Suddenly, you were gone From all the lives you left your mark upon
Neil Peart, Afterimage
A natural byproduct of having a deep and abiding passion for music is that you collect musical heroes: individuals encountered on your musical journey who leave their mark on you. These individuals stand out from the crowd, whether it be for their skill as players, their talent as creators, their personality or their life choices. You didn’t need to spend long on social media these past two days to learn that, for a great many people, Neil Peart was one such individual.
Sometimes you just don’t want vocals. When I’m trying to work, for instance, I enjoy the soothing presence of music in the background but I really don’t need the additional distractions of singers or lyrics.
With that in mind, here, in no particular order, is my pick of ten great instrumental or mostly-instrumental albums I encountered last year. What have I missed? Let me know in the comments…
Adam Holzman – Truth Decay
Reflects his jazz background as well as his involvement with Steven Wilson’s band (several of whom feature amongst the guest musicians). Nine of its eleven tracks are instrumentals. Sophisticated and diverse, with some wonderful electric piano and Moog work from Adam.
Matt Baber – Suite For Piano and Electronics
Elegant, minimalist stuff from Sanguine Hum’s keyboard wizard. The title say it all, really.
Jo Quail – Exsolve
Cello, effects and loop pedal combine to thrilling effect in this intense and haunting album. For the full impact, listen in the dark with headphones 🙂
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Dynamic, exciting, inventive and thoroughly modern guitar music. And the album artwork is fantastic. What’s not to like?
Jean-Michel Jarre – Equinoxe Infinity
The maestro is in good form at the moment. This pays tribute to his revered 1978 sophomore release but also has something new to contribute.
Kalman Filter – Exo-Oceans
Three long-form pieces from The Tangent’s Andy Tillison, drawing on influences as diverse as Tangerine Dream, Brian Eno, Stravinsky and Miles Davis. The Fierce And The Dead’s Matt Stevens contributes guitar to the first track.
Mark Peters – Innerland
Beautifully sedate and atmospheric guitar-based music from a co-founder of the shoegaze band Engineers. The delightful artwork mimics the visual style of old British Ordnance Survey maps.
Matt Calvert – Typewritten
This has a lovely gentle acoustic vibe – rather different from Matt’s work with Three Trapped Tigers. Matt plays nine different instruments on it!
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Thoroughly excellent piano-based solo debut from iamthemorning’s hugely talented co-founder and composer. Nine of its thirteen tracks are instrumentals.
Sonar – Vortex
Pulsating, hypnotic brilliance from the Swiss instrumentalists, featuring David Torn on electric guitar. One of the best albums, of any kind, to have been released in 2018.
This post started as a counterpoint to those earlier posts from Brad and from Erik, but then our esteemed Time Lord responded with a spirited defence of the music that seems to have offended sensibilities so greatly, and for a while I wondered whether to abandon these ramblings entirely. If there is a point left to make, perhaps it is to reiterate something I said the last time the thorny issue of politics reared its ugly head in these hallowed virtual halls.
My point then was simply this: I don’t want any artist to keep politics out of their music, even if this means they end up pushing a viewpoint that I disagree with vehemently.
Why? Well, it has to do with passion. Many of us get very passionate about our politics; you only have to read those earlier posts to see that! And passion is also a necessary fuel for art. Can the artist separate the passionate feelings that stimulate great art from those that feed their political beliefs? I’m not sure that’s possible. Perhaps hearing something we might disagree with is just the price we have to pay for great art – for that other stuff that resonates and inspires, rather than mystifying or angering us.
To be honest, I’m rather surprised that we aren’t hearing a lot more proselytising in prog right now. After all, the tectonic plates of global politics seem to have shifted significantly over the past couple of years. And I would hope that all rational and reasonable people near the centre ground, whether they lean left or right, can agree that we’ve seen some disturbing trends – not least in the rise of far-right extremism.
