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Progarchy Post #999

We’ve reached our 999th post just four months shy of our second anniversary. Our progarchist (also a novelist, DPRP.net reviewer, as well as an all-around incredible guy) Eric Perry prompted me to write something for this auspicious occasion.

And, really, I would be a fool not to follow Eric’s advice on this or any thing else.

First, a huge thanks to all of the progarchists. Not a single one of us gets paid for any of this, but, as you can see, each and every member of the progarchy writing team gives her or his heart and soul to the endeavor. So much time, devotion, and dedication.

Progarchists might be faulted for being more enthusiastic than critical, but no one could fault us for not caring or for not putting forth our best. I am honored to write with such friends and allies in this world. Indeed, I’m more than a bit humbled to think that whatever powers that exist decided I’d get to share an existence with these fine folks.

Second, I want to thank the bands and individuals of the music community for being so open to us. We realize that every time you send us something, you do so as an act of faith. Not only do you spend an immense amount of your own money and your time to share your art with us, but you also extend to us your most sacred thoughts and ideas, your very creations from the very depths of your being.

Not only have we tried to treat your art with all the respect it demands, but we have done so by pledging that we will attempt to write as well as you construct, perform, and record your music.

Third, an equally immense thanks to all of our readers. Of course, you’re a most diverse group, and you come from every single part of the world, though the vast majority of readers come, understandably, from the U.K., the U.S., and other English speaking countries. We’re happy to have every one of you, and we thank you profoundly for allowing us to be a part of your lives. As of this writing, every single post goes via email to 1,951 of you. Another 200-1,500 readers visit us each day, depending on topic, day of the week, etc.

Though we founded progarchy—in large part—as a way to promote Big Big Train and The Tangent—we have, I think, added to this list while not neglecting our original desire to advance the art of Spawton, Tillison, and compatriots.

A final thanks to the labels, the promoters, and the PR women and men who have helped us in innumerable ways. Right off, I can think of Karisma, Glass Onyon, Fresno, Kscope, Cherry Red, Bad Elephant, Sally Collier, Chris Thompson (now retired), Billy James, Brian Rocha, Cleopatra, English Electric, and many others.

Our first post hit the web on October 11, 2012. So, we’re not quite two years old. Yet, so much has happened in the prog rock world since then. Already, the market was being saturated with prog releases and prog-related releases. Progarchists joked that we were drinking from the fire hose.

As of June 2014, this hasn’t subsided. But, the quality and expectations have risen dramatically. There really can no longer be any such thing as just “another release.” For an album to qualify as excellent or even very good, it has to reach a VERY different standard than it did only three years ago. Releases from Big Big Train, The Tangent, Cosmograf, and Glass Hammer especially have almost completely remade the genre. Not only are these bands and others releasing albums of the highest calibre, they have taken the genre to levels unimagined even during the first wave of Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, etc. Truly, there is progress.

We are, as mentioned earlier, absolutely thrilled to play any role—no matter how large or small—during this great moment of art, music, and history.

The Sadly Decaying Orbit of Anathema: Distant Satellites Fails

[Review of Anathema, Distant Satellites (Kscope, 2014). Reviewed from digital files and without liner notes or lyrics.]

anathema-distant-satellitesNOT RECOMMENDED.

I would give much either to have the opportunity to write a different review or avoid writing a review of this album altogether. The latter is my usual M.O. when I don’t like something or when I think something is subpar. Though other progarchists would justly and properly disagree with me on this issue, I think it important to spend our time writing and thinking about beautiful things. Life is simply too short to waste on mud, muck, and decay, and art is too precious and rare to squander or abuse it.

Also, simply put, I’m not good at writing about things I don’t like. I would also guess that spending time with things that are poor or corrupt damage my soul (and yours) irreparably.

