Immolation’s impact is beyond dispute, but over three decades of high quality records could use some reflection. Soaring leads, complex drum patterns and increasingly sophisticated arrangements. Needless to say, this melancholic train exhibits all the sublime deathly qualities, that subtle convulsive precision and more, in short everything which separates death from the rest is illustrated. Even more than that, these rather tortuous harmonies are also memorable, and often tend to get stuck in our head. Riffs and drums playing in a loop, even hours after the album ended.
Acts of God does not deviate from their typical signature. Just like their earlier works, it’s an ongoing duet of contradictions. It’s like a discord of wistful guitars with bludgeoning drums, of aggressive tremolo picking with mournful growls, and of sorrowful depth with grunt tech death precision. Eventually crafting a texture so intricate, tangled, and yet comfortingly atmospheric. Just like that famous duality of man, Immolation is on a perpetual sonic duel, a tussle of contradictions which seems to never concede. Thankfully the consequence is all immersive death metal, and a career trajectory so rich and consistent, that it defies all known universal laws.
Haken, Fauna, Inside Out Music, 2023 Tracks: Taurus (4:49), Nightingale (7:25), The Alphabet of Me (5:34), Sempiternal Beings (8:24), Beneath the White Rainbow (6:45), Island in the Clouds (5:46), Lovebite (3:50), Elephants Never Forget (11:07), Eyes of Ebony (8:32)
Haken have never been a band to shy away from experimentation, yet no matter what musical pond they dip their toes into, their albums always sounds distinct. There’s no mistaking their music for someone else’s. Maybe it’s the syncopation and the speedy jazz-influenced guitar riffing. Or Ross Jennings’ signature voice. Or the band’s ability to make quiet music remarkably complex while still being able to lay down intensely heavy riffs that hold their own amongst the heaviest prog metal powerhouses of the day. And they can go back and forth between the two seamlessly.
Fauna is in many ways a typical Haken album, then, in the sense that is features the band’s playfulness and willingness to experiment. “The Alphabet of Me” has both rapped lines (before you get mad, even Dream Theater has tried that) and trumpet. “Sempiternal Beings” (sempiternal is a fancy word for eternal) has a masterful balance between the dark and light sides of Haken’s music. “Island in the Clouds” even has cowbell.
The ocean between us is where we find inner peace.
“Beneath the White Rainbow” is magnificently chaotic. The bizarre filter on the vocals make it seem a bit cloudy, and the heaviness of the music give it a djent edge. “Lovebite” has a pop edge with a catchy melody in the chorus, but the chorus remains heavy enough to make it palatable to my prog snob ears. Keyboardist Peter Jones’ (original Haken keyboardist who rejoined the band; not the Tiger Moth Tales PJ) swirling key acrobatics adds a layer of interest here as well, as does the brief guitar solo in the final third. The drum blast beats to open the song are anything but pop.
“Elephants Never Forget” is the prog star of the record and the best song here, in my opinion. This is the kind of song that made me fall in love with Haken a decade ago. It has the playfulness of “The Cockroach King” with the epic grandeur of “Crystallised.” The vocal harmonies return, although they probably could have been used to even greater effect. But they are there. The song’s length gives it space to breathe and move, which is generally what holds my interest in music. And it doesn’t get more prog than singing about the “leviathan of Doggerland.”
I think the album would have been better served by ending on this track rather than “Eyes of Ebony.” It has a sort of swell to it that feels complete. “Eyes of Ebony” is still a great track, especially once it gets rolling, but I don’t think it’s the best choice for an album closer. It kind of just tapers off, leaving the record on a bit of an uncertain note. “Elephants Never Forget” has a satisfying ending.
Truth be told, I’d be perfectly happy if Haken made an entire album of songs like “Elephants Never Forget,” rather than the rabbit trails they often go down into other musical genres. A lot of the electronic, rap, etc. does very little for me, but I appreciate how they are able to fold those elements into their sound without compromising their style of music. I generally prefer the softer elements in Riverside’s and TesseracT’s music over Haken’s softer side, but that may be because both of those bands have a spacier Floydy edge that Haken doesn’t really have. It all comes down to preference. All in all this is another solid record from one of the foremost names in the prog metal scene today. It’s one of the best records released thus far this year, second only to Riverside’s ID.Entity.
Transatlantic’s The Final Flight: Live at L’Olympia is a worthy souvenir of the latest — and last? — tour by our favorite “more never is enough” classic-prog supergroup. Over three hours, Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas, Mike Portnoy and sidekick Ted Leonard play every possible note of their ultra-epic The Absolute Universe, plus generous chunks of the band’s first three albums (sorry, Kaleidoscope fans). You might notice some rough edges in Morse’s singing despite a few preemptive downward key shifts, but Transatlantic still delivers the goods without fail — the jaw-dropping ensemble work, knockout solos, choral counterpoint, head-spinning transitions and heart-stopping climaxes just keep coming. And if this is their swan song, thanks for 20+ years of over-the-top thrills and spills are well past due!
Rick Wakeman’s latest album, A Gallery of the Imagination, is less a conceptual effort (like The Six Wives of Henry VIII or even the recent The Red Planet) than an impressionist suite based on a overall musical approach (as on his Piano Portraits releases). As such, Wakeman’s strong suit — spacious melodies decorated with arpeggios aplenty, then rocked up via finger-busting solo work — is here in abundance, with appropriately sturdy backing by The English Rock Ensemble. But be prepared — the line between prog and middle-of-the-road pop is remarkably thin at times, especially when sentimental lyrics like “A Day Spent on the Pier” are declaimed with stagey brio by vocalist Hayley Sanderson. If you can deal with that, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
Simon Collins and Kelly Nordstrom (best known in the prog world for the Sound of Contact album Dimensionaut with Dave Kerzner and Matt Dorsey) veer in a heavier direction with their new project, eMolecule’s The Architect. The initial blasts of electronica-laced prog-metal, amped up with gusto by Nordstrom, slot in beautifully with the dystopian sci-fi narrative, but it takes a while for Collins’ trademark vocal inflections to peek through the robotic audio processing. Ultimately, the light and shade of “Beyond Belief” and “Awaken” (a ballad in the Phil-to-Simon family tradition) and a building sense of Floydian atmospherics provide the contrast needed for eMolecule’s well-executed sound and fury to fully connect.
I stumbled across the British post-rockers Plank via 2014’s excellent Hivemind. After tackling animals and insects as their previous subjects, the trio widen their horizons here, returning after 9 years for their new concept opus The Future of the Sea. This is a stunning set of limpid, gorgeous instrumentals, weaving elements of psychedelia, prog and math-rock into textures of massive breadth and heft (whether the big guns are being held in reserve or out on parade at any given moment). The closing 6-part suite “Breaking Waves” is a full-on, monolithic delight that mounts to a shattering, satisfying climax. Give this one a try!
The ongoing passing of rock legends tends to direct me toward their most recent releases, especially if I’d dismissed them on initial notice. Thus, when David Crosby died in January, I bit the bullet and picked up his Lighthouse Band’s CD/DVD Live at the Capitol Theatre. Ignoring this beauty, released late last year, was a mistake; it’s a thoroughly enjoyable, even moving document of Crosby’s late career renaissance, here shown in collaboration with Snarky Puppy bassist Michael League and singer/songwriters Becca Stevens and Michelle Willis. Yes, the man’s voice is a shadow of its former self here — but so is his legendary ego; this lovely set may be more of a team effort than Crosby, Stills and Nash (& Young) ever was. The jazz-inflected songwriting, the hushed vocal blend, the lovely sense of understatement and space all make this delicate music blossom and take root in the heart. This tour came to West Michigan on Thanksgiving weekend of 2018; hearing this set, I’m sorry I missed the show! Yes, it’s that good.
I wish I could say the same about 18, the collaboration with Johnny Depp that turned out to be guitar legend Jeff Beck’s swan song; even putting aside Depp’s recent notoriety, there’s a mismatch of tone that makes the album a puzzling listen. Though Beck’s rich melodicism is as compelling as ever, his soaring aesthetic keeps bouncing off the consistently lugubrious song selection and morose vocals from Depp. Usually I’d be all over an album that ricochets from Motown and the Everly Brothers to Killing Joke and The Velvet Underground, but the eclectic selection simply refuses to cohere. Some glorious moments (instrumental takes on the Beach Boys’ “Don’t Talk” and “Caroline, No”, the John Lennon cover “Isolation” that closes the album on a solid footing), but Beck’s light and Depp’s dark cancel each other out far too often for the music to take wing.
In the meantime, the past month has seen multiple first-rate releases in the jazz (and jazz-related) world:
From out of left field, Lake Street Dive singer Rachael Price teams with guitarist/songwriter Vilray Blair Bolles for I Love A Love Song! This second duo effort pairs Price’s well-honed jazz and pop sensibilities with whimsical Vilray originals in the Great American Songbook tradition. Well-upholstered arrangements from a finely tuned large combo and a boxy yet lush recorded sound set up the retro feel; but ultimately it’s Price’s subtle, in-the-pocket sense of swing that sells the music, often breezy and melancholy at the same time.
Piano legend Brad Mehldau has never hesitated to incorporate rock songs into the jazz canon; with Your Mother Should Know, he makes a program of Beatles tunes (plus David Bowie’s “Life on Mars” — it originally featured Rick Wakeman on piano!) sound not just obvious, but inevitable in the idiom. Above all, this is fun, albeit often of a serious stripe; from the headlong boogie woogie of “I Saw Her Standing There” through the thickened harmonies of “I Am the Walrus” and hovering balladry of “Here There and Everywhere” to the stretched-out gospel of “Baby’s in Black” and the ecstatic extended solo of “Golden Slumbers”, Mehldau’s instincts for where to take these songs by Lennon, McCartney and Harrison are unerring, his invention refreshing and often astonishing, his technique impeccable. Absolutely worth a listen, whether you’re a Fabs fan or not.
Are improvisational Australian trio The Necks “jazz”? Hard to say; but while their music resists categorization (or even description), their latest release Travelis as attractive a summation of what they do as anything. Four pieces of music, each one made from scratch at the start of a day in the studio, building from a minimal idea that gains momentum, complexity and impact through repetition and variation of ideas, dynamics and sounds. “Signal” rambles, “Forming” smolders, “Imprinting” shimmers and “Bloodstream” flares up for a riveting double-album journey. Is it world-inflected rock? Ambient jazz? Something else? I frankly don’t care; I just know that after an online listen, I had to buy it. (And kudos to Vertigo Music of Grand Rapids for having it in stock!)
If you like Porcupine Tree, or Pink Floyd, or The Pineapple Thief, or Riverside, or Anathema, or The Gathering, then you’re sure to dig the 20:20 stunning epic “Babel” from Lesoir.
We are big fans of Lenoir’s album from 2020, Mosaic. What a thrill to then hear them take things to the next level, with this beautiful long-form song that clocks in a quad-digit run time.
They’ve done a limited edition pressing of the CD version of this song. If you pay attention to the sensitive and empathetic lyrics, it should come as no surprise that Lesoir has announced that they are donating all proceeds from their Babel CD to the earthquake victims in Turkey and Syria:
ALL PROCEEDS FROM THE SALES OF THIS ALBUM WILL BE DONATED TO THE EARTHQUAKE VICTIMS IN TURKEY AND SYRIA.
When the flood disaster in Limburg (NL) took place in 2021, the band Lesoir decided to donate all proceeds from their one-off Babel live performance to the victims of the disaster. Now with the terrible earthquake in Turkey and Syria, Lesoir wants to do the same.
The band cannot bear to watch how the people in this area have to deal with the terrible suffering. Lesoir therefore wants to donate all income (excluding shipping and transaction costs) from the Babel EP (CD) to Giro555.
Will you help Lesoir collect a nice amount and then donate it?
Of course, the song is 1 whole, but especially for the CD, we have marked the different parts separately, so you can ffwd to your favourite part right away.
Art rock band Lesoir made a virtue of necessity in the quiet but turbulent lockdown period and in 2020 started working on something that would then become an ‘interim project’ for the band. Recorded at various locations in South Limburg, the resulting 20-minute and 20-second epic grew into a full-fledged addition to the band’s already existing repertoire.
Under the name Babel, Lesoir’s creation was released on vinyl, handmade and limited to only 250 pcs in January 2022. Each piece is numbered and on request signed by the band.
By popular demand the band have released Babel as a limited edition CD in January 2023. All proceeds of the album sales since the devastating earthquake will go the victims in Turley and Syria.
Prepare for prog liftoff! Are you ready for Rush: The Next Generation? This exciting new video from Crown Lands shows them playing their newest song live. It’s an amazing performance. We can’t wait for their Fearless album release at the end of March.
Crown Lands’ music tells a story inspired by what songwriter Cody Bowles calls “Indigenous futurism.” There’s a science fiction narrative running throughout their catalogue, about an anti-capitalist space hero fighting colonization across the stars. Genre pastiche is a huge part of Crown Lands’ approach, but this feels unique.
Why not explore their back catalogue while you await the Fearless double LP to be released at the end of March 2023?
They say the third time’s the charm. But the third album from The Winery Dogs is more than just charmed, because we have already heard undeniable magic on their first two albums. This time, however, we witness a truly jaw-dropping breakthrough.
What is worth noting here is that we have been given a solid album with ten songs that strongly lock together. They flow inexorably, as the coherent whole of what I believe will eventually be recognized as a classic album, one even better than the merely rave reviews it has already been getting. Its magnificence gets more and more impressive with each further listen.
On previous releases, I found myself picking out favorite songs. The range of the band’s material was stunning, and while all of it was impressive, there were still standout tracks that clearly rose above the rest. On the debut, for me those were: “Elevate,” “I’m No Angel,” “Not Hopeless,” and “Regret.” On Hot Streak, they were: “The Bridge,” “War Machine,” “Devil You Know,” and “The Lamb.”
But on this release, rather than pick favorite songs, I can only pick out favorite moments within the songs. Because every track is a standout, I love them all, and I cherish those detailed special moments that each one of them contain for the dedicated listener.
“Xanadu” and “Mad World” were the two pre-release singles, which led us to expect more of the same Winery Dogs virtuosity from their earlier albums. Their magical ability is to bring Richie Kotzen’s guitar and Billy Sheehan’s bass and Mike Portnoy’s drums together in astonishing acrobatic coordination, a higher realm of musical motion which only the true greats can access, like Alex and Geddy and Neil on “Free Will.”
Yet while we get more of such magic, we also get interesting new details on this album, like the startling jazz chords in “Mad World” or the unusually intriguing lyrics to “Xanadu” which shift and change even with the musical repetitions of the chorus. Kotzen’s impassioned vocals seem to be taking an accusation (living clueless in Xanadu/Malibu) and flipping the accusation around as a badge of honor to be worn, as Kotzen makes it clear he (and the band) doesn’t care what anyone else thinks.
With that declaration of independence, and with their secession from the world’s madness, The Winery Dogs then shift direction and reveal the first two tracks to have been something of a head fake. “Breakthrough” seems to me like the kind of killer radio-friendly track that a record company would demand as the first single. But, as track three, it comes as an unexpected twist after the clever “business as usual” first two tracks.
With this twist, the album launches into the upper echelons of the most classic of classic rock territory. The punchy power chords of the chorus invite air guitar participation. Both the riff and the vocal phrasings unexpectedly remind me of Saturation-era Urge Overkill, which I found to be a delightful and obscure surprise.
“Rise” astonishes with its complexity and soulfulness, as the band continues it third-album ascent, now conducting cakewalk “business as unusual.”
But it’s “Stars” that veers off into truly delightful prog territory. Sheehan supplies a steady bass pulse for Portnoy and Kotzen to go completely bonkers around. Kotzen demonstrates beyond all doubt that he is one of the greatest of all time on this track, because his guitar solo lasts for a minute and forty seconds of such insane, imaginative, and inventive sounds that it’s unbelievable. The song enfolds all this into such a satisfying and catchy groove, it marks an outstanding conclusion to a staggeringly impressive Side A.
But the album’s B-side is astonishingly equal in achievement to the A side. The kickoff, “The Vengeance,” has one of those cathartic Kotzen vocals (like “Regret” or “The Lamb”) whose emotions are equalled by the intelligence of the lyrics (which wisely affirm that it is the weak, not the strong, who need revenge).
This track illustrates well my thesis about each album track having additional small but memorable details: here, it is the helicopter-like synth-sounding pattern which leads into each chorus, and I call it “synth-sounding” because it somehow bleeds into what sounds like a guitar. It’s a truly magical transformation, and such a thrilling little detail, yet I have no idea how it is done, but it excites the listener to no end each time it is heard.
As if that were not enough, “The Vengeance” also has more Urge Overkill overtones, with those little “ooh ooh ooh” background vocals that remind me of the musical positivity of “Positive Bleeding.”
“Pharaoh” levels the listener with a heavy riff that knows just when to hold back and also just when to smash, all while Portnoy builds pyramids with massive slabs of pounding drums.
And then there’s no respite, as the following track, “Gaslight,” delivers a musical imitation of a gaslighting assault of craziness. Its boogie blitz comes charging out of the gate with more notes per second than the human mind can possibly count. All you can do is try and shake your tail feather to keep up.
Perfectly timed for breath-catching, “Lorelei” is a slow, bluesy 6/8 waltz. It’s the type of song that would function for a lesser band as a filler cool-down track at album’s end. But for The Winery Dogs, this become merely the penultimate track, and yet another one that they use to confound listener expectations.
Sometimes nothing is more boring than a blues guitar solo, but Kotzen convinces us that we have not heard it all before, as he plays his solo lines with such feeling that we find ourselves amazed. Not only that, when he sings on the chorus, he soulfully adopts such unusual phrasing that I am reminded of Steve Perry 80s Journey. The song unexpectedly wormholes me on a journey into a magic world of nostalgic teenage school dance waltzes.
The epic final track, “The Red Wine,” begins by seeming to deliver on the promise of the album opener’s Rush-word: “Xanadu.” For the first eighteen seconds, “The Red Wine” sounds like classic Rush. I did a double-take the first time I heard those bars, and had to look again at the song name, which for those moments I thought was actually: “The Red Star.”
But after those opening flourishes, “The Red Wine” makes an abrupt stage-left turn and turns into a funky and groovy dance-along track, replete with a sing-along “party time” chorus. We even get a verse imagining senior citizens playing air guitar with their canes, as the whole world falls under the spell of The Winery Dogs’ live music.
Happily, the track ends back in Rush mode, as the camera pans up (or so I imagine) from the outside dance party, up past the patio lanterns, and then ascends into the stars as the band turns again into the Rush of the opening half-minute. We get a mellow cosmic cool-down to end the album, as the band invokes the atmospherics, yes you guessed it, of Rush’s classic “Xanadu” mood. Billy’s bass is the last one sucked into the Cygnus X-1 black hole, but it beams back a cosmic echo, advising you to buy this album and find your way to the Dogs’ dance party.
Confounding the cynics, Kotzen and Sheehan and Portnoy are clearly not just a super-group of super noodlers. With this album, they demonstrate they are one of the greatest bands to have ever rocked the Earth. With III, they leave their paw print in the pavement, preserved for all time, in the pantheon of the Rock of Fame.
Crown Lands last thrilled us with a studio release in 2021, the White Buffalo EP, which included the stunning 13-minute epic, “The Oracle.”
Coming hot on the heels of the release of their undisguised Rush tribute, “Context: Fearless, Part 1,” it was yet another powerful announcement from this ambitious duo that they intended to boldly go where Rush could go no more.
Think of it as Rush: The Next Generation.
But are you ready now for these two musical ambassadors from Canada to engage you at warp speed?
Because that’s the significance of their new digital release today, the 18-minute plus track, “Starlifter, Part 2.”
Clearly, Crown Lands intends to unroll their long-form musical adventures in likeminded serial fashion, thereby leveraging the potential of digital age music delivery.
The composition itself is of the highest musical quality, and their performance of “Starlifter” calls to mind everything wonderful about Rush, including the intricate sci-fi storytelling.
Yet “Starlifter” should not be judged to be simply an exercise in nostalgia. Rather, it is the maintenance of a sacred trust, a carrying forth of a musical legacy that continues to be nothing short of inspirational.
You have it hear it. Take my word. It’ll be the best dollar you ever spend on a song download, so don’t hesitate to nab it today.
But feel free to listen for free below, if you are at all skeptical. Trust me, you will become a believer in TNG prog.
It’s truly a glorious epic, which I shall not hesitate to pronounce the Crown Lands career equivalent of a 2112-like milestone.
Chapter 1. Overture
It’s been three hundred years…
Chapter 2. Begin Transmission
The Oracle was right. I found what I sought, but at what cost?
Chapter 3. Fearless Awakens
To our doom… I am Fearless.
Chapter 4. Departure
The sentinels watch below… maybe there is a way to learn their patterns and slip in undetected?
Chapter 5. The Journey
I’m deep in the labyrinthian bowels of the ship now, and it’s clear there’s no going back.
Chapter 6. Interfacing the Machine
An unholy bio-mechanical mass of wires, knobs.. A conscious machine?
Chapter 7. Requiem
All systems operational. We awaken and are now as one. Not Man or machine. The singularity.
Chapter 8. The Battle of Starlifter
Computational error. An oversight. Catastrophe.
Chapter 9. Event Horizon
The black hole now looms overhead, promising to destroy us all.
The Aaron Clift Experiment, The Age of Misinformation, 2023 Tracks: The Age of Misinformation (4:57), L.I.A.R. (5:14), Bet on Zero (10:43), Dark Secrets (3:35), Rise (5:55), The Color of Flight (5:45), Málaga (4:49), Weight of the World (5:47) Players: Aaron Clift (vocals and keyboards), Anthony Basini (guitar), Clif Warren (bass), Pablo Ranlett-López (drums and percussion)
The Aaron Clift Experiment has gradually built themselves a solid following and growing respect in the prog world since their debut in 2012. The Austin-Texas proggers now have four studio albums and two live EPs under their belt.
On The Age of Misinformation, there are some glimpses of Steven Wilson/Porcupine Tree, 80s Rush, and Southern Empire. There are a variety of styles on the album, from heavy protest rock (“The Age of Misinformation”) to jazz fusion-ey rock (“Bet on Zero”).
The political nature of the opening track is a little in your face, which jarred me a bit at first, but the album pretty quickly settles down, and the melodies and musicianship promptly overrode my initial misgivings. It also helped to realize this record is more of a response to the overall experience of the last few years, rather than a political screed. I guess I’ve been so shaken by the same sorts of things the band is singing about that I’ve come to be repelled by any mention of it! Ha. But in the end, music is probably the best way to deal with these sorts of emotions. And what better way to do it than with a blend of hard rock, jazz, drum solos, and big band horns?
Oh yeah, did I mention there’s a drum solo on “Bet on Zero”? I can’t remember the last time I heard an extended drum solo on a new studio album. Great to hear. It reminded me a bit of Jethro Tull. In fact, musically the band reminds me a lot of Tull. Not because they necessarily sound just like Tull, but because they have that same approach of “we’ll try anything” to making music. There are lots of sounds used to wonderful effect. And lyrically they aren’t afraid to tackle difficult subjects, a fear Ian Anderson also has never had.
“The Color of Flight” is a quieter track with dense layering. Simple percussion, layered keyboards, violin. It’s a nice break from the heavier rock found on much of the rest of the album. “Málaga” has a strong Porcupine Tree influence, with a steady beat and keyboard atmospherics.
The variety on the record keeps this one interesting throughout. The album is under 50 minutes, but the different sounds and styles takes the listener on an exciting journey. The production value is high on the album, along with a very clear mix. The melodies and vocal lines are backed by intelligently placed guitar lines and backing instrumentation like the horns and violins. The result is very polished, making The Age of Misinformation certainly worth checking out.
Starting out with a burner from 2022 that just arrived due to the ongoing vagaries of overseas shipping: Norwegian guitarist Hedvig Mollestad connects with the Trondheim Jazz Orchestra for the conceptual Maternity Beat. As on her previous collaborative jazz-rock projects Ekhidna and Tempest Revisited, Mollestad’s writing runs the gamut, from thrusting dash through tribal fusion getdowns and chamber interplay to a glorious finale that ratchets up to a blazing climax. And her playing is as creative and involving as ever, ranging from the gutbucket blues and skronky feedback of “Do Re Mi Ma Ma” to the gliding, Jeff Beck-ish boogie of “All Flights Cancelled” and beyond. Another winner from this impressive musician that grows more immersive the more you listen.
Even with his relocation from New York City to Toledo, Spain this year, impresario Leonardo Pavkovic has kept MoonJune Records churning out first rate albums that consistently ride the cutting edge of possible musics. In the most recent batch of MoonJune releases, Sonar guitarist Stephan Thelen returns with Fractal Guitar 3, another winning album of intriguing compositions that create harmony and structure via the interaction of cyclic time and minimalist melodies; touch guitarist Markus Reuter teams with multi-instrumentalist Tim Motzer and drummer Kenny Growhoski for Bleed, a bold, grungy set of abstract pieces drawn from free improvisation; Anchor & Burden (Reuter’s “European supergroup” featuring drummer extraordinaire Asaf Sirkis) weighs in with Kosmonautik Pilgrimage, monumentally turbulent full improv with Lovecraftian artwork and titles to match its swirling, heavy vibe; and Duo Atanatovski (a Slovenian father and son on guitar/cello and winds) team with a rhythm section for the radiant Liberté Toujours, an album of soaring, propulsive jazz that I guarantee will lift your spirits. The best way to catch all the action on MoonJune is a yearly subscription at Bandcamp.
On a whim (admittedly nudged by a recommendation from allmusic.com), I checked out Guided by Voices’ brand new La La Land and was instantly captivated. The brainchild and main musical vehicle of Dayton Ohio guitarist and singer Robert Pollard, the band is known for its insanely prolific output (the current lineup has released 14 albums in the last 5 years), slamming home musical earworms laced with whimsical, elusive lyrics aplenty in a devil-may-care blend of the British invasion, low-fi punk-pop and just the right amount of psych-prog garnish. In the past, GbV’s releases lacked a certain quality control, but recent albums seem to be all killer, no filler: here the air-tight riffs lodge directly in your pleasure centers; Pollard reels off irresistible chorus after irresistible chorus in a delightfully mannered, indeterminate accent; and expansive efforts like the pretty acoustic tune “Queen of Spaces” and the off-kilter, multi-part build of “Slowly On the Wheel” offset the short, sharp shocks of the opening “Another Day to Heal” and the Beatlesque “Ballroom Etiquette”. Well worth exploring, but mind stepping too far into the whirlpool …
I’ve got to agree with Bryan that Riverside’s latest, ID.Entity, is a strong contender for “best of the year” status, even this early in the game. This is hooky, hard art-rock (metallic around the edges) with a compelling sense of ebb and flow — not to mention plenty of high-power guitar and keyboard heroics. What makes the blend especially savory here is Mariusz Duda’s vocals; wistfully edgy, drily sardonic and bluntly dismissive by turns, his melancholy meditations on a divided world with no place left to hide grab and shake you, whether you want to see the pictures he’s painting or not. Definitely up to Progarchy’s favorite Polish proggers’ high standards, with the potential to rope in fans of a recent vintage — like me — as well. (Need to catch up on Duda and company? The 2021 online compilation20 – The Shorts and the Longsmight be your ticket.)
Always ready to bring a bit of reconfigured retro flash into here and now, Andy Tillison has opened wide The Tangent’s vaults for an old-school “triple-live” album, Pyramids, Stars and Other Stories. The release kicks off with a soul-stirring 2004 set, as the original lineup (including Roine Stolt) powers through early classics like “The World That We Drive Through” and “The Music That Died Alone”. Add a substantial serving of later songs and instrumentals performed by equally gifted lineups on the 2012 UK and the 2017 US tours (the last of which I was privileged to see at Chicago’s Progtoberfest), and you have 2 1/2 hours of back-catalog gems delivered in grand style. I gleefully gulped down the whole thing in one sitting; Tillison’s non-stop compositional eclecticism and his unquenchable penchant for speaking (well, singing) his mind delight from beginning to end, and his compatriots step up to match his commitment throughout. On their game, The Tangent’s devotion to music and their appeal to our consciences point us to the best of what we are and what we can be; here, they hit peak form throughout, with any rough edges only adding to their appeal. This generous set is both a first-rate introduction for new listeners and an essential item for hard core fans. In addition to purchasing the album through the usual outlets, you can still support the band directly and pre-order a limited number of signed copies here.
Back in December, you launched an album entitled “Voices from the Past.” How do you feel about the release?
I feel like I have reached a certain milestone. This is my debut album of my own music. I have been a video game composer and sound designer for many years, and it was hard to find time for my stuff. Finally, I was able to do it. I feel satisfied. And I hope people like the result. In many ways, it depends on this whether I will actively continue such musical activities. On the other hand, I am a little cunning, because I’m already preparing material for the next album. However, I wanted to add some drama.
How much of a challenge was it to work on the album?
It was difficult to find time for one music while writing other music. For several years, while bit by bit preparing this album, I was engaged in the recording of the orchestra for video game projects (Cinderella: New Story and Modern Warships to name a few) and the sound design of many projects, including Mobile Legends franchise. Without even a primary musical education, I was engaged in creating arrangements and even creating scores for the orchestra, recording with wonderful people from the Budapest Scoring Orchestra (by the way, in my plans for the future there is an item “record an album with a live orchestra”). In addition, I am the father of two children. And I hope you can imagine how difficult it is to fit into this schedule the creation of deeply personal music, and what a challenge it was for me.
Speaking of challenges, have you set any in the early phase of what has become the final result?
The main challenge for a guitarist (and I am a solo guitarist primarily) is maintaining the skill. If you do not practice the guitar professionally and constantly, then the skill will undoubtedly fall. I practice every day for several hours, so as not to waste it. The writing of this album allowed not only to leave the skill at the same level, but also to strengthen it, what should be reflected in the next album, which will be devoted mainly to guitar music.
Otherwise, I tried not to set myself any tasks initially. The album began spontaneously with a few unrelated singles, but soon grew into something more, which has now taken shape and is available for everyone to listen to. And it’s wonderful!
Tell me about the different instrumental aspects that you explore on these songs.
As I already said, I have no musical education and I had a very little experience of working with musicians. On this album, I worked with a saxophonist on two tracks, and it was interesting and instructive. First, I did a mini-casting. It turned out that choosing a saxophonist who understands your music is quite difficult. I went through four musicians before I found the right sound. Then I realized how diverse the approach to music could be, depending on the personality of the musician, his taste and style of playing. It may sound trite to many, but live music is called “live” because it breathes and has a billion nuances. In future releases, I plan to use as many live musicians as possible. At this stage, I play almost all the instruments myself. It was extremely interesting to explore and apply them in the process.
What is your opinion about the progressive rock scene today?
I learn about many progressive rock bands by accident. For example, I found out about “The Dear Hunter” by stumbling upon their vinyl cover on the web, I liked it, after which I began to listen to their album, and only then I thought “damn, why didn’t I know about them before?” My opinion is that progressive rock has too few listeners these days. Critically few! And this needs to be corrected. It is hard to say how to do it, but we, as musicians, will try to do our best. Do you notice how various prog rock, fusion and city pop albums from the 70s and 80s are now popping up on YouTube and gaining new life? It is kind of a renaissance, the music is finally finding its audience after decades, and it is sad and beautiful at the same time. Accordingly, there is a chance that our albums will find their audience over the years. Or will it happen now? You decide.
Let me know about your influences—the artists that in a way shaped and continue to shape your music.
As a guitarist, I have to say that my main influence was naturally guitarists. Since childhood I admired Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani. Now, if you suddenly ask “who is the best guitar player in the world?” without hesitation I will answer “Guthrie Govan”. These are the people who shaped my approach to guitar solos. As for the music in general, I like a wide range of genres, from pop to heavy metal. I am also fond of video games and movie soundtracks. Surprisingly, with all of the above, in recent years I just fly away from Tatsuro Yamashita. This is, perhaps, my main musical ideologist and a person who needs to be equal musically.
If we talk about my favorite progressive rock, jazz and fusion bands, then these are The Dear Hunter, Snarky Puppy, Casiopea, Kansas, Tropea, Kingo Hamada, Jeff Lorber Fusion to name a few.
What are your top 5 records of all time?
The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise (2015)
Snarky Puppy – We Like It Here (2014)
Guthrie Govan – Erotic Cakes (2011)
Tatsuro Yamashita – For You (1982)
Casiopea – Casiopea (1979)
Besides the release of “Voices from the Past” are there any other plans for the future?
Working more with live symphony orchestras and video game soundtracks is my passion. Record the next album with a focus on virtuoso guitar solos (work in progress). Record my own album with an orchestra. To work more with different musicians, to participate in collaborations if possible. To travel more and gain emotions, then to express them with the help of music. To live and enjoy life itself.
“Voices from the Past” is out now, and is available from Bandcamp.