What’s The Buzz About General Fuzz?

As I’ve gotten older, I find myself enjoying instrumental/ambient/space music more and more. These chaotic and ever-accelerating times lend themselves to a musical genre that encourages reflection and relaxation.

In earlier posts, I brought to our faithful readers’ attention the wonderful music of Kevin Keller and CFCF. In this one, I want to showcase another outstanding artist working in the “Downtempo” realm of music: General Fuzz. The musical brainchild of composer James Kirsch, General Fuzz has released 7 albums, and you can download them all for free (yes, FREE. He explains the motives behind his generosity here) at his website. I started at the beginning with 2002’s eponymous General Fuzz album, and I’m slowly working my way through to his latest, 2014’s Oughta See. The problem is, every album is such a beautiful gem of contemplative melodies that I can’t leave one for the next. However, if your curiosity is piqued and don’t know where to start, let me suggest checking out Kirsch’s 2008 masterpiece, Soulful Filling. Here’s my favorite track from that collection:

Kirsch’s music is carefully constructed to seduce the listener with perfectly arranged musical miniatures that avoid being saccharine. In other words, I was immediately attracted to his music, I have listened to it repeatedly, and I have yet to tire of it. I keep finding new and delightful details in each hearing. Here’s how he explains it in his own words:

Unless your music is simple and poppy, or incredibly accessible, most people won’t be able to make sense of it on first listen, and consequently not return for a second listen. I can not approach my own music with fresh ears – I’m intimate with every second of it. It’s great to have someone who’s not a huge music fan listen to my music before I release it to gauge how most people will receive it. It has previously helped shape the ordering of  tracks on an album. Accessible music will always be more popular than complex music.

I’ve learned that it often takes many listens for people to start really enjoying my music. My favorite story is of a co-worker who’s cd player broke with my cd in it, so they had to listen to it all day on repeat. The next day he told me never to stop writing music.

James Kirsch is attempting something courageous in these days of a collapsing music industry: he is producing extraordinary music and giving it away – trusting that those who “get it” and enjoy it will respond with donations. I hope his experiment is successful – we need more composers of his caliber thriving in today’s music scene.

The New Yorker Takes on Prog

There’s a nice piece on prog rock by Kalefa Sanneh in the latest issue of The New Yorker magazine. Clearly, the author isn’t sure what to make of the genre, but he gives a fair assessment of its early years, and the unfair treatment rock critics dished out in the seventies. I wish he had written more on the current thriving scene, but it’s nice to get some respect in a mainstream publication.

You can read “The Persistence of Prog Rock” here:

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/06/19/the-persistence-of-prog-rock

 

Lonely Robot’s Latest Is A Dream

One of my top albums of 2015 was John Mitchell’s Lonely Robot: Please Come Home. In addition to my rave review, several other Progarchists recognized that album’s greatness, putting it on their Best-Of lists for 2015.

It’s two years later, and Mitchell has returned with the second installment of the Lonely Robot saga: The Big Dream. I always approach sophomore efforts with some trepidation, because an artist often uses up all of his or her best ideas in the début. No worries on that front this time! Fresh off of his work with Jem Godfrey in Frost*, Mitchell has crafted a near-perfect pop/prog collection of songs that hearken back to the glory days of Peter Gabriel’s solo work, Porcupine Tree, and others.

According to Mitchell, The Big Dream continues the saga of the astronaut in Please Come Home. He has awakened from a cryogenic sleep, and finds himself in a woodland inhabited by human/animal hybrids. The concept is a bit hazy, while the music itself is tight as a nut. I am hard pressed to think of any songs that pack a bigger 1-2-3 punch than “Awakenings”, “Sigma”, and “In Floral Green”. I had to put those three on Repeat for several listens before I even heard the rest of the album.

If you thought, like me, that Please Come Home was terrific, The Big Dream actually tops it in every way. Big melodies that grab your ears and won’t let go, great vocals, John’s always outstanding guitar – all combine to deliver an album that will definitely be on many Top Ten of 2017 lists.

Rather than taking my word for it, just check out the first single, “Everglow”:

The Big Dream is slated for release April 28.

Birzer Bandana: Becoming One

There’s a new band on the prog block: Birzer Bandana, which is Progarchy’s own Brad Birzer (lyrics) and Salander’s Dave Bandana (music and performance). According to Brad’s liner notes, his lyrics were jumpstarted by the science fiction classic A Canticle For Leibowitz, and the opening track, “Awash”, definitely conjures up images of a post-nuclear wasteland.

Awash in light, bathed and comforted
Head… deadly, deadly, deadly heat
Burns the skin and the retinas
Irradiated skies baptize the earth.

