Astra! Great News–A Third Album Forthcoming

Astra posted this seven hours ago on social media.  Excellent news!  The first two albums are simply outstanding.  Great psychedelic prog.  The “Prisoner” ending is a little spooky, however!

astra update

First off, I have to apologize for just dropping off the map for so long. You all deserve much more than that and since so many of you have been nice enough to write and ask “What’s going on with ASTRA?” I wanted to give you all a status update.

Back when our drummer David Hurley left ASTRA in 2013, no one could really foresee the difficulties ahead. We knew carrying on without Dave would be a hard road to travel but we had no idea just how much of an impact his departure would have on us. The 5 of us had an undeniable chemistry that just worked so well in every aspect, but especially when it came to songwriting. After Dave left, I think we were all pretty bummed out and while we were working on writing material for our 3rd album, our frustrations slowly started cropping up. We decided to take a short break which turned into a long break, which turned into a longer break, which happens to be where we’re at now. Because of this long hiatus some of the guys have become extremely busy with their own musical projects which, unfortunately, now leaves very little time for ASTRA.

However, I do have some good news! I just recently spoke with all of the original ASTRA members, including Dave, and everyone is down to record a 3rd ASTRA album if we can get enough material together. Another bit of good news is that Stuart and I have been playing and writing together and we’re hoping that we can eventually make this 3rd album a reality.

Now, none of this is a guarantee but I think it is a step in the right direction. ASTRA will always be my baby and my first love when it comes to music and I don’t want to give up on her so I’m going to do all that I can to make this happen. This will most likely take quite some time since everyone is so busy but I will try to keep you all updated as best I can. I will also try to be much more diligent in responding to your emails and messages in the future.

Lastly, a huge THANK YOU is long overdue, so, thank you all for sticking with ASTRA through the years and for being such amazing fans. I love you all more than words can say and I’m going to do my best to bring some new ASTRA music to your ears as soon as possible.

Be seeing you,
-Richard Vaughan

Administrative Note for July-August 2017

History_President_Andrew_Jackson_rev_SF_HD_1104x622-16x9
I’m Andrew Jackson, and I do NOT approve of this message.

Dear Progarchists, readers, reviewers, and creators,

Just FYI, I (Brad) will be only intermittently reviewing and writing about prog over the next two months.  I’ve contracted to write (and complete!–the private sector actually wants results, as Dr. Stantz reminded us in Ghostbusters) a book-length manuscript on President Andrew Jackson.  All to the good, of course, but it means that I will be living the next two months in the 1830s.  Sadly, this was a violent time, and a time without the benefit of progressive rock.

I’ll do my best to connect the Jacksonians with the proggers.

Progarchy should continue without a hitch, but I do want folks to know that if they submit anything to me (Brad), it might take a bit for a response.

Please make sure you also contact one of the other editors if you need anything–but especially Chris (Time Lord: progarchy@morec.com).  Thank you!

Yours, BB

A Highly Rewarding Outing: SLOW RUST from The Tangent

The Tangent, SLOW RUST OF FORGOTTEN MACHINERY (Insideout Music, 2017).  Tracks: Two Swings; Doctor Livingstone; Slow Rust; The Story of Lead and Astatine; A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road; and Basildonxit.

tangent slow rust
The antithesis.

Andy Tillison is not a happy man.

From the art work, to the vocal work, to the lyrics of this latest The Tangent album, SLOW RUST, Tillison has embraced a critical response to the rapidly growing and evolving fascistic, fascist-lite, and insular movements of the western world over the last several years.  As artist, as man, and as thinker, Tillison hopes to stay the dark trajectory of the West or even, God willing, reverse it.  While the great red-headed man of prog mischief has never backed away from controversial viewpoints, he’s rarely been this explicit.

Even the album cover makes one pause.  Previously, Tillison has joked that he represents the dark side of prog, the antithesis, in particular, to Big Big Train, and the cover seems to project this rather profoundly, as a (presumably) single Muslim mother walks along dilapidated railroad tracks, holding the hands of her two daughters.  The once majestic train has derailed, and the crossing sign (the closest thing to the viewer of the album) reads “go.”  Clearly, several things have gone very, very wrong.  There’s no hedgerow in the distance, only a ruined, collapsed, and spent civilization.  There’s some blue sky showing, but it’s obscured by the ruddy reds of smoke and grit floating all too freely in a broken and war-torn world.

Continue reading “A Highly Rewarding Outing: SLOW RUST from The Tangent”

soundstreamsunday: “Subterranean Homesick Alien” by Radiohead

radiohead - EditedThe figure “singing from the window in the Mission of the Sacred Heart” in ELO’s “Mission (A World Record)”, last week’s soundstreamsunday entry, could be the uptight narrator of Radiohead’s “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” from the band’s 1997 tour-de-force OK Computer.  As if in mirrored conversation, those two songs, separated in time by over 20 years but perhaps closer than they appear — in their beam-me-up guitar melodies, keyboarded grandeur and darkening moods — are to me joined at their metaphoric sci-fi hips.

Radiohead’s confidence on OK Computer, in both the intense alienation of the fragmented lyrics and the band’s break with the walls and squalls of mid-90s guitar rock, is a subtle swagger ripe with end-of-the-millenia decaying beauty.  It’s a prog goth triumph, reaching in its many directions to locate the mood of its time, a burred gloaming richly unsettled.  It’s also, I was reminded when listening again to it recently, funny, in the same way that Forever Changes is, or Fight Club, or a mad prophet preaching the end times.  There’s just no telling what the next turn will be, but there is a willful design, and so the satisfaction of a wicked lyric or the resolution of a majestic melodic sequence prompts a smile or a laugh.  The parts come together, a human victory, a denial of the end even as it’s being trumpeted.

The internally rhyming title of “Subterranean Homesick Alien,” a riff on a Dylan masterpiece (and, further back, a Kerouac novel), feels tossed off on the one hand but also maybe the only choice given its narrator’s painting a scene of alien surveillance and his desire, that he be taken “on board their beautiful ship, show me the world as I’d love to see it.”  He’s maybe one of them, maybe wants to be one of them, but who They are is undetermined and in any case moot: the point is homesickness for a place that has to be better, with the “breath of the morning” and the “smell of the warm summer air.”

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

Don’t sleep on Bent Knee!

This isn’t a proper review, in part because even after 7 or 8 listens I am still trying to wrap my head around the beautiful, paradoxical wonder of this album. Rather, it’s more of a “you really need to check out Land Animal from Bent Knee—you can listen to it streaming here” sort of post.

The band, which was formed in 2009, is based in New England and consists of six members. From the band’s site:

Lead singer and keyboardist Courtney Swain’s soaring vocals are instantly arresting. Guitarist Ben Levin is one of the most dynamic and versatile guitarists around, shifting between the raging and raucous to the sublime and meditative. Bassist Jessica Kion and drummer Gavin Wallace-Ailsworth combine into an enthralling rhythm section that’s equal parts powerhouse and nuance. Violinist Chris Baum’s kinetic violin work provides drama, grace and intrigue. World-class producer and live sound designer Vince Welch weaves it all together with a captivating, expert touch.

My first Bent Knee song was the whip-lash, jaw-dropping cover of Johnny Cash’s dark nugget “You Are My Sunshine,” which demonstrates well the band’s rather unique mixture of technical dexterity, cathartic bombast, cerebral coolness, and inverted, addictive catchiness. (Did I mention “paradoxical” earlier? Yep.) This opening paragraph from the band’s bio page might sound a bit hyperbolic—but if it is, it isn’t by much:

Bent Knee is unlike any band you’ve ever heard. Its borderless sound combines myriad influences from across the rock, pop, minimalist, and avant-garde spectrums into a seamless, thrilling whole. Its new album Land Animal—Bent Knee’s first for InsideOutMusic/Sony—takes its sound to a new level. It offers a suite of songs full of addictive hooks, lush melodies and enthralling twists and turns that capture the reality of life in the 21st Century—a reality of people and nations in the midst of tumultuous change. It also communicates a ray of hope and desire for listeners to embrace the fact that they’re not alone in their struggles.

In some songs, especially in more serene passages or sections that bear some faint resemblance to orthodox pop music, I hear Kate Bush and even Sia (“Hole” is perfect example of the latter). In the more “out there” moments, when Swain unleashes her blistering, gorgeous wail, I hear snatches of Fleming & John (a criminally-ignored husband and wife duo) and early Björk (oddly enough, when she loses her mind at times on the 1990 jazz album “Gling Gló”). But these reference points are merely suggestive, as the whole of Bent Knee is, again, hard to describe, a mixture of orchestral-ish passages, raw but tight guitar, polyrhythmic craziness, classically-imbued moments of open tenderness, angst-packed explosions, and much more. (The bass lines, for example, are worth the price of entry.)

The songs are certainly songs—there is no noodling or needless wandering here—but they are also soundscapes. A perfect case in point is the title song. For those looking for progressive rock that is both a bit unsettling and strangely comforting, Bent Knee is worthy of your time: