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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.

Yes Special- Interview with Geoff Downes and Heaven and Earth Review

Legendary progressive rock band Yes, one of the most influential and respected bands in the genre have outlasted many of their contemporaries, crossing from West Coast psychedelia into epic traditional progressive rock symphonies, new wave FM rock, back to progressive epics and beloved anthems over the course of their 46 years, evolving band line-ups and 21 studio albums.
Their latest opus, Heaven and Earth (released in the UK on 21st July, and in the States in July 22nd) marks the first studio release with Jon Davison (who replaced Benoit David back in 2012) on vocals, and Geoff Downes third studio album, firmly consolidating his place as their keyboard player with the classic line up of Steve Howe, Chris Squire and Alan White.
I was lucky enough to grab a brief chat with Geoff recently to talk all things Heaven and Earth, and the impact that Jon Davison has had on the band,
‘It’s a bit different from other Yes albums, Jon has been given a freer run, and it very much reflects his style. It’s a different album from Fly From Here, and the stuff we did with Trevor (Horn), working with Roy Thomas Baker has another style, something that a diverse band like Yes can bear.’
I asked Geoff about the writing process of the album,
‘It’s all new material; we had a clean slate that enabled us to take it in a direction that felt natural to all of us. Yes is fantastic music, and it’s nice to be able to make a contribution even at this stage in the bands career, Benoit wasn’t so much of a writer, whereas Jon has really contributed to the album’
I think Geoff was being overly modest, as he and Trevor Horn had a massive impact on one of my favourite Yes albums, 1980’s Drama,
‘Drama, that came together in the studio, I’m very proud of it still, it sounds very fresh, and its what Yes needed at that point to move into a different arena for this type of music’
Of course with Geoff back on keyboard duties it’s nice to hear some of the Drama songs performed live,
‘Its good to play tracks like Tempus Fugit and Machine Messiah as they fit nicely into the set, we performed a few on the Fly From Here tour, and hopefully we’ll do more going forward’
I did wonder, which tracks from the new album would make it into the live arena?
‘We start rehearsals next week, we’ve practiced some of the songs so we have an idea which ones will work, we may only do a few from the album, certainly Believe Again, maybe one of the shorter songs and move them around in the set.
We’re playing classic albums in full, we’ve toured with that show for a while, so we’re changing it a bit, dropping Going for the One, focusing on Fragile, Relayer and lots of the Yes album.’
Heaven and Earth is a very different Yes album,
‘It’s very fresh, some fans don’t see beyond the 1970’s, but Yes were different in the 80’s and as different again in the 90’s, each different period of the band were interesting musical chapters, and this is another piece in the jigsaw. Hopefully it will bring in new fans to Yes’
Roger Deans striking artwork, with his black and white Yes logo (which to mind recalls the original Time and a Word album cover) is another Yes mainstay,
‘Roger Dean is very much synonymous with Yes, apart from that period in the 80’s where the very hi-tech album sleeves represented the albums, he’s very much a part of the scenery’
As Yes have only recently brought their show to the UK, I asked Geoff when he thought they might return,
‘We more likely to come back to the UK towards the start of next year, we are rehearsing for the US tour, then we tour the Pacific Rim, which will take up the rest of the year’
How did Geoff feel about returning to the Yes fold for Fly From Here?
‘It felt very natural, we started working on Fly From Here and it turned the clock back 30 years, the reunion of the 5 Drama guys, and it came together very easily the guys were all very helpful, it’s a great band. Jon coming in was not an easy job for him performing Jon Anderson’s songs and producing an authentic sound of Yes is a difficult role. My role as the keyboard player isn’t as critical as the vocal sound, and when we do the vintage albums the fans really like it, and Jon (Davison) has really worked’.
Of course Geoff has been the driving force behind Asia for over 30 years as well,
‘We’ve just done some Asia dates in Japan, and we had the new album Gravitas out at the start of the year, I think I’m busier now than I have been for a long time. Its great that in the past few years I am still involved in the bands that I was working with 30 years ago, it’s like my career has come full circle. We did Fly From Here, Asia still tour and of course we reunited the Buggles for some gigs a few years ago’
Buggles, the most misunderstood and underrated new wave band of the late 70’s/early 80’s, would Geoff ever consider a new Buggles album?
‘I still see Trevor and speak to him, and if the planets align, our diaries match up and we get the time it could well happen, never say never. The old stuff (from Buggles) still gets played a lot, and it’s nice to be involved with a timeless song (Video Killed the Radio Star), the same applies to Drama. I am really proud of that album; a lot of people were sceptical about these two pop guys joining Yes. In hindsight fans view Drama in a different light. I think it paved the way for Yes in the 80’s, my style of synths was techno, samples and it formed a bridge between Yes of the 1970’s and the work they did on 90125. Those changes helped sustain the bands longevity and shows it musical legacy could outlive the 1970’s when so many other bands folded’
There’s been a lot of interest in the Yes back catalogue recently with the 5.1 remixes
‘A lot of the progheads are into the 5.1 sound, like with Genesis fans some don’t like the pop Genesis. You have to look on each band as a whole, each album and each line up has a valid contribution to the bands history. I would like to hear Drama in 5.1, the album was heavily overdubbed at the time, and so it would reveal a lot of detail’.
Thanks to Geoff Downes for his time.