Bandana’s music is appropriately somber and evocative of someone trudging through desert sands. Olga Kent’s beautiful violin lends an exotic air.

Things pick up a bit in the second song, “Dance”. I love Bandana’s double-tracked vocals here, and the combination of acoustic guitar,  hand percussion (tabla?), Kent’s bewitching violin, and some classic-era prog organ make for a terrific track. Imagine late-period Beatles collaborating with Pink Floyd, and you get an idea of how this one sounds.

Continue reading “Birzer Bandana: Becoming One”

The Neal Morse Band Live – 2017 Tour Kickoff

nmb-2017
The Tour T-Shirt

A fired-up and ready-to-rock Neal Morse Band kicked off its 2017 Similitude Of A Dream Tour last night at RockeTown in Nashville, TN. They performed the entire album before an ecstatic crowd, most of whom knew every word of the 2-disc magnum opus.

This was a different kind of show than Neal and his band mates have performed before. It’s clear that they want the album as a whole to take center stage, and not the musicians themselves. For instance, Neal did not even address the audience until after Shortcut To Salvation, which was in the second half of the set. Mike spoke briefly before Freedom Song. Other than those breaks, the focus was entirely on the songs.

The performance began with a darkly cowled Neal singing Long Day off to the side, illuminated with a handheld light. Then the entire group exploded into Overture, and we were off on an adventure through all kinds of trials and tribulations. Throughout the show stunning videos complemented the songs, and Neal wore various masks and outfits.

As a group, Neal, Mike, Randy, Bill, and Eric have melded into a mighty musical force. When Randy George and Mike Portnoy lock into their groove, the result is ferocious thunder. Eric Gillette has matured into an extraordinary guitarist and vocalist (give him more lead vocals!), and Bill Hubauer’s keyboards and vocals are always rock-solid. Neal, of course, is the consummate showman – singing, pulling off amazing guitar solos, and mugging for the crowd before every keyboard showcase.

But the real star of the evening was The Similitude of a Dream. Everything was done in service to the tale of a pilgrim on a spiritual journey – one that went from the City Of Destruction through doubt, fear, confusion, sloth, and battle until he reaches the shining city on a hill. When I first heard TSOAD, I liked it, but I wasn’t knocked out – it was just too sprawling a work for me to take in. After last night’s performance, I get it now. It all holds together as a unified work of art, and it is a beautiful allegory.

Highlights of the show were So Far Gone, where everyone takes a turn on lead vocals; a very moving Breath of Angels, which ended the first half; Shortcut to Salvation; a heavy Man in the Iron Cage; an all-acoustic Freedom Song; and the concluding Broken Sky/Long Day. By the end, everyone was wrung out and happy.

For an encore, the band tore through rip-roaring renditions of Momentum, Agenda, and The Call. Lasting nearly three hours, it was a very satisfying evening. The boys travel to Seattle and other parts west before heading up to Canada and then over to Europe and Israel. If there is any way you can catch this show, do it – it’s an amazing visual and musical experience.

Tour details can be found here.

Merry Christmas Weirdness

warblings_front_500Every year, Andy Cirzan – the Dr. Demento of obscure holiday music – releases a mix of songs from his vast collection. This year’s is Warblings From The Enchanted Forest, and it has to be heard to be believed. Joanie Sommers’ “The Peppermint Engineer” is a bizarre psychedelic children’s song, while Jimmie Dale and the Jimmy’s “Kangi – The Kangaroo  (His Xmas Hula Hoop)” unashamedly rips off “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”. Thankfully, it never achieved the popularity Rudolph did.

You can listen to Andy talk about Warblings on this episode of Sound Opinions, and you can download the entire album here. It’s free but only for a limited time.

Merry Christmas, everybody!

 

What I Liked This Year

I wasn’t too adventurous in my listening this year – maybe because artists I’m already familiar with released so much good music that they kept me busy!

Here’s what I liked in 2016 in the world of prog:

Tales_from_Topographic_Oceans_(Yes_album)10. Yes: Tales From Topographic Oceans (Blu-ray ed.)

Technically not a 2016 release, but with Steven Wilson’s 5.1 mix, this is a new album to my ears. This has everything a Yes fan could ask for – versions of TFTO that include the original mix, a radio promo, a “needle-drop” vinyl transfer, an instrumental version, in addition to Wilson’s new mixes – literally hours of music. A sometimes maligned work gets its proper release, and it really shines.

 

The Mute Gods9. The Mute Gods: Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me

I love Nick Beggs’ blend of 70s – era FM rock with snappy songwriting. Turns out he’s much more than one of the best bassists ever.

 

Continue reading “What I Liked This Year”