If there is any justice in the world…

Ossicles – Mantelpiece (Dec 2012)

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Sometimes an amazing album comes your way that you wonder how the rest of the world missed it.
Over a year ago two 20 year old guys from Norway produced a breathtaking double CD called Mantelpiece.

It’s a breathtakingly rich and accomplished piece and it deserves to be noticed.
Have a listen to the video and see what I mean…

Pure Pop for Prog People

Sometimes you have to put aside the extended epics and experience the simple pleasure of a nicely crafted pop song. With that in mind, here’s a playlist of recently released pop-like songs that prog-lovers can enjoy without guilt:

1. Sound Of Contact: “Not Coming Down”. Coming from their extraordinary album, Dimensionaut, this catchy tune has all the right ingredients: wall-of-sound production, rich vocal harmonies, an eminently hummable chorus, and they even sneak in a Beatlesque bridge. Take a listen, if you don’t believe me:

2. Days Between Stations: “The Man Who Died Two Times”. I’ve written about the wonderful album this track appears on in a previous post, and it features a delightful cameo by XTC’s Colin Moulding.  It has an irresistible beat married to an insistent synthesizer riff, with Moulding’s multitracked, wry vocals floating over the controlled chaos. Think classic Alan Parsons Project mashed with 10CC, and you get a glimmer of the genius of this song. Go ahead and spend a buck for the mp3 of it here. You won’t be disappointed.

3. Sanguine Hum: “The Weight of The World”. Okay, this one is almost 15 minutes long, which qualifies it as a genuine epic, but it is so effortlessly melodic and uplifting I have to include it. I’ve always thought Sanguine Hum’s secret influence was Jellyfish, and it’s hard to deny that here. If Jellyfish and “One Size Fits All”- era Mothers of Invention had a child, it would be this track. It lilts, it waltzes, it almost skitters out of control, but it never loses its pop appeal.  The first 37 seconds of their promo for the album are taken from this near-perfect song:

4. Big Big Train: “Uncle Jack”. I defy anyone to listen to this song and not end up grinning ear to ear. A jaunty tempo provides a fertile bed for lush vocals that sing the joy of taking a walk outdoors. And when the counter-melody hits at 2:40, you’re transported to paradise. Listen below (but buy the whole album, English Electric Part One):

5. Arjen Lucassen: “E-Police”. It can’t be an accident that Lucassen’s “E-Police” recalls the glories of late-70s Cheap Trick (“Dream Police”?). A big helping of glam rock that will leave you hitting Repeat on your player.

6. Gazpacho: “Mary Celeste”. A Norwegian band does Celtic music, and creates a pop masterpiece. A delicate intro on mandolin and piano blossoms into a full-blown production that includes accordion, guitars, violin, and masterful vocals. It doesn’t hurt that the melody compels you to get up and move.

So there you have it – a playlist that you can use to seduce your friends who are woefully ignorant of prog into the beauty of that genre, or one that you can use yourself when the occasion calls for some sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs music. Enjoy.

Änglagård — Viljans Öga


Ken DiTomaso from the prog rock band Paper House nails it in his review of Änglagård’s Viljans Öga over at The Daily Vault, where the album made his 2012 End-of-Year List:

Returning after a twenty year break, Änglagård doesn’t skip a beat. This is an album of lengthy instrumental progressive rock that refuses to be modern in any way. Flute, mellotron, hammond organ, and more make this feel like it came straight out of a bygone era. The mood is dark and chilly, but less in a creepy Halloween way and more in a long winter’s night way. It sounds almost exactly like their original output twenty years ago, to the extent that I’d bet some people probably wouldn’t be able to guess which songs were produced then and now if they were all shuffled up. That lack of originality might be a downside to some but it was never what the band was about in the first place, and when it comes to recreating ‘70s prog bliss, they still can’t be beat.

Guitarist Jonas Engdegård tells you how to pronounce the track names here.

1. Ur Vilande
2. Sorgmantel
3. Snårdom
4. Längtans Klocka

The Royal Concept (2012) EP

The Royal Concept (2012) EP

My favorite EP of 2012 came from Sweden’s The Royal Concept. They hail from Stockholm.

You can download almost all of the EP for free from their page at SoundCloud.

Five great songs:

1. Gimme Twice

2. Goldrushed

3. Knocked Up

4. D-D-Dance (you can listen at SoundCloud but download from iTunes)

5. In the End

You can also check out the song “World on Fire” and a 3:32 remix of “Gimme Twice.”

