Kscope Music puts out an entertaining and informative monthly podcast featuring conversations with and performances by the label’s artists. It’s free, and you can subscribe to it via iTunes, or listen to it here.
This month’s podcast focuses on Nosound’s new release, Afterthoughts (see our review of this extraordinary album here). It features interviews with Giancarlo Erra and Chris Maitland, and we’ve embedded it below for your convenience!
I’m a music addict. When I buy an album, it’s as much to get that rush of anticipation before I first hear the music as it is to actually listen to it. So, it’s wonderful to discover a new artist whose work more than justifies that initial hope of musical pleasure. Tim Morse is such an artist. His latest album, Faithscience, is an outstanding collection of progressive rock. I had never heard of him, but Faithscience showed up in the Progarchy Dropbox folder, I had a lot of yardwork to do, so I downloaded it onto the trusty iPod.
Four consecutive listens later, I’m still as excited about this guy’s music as I was the first time I discovered Spock’s Beard. (By the way, Tim is not related to Neal Morse.) My initial impression was of a definite Yes influence, and after I did a little research I found I wasn’t too far off-base; Tim is the author of Yesstories, a track-by-track history of that band. However, if you listen to Faithscience with the deliberate attention it deserves, you’ll notice a host of other influences; I hear Ty Tabor (King’s X), Roine Stolt (Flower Kings & Transatlantic), Toy Matinee (featuring the late, great Kevin Gilbert), some 70s Kansas and Genesis, and a lot of classic Todd Rundgren (think “A Wizard A True Star” era). Morse is a multi-instrumentalist who sings and plays keyboards, as well as acoustic & electric guitar.
That’s not to say Mr. Morse is merely an imitator of those influences. They serve as a springboard to create an incredibly beautiful work that is as individual and groundbreaking as any prog classic. On his website, Tim says the initial idea was to produce an album based on the life of Charles Lindbergh. However, the songs soon expanded to embrace a much larger concept. The first two-thirds explore different aspect of journeys, while the final third is about farewells.
The first highlight is “Voyager” which is about Lindbergh’s transatlantic flight. It features some very nice keyboard solos in the vein of classic Pink Floyd and Weather Report(!). Next is “Closer”, which features a beautiful piano motif that reappears throughout the song. At first, it seems to be a standard song about getting close to a romantic partner, but it ends up having a spiritual aspect to it. It also features a killer guitar solo (video below). This is followed by a classical guitar interlude accompanied by evening crickets that segues into “Numb”, which is inspired by the Lindbergh baby kidnapping and chronicles the emotional devastation that follows a personal tragedy. It’s an acoustic piece, and it is incredibly moving.
“Myth” is an Orwellian warning about the dangers of an all-powerful state.
It’s an iron fist inside a velvet glove
I despise everything we’ve come to love.
…And it’s no mystery how this myth
Becomes our history.
Let us help you.
Truth shall make you free.
Next up is “Found It”, which features some warm, 80′s-era synths before the guitars come crashing in. It’s about leaving behind old ways of life in the search for salvation. Morse’s collaborator, Mark Dean, lays down the best guitar solos of the album on this track.
In “Rome”, Morse laments the decadence and complacence of our times by comparing them to the end times of the Roman Empire. This might be my favorite track, with the lyrics
The empire is crumbling
Sending castles into the sea.
Still believing we are free.
“Rome” also features a terrific violin solo by Kansas’ David Ragsdale (video below).
“The Last Wave” is a mostly instrumental track that consists of various riffs and melodies thrown together La Villa Strangiato style. We’ve got jazz vibes and trumpet, metal guitar, prog keys, and some crazy time changes on this one.
Wrapping things up are two tracks that complement each other, “Afterword”, and “The Corners”. The former is a poignant farewell to a soul mate, while the latter is a heartbreaking song about the brevity of life on a beautiful world that few truly appreciate.
Self-produced, Faithscience is a triumph. It is amazing to me that a musician is able to put together an album of this quality without any major label support. Do yourself a favor and support his art by picking up this album now. You won’t be disappointed.
Continuing its series of top-quality reissues of The Pineapple Thief’s back catalog, Kscope Music has just released their sophomore effort, One Three Seven. It’s a surprisingly mature and accomplished set of songs. Bruce Soord’s vocals are reminiscent of Thom Yorke’s, but distinctive enough to not be derivative. The first track, “Lay On The Tracks” and the sixth, “Ster”, are among the poppiest songs he’s ever written. “Perpetual Night Shift” features a laconic melody with a droning bass line. I like it a lot. “Kid Chameleon” was included on the 2009 compilation 3000 Days, and it is outstanding. In it, Soord channels David Gilmour for an exquisite guitar solo that perfectly complements a memorable song. “Release the Tether” is an instrumental raveup that is relentless in its drive.
