Category Archives: 2013
I’ve never been a huge follower or fan of Sacramento’s music scene. Even with popular groups such as Cake and Tesla hailing from my hometown, the only local group ever I really dug was ’80s eclectic pop group Bourgeois Tagg (I highly recommend their two albums).
So, some 25 years later, it was a lovely surprise to see that Tim Morse’s second CD, ‘Faithscience,” the follow-up to his 2005 debut album, “Transformation,” was generating buzz among fellow progheads.
I’ve known of Morse for years through his involvement with Parallels, a Yes tribute band that I believe I once spoke to him about drumming for (but regrettably skipped out on). Since then, Morse has occasionally popped up on my radar either for Parallels or for After The Beatles, a group that covers the solo work of the Fab Four.
So, it’s fitting and with a strong dose of local pride that “Faithscience” is my first album review.
Initially conceived as a concept album about the life of Charles Lindbergh, the themes on “Faithscience” grew to include themes of love, spirituality and loss taken from Morse’s real-life experiences. It kicks off with an instrumental opener, “Descent,” calling to mind a Neal Morse/Spock’s Beard overture. It’s clear that Morse has no shortage of ideas to present and here he makes a bold statement about his progressive rock prowess.
“Voyager” feels much like a a two-movement track. The first part combines traditional prog stylings with a tight, song-oriented arrangement, leading to a dense, anthemic solo section – a chill-inducing moment. As the section gradually winds down, one would think the next song is about to begin. Rather, a second section of “Voyager” begins, fueled by a melodic bass line, leading to some fine soloing before an intricate synth sequence picks up an earlier acoustic guitar pattern and leads us out.
“Closer” is another prog showcase with its many twists, tuns and tones, and just when I think the track might leave us in a sonic place far from where it began seven minutes prior, Morse reprises the song’s intro to wrap things up nicely.
Morse provides a soft landing to the thrill ride that are the first three tracks with “Window,” a nylon-string guitar interlude that immediately reminded me how Steve Howe’s “Masquerade” on Yes’ “Union” – yes, a “Union” reference; sue me – broke up “I Would Have Waited Forever” and “Shock To The System” on one side and “Lift Me Up” on the other. The accompanying crickets provide a dreamy background for the guitar to lull us into a daydream, which Morse then extends with “Numb,” the companion to “Window,” that features wonderful piano/acoustic guitar interplay accented by strings and oboe.
“Myth” shakes us from the daydream with an arena rock intro, haunting verses sections and even a touch of “prog swing” – Progarchists, I hold a copyright on that term – to lead us out. ”Found It” and “Rome” are tracks where Morse’s songwriting skills really stand out. He kicks off “Found It” with a MiniMoog-esque solo over a synth soundscape, then thunders into the track with arguably the heaviest riffs on the album, plus we’re treated to fantastic guitar soloing over the last half of the song.
“Rome” gives us a lyric delivery reminiscent of the late, great Kevin Gilbert in the verses and chorus. Again, Morse has no shortage of ideas in his “prog arsenal” but I found these more traditional song arrangements more to my taste. The track closes with a fine violin solo courtesy of guest David Ragsdale of Kansas, blending soulful playing with technical prowess.
Morse throws the proverbial kitchen sink at the instrumental “The Last Wave,” kicking off with a Beard-like section of stops and starts, along with syncopated melodies and rhythms. A quieter guitar section takes over in the vein of “Thrak”-era King Crimson with its chorsed, delayed guitar parts, and from there it’s more prog goodness to the end. This one is really all over the place yet Morse makes it work, ending with a heavy riff we heard at the start.
The album closes on emotional notes, first with the soulful “Afterword,” a tribute to those who help shape one’s life, beginning as a ballad and ending on an more upbeat tone. Finally, Morse brings us to ”The Corners,” inspired by the tragic death of a former student of Morse’s and somewhat structurally reminiscent of “Exit Song,” the emotional epilogue to It Bites’ “Map Of The Past.” An oft-quoted passage from Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town,” is spoken over a moving piano part – perfectly fitting for this – then transforms into an anthemic, symphonic conclusion, taking us from grief to a sense of hope…all in just under two minutes. Beautiful.
The fine collection of progressive rock songs on “Faithscience” showcase Morse’s command of the genre. My hometown is all the much better with a talent like Tim Morse making great music in it and we’re all better off that he shares his talents with us. Do give it a listen.
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!
Sonar are from Switzerland and their first album, ‘A Flaw of Nature’ was released last year . I liked it so much it entered my Top 12 Progressive Rock albums of 2102 at number 6.
and this is what I said:
“Experimental, minimalist, instrumental post/math rock. Simply hypnotic. Specially tuned guitars produce an unusual harmonic sound. The more I listen, the more I like this album. Pretty awesome actually.”
The 4 tracks that could not make it onto the album were released on an EP recently called “Skeleton Groove” . This EP saw the band start moving away from a strictly minimalist slower ‘groove’ to a faster tempo and slightly rockier sound, particularly in the tracks ‘Broken Symmetry’ and ‘String Geometry’.
Sonar (short for Sonic Architecture) like mathematical/technical references in their song titles. Their first album includes track titles such ‘Mobius Loop’; ‘Structure 3.7’ and ‘Tritone Harmonics’. This is not surprising when one considers their lead guitarist Stefan Thelen has a PHD in Mathematics and the band’s sound is based upon tuning their guitars to tritones (‘diabolus in musica’). This creates a somewhat unusual and unique sound, described by the band itself as tritone harmonics.
I had messaged the band to encourage them to visit London as I was intrigued to hear what the band would sound like live. Stefan had said ‘watch this space’ and sure enough after returning from Norway following the recording of new material for their forthcoming sophomore album, they had arranged a short European tour that included a gig at the Vortex Jazz Club in Dalston, North London. This was a venue new to me.
Arriving somewhat early, before 8pm, we found the club closed (well it was a bit early for a Jazz club!). Standing around the post-modern looking Square upon which the club faced, I was lucky enough to bump into the band itself and had a chat with Christian Kuntner, bassist and a Facebook friend. Christian is instantly recognizable with his tall, gaunt and shaven headed Germanic looks. We talked about how the recording had gone in Norway (very successful) but he made no commitment about a release date and assured me that releasing the new album on vinyl was just too expensive !
Finally getting into the club we ascended some stairs that opened up into a very small cosy room with a small stage at one end and bar at the other. In between were about 25 small round tables with marble tops and wrought iron legs. Each table was candlelit and could fit a cosy threesome at best. With a small amount of extra standing room, the venue could fit no more than 100 people at a push….we were the first in and tables had name tags on them ! So a far cry from most venues I frequent but not unusual for a Jazz club. It had the necessary Jazz ambience, a French ‘look and feel’, dark and intimate. Beers in hand, Stephan Thelen introduced himself and we talked about his influences, he is a major Robert Fripp/early King Crimson fan and his views on the new album (in his words ‘more playful’)…more about that later. The set would consist of old and new tracks.
However, first up were a band called MooV and they entered stage left (well through the audience actually) and we (now about 30 people) were treated to an intriguing mix of piano sequencer ; cello; bass and vocals for about 45 minutes.
A five piece band, billed as a three piece, but performed as a four piece !…rather confusing but that’s what we got. Colin Riley, pianist and main composer, explained that MooV’s music was malleable and open-ended and this allowed them to perform with a varied number of band members. So tonight there was no percussion but equally on some occasions there maybe no cello. MooV have been around since 2005 and made only two albums and had only performed 16 gigs…that’s only about 2 per year so not a vast output. However, as I found out afterwards, the band members are involved in numerous projects. We were told all this after the first track but, if we were concerned that this might affect their live performance, then we need not have worried. To describe their music is challenging as it appears to have may influences without any one dominating. So I enlisted some support by accessing the band’s web page and got:
‘The final product is absolutely unclassifiable’ (London Jazz Blog) .
Oh well that wasn’t much help !…so let’s have a go anyway:
Arty but not Art Rock
Jazzy but not Jazz
progressive but certainly not Prog Rock
poppy but not pop
electronic but not electronica
a sense of chamber music but not chamber music
does that help ?…probably not
Experimental and avant garde and certainly creative and stimulating; unpredictable, even random; with enigmatic, intimate lyrics with a dark edge. The use of sequencing effects and constant changes in pitch (musical and vocal) and rhythm create the backbone of the music. At times angular and unsettling but at other times ethereal and beautifully soft. Sparse and minimalistic. I cannot think of comparisons but perhaps think of Sigur Ros’s simpler tracks unplugged with a folksy edge with Bjork’s vocals (not sure that makes sense!). There is certainly a Scandinavian ‘feel’ at times. The vocalist, Elisabeth Nygard has Scandinavian roots, being from Norway. She has a hypnotic, breathy and fragile voice in the delivery of both word and sound (e.g. wailing/sighing etc.) She appears totally immersed and connected to the music.
