Author Archives: Time Lord
Take off, eh! It’s a beauty way to go (to school):
Rush 101: Canadian Prog-Rockers Are Now A University Course
It only took 40 years, but this fall the notoriously complex prog-rock of Canadian legends Rush will the subject of a course at Tiffin University in Ohio.
In case you didn’t know, 40 years ago today:
On this day in history 40 years ago, a young drummer from St. Catharines named Neil Peart officially joined Alex Lifeson and Geddy Lee in RUSH… which is the line-up that has remained the same for the last four decades.
Happy Anniversary RUSH!
Virtual high-fives to all the fans for the last 40 years!
Sloan, one of Canada’s best bands, well known here in the Great White North for their mastery of rock and power pop, has brand new music coming out on September 9.
Sloan will release a double album, with each one of the four band members having the songs they individually wrote allocated to one of the four sides of the two vinyl LPs.
I like how they think! I always organize my own playlists along the lines of what I like to call “vinyl time.”
And of course you can also buy a digital copy of this new Sloan disc, which is appropriately called Commonwealth.
Two fine tracks are available already. Previews are available below: “Keep Swinging (Downtown)” and “Cleopatra”.
Jason Notte on how “Weird Al Yankovic Just Made a Joke of the Music Industry“:
Google CEO Larry Page watched Psy’s now-ubiquitous Gangnam Style rake in $2 per 1,000 pageviews on its way Ito a $1.2 million payday by November alone. Page called Gangnam style “a glimpse of the future” as Psy was able to make a bonafide bankable hit through a video/download approach that had since been reserved for novelties like The Bed Intruder Song or Rebecca Black’s Friday. Songs no longer need airplay, major label backing or televised videos to be hits: They just needs to catch people’s attention and hold it as Yankovic has done for years.
If you applied that $2 per 1,000 to the 20 million views Yankovic’s four videos received during their first week of airplay, that’s $40,000 in one week alone. Not $1.2 million, but still not shabby for a week’s work.
But how does a company monetize that, you ask? Most of Yankovic’s partners do so through advertising: A concept that’s lost on many companies trying to make a dime off of streaming.
A glimpse of the future and the way prog bands can perhaps make some money to keep the music alive?
Live in Langley: Double concert with singer-songwriter Kathleen Claire @DeAngelisEnt and musical duo A Guy and A Girl @GuynGirl
Always support your local musicians. Go see their concerts as often as you can.
There’s nothing quite like hearing live music. Nothing can replace the unique and unrepeatable experience of talented artists sharing their gifts in concert.
Last night I had the chance to hear a wonderful double concert in Langley, British Columbia, at St. Nic’s which showcased musicians I have known from their past presence on the local campus here at TWU. It’s so great to see them now play live in concert.
The first half of the evening featured singer-songwriter Kathleen Claire, now visiting from out-of-town. Hearing Kathleen Claire’s voice live in concert is an amazing experience. She has such a delicate and dynamic range of vocal stylings, she sounds different from song to song, and she even does unexpected things within a single song to change things up and to surprise and delight. The intimate rapport that a singer-songwriter and her guitar can establish with an audience will always be something special to the live concert, and Kathleen seizes upon all of the genre’s possibilities. Kathleen played a perfectly paced set that included an impressively diverse sampling of her own songs, with even two brilliant covers thrown into the mix — CCR’s “Bad Moon Rising” and Joan Osbourne’s “One of Us” — which she transformed in very interesting ways to make them a part of her musical universe. Kathleen released her debut album a couple of years ago and is currently working on her next one with a UK record company.
The second half of the evening featured local singing sensation A Guy and A Girl. Jesse LeBlanc and Kathleen Dunn have been playing concerts together for three months now and they have a lot of people excited with their musical chemistry. They took top prize in a local talent contest, and I am sure we will be hearing more from them as they continue to share their infectious love of music. Their set featured a whole lot of fun, including a lot of joking around between numbers, and they took great pleasure in getting the audience involved in their hijinks as well, encouraging everybody to sing along at a number of points in the evening. Early on, Jesse introduced a song he wrote by saying that people should sing along if they know it, but then apologized that because he wrote it nobody had heard it yet and nobody would know it. Later in the evening, however, audience members could be heard singing along to real musical opportunities that the duo provided for full participation. With Kathleen on keyboard and Jesse on guitar, A Guy and A Girl combine two quite different voices into one musical experience and it is always a pleasure to hear them singing beautiful harmonies. They bring a lot of energy and excitement to their music, which ranges from the quiet and introspective to the revved-up and percussion-enhanced celebratory sing-alongs.
Support your talented local musicians. Always go see their hometown concerts and buy their music online. Thanks to digital downloads, you too can share in the magic while hoping that they will some day come to your own town on tour:
Kathleen Dunn, Two Hearts
Kathleen Claire, Lyrics of a Woman
It is with great pleasure that I share with you a truly excellent prog metal album. Between July 1 and July 4, I selected my four favorite releases of the year thus far; over the past few days, I have been sharing them with you. I conclude that series of posts now with the album that I suspect will end up being ranked by me as Album of the Year when December rolls around.
Son of Aurelius was a technical death metal band that has now grown into an innovative and unique prog metal band. Actually, what they do defies genre categorization. They even engage in a critique of the entire notion of “prog” here in the lyrics to track six, “Attack on Prague” (a clever variant spelling of “Prog”):
Freedom from impulse
has never been required more
than it is in relation to the state we’re in,
and it will take so much more
than progressive metal can hope to achieve
With all of its intention and spacey themes.
The band’s first release, The Farthest Reaches (2010), stuck solely with the genre’s usual monochromatic death metal vocals over top of technically accomplished metal. Now on this sophomore release, they have evolved musically and exited from the sub-sub-genre ghetto of death metal but incorporated the best of those sub-sub-genre tropes into a much, much greater musical accomplishment. I am struck by the level of transformation here, and to use an analogy that Progarchy readers will understand, it seems to me something like the difference between Rush’s first album and their second album. Under a Western Sun (2014) appears to be Son of Aurelius’ Fly by Night. In case you miss my point: with this release, we are now in the presence of true musical greatness.
There are fifteen tracks on this entirely independently-produced release. The old death metal screams and growls are incorporated here only as a smaller part of the full palette of an astonishingly dynamic range of vocals. Rather than death metal vocals for the sake of death metal vocals, Riley McShane’s screaming here is intelligently deployed simply as part of the emotional variation within the songs. The impact is incredibly effective and gives the sonic experience a unique range and power.
I think of the album’s fifteen tracks in three groups of five. First, there are five lengthy, mind-blowingly epic prog metal tracks:
2. Chorus of the Earth (7:11)
3. The Weary Wheel (6:46)
6. Attack on Prague (6:03)
13. Long Ago (6:53)
14. Under a Western Sun (7:15)
The technical virtuosity is amazing on every one of these tracks. If you want to have an experience similar to being a teenager listening to Neil Peart for the first time, listen to what Spencer Edwards does with his drumming: you will be astonished to discover that a human being is capable of making sounds like this on a drum kit. It is hard to pick a favorite track, because everything here is truly superb. Cary Geare on guitar and Max Zigman on bass will blow your mind with their unbridled excellence. There are even acoustic guitars and keyboards here and there, which showcases the musical intelligence and compositional skill of the band as they create prog soundscapes on an epic scale.
If I had to single out a favorite moment and a favorite track, it would be track 13, “Long Ago,” where Riley McShane at 4:09 holds the last syllable of the last word he sings in the chorus in an extended rock and roll yell over top of the blistering guitar power chords and the enfilading fire of the drum kit. It’s a truly transcendent moment, because it takes a few seconds for you to realize that Riley is not letting go of that note… and then he just keeps on going and going, for a whole twenty seconds! Unlike Roger Daltrey’s famous yell in “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which telegraphs what it is about to do, this yell sneaks up on you instead. But it too delivers a truly great rock and roll moment that is no less classic.
Every one of these five lengthier tracks is a mini-masterpiece, and together they actually add up to the length of a regular vinyl album of five-star rank. But the band is kind enough to share more music with us, and so we get a CD that is 72:15 in total length. Let me tell you about the rest of it, which is like having ten bonus tracks added on to an already five-star classic prog metal album.
The second group of five tracks includes four instrumentals, and one more track, “The Prison Walls,” which, unlike the other vocal tracks on this release, is nothing but growling death metal vocals, and hence it harkens back to the old style of their first album:
1. Return to Arms (2:42)
7. Flailing Saints (1:19)
11. The Prison Walls (5:55)
12. Submerge & Surface (3:03)
15. Strange Aeons (2:29)
Personally, I find these exclusively growling death metal vocals completely boring and I can barely stand listening to track eleven. I feel my I.Q. dropping as the dumb growls plod on and on — although the demented riffing on the track does make for some great crazy metal music. There is an excellent instrumental break at about the three-minute mark, and so usually I just fast-forward to that, if I don’t skip the song entirely. I guess this track is a sop to the fans who loved their first album, but I just think it is time to grow and move on and leave this sort of thing behind. It works when it is deployed in very small doses as part of an escalating dynamic range, as within the five epic prog-length tracks, but on its own it is musically very dull.
