More Heat Than Light?

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?

The Return of NAO

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.

More Soon From The Tangent

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Pre-orders are open for the new album from The Tangent!

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”.

Bring it on!

Eternally Delayed, Infernally Good

Whisper it, but Phideaux is back.

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!

Three Of The Best Touring Soon

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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.

Take it from me, you will NOT want to miss this!

Further details, including dates and venues for all 28 gigs, are at https://www.loudersound.com/news/haken-finish-album-no5-and-announce-co-headline-tour-with-leprous

YABOL (Part 3)

In Part 2 of Yet Another ‘Best Of’ List, I showed you the albums that I’d ranked sixteenth to ninth; now its time to conclude proceedings by counting down my top eight releases from 2017…

8. Damanek – On Track

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I confess to being ignorant of Guy Manning’s repertoire, which is very remiss of me if this is any way representative of his output. Put simply, this album is an absolute joy, wonderfully melodic and catchy as hell – read Erik Heter’s excellent review if you want a detailed breakdown of its myriad delights. A sure sign of a great album is the difficulty you have in singling any track out for special praise, but I feel compelled to highlight the cool jazz-funk of Believer – Redeemer and the extended soloing in Oil Over Arabia as particular favourites. Guaranteed to get those toes tapping!

7. White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone

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The second album to emerge from Daniel Tompkins’ collaboration with Skyharbor’s Keshav Dhar. (I’ve yet to hear the first.) When I checked my music software stats, I just couldn’t believe how often I’ve played this. To these ears, it is a thing of beauty, flowing effortlessly from one track to the next, with Symmetry and The Sage the tracks that particularly stand out. Critics may lament the lack of bite, but if you just sit back and give it a chance, its gentle charms may seduce you and warm your soul. Who needs chemical stimulation when you have something as genuinely mood-enhancing as this?

Continue reading “YABOL (Part 3)”

YABOL (Part 2)

Welcome to Part 2 of Yet Another ‘Best Of’ List!

After presenting that montage of my top sixteen albums from 2017 in Part 1, it’s time to start ranking them. So here we go, from sixteenth place to ninth place…

16. Tangerine Dream – Quantum Gate

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A controversial release, given the opinion of some that ‘The Tangs’ should have bowed out gracefully following the death of founder and last remaining original member Edgar Froese a couple of years ago. But Thorsten Quaeschning has proven himself a safe pair of hands, more than capable of moulding the ideas and musical thumbnail sketches that Edgar left behind into something that is most satisfying, and recognisably a TD album. Definitely worth a listen if you are a fan of the band, or of electronic music in general.

15. Charlie Cawood – The Divine Abstract

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Charlie’s taken time out from bass-playing duties with Knifeworld and his various other musical projects to produce his first solo release – and very good it is, too! An utterly delightful collection of subtle and fascinating compositions, some with a distinctly oriental feel, played largely on acoustic instruments. Charlie handles guitars & sitar, and a host of others play everything else (among them various other members of Knifeworld, and Haken’s keyboard maestro Diego Tejeida). Particular highlights are The Earth’s Answer, Garden Of The Mind and closing track Apotheosis.

Continue reading “YABOL (Part 2)”