London’s The Gift have created a true masterpiece with their second album, “Land of Shadows.” In fact, I believe this is my favorite prog album of the year thus far, and there have been a lot of fantastic albums released this year. Their sophomore release comes eight years after their first album, “Awake and Dreaming.” Due to various circumstances, The Gift were never able to tour after their first album, and the project as a whole was set aside for several years until founder Mike Morton decided to breathe life into the band again.
So who are The Gift? On vocals and flute: Mike Morton. Guitars: David Lloyd. Bass: Kirk Watson. Keyboards: Howard Boder. Drums: Joseph Morton (Mike’s son).
Their music is self-described as symphonic prog, but I find that it ranges anywhere from that to prog metal to Gabriel-era Genesis prog back to symphonic prog. It’s really quite a joy to listen to. The technical skill of the musicians is certainly excellent, with the guitar work standing out as being exceptional. There are echoes of 70s “golden age” guitar along with hints of more modern metal guitar. Mike Morton’s vocals are fantastic and unlike anything I have heard in progressive rock. Interestingly enough, his voice instantly reminded me of Christian singer Steve Green, which is indeed a very good thing, as Steve Green has one of the most remarkable voices I have ever heard. The interplay between the instruments and Mike’s voice is simply beautiful.
“Land of Shadows” starts off with a short, spoken word piece entitled, “I Sing of Change.” It aptly sets the stage for the whole album. The second song, “The Willows,” seems to move through several sub genres of prog throughout its 12 minutes of awesome. It starts off quiet and slow, with soothing piano, drums, acoustic guitar and Mike Morton’s haunting vocals and lyrics. At about the 3 1/2 minute mark, the song quickly delves into The Gift’s version of progressive metal. Later, it circles back around to symphonic prog and a greater focus on the lyrics. By the end of the song, it almost feels like you are listening to Pink Floyd. But, to be sure, The Gift never copy the work of other bands. Instead, they blaze their own trail in this third wave of prog.
Each track on this album is fantastic, but I particularly enjoy “The Willows,” “Walk Into the Water,” and “The Comforting Cold.” Coming in as the fourth track, “Walk Into the Water” is a song of hope. I can’t help but hear references to baptism throughout the song, both in spiritual rebirth, and physical baptism. Specifically, I believe the song references the journey one takes as they prepare to die:
Walk into the water / Throw away your fear, wash away the pain / Walk into the water / You’ve nothing left to lose, mystery to gain… Take a quick look behind at your footprints in the sand / As you wade in blind it’s time to leave dry land / And walk, walk into the water…
The contemplation of death and rebirth in “Walk Into the Water” ties in perfectly with the seventh track on the album, the nearly 20 minute long “The Comforting Cold.” This song takes the Biblical story of Lazarus and places it in the modern day. In it, a tired worker dies of a heart attack on a train, and is brought back to life by paramedics, only to wish he could have remained in eternity. The song questions whether or not someone who had just died would really want to return to life, but it also reminds us that our time on earth is not guaranteed. We aren’t promised another day, and we must be ready for the reality of death. While this sounds depressing in a Pink Floyd “Animals” sort of way, it really isn’t. Actually, it is quite the opposite, offering hope where there should be despair.
The Gift have created something uniquely special with “Land of Shadows.” This is an album that I have thoroughly enjoyed over the past several months. The hope that this album offers the listener is refreshing. Of all the albums released in 2014, I think that “Land of Shadows” is one of the best pieces of art I have heard this year. Listening to this album is like looking at a fine painting. You can listen to this album over and over again and still hear something new and interesting in it, just like you can always find something new in a good painting. From the technical musical skill, to the soaring vocals, to the haunting lyrics, “Land of Shadows” is a must-have from 2014.
Now, here’s a thing I normally would NOT do. (That “not” is as emphatic as you can make it.) But I’m going to do it, and I’m inviting you to do it with me. I’m doing this as my 13th look (regard) at The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.
Yes, I’m superstitious, and that might be part of what has presented me with a sort of “block” for a while. That plus all the other personal-life stuff that you don’t care about. If I do this as number 13, and nothing comes of it, then we can just go on. But “nothing” coming of it might be just the ticket, after all. Without nothing, there might not be anything. (I’m thinking Heidegger, if you sort of know about that; if you don’t then never mind.)
I’m going to listen to it on “shuffle.”
One shuffles the cards so that the next deal will be fun. It’s not truly random, but it might as well be from our point of view (if it’s done thoroughly). If it’s not fun, feel free to call “misdeal.”
Are you in?
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
Tin Spirits has issued the following press release
Esoteric Antenna are pleased to announce the release of the album ‘Scorch’, the much anticipated follow up to Tin Spirits debut album ‘Wired to Earth’.
As you would expect of a band that includes XTC’s 6-string genius Dave Gregory, ‘Scorch’ is a celebration of guitars and harmony with songs that immediately captivate and engage. Lovingly crafted over two years ‘Scorch’ was mixed ‘old school’ with fingers on faders by acclaimed producer Paul Stacey (Black Crowes, Noel Gallagher), resulting in a sonic experience guaranteed to be a highlight of this year’s new releases.
Along with Dave Gregory, Tin Spirits’ fellow Swindonians Mark Kilminster (Vocals, Bass) and Doug Mussard (Drums), as well as the Australian import Daniel Steinhardt (Guitar, Vocals) notably of TheGigRig, have carved themselves a unique niche being unashamedly progressive yet entirely accessible. From the rapturous tones of the instrumental opener ‘Carnivore’, to the introspective anthem ‘Little Eyes’ and the progressive epic ‘Garden State’, “Scorch” is an album that shows Tin Spirits have truly come of age with one of the most exhilarating and satisfying releases of 2014. The album will be preceded by a digital single “Summer Now” released 8th September.
Yes, I’m thrilled. The first release, WIRED TO EARTH, has been a favorite since it came out. What I appreciate most, however, are the lyrics of the fourth track, “Broken.” Few songs have moved me so much.
Earlier today, before a quick hike in the Rockies with my kids, I asked Johnny Unicorn (in reality: John Adams; but not the former president) to give me a bit of history of himself. He very kindly sent the following (below). As some of you might remember, I was really taken with his previous release–SADNESS AND COMPANIONSHIP.
The forthcoming, ANGELS IN THE OORT CLOUD, looks even more interesting. As I mentioned at the time of the first release, I think that Johnny Unicorn embraces the spirit of PHISH–wacky, innovative, and yet always very serious about the art.
Here’s what Mr. Unicorn wrote today (a huge thanks to him for taking the time!):
“Johnny Unicorn” has been my solo project since 2006.
2006, 2007, 2008 – “Dates Or Non-dates”, “Riversongs”, and “Put Your Mind Inside My Mouth”
JU was the only member of the recorded or live band except for occasional live backing vocalists (Audri the Great, Joy Moore) and one show with a full band (Jabari Parker on drums, Joel Weinstein on bass, and Audri and Joy on backing vocals).
2010 – “Sweet Edith Manton”
JU recruited old friend Jason Campbell to play drums on the album. Toured the Northern U.S. as a one-piece
2011 – “Thinking Hard To Overcome Nervousness”
Lots of guest musicians played on the album. JU toured the U.S. again as a one-piece. Later in the year, Naomi Smith and Jesse Mercury (formerly Plack)(http://jessemercury.bandcamp.com) joined the live band on synth and drums respectively. Roy Garcia played drums in the live band also in 2011.
2012 – West coast tour with Plack, Smith, and Unicorn (playing JU songs and Jesse Mercury songs) plus Autumn Electric.
2013 – “Sadness And Companionship” – Album recorded with just two musicians, JU and Naomi Smith. After successful Kickstarter campaign, Max Steiner joins live band as guitarist, and Ian Steiner replaces Jesse on drums for another Northern U.S. tour.
2014 – “Angels In the Oort Cloud” – Album recorded with a handful of guest musicians, including “Edith Manton” drummer Jason Campbell. Chris Barrios joins live band on drums. Max Steiner moves to Germany.
2015 and beyond – “Heavy Jugs To the Moon” is a 25-27 song double album that includes a horde of guest musicians, including all current live band members and many past members, and people i met on the internet. The songs are in a dramatic range of styles and they are all relatively short. The following album “Indentations” will be a four song album (all over 15 minutes) and will only include the current live band members and possibly some piped in guitar from overseas, except for one song that is a string quartet with vocals. Following this album, I am writing an album for jazz orchestra. In the interest of saving my ears, future JU tours will most likely be acoustic. After that, it’s all just vague ideas that will solidify as soon as room is freed up in my brain.
