RochaNews: New Pineapple Thief Coming 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.
Recorded at Snap Studios and mixed at Strongroom Studios in London, Magnoliarepresents the ultimate culmination of songwriter and guitarist Bruce Soord’s ongoing quest to raise spirits and connect. A devastating yet uplifting collection of 12 beautifully crafted songs, it showcases the band’s intuitive chemistry and soulful demeanor, cramming a vast array of emotional shades and inspirational ideas into its 47 mesmerizing minutes. Veering from the strident opening assault of “Simple As That,” due to be the first single, through to the cinematic sweep of the closing track “Bond,” it marks an important step in the band’s story, while skillfully encapsulating everything that has made its musical journey such a relentlessly fascinating one.
“All I ever wanted was to write catchy songs that stay with people,” commented founder Bruce Soord, explaining how this record represents an important evolutionary phase for The Pineapple Thief. “The striking thing is that there are no long tunes… all I care about now is writing a good song. I don’t think about whether it’s rock or progressive or commercial or anything like that. As time went on, I discovered I could say everything I wanted to say within a shorter period of time.”
New drummer Dan Osborne, also heavily involved in the production of Magnolia, brought fresh energy and ideas to The Pineapple Thief, strongly contributing to steer the band in a new direction. Completing the line-up are solid bassist Jon Sykes and keyboard maestro Steve Kitch. While string arrangements are courtesy of regular collaborator Andrew Skeet of The Divine Comedy, the stunning final mix was crafted by mix engineer Adam Noble, who has previously worked on albums from the likes of Placebo, Guillemots, Paul McCartney, Robbie Williams and Belgium alt rock band dEUS. The artwork for Magnoliawas created by French artist Patrick Gonzales ( 

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
Dan Osborne – drums
Jon Sykes – bass
Steve Kitch – keyboards

For more information, contact Brian Rocha at Fresno Media.

Son of Aurelius — Under a Western Sun ★★★★★ @SonofAurelius

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: ★★★★★

Time Warp in Boulder and Clockwork Angels

Clockwork_Angels_01_Cover_BAfter spending my first afternoon at the University of Colorado, I stopped by Time Warp Comics (  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.

Time Warp Comics, 3105 28th Street, Boulder, CO 80301.

Time Warp Comics, 3105 28th Street, Boulder, CO 80301.

What Does It Mean?


what do you think STENDEC means.. ?

discuss the real origin…..

and/or . make up your own acronym and post it here…


salander cover


Progarchy’s take. . . coming soon!

Big Big Train News (from the source!)

English Electric Full Power.  A definitive album of third-wave prog.

English Electric Full Power. A definitive album of third-wave prog.

Big Big Train News


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:


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:


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.


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:

Best wishes

Andy, Danny, Dave, David, Greg and Nick

Big Big Train

Follow the band on Twitter at:

Join our Facebook group at:

Pillage and Plunder – The Show Must Go Wrong

pillageIf you have occasional fond thoughts of 90s art rock bands like the Monks of Doom you may also recall, while waxing nostalgic about the dear old 1990s, that there was a golden moment, after the commercial breakthrough of punk/grunge/indie rock in America but before the advent of Napster, when bands that had been toiling in musical nether regions for years finally had their moments in the sun.  The MoD were an offshoot of Camper Van Beethoven, the most palatably inventive American band of the 1980s and early 1990s, and like the great Camper Van approached American prog — delegated generally and unfortunately to the backwater of “jam” band categorization — with a firm belief that dumping every damn thing they could think of into the musical kettle and bringing it all to boil would work.  And it mostly did.  We’re talking about music that went deeply into the spirit of blues and other “ethnic” musics as processed through Roky Erickson, Captain Beefheart and, later, performance art bands like Butthole Surfers and the Flaming Lips, a twisted and distinctly American edge-of-the-frontier wildness that would make a great novel if Cormac McCarthy ever chose to write it.  In the pages of Progarchy I’ve before referenced the spectacular Metal Flake Mother out of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who sailed these same waters and with the same ethic in the 90s, and my notion is that regionally there were many bands following a similar path, nodding to the blues, jazz, European folk, surf guitar, 50s lounge music, Tom Waits, and punk all at the same time, as if the real guitar heroes in the room were Django Reinhardt, Marc Ribot, Dick Dale, and Sonny Sharrock.  In the post-punk pre-internet age, these bands sold records, sometimes lots of records, and could sustain careers lasting, well, months.

Pillage and Plunder brought this short-lived and extremely satisfying era to life when I spun up their new record, The Show Must Go Wrong, for the first time.  Mixing an eclectic take on Belew-era Crimson with an Esquivel-via-Cake loungeyness, Pillage and Plunder map a journey that’s less highway than exit ramps, and across its 35 minutes The Show Must Go Wrong takes every possible detour, sightseeing on the outskirts of modern music.  The breathtakingly inventive “Beetlejuice” opens the record, with its furious and metallic nod to prime Oingo Boingo, and with “Boogeyman” the music maintains its carnival-esque darkness, backed by big riffs and chops.  “How Did It Come To This?” follows, and the album turns in mood, which got me to thinking that the precocious musicianship here on display presents a problem for Pillage and Plunder, though it’s not a bad problem to have: while the songs are composed and concise (a big plus), as an album The Show Must Go Wrong comes at times dangerously close to living up to its title, as it suffers at points from a lack of curatorial will in favor of showcasing musical dexterity, favoring breadth over depth.  So the promise of sideways-tilting, reach-deep, dark humor at the top of the album — and revisited in such songs as the excellent “Moocow” and “Nutcracker” — turns into an occasionally studied oddball-ness as the record unfolds.  But it’s a small complaint for the kind of record this is supposed to be, not to mention that the songs have a way of turning themselves into earworms that simply will not leave the head and hum alone.  Check for instance, “I Will Drink The Ocean When I Go There,” which premieres here on Progarchy:

The assured pop classicism and working of the tropes is skilled, while the power trio of guitarist/vocalist Gokul Parasuram, bassist Hsiang-Ming Wen, and drummer Noah Kess flexes its axe-wielding abandon with a kind of Les Paul meets Alex Lifeson glory in big guitars, impossible drums, and killer bass.  Pillage and Plunder has the skills to create great music, and while the successes on The Show Must Go Wrong may be qualified by work that is less focused than it could be, the promise of the record suggests we should keep listening.

Hsian-Ming Wen graciously sat down with Progarchy and gave us some answers to our burning questions.  I’ll say right now that name-checking Television’s “Friction” alone could sell me on the the band, and I’m impressed with the way Pillage and Plunder sees themselves and their work.

Q: Given your youth, Pillage and Plunder has a long history — what keeps you together and what inspired the new record?

A: Before the band started, we were already best of friends, so making music & being around each other all the time came pretty naturally. Our songwriting almost always stems from whatever is prevalent in our lives at the moment. So, for the new record, inspiration drew mostly from themes of personal relationships, struggles with self-worth, and existentialism. I had just graduated college when I wrote “Summer Days” and couldn’t find a job, and was just thinking, “shit, what do i do with my life?” It was me dealing with the frustration of trying to meet my personal goals, and “Moocow” deals with the idea of self-doubt when it comes to your personal talents — questioning when people pat you on the back and tell you how well you’ve done. It actually has the line, “I’m screaming at the world for tricking me into thinking I had a purpose, a gift that’s rare.” So we ask ourselves if it’s a fluke, or do we/you actually possess that talent?

Q: Who would I find next to Pillage and Plunder on Pandora? What songs would you imagine coming before and after “Beetlejuice”?

A: We’d like to imagine we could tango with the likes of Muse, Deerhoof, King Crimson, and Weezer. “Friction” by Television and “Drug Ballad” by Eminem would be a fun juxtaposition for “Beetlejuice.” We like to think that our music is universally acceptable as we draw from so many different wells, where post-punk enthusiasts, indie-rockers and the hip-hop heads could each find something enjoyable to take out of it.

Q: There are several nods to traditional pop song structures — thinking the tarantella-ish “I Will Drink the Ocean When I Go There,” the music hall  of “The Last Date,” and the noir jazz of “Hit & Run” — what took you down these roads?

A: We grew up listening to a variety of music styles, Charles Mingus & Art Blakey, Green Day & Weezer, and traditional pop like Sinatra, and just like learning a language, we started out imitating what we heard until we began to understand the different structures & nuances. Then we start putting our own spin on things and developing a personal songwriting style, the fruits of said efforts being what you hear on the new record; a blend of homage and trying to carve out our own little corner in the musical world.

