As I mentioned at the end of November, I fear that a number of important 2012 releases will be lost to the annals of time. As we’re already looking forward (happily) to 2014 and celebrating the year—perhaps the best year in the history of progressive rock—that was 2013, I want to consider some albums from 2012 that failed to garner as much attention as they should have.
My first such somewhat ignored classic of 2012 was North Atlantic Oscillation’s FOG ELECTRIC. I give it—and everything Sam Healy does—my highest ratings.
Tonight, I want to continue with my second in the series, MUSIC FACTORY by Arrow Haze.
I’m not completely sure I would classify this Belgian album—quite excellent—as necessarily progressive rock in the sense that we might think of Big Big Train or The Tangent as prog. Nor is MUSIC FACTORY moody in the way that Nosound is. Instead, I think it’s much more classic 1980’s AOR, though with modern production and modern sensibilities. Perhaps a good comparison might be with Neal Morse’s AOR project, Flying Colors. Coralspin also comes to mind. This is really progressive AOR, with lots of Trevor Rabin, Rush-era Counterparts, as well as grunge tendencies.
Most importantly, the album is diverse. No song really sounds like any other song. At first listen, this threw me off, as I was search for something to tie it all together. But, don’t take this the wrong way. This isn’t a criticism as much as it is an observation.
At 13 tracks over 57 minutes, MUSIC FACTORY covers a lot of territory, especially in terms of musical styles. The opening track, “Casino,” for example, reminds me of the poppier pieces by Oceansize with its angular guitars, Oceansize. The fifth track, “Lost,” harkens back to early 1990s groups such as Inspiral Carpets and the Charlatans. The ninth track, “Elly Kedward,” strikes me as what Dream Theater might sound like if it decided to cover the best of Blue Oyster Cult.
Of this first album, the standout is really track 13, “Crisis.” This is the most Trevor Rabin-like of all the tracks, a bit heavier than anything Rabin did, but outstanding.
The leader singer has an excellent voice, again with a very AOR-like sound (reminded me of being in junior high and highs school and listening to KICT-95 rock out of Wichita, Kansas), and the lyrics are poetically rendered and, generally, very life affirming. This is not to suggest they’re always just happy go lucky. Instead, they appropriate criticize excesses of conformism in society, but never to the extent that, say, Neil Peart did in the early 1980s. The only exception to this is the appropriately named “Routine,” track 12.
Arrow Haze formed in 2011, and these guys—at least from the picture on the back of the booklet—are young. These guys are brilliant musicians, and I have no doubt that we will be hearing a lot from, by, and about them over the next decade or two.
If I could offer a suggestion—offered with age if not necessarily wisdom—I hope these guys open up the spaces they’ve created. Right now, they’re as driven as young men normally are, though, of course, while also being endowed with exceptional musical gifts. I hope they allow themselves to explore the music itself more, to linger in it, and to allow it to encompass them. Right now, with Music Factory, the music is a second ahead of the band. With a bit more time, they’ll come into sync with it.
I have no doubt they will succeed admirably and with integrity. I’m already very much looking forward to their second release. These guys have a solid future.