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ODE TO ECHO: The Confidence of Glass Hammer

[A review of Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO (Sound Resources, 2014).  Please excuse any typos.  I composed this on my ipad while waiting for a very, very delayed flight at the Detroit airport.]

Image

For Glass Hammer, ODE TO ECHO means two things. First, and vitally, it’s a reference to a story of antiquity by Heroicus and dealing with the greatest of warriors, Achilles. Second, it’s a tribute to two decades of success as a band.

In every way, this album is packed with brilliance, beauty, and treats around every corner.

One of the most noticeable features of Glass Hammer’s latest, ODE TO ECHO, is its sheer diversity of styles and moods. Having four lead vocalists and three backup ones adds significantly to this, and it provides a wonderful listening experience. Over the course of eight songs, Babb and Schendel provide a journey into the fantastic and mythic. One could never find a dull moment here, even if one tried.

The second most noticeable aspect of the album is its self-assuredness. Progging since the early 1990s and rocking since the early 1980s, Babb and Schendel have every right to be confident. Creating Glass Hammer, a project that has always been self supporting, self sustaining, and impressively profitable, has proven significant not only for the history of American rock but, critically, for third-wave prog overall. These two geniuses emerged on the prog scene at the moment the genre was, almost certainly, at its nadir of popularity and influence. Through immense and never faltering talent, entrepreneurial initiative, and intense tenacity, Glass Hammer has reshaped much of the genre over the past two decades.

In almost every way, ODE TO ECHO, is a tribute and—musically—an autobiographical statement.

A third aspect of the album, and intimately connected to the second aspect, is Glass Hammer’s willingness to innovate as well as to borrow. Many reviewers have criticized the band for being too Yes-like. Babb and Schendel are nothing if not feisty, and such criticisms only fuel their desire to do whatever they want. If they want to reference Yes, they do so. If they want to reference Genesis, they do this as well. If they simply want to try something new, they do this, too! It’s endearing, frankly, contrarian, and very American. Hence, at a few points, this album references Yes from Going for the One as well as Yes from Magnification. At other points, it references Kansas (having David Ragsdale as a guest musician doesn’t hurt!). The Beatles creep in at points, too. Mostly, though, the album reveals the love Babb and Schendel bring to the art of music.

Frankly, I’m relieved Glass Hammer followed up their masterpiece, PERILOUS, with ODE TO ECHO. PERILOUS was so good and so mysterious as well as so profoundly moving that it would be most difficult for any band to follow. By moving away from a single story and embracing diversity of vocals and music styles, Babb and Schendel very successfully create a totally different kind of masterpiece.

While this is probably heresy in some circles, I find Jon Davison’s vocals fine but not glorious. I much prefer, for example, the vocals of a David Longdon, a Leah McHenry, a Sam Healy, a Jan-Henrik Ohme, or a Andy Tillison. Davison’s voice just comes across a little too fey at times. But, Susie Bogdanowicz? Be still my beating heart. She can sing, and she can sing with the absolute best of them. Indeed (and again I’m on possibly heretical ground), her version of Yes’s “South Side of the Sky” is better than the original. That she’s as gorgeous on the outside as she is in her vocals, of course, doesn’t hurt. But, once you’ve heard her vocals, you can’t imagine her as anything other than a truly beautiful person, nearly angelic.

Carl Groves and Walter Moore have much to offer as well, as do the backing vocalists.

No review of this album would be even close to complete without a reference to the actual playing. Babb and Schendel are certainly at their best. Indeed, their vast experience lends itself not to complacency but to the drive to perform better than ever. I have a feeling, these two do nothing half way. If a thing is to be done, it is to be done well. And, indeed, very, very well. I must also note the sonic excellence of the new drummer, Aaron Raulston. Sheesh, I’ve not heard anyone this good since Neil Peart and Nick D’Virgilio. Wow is all I can write. This guy will make his mark in the rock world, to be sure.

