Nothing’s Bad Luck: The Lives of Warren Zevon

It’s essential to read the book review by Joseph Bottum:

Warren Zevon was a minor genius, ridden too hard by his demons to make the move to major genius of the pop-music genres in which he worked. His greatest achievement may be that he was himself and only himself, an artist who had only the smallest of gaps between the on-stage persona he constructed and the off-stage person he lived. In lyric after lyric, he produced songs that could only be by one writer. In performance after performance, he delivered work that could only be by one singer. In episode after episode, he lived a life that could only be by one person—the genius and the disaster that was Warren Zevon.

Album Review: Amorphis — Queen of Time

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I finally made time to explore this acclaimed album from 2018. And it has quickly become one of my very favorite listens over the past few weeks. Yes, indeed, it’s an absolutely superb metal album.

In 2018, it was chosen as Record of the Month for May 2018 by AMG (full review here), and also #5 on the list of Best Albums of 2018 by MoMM (full review here). So, now it’s official over here at Progarchy: I add my voice to the chorus of praise.

My entry point was the amazing song “Amongst Stars,” which features Anneke van Giersbergen joining the vocals. After I had listened to that magical song a half dozen times, I was totally hooked. And I soon downloaded the rest of the album, thus beginning a happy journey of wondrous audio exploration.

If you are skeptical about an album full of death metal vocals and growls integrated into proggy metal that also has stunning clean vocals, this is the album to convert you to the expanded artistic possibilities opened up that sonic palette. For me, it was “Heart of the Giant” that demonstrated what only death metal vocals can effectively accomplish in tandem with epic riffs and big choir arrangements. This is an invigorating song to revel in.

But every song is exciting in its own way. An infusion of world music modalities and folk music influences give a distinctive edge to practically every song on the album. You’ll hear Celtic, Middle Eastern, and much more. But that’s the sharp edge of a very heavy musical broadsword wielded by the band. With finesse, its audio slicing motions frequently deploy virtuoso guitar solos and spacey synth keyboard solos.

Every song is indisputably upper echelon, but we will each have our favorites. In addition to the two I already mentioned above, I would name “Daughter of Hate” (thanks to its unexpectedly effective saxophone solos),  “Wrong Direction,” and then the two bonus tracks, which seem to be most accessible to prog lovers (“As Mountain Crumble” and “Brother and Sister”). But who am I kidding, I also look forward to the powerful one-two punch of the openers “The Bee” and “Message and Amber.” In truth, every track thrills as it comes on over your speakers.

Now that this album has taken pride of place on my daily playlist, I am really looking forward to seeing Amorphis when they visit here on tour with Delain and Anneke later this year.

The Unpopularity of Jazz: On the 90s Shift

Incredible interview by Rachel Olding with Branford Marsalis. The conclusion:

The more jazz has changed, the more Marsalis has gravitated towards classical music. It’s the reason he moved his young family to Durham, an artistic city in North Carolina, 10 years ago; the New York scene wasn’t inspiring anymore. (He’d also had enough of “New York living”, of five-year-olds calling adults by their first name).

Today’s jazz musicians are too mathematical and wonkish, he says. Jazz clubs are half empty, only frequented by other musicians who appreciate each other’s showmanship. Listeners need music degrees to understand what they’re playing. The music has become rigid. Improvisation is mostly over-rehearsed regurgitation.

“[I’m often asked] the question, ‘Jazz is so unpopular, why do you think that is?’ And the answer is simple: the musicians suck,” he says with typical subtlety.

He says the shift started in the ’90s and I can’t help but think the Marsalis family was not immune. While they still wield incredible clout, nothing can compare to the two decades in which Wynton and his siblings seemed to rule the jazz universe. In 2003, the music critic David Hajdu stumbled upon Wynton playing as a sideman with a band in a near-empty jazz club in New York, and wrote a piece in the Atlantic (tartly titled “Wynton’s Blues”) hypothesising that Wynton’s stifling orthodoxy and nostalgia was partly to blame for both his and jazz’s dwindling relevance.

It’s nevertheless hard to see that Branford Marsalis is slowing down in any way. Not in the flood of opinions he wants to impart. Nor in his commitment to improving music or lifting standards. Not in the pace and scope of his work, nor with that bottle of red wine. And especially not with the tempo of Thelonius Monk.

Help us, O prog rock, you’re our only hope… 

Rush: The Animated Series

kmjz8lctraatpxzawyy5dr-970-80Take a look at the sample pages available: This Rush comic looks great.

It makes me think of a great idea, which Progarchy freely offers here: why doesn’t somebody make an animated cartoon about the adventures of the Rush trio?

What I have in mind is something with the great retro animation vibe of the Star Trek animated series. That would be the look and feel.

As for audio, every episode would end with a snippet of a Rush song playing as part of the concluding soundtrack, just like shows such as The Goldbergs or Schooled do in their own televised exercises in nostalgia.

The high concept for Rush: The Animated Series is that, one night, while recording tracks for the album A Farewell to Kings, a dimensional portal opens up as the harmonic frequency of one of their jam sessions bends space and time by resonating with the black hole in Cygnus X-1.

On the other side of the portal, the Rush dudes get to hop in a spaceship and go exploring different worlds in the multiverse. They get to do this in each episode, whenever one of their songs hits just the right note and unexpectedly opens the portal. Not only that, they can also use their spaceship to visit any time and place on Earth, so the story possibilities are endless.

The trick is: the spaceship is powered by Rush harmonic convergence music energy. So, whenever they are low and about to run out of fuel, they have to return to the studio and record another song. The process of songwriting and recording fuels up the spaceship again and the portal reopens.

The running joke could be: they write longer songs on purpose, because that makes the fuel tank fill up more. Also, replaying old songs works fine to open the portal and power the ship, but extra energy and wider travel is unleashed whenever a new track is created.

Rush should definitely get behind this idea. If you were retired rock stars, wouldn’t it be on your to-do list to star in your own sci-fi comedy Saturday morning cartoon? In any event, it is always possible for a motivated fan to create their own series. Prog on!

A Genesis Extravaganza: The Musical Box in Vancouver (April 9, 2019)

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The best part of the show was Act III. Acts I and II felt much less energetic than the actual Genesis originals, most of which I have heard the real Genesis play live. Out of that lot, “Lilywhite Lilith” came across the best.

Not until Act III did the band progressively pour it on, with more and more energy with each song, making the concert a consistent crescendo into the encore finale. My favorites were everything from “Can-Utility and the Coastliners” to the end.

Also, “Cinema Show” was so good that as result “Aisle of Plenty” felt especially emotionally moving as I pondered the magnificent artistic legacy of Genesis.

The band likes to sit down a lot, and has pretty given up on costumes, other than a leather jacket for Rael, and the fox head and red dress for the very end of “The Musical Box.” I was underwhelmed in Acts I and II but then Act III redeemed the evening for me, as they poured on the jets.

In the end, I am reminded just how great Genesis is and how unrepeatable they are, despite those who would try to imitate as best they can. It’s sincere flattery, but perhaps Andy Tillison summed it up best on the last track of The Tangent’s Proxy: all the other bands are skint.

Act I: The Wind’s Tail
In That Quiet Earth / Robbery, Assault, and Battery / Wot Gorilla?
Blood on the Rooftops
Dance on a Volcano
Entangled (Ending Part)
Los Endos

Act II: Broadway Melodies
Fly on a Windshield
Broadway Melody of 1974
In the Cage
Back in N.Y.C.
Hairless Heart
Counting Out Time
The Carpet Crawlers
Lilywhite Lilith
The Waiting Room (Ending Part)

Act III: Before The Ordeal
A Place to Call My Own
Time Table
Seven Stones
Can-Utility and the Coastliners
Looking for Someone
Firth of Fifth
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty

Encore:
The Musical Box