I am currently actively working with the following bands:
Horace Pickett (http://horacepickett.bandcamp.com) since 2011
Autumn Electric (http://autumnelectric.bandcamp.com) since 2012
Phideaux (http://phideaux.bandcamp.com) since 2007
What an amazing person. Again, thank you, Johnny, for taking the time! To pre-order the new cd, click here.
THE PINEAPPLE THIEF TO RELEASE NEW ALBUM “MAGNOLIA” THIS SEPTEMBER
10th studio album out September 16 via Kscope
ENGLAND – The Pineapple Thief has announced details of its new album, Magnolia, due for release in North America on September 16 via Kscope. Magnolia follows acclaimed 2012 album, All The Wars, and marks an important turning point for the band, as it expands its musical horizons beyond the progressive sphere.
1. Simple as That (04:01)
2. Alone at Sea (05:21)
3. Don’t Tell Me (03:35)
4. Magnolia (03:47)
5. Seasons Past (04:14)
6. Coming Home (03:06)
7. The One You Left to Die (04:19)
8. Breathe (02:35)
9. From Me (04:31)
10. Sense of Fear (04:31)
11. A Loneliness (03:22)
12. Bond (04:31)
Formed in 1999 by founder and chief songwriter Bruce Soord as an experimental bedroom project, The Pineapple Thief has since continued to evolve and refine its sound. The group is seen by many as one of the most interesting and innovative rock bands the U.K. has produced in recent years. Previous albums like Someone Here Is Missing (2010) and All The Wars (2012) have made The Pineapple Thief’s reputation and fan base stronger, resulting in interest from a wider audience. Bruce Soord also collaborates with other Kscope artists, joining forces with Jonas Renkse of Swedish band Katatonia on their critically acclaimed Wisdom Of Crowds project. Along with this collaboration, we saw Soord join Katatonia on their recent “Dethroned & Uncrowned – Unplugged & Reworked” acoustic European tour.
With a new, blossoming sound, Magnolia has all the potential to bring The Pineapple Thief to the masses. This, the band’s 10th record, could not only be a milestone, but also a mainstream breakthrough for the band. With Magnolia, The Pineapple Thief has created 12 musical gems that defy all classifications – anthemic, catchy, intense, honest and straight from the heart.
Stay tuned for more information on The Pineapple Thief and Magnolia.
|The Pineapple Thief online…
The Pineapple Thief is…
Bruce Soord – vocals, guitar
For more information, contact Brian Rocha at Fresno Media.
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: ★★★★★
After spending my first afternoon at the University of Colorado, I stopped by Time Warp Comics (http://www.time-warp.com). As it turns out, Neil Peart, Kevin J. Anderson, and Nick Robles have been producing a six-part comic book series of Clockwork Angels.
The first three issues are out, and I was even able to purchase a signed (by Anderson) copy of issue 1.
And, equally important, I found out that several of the guys working at Time Warp are proggers. They were also just–not surprisingly–fantastic guys (and a gal). So, a huge thanks to Clayton, Garrett, Michael, and Georgia!
What a store. I’ll certainly be stopping by again.
If you’re in Boulder, make sure you check out Time Warp.
Big Big Train News
PROGRESSIVE MUSIC AWARDS NOMINATION
Big Big Train has been nominated in the Anthem category of the 2014 Progressive Music Awards which will be held in September at the Globe Theatre. Listeners can vote for their choice of Anthem and for their favourites in the other categories online at: http://awards.progmagazine.com/
BIG BIG TRAIN IN SESSION AT REAL WORLD
The band are spending a week at Real World studios in August 2014 where they will be rehearsing for live shows and filming performances of a number of songs for release on DVD and Blu-Ray. The band will be joined by Rikard Sjöblom of Beardfish who will be assisting with guitar and keyboards. Live shows will follow in 2015 and an announcement about the dates will be made in the autumn.
Some short films of the bands preparations and rehearsals for the Real World sessions are now online at: https://www.youtube.com/user/EngElecRecordings
Big Big Train has been working on a number of new songs and it is expected that a new album will be released in 2015. Work also continues on the Station Masters retrospective collection.
LP’s AND TEE-SHIRTS
English Electric Part One and Part Two are both available as double LP’s on 180gm vinyl.
Big Big Train tee-shirts are available from our merchandising retailer, The Merch Desk:
Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg and Nick
Big Big Train
Follow the band on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/bigbigtrain
Join our Facebook group at: www.facebook.com/groups/bigbigtrain