Q: While this is a very guitar-forward record, the drums and bass really push and pull the songs in a way that makes the musicianship of all the band members clear.  What are your musical backgrounds, and how do you find a balance so all the voices are heard?
A: Gokul & Noah are both jazz-trained and listened to a lot of progressive rock & hip-hop growing up, while I was classically-trained and listened to primarily pop rock & folk. Being just a three-piece band challenges us to get creative with our parts, and I think our definition of “interesting” music is instinctively geared towards more acrobatic, spacious, and diverse parts. Like in “Moocow” the three of us play distinct poly-rhythmic time signatures with Noah keeping down the basic beat on drums, me hitting a constant up-and-down bassline, while Gokul plays a series of single note riffs on guitar. And we move together. As the guitar simplifies the bass becomes more complex and vice versa. And on “Hit & Run” we built a weird, offbeat, syncopated rhythm. It almost sounds like it’s tripping up some stairs. It’s so different from most pop-rock songs.

Q: You have a gonzo vocal approach to offbeat lyrics — how do you think about words in songs, and how would you describe the balance of words and music when writing?

A: 99% of the time the music comes first, including the vocal melody, and the lyrics come in to play last, with things like cadence, alliteration, & rhyme schemes kept in mind while we write out the lyrics. However no rules really exist with our songwriting; it changes from song to song based on the mood we take from it. For example “Keep Dreaming” and “The Last Date” are sonically like siblings, but the vocals were written in completely different ways. “Keep Dreaming’s” chord progression was worked out first. Then, the lyrics came more as a narrative without worrying too much about how it fits while keeping things simple and melodic without too many syllables or rhyming. Where on the “The Last Date” I wanted to write a short pop song that adhered to a traditional rhyme scheme.

Q: As a narrative, is The Show Must Go Wrong a novel or a collection of short stories?

A: We’d consider TSMGW more of a collection of short stories about different personal struggles. There is however an overall theme of always moving forward and trying to pick yourself back up when you get knocked down. Even if things don’t go as planned, nothing gets accomplished unless you do something about it.

Q: Do you think of Pillage and Plunder as an Atlanta band? What other bands there hold your attention?

A: We all grew up in a suburb just outside of Atlanta called Alpharetta, but Pillage & Plunder as a collective has lived in the city for years and we definitely considers ourself an Atlanta band. We love this city. Atlanta has seen a lot of exciting developments & growth in recent years, with everything from architecture & film to theatre & food, and we’re proud to be a part of it. As far as the music scene goes, you can find a little bit of everything here. Some personal favorites, in no particular order, include Slowriter, Mice in Cars, Baby Baby, Noel Stephen & The Darlings, Clibber Jones Ensemble, Hello Cobra, Places to Hide, Futo, and SEX BBQ.

Q: What’s next for you?

A: We’re going to keep writing music and try to contribute what we can to this funny thing called life.

Yes — Heaven & Earth reviewed by @TheDailyVault @KenKraylie

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.

Giving Up Everything: The Grace of Natalie Merchant

A review of Natalie Merchant, NATALIE MERCHANT (Nonesuch, 2014).  Songs: Ladybird; Maggie Said; Texas; Go Down, Moses; Seven Deadly Sins; Giving Up Everything; Black Sheep; It’s a Coming; Lulu (intro and full song); and The End.


Natalie Merchant, self titled (Nonesuch, 2014).  Highly recommended.

Natalie Merchant, self titled (Nonesuch, 2014). Highly recommended.

Natalie Merchant’s 2010 album, LEAVE YOUR SLEEP, was a masterpiece, pure and simple.  Taking her favorite poems and putting them to music was a stroke of genius.  Merchant’s firm but ethereal voice gave a cinemagraphic feel to some of the finest writings of the last several centuries.  While the poems already had a life of their own, the New York artist proved just how alive they really are by offering each a soundtrack.

Ranging over two disks and including a gorgeous detailed book about the poems and why she chose them, LEAVE YOUR SLEEP is a must-own for any music and poetry lover.

Prior to this, Merchant had released THE HOUSE CARPENTER’S DAUGHTER (2003), a reworking and rearranging of traditional American (and some British) folk and labor songs.  Also stunning, but in a very different way than LEAVE YOUR SLEEP, THE HOUSE CARPENTER’S DAUGHTER came out on Merchant’s own label, Myth America.

Little news from Merchant emerged between 2010 and now.  The last significant interviews she gave—most importantly to the New York Times in 2010—the American revealed that she and her daughter were living in a nunnery in Spain.  Having returned to her childhood faith of Roman Catholicism, Merchant was exploring the possibilities of writing liturgical music and, as hopeful speculation had it, a Mass.

In May of this year, Merchant released a new solo album, self-titled, that is not liturgical in setting, but it is intensely religious, confessional, and pro-fessional, at least in its lyrics.

