For those of us who don’t live in the UK, we have to wait a few extra days for our copies of PROG to arrive. Mine arrives on the iPad, and I was thrilled to see so much good in the latest issue (out on iPad today).
Several Progarchist favorites are recognized and recognized well.
On Big Big Train’s English Electric 2:
For a band who have now been in existence for over 20 years to be creating albums as perfect as this is in itself utterly remarkable. The fact that this is their second release of such a calibre within the space of a year can only reinforce the opinion that what we’re dealign with here is an act of rare, often indescribable brilliance.
I don’t see why the reviewer needed to bring up a Genesis reference and comparison twice. Big Big Train is producing things so much beyond what Genesis did, though Genesis was, of course, brilliant in its own right.
But, Big Big Train is not Genesis Part II or Part III. It’s Big Big Train.
Every time a review comes out of a new computer, the reviewer doesn’t keep bringing up the Commodore 64. Why does a comparison to an early 70s band do anything for our understanding of a band performing perfectly beautifully in 2013, in and of its own right? Ok, rant over.
On Cosmograf’s The Man Left in Space:
Armstrong has created a simply magnificent piece of work.
Amen. And, a belated happy birthday to this genius, this Master of Chronometry and of the Platonic Spheres, Robin Armstrong.
Also in the issue: great stuff on Rush (even more, if you ordered the hardback edition of #35), on Todd Rundgren, and on RogerHodgson, and reviews of the latest from Sanguine Hum and Spock’s Beard.
To go to the official Prog site, click here.
There can be no doubt that this will be one very, very great year for Prog. We’ve already had masterpieces from Big Big Train and Cosmograf. Sanguine Hum has released its second, though it’s still not available in North America. Matt Stevens, Ayreon, Heliopolis, Advent, and the Tin Spirits are working on new albums as well. Very exciting.
One of the albums I’m most looking forward to this year is the new studio album (KScope–May 6, 2013) from Nosound, “Afterthoughts.” It will be their fourth studio release.
Sea of Tranquility was able to get a hold of a pre-release copy and has offered an excellent review. You can read it here.
I’ve been a huge fan of this Italian (now, Anglo-Italian with the addition of Chris Maitland on drums) post-prog act for coming up on a decade now. Indeed, I find Lightdark (2008) and A Sense of Loss (2009) to be essential parts of any serious progger’s library. When music historians look back on this current revival of prog, the albums of Nosound will stand at the forefront–along with the works of Big Big Train, Glass Hammer, Gazpacho, Cosmograf, Ayreon, and The Fierce and the Dead . . . and many others (what a great time to be a prog fan!).
This music is contemplative and wave-like, without ever descending into the abyss of self-absorption or ascending into the madness of over-the-top ELPism. Probably the best descriptive of Nosound’s perfectionist sound would be: tasteful.
Nosound’s official website is: http://nosound.net/. I preordered “Afterthoughts” the moment the CD was announced, and I very much look forward to reviewing it.
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”:
By Brad Birzer
As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve been having a Big Big Train-love fest for the past several days at Progarchy. Even our criticisms (well, not mine; but I won’t point fingers) have been written out of love and respect.
Another recent release that deserves a massive amount of attention is the fourth cd by Robin Armstrong, writing under the name, Cosmograf. Yes, it deserves a MASSIVE (Ok, I’m yelling at you, fair reader; it’s not personal, I promise!) amount of attention. Massive.
Following Cosmograf’s history, it comes across far more as a project than a band. I’m not sure Robin would put it this way, but this is how it strikes me. Each album has been a concept with a variety of guest musicians. For this current album, The Man Left in Space, Robin has chosen the best of the best: Greg Spawton (who wouldn’t love this guy), Nick d’Virgilio (giving Peart a run for his money since 1990!), Matt Stevens (a young guy already inducted in the Anglo-Saxon pantheon of guitar gods), and other brilliant folks such as Dave Meros (ye, of the Beard!), Luke Machin, and Steve Dunn. Robin knows how to get the absolute best, and he knows how to bring the best out of his guests. Then, add the additional production of the ultimate audiophile of our time, Rob Aubrey. Can it really get much better than this? Not really.
By profession, Robin is a master of all things time-related. He’s a watch dealer and a watch repairman. I find this so very appropriate. What better thing for a musician and composer to be than to be a master Chronometer (I have no idea if this is the proper term, but I like the sound of it). Chronometrician? Ok, I’m floundering here, but I assume you get the point. Precision, mystery, time, eternity, space, place, humanity. . . Robin Armstrong. Read the rest of this entry
Make sure to download David “Amazing Wilf” Elliott’s latest podcast, an interview with Master of Time and Chronometers, Robin Armstrong. An excellent insight into the making of a truly stunning work of art, The Man Left in Space.
It’s an episode that I will probably revisit.
Make sure you head over to http://www.cosmograf.com to order Robin’s latest album. It will be released in three days. So, make sure to order now. Lots of our progarchy favorites–including Greg Spawton, Nick D’Virgilio, and Matt Stevens–contribute to the album. Also, the web is buzzing about what a great album it is–Robin’s best. So, order away!
I pre-ordered my copy this week. You should too. It sounds terrific!
Very excited about the release of the new Cosmograf CD. Robin Armstrong–aka Mr. Cosmograf, Master and Lord of Time and Chronometers–has just updated his blog. To view it, click here.
Pre-orders begin tomorrow.