Heaven and Earth by Yes – the verdict!
1) Believe Again (Jon Davison, Steve Howe) 8.18
2) The Game (Chris Squire, Jon Davison, Steve Howe) 7.07
3) Step Beyond (Steve Howe, Jon Davison) 5.45
4) To Ascend (Jon Davison, Alan White) 4.53
5) In a World of Our Own (Jon Davison, Chris Squire) 5.31
6) Light of Ages (Jon Davison) 7.57
7) It was All we Knew (Steve Howe) 4.21
8) Subway Walls (Jon Davison, Geoff Downes) 9.21

So, I don’t think a Yes album has been as eagerly anticipated as this one since the last one! Fly From Here, Yes’ first studio album in 10 years, and the only one to feature Benoit David on vocals. Musically and spiritually it was the sequel to Drama, only 30 years out of sequence, and with Trevor Horn on production duties, Geoff Downes on keyboards and the music made of Buggles demos (interesting alternative versions exist on Adventures in Modern Recordings 2010 remaster, which shows a different version again) received a mixed reception, which was seen by some as very much a holding pattern it can now be seen very much as Drama can be seen now. A bookend on a previous era, and a bridge to a new Yes. With Downes firmly ensconced in the keyboard position, and Roy Thomas Baker finally getting to finish a Yes album, the band is as stable as Yes can ever be. However the attention isn’t on the new old boy in the band, or the established Squire/White/Howe axis who have been the mainstay of this Yes era since 1996’s Keys to Ascension, the attention is always going to be on the vocals, and the fact that the vocalist isn’t Jon Anderson.
Much has been written, and will no doubt continue to be written about whether Yes are Yes if Jon Anderson isn’t on the record. To my mind if it says Yes on the album sleeve, and sounds like Yes on the record, then it’s a Yes album.
Jon Davison is the Yes singer, and he also writes a fair bit to, which can be seen in the credits above. Jon Davison has put his stamp on the Yes sound as firmly as his illustrious predecessors and his vocals add to the unmistakably Yes sound on display.
As Geoff Downes states in the interview above, each member of Yes adds something to the chapter they are writing, and this is as true on Heaven and Earth as of its 20 brethren.
There’s plenty of continuity here with former Yesman Billy Sherwood involved in mixing the harmony vocals, and Roy Thomas Baker (producer of abortive sessions in the late 1970’s) adding his considerable experience to the mix.
So what does the album actually sound like? And more to the point is it any good?
Well, if you can imagine the leap between the sound of the distinctly average Open Your Eyes, compared to the amazing beauty contained in its follow up The Ladder, then this is that leap from Fly From Here.
First of all if you’re looking for a quick hit, look elsewhere, this album is a slow burner. A grower, one that teases you and tempts you, revealing its secrets slowly and seductively, listen after beguiling listen. You’ll find songs slowly sneaking into your subconscious, humming tunes, singing along as you play the album.
Opening with one of the longer tracks Believe Again, which has been trailed as the teaser track for the album, you can tell instantly that its Yes, but that the goal posts have moved. Downes synths are to the fore, and then in come the vocals, similar enough to Jon Andersons to keep an element of continuity. Lets face it, if you’re Yes and you are hiring a new vocalist you need someone who can handle the older material and hit the heights Olias of Sunhillow used to hit at his peak. You wouldn’t hire Lemmy would you?
Jon D is different enough from Jon A to put his own stamp on this album, and Believe Again comes across to me anyway as a message to the fans saying believe in us, we are still the Yes you know and love. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but with Davison’s work making an impact straight away, and the band working in symphony from the get go, this is a Yes line up with chemistry, bouncing off each other, and whilst Believe Again is at the more commercial end of the spectrum, it’s still a powerful piece, with the vocal harmonies and musical counter play working really well. Howe’s guitar and Downes synth interplay is to the fore, and is something that really stands out throughout the album.
Geoff Downes isn’t the new keyboard player, he is the keyboard player. It’s hard to imagine anyone else playing with this Yes line up, and to be honest I wouldn’t want anyone else in.
The Game has some fantastic work from Howe and some wonderfully direct lyrics. The themes are the same, but the vocal and lyrical approach is different throughout. Jon Davison isn’t trying to be Jon Anderson or Benoit David. He doesn’t need to be. He is the Yes frontman and lyricist and his identity is all over this album. His performance throughout is assured, confident and fits. If you liked his earlier work with Glass Hammer, this is right up your alley. The Game is taut, sharp, direct and punchy, a classy piece of rock.
Step Beyond, with its funky keyboard sound, its powerfully insistent vocal work, and the taut chorus, with some fantastic guitar work from Steve Howe, and with Downes nagging keyboard riff, combined with some truly classic Yes vocal harmonies, and a great instrumental interlude, only clocks in at under 6 minutes, yet it’s got a funky drive, some great drum and bass work from Squire and White and some catchy lyrical moments, it might be brief, but there’s so much going on here, both musically and lyrically, it could well be a new classic Yes anthem, and seems destined as a live staple.
That’s one thing that is really noticeable throughout the album, the sharpness of the harmonies, the work Billy Sherwood has done with Howe, Squire and Davison has brought all the classic harmony power that is a hallmark of Yes to the fore, and with Thomas Bakers production, the vocals have some real power.
To Ascend, has some beautifully direct lyrics, more of those gorgeous harmonies, and some beautiful acoustic guitar work from Davison, that mingles with Howes exquisite performance, whilst Downes majestic piano and keyboard work soar, all the while underpinned by the rock steady Squire and White, its glorious chorus, it’s musical crescendos and Davison’s performance is sublime, a true classic Yes track amongst all the adventure on this album.
In a World of Our Own, with some great musical work by Yes, Downes keyboards shining throughout, White kicking back with a funky dirty blues beat, Howes guitar cutting through the sound left, right and centre, with some languid blues and Davison’s honestly direct lyrics, as different as his predecessors as possible, with it’s tale of love gone sour, this is Yes gone film noir, meant to be listened to in a seedy underground blues club, black and white, smoky atmosphere, Davison as the blues singer, a lazy swing underpinning the whole track. Its Yes Jim, but not as we know it.
Light of the Ages is a suitably cosmic traditional Yes title, with some beautifully gloriously languid slide guitar work from Mr Howe, that stretches out throughout the track, whilst the synth work from Geoff Downes is amazing, however this is Jon Davisons track, and ironically the closest he comes to sounding like Jon Anderson at any point, with it’s spiritual lyrics, and it’s slow build to a majestic finale, this is one new Yes track that could have snuck onto to anything from Fragile to Tormato, and enhanced any album it sat on, here it is a highlight amongst highlights. Just when you think Heaven and Earth can’t get better it throws you another curve ball, and musically the band is reaching higher and higher, pushing further and further, and pull you along. Whilst Davisons vocal performance is the marzipan on top of this particular cake, and the Light of the Ages really shines with some glorious soloing from both Howe and Downes.
The only thing that’s a touch disposable is It Was all we knew, which is a bit of a weak link in the album, the musical performance is great as ever, however the track itself is a bit anonymous, despite the great harmonies, the lyrics are a tad clichéd and the track does tend to sound a bit nursery rhyme in places, even Howes spirited solo doesn’t lift the tone. I guess that’s my one complaint about this track, whilst the rest of the album is full of musical mood swings and counterparts, this just meanders on, almost Yes by numbers, which is a shame as if there were more going on, it could be great.
Now speaking of greatness we come to the finale, the epic, the closing 9 minutes plus Subway Walls, a Downes/Davison track, one crafted by the (relatively) new boys, and boy is this a statement of intent.
From Downes symphonic and dramatic synth work that opens the track, with its powerful riffs and it’s orchestral overtones you know you are in for a treat, and it doesn’t disappoint. A meditation on the meaning of life,

‘Is the meaning in the stars or does graffiti on the subway walls hold the secrets to it all’

That is the new Yes right there, encapsulated in that wonderful lyrical couplet, not just astral travellers any more, but also earthbound voyagers.
Heaven and Earth encapsulated in a nutshell, the answers aren’t just beyond and before, they are also here and now, for us all to see if we open our eyes.
The performance on Subway Walls, with some fantastic work from White and Squire, the lynchpin that holds Yes together, allows Downes and Howe the freedom to fly, and climb as they spar from about 4 minutes in, building and pushing each other, and taking the band with them, as they go from the subway to the stars and back again in 9 sublime minutes. Davisons vocals again are superb throughout, and the harmonies again majestic.
Heaven and Earth is probably my favourite Yes album of the past 20 years, more organic than any of the Keys to Ascension studio work, more fun than Magnification. This is the sound of a band working in harmony unlike Fly From Here. Yes haven’t sounded this good since the Ladder back in 1999, or Talk back in 1994.
It could have been so easy for Yes to return to what they did best in the 1970’s on this album, but that is not why Yes are still here. Nearly 50 years into a musical adventure that shows no sign of ending, they are still pushing themselves to make the best music they can, like the superb musicians they are. Managing that difficult balancing act of staying true to the Yes name, with all its attendant history, both good and bad, and yet managing to make new, interesting, and exciting music for them and us.
This my friends is the true meaning of progressive rock, something pushing forward, ever moving, ever evolving. Yes, once again have shown us what progressive rock means, and I thank them for it.

Top Ten Prog Over Ten Minutes Long ★★★★★

In order to meet the challenge of listing my own Top Ten Prog Albums EVER, I imposed upon myself an additional requirement over and above the ones Brad specified.

Each album on the list, I insist, must contain at least one song that is over ten minutes long.

And so, given that sonnet-like constraint, here is my list:

★★★★★

Big Big Train — The Underfall Yard (H/T: “The Underfall Yard” [22:54] and “Victorian Brickwork” [12:33])

Kate Bush — Hounds of Love (H/T: “The Ninth Wave” [= Side Two of the LP, clocking in at 27 minutes])

Flying Colors — Flying Colors (H/T: “Infinite Fire” [12:00])

Genesis — Foxtrot (H/T: “Supper’s Ready” [23:06])

Haken — The Mountain (H/T: “Pareidolia” [10:51] and “Falling Back to Earth” [11:51])

King Crimson — Red (H/T: “Starless” [12:26])

Rush — A Farewell to Kings (H/T: “Xanadu” [11:12] and “Cygnus X-1″ [10:26])

Sound of Contact — Dimensionaut (H/T: “Möbius Slip” [19:36])

Transatlantic — The Whirlwind (H/T: The entire album is one song 78 minutes long! Or take “Dancing With Eternal Grace” [12:04])

Yes — Fragile (H/T: “Heart of the Sunrise” [11:33])

★★★★★

If I were allowed doubles then maybe I would substitute Yes’ Close to the Edge for the Haken and Big Big Train’s Far Skies Deep Time for the Sound of Contact.

But can I instead invent a new challenge?

How about the “Top Ten Rush Albums EVER”, ranked not alphabetically but in order of preference?

Believe Again — Pre-order Yes’s new album and get an instant download of the first track

It’s official (and no longer unofficial). You can listen to an excerpt of some new Yes online. A pre-order will get you a full download.

The new Yes album and the concept of “Heaven and Earth”

Steve Howe’s reflections on the concept of “Heaven and Earth” are highlighted over at the new web site (which management seems to have set up in response to the unauthorized audio excerpts):

I don’t know whether it’s a concept record in the true sense, but basically Roger Dean and I were talking about different things and sometimes it helps to get Roger fired up about ideas that we can draw from. In a way, the parallel of saying ‘Heaven And Earth’ is the same as saying good and bad, yin and yang, up and down, left and right. They’re two extremes, but I think the way Roger and I liked it was that in fact the Earth is a physical place where you can measure stuff and you can do quantum physics.

You can look at tiny things or you can see the world as a very big thing in an even bigger universe. It’s all about the physical. But Heaven is an unknown place of no particular destination as far as anybody knows. And yet it doesn’t matter whether you’re totally tied up in a religious belief or whether you’re spiritual in a way that doesn’t require religious commitment — it just requires awareness to the fact that there’s obviously something out there that we don’t know about.

In fact, there’s most probably 99% of everything about the universe we don’t understand and that isn’t only in the physical. It’s also in the effects of what is spiritual or what is ethereal. What is heaven and is there life after death?

You know, all of those questions that just have no bloody answer! [Laughs] That keeps us guessing and I think that’s why I approved the title ‘Heaven And Earth’ because basically it sums up the dualistic quality of the known and the unknown and the more you look at the known the more you see that there’s even more unknown than you knew before.

 

Believe Again – new material from Yes

A track from the forthcoming Yes album, ‘Heaven & Earth’ has appeared on Soundcloud. I think it sounds interesting, and it’s growing on me with each listen.

Find it here: https://soundcloud.com/thecheezmusic/01-believe-again-radio-rip

[UPDATE: It looks as though Yes management removed the song.  Apparently, it wasn't supposed to be uploaded yet.--ed., Brad Birzer]

[UPDATE: Yes management has now created this page for providing audio excerpts: http://yesheavenandearth.com --ed., The Dr.]

[UPDATE: Excerpt of Believe Again and full lyrics now available at http://yesheavenandearth.com --ed., John Simms 6/13/14]

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.

Yes: Heaven and Earth

The cover of the new Yes album Heaven and Earth has been revealed, and it looks like one of Roger Dean’s finest. Here is the article from Yes World describing the new album:

http://yesworld.com/2014/05/yes-heaven-earth/

 

Total Mass Retain: Yes at Sheffield City Hall, 7 May 2014

Pedants and purists will forever grumble about Yes line-ups that feature neither Jon Anderson nor Rick Wakeman, but the fact remains that a performance of The Yes Album, Close To The Edge and Going For The One in their entirety was simply too good an opportunity to miss. After all, how many more chances will any of us get to hear Awaken in all its shiver-inducing, goosebump-raising magnificence? Hence we needed no persuading to make the relatively short train journey south from Leeds to Sheffield for this very special show, the fifth UK date of the band’s extensive three-album tour.

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As we took our seats after collecting our VIP passes and goody bags, I couldn’t help thinking that the art deco interior of this Grade II-listed building was a fitting venue for music with such a distinguished pedigree, but there was little time for further rumination as the house lights dimmed and the languid opening notes of the familiar Firebird Suite intro tape sounded out across the Oval Hall. A screen above the drum riser displayed a fast-moving montage of photos, magazine covers, promotional posters and gig tickets from tours past, before the band took to the stage, readied themselves and then launched into Close To The Edge.

You read that right: they began with Close To The Edge – arguably the most intricate and complex piece in the entire set. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the first few minutes weren’t as tight or assured as they could have been. What with this and the disturbance of latecomers wanting us to move so they could find their allotted seats – a literal case of “I get up, I get down” – the start of the show didn’t quite have the impact I was hoping for. But it didn’t take long for that feeling to pass. Soon enough, the band were fully warmed up and, as ‘Total Mass Retain’ segued into Chris & Steve’s “In her white lace…” vocal duet, the music was casting its spell over the audience and the anticipated goosebumps were all present and correct.

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And You And I was just as magical and moving as you’d expect, and Siberian Khatru just as powerful, if played a bit more sedately than the band would have countenanced in their younger days. All three pieces from this most definitive of albums earned rapturous applause and standing ovations from the crowd, but it all seemed to have passed too quickly – the hallmark of those classic gigs where you are so captivated that you lose any sense of time.

All too soon, it seemed, Steve Howe was introducing the second album of the evening, Going For The One. This was the undoubted highlight of the show for me, not because it is my favourite Yes album – it isn’t – but because Wonderous Stories was the only track from it that I had previously witnessed in concert. To say I was giddy with anticipation at experiencing the rest of the album performed live is a massive understatement. In fact, this segment of the show put me in such a state of transcendent joy that I’m struggling here to provide any cogent analysis. Had a camera been pointed at me for the next forty glorious minutes it would undoubtedly have captured a facial expression alternating between ‘big dumb grin’ and the quivering lower lip of someone valiantly attempting (but failing) to ‘keep their shit together’.

After the earnestness of CTTE, Going For The One’s title track gave the band their first opportunity to cut loose and really rock out, an opportunity which they seized hungrily. Parallels, too, packed a powerful punch. But it was in recreating the album’s more delicate moments that this segment ascended to even greater heights. Turn Of The Century, undeniably beautiful in its recorded form, was an absolute revelation live, thanks to a peerless vocal performance from Jon Davison. It was the biggest emotional hammer blow of the evening so far, if the lump in my throat and the moistness of my eyes were anything to go by – exceeded only by an utterly mesmerising rendition of epic pagan hymn Awaken that put tears on the cheeks of many of those present (myself included). It was a fitting climax to the first half of the show and gave us the interval to pull ourselves together!

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Twenty minutes later, the house lights dimmed a second time for the evening’s final act: The Yes Album. With the intensity of CTTE and GFTO behind them, the band seemed more relaxed, moving effortlessly through the album’s six classic tracks. Yours Is No Disgrace and Starship Trooper were every bit the crowd-pleasers you’d expect them to be, whereas the reception given to the long-unplayed A Venture was more polite than rapturous. Curiously, the stand-out piece for me was Clap, played flawlessly by Howe and earning a huge cheer from the audience. Seriously, I don’t recall a single missed note or buzzing string. The man’s powers seem remarkably undiminished by time, praise be.

That left only the customary encore of Roundabout, as energetic and rousing as ever, bringing most of the audience to their feet and prompting some of those in front of the stage to move around in a manner perilously close to ‘dancing’ – hardly the most natural state for prog fans, it must be said! The band lingered on stage for a while, revelling in the crowd’s lengthy ovation, and then it was time for us all to head home, drained by the experience but with a buzz that would last for days and precious memories that will live considerably longer than that.

I suppose I should finish by considering new vocalist Jon Davison. On this evidence, he is a fine fit for the role. Predecessor Benoit David’s voice is closer in timbre to Jon Anderson’s, but Davison’s has superior purity and power – and he also seems more of a natural showman than Benoit. It will be fascinating to hear how he sounds on forthcoming album Heaven And Earth.

The Yes Family Tree

PROG mag (Issue 40) has a great poster to help you keep track of the sprawling epic that is Yes! Click to enlarge:

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