Dear Citizens of the anarcho-Republic of Progarchy,
As some of you might know, in addition to editing this site, I also pretend to be a professor and author during the day. I’m currently working on a book on the history of dystopias (and dystopic ideas) in fiction, film, and music. I’m trying to compile a list of dystopian rock albums. Here’s what I’ve come up with. If, in the comments section, you’d like to make suggestions of things I’ve missed–PLEASE do so! I would be exceedingly grateful!
Rush, Clockwork Angels
The entire Ayreon series
Arjen Lucassen, Life in the New Real
The Tangent, Not as Good as the Book
Pink Floyd, Animals
Pink Floyd, The Wall
Gary Numan, “Down in the Park”
Radiohead, Kid A
A few songs by Muse, Oingo Boingo, Coheed and Cambria
Flower Kings, Desolation Rose
Porcupine Tree, Fear of a Blank Planet
Yes, “Machine Messiah”
A review of Scorch by the Tin Spirits (Esoteric Records, 2014; officially released on September 15).
8 Tracks: Carnivore; Summer Now; Old Hands; Binary Man; Little Eyes; Wrapped and Tied; She Moves Among Us; and Garden State.
The Tin Spirits are: Dave Gregory (guitar); Mark Kilminster (bass and lead vocals); Daniel Steinhardt (guitar, vocals); and Doug Mussard (drums and vocals). You can visit the band at: http://tinspirits.co.uk
Highest recommendation. A must own for any lover of music.
A match explodes into flame, and so it begins.
The opening song, an instrumental, possesses the infectious personality of the best of post-Hackett Genesis, especially with “Turn It On Again” and “Abacab.”
Armed with driving bass, soulful guitar, and persistent drums, “Carnivore” moves the listener rapidly into an unknown future, and it does so without a trace of trepidation. And, yet, it contains a voluptuous kind of beauty.
This description applies specifically to the first of the eight tracks, but it could just as easily apply to much of the album. However one describes Scorch, the Tin Spirits are back, and I, for one, thank the good Lord. These guys are absolutely brilliant, and they seem to be even more so than they were with their first album, Wired to Earth.
This is no feint praise.
That album, Wired to Earth, hit me rather hard when it first came out. As far as I know, I was the first American to own and review a copy. I’m rather proud of this. Greg Spawton, maestro of Big Big Train, had recommended it on his own blog, noting it was a guitar kind of prog.
And, so it was.
Beginning with a somewhat airy instrumental and having a total of only five tracks, Wired to Earth called for full immersion. From airy, it moved quickly to hyper and heavy, then to 1974 Genesis, then to a gut-wrenchingly beautiful Allman Brothers style epic, concluding with a great guitar-pop rocker in the style of Nebraskan Matthew Sweet.
Even after three years of listening to the album, I’ve never tired of it. I play it at least weekly, and, in fact, the entire Birzer family loves it.
Following the intensity of “Carnivore” on Scorch, the second track, “Summer Now” gently guides the listener into a hypnotic state. Most likely, every reader of progarchy has already watched the first video from the album, and you’ve heard and seen what Tin Spirits is capable of. The video, of course, is gorgeous and psychedelic in a late 1980’s Tears for Fears kind of way. All four members look as though they’re having a blast, and Mark (vocalist and bassist) looks surprisingly GQ and non-prog! Guitar god Dave Gregory, who never seems to age, offers what is arguably the most tasteful guitar solo of the last decade. In every way, the Tin Spirits have captured the essence of summer with this song.
I’m not exactly sure about what’s going on with the cover (see above). It looks as though two bolts of lightning have fried some poor guy. It’s also possible the guy is shooting bolts of lightning from his body in an explosion of energy. Maybe this is a kind of a “glass half empty” or “glass half full” thing.
With the title, Scorch, though, I suspect that Icarus flew too close to the sun. Gods will be gods, and they generally don’t like man to upstage them. As Worf once explained, the Klingons found their gods more trouble than they were worth, and so they killed them. I must admit, as I look at the cover of Scorch, I’m hopeful for Icarus, siding more than a bit with the Klingons on this issue.
The interior artwork of the CD booklet flows easily from psychedelic to pyrodelic, the flowers of the first pages having become nothing more than swirled outlines of flame by the end.
I choose to believe that through the Tin Spirits, Icarus has finally prevailed against the gods.
Ok, back to the review. After all, shouldn’t a review of a prog album have an interlude?
The third track, “Old Hands,” begins deceptively. Starting as a somewhat simple World Party-like pop song, it suddenly morphs into a rather fulsome puzzle about deceptions and realities. The interplay of drums and bass especially stand out on the track.
Returning to the early 1980’s Genesis-like thrumming of “Carnivore,” “Binary Man” simply rocks. Perfectly placed on the album, “Binary Man” reveals not only the excellence of each member of the band as an individual performer, but it also highlights the power of Kilminster’s voice. “Your hypocrisy is deafening,” Kilminster laments.
“Little Eyes” is another beautiful song in the vein of “Summer Now.” Thematically, it deals with fortitude, and the guitar work on it fits wonderfully.
Grungy, angsty guitars explode at the beginning of the sixth track, “Wrapped and Tied.” The entire song has the feel of being caught in a tornado in the intial stages of its formation.
Track seven, “She Moves Among Us,” brings the listener back to the indescribable beauty of a flowering meadow. Imagine a Steve Howe solo without the overbearing flashiness, and you have “She Moves Among Us.” The whole piece whispers “taste.” As the song is an instrumental, we’ll probably never know who “she” is. But, if the guitar matches her elegance, I’m in love.
At a little over fifteen minutes in length, the eighth and final song, “Garden State,” is epic. But, it’s certainly not the length that makes this so utterly brilliant. Every aspect of the Tin Spirits comes to the fore in this finale. The song effortlessly flows from moment to moment, all parts of a coherent and cohesive whole, held together by four instruments and a voice.
Indeed, from confidence to concern to anxiety to a dreamlike state to determination and, finally, back to confidence, Kilminster again proves his sheer skill as a vocalist. There’s not a single thing about this album I could criticize, as it’s, frankly, a perfect piece of music. Still, if some one forced me, I could state with only minor reluctance that “Garden State” alone makes this album worthwhile. It is a song that good and that powerful. This epic even ends with an homage to Elton John and Bernie Talpin and a “Funeral for a Friend.”
A perfect end to a perfect album. Were I grading it, I’d give in an A+.
A few years ago, I proudly proclaimed Dave Gregory one of the three greatest living guitarists. This album only affirms my rather bold statement. Holy Moses. What an absolute delight. I also proclaimed the lyricists of Tin Spirits to be in the line of Keats, Wilde, and Yeats. And, again, my declaration has proven true. Again, an absolute delight.
Fly, Icarus. Fly.
A review of Salander, “STENDEC” (2014, independent release). Tracks: Pearls Upon a Crown; Book of Lies; Ever After; Hypothesis 11/8; Situation Disorientation; Controlled Flight Into Terrain; and Zeitgeist. Total time: 65 minutes. Recommendation: HIGHEST; MUST OWN
From the moment I first heard “CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT” by Salander, I knew I not only loved the music, but I also knew I would love the musicians as well.
And, so it came to pass.
A rather significant part of my 2014 has been the sheer joy of getting to know Dave Smith, one of the two Daves who make up Salander. Sadly, I’ve not had the chance to get to know Dave Curnow, the other Dave, but I trust the judgment of the first Dave. So, per my respect of Dave, Dave must also be great.
Ok, now I’m getting confused.
There are a thousand things to appreciate about Salander. First, the level of professional artistry is as good as it gets. The two Daves not only play each of the instruments on the album, they do so with elegance and perfectionism.
Second, the lyrics move and flow powerfully as an integral part of the entire art. These are not add ons, nor are they the rock equivalent of an “um” or an “err”: “baby, baby.” No, these are fine, deep, thoughtful words integrated with the notes and the lines.
Salander and the two Daves: Words, notes, lines.
Third, Salander are willing to linger. That is, they take their time to build their art, to build anticipation, and to explore an idea. Rushed, hurried, and superficial are not descriptions applicable to anything this extraordinary band does.
Beginning with Spirit of Eden-esque sounds of nature, cries, pings, wind, and waves, the opening track, “Pearls Upon a Crown,” lingers and hovers for almost six full minutes. Very Talk Talkish, it also reminds me of the best of Pure Reason Revolution and Spiritualized. Space rock atmospherics at its best. A gorgeous Gilmour-like guitar comes at 2.59 into the music, but no vocals emerge until 5.57.
The words open with a Socratic moment: “Can you feel the power.” Essentially, the Daves ask, how far can you allow your imagination to soar? And, will you trust your deepest and best part to another?
Regardless of style, Salander has invited you into their art. The choice to enter is yours. But, once you’ve accepted, there’s no turning back. Indeed, no mere sprinkling or christening here. They demand full immersion.
The second track, a bitter folkish wall of sound tale of deception, is as epic as the first track. At 11 minutes, “The Book of Lies” again shows Salander at its most diverse and epic.
The third track, a much sweeter (or so it seems, musically) take on life and music, “Ever After,” takes us back to the end of “Pearls.” Who do you trust, and how far are you willing to trust that person with what matters most to you?
Not surprisingly given its title, “Hypothesis 11/8,” the fourth track is instrumental and serves as the perfect interlude for this rather heavy album. The first minute has a Vangelis feel to it, and it could certainly serve as the cinematic soundscape to much of Blade Runner. The final three minutes of the four-minute track allow the two Daves to demonstrate their excellence at drums, bass, and guitar. This is really prog at its finest. Listening to this track for the twentieth time or so, I’m still reminded of Cosmograf in terms of expertise and craft.
“Situation disorientation,” the fifth track, follows the interlude with more atmospherics slowly resolving into an angsty and contemplative space rock song, pulsating and pounding by its end. The lyrics swirl around a love affair gone terribly wrong, with the protagonist plagued with guilt, pride, and doubt.
The longest song of the album, “Controlled Flight Into Terrain,” comes in at just under fourteen minutes. The Daves have broken it into four sections, the name of the album coming from section three, STENDEC. Interestingly enough, STENDEC was the last word coming from a Chilean plane that mysteriously disappeared in 1947. Over the last seventy years, STENDEC has become synonymous with UFO abduction. The story and riddle of the word fits perfectly with the themes of the album: confusion, gravitas, and loss. Section III, STENDEC, is perfectly creepy, spooky, and claustrophobic. It gives me chills with every listen.
The album concludes with “Zeitgeist,” a tune that could have come out of the best of rock’s moment of New Wave in the early 1980s and the walls of sound of the end of that decade. As with Salander songs, the vocals are captivating, demanding the full attention of the listener. The song’s lyrics deal with the mystery of time and the loss of the past without surety of the future. Rather brilliantly, Salander presents a wall of sound, full of anxiety, with heavy but tasteful guitar and a lush angelic background soundscape. Of all the songs here, this is the most reminiscent of the best of their first album.
I’ve had a copy of STENDEC for almost two months, and I’m sorry I’ve not had the chance to review it before now. But, it’s an incredibly important album, and it deserves as much attention as possible, inside and outside of the prog community. Without question, this is one of the best albums of the year. No person who loves prog or music should not include this in her or his collection. Certainly, a must own.
STENDEC also caught me by surprise, coming out so closely following the release of CRASH COURSE. I gave CRASH COURSE my highest recommendation. Amazingly enough, STENDEC is even better, as it’s even deeper and more coherent as an album. Even after 20 or so listens, I’m still stunned by its excellence and the ability to draw me into and immerse myself in the album. While I don’t want to seem greedy, it would be an understatement to state: I can’t wait to see what album three will bring.
News from a favorite band, FRACTAL MIRROR:
Our second album, Garden of Ghosts is being co-produced by Brett Kull and Fractal Mirror. We expect to release it in October/November 2014. Early buzz from friends and other musicians around the studio has been great!
- We will start a pre-order campaign in early September with an immediate download of one of the album’s tracks available at the time of the order.
- We also have been filming some of the recordings and we will be posting clips on our Facebook page.
The album is also being mixed by Brett, who has graciously added acoustic and electric guitars and is responsible for many of the background/harmony vocals. We can tell you that with Brett’s assistance the music sounds great (to us at least!) and we are excited to get to the finish line. There will also be special guest appearances by Larry Fast, Don Fast on guitar and sitar, Jacque Varsalona, and Charlotte Koperdraat on background vocals, with a special appearance by the Echolyn choir.
A brief history:
The origins of Fractal Mirror can be traced back to the mid-eighties when three friends from Amsterdam started to make music together influenced by bands from the famous 4AD label and artists like David Sylvian and Japan. At the same time a new wave of progressive rock was expanding its listening audience with bands like IQ, Pendragon, Twelfth Night, Marillion and Pallas but especially the virtually unknown Canadian band Terraced Garden having an influence on their writing.
Ed and Leo continued making music together into the 21st century, focusing on the Alternative or Progressive audience. They met their drummer and lyricist via the Big Big Train site and met the challenge of transatlantic recording and communications with the release of Strange Attractors to very positive reviews. Their music is song based and there are no long instrumental passages or difficult time signatures. The music has a dark, raw edge and they often use the Mellotron. In March 2014 Fractal Mirror signed a deal with Third Contact, a record label owned by Larry Fast (Synergy/Peter Gabriel). They released the physical album in US and Canada and digitally worldwide on March 18 2014.
For Garden of Ghosts, Frank wrote most of the lyrics while traveling and sent them over to Leo/Ed, who then write the music. Our ability to work together remotely has evolved, as has our music and recording skills. Garden of Ghosts will contain a full lyrics booklet and an explanation of the songs, which focus on how our memories evolve over time, how we connect and relate to each other in this new digital world.
“Fractal Mirror have made a strong opening statement with a fine combination of upbeat, crafted pop rock songs nicely offset by the darker, melancholic and somber pieces. An album to return to often…” Bob Mulvey of The Progressive Aspect, UK
“One might call it New Wave/prog or alt rock/prog. I can, however, state unequivocally, it’s gorgeous, stunning, moody, intense, brooding, uplifting, inspiring.” Brad Birzer, Progarchy
“How do these guys manage to sounds so accessible yet so critically hypnotizing? “ Lady Obscure,
“Fractal Mirror gives the mid-tempo rock bittersweet without instrumental showboating , recalling much REM and Bowie, sometimes with touches of the Kinks. MusicSphere (France)
August 11, 2014
Well, I admit it. Freely admit it. I was more than wrong.
Last week, I was pretty much banging my head on the wall trying to get the new PROG iPad app to work. Despite following the instructions, I just couldn’t get the thing to work. By the way, for those of you who know me personally, you won’t be surprised that 1) I couldn’t get it to work; and 2) I was frustrated.
Strangely enough, some technology comes to me immediately, and I can flow gracefully through, with, and around it. Other technology confounds me and makes me feel like a total idiot. Generally, I get along well with computers, but, equally, I can’t figure out cell phones worth a . . . well, you get the idea.
Part of my frustration came from the obvious fact that PROG is my favorite magazine, and I love basically everything that Jerry Ewing does. So, I wanted my PROG!
After some very kind help from Ally at TeamRock this mornin, I was able to get my first new, improved, and enhanced issue of PROG.
And, holy schnikees, was it worth the wait. Using the same format as CLASSIC ROCK, the new PROG app allows for deep reading, support for hunting through the maze of web information surrounding a band or album, and, graphically, jumps off the page of the iPad. In other words, TeamRock has figured out what most traditional publishers still don’t understand—how to explore and utilize the possibilities of the iPad to their very limits. Good for them. And, great for us.
So, I didn’t get immediate gratification last week. I am now more than satiated. Thank you, Jerry and Ally. Thank you very, very much.
My faith is restored. Yours, Brad
Sanctuary is the fulfillment of a lifetime’s dream and ambition in music Rob Reed has held since first hearing Tubular Bells in 1973 at the age of seven. Last year, he decided to focus his abilities on creating his own one-man project.
The album is played, produced, mixed and engineered by Reed and he’s brought in Oldfield collaborators Tom Newman and Simon Heyworth, who respectively co-produced and mastered the new work.
Reed learned to play all the instruments used on the record – grand piano, guitars, bass, mandolin, glockenspiel, vibraphone, marimba, timpani, banjo, recorders, organ – and… tubular bells ! The Synergy Vocals choir, singer Anghared Brinn and some extra percussion by Tom Newman completed the picture.
Rob says: “I wanted to play all the instruments, and for them all to be real – no synthesisers. The next four weeks were a bit of a blur as the music just came out. It turned out to be the most enjoyable album I’ve made.” Conscious of the need to be inspired by Mike Oldfield’s iconic album, rather than just copying it, Reed adds “I worked hard to make the melodies stand on their own.”
And the result has reaped dividends, with Rob noting Heyworth’s reactions: “He told me that when he heard it, he closed his eyes and he was back in Manor Studios in 1973.”
Rob is hopeful that the two-part piece can be performed live with a 12-piece band soon.
Sanctuary was released on July 21 via Tigermoth Records on CD and DVD 5.1. A 180g vinyl is available via Plane Groovy, and each copy comes with a download coupon.
In August 2010, Prog Sphere started a compilation series called Progstravaganza. Almost four years later, with 19 released editions (the 20th part will be released by the end of July), with over 430 bands and more than 50,000 downloads, Prog Sphere is compiling the first physical edition of the series.
Prog Sphere invites unsigned bands from all around the world to take part on the physical Progstravaganza edition. In addition to the feature on the sampler, the selected bands will receive special treatment on Prog Sphere’s main website through interviews, reviews, special articles, podcasts, radio features, lyric/photo videos, streamings, advertisements and more, with exposure of 2M views per month. The special addition to this ultimate prog bundle is accompanied with a six-month promotional campaign through Prog Sphere Promotions for each of the artists, plus features in the special Progstravaganza magazine which will be available along with the sampler. Artists are required to get in touch with Prog Sphere by sending an email to email@example.com including a download link of the up to 7 minutes long song aimed for the sampler, short biography and links. Submissions for the inclusion on the first Progstravaganza CD release are open until September 10th, 2014.
Prog Sphere Promotions – Running Promotional Campaigns For Your Band & Label
www.proglyrics.com – Progressive Rock Lyrics Archives
Twenty years ago, on a Sunday morning, I was departing Mass, heading back to my brother’s house in Boise, Idaho. Much to my surprise, I recognized Jon Anderson’s and Trevor Rabin’s voices on the radio. The local AOR station was playing “The Calling.” I had no idea that Yes had a new album, and I wasn’t even convinced it was Yes. Maybe Anderson and Rabin had started a projected. This was before the time of immediate internet gratification and information, so I had to hope against hope it was a new Yes album. I didn’t the song was brilliant, by any means, but I was excited by the possibility of a new album.
Let me offer two caveats here.
First, I’m not a Yes hater or an “aspect of Yes” hater. If it has “Yes” on the album sleeve or cd booklet, it’s a Yes song. The first album I ever remembering hearing was “Yessongs,” the 3-album live album. I was only probably six or so when I first heard Yessongs. I was the youngest of three brothers, and thank the good Lord, they loved prog. I benefitted immensely from what they’d purchased. When “Owner of a Lonely Heart” came out, I was just as happy as could be. Yeah, it wasn’t Steve Howe on guitar, but it was pretty good.
Frankly, I’ve never understood the huge division among Yes fans. Yeah, Wakeman is great, but Downes is pretty amazing as well. The same with Howe and Rabin. I love Chris Squire’s playing, but when Tony Levin played with ABWH, wow.
Had I been asked, I would’ve have suggested that the band that made “90125,” “Big Generator,” and “Talk” keep their original name, Cinema. It’s not that I don’t think the band was Yes, but Yes had such a deep history and distinctive sound that the band members themselves would have felt even freer to go in what direction they wanted. Plus, the name Cinema really does fit the music of 90125. If that album isn’t cinematic, no album is.
Second, this post you’re now reading (thank you, by the way) was promoted by waking up to an excellent piece by Conor Fynes over at Prog Sphere: http://www.prog-sphere.com/specials/yes-talk/
Talk is a point of confusion for me in so many ways. Long before I ever got around to checking out Yes‘ fourteenth album, I’d heard reports that it was the so-called saving grace of the Trevor Rabin era. Some rose-tinted listeners went as far to say it ranked up there with the band’s classic material. This high regard was sharp contrast to the hideously sell-outish album art, which may very well be one of the least appealing covers I’ve ever seen. If anything, the cognitive dissonance going into Talk made the anticipation that much more compelling. I was excited to find out what I’d think of it- after all, it couldn’t be any worse than Union… Right?
When I first heard “Talk” back in 1994, I was immensely disappointed. The songs dragged, the production was way too perfect, and the cover just looked ridiculous, something my three-year old nephew at the time could’ve drawn. On the good side, I was blown away by the lyrics and the vocals. The lyrics are some of the best Yes has ever written. They’re still airy and hippyish, but they’re also quite poetic and meaningful. The vocals are to die for. Of all of Anderson’s partners, Rabin best understands how to use his voice and how to write music to suit his voice. And, the trio of vocals of Anderson, Squire, and Rabin is simply one of the best in the history or rock.
[My only complaint with Rabin--and it basically holds for every member of Yes--is his wardrobe. Every time I watch "9012Live," I keep thinking, "dude, those pants are so tight, it's disgusting." Heck, give me Wakeman's cape ANYDAY over those bizarre tight pants.]
Over the last 20 years, aside from the final song suite, “Endless Dream,” I’ve hardly listened to the album. Indeed, I don’t think there’s been a Yes album I’ve listened to less. I even liked “Union” better than “Talk.”
A month or so ago when seemingly everyone and his brother had somehow managed to download a copy of “Heaven and Earth” and the same everyones and their dogs hated it, I decided to go back to “Talk.” Much to my surprise, I kind of liked it. I didn’t love it, but I did like it—far more than I did when I first bought it.
What Would Make “Talk “Great
So, this morning, after reading Fynes’s wonderful and thought-provoking review, I put the headphones on and gave the entire album a full listen and, then, a second. If I could re-make the album and re-release it as a 20th anniversary edition, here’s what I’d do (please remember: I’m a college professor of history and literature, not a musician!).
First, and very importantly, the title needs a change. “Talk” has almost nothing to do with the album in any way, shape, or form. The entire album, from beginning to end, is about words and The Word. The album title should reflect this. “Talk” not only doesn’t fit with the message of the album, it’s downright pedestrian. Yes needs to reach much higher.
Second, the album needs some different art. It doesn’t have to be by Roger Dean, but it should be something beyond a scrawl of Yes. Get someone brilliant such as Ed Unitsky, Jim Trainer, or James Marsh.
Third, the revised version of the album needs to delete “I am Waiting” and “Walls.” There’s no salvation for these songs. Sap and boredom mixed into one. Maybe, they could count as unfinished b-sides, but I see no hope at all for either.
Fourth, the album needs to be integrated in a much better form. It should be seamless, and every song should perfectly blend into every other.
Fifth: I would recommend the following track order:
- An extended version of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” It should be extended to allow the vocals to repeat themselves for another few minutes, to linger as it were.
- This should phase into a much rockier version of “The Calling.”
- Then, “State of Play,” a reprise of “Endless Dream: Endless Dream.” After a segue into “Where Will You Be.”
- The album should finish with “Endless Dream: Silent Spring” and “Endless Dream: Talk.”
- But, the entire album should close with “Endless Dream: Endless Dream,” again extending the song but not duplicating the “Endless Dream: Endless Dream” of the opening of the album. The revised and final version of the song should include hints of the melodies of all of the other songs on this album as well as brief references to “City of Love” and “Shoot High.”
Such a conclusion would beautifully close the Rabin era.
Please know, I write this as a fan of all manifestations of Yes.
NAO has just released its first single from its forthcoming album, THE THIRD DAY, premiered at CLASH magazine.
North Atlantic Oscillation aren’t really like other bands.
For a start, they’re named after a bizarre weather phenomenon. Casting a quick gaze over their output to date – 2010’s ‘Grappling Hooks’ and 2012’s ‘Fog Electric’ respectively – reveals a group who are comfortable in their own skin, able to mash together shoegaze, electronics, psychedelic and more.
Blessed with a near ludicrous number of pop hooks, North Atlantic Oscillation are able to piece these elements together into something immediate, something enticing. As we say, they’re pretty special.
Any citizen of the republic of progarchy knows how freakin’ much we love NAO and all things Sam Healy! Very, very eager for this.
And, just in case you need more convincing, just look at the new cover. Yes, it must be a part of my collection.
If you’re into Rush or comics, you should check this out. If you’re into Rush and comics, you must check this out.
A nice five-page preview of the fourth (of six) issue. Story by Neil Peart and Kevin J. Anderson, artwork by Nick Robles (and Hugh Syme).