desolation Rose is a dire warning to those who would trade it for “security”, whether by indiscriminately believing what governments and mainstream media tell us, or by neglecting critical thinking when it comes to the claims of deceptive religious figures. Each song segues seamlessly into the next, reinforcing the overall impact of the lyrics. It may take a few listens for them to take hold, but once they do, they are very powerful.
A sampling of some of the most memorable lines (as best I can decipher them; I do not have a lyrics booklet):
“Lies bring comfort to the king and his nation/Like fools, we just stare at the sun.” (‘Tower ONE’)
“In the silent soil of Eden lie the bones of a predator/From the sun and the stars, a dreamless penitentiary.” (‘Sleeping Bones’)
“In silent graveyards we look for saviors/A promised land beyond our prayers” (‘Desolation Road’)
“So if you follow, go look beyond the lies/A brand new kingdom will brighten up the skies/Close to the sea, the river’s getting wider/Take off the blinders, and love will take you higher” (‘Resurrected Judas’)
“We are just the silent masses/The things you need are out of fashion/And so the clock keeps ticking out of time” (‘Silent Masses’)
“When a man is not a man, but hostage to machinery/Will they ever let you out from this dreamless penitentiary?” ‘(Last Carnivore’)
“So the state has become the offender/To the point where there’s no turning back/Now you dream of your new independence/While they tighten their grip round your neck” (‘Dark Fascist Skies’)
“We are stardust and we’re sun-kissed/We are brothers and still we’re strangers” (‘Blood of Eden’)
Just as words and phrases are repeated in the songs, musical themes recur throughout, making the album a remarkably cohesive work. The propulsive drumming of Felix Lehrmann is terrific; Tomas Bodin’s manic organ locks horns with Roine Stolt’s lead guitar and musical sparks result. Hasse Froberg’s vocals are outstanding – full of dark menace one moment, and aching lament the next. Jonas Reingold’s bass work is as melodic and inventive as Geddy Lee’s.
Highlights are ‘Resurrected Judas’, which has a nice “Trick of the Tail”-era Genesis vibe and a graceful, loping guitar solo; the straight-ahead rocker ‘Silent Masses’, with its jaunty piano riff and nimble bass line; and ‘Last Carnivore’, which is very dark and oppressive until a key change brings relief and light. ‘Last Carnivore’ is representative of the album as a whole – from the first track, the band creates an atmosphere of conflict, darkness, and oppression which isn’t relieved until the beautiful and stately ‘Blood of Eden’ makes its appearance near the end. Hearing it is like seeing clouds part and the sun shine through after a violent thunderstorm. However, lest we think everything’s going to be fine, the ‘Silent Graveyards’ show up one last time in a musical coda that ties together the various themes masterfully. Froberg’s voice rises as if he’s framing a question, and it is unsettling to realize that ‘Dark Fascist Skies’ are always lurking around the corner.
With Desolation Rose, the Flower Kings have produced an album of extraordinary power and depth. Lyrics and music combine to pack an emotional punch that cannot be ignored. Detta är en att älska.
If you are in the mood for something fun and light, I recommend Active Heed. The band is the brainchild of Umberto Pagnini, and their new album is Visions From Realities. Stylistically, it is all over the map, and I mean that in a good way. I hear a strong ’60s folk/rock influence in songs like “FFF Flashing Fast Forward”:
While the gorgeous “The Weakness of Our Spinning” sounds like an outtake from Lindsey Buckingham:
Listening to the album in its entirety gives me the sense that I’m peeking into an artist’s sketchbook; most songs are relatively brief, and the melodies have a charming, playfully raw feel to them. Take a listen to the under-two-minute pop blast of “Awake?!”:
The band has generously posted the complete album on Soundcloud, and you can listen to it here. Visions From Realities is more evidence that we are in the midst of a historic explosion of excellent progressive music, and they certainly deserve a wide audience. It would be a shame for this gem to be missed.
Sometimes you have to put aside the extended epics and experience the simple pleasure of a nicely crafted pop song. With that in mind, here’s a playlist of recently released pop-like songs that prog-lovers can enjoy without guilt:
1. Sound Of Contact: “Not Coming Down”. Coming from their extraordinary album, Dimensionaut, this catchy tune has all the right ingredients: wall-of-sound production, rich vocal harmonies, an eminently hummable chorus, and they even sneak in a Beatlesque bridge. Take a listen, if you don’t believe me:
2. Days Between Stations: “The Man Who Died Two Times”. I’ve written about the wonderful album this track appears on in a previous post, and it features a delightful cameo by XTC’s Colin Moulding. It has an irresistible beat married to an insistent synthesizer riff, with Moulding’s multitracked, wry vocals floating over the controlled chaos. Think classic Alan Parsons Project mashed with 10CC, and you get a glimmer of the genius of this song. Go ahead and spend a buck for the mp3 of it here. You won’t be disappointed.