There isn’t a single clunker among the thirteen tracks, but the highlight is the nearly twelve-minute track, “pvs”, which begins with a beautiful acoustic setting, transforms into Led Zep heaviness, and ends with a classically styled piano/cello/guitar coda.
Originally performed, recorded, and mixed by Soord between June 2000 and March 2001, 137 is fascinating to listen to as a document of him developing his minimalist technique of composition. My initial impression is one of immediacy – Soord is a man with something to prove, and he isn’t afraid to get in your face, both musically and lyrically. The album features some of his most aggressive guitar work, along with lyrics like this:
it’s taking a while he said
keep shouting at the wall
never get out, he said
unless you take the fall
taking too long, i said
i cannot climb this wall
it’s taking too long, i said
watch me as i fall….
If you’ve not heard The Pineapple Thief, 137 is an excellent entry point. It nicely balances Bruce Soord’s deft pop touch with his heavier side. Having a length of more than 70 minutes, this is a lot of music to absorb, but it never drags. And hey, you have to admire a band that uses a Fermat spiral for the cover art!
Prog Magazine has just reported that Steven Wilson is putting Porcupine Tree on hold.
Here’s Wilson as quoted by Something Else!,
“I think it’s slightly more complex with Porcupine Tree, which can’t really happen without me instigating it and being the main writer and director of that situation — so, that’s more problematic,” Wilson added. “I don’t have time in my life to do that, and what I’m doing now. So, I guess I have made the decision, right now, to concentrate on the solo career. But that’s not to say that the band has broken up or anything like that. It’s always conceivable that we could get back together in a year or five years, or 10 years. I really can’t say. There are no plans at the moment.”
From its cover image reminiscent of the all-seeing camera eye of 2001: A Space Odyssey‘s HAL computer, to the final track “When the Air Runs Out”, Cosmograf’s new album, The Man Left in Space, is a profound meditation on the tragedy of modern man’s surrender to ambition and technology, and the ensuing isolation that results.
Beginning with a bewildered astronaut, Sam, asking, “How did I get here?”, the listener is transported to the near-future, where Sam is questioning his motives for agreeing to a mission to “change the human race”. Can over-achievement bring satisfaction and happiness?
Ambition brought me here.
A winner in my field.
Dare to be a dreamer.
Find your fate is sealed.
Hidden truths revealed.
Through memory flashbacks, snippets of dialog with the ship’s android, and sampled audio of actual NASA space missions, we share Sam’s growing sense of melancholic disconnection with reality.
I take these pills. They help me numb the pain.
They stop me from feeling blue.
I feel the days getting longer now.
I’d like to dream, but I’ve forgotten how.
He’s even reduced to crooning a love song to his “beautiful treadmill” that will “keep my soul in grace”. Throughout, the ship’s android is monitoring Sam and vainly attempting to create a normal environment. Earth’s Mission Control tries to contact him, but they cannot get through. Sam realizes that without human contact, he will eventually slide into madness. No simulation, no matter how realistic, can replace the touch of another person.
Eventually, the “man left in space” is forced to face his own mortality:
10 minutes more and the air will run out.
This craft will fall into the sun.
My chance of returning is none. None. None.
As the last chords of the final song fade away, the ship’s android repeatedly asks, “Please respond, Sam?”
Robin Armstrong, who is Cosmograf, has constructed a beautiful, allegorical warning for those of us who would replace face-to-face communication with all the technological means at our fingertips: emailing, texting, Tweeting, “liking” on Facebook, etc. Right on cue, Google is coming out with “Google Glass“, which will add even more distractions to our interactions with others. We must resist the temptation to withdraw into self-imposed isolation and foster real relationships, regardless of the risks.
The Man Left In Space would not be the success it is without having superb music to complement its message. Every track is extraordinary, and the album really must be listened to in its entirety. Highlights include “Aspire, Achieve”, which begins with a delicate acoustic guitar melody and vocal harmonies that shift into crunching metal worthy of Ayreon’s best work. “Beautiful Treadmill” has an indelible hook that will have you singing along in no time. The instrumental, “The Vacuum That I Fly Through”, featuring the marvelous Matt Stevens on guitar and Big Big Train’s Nick D’Virgilio and Greg Spawton on drums and bass respectively, rivals anything Pink Floyd ever committed to tape. Trust me, it’s that good.