Having bought their latest album and in view of Colin Riley’s words, it is also fair to say that listening to their music on cd compared to a live setting is a very different experience. Only live do you truly feel the power and emotional intensity; the darkness; the light. Whether this music has a wide audience I doubt it as, at times, it is almost inaccessible. But to listen is to experience and whether the feelings and emotions produced are good or bad, it is still worth experiencing. Thanks to Colin, Elisabeth, Natalie (cello) and Pete (bass).
Afterwards I managed to speak with the lead singer Elisabeth Nygard and discovered that her major influences were classical, chamber music and folk. She recommended their latest album ‘Here’ but we could speak no longer as we were both in respective toilet queues !
Here’s a link to their website:
So after 45 minutes of hearing something I was not expecting and, at the time, felt was almost impossible to describe, we grabbed another beer before the main attraction..
By the time Sonar arrived on stage the club was nearly full and there was a healthy buzz about the place. To be honest I was a little apprehensive as to whether the music would come across as too sparse for a live setting. Known for their minimalist style, their set was also minimalist in nature with each guitar having a small miked up amp. No frills here.
They commenced with probably their most well-known track, Tromso, from their first album. At over 11 minutes long it is typical of their style. Complex interwoven polyrhythmic guitar motifs, superbly played throughout, supported by staccato bass lines and varied percussion. One clear characteristic of their musical style is how the percussion (just a basic drum kit) drives the tempo of each track. The drum is more than a single instrument. Accenting; snare comping; rim shots(?); cross sticking; the effective use of cymbals and a variety of drumsticks, added an extra dynamic that was/is critical to the delivery of each track. Manuel Pasquinelli is indeed a top class drummer with exceptional timing. However the diversity of bass playing techniques and unusual effects was also noticeable and from the top draw.
The use of crescendo and decrescendos is equally noticeable as is the constant use of complex and layered polyrhythms.
After playing a couple of tracks from their first album, the rest of the set focussed on new material. Track 3 titled ‘Static Motion’ was a standout for me. Generally I felt the new output is less minimalistic; has more complexity; is driven along at a faster tempo; has more groove and at times has a rocky and very occasionally a funky edge. I personally like this subtle change in direction and really look forward to the release of the new album later this year.
As the set continued one could sense the developing satisfaction and enjoyment amongst the band members as their confidence increased. This was appreciated by an audience who increasingly warmed to the set. After an hour the set closed but demands for more were accepted. At the end of the first encore we were in danger of missing the last train home, so we not only missed the end of the set but also a beer with the band afterwards. Maybe next time Stefan.
Sonar are a group of accomplished musicians carving out a unique furrow in the prog jazz scene. An essential live experience. Thank you Stefan, Christian, Bernhard and Manuel.
Check out the bands website:
and here’s a video of Tromso:
and it’s all free to air on Bandcamp.
You Can Do a Lot in a Lifetime, If You Don’t Burn Out Too Fast – Rush, April 23, 2013 at the Frank Erwin Center, Austin, Texas
Just one week after a long-overdue induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Rush opened the second leg of their ‘Clockwork Angels’ tour – and fortunately for myself and thousands of other Texans, they did it right here in Austin.
For long-time Rush fans, a Rush concert is more than just an event where we see musicians performing their catalog in a live setting. For us, it is something that gets into us the way dye gets into a shirt and alters its color; something that affects each of us right down to the molecular level. This show certainly did that for me, more for reasons I will get into below.
The steampunk aesthetic of the stage setup was spectacular. It was refreshing to see a big visual presentation to accompany the music, which is a rare thing these days. In contrast to the 70’s, when progressive rock was bigger and had more backing by the record companies, most contemporary prog shows are played in smaller venues without the type of visuals as were present in some of the gargantuan shows of that earlier time (think ‘Yes’ on the ‘Relayer’ tour). Rush is the rare band from that era that can still play large venues with a corresponding stage set and light show that turns the presentation into more of an event than just a live music performance.
