Author Archives: Thaddeus Wert
Here’s the official video for their wonderful song, “The Man Who Died Two Times”, featuring the irrepressible Colin Moulding (of XTC fame). It’s from their outstanding 2013 album, In Extremis. You have to love a band that don’t take themselves too seriously!
There are music labels, and there are music labels. By which I mean: occasionally a label appears that maintains such a high quality roster of artists, and its production is so consistently excellent, that discerning listeners will buy anything that label releases. 4AD (home of Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, Lush, and This Mortal Coil, among others) was such a label for many music fans in the ’80s and ’90s. ZTT was another, with its over-the-top Trevor Horn productions, and copious and entertaining liner notes that more often than not baffled rather than illuminated the reader.
In this decade, KScope has become the go-to label for fans of edgy and intelligent music. One of my first posts (back in 2012) on Progarchy was a brief overview of KScope’s roster of “post-progressive” artists. Since then, they have expanded their offerings to include many new artists, and the latest star in their constellation is Se Delan (pronounced “say deh-LAN”, it’s Old English for “the deep”.). Consisting of multi-instrumentalist Justin Greaves (Crippled Black Phoenix) and singer Belinda Kordic (Killing Mood), their début album, The Fall, is a seductive, languorous gem that sneaks up on you and draws you into its dark beauty before you’re even aware of it.
Kordic’s breathy vocals bring to mind early Lush, while Greave’s acoustic-based compositions sound relatively simple until you allow yourself to be carried away by the multilayered deep grooves he develops. The songs feature slow yet insistent beats, punctuated by spaced-out bursts of bluesy guitar (i.e. the outstanding track, “Dirge”). If Twin Peaks were airing today, this album would be the perfect soundtrack.
Kordic’s lyrics imbue the music with a sense of the surreal, while expressing a resigned longing:
Tonight, as you sleep
Time to let go
of those haunted thoughts
that keep you so damned low.
The only misstep is “The Hunt” – a dissonant track that doesn’t really fit the mood of the rest of the album. However, the closing song, “Lost Never Found” has an absolutely heartbreaking and spare beauty to it. Beginning with an unaccompanied piano, Kordic eventually sings a few lines while a violin softly enters. Drums, bass, and guitars join in and bring the song to a stirring conclusion. Fans of Nosound will love it.
With The Fall, Se Delan have delivered a very impressive début. The first listen intrigues, the second pleases, the third leaves you somewhat discomfited and wanting more. Here’s hoping this is not a one-time collaboration.
The first Rush album I bought was A Farewell To Kings – it was a cutout*, and I had heard they were a pretty good progressive rock trio. Geddy’s vocals turned me off initially, but Neil’s lyrics were very intriguing. The next album I acquired was Permanent Waves, because “Spirit of Radio” was all over the radio, and Geddy’s voice had mellowed a bit. That album remained in permanent rotation on my dorm room’s turntable for months, and I still listen to it often. Moving Pictures upped the ante even more, and Rush were becoming one of my all-time favorite bands. However, to my ears Signals was a letdown – the pervasive whoosh of synthesizers seemed to overwhelm Alex’s guitars, and the melodies weren’t as memorable as those in Moving Pictures. So I skipped Grace Under Pressure, convinced that Rush’s best days were behind them in the Permanent Waves/ Moving Pictures era. (In case you’re inclined to quit reading, in disgust at my ignorance of the greatness of Grace Under Pressure, I did eventually get it!)
In the mid-‘80s, I worked in record store, and we prided ourselves on listening to the cutting edge of everything new wave and postpunk: Cocteau Twins, The The, Simple Minds, The Smiths, R.E.M., The Cure, Talk Talk, etc. One day, our import buyer (who was the hippest employee in the store) was very excited, because it was the release date for Rush’s new album, Power Windows. I was surprised, to say the least, because Rush was not cool, like a 4AD band automatically was. But when he put it on the store’s sound system, and those glorious “Big Money” power chords poured out of the speakers, I was hooked. Rush was back! I played the cassette in my car constantly, and when the compact disc came out, I immediately got a copy. Power Windows was the first and only album of which I owned the cassette, the Lp, and the CD.
Which is my long-winded way of setting the stage for when I first encountered Hold Your Fire. The day before the official release date, I unpacked the box in which our store’s copies were packed, and gazed in admiration at the cover:
This was something unprecedented in Rush album cover art – instead of a meticulously detailed Hugh Syme painting containing visual puns, there were just three red spheres suspended over a red background. The obvious conclusion was that Alex, Geddy, and Neil were now reduced to the simplest, most perfect solid in geometry – polished and ready to bounce off of each other like billiard balls. Visually, at least, Hold Your Fire was sleek and minimalist. Peter Collins, who produced Power Windows, was back in the saddle, which boded well. I couldn’t wait to hear the music.
Inside the booklet, there was a spread that was more like what Rush fans expected: a man juggled three flaming balls (hold your fire, indeed), the building behind him vaguely resembled the façade in the Moving Pictures cover, in one of the windows you could make out the three vintage television sets from Power Windows, on the sidewalk stood the red fire hydrant from Signals, and the Chinese restaurant’s clock read 21:12 in military time (it turns out the restaurant’s sign reads Tai Shan, as well).
The first track, “Force Ten”, opens with a bone-rattling jackhammer and sampled choir, quickly followed by a straight-ahead drumbeat while the bassline leaps and bounds. Alex’s guitar is punk-like in its simplistic riffing – this is one of the most aggressive songs Rush has written up to this point in their career. Which makes the second track such a surprise. “Time Stand Still” features Aimee Mann, leader of the pop group ‘Til Tuesday, on vocals. Aimee Mann?? Once the shock of hearing someone besides Geddy sing on a Rush song, it’s clear this is actually a nicely constructed, interesting tune. Alex’s arpeggiated, brittle guitar sound is great in this context, and “Time Stand Still” stands the test of time as one of Rush’s most radio-friendly tunes. Neil’s wistful lyrics are very touching:
“Summer’s going fast- Nights growing colder Children growing up- Old friends growing older Experience slips away…”
“Open Secrets” is a bass/synthesizer dominated song with Alex providing some tasteful guitar filigrees as Geddy sings about how true communication is difficult between two people, due to their reluctance to be open and honest. As a matter of fact, the entire album’s theme is one of restraint. Where Power Windows was about power and the use of it, Hold Your Fire is about controlling that power – exercising restraint, in other words.
“Second Nature” begins with a nice keyboard riff, and slowly builds in intensity. Neil’s drums are excellent on this track, as he lends a touch of exotic rhythm to it. The song has a laconic pace to it, with lots of swirling synthesizer washes throughout.
Things definitely pick up in “Prime Mover”, which features some of Geddy’s finest bass work ever. In the same way New Order’s bassist Peter Hook often plays lead, Geddy carries this tune while Neil and Alex play over, under, and around him. This one of the strongest tracks on the album, and it benefits from a nice balance of keyboards vs. guitar/bass/drums.
“Lock and Key” was the first single off the album, and it’s a very good track. [Update: a Progarchy reader has informed me that "Force Ten" is actually the first single off of HYF. Thanks, Will!] Alex gets to rock out with some fat power chords and a fine solo, while Neil really shines on drums. This track will give your subwoofer a workout! The lyrics deal with how everyone keeps their “real” feelings under lock and key, in order to maintain civility:
“We don’t want to be victims On that we all agree So we lock up the killer instinct And throw away the key”
“Mission” contains the album title: “Hold your fire/Keep it burning bright/Hold the flame/’Til the flame ignites/A spirit with a vision/Is a dream with a mission.” Not one of my favorite tracks, but it is still an enjoyable listen.
“Turn the Page” is a whole ‘nother matter, though! This song is one of the best Alex, Geddy, and Neil have ever recorded. An unaccompanied bass riff starts things off, until Alex enters with some slashing guitar, and Neil lays down a rapid pulse. When the chorus begins, there is an atmosphere of time being suspended as Neil hits every other beat, then suddenly kicks it into overdrive with his patented bass pedal and cross-rhythmic work. After Alex’s solo, a stomach-churning bass synth explodes (at the 3:43 mark), and there is a mad dash to the end.
“Tai Shan” is an oddity – it has a too-obvious Asian influence musically, and the lyrics concern a fabled mountain in China where supposedly you are granted long life if you reach the top and raise your arms. It doesn’t exactly fit the tone of the rest of the album, though.
“High Water” closes things out on a relatively subdued note. A fitting conclusion to an album full of dynamic contrasts. By 1987, compact discs had become popular enough that Geddy, Alex, and Neil no longer felt constrained by vinyl’s time limitations. Hence, Hold Your Fire clocks in at a generous 50:30 minutes. It was followed by their third live album, A Show Of Hands. The DVD of that album is available as part of the Replay set, and it is an excellent summary of Rush’s “Synthesizer Period”. The Hold Your Fire tour was the first time I saw Rush live, so it holds a special place in my journey with Rush. After A Show Of Hands, Rush left their longtime label, Mercury, and signed to Atlantic. They eventually scaled back the keyboards, and returned to a more guitar-based sound. Hold Your Fire was the culmination of elements they had been developing since Signals, and they wisely stepped back from going down a synth-heavy pop/rock path.
Do I believe Hold Your Fire to be Rush’s finest album? No, I give that honor to Permanent Waves. However, I don’t think Hold Your Fire has ever gotten the respect it deserves. Rush plays relatively few songs from it on their tours, and it peaked at #13 on the charts when it was released. If listened to in conjunction with Power Windows, it completes what that album began. Enough time has passed to listen to it with fresh ears, and we can appreciate it for what it is: a successful attempt to craft a radio-friendly album filled with accessible songs. Sometimes you just have to have some fun!
* For our younger readers, a cutout was an Lp that the label deeply discounted because the title was overstocked. The label would cut a notch in the cover, and stores would sell it for 70% – 80% off the retail price.
“Turn The Page”, from A Show Of Hands:
[Ed. note--Tad's is the first in a series of posts celebrating the fortieth anniversary of our beloved Rush]
For more from Progarchy on Rush
The first Rush album reviewed by Craig Breaden
A review of A Farewell to Kings by Kevin McCormick
A review of Power Windows by Brad Birzer
Kevin Williams on Clockwork Angels Tour
Brad Birzer on Clockwork Angels Tour
Erik Heter on Clockwork Angels Tour Concert in Texas
A review of Vapor Trails Remixed by Birzer
A review of Grace Under Pressure by Birzer
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.