Finally, some praise for the artwork. In this age of digital downloads, it’s worth it to get the physical CD. The booklet that comes with the album is essential to fully appreciating the album. The illustrations remind me of the incredibly realistic sci-fi artwork Shusei Nagaoka did for Electric Light Orchestra’s Out of the Blue album from the late ’70s. The attention to detail is amazing: every page features readouts of various gauges, creating the feeling that you are involved in monitoring Sam throughout his doomed journey. The ship’s android is named ESA-1410-4MY, which pops up in several places and adds to the sense of technological surveillance and control of Sam.
Even though we have yet to finish the first quarter of 2013, Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space is certain to be in many Top Ten Albums of the Year lists.
Enjoy “The Vacuum That I Fly Through”:
Here is the track listing:
01. The Next Day 3:51
02. Dirty Boys 2:58
03. The Stars (Are Out Tonight) 3:56
04. Love Is Lost 3:57
05. Where Are We Now? 4:08
06. Valentine’s Day 3:01
07. If You Can See Me 3:16
08. I’d Rather Be High 3:53
09. Boss Of Me 4:09
10. Dancing Out In Space 3:24
11. How Does The Grass Grow 4:33
12. (You Will) Set The World On Fire 3:30
13. You Feel So Lonely You Could Die 4:41
14. Heat 4:25
(Hat tip to wired.com)
Hot on the heels of his Live Momentum Tour, Neal Morse has released a 5-disc set (3 CDs, 2 DVDs) that is a worthy alternative for those of us who didn’t get a chance to see this band live. You always get your money’s worth when Neal is involved, and this release is no exception. The DVDs (available in Blu-ray, as well) and CDs document the entire 3-hour set, and what a performance it is!
Recorded and filmed in HD on October 11, 2012, at the Highline Ballroom in New York City, Neal and the band turn in an incredibly tight, high-energy set for an enthusiastic audience. Neal’s long-time collaborators Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass) are joined by Bill Hubauer (keyboards, violin, sax, vocals), Eric Gillette (guitar, keyboards, vocals), and Adson Sodré (guitar & vocals).
I’ve been a fan of Neal Morse since his days in Spock’s Beard – keeping up with Transatlantic and his solo efforts. He is an amazingly prolific songwriter, but of late his work seemed to be suffering from a “sameness”. Then came last year’s Flying Colors and Momentum albums, where it was clear something lit a roaring fire to his creativity. Momentum is his finest solo work since the Question Mark album.
In the liner notes to this release, Neal mentions that he found Hubauer, Gillette, and Sodré through YouTube auditions, so I before I popped in the first DVD, I was a little apprehensive regarding their ability to keep up with Morse, Portnoy, and George. My fears were completely unfounded, as Adson lays down a jaw-dropping guitar solo in the opening song, “Momentum” (you can see the performance of the song in the promo video below). Eric Gillette shines on guitar, vocals, and keyboards throughout the entire show, and Hubauer adds wonderful depth with his keyboard pyrotechnics and fine violin and sax work.
Basically, what Neal put together is a three-keyboard/three-guitar front lineup that is incredibly versatile. Add in their ability to execute complicated vocal harmonies on songs like “Thoughts Part 5″, and this is one of the best live outfits I’ve ever seen. Mike Portnoy is the hardest working drummer in showbiz, and he is obviously having a blast propelling this group through epic after epic. The avuncular Randy George is the anchor on stage, nimbly laying down rock-solid yet melodic basslines, while eschewing the spotlight.
Neal himself is, of course, the center of attention as he moves back and forth between keyboards and guitar, conducting the band (and the audience) from one emotional peak to another. It’s clear he’s delighted with the tight rapport between himself and the band. They are able to shift from a delicate flamenco-style acoustic interlude to crushing hard rock in the blink of an eye and make it look easy.
The set includes four major epics. “Testimony Suite” clocks in at 21 minutes, and it includes highlights from Morse’s 2003 album, Testimony. Neal is upfront and open about his Christian faith, and it is a genuinely emotional moment for him as he sings this account of his conversion. “The Conflict (From Sola Scriptura)” is 27 minutes long. Initially, I was put off by Sola Scriptura, but this performance illuminated aspects of it that I hadn’t heard before. It’s a beautiful piece. ”Question Mark Suite”, at 21 minutes, is an outstanding distillation of Neal’s exploration of the symbolism behind the Exodus and the Hebrew Tabernacle. After a change of pace with the relatively brief “Fly High” (I would have preferred something like “Absolute Beginner” here; “Fly High” isn’t that strong a song, IMO), Neal and the band wrap up the show with the 33 minute magnum opus “World Without End” from Momentum. It’s an incredible performance that outdoes the original, and leaves the audience yelling for more.
The band fulfills that request with a three-song encore: “Crazy Horses” (yes, the Osmonds oldie!) sung by Mike Portnoy while Neal takes over the drums; “Sing It High” (which features every member taking a solo turn), and finally, “King Jesus”. As the exhausted musicians leave the stage, you can clearly hear a member of the audience call out, “Neal! Neal! Thank You!”
The second DVD disc includes an hour-plus tour documentary. Beginning with rehearsals in Tennessee, we follow the band from their first show in Nashville on October 2, 2012 (which, to my eternal regret, I had to miss) to their last in Chicago on October 12. In the space of ten days, they perform shows in Nashville, Jacksonville, Mexico City, Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, New York City, and Chicago, all the while practicing and continually refining their parts. It’s a marathon run at a sprinter’s pace. There is video footage of every performance, and much of it is quite good. One definitely gets an appreciation for how much hard work and how many hours it takes to make a live performance look easy. As Mike Portnoy says, “This band kicks ass! I mean, the second gig – it’s tight; a really tight second gig.” Neal himself describes them as “A band on fire”. I can’t disagree.
You can order this CD/DVD set direct from Radiant Records.
Here’s the promo video for “Momentum”:
A couple of recent posts on Progarchy regarding Thomas Dolby’s first two masterful albums brought to mind an album that fellow progsters may not be aware of: The Dissociatives. Probably my favorite album of the first decade of this century (What do we call that? The noughts? The double-zeros?), The Dissociatives was a side project of Silverchair’s Daniel Johns and Paul Mac. Daniel Johns is an insanely talented songwriter and guitarist – Silverchair’s debut album, Frogstomp (1995), was recorded when he was at the ripe old age of 15. It’s basically a reiteration of Nirvana’s Nevermind sound, but by their fourth album, 2002′s Diorama, he had outgrown the limitations of grunge. It featured sweeping orchestration and complex compositions that were as far removed from Nirvana as King Crimson is from the Spice Girls.
In 2004, he released The Dissociatives, which is a wonderful blend of synthpop, progrock, and Beatlesque melodies. The first song, “We’re Much Preferred Customers”, marries absurdist lyrics – “welcome to planet pod/where insects sound like lasers/and men who wear abrasive hats/with eyeballs judge like juries/and skin that flakes like ancient paint/suffocate contentment/birds creep over tin roofs/like criminals with tap shoes” – to a dark melody that transforms into an irresistible pop confection that leaves the listener panting for more.
And more there is, as each song moves from one peak of pop/prog perfection (extra points for alliteration?) to the next. There are a couple of instrumentals that are impossible not to hum along with, and the whole thing closes with a gentle lullaby, “Sleep Well Tonight”. The big hit, in Johns’ Australia at least, is “Somewhere Down The Barrel”. The official video for it is below. If your interest is piqued, trust me, you’ll love the entire album.
After The Dissociatives, Johns released another brilliant album with Silverchair, Young Modern. Recorded with Van Dyke Parks (who cowrote Smile with Brian Wilson), it is a masterpiece in its own right. But that’s a topic for another post!
I don’t know anything about this band, except they’re from Sweden. I’ve got to admire anyone who wields an accordion with the panache this guy does, and they sure know how to put together an infectious tune. They have a new album coming out soon.
Signify is an important album in the long and varied history of Steven Wilson and Porcupine Tree. The first PT album, On the Sunday of Life (1991), is a tongue-in-cheek solo Wilson tribute to British psychedelic rock in the vein of XTC’s Dukes of Stratosphear. Up the Downstair (1993) and Voyage 34 (1993) were also done primarily by Wilson alone, and are literal acid-rock albums.
The Sky Moves Sideways (1994) introduces the first real band that operated under the moniker of Porcupine Tree: Wilson on guitars and keyboards, Richard Barbieri on synthesizers, Colin Edwin on bass, and Chris Maitland on percussion. Stylistically, the album is heavily indebted to classic Pink Floyd. While an enjoyable listen, it doesn’t break any new ground. It’s also easy to forget that the group Wilson had formed with Tim Bowness, No-Man, was actually more popular than PT during this period.
Which brings us to 1996, and Signify. Musically, it is a giant leap. Wilson, Barbieri, Edwin, and Maitland are working together as a seamless unit. There are lots of instrumental passages, and Barbieri’s electronic atmospheres are integral to the overall feel of the music. Beginning with the first track “Bornlivedie” and continuing throughout the album, Wilson juxtaposes samples of happy-sounding radio announcers, televangelists, and other snippets of spoken word with beautiful yet foreboding music.
It’s a device Wilson has become the master of: seduce the listener with gorgeous melodies, and insert dark lyrics. Personally, I think Steven Wilson is indulging a sly sense of humor. Read the rest of this entry