After a long break from the road, the band seemed rested, recharged, and ready to go. Some of Rush’s typically humorous opening video greeted the audience when the lights went down, featuring the band’s trademarked slightly bizarre humor. The concert proper then opened with a rousing version of ‘Subdivisions’, followed a number of 80’s works. In the first set, they did three songs from ‘Power Windows’, including ‘The Big Money’, ‘Grand Designs’, and ‘Territories’, while also managing to squeeze in ‘Limelight’, ‘Force Ten’, and ‘The Analog Kid’. After the latter tune, the band moved into the 90’s with ‘Bravado’ and ‘Where’s My Thing’ and then into the 00’s with ‘Far Cry’, which closed out the first set.
After a short break, the band returned to the stage, this time with eight additional musicians collectively known as ‘The Clockwork Angels String Ensemble’. This tour has been the first in which Rush has brought extra musicians on stage, and they were used to good effect here. The string ensemble filled in some spaces while enhancing others, remaining on stage throughout the performance of ‘Clockwork Angels’ and for several songs afterwards, including a blistering performance of ‘YYZ’, which is captured through a smartphone (not mine) here.
Beginning with another entertaining bizarro-humor video (with Neil, Alex, and Geddy playing dwarfs) the second half of the show kicked off with ‘Caravan’, and followed through with most of the songs from ‘Clockwork Angels’. Regrettably missing from that list was ‘BU2B’ and ‘Wish Them Well’, the latter being a favorite of mine not only for the music but for the life lesson within the lyrics. A guitar snafu during ‘The Anarchist’ was a minor hiccup that left Geddy alone without melodic accompaniment for a moment, but Alex and his guitar tech had the presence of mind to quickly swap out instruments. The performance of ‘Clockwork Angels’ concluded with a spectacular performance of ‘The Garden’, the visuals of video working great with the music here.
After concluding ‘Clockwork Angels’, the band went back into the 80’s again, with ‘Manhattan Project’, a short drum solo, ‘Red Sector A’, and ‘YYZ’. The string ensemble exited the stage and the band closed out the set with ‘The Spirit of Radio’. The band returned for an encore including ‘Tom Sawyer’ and ‘2112’ (‘Overture’, ‘The Temples of Syrinx’, and ‘Grand Finale’) before calling it a night for good.
I don’t have much to critique for the show, but I do have to say that the soundman could have done a better job with the mix. It was very bass-heavy, and this caused a bit of muffling of notes, particularly on a few of Alex’s guitar solos. But overall, that wasn’t enough to dampen the experience, which was still overwhelmingly positive.
All in all, an outstanding show, played with the energy and intensity that belied their age.
Afterward, according to their Facebook page, Neil, Alex, and Geddy got in touch with their inner cavemen by devouring some Texas barbeque, as shown in the photo. At this point of the review, you’ll have to excuse me while I go off on a tangent, but there is something in that photo that I think I need to address with the band members. Geddy, Alex, Neil – I’m glad you enjoyed your barbeque during your most recent visit to the Republic of Texas. The ribs and brisket are hard to beat. However, I have to say I am a little disturbed in looking at some of the bottles on the table. You three are Canadian boys, and therefore have Canadian genes – which means like other great Canadians, such as Bob and Doug McKenzie, you are drinkers of hearty beer. Thus, seeing several bottles of Corona on the table gives me pause. Corona is more or less a summertime beer – I could give you a pass on this if the gig was an outdoor gig during the sweltering months of July or August. But last night was an unseasonably cool April night, and thus I just cannot understand the Corona. Even more disturbing is what appears to be a bottle of Bud Light on the table. Perhaps one of you reached for a water bottle and didn’t notice the difference? Now, in fairness, toward the upper right corner, it does appear that some redemption is present, as I am about 90% confident that’s a bottle of Shiner Blonde. I’ve compared the portion of the label I can see in the picture to an actual bottle of the same in my refrigerator, and the lack of a bar code on my bottle appears to be the only difference. I’ll do more research of the label tomorrow night as I watch the NFL draft – just to be sure, you know. Nevertheless, Shiner Blonde is a beer befitting of your Canadian DNA, guys, so I would recommend you use that to wash down your next Texas barbeque dinner. Ok, tangent over.
This Rush concert was special in a way that says something both about Rush and their fans alike. Not only was this my fifth Rush show, but it was the fifth different decade in which I had seen them. Previously I had seen them in 1979 (Rupp Arena, Lexington, KY, Hemispheres tour), 1984 (Hampton Coliseum, Hampton VA, Grace Under Pressure tour), 1990 (Charlotte Coliseum, Charlotte, NC, Presto tour) and 2007 (Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, San Antonio, TX, Snakes and Arrows tour). The 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s. Now I can add the 10’s. I’m comfortable in saying that I’m not alone among the Rush fan base, and in fact know there are fans that have seen many, many more shows than I have, and moreover, within the same five decades. There are not many bands out there that one can say the same about. There are even fewer (if any bands) that one can say that about while also saying that it was with the same lineup each time. That’s a testimony to their longevity, as well as to the loyalty of the fans that have stuck with them all of these years. As many of you will recognize, the title of this piece is drawn from the lyrics of ‘Marathon’ off of the ‘Power Windows’ album. And those words, written by their philosopher-drummer nearly 30 years ago, appear to be even more true now than when that album was released. Rush, despite some serious ups and downs, has persevered and continued to make great music far beyond the time when most bands lose their creative edge. And fans like myself and countless others, we’ve lived our lives and had our own ups and downs for all of these years, and yet we kept coming back, keep buying the albums, and keep going to the concerts because we appreciate the excellence, the professionalism, the creativity, and the wisdom inherent in the lyrics. That neither Rush nor their fans have burned out, that both have shown the endurance to stick with one another throughout the decades only proves the wisdom of the lyrics from which this review draws its title.
Thanks, guys. Not just for last night’s show. But for everything over all of these years.
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.”
To paraphrase Wikipedia…a “perfect storm” is a term that can be described as a confluence of different related phenomena that combine to create what can be referred to as the “perfect situation” to generate an event (its first use was allegedly to describe a ‘perfect storm’ of applause).
And yes, things came together pretty nicely on Thursday night.
I have to admit I was a reluctant attendee, not because I don’t like Riverside, far from it. Unfortunately I had undergone a seriously bad day at work, leading to the cancellation of my holiday booked for the next day I also had a dose of ‘man-flu’. So I didn’t feel that inclined to trudge for an hour plus up to Islington; drink gratuitously (polish vodka maybe?) and get home well after midnight.
Things started getting better as travel connections were good and we (Nigel and I) managed to get to the venue fairly early and caught half of the set of the first of the three bands, Dianoya. Hailing from Poland, like Riverside, they were an engaging and enthusiastic Progressive Metal band and, as the set continued, there were various appreciative nods from some of the ‘older’ members of the audience (me included).
I have always liked the Academy, quite small but never a crush. Even a shorty like me can usually get quite close and get a good view. The acoustics are impressive which is important for an audiophile like me. The bar(s) are very ‘adjacent’ and I like the industrial ‘feel’…the ceiling is full of open girders and ducts; wires and lights. It’s a pretty ‘hip’ place and is used as a late night disco for the ‘younger’ folks after all we oldies are tucked up in our beds. At this point I should also name in dispatches the lighting crew, who added to the ambience considerably with a subtle yet creative lighting display.
Two pain killers taken earlier followed by the quick sloshing down of an (incredibly expensive) pint of lager had given me a renewed vigour. And there was not much waiting required for the second act, Jolly, who herald from the great New York City. They produced a powerful cocktail of heavy, experimental, art rock characterised by slow openings, fast bass lines and high quality guitar playing. They aroused my curiosity and I was quite intrigued to find out more. But please forgive me when I say their Facebook band profile is a load of pretentious twaddle; either that or it’s a very long-winded ‘p*ss take in Spinal Tap style. Nevertheless a strong support act.
A move towards the back (to meet another friend) put me in the perfect listening position, at the apex of the classic ‘audio-triangle’, as Riverside took the stage. This Polish progressive rock band led by the virtuoso bassist and singer, Mariusz Duda, have just released their new album, ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (SONGS), intelligently reviewed recently by my fellow Progarchists, Nick and Erik here:
The band has been gaining popularity following their critically acclaimed 4th album, Anno Domini High Definition (ADHD) released in 2009. Having gradually veered towards a more classic rock sound from their predominantly metal roots, Riverside have been compared with both Tool and Porcupine Tree. Lyrically far less disturbing than Tool they still retain a heavy guitar riff style and the inclusion of powerful keyboards and potent bass lines give the band an added depth, complexity and uniqueness to their sound.
Tonight’s set focussed on the new album and ADHD.
Having just been to one of my Top 10 gigs of all time (Steve Wilson at the Royal Festival Hall, London), how lucky I was to see another band at the peak of their powers. Displaying outstanding musicianship; exemplary timing and an almost telepathic understanding, Riverside are seriously talented. Understated guitar (from a scary looking lead!); extraordinary depth to the keyboards; complex bass patterns weaved by spider-like hands and beautifully sympathetic drumming. Virtually faultless, the only (small) downside was Mariusz’s voice, slightly let down by the flu (I read subsequently that their Sheffield gig the next day had to be cancelled).
There was no showboating; no unnecessary solos; no ego trips displayed. Professional to the last, Riverside were clearly enjoying their evening and showed a genuine desire to engage the audience. And this was reciprocated. How refreshing to see people of all ages. And clearly popular in their home country with plenty of London’s Polish community turning up. Riverside have clearly broken down that difficult barrier that exists for so many Progressive Rock bands…this is not just music for follicly challenged over 50s.
Having been impressed with their last 4 releases, I can say, indubitably, that they sound better live than on record, delivering an electrifying power that is beyond a recorded medium.
Great gigs are not just about the band, they are about the whole experience…the audience; the venue; the lighting; the acoustics.; the beer, absolutely everything ! All these factors combined beautifully to create the ‘Perfect Storm’ and at £19 a ticket it was a steal.
To those interested here is the set-list, with my highlights being tracks 2, 4 and 8:
New Generation Slave – SONGS
The Depth of Self Delusion – SONGS
Feel Like Falling – SONGS
Driven to Destruction – ADHD
Living in the Past – Memories in My Head
We Got Used to Us – SONGS
Egoist Hedonist – ADHD
Escalator Shrine – SONGS
Left Out – ADHD
Conceiving You – Second Life Syndrome
Lucid Dream IV – Rapid Eye Movement
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”:
Riverside’s recorded output began with three albums that are collectively known as the Reality Dream Trilogy (‘Out of Myself’, ‘Second Life Syndrome’, and ‘Rapid Eye Movement’). These are all very good albums, although I wouldn’t call any of them great albums. However, in 2009, Riverside took a big leap forward with ‘Anno Domini High Definition’ (ADHD). The music took a noticeably different direction from its three predecessors, and reflected well on the album’s subject matter, i.e. the frenetic pace of modern life and accompanying dissatisfaction that sometimes goes with it. After a two-and-a-half year wait (with the EP ‘Memories in My Head’ thrown in during the meantime), Riverside has returned with ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ (SONGS). And once again, they have taken a big – no, huge – leap forward. Quite simply, this is Riverside’s best album to date.
Conceptually, the album relates to dissatisfaction with modern life, so much so that many people feel that they are slaves to something beyond their control. Thematically, there are some common threads with various lyrics on SONGS predecessor, ADHD (in particular, the lyrics on the excellent ‘Driven to Destruction’). Nevertheless, the lyrical (and thus conceptual) content extends beyond that to into areas such as stagnant relationships, the depravity of celebrity culture, surrender to nihilism, and ultimately, redemption.
Musically, the album is just fantastic. In contrast to its predecessor, it does not feature a barrage of notes and thus gives the listener a little more space to contemplate the lyrics. That being said, I wouldn’t call it dimensionally sparse either, as there is plenty going on. The music is probably the result of a different approach. Bass player Mariusz Duda stated in a recent interview:
I had some problems before as I was a little bit tired of the formula that we had in the past and I didn’t want to do another album with complicated structures. I just wanted to finally focus more on the arrangements and the composition. To focus on some details, like a way for playing drums, a way of playing guitar. I really, really wanted to focus simply on songs. Simply songs, ambitious songs should be the foundation of this album. The metal parts I skip and replace them with hard rock elements.
Confident in the chops honed on previous albums, the band has taken more of a big picture approach to the music on this album – an approach that seems to have served them very well.
‘New Generation Slave’ opens up the album, featuring a heavy guitar riff interleaved with verses of Duda’s protagonist lamenting his life and dissatisfaction with it:
Ain’t nothing more to say
Don’t look at me like that
The truth is
I am a free man
But I can’t enjoy my life
The tempo then picks up, and keyboardist Michał Łapaj announces his presence in this piece by getting in touch with his inner Jon Lord (RIP), and repeats this a number of times throughout the album. The opening track segues into ‘The Depth of Self Delusion’, which is less heavy and a bit slower, but no less good. The use of acoustic guitar and atmospheric keyboards make their first appearance. I don’t recall this much use of acoustic guitar on any previous Riverside release, and it’s great to hear them expand their sonic palette in this manner. The song includes some interesting bass work in the latter half and closes with light acoustic guitar. The band then blasts into ‘Celebrity Touch’ as Duda offers his critique of our Kardashian-ized culture and the pathological need some have for attention and approval from others:
I can’t afford to be silent
I can’t afford to lose my stand
What matters is to be in view
I am seen therefore I am
I can satisfy my hunger
I can satisfy my thirst
What about the feeling of importance
Now I’ve got my chance
In the center of attention
My private life is public
I sell everything
Days are getting shorter
They’ll forget about me soon
So I jump on the bandwagon
With no taboos
The song includes a nice juxtaposition between a heavy riff that accompanies the above lyrics, to a less heavy, more reflective section:
But what if we start to talk
Not only say out loud
What if we sift the babble
From what really counts
What if we disappear
Go deeply underground
What if we hide away
From being stupefied
‘We Got Used to Us’ follows, and is yet another slower track that has somewhat of a Porcupine Tree-like vibe as our protagonist ponders a stagnant and dissatisfying relationship. This one is pretty emotional.
Next up is the punchy ‘Feel Like Falling’, a song with crossover appeal having upbeat music that belies the lyrics, as our protagonist begins to realize the path he has chosen in life has led him astray and left him wanting to simply give up:
Had allowed that life to drift
For I’ve chosen a different trail
When light fades
I feel like falling into blank space
‘Deprived (Irretrievably Lost Imagination)’ is up next with music that is slower, mellower, and decidedly more melancholy than the previous track. The music includes a nice, Floyd-ian interlude at about the halfway mark leading into a jazz-infused instrumental section in the latter half featuring some excellent sax playing. Our protagonists dissatisfaction seems to be so intense at this point that they have gone beyond the mere desire to give up as in ‘Feel Like Falling’ – now we have a full fledged surrender to despair:
I shut away
Please don’t call my name
‘Escalator Shrine’ begins as another slower track, but picks up the pace after a few minutes. Once again we hear the Hammond organ with the Leslie cabinet, some excellent bass playing, and some heavy (but not necessarily metal) guitar. Like the previous track, it includes another Floyd-ian interlude at about the halfway mark. Lyrically, ‘Escalator Shrine’ approaches the new generation slavery from more of an intellectual level than an emotional one, as our protagonist channels Albert Camus and the Myth of Sisyphus:
Dragging our feet
Tired and deceived
Slowly moving on
Bracing shaky legs
Against all those wasted years
We roll the boulders of sins
Up a hill of new days
‘Coda’ is the final track on the album, and maybe the most emotionally heavy, even though it is instrumentally the lightest – a single acoustic guitar. Perhaps our protagonist has read some Epictetus, or maybe the serenity prayer, but it appears he has realized that his happiness and satisfaction with life is ultimately in his control and his own responsibility:
Night outside grows white
I lie faceup in my shell
Open my eyes
Don’t feel like falling into blank space
Indeed, for all of its darkness and all of its sadness, SONGS ends on an upbeat note, as our protagonist casts off his self-imposed chains:
I won’t collapse
I’m set to rise
It’s interesting to note that, although ‘Coda’ is the final track on the album, it is also numbered as Track 1, as is ‘New Generation Slave’. Indeed, our protagonist has hit the reset button and is starting over.
I simply cannot say enough good about this album. As thrilled as I was with ADHD, my response to SONGS is in a completely different realm. Musically, the album has a perfect blend of heavy and light, of complex and simple, emotional and intellectual. Nothing is overdone, nothing is incomplete. The lyrics have a strong message, and as dark as the album’s atmosphere, it’s ultimately a message of hope for those that get it. And if this album is an indication of what we can expect in the future from Riverside, then it’s another strong piece of anecdotal evidence that we are in the midst of a progressive rock golden age heretofore unseen.
Oh, and in case you didn’t get it, I strongly recommend this album