But, I can neither ignore the new Anathema nor write a positive review of it without being dishonest. Distant Satellites is not corrupt, but it is, for the band, sub par. I wish Anathema would have taken more time with the writing of this album or simply have taken time off for a rest. Or, perhaps, the band could have released just a few of the best songs as an EP rather than as a full-fledged album.  As an album, it can’t hold together.

A year ago, if someone had asked me to discuss the present state of rock music, I would have sung the praises of Big Big Train and The Tangent, correctly claiming that each band was reach so far and attaining so much that they were very close to becoming untouchable. 2014 wouldn’t change this assessment. BBT and The Tangent are not only at the very top of their game, they are at the very top of THE game. Outside of North American bands (I’m intentionally excluding Rush and Glass Hammer), I would have gladly said that Cosmograf and Anathema were so close to untouchable as to be nearly at the level of the top two. 2014, thus far, has drastically changed the prog landscape. Whereas Cosmograf has moved into the top three with its new masterpiece, Capacitor, Distant Satellites reveals a broken or, at best, wounded, decaying Anathema.

How different a year ago was. Looking at the trajectory of Anathema—from A Natural Disaster to Universal—I would have placed good money on the rise of the band. Well, not really, I think gambling is a waste of time and money. But, you get the idea. I mean, really, Universal has to be one of the best live albums of the rock era. In terms of intensity and significance, this was a band with everything. While I would not have rated the two lead vocalists of Anathema—Vincent Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas—at the level of, say, David Longdon, Susie Bogdanowicz, or Leah McHenry, they would be close.

As mentioned above, I really wish I could write a different review for the new album. I have now listened to Distant Satellites close to a dozen times in hopes of coming to love it. Every listen, though, only makes realize how poor it is compared to their previous releases. Not that it’s terrible. Overall, it’s ok, but it’s, unfortunately, not much better than ok. I find myself wanting to skip through almost every song. There are two exceptions to this. Track Four, “Ariel,” has to be one of the single best songs Anathema has ever written.

The second best song on the album, “Distant Satellites,” is fascinating, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I’m fairly sure that if I allowed 100 dedicated prog fans to listen to it for the first time without giving them a single piece of information about the track, 75 to 90 of them would claim it to be a never-before-recorded track from Radiohead’s Kid A sessions. Indeed, I won’t be totally surprised when my physical copy finally arrives from the UK, if the liner notes reveal that Thom Yorke actually wrote the track and sang lead vocals on it. It’s one thing to pay homage to an exemplar, it’s a very different thing to mimic them. I really don’t know what to make of all of this, or why Anathema decided to pursue the course it did.

I really wish I could proclaim Distant Satellites to be the finest work yet by Anathema. I would be lying, though.

If you’re an Anathema or Kscope completest, buy this. Otherwise, I simply can’t recommend it. Other than tracks 4 and 9 and, possibly, 10, it’s not worth the price. Purchasing it would be kind of like putting stock in the Skylab project a few days before it crashed into Australia.

Let’s all hope the band’s followup puts them back into orbit.

An Edwardian Trip through Hades: CAPACITOR by COSMOGRAF

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.

Stunning album cover by the wonderful Graeme Bell. A progged-out version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR is everything a rock album should be.  And, I do mean EVERYTHING.  EVERY.  SINGLE. THING.  It is wholesome, fractured, creepy, uplifting, contemplative, mythic, existentialist, moving, intense, wired, dramatic, contemplative, Stoic, mystifying, weird, satisfying, honed, nuanced, dark, and light.

 

The Meaning of It All

If I could capture the album in one sentence, comparing it to other forms of art, I would and will put it this way: CAPACITOR is an Edwardian journey into the Hades of the Ancient Greeks but emerging in BIOSHOCK.

Then, think about the artists involved.  Andy Tillison plays keyboards on it.  Matt Stevens plays guitar on it.  Nick Beggs and Colin Edwin play bass on it. NVD plays all of the drums. Our modern master of sound, Rob Aubrey, the Phill Brown of our day, engineered it.

[Correction: from Rob Aubrey.  My apologies for getting the credits and terms mixed up.  "Hi All, Actually I didn’t ENGINEER it as such…. I recorded the Drums with NDV and then everything else was Produced and Engineered by Robin… He Mixed the album at home and I was here in an advisory role, just giving a hand when he ran into problems or I felt things needed more work. Robin and I mastered the album together just a few Months ago on my studio system here (Pro Tools) using all of his original sessions so Robin could make adjustments to the overall dynamic and “tweak” individual sounds if necessary. I cannot take credit for much as Robin really is the genius here!"]

Then, of course, there’s the artist supreme, the writer, director, and producer of it all, Robin Armstrong. English wit, critic, musician, lyricist, father, husband, entrepreneur, and demigod of chronometry, Armstrong is one of the most interesting persons of our day and age. He’s already proven everything an artist should in his previous albums, especially in The Man Left in Space.

Armstrong is a driven man, and it’s impossible to think of him without thinking not only of perfectionism, but also of his insatiable desire to perfect a thing even more so. In terms of constitution, he is probably incapable of doing otherwise. We all benefit from his unrelenting drive.

On the latest album, CAPACITOR, Armstrong explores the Edwardian fascination with spiritualism, giving us not “steam punk” but what should be called “vacuum tube punk,” something quite different from that of either H.G. Wells or Bruce Sterling.

The statement “energy cannot be created or destroyed” appears in print, in word, and in song multiple times on CAPACITOR. If this is true, Armstrong asks through his characters and story, where does our energy—our soul—go after the body fails us? We are everywhere and in every time, he notes, surrounded by the ghosts of the dead. Even if we don’t personally believe in an afterlife, we see “what they left with us.”

Ghosts appear frequently on the album, as does a vaudevillian preacher and a spiritual medium. In the end, though, especially by the final two tracks, Armstrong is critiquing the rise and predominance of “the machine,” any gadget that mechanizes us, makes us less than human, and distracts or captures our very soul and very essence, thus diminishing our humanity.

The person, it seems, can never be fully an individual without body and soul, not in war with one another, but in healthy tension.

 

The Meaning of It All, Continued

Musically, CAPACITOR immerses us into perfection itself. See above for the musicians Armstrong has brought together. He’s obviously a creator of community and a leavenor of talent. He’s also within the prog tradition, with musical passages inspired by, indirectly, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Big Big Train, and The Tangent and, directly, The Beatles. Indeed, one of the most rousing moments musically comes in “The Reaper’s Song,” a song that, in large part, pays homage to THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR by the Beatles (1967).

The white car.  Original photography by Dan Armstrong.  Booklet art by Robin Armstrong.

The white car. Original photography by Dan Armstrong. Booklet art by Robin Armstrong.

Sitting in a station, waiting for a train to come

Frighten all the people, standing on the platform

Trying not to push them over

Trains are gonna crush them

Stupid little people

Stupid little people

Another track, “White Car,” has absolutely nothing to do with the unfinished fragment of the Yes song from DRAMA (1980). Yes’s song will have to continue in my soul as an unresolved enigma until the end of time.

 

A Masterpiece

It goes without stating (though, I will state it anyway!), the last several years have been not only amazing when it comes to rock, but they have also been, probably, the best years in the history of progressive rock.

2014 has been no different.

Please, however, don’t think of Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR as merely another Cosmograf release or as merely another prog rock release.

Of course, there is no such thing as “just another Cosmograf release,” though we might become a bit jaded when it comes to another “prog rock release.” There’s so much coming out at the moment, it would be understandable—if not forgivable—to take the historic moment for granted. Even with the somewhat overwhelming number of music cds appearing over the last several years, CAPACITOR is truly something special and, dare I use a word overused and misused for its sappiness, precious.

From my way of thinking, CAPACITOR is the best cd of 2014 and one of the best prog rock releases of all time. It is, at least this year, the one for all others to surpass. I very much look forward to those who embrace the challenge.