“Flailing Saints” and “Strange Aeons” are brief fade-in and fade-out instrumental outtakes, but “Return to Arms” and “Submerge & Surface” are fully coherent instrumental wholes that are very, very impressive. If you want a quick sample of the band’s virtuosity, try out those two tracks. I especially love the bass solo on “Submerge & Surface,” because it explodes into an unexpected burst of feedback at the end. The instrumentation and arrangement is top-notch on these purely musical tracks. They work well in bringing variation and interest to an already stellar album.
The last group of five tracks consists of carefully-crafted songs that are shorter in length, but still packed with the musical virtuosity that is the hallmark of Son of Aurelius:
4. Coloring the Soul (3:56)
5. The Stoic Speaks (4:46)
8. A Great Liberation (5:27)
9. Clouded Panes (4:28)
10. Blinding Light (4:15)
“Coloring the Soul” and “The Stoic Speaks” give us lyrics sung from the perspective of a Marcus Aurelius character who seems to be standing outside of time. “Coloring the Soul” even sings at the end a quote from the Emperor’s actual Meditations:
The soul becomes dyed with the color of its thoughts.
The band gets its name from the successor Emperor, Commodus, who on their first release was changed by the lyrics into a fictional, super-powered lunatic. But on this release, the “son” of Marcus Aurelius could be anyone listening to the album who is spiritually attuned to what the lyrics are singing about — a “spiritual son” of Marcus Aurelius, in other words. Perhaps something of that vision even informs the lyrics to the epic track “Long Ago,” which could be giving voice to the album’s Marcus Aurelius character, standing outside of time, viewing the trajectory of the Roman Empire, and lamenting the way the world has gone.
Tracks eight, nine, and ten are all very different, but yet each one finishes up with a highly creative outro. Each outro is very satisfying and unexpected and impressive. “A Great Liberation” has screaming death metal vocals throughout, but while the growling ones on track eleven, “The Prison Walls,” are boring, these screaming ones at least have an interesting expressive dimension, and they actually work very well with the incredible music that comprises “A Great Liberation.”
The track “Clouded Panes” is a good short introduction if you can only play one short song for someone to show the truly amazing range of which Son of Aurelius is musically capable. Again, it’s hard to pick any favorites, but one of mine is “Blinding Light,” which for the first few minutes sounds exactly like it could be a Big Big Train song! But then, at the transition into the outro, power chords come ripping in unexpectedly, and Big Big Train turns into… Son of Aurelius! It’s an awesome moment. The vocals by Riley McShane are really great here, especially his quiet clean vocals which then erupt into rock singing. This is the stuff of greatness.
Son of Aurelius are the real deal. Don’t miss this album. It’s a special accomplishment and will doubtless be our Prog Metal Album of the Year.
Son of Aurelius — Under a Western Sun
Max Zigman – Bass
Spencer Edwards – Drums
Cary Geare – Lead Guitar
Riley McShane – Vocals
Progarchist Rating: ★★★★★
Required reading: two merciless reviews of the new Yes album, Heaven & Earth, by fans who I am sure took no pleasure in writing their unhappy assessments.
Here’s an excerpt from the first, by Jason Warburg:
Yes have flailed, many times, but never before have they slumbered through an entire album. Tales From Topographic Oceans at least showed ambition; Big Generator at least had drive; Union at least offered variety. This album has none of the above: no ambition, no drive, no variety. The band whose kaleidoscopic approach used to not just use every tonal color available, but invent new ones, has made an album of unbroken, enveloping beige.
The opening moments of “Believe Again” offer a hint of promise as Downes’ chirpy, echoing synths and Davison’s pleasantly sing-songy delivery hark back to “Wonderous Stories” from 1977’s Going For The One. But just when it should soar, “Believe Again” does the opposite, moving from lilting verse into a plodding chorus.
Several of the tunes that follow are so utterly bland and generic—two adjectives that should never be associated with Yes music—that they disappear from the imagination seconds after they’re finished. “The Game” and “Light Of The Ages” in particular have a distinctly cheesy Asia/AOR feel, with Davison and Howe working in clichés high over pedestrian keyboard lines and ponderous rhythm tracks.
The low point comes early on when Downes puts a dime-store Casio synth patch on repeat for the duration of “Step Beyond,” already one of the laziest and most amateurish tracks ever recorded by an alleged progressive rock band. An utter embarrassment.
“To Ascend” is a well-intentioned ballad that falls flat even as Davison borrows a familiar Andersonism (“with the eyes of a child”). “It Was All We Knew,” a Howe composition, at least tries something a little different, giving the intro a hint of rockabilly twang before dissolving into America-ish easy-listening verses.