I think this must be why I take exception to some of the criticism that Erik levels at Andy Tillison for his ‘bait and switch’ on the Slow Rust album. Was it clichéd? For sure. Clumsy and melodramatic? Probably. But considering the toxic and febrile atmosphere surrounding Brexit, where a politician was murdered by an avowed neo-Nazi and synagogues were vandalised in the aftermath of the referendum result, I believe wholeheartedly that Andy had a valid point.
I’ve heard none of this apparently controversial new material from The Flower Kings and The Tangent. (I no longer listen to advance copies because I’m so bad at reviewing, and it’s not fair to the artists to treat this stuff as ‘free music’ without the quid pro quo of a review.) Thus I can’t comment on the specific bones of contention that other Progarchists have picked over so ardently. But I feel I must repeat something that I said two years ago in my first musings on this troublesome issue:
An artist communicates their thoughts and feelings to us through their music: their thoughts and feelings, which may align with or contradict our own. As listeners, we are free to accept or reject the message, but we don’t get to decide its contents.
Thus I ask, tentatively, and with the greatest of respect, whether it might be more constructive in the future to keep the politics out of Progarchy, rather than arguing that it should be kept out of prog?
After four years, North Atlantic Oscillation are back with new album Grind Show, due to hit the stores on 16 November. Pre-orders are being taken now.
the album represents a dramatic shift into more accessible territory: pop, electronica, rock and even folk elements combine to form a vibrant, multicoloured record that is still imbued with NAO’s trademark sonic restlessness.
Recorded “quietly and carefully” over Spring and Summer of this year, Proxy is scheduled for release by the esteemed Inside Out Music on 16 November and will be available as a CD digipak, vinyl LP and digital download.
Soon after placing my order, I was delighted to receive a long and chatty email from Andy Tillison, delving deeply into the influences and musical styles of the new album, and the approach used to make it. Absolutely fascinating.
According to Andy, it is a “very organic feeling piece”, featuring a real drummer this time (Steve Roberts). Naturally, we should expect Prog – “not just Prog, but lots of it… often focused on the Hammond and Electric Piano”, with “less in the way of orchestrations – more focus on the core instruments”. Apparently, we’ll “spot influences from Chris Squire, Keith Emerson, Pip Pyle, Pierre Moerlen, Tony Iommi, Chick Corea, Fatboy Slim, Sophie Ellis Bextor and Peter Hammill”. Now that’s an eclectic bunch!
Because Doctor Livingstone from Slow Rust was so well received, we’ll be getting another instrumental on Proxy, along with a 17-minute epic that, intriguingly, has all the hallmarks of Prog and yet is “not made out of Prog… Imagine the Eiffel Tower made in mahogany”. I am very curious to find out what this actually means…
And what of the lyrics? Let me quote Andy in full here:
No overall concept this time. Yes, there will be politically motivated bits – there will be introspect – there will be reckless optimism and ever more reckless pessimism. Some of the songs are tinged with the regrets arising from missed opportunities earlier in life, some are angry and cynical. But the overall conclusion of the album is that there is “still time”.
In the seven years that have passed since Snowtorch, it has sometimes felt as if we would never see the much-vaunted ‘Project Infernal’ come to fruition. But here it is, finally: the long-awaited concluding chapter of the eco-terror trilogy that began with 2006’s The Great Leap and was developed further in 2007’s classic Doomsday Afternoon.
I’m little more than halfway through my first listen as I write this. There’s an awful lot to take in from this 19-track, 83-minute double album, but it seems clear already that time has done little to diminish Phideaux Xavier’s distinctive ‘dark wave of art rock’. Infernal is rich, melodic and varied, with moments of real Floydian grandeur. Check it out now on Bandcamp!
Lucky US residents can look forward to an incredible line-up of bands touring this fall. Co-headliners are Haken, showcasing Album No. 5, and the mighty Leprous. Supporting them are the magnificent Bent Knee, whose Land Animal was my top album of 2017.