2014 has already proven to be a year every bit as good as 2012 and 2013, though we’re only in the fourth month. Whatever you do, do NOT bypass this album. ODE TO ECHO is not just great prog, it’s brilliant and shimmering Glass Hammer. Considering Glass Hammer never does anything that is not at the highest of standards, this is saying something.

Norse Macabre: Gazpacho’s DEMON

gazpacho_demon_2014[A review of Gazpacho, DEMON (Kscope, 2014—digibook edition).  Lyrics by Thomas Andersen and Jan-Henrik Ohme.   Please forgive any typos.  I composed this on my iPad in an airport waiting area.]

Everyone’s favorite artists from Norway have released an eighth studio album, two years in the making. And, not shockingly, it’s brilliant, stunning, and ingenious. If NIGHT is the Poetic Edda of modern progressive rock, DEMON is the Prose Edda.

Our own progarchist editor, Craig Breaden, has already offered his always excellent thoughts on the album, but I can’t let a Gazpacho release go by without also discussing it. So, please consider this review a supplement to Craig’s, certainly not a replacement.

As with every Gazpacho release, on DEMON, Jan-Henrik Ohme’s vocals are immaculate, and Thomas Andersen’s and Ohme’s lyrics reach toward the highest of the high, the most beautiful of the most beautiful.

As with all of seven of their previous albums, on DEMON, the notes linger in a Mark Hollis fashion, melodies emerge through punctuated walls of sound, Ohme’s vocals soar in an introspective aural empire, every instrument is played with loving perfection and always contributes as a sonic res publica. One can find guitar, base, drums, and keyboards here. But, strings, accordions, umpa brass, and Eastern European folks instruments abound as well. Old phonographs spurt statically operatic voices, dinner party crowds murmur, wind howls, and the natural elements create a wash of color in the background, all adding to a perfectly late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century haunting. Though frightening, DEMON’s story reflects an eerie Ray Bradbury horror rather than an H.P. Lovecraftian terrifying one.

It would be hard to find a band in 2014 more suited to long epics than Gazpacho. Really, the band’s only serious rival would be Ayreon. Here, I exclude bands such as Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer, as they rather happily create both concept albums and non-concept albums. Ever since NIGHT, though, Gazpacho has created concept after concept: NIGHT (a dream); TICK TOCK (a journey and escape): MISSA ANTROPOS (a pagan Mass); and MARCH OF GHOSTS (a series of short stories). The last especially offers a thematic prologue to DEMON.

While Ayreon reflects a deep knowledge and a loving embrace of science fiction and is close to infinity in its longing expansiveness, Gazpacho creates a fantastic and fabulist aura of quiet darkness and asks us to reflect on ourselves and our ancestors (our ghosts).

In a previous post here at progarchy, I noted that Gazpacho produces what might be called Eddic prog. DEMON only confirms that. Edda is a word that has no definite origins. It’s seemingly neither of Germanic or Latin origin, yet it appears as a vital word in Medieval Scandinavia. In our modern times, we attach it to the work of Snorri Snurlson. Not quite a Saga (also a perfected art form in Scandinavia), an Edda seems, by best definition, to be an “utterance of the soul.” Really, nothing could better describe the lyrics, the vocals, and the music of Gazpacho.

While I have no intimate knowledge of the band (though J-H Ohme is quite gracious on Facebook in answering my pesky questions and putting up with my innumerable tags of him), I suspect that DEMON is meant to be a second or third chapter in a long line of stories dealing with the supernatural. It began either with MISSA ANTROPOS (the calling of the Muses into this world) or with MARCH OF GHOSTS. The latter, though, seems more of a follow-up rather than a beginning. MISSA ANTROPOS certainly has the makings of a prologue or opening chapter to a long novel. If I could offer Gazpacho one piece of advice, it would be this: make the next album about Scandinavia. Images of Sigurd (baptized St. Michael after Christian evangelists appeared), the gods and heroes of the Seeress’s prophecy of Ragnorak, and the modern works of Sigrid Unset would all serve to continue this story so imaginatively begun by Gazpacho.. Imagine the use of traditional Scandinavia folk music (which bled readily from the pagan into the Christian/Lutheran), melodies, and instruments; and the imagery of Nordic prowess, AllThings, rune stones, and the Stave churches. My wannabe Viking heart swells just thinking about the possibilities.

Many reviewers have compared Gazpacho’s music to Radiohead or Sigur Ros, but I don’t hear that. If anything, Gazpacho offers a much more energetic vision first expressed by Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene in 1988’s SPIRIT OF EDEN and 1991’s LAUGHING STOCK. Yet, these comparisons are inadequate. Gazpacho, as with all great bands and artists, is at once backward looking, inward looking, and forward looking. Rarely, however, do artists display the kind of confidence that this band so joyously does. Gazpacho is its own band and never a mimicry of another band. They may very well build on the music of Hollis and Friese-Greene, but they have taken it in directions that Talk Talk never could or would.

No, Gazpacho is its own. Its own beauty, its own excellence, and its own genius. Long may they pursue goodness, truth, and beauty, even while examining the horrors of the macabre.

Mike Kershaw’s new album, ICE AGE, arriving soon

Mike Kershaw released the artwork for his forthcoming album, ICE AGE, today.  It looks incredible.

ice age kershaw

To pre-order, go to Kershaw’s band camp page: http://mikekershaw.bandcamp.com

New Reasoning Announced

Oh boy, what a great day for prog–news from Cosmograf, Anathema, Mike Kershaw, and, now, The Reasoning.  The Cohens and Co. are pretty freaking amazing.

new reasoning album

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”

Using Available Light: The Skaldic Musings of Greg Spawton  

The cast.

The cast.

A review of “The Underfall Yard” from The Underfall Yard by Big Big Train (English Electric, 2009).  Song and words by Greg Spawton.  Additionally: David Longdon, vocals and vocal arrangements; Dave Gregory, guitars; Nick D’Virgilio, drums; Andy Poole, bass and keyboards; and [see image on right for a full list]

*****

As much I love albums, I’m always looking for that perfect song. The song that longs to linger in our souls after we’ve heard its last notes. The song that cries to the heavens in triumph, praise, and rage. The song that hovers over that second away from eternity, rooted in the human condition, but reaching for timelessness.

In my first two pieces of this series, I looked at Rush’s “Natural Science” (1980) and The Tangent’s “Where Are They Now” (2009)? In this article, I turn to none other than a well-recognized masterpiece, a (perhaps, THE) cornerstone of third-wave prog, “The Underfall Yard” (2009) by Big Big Train. It originally appeared at the final track of Big Big Train’s 2009 album of the same name, the first to feature the vocals of the incomparable David Longdon.

Six seconds short of twenty-three minutes in length, “The Underfall Yard” is epic in every sense of the meaning of the word. I once gave it to a non-prog friend of mine as an introduction to the genre. He liked it (really, who couldn’t?), but he also joked, “Brad, when I started the song, I didn’t realize I’d have to miss dinner to finish it.”

The lyrics of the song reveal its scope best:

Using available light

He could still see far skies,

Deep time

Beyond, above, and yet below the far skies rests (not contentedly) deep time. Indeed, given the song, one must imagine deep time as equal parts restless but also confident in its restlessness, sure of itself even in its transitions.

Always a superb lyricist, Spawton reveals his most intimate and poetic sense in this song overall. The words are at once hopeful and melancholic, the piece as a whole trapped in a slowly shifting twilight. The loss is of England’s entrepreneurial and industrial moments of the interwar era, the parents Edwardian, but the children Georgian.

As one stands with Spawton, watching this scene fade in golden and royal hues, he might just as readily be standing with King Alfred hopeful against heathen men as hairy as sin; with Harold of Hastings, tilting against a bastard’s armies; or with Winston Churchill, toiling and sweating against those would rend idyllic places such Coventry with insidious and inhumane progress.

Spawton’s words endlessly capture that which is always true but never quite obvious to all at all times.

The opening moments of the song move from an earnest guitar into a driving and equally earnest interplay of bass and drums, Gregory, D’Virgilio, Poole, and Spawton weaving something both tribal and civilized. More guitars appear, jutting and jetting. Strings emerge as if from the land itself. At 1:45, David Longdon’s voice enters into the art itself with the necessary pitch, the perfect lilt and quaver, and a resonant meaning. If Spawton is coming from sacred soil, Longdon is coming from the heavens, thus allowing the horizon and sky to meet in an infinite moment.

Almost uniquely among singers, Longdon possesses both assuredness and humility in all of his vocal arrangements, but none more so than in this song. While his voice is the voice of a man, it also is the voice of a chorus of men, a plea for generations.

Chasing a dream of the west

Made with iron and stone

Man, in Spawton’s vision, if armed with genius and integrity, reshapes the land, not in man’s image, but in the sacramental, Adamic way had things in Eden not soured.

These are old hills that stand in the way

breaking the line.

It came out of the storm,

out of the sea

to the permanent way

Using just available light,

he could still see far.

Even in his broken state, some men–seers, prophets, bards, skalds, poets and prog rockers–can see beyond the immediate, toward that which is far and that which is deep. Of all creatures, they alone can imagine the heights and the depths of existence.

In Spawton’s vision, England becomes not just another place on this earth, but a place sacred, sacred because man has recreated nature, not through domination, but through creative understanding, the soul and the intellect of each in harmony, not tension.

One is reminded of Spawton’s counterpart in the world of poetry, T.S. Eliot.

A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

–T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding

IMG_0001 - Version 3Even the timeless moment, though, can not be seen or understood forever. Timeless moments—the light falling on a secluded chapel—lasts only as long as man knows to look for it. As with all things of beauty, truth, and goodness, it is fleeing, at least through our abilities to perceive, incorporate, and understand.

Roofless engine houses

distant hills like bookends

frame electrical storms

moving out to sea

away from England.

Spawton’s words and Longdon’s voice combine to make the above lyrics not only the most moving parts of the song, but combine to make one of the most moving parts of any song in the rock era.

I could never even count how many times I’ve listened to this song over the last five years. Every time, my stomach drops and my heart and soul swell when I hear this. Every single time.

And, yet, despite the loss of the thing itself, the moment in all of the revelation of its glory, Spawton knows—with the greatest thinkers of the western tradition—that memory can comfort us. Perhaps memory alone.

Parting the land

with the mark of man,

the permanent way,

Using just available light,

he could still see far.

The imprint is true. It always exists. We, however, must choose to remember. When we do, the world becomes just a little brighter. Using just available light.

And, thus, Big Big Train reveals its ultimate contribution to the world of art. Somethings are worth remembering, whatever the cost, and memory itself is a precious and delicate thing beyond any cost.

Far skies, deep time.

IMG_0001

Kscope Rocks

A huge thanks to Johnny and Sarah of Kscope for being so gracious in reaching out to and dealing with progarchy.com.  Faith in the prog world very much restored.

–Brad, ed.kscope

Credit Where Credit is Due: Kscope Graciously Responds

kscopeSo, after my longish and personal but open letter to Kscope yesterday, I received a very nice email from Snapper/Kscope.  Credit where credit is due.

Thank you, Kscope.  Not to be too dramatic (or soap operaish), but I’m really pleased to receive a response.  Especially since I didn’t expect one.

Yours, Brad

P.S.  I removed the original post.

John Bassett’s Video of “Comedian”

Brilliant and creepy.  Creepily brilliant.  Brilliantly creepy.  Enjoy.

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.

 

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