 

To pre-order for the June 2, 2014, release, please go here.

Progarchist and quasi-Kiwi Russell Clarke receives his copy and is quite elated.

Progarchist and quasi-Kiwi Russell Clarke receives his copy and is quite elated.

Cosmograf, CAPACITOR: Preorder Tomorrow, April 11.

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.

Stunning album cover. A progged-out version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

Master of all things Chronometric and Progometric, Robin Armstrong, has just announced that the new Cosmograf CD, CAPACITOR, will be available for pre-order tomorrow, Friday, April 11.

Progarchy’s advice: pre-order early and often.

Pre-order will be available through the Cosmograf website: http://www.cosmograf.com

To see the album trailer, watch below.

Cosmograf Trailer, “Capacitor”

Here She Comes: April 5 Progarchy News

Just when I thought spring might have sprung in Michigan, vernal verities hit hard. Upon arising from my heavy slumbers, I have looked out the window to discover there’s a fresh layer of snow upon everything. Old Tom was right: April is the cruelest month.

Some great things happening in the world of music, especially as interests the citizens of progarchy. So, in no order discernable to me:

Unearth-Album-Cover

Bassett, contemplating immensity.

John Bassett, Integrity’s Minstrel, continues to receive nothing but excellent reviews for his solo album, Unearth.  Not surprisingly.

Mischievous progger, Andy Tillison.

Mischievous progger, Andy Tillison.

Andy Tillison reports the first version of the new The Tangent album is done and will be released early next year by Insideout Music.

Also, don’t forget that Andy is selling much of his excellent back catalogue through his online website.  To purchase, go here: http://thetangent.org [navigate through a couple of pages; it's worth it]

Leah, Metal Maid.

Leah, Metal Maid.

Our own lovely metal maid, Leah McHenry, has just raised the full $25,000 of her Indiego campaign. And, even three days early of her goal. Congratulations to Leah! We’re extremely proud of her. And, of course, we’re looking forward to the followup to her spectacular Otherworld.

Mike Kershaw, Wakefield's progger.

Mike Kershaw, Wakefield’s progger.

The ever-interesting Mike Kershaw is about to release his next album.  We very much look forward to it as well.

Edited by everyone's favorite Master of Fate, Jerry Ewing.

Edited by everyone’s favorite Master of Fate, Jerry Ewing.

PROG magazine, edited by the incomparable Jerry Ewing, will now be distributed in physical form throughout North America.

cover

The Black Vines, heavy rockers, from the Sheffield area of England, have just released their second album, Return of the Splendid Bastards. It’s some great, great rock. To download or purchase the physical CD, go here: http://blackvines.bandcamp.com

Dr. Rachel Cohen, lead singer of The Reasoning.  Photo by Tim Hall.

Dr. Rachel Cohen, lead singer of The Reasoning. Photo by Tim Hall.

The Reasoning is offering some really nice bundles at their online webstore:

You may also have noticed that our website has been updated. We have had a clear-out, done a major restructure and completely rebuilt the shop. Rob, our ivory tickler, has done a splendid job and we here at Comet HQ are extremely grateful to him. You will find the new shop stocked to the hilt with a bunch of wonderful new discounted “bundles” plus new individual items and, of course, the usual shop fair. There may even be some copies of CDs that have not been available for a very long time (wink, wink). Your shopping experience is now going to be quicker AND simpler. Win! Have a look at what’s available and treat yourself… because you’re worth it.

To check out the bundles, go here: http://www.thereasoning.com/shop/

Lego Arjen.

Lego Arjen.

From a few hints offered, it appears that Arjen Lucassen is deep into his next project. His legions of fans can collectively sigh, “amen.”

Stunning album cover.  A progged version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.

