Malignant Narcissism

“You mean you’ve got a hold full of frozen hairdressers?” he said.

“Oh yes,” said the Captain, “Millions of them. Hairdressers, tired TV producers, insurance salesmen, personnel officers, security guards, public relations executives, management consultants, you name them. We’re going to colonize another planet…”

“..Yes, so anyway,” he resumed, “the idea was that into the first ship, the ‘A’ ship, would go all the brilliant leaders, the scientists, the great artists, you know, all the achievers; and into the third, or ‘C’ ship, would go all the people who did the actual work, who made things and did things, and then into the `B’ ship – that’s us – would go everyone else, the middlemen you see.”

Douglas Adams

You find me listening to the new Steven Wilson record, which I like a great deal. There will be other people who like it, too. And others who don’t.

There can’t be many these days who don’t listen to an album, in whole or in part, before they hand over their hard-earned cash. And I’m talking about listening to it legally, on any one of a host of download and/or streaming platforms.

When I first started buying albums reviews were all you had – primarily for me in ‘Sounds’ and ‘NME’, and later in ‘Kerrang’. Some bands I would invest in regardless, mind. Many Blue Oyster Cult, Rush, Yes, Genesis, Marillion, and other albums were purchased unheard. But in the digital age now if I want to decide whether I’ll like a record I just head on over to Bandcamp, YouTube, SoundCloud or the band’s website. 

Growing up things seemed so much easier in hindsight. I made up my own mind, formed my own opinions. Fashioned my own world view. Now, thanks to social media I am assailed by the opinions of others, many of whom I have never met. Constantly. Incessantly. On everything from music, politics, art, food, religion, television and film. Back in the day I would have conversations with close friends and would find out their views on such subjects occasionally. I might not agree with them but I would respect their right to hold them. But now it is everywhere. Everyone, it seems, is a critic. Merely by virtue of them possessing opposable thumbs.

So in the era of streaming and downloads I have to wonder as to the point of a review. As I have mentioned, I like the new Steven Wilson album, Hand.Cannot.Erase. A dear friend, who I love dearly, does not. Now even if I wrote a thousand words extolling my perceived virtues of the piece he would not buy it, having already had a listen. I can absolutely see his point and he is equally valid in his opinion as I am in mine. Writing about this record after it is released seems to be, I think, a futile exercise at best as most folks who are that way inclined will already own it. And those who aren’t won’t. Nor will they ever. 

As I’ve mentioned there have been, and are still, bands whose work I would buy without an advance listen. This year I have invested in records by Grand Tour, Neal Morse Band, Steve Hackett and Beardfish as well as the Steven Wilson  to name but a few without needing to listen ahead of time and without anyone else advising me to do so. But in the digital age I find myself utilising the advance listen facility frequently, without reading a word and I have discovered some enjoyable albums this way. I am particularly taken with the Animals album by Bend Sinister. And have just purchased Ampledeed’s 2013 debut ‘A is for Ampledeed’ having first listened to a few streaming tracks.

Cliff Pearson has, for example, played material by Bryan Scary and Snarky Puppy amongst others on his radio show and both have been added to cart based on these initial listens.

I once read a press release for a band whose CD I had been sent to review for a well-respected bona fide website that said ‘the album sounds as good as anything you’ll hear this year’. Now this wasn’t quoting a review or any other objective source but was just a throw away line by some PR person, or friend of the band, who had written the press release. It went on to tell me the music was ‘exhilarating’ and ‘delightfully original’. This annoyed me somewhat. Suffice to say I thought the album was dreadful. And went on to say this in the review. I did, though, suggest people go and have a listen and make their own minds up.

So much new music is released nowadays. Some of it as good if not better I think than that made by the ‘classic’ bands. I shall, for example, be buying the new albums by echolyn, Izz and Glass Hammer without having heard a note. And I have just this second pledged to buy the new Bryan Scary record ‘Birds’. I most certainly do not need to read what anyone else thinks to assist me with these purchasing decisions. For I am all grown up now.

But I cannot remember in recent memory having read a ‘bad’, i.e. critical amateur review. Of course many had a pop at the new Yes album but distance from the band and its organisation insulated the writers from any comeback. Much of what passed for informed comment was akin to trolling if I’m being brutally frank and I am starting to see a little bit of that with the new Steven Wilson album. 

Oh, and by the way, I quite liked the new Yes album. Not that you should be bothered in the slightest what I think. Go and have a listen to it, and make up your own mind. If you haven’t already. But whatever you do, and in the name of all that is holy, please don’t write a review.

Future Times

I remember as a boy that my most prized possessions were a ‘Sharp’ double tape ghetto blaster and a record/tape player. The former I used to lug around in an American Army backpack that I had bought from an army surplus store. The latter I recorded the tapes on, and played records way too loudly.

Buying an LP was an incredibly visceral experience, even when they skipped, jumped or just refused to play anything. Such were the perils of buying cheap vinyl from the market. There was none of this 180g nonsense back then. No, records were so flimsy you could read a comic through them. I didn’t know back then, growing up in the late 70s and early 80s, but I should have blamed OPEC, apparently.

Getting a newly purchased LP home was a religious moment – and yes I admit to that thrill you can only get from smelling it. The artwork, the lyric sheet. The first crackles as the needle sought out the beginning of the first track. Many of the LPs I first listened to in this manner are still very good friends. Even though my top 15 is now littered with newer third-wave bands such as echolyn, Discipline, Izz and Glass Hammer.

Skip forward 35 years or so and I’m now listening to an album stored on a device the size of a box of Swan matches, albeit a lot slimmer. It is playing, via Bluetooth, over a 9.1 surround system. I bought the album a few minutes ago and I haven’t yet physically held it or pored over the artwork. The CD itself is in a van somewhere bound for York. Even then, a CD unboxing is nowhere near as exciting as the LP equivalent. Yet the music was beamed across the ether and is now belting out of the speakers. 

So, I hear you ask. What album is it? Well, I guess it’s by a band that continues to straddle all four waves of progressive rock music. Given my love of American Prog (radio show of the same name appearing soon on shameless plug I know) it is apt that the singer just happens to now be in one of my aforementioned top 15 bands. But the one I’m listening to is not American. Even though he is.

I read interminable rants about this album when it first came out and I admit to hearing a very brief snippet and I wasn’t overly impressed to say the least. Anyone with opposable thumbs and a keyboard of some description connected to the interwebs let loose with their tuppence ha’penny. To my eternal shame I believe I said that the snippet I heard ‘sucked balls’. Now I don’t know what that means but I think it’s pretty negative.

Whilst all of this was, my comment included, mere subjective opinion some of what was written masqueraded as a ‘review’. As though using this word alone can lend objective credibility to what is, in effect, a simple statement of whether you happen to like a record or not. Now don’t get me wrong, some professional (and a few amateur) writers are incredibly adept at distilling the essence of a work into a few hundred incredibly well-crafted words. But the vast majority of stuff I read about this album didn’t fall into this category. People got into full blown arguments about it. They fell out. Friendships ended, or at best were severely tested. 

Never has so much been written by so many, in fact. But to my eternal shame I never actually listened to the thing myself. Never formed my own opinion. 

So now I am. And I have.

AmericanProg and whatnot on

I wouldn’t normally descend so low as to engage in shameless self-publicity. But…

I am going to be doing an AmericanProg show which should be of interest to folks on here.



