Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up

There has been a lot of quality prog released this summer. Overall I’d say there isn’t as much top tier level stuff (i.e., albums that rank with some of the best ever made in the genre), but there have been a lot of solid albums worthy of your attention released lately. This list won’t be exhaustive, but it should be a good starting point for people looking for some new music. Order is completely arbitrary. Ok maybe this first one is at the top for a reason.

Nad Sylvan – The Regal Bastard

Steve Hackett’s touring vocalist released his best solo album to date this summer. It is a little more accessible than the first two albums in the Vampirate trilogy, but it retains some of the same themes and motifs. Sylvan has a lot of talent, and this album stands above the crowd this summer. If you only listen to one album off this list, choose this one. And check out my interview with Nad from earlier this summer: https://progarchy.com/2019/06/30/the-vampirate-speaks-a-conversation-with-nad-sylvan/

Tool – Fear Inoculum

I’ve only ever passively listened to Tool, but I found this album to be quite good. Was it worth the wait for diehard Tool fans? I’m not sure, but this is a solid album that is heavy without being overpowering. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2019/09/01/tool-fear-inoculum/

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A Conversation with Brett Kull of Rise Twain

Rise Twain, Rise Twain, Inside Out (2019)

Tracks: Everspring (3:22), Golden (6:11), The Range (4:42), Lit Up (5:03), Death of Summer (6:29), Oh This Life (3:12), Prayers (4:48), Falling Skies (05:49), Into A Dream (5:39), That Is Love (5:03)

 

On September 6, Rise Twain will release their first album on Inside Out. Made up of singer-songwriting duo Brett William Kull (of Echolyn) and J.D. Beck (The Scenic Route), Rise Twain’s self-titled debut brings emotion, gentleness, and powerful songwriting to a year that has been filled with excellent music.

From JD’s soulful voice, which instantly reminded me of the Casey McPherson or Matt Bellamy, to his wonderful piano work and Brett’s excellent guitar, this album delivers without overpowering. As Brett and I talked about in the interview below, this album has a lot of dynamic range, which makes for a very enjoyable listening experience. It has its heavy moments, but the quiet moments often steal the show. This is a great rock album in the tradition of lyric-oriented popular rock songs. The lyrics have great depth to them. They keep me engaged on repeated listens, and I’m sure they will for many listens to come. Rise Twain are not to be overlooked – check this group out when the album drops in a few days.


I had the great opportunity to speak with Brett Kull via Skype on August 21. Unfortunately I’ve been very busy, so it has taken me a while to transcribe everything. Originally I was supposed to speak with both Brett and JD, but JD’s son had an emergency tooth surgery come up at the last minute – we certainly wish JD and his son the best on his recovery for that.

I had a great time talking with Brett. I found his passion for his craft to be incredibly inspiring, and I hope all of you do as well. Our conversation ranged from discussion of the album to their writing process to the more technical side of producing music. We even talked about the very nature of progressive rock itself, which is always a fun ongoing conversation in our little corner of the music world.

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Going All the Way Back With @bigbigtrain

The title of this post is more dramatic than it should be, but I randomly decided to listen to Big Big Train’s first album, Goodbye to the Age of Steam, this afternoon. Early Big Big Train gets very little press these days, yet this album is quite good. There are obvious differences between the Big Big Train of the early 1990s and the Big Big Train of 2019, yet there are still similarities. Spawton’s writing style is instantly familiar, with his lyrics as good as they’ve ever been. The gentle piano moments certainly remain in today’s version of the band, and the guitar work has similarities, even with different musicians. Yes, this album is a bit more synth heavy in places, but that seems to be more of a Neo-prog influence from the 1980s than anything else. The vocal harmonies on “Blow the House Down” are exceptional, reminding me very much of Moon Safari. I’d love it if the band incorporated more of that.

This album is as old as I am, and while I can act like a grumpy old man at times, this album still sounds remarkably fresh. The current iteration of the band has toyed with live re-workings of pre-Longdon songs, such as “Wind Distorted Pioneers” on Stone and Steel and “Summer’s Lease” (off of The Difference Machine) on 2018’s Swan Hunter EP. It was interesting to hear the current version of the band put their own spin on the music, as opposed to creating a verbatim recreation. And so in 2019, the 25th year since the release of Goodbye to the Age of Steam, I would be interested in hearing the band re-visit some of these songs, perhaps in a live setting or a live-in-studio setting.

These are good songs, and they sound great on the original album. Since the band is firing on all cylinders these days, it would be a treat to hear them interpret this music, especially since only one member remains from the 1994 line-up. Imagine what Rachel Hall could add with her violin and her beautiful voice. Think of the brilliant guitar solos Dave Gregory could bring to the table. David Longdon could bring an entirely different sound to these pieces, allowing us to hear them in a whole new light.

Do I think the band will actually do this? Not really. They have so much material from the current version of the band, and they and the fans are much more familiar with those songs. It may not make financial sense for them to spend the time and money to re-visit these early songs, but maybe we will get a couple more re-recorded and re-interpreted over the next few years. Whether the band chooses to celebrate the anniversary of this release or not, it is definitely worth listening to again. Even if it isn’t quite as good as their output over the last decade, it is still a solid album by any prog standards.

The Vampirate Speaks: A Conversation With Nad Sylvan

Nad Sylvan, The Regal Bastard, InsideOut Music, 2019

Tracks: 1. I Am The Sea (7:49), 2. Oahu (4:19), 3. Whoa (Always Been Without You) (7:22), 4. Meet Your Maker (6:36), 5. The Regal Bastard (12:22), 6. Leave Me On These Waters (5:49), 7. Honey I’m Home (3:02)
Bonus Tracks: 8. Diva Time (4:52), 9. The Lake Isle of Innisfree (3:43)

On July 5, the mighty Nad Sylvan releases the third in his trilogy of Vampirate themed albums, following 2015’s Courting the Widow and 2017’s The Bride Said NoThe Regal Bastard finds the Swedish artist subtly transforming his sound for a third time. Across all three albums, his sound has developed and matured while remaining distinctly Nad Sylvan. Nobody else makes music quite like this. He honors the tradition of progressive rock (can a tradition be progressive?) musically and lyrically. The music is complex without being overly technical, and it shifts in style enough to keep the album incredibly interesting on repeated listens. In fact, it is layered in such a way that the listener discovers more with each listen.

Some have commented that some of the songs take a bit more of a pop approach, and if that’s true, then it is in the vein of Steven Wilson’s definition of pop, not whatever trash is currently sitting atop the American top 40 charts. This music is tasteful. And it is still 100% prog.

It is hard to nail down particular stand-out tracks because every song is fantastic. “Whoa,” “Meet Your Maker,” and the bonus “Diva Time” are my personal favorites, but the longer “The Regal Bastard” is also a very compelling progressive piece. You can’t go wrong anywhere on this album. His guest artists, which include the likes of Steve Hackett, Guthrie Govan, Nick D’Virgilio, Tony Levin, and many other talented folks, interpret Nad’s music faithfully while adding their own touch. Jade Ell, Sheona Urquhart, and  Tania Doko return on backing vocals – their voices have helped add depth to Nad’s music in the past, and it is great to hear them return.

2019 has been an especially strong year for prog so far, and even in that environment, Nad Sylvan’s The Regal Bastard stands out. His music is unique and powerful. This is not an album to be missed.


This past Friday, June 28, 2019, I had the wonderful opportunity to talk with Nad via Skype about the album, his writing process, singing for Steve Hackett, and other related topics. I screen-captured the whole interview, but even the compressed video file is too big for WordPress’ liking. You can still listen to the audio or read the transcript, which has been very lightly edited for readability, although it is wholly uncensored.

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Album Review – Garrett N. – “Let’s Get Surreal”

Garrett N., Let’s Get Surreal, 2018

Tracks: Overture (9:04), Avant (3:25), Avant3/Ahip1/Caine (4:47), Bak1 (4:16), The Eternal Laugh (14:20), Quiet (2:19), Saddam/Espace (7:25), Gorf (3:16), Reprise/Bak3/Unknown (10:08), Scorpio/Ramos (1:51), Sinister (1:58), Avant4-Outtro-Epilogue (9:33)

Webster’s Dictionary defines “surreal” as an adjective meaning “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” In other words, something so bizarre that it shouldn’t be real, yet it is. This may be the most accurate name for an album I’ve ever encountered.

Composer, musician, engineer, and producer Garrett N. has a background making music for commercials, films, and documentaries, in addition to a few of his own progressive albums. That background helps explain the non-traditional nature of this album. Garrett performed all the music on the album, displaying wide musical talents. He also sings on the few tracks that have lyrics.

Let’s Get Surreal is extremely synth-heavy in a Pink Floyd sort of way. I’d say Floyd is the biggest rock/psychedelic influence here, and at times it works very well. The first four tracks in particular are quite strong in this regard. There is a sci-fi cinematic feel to some of the synths sounds too, in a sort of 1950s alien sci-fi movie way. With that said, the slightly distorted acoustic guitar on “The Eternal Laugh” is a welcome addition. The next track, “Quiet,” features what sounds like extremely distorted electric guitar… maybe too distorted. Definitely a gritty sound. The blending of different types of synths, drums, and guitars manages to work, however. The bit of flute on “Scorpio/Ramos” is nice, although the song could have used a lot more of it.

Garrett appears to making a bit of a political statement on a few tracks, particularly on “Saddam/Espace.” This song has a remix of former US President George W. Bush giving a speech about Saddam Hussein and all that mess. It is an interesting reworking of the speech, with blurred repetition of Bush saying “terror” playing through the background. The album was recorded between 2013-2017, so this track seems like it is 10-15 years past when it should have been released. That particular moment has passed, making this song lose a lot of its punch.

At an hour and thirteen minutes in length, the album kind of drags a bit because a lot of it sounds the same. There are a few songs that could have had a few minutes trimmed out. The album is at its best when other instruments are mixed in with the synths, rather than the lengthy sections that are only synthesizers.

Ultimately, this album sounds more like a tv show soundtrack than it does a rock album. It is mostly instrumental, with synths dominating the instruments being used. As such, it doesn’t sound like a typical instrumental prog album. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does feel like we are missing a piece of the puzzle. “Let’s Get Surreal” won’t be for everyone, but those into the more psychedelic side of prog should appreciate it.


http://galaxian1.com/index/

https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/garrettn7

Pan Rocks Steel Drum Orchestra + @MikePortnoy Cover Rush’s “Spirit of Radio”

This is a fun one. Mike Portnoy’s latest collab finds him drumming with the Pan Rocks Steel Drum Orchestra on an instrumental cover of Rush’s classic “Spirit of Radio.” It pretty much sounds like Rush on a Caribbean vacation, and it is super fun. Check it out!