BFG’s Prog of 2018

My post-christmas indulgence….

It has been a funny sort of year where for me the definition of what could be called prog has diluted down further to something noisy with a small ‘p’. Many critics favourites gave us the best of the year in the form of some great artists many of which seem to have as much in common with progressive rock as a turkey dominos pizza has with a Christmas dinner. It passes as food for the one who ordered it but it tastes like shit with cranberry sauce.

As such this third wave of Prog that really took shape from the mid-nineties onwards has slowly morphed into something increasingly distant from its recent origins and unrecognisable from the 70’s progenitors or dinosaurs, depending on your viewpoint or how old you were when you bought your first Emerson, Lake and Palmer or if you think the Rick Wakeman needs to start wearing a cape again…

A lot of it has to do with metal and alternative rock in all its forms that has lost its way over the past decade or more and has clung on tightly to the coat-tails of prog for a lifeline. Many of the top bands of the past year would shun the title of prog anyway and frequently do unless there is an award to be had.

Ironically some bands that would claim to be prog or wear the title with some kudos are missing from a lot of lists this year, and this needs to be addressed. So in the name of balance here are the best of what I think of as prog rock from 2018. Before you scream at me about what is prog anyway, please put it in writing to my agent….

Get on with it….

Starting with one band who accomplish as much within the prog bracket as anyone, combining jazz, pop, funk and EDM into something that still feels true to the template, The Tangent….

Proxy_by_the_Tangent

Yes, the outspoken, fantastically eccentric Andy Tillison and his talented cohorts known as The Tangent proved once more that there was still plenty in the fuel tank with their accomplished 10th studio album in which the run time of a song nearing 20 mins is still the best way to compose music, capable of taking the listener on a journey. A more rounded experience of songs germinated through the rare occurrence of being in the same room during their 2017 tour, ‘Proxy’ delights in its diverse nature and isn’t afraid to poke a finger in the eye of modern politics or throw shapes in the Balearic haze of Ibiza. It all amounted to a brief sojourn in the BBC charts.

gungfly

Next up is the former Beardfish leader who’s solo career continues to astound under the Gungfly guises… also known as Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly

The talent this guy has in his little pinkie is greater than many modern musicians and perversely the recognition in the wider world is non-existent. Sjöblom should be talking about his desert island disks on the radio or appearing on the Jules Holland show or hit the charts in the numbers that Steven Wilson is capable of.

His latest opus ‘Friendship’ is an emotion and melodic journey which sees long time friends Diamant and Diamant and Zackrisson in a supporting role. Encapsulating the prog ethic with a broad sonic palette and juggling it with real, fundamental, core feelings is the rarest of gems alone but there are sublime hooks here too which makes this a standout album from 2018.

My next contender for album of the year is from a TV soap producer who we’ve waited patiently to return to tell us about the end of the world…its Phideaux’s ‘Infernal’

infernal

Completing the journey that started with ‘The Great Leap’ back in 2005, Infernal was mooted for release as far back as 2013. Five years later and finally the dark, apocalyptic trilogy of albums is complete. Was it worth the wait? Hell yes, you bet it was, and hell is most appropriate.

Never compromising or deviating from the plan, Phideaux has produced some of his finest work to date. Once more he proudly works on his art like some kind of musical Banksy, mysterious, allegorical and visually striking, yet elusive within the genre. The epic quality shines throughout and never more so on the closing of the second disk with ‘From Hydrogen to Love’, neatly wrapping up many threads.

Evership 2

Another American prog artist who remains as invisible to many of the prog reviews of the year is the ridiculously brilliant Evership with the follow up to their eponymous debut with ‘Evership 2′

The majesty and epic experience that is Evership is astonishing and yet this latest release from the Nashville based prog rock group lead by the outstanding Shane Atkinson and the supersonic vocal talents of Beau West has remained largely unnoticed. Sporting a half hour, multi-segment monster, this band show their vast range of sounds that delicately tap the influences of Kansas, Queen and Rush. Evership 2 can rock hard as well as make the hairs stand up in the delicate classical infused passages. Plus they have a band logo that is worthy of a patch on your denim jacket. My personal favourite release of 2018.

Enough to be getting on with…

The plan was for a top three, but typical of prog the ending was a bit longer than planned.  But there it is, 4 of the best of the year and worthy of inclusion in any top 10. These are wonderful examples of progressive rock, diligently crafted and designed to stir the soul and the imagination, and each one of these entries I have included are successful at that.

