Fort Wayne, Indiana, Prog Group Thematic to Release New Album

Fort Wayne, Indiana, based prog band Thematic is set to release their new album, Skyrunner, on January 31. I was previously unaware of this group, but I must say the single from the album is quite good. They have a good balance of the classic styling combined with the crunch of a band like Haken. Check out the video below and more info about the band and new album after that.

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Neil Peart marched to his own beat of faith

neilpeartFrom my tribute to Neil Peart, a focus on his lyrics and their spiritual journey:

Fly by Night (1975) was Peart’s first album with Rush. The title track buoyantly celebrates the sense of adventure that should characterize life: “Start a new chapter / Find what I’m after / It’s changing every day.”

But on Caress of Steel (also 1975), with the track “I Think I’m Going Bald,” Peart grapples with mortality: “My life is slipping away / I’m aging every day / But even when I’m grey / I’ll still be grey my way.”

This independent ethos assumed mythical form on 2112 (Rush’s breakthrough hit album of 1976), which depicts a dystopian sci-fi future where a totalitarian priesthood bans guitar music and tries to bring the story’s hero under its total control.

On A Farewell to Kings (1977), the magnificent song “Xanadu” retells the story of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem “Kubla Khan.” Peart depicts the emptiness that results when one is devoted solely to a life of pleasure: “Waiting for the world to end / Weary of the night / Praying for the light.”

Hemispheres (1978) contains “The Trees,” a memorable parable from Peart about a war between oaks and maples. The terrifying twist ending shows the violent cost of egalitarian revolution: “Now there’s no more oak oppression / For they passed a noble law / And the trees are all kept equal / By hatchet, axe, and saw.”

Although aware of humanity’s evil tendencies, Peart’s humane optimism bursts through in “Jacob’s Ladder,” from Permanent Waves (1980): “Follow men’s eyes / As they look to the skies / The shifting shafts of shining / Weave the fabric of their dreams.”

On the jubilant “Limelight” from Moving Pictures (1981), Peart clings to hope for life lived to the fullest, despite the obstaces presented by social convention: “Those who wish to be / Must put aside the alienation / Get on with the fascination.”

The album Signals (1982) laments those who “sell their dreams for small desires,” in the song “Subdivisions,” which makes the mass-production building zones of suburbia into a metaphor for social conformity: “Subdivisions / In the basement bars / In the backs of cars / Be cool or be cast out.”

Grace Under Pressure (1984) contains the haunting song “Aftermath” about the death of a friend: “Suddenly, you were gone / From all the lives you left your mark upon.”

It’s a testimony to the impact of Neil Peart that so many people felt such a blow from his death.

Music gives shape to our lives as we reflect along with it in our private interior dialogues. Peart was a conversation partner for many in this inner world.

Although he was agnostic in public, yet always “looking for an open door” (as he put it), perhaps the hope and joy he did discover in life may have enabled him to find his way in the end.

Pure Reason Revolution release ‘Eupnea’ on April 3

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Pure Reason Revolution announce Eupnea — their first studio album in nearly 10 years!

Last year, Jon Courtney and Chloë Alper reunited the much-loved Pure Reason Revolution, playing their first show in close to eight years at Midsummer Prog Festival and performing their debut album The Dark Third in full. Today they are excited to announce the release of Eupnea, their first new studio album in nearly 10 years, for the 3rd of April 2020.

Mini Review Round-Up – Frédéric L’Épée, Intelligent Music Project, and Cabinets of Curiosity

2019 was a busy year for me, and unfortunately I never got around to reviewing these physical submissions to Progarchy. Things have slowed a bit, so here you go – three solid albums of very different sounds.

Fédéric L’Épée, The Empty Room, 2019
Tracks: 
Badong (07:00), Inévitable traversée (04:23), Descending the Slow River (06:28), Amour et dissolution (03:32), Delta (08:22), Hymne aux Ancêtres 1 (03:15), Treasured Wounds (06:47), Mist (04:50), Parle-moi encore (06:40), Souvenirs de Traversée (05:44), Hymne aux Ancêtres 2. (02:04), Wegschippernd (01:03)

This album was a bit of a pleasant surprise for me. I had no idea what to expect. It is an instrumental album, but it isn’t like your typical instrumental prog album. It is quite unlike anything I’ve heard before. It is very cinematic. The music tells its own story in a remarkably compelling way. Monsieur L’Épée is obviously a master of his craft.

A French composer and guitarist living in Berlin, Fédéric L’Épée has been in the band Shylock, Philharmonie, and Yang. His musical influences are diverse, which becomes pretty obvious once you start listening to The Empty Room.

This album manages to be peaceful without being boring. I’d say this is one of the most interesting instrumental albums I’ve heard in a long time. The interplay of the guitars, bass, drums, and keyboards is simply stunning. The guitar tone is clean and pleasant. The solo on “Inévitable traversée” is quite nice. “Descending the Slow River” is a bit of a slower piece that may drag a little bit, but, like the other songs, it tells a story through the music. You get a sense of a slowly flowing river through the way the instruments are played.

Continue reading “Mini Review Round-Up – Frédéric L’Épée, Intelligent Music Project, and Cabinets of Curiosity”

In Praise of The Professor

Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon

Neil Peart, Afterimage

A natural byproduct of having a deep and abiding passion for music is that you collect musical heroes: individuals encountered on your musical journey who leave their mark on you. These individuals stand out from the crowd, whether it be for their skill as players, their talent as creators, their personality or their life choices. You didn’t need to spend long on social media these past two days to learn that, for a great many people, Neil Peart was one such individual.

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Neil Peart: A Misfit’s Hero

I’m still reeling from the news that Neil Peart is dead. I’m sure you all are too. None of us expected this. I think we all held out a glimmer of hope that Rush would play another show now and then or come out with another album without a tour. I certainly never imagined in 2015 that Peart would be dead within five years. My heart truly goes out to his wife, daughter, Geddy, and Alex.

This isn’t an obituary. Many others know the details of Peart’s life far more than I do, and I’ll direct you towards them for those kinds of remembrances. Instead, my thoughts on Peart and Rush are deeply personal. There is nothing unique about my experiences with Rush. I know for a fact that others, possibly thousands or millions, have had similar experiences. But this is mine.

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In Memory of Neil Peart (1952-2020)

Unlike so many writing about him in the wake of his passing, Neil Peart didn’t change my life.  By the time I first seriously listened to Rush in college, when I reviewed Permanent Waves for the student newspaper, my tastes were pretty set, and they didn’t lean toward heavy rock.  (Truth to tell, I looked down on “that stuff” back then.)  So while Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures and Exit Stage Left got me into a band my best buddies from high school still raved about — they were using keyboards now! — I basically thought, “hmm … noted and logged.  Buy their stuff from now on”, and kept moving.

So I bought and enjoyed Rush’s albums through A Show of Hands; picked them up again with Roll the Bones (probably my favorite, which I know makes me a schismatic or a heretic); lost track again following Peart’s family tragedies, retirement and comeback.  All the while I dug deeper and wider musically — into classical, jazz, country, folk — and finally embraced the heavy stuff.  (This happens when your stepson digs Led Zeppelin.)

But for me and Rush, 2007’s Snakes and Arrows finally sealed the deal.  An album this good after this many years of active service didn’t just catch my ears; it commanded my respect.  I knew I had to see them live, and my high school buddy Keith obliged with tickets to their 2008 Joe Louis Arena show.  And I saw something like this:

And I was gone.  And I saw Rush four more times before they retired from live performance (usually with those high school buddies); bought Clockwork Angels, all the concert videos and everything else Rush-related I could get my hands on; exulted at their elevation to the heights of Noughties celebrity by the movers and shakers of geek culture; cheered when they made the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (and took over the induction ceremony), then finally made the cover of Rolling Stone; even grew to appreciate the over-the-top virtues of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” 2112 and A Farewell to Kings.

So yes, Neil Peart’s loss moves me.  But what ultimately drew me to him as a musician, a man, an artist, an exemplar?  Some attempts to unpack the mystery follow.

Continue reading “In Memory of Neil Peart (1952-2020)”