Progzilla Radio—the eleven-headed monster:
On 2 March, Progzilla Radio is going EXTRA LARGE!
The popular progressive rock music station will be expanding from Cliff Pearson’s weekly Live at Progzilla Towers to DAILY shows from ten new presenters covering every aspect of prog.
We have collected the cream of the UK broadcasting talent and we are launching the new, super-sized Progzilla Radio on 2 March at 20:00, with a live kick-off party, featuring all our presenters who will discuss their plans and play some of the music they’ll be featuring on their shows.
The list of presenters includes many names known throughout the industry, such as Jon Patrick, David Elliott, Stacy Doller, Emma Roebuck, Cliff Pearson, Brian Watson, Andrew Wild, Ed Wilkins, Geoff Banks and Ian Fairholm.
Each Monday
Stacy Doller starts the week with Prog Brittania—Stacy’s long-running and popular programme with all that’s good about current and classic British Prog Rock. And his socks.
Each Tuesday
A Certain Prog, presented by Ed Wilkins—the much needed youth perspective.
Each Wednesday
Live from Progzilla Towers with Cliff Pearson. Cliff’s usual mix of current and classic progressive music, irreverent humour, interviews, news and audience participation.
Each Thursday
Emma Roebuck takes you through the Diversity of Prog—sometimes mainstream sometimes arguably not prog but always interesting.
Each Friday
The Epileptic Gibbon One of the UK’s longest running podcasts comes to Progzilla! The Eppy Gibbon show is devoted to the best mixture of independent and small label prog rock, art rock, post rock, prog metal, jazz rock, folk rock, math rock, downtempo, chill-out, ambient electronica, IDM, chamber pop, folktronica, psychedelia, neo-classical, film & TV soundtracks and experimental/avant garde music.
Each Saturday
The Amazing Wilf brings you the best in British and European progressive music, with a particular focus on the current scene and occasional detours to the dim and distant past.
Each Sunday
The Geoff Banks Sunday Brunch – get bouncing on a Sunday morning!
Progzilla Sundays—punchy hour-long programmes on all aspects of Prog from four rotating presenters
• First Sunday of each month (starting 8 March)—Andrew Wild presents The Progzilla Files, exploring the dusty side roads of prog’s back catalogue
• Second Sunday of each month (starting 15 March)— Jon Patrick blatantly plugs The House of Progression live shows in London by playing the bands, interviewing them and forcing a few to record exclusive sessions. There will also be a bit of rock and some inspiring tunes.
• Third Sunday of each month (starting 22 March)— Brian Watson presents The American Prog Show- playing the best North American progressive rock past, present and future.
• Fourth Sunday of each month (starting 29 March)—a surprise big name presenter … oooh!
Come and listen to the show that never ends.

Cheeto’s Magazine – Boiling Fowls

It’s been a while since I put metaphorical pen to paper, but then by the same token it has been a long time since an album, any album, impressed me so much. And by impressed I mean totally and utterly captivated. From the 25 minute long opening epic ‘Nova America’ to the 2 and a half minutes of closing Bonus Track ‘Driver French’.
This is a supremely accomplished debut from the Spaniards and should be required listening for any ‘big name’ bands contemplating releasing yet more substandard product just to boost the retirement pot.
It is incredibly hard to pin down, if you like the comfort that sub-genre compartmentalisation provides. But if I had to give you a steer, sonically, then I’d point you in the direction of Frank Zappa, Gentle Giant, Genesis and Queen with a touch of Pure Reason Revolution heavy electronica. There is the odd bonkers moment (both musically and lyrically) and more melody than you can shake a stick at. If stick shaking is your thing. The musicianship is second to none and the breadth and depth of their compositional inventiveness is absolutely staggering to these hairy old ears. There was quite a bit of social network buzz around it and some excellent reviews which is why I took a punt and bought it on iTunes in the first instance then ordered the CD direct from the band’s BandCamp page.
It sounds great on just the car stereo, where it has resided for several weeks now. In fact I’m still finding new bits to enjoy. It’s on the domestic hifi, though, that it becomes a far more visceral and absorbing experience.
AKG K702 headphones and an Audioquest Dragonfly 1.2 USB DAC have transformed the MacBook into a pretty decent listening platform and this setup happily throws sound effects and vocal harmonies around your ears quite splendidly on the iTunes version of the album. The small ‘Gentle Giant on helium and acid’ (as I like to call it) section of ‘Nova America’ is an absorbing experience shall we say?
The problem for the album as a whole is the first tune is just so eclectic, and dare I say it ‘progressive’ that I invariably rewind (for you cassette tape enthusiasts) to the beginning and start again. Here you will find amazing keyboard passages, soaring guitar solos, upbeat rocking out, weird noodling and avant experimentation. Often happening at the same time and hence the need to listen on headphones I think. Soaring climaxes that The Flower Kings would be proud of and enough heart-wrenching introspection for even the most hardened PT fan And yes, you could quite easily justify the purchase price for this one track alone.
Now when I first heard ‘Nova America’ for the first time I said to myself ‘top that’ but you know what? The album as a whole is a triumph of pacing and they just about did it without the aid of a safety net.
Second track ‘The Driver and the Cat’ sounds like it should be on Hammer and Anvil by PRR whilst instrumental ‘Volcano Burger’ recalls your feel-good Swedish Prog but grounds it in the now with a disturbing captured sound.
‘Teddy Bears’ gives A.C.T and Moon Safari a run for their money. Sounded like The Sweet in places but like all of the album you need to listen to the lyrics. Which you will only get with the CD direct from the band. It’s only when you have the complete package that you realise just how much you miss from a mere (legal) download.
‘Four Guitars’ is another instrumental and as you might have guessed it rocks but keyboards fight their corner manfully.
‘Octopus Soup’ is probably the song every progressive rock band working today wish they had recorded. Yes, it is that good. The folky bit reminds of Ritual, before more amazing Gentle Giant vocal cacophony. It then gets avant, but there’s loads of other stuff going on and a lovely full-frontal Prog out before the track closes with some gentle piano.
A seamless segueway into ‘Fat Frosties’ follows as some lush piano and rampant guitar get together and go out for coffee. And ‘Naughty Boy’ will see you drumming furiously on your steering wheel. It’s an operatic Prog epic in 7 minutes. People in traffic jams will stare but that’s a good thing.
There’s a bonus track on the CD –
‘Driver French’ is vocoder-tastic and as good as anything PRR did back circa ‘Hammer and Anvil’.
So that’s it. My opinion on a record. An indispensable addition to any self-respecting Prog fan’s album collection. Some great album art too.

If Progarchy did ratings then this record would get a ten.

Johnny Unicorn – Far from Imaginary

Johnny’s new album is a thing of wonder and amazement
and I’m only truly one track in. It is called Angels in the Oort Cloud and I urge everyone to go buy it right now. If you liked the recent Knifeworld record, which is very good I grant you but by no extent of the imagination great then you’ll adore this. For great it is.
File the first tune, Angels, in the OMG section of your brain nuggets such is the depth, breadth and eclecticism on offer.
There’s Mellotron too, which is always a bonus. What you get here is melodic, yet powerful and challenging as Johnny manages to blend a sound like no other you’ll hear all year I’m sure. Trumpets, flamenco, heavy alt-riffage, soaring symphonic moments that Yes would give their eye teeth for, this has it all. And more. I haven’t had chance to listen properly to the whole album as yet but have been playing the heck out of this 16 minute long beastie for a while now.
I’ve been a fan for a while too, and have enjoyed and own a number of Johnny’s earlier albums. With each new release I have become correspondingly just that little bit more impressed with this dude’s work.
Apologies for the lack of formatting, pictures, links and whatnot but I’m doing this on the phone. Just wanted to capture some initial thoughts on the album.
Spinning the last track, Inertia now and hearing it for the first time. Clocking in at over eight minutes it bookends the album with the 16 minute long Angels you have just read me raving about.
Emotional, wrought vocals and lovely acoustic out Coldplays Coldplay to start with. But then trapping your finger in the fridge door or sticking pins in your eyes is preferable to listening to those whiny millionaires go on about how horrid their lives are. This right here is art. This is beauty, this is truth. It is true. It builds and builds like a great big buildy thing. Lovely female background vocals too and I’m not normally a great fan of those. Flute and soaring electric guitar give way to the acoustic which picks up the pace as the flute returns, raising a huge smile on the face of this Jethro Tull fan at least. The climactic, emotional last bit will get the hairs on the back of your neck standing up. If it doesn’t then you’re probably dead.
Marvellous stuff.

Now, my pretties, fly fly fly. And buy buy buy.

Brian’s List

This year I have been particularly impressed with records by:
The Tangent x 2
The Fierce and the Dead
von Hertzen Brothers
Spock’s Beard
The Flowerkings
Moon Safari
Glass Hammer
Steven Wilson
Fractal Mirror
Big Big Train
Tom Slatter
Mike Kershaw

And I’m pleased to say that I did art for three of the above releases. Which is nice.

But I’ve been truly excited by an artiste I first heard on Cliff Pearson’s radio show, an American chap by the name of Bryan Scary. A solo performer he also has a band, The Shredding Tears. The name of his debut solo album, confusingly. Flight of the Knife is four years old or so now but I believe it is an art/rock classic that should grace the CD shelves of any self-respecting music fan. He released Daffy’s Elixir last year and to be fair that is almost as good.
If you are after a recent sonic touchstone then I’d have to say the general vibe reminds me of Mega Moon by Moon Safari. It has an operatic, bombastic, vaudevillian quality to it that I find utterly compelling. More melodies than you can shake an incredibly melodic stick at. And superbly crafted pop/rock songs. I would recommend his entire catalogue to everyone but especially those of you who dig ELO, Queen, Genesis, Sparks, Rocky Horror, A.C.T.
Discovering Bryan Scary is my highlight of 2013 in fact.

Let the train take the strain

As a Brit it is a tad odd, I suppose, that the genre of progressive rock music that really floats my boat is American third wave symphonic prog. In fact Unfolded Like Staircase by Discipline and As the World, Mei and echolyn (the ‘Window’) album are in my all-time Top 20. Along with The Darkened Room and Crush of Night by Izz.
The live version of Mei from Stars and Gardens is my current travelling companion, hence the train reference in the title. It’s a small small train, before Brad gets all giddy.
All 30 minutes plus of this phenomenal composition is a live juggernaut. The ‘Mei’ album is I think an absolutely vital cornerstone of any self-respecting prog fan’s collection. The fact that the live version segues into Shades, one of my all-time favourite tracks makes this live album one of my very best iTunes purchases.
Influenced by Yezda Urfa (see elsewhere on the site for an excellent retrospective), Kansas and Gentle Giant echolyn have I think managed something all too rare in modern prog: the ability to sound totally unique. Echolyn sound like, well, echolyn (it is meant to be a lowercase ‘e’). I could go on forever about Chris Buzby’s beautifully organic analogue synth and organ sounds; Brett Kull’s fantastically fluid guitar and gentle vocals; Ray Weston’s anguished vocals and lyricism; Tom Hyatt’s Jaco-esque bass playing and Paul Ramsay’s effortless drumming. But it’s only a relatively short train journey.

Head on over to and you will discover a ton of free downloads of songs from throughout their career. Yes, free downloads of full songs including rare live tracks.
For the echolyn virgin I would recommend Stars and Gardens, available on iTunes (there is a dvd of the concert too which is fabulous if you can get hold of it). Studio-wise I’d recommend As the World, recorded for major Label Sony 20 years ago or so and recently reissued in a lovingly remastered and repackaged form by the band. Then perhaps try the latest, critically acclaimed eponymous album. It topped many a critic’s ‘best of list’ in 2012 and rightly so. I reviewed it elsewhere and could not find fault with it.
So, the evening commute is over and this piece, written in real time whilst listening to one of my very favourite bands of all time has been a very enjoyable and therapeutic experience. I hope you enjoy as much discovering this wonderful band’s back catalogue.

The Joys of Mobile Computing

Tthis is a test of sorts, insofar as I have uploaded (I hope) the progarchy site admin pages onto my phone. It appears that I now have the ability to update progarchy whilst out and about and on the move. Which is splendid, especially as my old laptop has expired.
If you are reading this it means my experiment in mobile computing has been a success. And my next review, of the splendid 1996 album Human Interest Story by 3RDegree will appear via this method. The album has had a nice remastering job done and will be the band’s first release on 10T Records, as a download only on all the usual sites. An exclusive new track will be available on the 10T website. Expect a release some time in December, in a range of formats.
So, that’s all for now and I hope I have whetted your appetite for this highly anticipated release by one of my favourite American prog bands.

The Joys of Shuffling

I appreciate it has been a while but life ‘n’ stuff keeps getting in the way of the fun stuff like writing for progarchy and whatnot. Plus my laptop dumped all my saved settings so whereas before I had a single button click to get here I’ve had to try to find the dashboard by trial and error (aka google). Anyhoo, not a  lengthy piece first time up but a few words on my most prized possession, a gadget called a Brennan JB7. A shameless plug I know but I am very fond of it. I get in from work, press one button (one button solutions always work well for me) and it begins to shuffle through about 1500 albums, allowing me to hear stuff I haven’t heard for years or, as has happened tonight, stuff that I grew up with. In this case it is 2112 from All The World’s A Stage, the first ‘proper’ album I ever owned. Imagine a freckly teenage boy in grim, grimy industrial northern England in late 1977/early 1978. You have that image? Good, then I’ll begin. Spitting, snarly school friends had taken to sticking safety pins through parts of themselves and calling themselves punks. They listened to music in the common room that involved people shouting, swearing and clanging away on what sounded like pots and pans. I, on the other hand, ‘wished it might come to pass’, and it did. In the form of Rush. Rush, thanks to my friend Robert Hudson (who had an older brother) begat Yes, who begat Genesis who begat ELP et al. Blue Oyster Cult I discovered all by my self but that’s another story for another time.

And now all that accumulated loveliness from the past 35 years or so is now stored on a box about the size of a hardback book. And not a very thick one at that. Thus far this evening it has already thrown Strangefish, Manning, The Watch, Kaipa and Blue Oyster Cult out at me. It was when 2112 came on, however,  that I felt compelled to write something, to get back on the horse so to speak. I have a huge pile of new CDs from the likes of The Tangent, Thumpermonkey, Shineback, Be Bop Deluxe to name but a few to load onto the beast, so shall try to convert some of my evenings doing so into witty and erudite passages for the good folks at Progarchy. Now that I’ve discovered out how to log onto the site again, that is.

Until then I shall bid you all a fond evening.

Leeds-based Chris Wade is the man behind the band Dodson and Fogg and he sings, as well as playing guitars, bass, keyboards, percussion and flute. He’s enlisted the help of Celia Humphris (Trees) on vocals on seven of the tracks, and Alison O’Donnell (Mellow Candle) on one, as well as Nik Turner (Hawkwind) on flute, Colin Jones on trumpet and Amanda Votta on flute.
“That’s a lot of flutes”, I hear you say and whilst other reviewers have mentioned Jethro Tull don’t be expecting any standing on one leg frenzied flute action.
I have, over the past 9 months or so, become increasingly disillusioned with much of what passes for ‘progressive’ rock music nowadays.
What I have found refreshing, though, are bands like Dodson and Fogg, These Curious Thoughts, KingBathmat and echolyn to name a few who are making truly original music, without seeing the need to clog the soundstage up with unnecessary instrumentation, over-production or Pro-toolery. The songs are given room to breathe, the melodies become all important and sometimes it’s the gaps between the instruments that are truly spectacular, aurally.
The debut, and this second album have been garnering lots of positive reviews, and Chris was recently interviewed by the Classic Rock Society. There he mentioned his influences were Leonard Cohen, early Cat Stevens, Simon and Garfunkel, really early Jethro Tull. His favourite songwriter, though, is Ray Davies and there’s a quintessential Englishness (have a listen to Too Bright) to this record that reflects that I think.
I love how no song ever outstays its welcome, how the vocals and lyrics support the tune, and not the other way round, and how every bit of instrumentation, be it trumpet, flute, acoustic or electric guitar is almost perfectly placed. Record and mix it any other way and it loses its beauty, its fragility, its inner core. It is, dare I say it, art. Art that serves no purpose other than to be art.
But what I love more than anything are the electric guitar sounds this young man creates. The trumpet on What Goes Around is pretty special too, as is the acoustic guitar and trumpet on Too Bright (early Tull, anyone?) but I digress. Guitar-wise, check out Can’t Hold Me Down and Too Bright for example. I get very, very early Buck Dharma, in both Stalk Forrest Group and Blue Öyster Cult incarnations. Lovely, psychedelic, sparse guitar runs, or flourishes, even notes that make me at least beam from ear to ear. It’s To The Sea where the guitar lets rip though, albeit in a very restrained, beautiful way. Notes, chords of electric guitar duet with strummed acoustic as the song gathers pace, wanting to break lose but resisting the temptation. The prog equivalent of tantric sex methinks. It’s a staggering piece of music. And I’m spent.