Evership 2…the return of Evership

Evership2

Evership – A brilliant new release…

Evership are probably a band that you’ve not come across before. If you have, you will know they represent a high watermark in melodic, richly-layered progressive rock.

With their debut, ‘Evership’ in 2016, a lengthy period of gestation of material was finally brought to fruition after ten or more years of development by the writer and producer Shane Atkinson. A real labour of love and devotion, Evership have since continued to thrive with their second album, Evership 2 following on with a more palatable waiting time of two years in-between.

Musically they one of the rare breed of bands in the progressive rock genre that successfully straddle the old with the new, producing something that is both fresh and feels like work of their own distillation. Much of this is in part to the quality of songwriting and musicianship as well as a real energetic immediacy in their material. In a world where there is so much content, and so little time to visit it all –  music that grabs the listener from the off is king.

Atkinson wears his influences on his sleeve and fans of Rush, Kansas, Genesis and Queen will not be disappointed to hear echoes of them within the five tracks on Evership 2. Hailing from Tennessee (the home of Glass Hammer) there is a real distinctive hard rocking (and honest) American sensibility to the sound which also aligns itself with its peers in the U.S. too.

Firmly planted in the ‘epic’ camp Evership 2’s shortest numbers are over seven minutes long with the highlight being a half hour monster split down into six manageable chapters. ‘Isle of the Broken Tree’ is all that a progressive rock opus should be. Etherial and majestic tones give way to cinematic grandeur that can shake the speakers in a very satisfying way. The haunting vocal of singer Beau West is a real treat and his huge range throughout the song and the rest of the album is one of the elements that underpins their class in their field. The interplay between the piano and acoustic guitar is superb in the opening segments until the hard punch comes into play. Midway through the piece, gutsy guitar delights in its distorted 70’s edge, again backed by some superb keys. The intricate weaving of these structures has to be down in many ways to Atkinson owning the song writing and performing duties on much of the album.

As impressive as Isle is the real gem within Evership 2 is the emotional ‘Wanderer’ which  tugs at the toughest of souls with West’s stellar delivery…`took a little time to work out what I lost.’ The song makes a number of emotional punches, which culminate in a powerful uplifting peak. Prog can sometimes (and rightly) be accused of being too remote and impassive but Evership have shown their power in bringing into play the moments that make the hairs on the back of the neck stand on end.

The sentiment that an album deserves more attention is one that is used often however in the case of Evership 2 is it thoroughly deserved. It’s a stunning second album that continues to delight with every play. There is no doubt this album will appeal to many if the aim of the album is good enough to hit its target audience. Hopefully there are good things ahead for Evership in the wake of this release.

evership band

Check out the new album on release now!
Available from the website – and via iTunes, Spotify and currently on Progstreaming

Track List

  1. The Serious Room
  2. Monomyth
  3. Real or Imagined
  4. Wanderer
  5. Isle of the Broken Tree:
    I. Castaway
    II. Meadow of Shades
    III. My Father’s Friend
    IV. Hall of Visions
    V. My Own Worst Enemy
    VI. The Tree and the Door

The Tangent and ‘The Adulthood Lie’

ProxyHeader.jpg

‘Rekindle the fire in my heart…’

Music is something that should speak to the soul. It can lift you through hard times and soothe when stressed. It can light the way and enlighten and can make for a great night of intimacy if Barry White’s deep timbre is your thing. (thang?)

The Tangent’s most outstanding moments in a ten album career have been consistent and frequent, and the best of those have been where the music and words speak to the soul in a way that is tangible and personable. Songs resonate with fans from all corners of the earth, from Japan to Peru and the U.S and Manchester. It’s the soul in the music that links everyone, as the words and emotions speak on a higher level. The politics of recent times can voice anger and frustrations but the universal messages of love, joy, fear and doubt (to name a few) speak loudest and to the most.

 As complex and thought provoking as the songs have been over the years, a few have been taken to the fans’ hearts because of the simplest themes such as the loneliness of old age ‘In Earnest’ or the sadness felt at the hidden homeless of ‘Perdu Dans Paris’. We’ve been taken on American road trips and been stuck in traffic in the daily rush hour but the passion comes from core moments of the human condition that we all feel.

The newest of albums – ‘Proxy’ has many songs that will stand out as worthy additions to the canon. The political overhang of Slow Rust is there in the title track and the return of Supper’s Off serves to highlight the frustration of struggling bands against the glossy marketed bands of old that consume the market presence. Yet where Andy and the rest of the band really succeed in their latest release is the joyful, layered spirit in ‘The Adulthood Lie’.

Quite simply the track shines and should prove to be one that stands out as a key moment in the band’s career.

The Adulthood Lie is Andy Tillison’s EDM fused look at Ibiza and the dance culture therein. Controversially the sound itself may ruffle feathers but in truth the mix of beats and synth is truly progressive and holds true to the outline of what progressive music should be. It’s not a new concept in this fusion of sounds, Frost* and Galahad have mixed dance elements with rock over recent years.

dance.jpg

Fans of The Tangent know well that the band do not stick to conventional progressive rock formats and The Adulthood Lie is no exception. Michael Akerfeldt of Opeth remarked in an interview that fans who were outraged at the musical change in direction ‘weren’t paying attention’ and the same can be said of the latest from The Tangent.

This isn’t to say that there is total reinvention. If anything there is plenty of the definable Tangent sound in the piece particularly the tones from the ‘A place in the queue’ period with hints of ‘GPS culture’ that playfully add colour.

The sonic landscape of the Adulthood Lie perfectly compliments the feeling of passion for music and dance. It’s about love and excitement for what music is all about and its pulsating backbone is inspiring and uplifting. There is an addictive quality to the beat that leaves the listener wishing for more.

‘Don’t tell me to act my age…’

The narrative behind the music is paradoxically simple and complex at the same time as Tillison paints a pretty picture of bliss in a warm evening in Ibiza and the way the music ignites the fire within. Deeper into the song we find a melancholic centre which deals with ageing and regret. It’s an often explored topic for Tillison’s lyrics and here the sense is that he wishes that he had done things differently in his 30’s and 40’s “I blinked and I missed it”.

The regret spills over into frustration at the loss of youthful opportunity and “pissing away the day” and some of the conceptions that he had then about the dance sound. “That’s not music”.

The beauty of the lyric “as I got older I let those dreams die”, is both profound and cutting.

As usual for the Tangent the long form songs take the listener on a journey. The resolution to The Adulthood Lie is that it’s not too late, “there’s still time…” The closing segment of the song brings back a sense of optimism and perhaps this life grabbing opportunism is borne of the return to health after heart problems seriously affected Tillison in the recent past. tangent-proxy-tillison-740x480.png

We all feel some sense of regret of places we turned left and should have turned right, of how we took dogged viewpoints that in hindsight deprived us of opportunity. There’s truth in the saying ‘Youth is wasted on the young’ and this speaks to us all deep down of how we might do things differently if somehow we could return to our past and talk to our younger selves. Perhaps the lasting message should be that of the Red Hot Chilli Pepper’s track – ‘Deep Kick’ poached from the Butthole Surfers ‘Sweet Loaf’ – “It’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t do.”

There’s magic in Proxy which will set the album apart from many of their previous releases and should put it into many fans favourite album shortlist. The quality of superb musicianship is ever present throughout from the groovy, funky bass of Reingold to the effortless fretboard skipping of Machin on guitar. They always augment the writing and raise it to a higher level of excellence. Crucially though, Tillison has bottled something this time around which is truly sublime.

The new album from The Tangent – Proxy is released on Inside Out records on the 16th November 2018. Available from the website: https://www.thetangent.org

The Tangent – Proxy – 2018

The ever prolific The Tangent will release their 10th studio album ‘Proxy’ this November and in doing so remind the community of fans and peers that they are a force of nature that defies the odds when it comes to producing new music regularly and touring it around the world. Quite how this happens is mind blowing when you consider the challenges of pulling this off as a self-funded and self -organised and promoted endeavour.

Aside from the Inside Out label showing their on-going dedication to The Tangent, the real success in the delivery of the music from inception to the stage comes from the hardworking collection of excellent musicians, lead by Andy Tillison, who pull together and function as a band and a business.

Proxy_by_the_Tangent

Last year’s tour of Europe and US was a masterstroke in the clever guise of ‘Tangekanic’ – a collective of Tangent and ‘Karmakanic’ pooling their resources, their talents and most notably, the risks to bring the music to the stage. This event not only served as a means to get the band out in front of their fans but as a vehicle to work through ideas and fresh inspiration. Reminiscent of the classic bands of old like ‘Purple’ writing their epic ‘Highway Star’ on the bus, the band began to naturally develop ideas for what would be their next album on their travels too. It’s not without some sense of irony that ‘Proxy’ came together (somewhat) through time spent together as a collective.

‘Proxy’ comes to the fans with the usual pre-order options, which are a big part of how the band survive and continue to thrive. However this time, the usual process to develop the music and keep the faithful happy with snippets while the world waits patiently for the album to be completed has been much shorter –  the announcement and release date have happily come closer together which in itself generates a buzz that the band are working hard to deliver.

For more information and to pre-order visit –

https://www.thetangent.org/buy/shop.html

Track listing –

  • Proxy
  • The Melting Andalusian Skies
  • A Case of Misplaced Optimism
  • The Adulthood Lie
  • Supper’s Off
  • Excerpt From “Exo-Oceans”

A full review will follow in the coming weeks…..

 

Where do we go from here?… The best album of 2017

What another cracking year for music in the Prog world.

Am I still able to say that –‘ Prog’? Some people are too cool to want to associate themselves with it.
And yet there have been some fine releases in 2017 that are proudly ‘Prog’, with a capital ‘P’.
Not least the excellent ‘From Silence to Somewhere’ from Wobbler and the Tangent’s ‘The Slow Rust of Forgotten Machinery’.  I know that there will be many lists out there soon enough-  ‘My favourite top 10 of the year’ and ‘here’s a picture of all my vinyl’,  posts are imminent across the web and social media.

To that end I have really narrowed the best of the year to one release.. and it really is one of the most outstanding albums in a rich and varied career to date.

It’s no secret that last year there was much gnashing of teeth (mine were gnashed)  and lamentation at the announcement that Beardfish were disbanding, in fact there is a little torch still lit in a hope that someday they will reform.

However on the strength of ‘On her Journey to the Sun’Rikard Sjöblom has stepped out of the shadow of his former band and produced a triumphant body of work that highlights his impressive skills and craftsmanship, both in composition and performance.

Rikard-Sjoblom

It would be remiss of me to not refer to the outlet that Sjöblom worked under for this release. Using the Gungfly project, his mission statement for the style of music was laid out. Previous Gungly albums have been eclectic, self-reflecting and unafraid of what genre they are associated with. In a break from some of this though, Sjöblom has made an album that captures the spirit of prog with a fresh, vitality that even the diehards that renounce prog and all its perceived crustiness, would struggle to deny.

RikardSJOBLOM
Amazing cover…A striking release all round..

Don’t just take my word for it, critically the mainstream press in the UK – namely the Guardian, recognised the album as one of their best for 2017 and placed it alongside the likes of Richard Dawson, Drake and Paramore. What they thought of it is the reason it stands out. On her Journey to the sun may be prog but it has a pop sensibility about it. See Steven Wilson also this year for attempting this. But rather than follow Wilson’s plan to emulate his heroes of Talk Talk and Gabriel, Sjöblom keeps them more subtle in the delivery. The fantastic  Polymixia combines the level of epic complexity you would expect from Sjoblom, and mixes it skilfully with a funk groove-clavi section that comes straight out of classic Stevie Wonder

 

What is joyful about the album is the superb voice of Sjöblom. His delicate ethereal falsetto combines with passionate soulfulness and sometimes a grittiness that packs a punch. Adding to this is the weirdly bonkers, sometimes trippy vibe that inhabits this album as it does a lot of his work, especially the Beardfish prime albums. It’s this level of sophistication that sets this above his peers and keeps the album spinning on and on…

The Tangent return with a few steps down a new road..

Anger and frustration spilling over into the new Tangent work.

An insight into the new Tangent project, given a spring 2017 release date, has been launched, showing the next progression in The Tangent’s journey.

Rising Nationalism and Empirical rhetoric with flag beating patriotism are at the forefront of a major political upheaval in the UK with the recent decision to ‘Brexit’ from Europe – and now these are the subject of the latest release from The Tangent – ‘A Few Steps Down The Wrong Road’.

Songwriter Andy Tillison has shaped these events into a spikey, snarly, progressive epic which deals with the recent events with all the very best of his political song writing prowess.. pulling no punches. What we have here is 19 minutes of political storytelling, mixing familiar flavours of The Tangent and Po90 and a dose of Tillison’s own punk roots.

What Tillison does do effectively is take the rhetoric of the times , twists it and spits it out angrily in mock reiteration – “It’s all ours” and “why can’t we fly the flag?”

With an impressive cast of Tangent regulars the sound is polished and hard-edged with superb performances all round. The weight and might of Reingold’s bass coupled with the blistering guitar from Machin provide the meat on the bones of this track with Theo Travis providing both screaming sax and delicate flute layering. Perhaps most impressive is the return to form for Tillison who has not long recovered from a serious heart condition. Sounding better than ever, he delivers with passion, like a man reborn. There is no doubt that this is the sound of a new Tangent, and an exciting proposition it is…

 To grab a first listen – check out the band’s new video

The Tangent – A few steps down the wrong road

tangent_fewstepsdownCD

Soon to be released on Inside Out… for more information see the band’s website at:
http://www.thetangent.org

 

Returning from a long sleep – the best of 2014 in Prog

2014 was a great year for Progressive Rock –  FACT!

There is already a sentiment around and about that last year was in many ways better on the Prog scene than this one. A statement that is bound to cause some interesting discussion around the social networks and in the many, many top ten blogs that fill our lives at this time of year. I have many great reasons why I dispute that statement and it is pleasing to report at the end of another year, Prog is in fact in even better health than ever and keeps gaining in strength.

Working on another well known Dutch page for reviews in 2014 along with Progarchy has given me a great deal of music to review and compare so these albums have been exceptional in their ability to rise to the top of a very large pile of music this year.

So without much ado, here are just the best three albums that have had some heavy rotation this year.

Number Three:

Robert Reed: Sanctuary
Robert Reed - Oldfield at its Best
Without doubt one of the most beautiful crafted albums that has come along for years. Sanctuary makes no excuses for its heritage and openly embraces the fact that it is a dedication or homage to the great ‘Tubular Bells’. Many of its rhythms and much of its structure harks closely to Oldfield’s classic album and at first it is easy to dismiss this release as nothing more than a clever pastiche. However the level of musicianship and writing on this album belies that opinion and demonstrates a real commitment to a bold idea. This is no nod towards a great album in the way so many artists channel Floyd or Genesis…this is a good as anything Oldfield could ever produce. The great thing is that this album has legs and will keep on opening up its beauty over many listens. The challenge will always be for Reed to maintain this standard, above and beyond his love of Oldfield.

Number Two:  

Brimstone: Mannsverk

Brimstone, previously known as The Brimstone Solar Radiation Band have producBrimstone - mannsverked an exceptional album of flair and vitality which criminally seems to have largely gone unnoticed for the most part. Full of weirdness and wonderful vibe this is a psychedelic marvel that is packed with originality and marvellously catchy tunes.
At its best there is the fantastically titled – ‘Flapping Lips at Ankle Height’ – an upbeat tune which chugs with a similar pace and feel to Emerson Lake and Palmer’s, ‘Fanfare For The Common Man’ largely thanks to some amazing rhythmic bass which provides a powerful backdrop for a psychedelic wall of sound.
It would seem that with the likes of Ossicles and Brimstone, Norway has much to offer musically and may also be the most over looked country when it comes to output. This is heartily recommended and was my top album of the year until the release of the album to come….

Number One:

Abel Ganz: Abel Ganz

Some things in life are worth waiting for, even if the wait seems to last for an eternity. Ab
Six years is a long time in music, and with the departure of two founders members it seemed that Abel Ganz may have finally run its course after their last release ‘Shooting Albatross’ . Yet the core essence of the band remained and with a solid 70 minutes of gorgeously crafted songs written and an equally impressive production, Abel Ganz have produced the album of their career.

Full of epic multi-part prog goodness and fused with gentle folk and country and more than a little slice of their Scottish homeland, there is the overriding conclusion that this is something quite special. This collection of songs is not only a winner from start to finish, it is sumptuously packaged and expertly produced and as close to a modern day classic as you are ever likely to get. It is the best release of the year hands down.

As ever, these are struggling artists who make this music because they love to do it, not for financial gain or fortune. All of these bands have gone in with the eyes and their wallets open in the hope of delivering something special. To keep this alive, if you can, please visit their sites and check out their music and take a chance on it.

Happy Christmas and here’s to another great year of Prog rock – 2015!