Stunning album cover. A progged version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

The new Cosmograf, Capacitor, is done, and from the trailer, it looks nothing short of spectacular. Indeed, when it comes to watching this video, I might have an addiction problem. “Hello, my name is Brad Birzer, and I’m a Cosmografaholic.” Righteously ominous.  To watch (and you should, repeatedly), go here: http://progarchy.com/2014/04/01/capacitor-the-amazing-spirit-capture/

New progarchy editor, Craig Breaden.

New progarchy editor, Craig Breaden.

I’m very happy to announce that within the quasi-anarchical structure of progarchy, Craig Breaden has achieved the rank of editor! This comes with a Vorpal Blade and an additional 17 hit points. Craig has been a close friend of mine since 1990, and he first introduced me to some of the greatest music of the late 1960s and 1970s, especially to much of the best rock not found in what’s typically called progressive or new wave. From Spooky Tooth to Richard Thompson to Newspaperflyhunting and everything in between, Craig throws himself into reviewing, always revealing equal depths of intellect, humanity, and grace in his articles. He is a real treasure in the world of music. He’s also, importantly, a professional sound archivist, as well as a devoted father and husband. He’s a hard guy not to love and respect.

The elusive Nemo Dre.

The elusive Nemo Dre.

Nemo Dre finally revealed to me his real name.

 

One of Suzanne Vega's best albums, Nine Objects of Desire.

One of Suzanne Vega’s best albums, Nine Objects of Desire.

Burning Shed is now selling Suzanne Vega’s music. This is very cool and speaks well of both Vega and Burning Shed.

One of the best albums of all time, The Colour of Spring.

One of the best albums of all time, The Colour of Spring.

Finally, it’s April 5, International Talk Talk Day. http://progarchy.com/2013/04/05/here-she-comes-laughter-upon-her-lips-talk-talks-1986-masterpiece/  Make sure you listen to your favorite Talk Talk album today to celebrate.

 

Capacitor – The Amazing Spirit Capture

The trailer for the forthcoming Cosmograf album is on YouTube now!

The cast of musicians is mouthwatering, the cover art and promo video brilliant, the concept intriguing and the music itself, on this evidence, fabulous.

Cannot wait to get my hands on this…

Cosmograf News

cosmograf

One of our heroes, Robin Armstrong, just posted the following at Facebook:

Album update – It’s finished!, well very very nearly. Last night was spent holed up in Aubitt Studios with Rob Aubrey, working into the wee small hours putting the final mixes in place. Just final tweaks and then the final master next week. Expect some sort of pre-order info next week…. and of course the big reveal for the title and artwork.

Progarchists everywhere await this with eager enthusiasm.

Celebr8.3 News

Photo from PROG.

Photo from PROG.

Jerry Ewing’s PROG has a nice teaser about the forthcoming prog festival, Celeb8.3.  For our British and European readers especially.  The rest of us get to joy for you and sorrow for us!

Incredible lineup: Andy Tillison’s The Tangent, Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf, Matt Stevens’ The Fierce and the Dead, and Stu Nicholson’s Galahad.  Sheesh, like “old home week” at college.  Ok, feeling nothing but joy for my prog friends on the other side of the Atlantic, nothing but joy. . . .

http://www.progrockmag.com/news/celebr8-3-confirms-first-acts/

I’m not the-list-kind-of-guy but…

…nevertheless I have done my homework and now will present my list of the best albums from this absolutely fantastic year of prog! :) I mean 2012 and 2013 have been excellent years both of them but 2013 has been special. I think we can agree on that even though our personal lists may differ a bit. Not to be spoiling too much, but the number one was a no-brainer really, but then it was extremely hard to distinguish between albums 2 to 6. These are five albums that actually can interchange their positions depending on what kind of day it is for me. :) This is how it all ended up today at least. So off we go!

10. Camelias Garden – You Have A Chance

You Have A Chance

Lovely debut album by this Italian band. Folky prog a bit in the vein of Harmonium.

9. Spock’s Beard – Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep

sb

Well, who would have thought that my favourite SB-album would be the one without both Neal and Nick? But so it is!

8. Haken – The Mountain

haken1

Rawk’n’rawl and some real quirkiness in a fine mix! Will always remember sitting in Mr Ian Greatorex’s listening room with high end stereo equipment, giving this a first listen…with a Big Big Beer in my hand.

7. Lifesigns – Lifesigns

Lifesigns CD (2)

After feeling it was a bit “meh” to start with this lush album has grown and grown. Some really beautiful songs here!

6. The Tangent – Le Sacre du Travail

tangent 2013 cover

Mr Andy Tillison’s magnum opus to date! Greatness! And with Gavin on drums and Jonas on bass, what can possibly go wrong?

5. Cosmograf – The Man Left In Space

cosmograf

Superb album by Robin Armstrong’s brainchild, comsograf! It’s one of those you just have to listen to from beginning to end totally undisturbed. 

4. Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 1

Himlabacken Vol. 1

I can’t resist this band’s music! It always makes me so very happy and warm inside! Lovely peeps in the band as well!

3. The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose

"Pure Flower Kings, pure prog and Kingly epic."

Best TFK album since Space Revolver I dare say. So glad they’re back and sounding so fresch and on their toes again!

2. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Raven That Refused to Sing

What can I say? It’s a gorgeous album!

1. Big Big Train – English Electric: Full Power

Progarchy Best Packaging, 2013: Big Big Train, English Electric Full Power.

Well, nobody’s probably really surprised about this being my number one of 2013. :D It’s a stunner and will be for many years to come! It’s the best album of any genre for me this year. Without competition.

So…that’s it folks. Outside my list of Top 10 you can find some that are very fine albums and would have made any Top 10 from any other year before 2012. Vienna Circle – Silhouette Moon, Days Between Stations – In Extremis, Johannes Luley – Tales From The Sheepfather’s Grove and Shinebacks fine album Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed (added 20130103) are examples of albums bubbling just beneath position number 10. Then we find albums that I haven’t found the time, motivation or curiousness to listen to more than very casually at the best. Riverside, Airbag, Fish, Nemo, Maschine etc are among those bands or artists that I haven’t given proper attention as of yet.

Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year everyone!

PS. Best prog-related and most fun and interesting experience of the year: Big Big Weekend 14-15 September in Winchester and Southampton!

2013 – The Pax Progorama

 Image

While “pax” literally translates as peace, people generally use the term “Pax Romana” to refer to a golden age of Imperial Rome.  Well, if that’s the case, then the year 2013 has left no doubt that we are in another golden age for progressive rock.

Now, you will have excuse me a bit for the “Progorama” thing in the title, but that’s the closest thing to alliteration that came to mind.  “Pax Progtopia” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.  There were a few other ideas I had, and none of them were very good … “Pax Progorama” worked the best, ok?  Hyphens added upon request.

The other question is this – do I have the best, most appropriate historical metaphor?  Could the current era be just as well described as a prog renaissance?  Probably.  We could liken the 1970’s as the original Pax Prog-O-Rama … the punk rockers as the barbarians who finally toppled a weakening empire … the 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Dark Ages (with of course, the neo-proggers being the Monks/Byzantines that preserved the flame of Western Civilization) … the rise of the Internet being equivalent to the Gutenberg printing press … and the late-1990’s and beyond representing the Renaissance and the spreading of new ideas, knowledge, and in our case here – art.  Maybe I should go back and rewrite the beginning of this post.  Then again, as Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber says …. naaaaahh (start at the point about where 1:00 minute remains …).

No matter what metaphor you choose, the resulting conclusion is still the same: Anno Domini 2013 was an incredible year for progressive rock, quite possibly the best ever.  I don’t say that lightly.  This year also gives weight to the opinion (mine, anyway) that our current Golden Age of prog has surpassed the previous one – and I don’t say that lightly, either.  The past few years, and 2013 in particular, have been nothing short of an embarrassment of riches for prog lovers.  Just how good was 2013?  Let’s take a look. Read the rest of this entry

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