3. Sanguine Hum: “The Weight of The World”. Okay, this one is almost 15 minutes long, which qualifies it as a genuine epic, but it is so effortlessly melodic and uplifting I have to include it. I’ve always thought Sanguine Hum’s secret influence was Jellyfish, and it’s hard to deny that here. If Jellyfish and “One Size Fits All”- era Mothers of Invention had a child, it would be this track. It lilts, it waltzes, it almost skitters out of control, but it never loses its pop appeal. The first 37 seconds of their promo for the album are taken from this near-perfect song:
4. Big Big Train: “Uncle Jack”. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not end up grinning ear to ear. A jaunty tempo provides a fertile bed for lush vocals that sing the joy of taking a walk outdoors. And when the counter-melody hits at 2:40, you’re transported to paradise. Listen below (but buy the whole album, English Electric Part One):
5. Arjen Lucassen: “E-Police”. It can’t be an accident that Lucassen’s “E-Police” recalls the glories of late-70s Cheap Trick (“Dream Police”?). A big helping of glam rock that will leave you hitting Repeat on your player.
6. Gazpacho: “Mary Celeste”. A Norwegian band does Celtic music, and creates a pop masterpiece. A delicate intro on mandolin and piano blossoms into a full-blown production that includes accordion, guitars, violin, and masterful vocals. It doesn’t hurt that the melody compels you to get up and move.
So there you have it – a playlist that you can use to seduce your friends who are woefully ignorant of prog into the beauty of that genre, or one that you can use yourself when the occasion calls for some sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs music. Enjoy.
2013 has already shaped up to be one of the most bountiful years ever for prog. Consider a few of the outstanding albums that have already been released: Big Big Train’s English Electric 2, Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space, Bruce Soord/Jonas Renkse’s The Wisdom Of Crowds, KingBathmat’s Overcoming the Monster, Sanguine Hum’s The Weight of the World, Sound of Contact’s Dimensionaut. Add to that list Days Between Stations’ In Extremis, which has taken up permanent residence in my home CD player and my iPod.
Days Between Stations, based in Los Angeles, is Oscar Fuentes Bills (keyboards) and Sepand Samzadeh (guitars). In Extremis is only their second release, but it possesses the maturity and excellence of a far more experienced group. Their 2007 self-titled debut consists of five extended instrumentals with some wordless vocals (plus two “intermissions” of sampled conversations), and is top-notch prog in its own right. The opening track, Requiem for the Living, begins with a beautiful yet mournful theme on synths and piano, which eventually develops into a slide guitar workout that would do David Gilmour proud. According to Samzadeh, it was inspired by Gorecki’s Third Symphony, also known as his Symphony of Sorrowful Songs. The album concludes with the epic Laudanum, which never loses focus or power over the course of its 22 minutes. It includes ambient textures, jazz fusion, and, of course, lots of prog guitar!
While Bills and Samzadeh were ably assisted on their first album by Jeremy Castillo (guitars), Jon Mattox (drums), and Vivi Rama (bass), for In Extremis, they have taken things to an entirely new level. Billy Sherwood (Yes) is sharing production duties with Bills and Samzadeh, Tony Levin (King Crimson, Peter Gabriel, and many others) is on Stick and bass, Colin Moulding (XTC) lends his voice to a song, and Rick Wakeman (Yes, etc.) contributes some mellotron and minimoog. In a fitting way, the late Peter Banks (Yes, guitar) adds his magic to several songs. As a matter of fact, these are Banks’ last recorded performances.
In Extremis begins with a massive fanfare featuring the Angel City Orchestra that becomes the overture for the album. The most obvious difference with this set of songs is that we now have vocalists singing lyrics! Billy Sherwood sings in the Floydian Visionary, Eggshell Man, and the title track. Thematically, the lyrics convey the loss and regret of someone near the end of his life:
There’s no replacing what’s been left behind
There’s no returning to that place and time
In sight were all the distant horizons
In flight were all the dreams alive
A high point is Colin Moulding’s marvelous vocals on the wry pop of The Man Who Died Two Times. Set to an irresistible, bouncy ’80s vibe, Moulding sings of
All the angels cried
For the man who died two times
And they wiped away tears of laughter
And helped him survive
Going station to station
Always ready to revive
Next up is a touching string quartet piece dedicated to Peter Banks, which is followed by the crowning glory of the entire album, Eggshell Man. It features a delicate accoustic guitar intro with gorgeous vocals by Sherwood and a mellotron flute solo by Wakeman. It soon picks up speed and intensity, including a section with some Middle Eastern flair. The tempo ebbs and flows over the course of twelve minutes, Wakeman has a terrific minimoog solo, Levin is rock-solid on bass, and Sherwood sings of “best laid plans” and empires returning to dust. It’s one of the finest songs released this year.
Believe it or not, there is still the title track to come, and it’s a monster, clocking in at 21:37. In Extremis is a requiem for a man (the Eggshell Man?) who realizes too late the brevity and preciousness of life:
Images upon the screen
Recanting all the memories
From the first breath
To the last goodbye
Dust dancing on beams of light
Most groups would give anything to achieve a track like In Extremis. Days Between Stations pulls it off with ease, and manages to precede it with seven other tracks that are its equal.
There have been some extraordinary releases in prog music this year, and Days Between Stations’ In Extremis is near the top of the heap. This is an album not to be missed.
Here’s the official trailer: