Autumn

In acknowledgement of the most beautiful season of the year….

In the other gardens
And all up the vale,
From the autumn bonfires
See the smoke trail!

Pleasant summer over
And all the summer flowers,
The red fire blazes,
The grey smoke towers.

Sing a song of seasons!
Something bright in all!
Flowers in the summer,
Fires in the fall!

— Robert Louis Stevenson

The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!

Since the initial installment of our fall preview, deluxe box set announcements are coming thick and fast. This article includes those mentioned in the preview, plus new announcements that may appeal to our readers. I’ve included approximate list prices in USA dollars (not including shipping), as well as lower-cost options for those who want to hear and support the music without breaking their personal bank. Links are to the ever-ready folks at Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

King Crimson, Complete 1969 Recordings: 20 CDs, 4 BluRays and 2 DVDs include every surviving note Crimson played in their first year — the seminal debut In the Court of the Crimson King plus the complete studio sessions, extant live bootlegs and BBC recordings. The crown jewels here are new stereo, surround and Dolby Atmos mixes of Court by Steven Wilson. Available October 23 ($210 – $240 list price, depending on your vendor); slimmed-down versions of In the Court on 2 CDs + BluRay (with the new stereo and surround mixes, alternate versions and additional material ; $40) or 2 LPs (with alternate versions and additional material; $35) are already available.

Joni Mitchell, Archives Vol. 1 – The Early Years (1963-1967): Nearly six hours of recordings from before Mitchell released her first album — home recordings, radio broadcasts, and live shows, including 29 songs not previously released with her singing them! Available from Mitchell’s website October 30 as follows: complete on 5 CDs ($65); Early Joni 1 LP (1963 radio broadcast; $25, black or clear vinyl) and Live at Canterbury House 1967 3 LPs (3 sets recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan; $60, black or white vinyl).

More from Porcupine Tree, Tangerine Dream, Tears for Fears and others after the jump!

Continue reading “The Big Fall Prog (Plus) Preview, Part 2: Box Set Bonanza!”

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”
Neal Morse

By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse

Scary man with scythe is the winter snow.

Neal Morse, Sola Gratia, September 11, 2020, Inside Out Music

Tracks: 1. Preface (01:28), 2. Overture (05:59), 3. In The Name Of The Lord (04:27), 4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones) (02:43), 5. March Of The Pharisees (01:40), 6. Building A Wall (05:01), 7. Sola Intermezzo (02:10), 8. Overflow (06:27), 9. Warmer Than The Sunshine (03:22), 10. Never Change (07:52), 11. Seemingly Sincere (09:34), 12. The Light On The Road To Damascus (03:26), 13. The Glory Of The Lord (06:17), 14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission (05:17)

Last Saturday, August 29, 2020, I had the great opportunity to talk to the magnificent Neal Morse about his new solo album, Sola Gratia. Morse is perhaps the most ubiquitous artist of “third wave” progressive rock. You’d be hard pressed to find contemporary progressive rock artists that aren’t influenced by him in some way. His latest solo effort proves why. The lyrical and musical songwriting is in peak form.

As a sequel to 2007’s Sola Scriptura, this album finds Morse exploring the story of the Apostle Paul’s conversion from a persecutor of Christians to the faith’s most ardent missionary. It is a profound story of God’s grace. Morse explores the drama of this story as Paul (then called Saul) wrestles with the newly founded Christian church and the sincerity of its followers. While Paul is on his way to Damascus to persecute more Christians, Jesus appears to him. Paul then converts and repents. The album ends with Paul converting and glorifying God, leaving us on a cliffhanger of sorts for a possible part 2 in the future.

The album pulls a few lyrical and musical highlights from Sola Scriptura, but, as Morse says in the interview below, they are merely sprinklings. It is enough to be familiar without sounding like a retread. The music gives room for the listener to breathe and think about the lyrics, which makes this an enjoyable album to return to. At just over an hour long it isn’t a chore to return to as a double album might be. The music has its expected complexity with the usual suspects playing on the album – primarily Mike Portnoy and Randy George – but the lyrics are the highlight here. There are a lot of calm moments that allow you to reflect. I found that quite appealing about the album, and it has quickly become one of my favorite Neal Morse solo albums.

But enough of that. The interview covers the background of the album, how it was written, and its connections to Sola Scriptura. We talked a bit about Paul, and Transatlantic and Flying Colors came up a few times as well.

Neal Morse at keyboards

Neal: Hello.

Bryan: Hi, this is Bryan from Progarchy.

Neal: Hey how you doing man?

Bryan: Good how are you?

Neal: Good! Good good.

Bryan: Thanks so much for your time this morning. I really appreciate it. I know you’re a busy man.

Neal: Well, you know, got a couple things going on. That’s alright. I’m sure you do too.

Bryan: Well I don’t have an album coming out every month. [laughs]

Neal: [Laughs] Yeah.

Bryan: So tell me about the background for your upcoming album, Sola Gratia. I’ve had a chance to listen to it several times, and it’s fantastic.

Neal: Oh thanks man. Thanks, I’m glad you like it. Well I mean I started getting these ideas while I was on vacation – sort of half vacation half work actually. We did some gigs down in Australia, and then we took a trip to New Zealand and I was just getting a flood of ideas.

Continue reading “By Grace Alone: A Conversation With Neal Morse”

Kevin Keller’s Heavenly New Release

 

I’ve written the praises of contemporary composer Kevin Keller before. I believe him to be one the finest composers working today (John Diliberto of NPR’s Echoes has dubbed his music ambient chamber), so it is always big news when he releases a new album. What makes The Front Porch of Heaven even more special are the circumstances that gave rise to it.

A little more than a year ago, Keller was told he needed a triple bypass, and that his heart would be stopped during the surgery. As he writes on his blog:

On the day of surgery, I was excited, but calm. I had one last photo taken of me right before I went into the OR, and you can see the joy on my face. I was excited about this journey. I walked into the Operating Room, lay down on the operating table, put in my earbuds with some calming music, and fell asleep. Soon, under general anesthesia, my chest was opened and my heart clamped off. With no heartbeat, my blood was pumped out of my body through a machine that pumped it back in. I was also no longer breathing on my own. I had left on my journey.

Keller took his experience and channeled it into some of the most sublime music I have ever heard. Clocking in at a relatively brief 38 minutes, not one note in The Front Porch of Heaven is superfluous or wasted. He is a master of musical economy in the tradition of classic Harold Budd or Brian Eno. In my opinion, only Tim Story’s music is comparable to Keller’s in terms of sheer beauty and elegance.

The album begins with “Beacon”, which invokes the beacon of light that guided him through the darkness of anesthetized unconsciousness. As a simple yet comforting melody is played on acoustic piano, hushed voices enter, and a gently insistent beat begins. It sounds like a steady heartbeat (no coincidence, I’m sure!), upon which more instrumentation is slowly added. Our journey has begun.

Next up is “Forgotten Places” which Keller writes is “about the “forgotten places” of my early childhood that I suddenly remembered in vivid detail.” A noise like a music box getting going kicks off this track, and once again an acoustic piano establishes the melodic theme, this time reminiscent of a driving Tangerine Dream song. Snippets of radio broadcasts come and go in the mix, until eventually a dialogue between strings and piano takes center stage. The melody is one of yearning and delight; there is a sense of unhurried pleasure as we revisit these memories.

“Just Over The Ridge” is a more somber affair. Chords played slowly on piano over a subdued bed of electronic ambience introduce this track. About mid-way through, electric guitar joins in as excitement builds – what will we see as approach the top of the ridge? A driving rhythm carries us up and over, and we gracefully ascend on the music motif that began this song.

“Into The Light” establishes a hushed expectancy as a far away synth calls to us over arioso strings. This is a very atmospheric track that exudes serenity. When I first heard it, I likened it to a 21st century Pachelbel’s Canon.

“The Sky Below” is one of my two favorite tracks. It features more Tangerine Dream-style electronic rhythms with a slightly twangy guitar riff leading the way. We are still languidly soaring in the heavens, and looking below in wonder and awe.

The Front Porch of Heaven concludes with “Solana”, which is the other favorite track of mine. It features the finest melody Keller has composed in his career, and it is presented in a no-frills manner on piano. A tune this beautiful can and does speak for itself. Some gently insistent synths soon join in, until we are treated to a triumphant chorus of sound that is a pure celebration of life. As they fade away leaving a solo piano, we realize the gift we have been given on this journey.

The production is outstanding – every track flows logically from one to the next, and they combine to create an atmosphere of joyful serenity. The soundstage is spacious when necessary, and intimate when that is called for. Every detail is clearly heard – Keller obviously puts extraordinary care into constructing his musical pieces.

In this “Age of Anxiety” (to steal a phrase from Auden), Keller’s music is a much-needed balm. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen. We could all benefit from spending more time together on the Front Porch of Heaven.

The Front Porch Of Heaven will be released on September 18, 2020. You can preorder it here.

 

Hedwig Mollestad’s Ekhidna: Heat, Light and Heart

Since 2010, Norwegian guitarist Hedwig Mollestad has been turning heads worldwide with her incandescent fusion of heavy rock and avant-garde jazz. The six albums by her eponymous trio (currently with Ellen Brekken on bass and Ivar Joe Bjørnstad on drums) recall Motörhead as readily as Mahavishnu John McLaughlin — crushing, distorted power chords tangled up with jagged shards of melody, furiously lurching ahead without regard for purist sensibilities of any stripe. Based on work commissioned by Norway’s Arts Council for the 2019 Vossajazz Festival, Mollestad’s latest album Ekhidna breaks fresh, fertile ground, triumphantly meeting the challenges inherent in writing for a bigger band and a broader sonic palette. It’s a bracing blend of tumbling rhythms, killer riffs and brain-bending improv that goes down remarkably smooth, but leaves a fiery aftertaste; this is masterful stuff.

Serious jazz-rock heads will immediately think of Miles Davis’ seminal Bitches Brew when they see this album’s lineup: Mollestad, Susana Santos Silva on trumpet, Marte Eberson and Erlend Slettevoll on electric pianos and synthesizers, Ole Mofjell on percussion and Torstein Lofthus on drums. To her credit, Mollestad’s new music doesn’t avoid expectations raised by that association, sometimes confronting classic fusion strategies head-on, sometimes blithely subverting them — and these players are impressively capable of tackling the challenges Mollestad mounts. Silva’s impressionistic tone and sense of line readily evokes Miles while forging her own path; Eberson and Slettevoll’s chunky chording and grumbling bass lines simultaneously thicken the midrange and sharpen the harmonic contours; Mofjell and Loftus’ churning beds of polyrhythms relentlessly propel the tunes forward while constantly shifting the ground under their collaborators’ feet.

“No Friends But the Mountains” kicks off the proceedings already simmering: Silva floats over clean Mollestad chords that morph into feedback, backed by sparse keys and atmospheric percussion. “A Stone’s Throw” ramps up the energy; the initial hard rock foundation gives way to a unison guitar/trumpet/synth head that struts atop cooking drums and percussion before slamming into an elegant melody that evokes, of all things, Pink Floyd. Then Eberson solos over Mollestad’s splintery, circular lick and the percussionists’ rhythmic curveballs — and when Slettevoll joins the fun with clustered chording, look out! The agitated rhythmic foundations of “Antilone” never quite settle, with change the only constant through slamming ensemble passages, Silva’s spiraling whorls of painterly color, Mollestad’s grinding breakdowns, and a taut, immense ensemble build to the final thematic restatement.

“Slightly Lighter” clears the air with a tentative trio, Mollestad gracefully leading Eberson and Slettevoll through the changes. Then “Ekhidna” serves up more polyrhythmic metal balanced with a melancholy long-note theme, Silva unleashing her inner Miles, Eberson wailing on synth over Loftus’ lightning reactions, the whole thing ending with a satisfying crunch!

But Mollestad and her crew save the best for last: the gorgeous “One Leaf Left.” A muted duet between Mollestad and Eberson evoke Soft Machine’s cyclical, interlocking counterpoint over Slettevoll’s sparse, insinuating bass; then Mollestad and Silva unspool a seemingly endless chain of melody. Silva stretches out long notes like taffy; synth clouds from Slettevoll lead into a final, raging Mollestad tour de force over a grungy ensemble stomp. Juggling downbeats, building outrageous howls of dissonance, confessing the blues like one possessed, she rides the storm that mounts beneath her, ending both the piece and the album with a fiery, climactic cry.

Named for the she-dragon of Greek mythology (also called “the mother of all monsters”), Ekhidna is monstrous in the best sense — a musical rollercoaster ride suffused with heat, light and heart, recombining the raw materials of classic fusion and extending the genre’s reach into realms of vast new potential. This is a real breakthrough for Hedwig Mollestad, and her best effort to date; it shouldn’t be missed! So check it out below.

— Rick Krueger

Andy Tillison

Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

The Tangent Auto Reconnaissance Album CoverThe Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020

Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)

The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky

Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.

I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.

The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.


After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.

Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.

Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.

The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.

Continue reading “Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent”

Devin Townsend Announces Live Album – “Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1”

Great news from Inside Out music for all of us who missed Devin Townsend on his most recent tour – and for everyone who missed shows that were canceled because of the pandemic. He is also doing a live online show on September 5. More on that below.

The following courtesy of Inside Out:

Devin Townsend will release ‘Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1’ on October 23rd, 2020, a document of his Winter 2019 European tour that saw him taking on possibly his most ambitious live show to date.

Recorded in December 2019 in London, UK on the penultimate night of the tour in support of his latest album ‘Empath’, this run of shows saw Devin joined by an incredible line-up of musicians. The band was made up of guitarists Mike Kenneally (ex-Frank Zappa) and Markus Reuter (Stick Men, The Crimson Project), drummer Morgen Agren (Kaipa, Mats & Morgan, Frank Zappa), bassist Nathan Navarro, Haken keyboard player Diego Tejeida, and guitarist/vocalist Ché Aimee Dorval, as well as vocalists Samantha & Anne Preis and Arabella Packford.

Devin’s plan for the Empath touring cycle was to divide it up into three ‘Volumes’, and this was Volume 1. The idea behind the shows was a simple one: none of the backing tapes or click tracks that had long been necessary to bring the kaleidoscopic cacophony in his head and on his records to life in the flesh. This would just be Devin Townsend and a band of genius-level musicians getting up there and trying to keep it from spinning off into outer space. Or maybe just letting it spin-off into outer space for the sheer hell of it.

The whole objective was that I wanted to make that statement: This is by the seat our pants,” he says. “Because it’s important to me to represent this hyper anal-retentive music that I’ve made over the years, but in a human way. Rather than it just being, ‘Well, here it is, perfectly done.’

I was overwhelmed by the fact that all these brilliant people that I have so much respect for were willing to come together and play this weird shit with me,” says Devin. “I had these unique players and this interesting instrumentation that allowed us to interpret the music in different ways. It was clear to me that I could just have fun and be me and know that they would be effortlessly be able to follow that.

Continue reading “Devin Townsend Announces Live Album – “Order Of Magnitude – Empath Live Volume 1””

Paint of Salvation band members

Healing Our Time: Pain of Salvation’s “Panther”

Pain of Salvation PantherPain of Salvation, Panther, Inside Out Music, August 28, 2020.

Tracks: 1. Accelerator (05:31), 2. Unfuture (06:46), 3. Restless Boy (03:34), 4. Wait (07:04), 5. Keen to a Fault (06:01), 6. Fur (01:34), 7. Panther (04:11), 8. Species (05:18), 9. Icon (13:30) 

Members: Daniel Gildenlöw – lead vocals and lots of stuff; Johan Hallgren – guitar and vocals; Léo Margarit – drums and vocals; Daniel Karlsson – keyboards, guitars, and vocals; Gustaf Hielm – bass and vocals 

Apparently I’m about two and a half decades late to the Pain of Salvation game. Better late than never, I suppose. I know I’ve listened to some of their more recent work when it came out, but at the time it didn’t grab me. Panther grabbed me, and now listening to a bit of their back catalog I’m starting to get it. Pain of Salvation have their own unique corner of the progressive metal market. No one else sounds quite like they do, at least on this new album. Pain of Salvation is just more proof that Scandinavia has the best bands.

Panther deals with tensions between those who fit into society and those who don’t. As someone who probably fits with the latter (and I imagine many progressive rock fans and musicians also would), the overarching concept certainly appeals. There are also dystopic overtones throughout, especially on “Unfuture.”

Welcome to the new world… a better and improved world for our mankind. – “Unfuture”

On the concept, Daniel Gildenlöw comments, “Because we live in a time where we’re more aware of people not fitting the norm and we’re doing everything we can as a society to acknowledge all of these individuals, but at the same time, they’re more disowned than ever, more medicated than ever. The album is painting pictures of a world, I guess. If this was a movie it would be scenes from a city. It’s set in one city, and it’s populated by dogs and the panthers, the so-called normal people and the spectrum people. That’s the setting for the entire album.”

Conceptually this is an album that will stand the test of time. It deals with timeless issues, in a similar way to Steven Wilson’s lyrics from both his Porcupine Tree and solo careers.

Continue reading “Healing Our Time: Pain of Salvation’s “Panther””