The nearest this album comes to anything resembling progressive rock is on the closing “Subway Walls,” a nine-minute track with some actual dynamics, with Squire awakening briefly in the early going and Howe doing the same just before the fade. Unfortunately, the lyric is weak, the transitions are awkward, and the whole thing ends up feeling disjointed and half-formed. It’s hard to figure out what, if anything, producer Roy Thomas Baker (Queen, The Cars, Guns N’ Roses) contributed to this mess; it’s clear there was no leadership or musical direction of the sort Anderson used to provide in the studio.
Four decades down the road from the era of greatness that first attracted many of us who still follow the band, it’s obvious that neither this nor any other lineup of Yes is likely to produce another Close To The Edge. Those days are gone. All most longtime fans are really hoping for at this point is new music that is worthy of the legacy represented by the name Yes. Heaven & Earth doesn’t even come close to meeting that standard. As a fan, this album just makes me sad.
And from the second, by Ken DiTomaso:
Most of the songwriting is handled by new vocalist Jon Davison, which suggests that the rest of the band was so thoughtfully tapped for material that they had to rely on his ideas to fill the gaps (and there must have been a lot of gaps). As a result, these songs are about as lightweight as it gets. To quickly summarize some of them: “The Game” sounds like it belongs in a greeting card commercial, “Step Beyond” is dopey and disjointed, “In A World Of Our Own” is the wimpiest excuse for a “dance” number I’ve heard in a long time, and “To Ascend” is an astonishingly cheesy ballad with garbage lyrics. There are a handful of moments where an unexpected chord change or chorus almost brings a song to life (“Believe Again” comes closest), but moments like that are dwarfed by the unstoppable wall of bland. This album rarely ever goes beyond playing it safe. And since Yes is a band who built their entire legacy on not playing it safe, unflinchingly drab material like “It Was All We Knew” might as well be a huge middle finger to the band’s fans and legacy. When Yes does take a few chances things just get weird. Awkward bridges are wedged in where they don’t fit, tacked on instrumental sections come out of nowhere, and songs are stretched to unjustified lengths. These are some thoroughly clunky songs.
Not only does this record fail on the songwriting front, it’s also immensely lazy. These tunes sound like they’re being performed by a group of drunk grandpas. Each track limps along at a sleep inducing mid-tempo, as if they’ve never heard the word “upbeat” before. The rhythm section has no drive whatsoever. Chris Squire’s distinctive bass sound is sucked into the background most of the time and Alan White’s drums sound distant and muffled. The band’s lead parts sound like they were played to a backing track without any reference to what the other members were doing. “Light Of The Ages” has a section that sounds like an elementary school band slowly attempting to play “Long Distance Runaround” for the first time. What possessed them to play this so slowly? The tempo picks up a little during “Subway Walls” but the song is such an inept piece of wannabe-progressive crap that I wouldn’t blame anybody for not noticing.
Jon Davison’s vocals sound weak and feeble. He has no lower register to speak of, and there are several moments where his voice quivers in an unprofessional sounding way. Surely these weren’t the best takes of vocals they could have used? He sounded fine in the live performances I’ve seen from this lineup. What happened here?
Steve Howe is an even greater disaster. His parts sound like he came up with them on the spot. The solo at the end of “The Game” even has these weird tiny halts that sound like he’s making mistakes! How could they have let this leave the studio? His lead parts sound like placeholders for where he would come up with actual written parts later but never did. During the bridge of “In A World Of Our Own,” Geoff Downes plays organ chords while Howe plays what literally sounds like random notes behind it. This is downright unfinished!
If you can bear to read more, check out the rest of both reviews at the links above. Well worth your time.
Caveat lector: I can assure you that the band is still fabulous live on the current tour, whatever your reaction to the new material might be. Check out the great review by Nick, with which I heartily concur.
Rock Revolt named Forever Still their Indie Band of the Week and did an interview:
You have been compared with bands like Evanescence and Lacuna Coil. How does this make you feel?
I mean, these are huge bands to be compared to, so we can only be proud! It’s humbling that fans see our music being just as good or better than their idols. At the same time I think we have something very different to offer than those bands, which is probably why people usually like it instead of labeling it as a copy.
What are your musical influences?
We both listen to a lot of different music, so our inspiration comes from everywhere, and often out of our own genre! What music we feel like listening to also depends a lot on our moods. These days I’m listening to Queen Adreena because I just bought their “Drink Me” album. It’s super gritty and imperfect which makes it absolutely perfect.