As an artist who made her fame in the 1980s as one of the lead singer and songwriter of one of America’s favorite alternative rock bands, 10,000 Maniacs, Merchant is often remembered for her poppier music.

Her solo career, however, has revealed several different aspects of this musician.  Her albums have ranged from vaudeville to operatic to folk.  Not surprisingly, she covered a Richard Thompson song on THE HOUSE CARPENTER’S DAUGHTER.  While many in the music industry label her as a “female pop” singer, usually associating her with other North Americans such as Suzanne Vega, Tori Amos, and Sarah McLachlan, she really has far more in common with Van Morrison, Fairport Convention, and Traffic.

Like the three bands/acts just mentioned, Merchant at her best always produces soulful, deep, melancholic songs touched not with irony but with intrigue and regret.

Leave Your Sleep (2 disk, NONESUCH, 2010).  Highest recommendation.  A must own.

Leave Your Sleep, (2 disk, Nonesuch, 2010). Highest recommendation. A must own.

The latest album, NATALIE MERCHANT, has every key aspect of her non-pop song writing in spades, but it is still a step removed—on terms of creativity—from her other work.  It’s not nearly as profound, unfortunately, as LEAVE YOUR SLEEP, but then, how could she really compete with the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins.  As a lyricist, though, Merchant is quite good.

Yet, NATALIE MERCHANT is a truly satisfying affair.  From the opening song to the last note, this album pleases the soul as much as it pleases the aural senses.  Though the lyrics aren’t political, they are full of social justice and charity.  They are also moving as well as haunting.

Tellingly, the photo inside the cd package shows a gracefully graying Natalie (she’s 50), holding a dove.  She holds the bird of peace closely and sincerely.  It’s quite the contrast to The The’s  bayonetted dove of MIND BOMB.  Merchant’s holding of the dove is not sarcastic but hopeful and longing.

Songs such as “Go Down, Moses,” offer a pleading for grace, while the song “Seven Deadly Sins”  scathingly attacks the culture of war.

The most difficult song, lyrically, is “Giving Up Everything.”  Many will no doubt attempt to interpret this as some form of nihilism.  Given Merchant’s faith journey, however, the reality of the meaning is probably quite the opposite. What Merchant is giving up is not life and meaning but the belief that she herself can discover her purpose alone.  “Giving up everything, the big to-do, the hullabaloo, the tug-of-war for some twisted truth.  For the everlasting ache of it, no longer slave, not chained to it, no gate, no guard, no keeper, no guru, master, teaching.”  “Black Sheep” is a retelling of the parable of the prodigal son, and “It’s a coming” and “The End” are apocalyptic.

That’ll be the end of arms stretched wide, of begging for bread, of emptiness inside.  And the sea, so wide and treacherous, and the land, so dark and dangerous, so far left behind.  That’ll be the end of the war, when we finally lay down the barrel and the blade and go home.– Natalie Merchant, ‘The End’

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come In 2014 – Part 1

Originally posted on The Blog of Much Metal:

Welcome to my quick run-down of those albums I’m looking forward to being released in the latter half of 2014. I’ve already gone into some detail about the album that I’m most looking forward to, Evergrey’s ‘Hymns For The Broken’, but there are plenty more albums that are high on my radar. Want to know what they are? Then read on!

opeth pcOpeth – Pale Communion

I have to confess that this is an album that I have already heard and reviewed for Powerplay magazine. Nevertheless, I’m looking forward to holding the finished article in my hands. It isn’t an album I had held out great hope for having failed to be enthralled by any of the Opeth back catalogue up to now. However, this is the album that means that I finally ‘get’ Opeth and understand why so many people hold them in high regard. Stylistically similar to ‘Heritage’

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Happy Bastille Day . . . And Here’s Rush’s Classic Piece

Originally posted on rush vault:

stormingThe French peasantry stormed the Bastille in Paris on this day, July 14, in 1789, signaling the revolt of the people against the monarchy. Revolution was a favorite topic of Rush’s in the early days. In “Bastille Day,” Alex, Geddy, and Neil took on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the French Revolution, and in “Beneath, Between and Behind,” they took on the good, the bad, and the ugly of the American Revolution. “A Farewell to Kings” is all about revolution, too.

To help celebrate Bastille Day 2014, here’s a live version of Rush’s progressive metal classic from 1976. YouTube has inserted a commercial at the start of it, but if you watch it here on this site, without going to YouTube, the commercial doesn’t play.

 More This and That.

Background and Commentary

The French Revolution imagery was “inspired by Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities,

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