File under: New Wave Prog?

Your move, Phoenix!

The Strange Case of … (Best of 2012 — Part 10)

Halestorm

The final album in my Top Ten for 2012 is Halestorm’s The Strange Case of …, on which Lzzy Hale showcases her stadium-calibre rock voice and her split personality (“Mz. Hyde“): just as the album title alludes to Robert Louis Stevenson’s novella The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, the theme here is how a jaded maneater’s tough outer shell (tracks 1-4 and tracks 8-12) encases a true romantic hidden inside (tracks 5-7: the thermonuclear love ballads “Beautiful With You”, “In Your Room”, and “Break In”). This meta-concept album thereby allows Lzzy to showcase her softer side and reveal how her well-rounded, multifaceted rock talent has her destined for mega-stardom.

It’s been a massive year for Halestorm and they’re ending 2012 with a bang! It was just announced that the group and their song ‘Love Bites (So Do I)’ off of their latest album ‘The Strange Case Of…’ were nominated in the Best Hard Rock/Metal Performance category for the upcoming 55th annual Grammy Awards, taking place Feb. 10, 2013, in Los Angeles.

The accolades for Lzzy and her band are well-deserved. Her talent even registered on (my fave) Mike Portnoy‘s radar, as this year Lzzy sang with Adrenaline Mob on their impressive Omertà album, doing guest vocals on the track, “Come Undone” (which is a hilariously deadly reworking of the Duran Duran song).

I had reserved the last slot on my 2012 Top Ten list for Soundgarden’s new album, King Animal. But in the end, the album just didn’t make the cut. Carl has a great review of the album, and his analysis of the lyrics (through the lens of T.S. Eliot!) will no doubt have me revisiting the album in the months to come and reconsidering, since I pretty much paid attention only to the music and not to the lyrics. Hence it was the absence of killer guitar solos on King Animal that led me to give it the boot. That whole anti-guitar solo grunge mentality is too anti-prog in my books, and therefore a fatal flaw.

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge Chris Cornell fan, but I like his Audioslave oeuvre the best, as well as his solo work. (Where does Soundgarden ever have the left-field magical moments of Audioslave’s Tom Morello guitar solos?) And I note that Carl’s review of King Animal spends way more time referencing great Audioslave moments than it does King Animal! For me, that was just confirmation that I was right to give Soundgarden the boot from my Top Ten.

For a while, The Cult’s unexpectedly amazing 2012 disc, Choice of Weapon (be sure to buy the bonus track version at the same price), was a strong contender for my Top Ten, thanks to standout tracks like “Lucifer”, “A Pale Horse”, “The Wolf”, and “For the Animals”. Only because The Cult is the band from the past and Halestorm is the band from the future do I give the nod to Lzzy over Ian. But both albums are solid, upper-echelon material.

I also toyed with the idea of putting Adrenaline Mob’s Omertà in the last slot of my Top Ten, because it has some tremendously accomplished metal. Mike Orlando’s guitar solos are astonishing, especially when combined with Mike Portnoy’s drumming. But the album is also a mixed bag. I found that I would carve it up into an EP for my playlists, because the only tracks that could consistently hold my musical interest were “Indifferent”, “All on the Line”, “Feelin’ Me”, “Come Undone”, and “Believe Me”.

So Omertà had to get the boot because it wasn’t solid from front to back. Yet by giving the final slot in my Top Ten to Halestorm, I get the best of both worlds — because Adrenaline Mob still gets paid an indirect tribute by way of my choice, thanks to their own recognition of Lzzy’s amazing talent (via “Come Undone”).

Halestorm

2012 has been a great year for music! A big thank you to all my fellow Progarchists for sharing their musical experiences here, thereby expanding my own.

I’ll see you back here on New Year’s Day, when I will reveal the name of my fave EP from 2012 — since EPs do not count towards the Top Ten list, which (in good prog fashion) I always dedicate to the recognition of the best contributions towards the keeping alive of The Art of the Album (and we all know who wins the top title for 2012 in that regard — Best Album of the Year).

Trouble with Machines (Best of 2012 — Part 9)

District 97

Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is District 97’s Trouble with Machines.

Nick is right to call this “top-class prog metal.” It’s the sort of thing that is right up my alley.

But what makes this disc a cut above all the others in its class, and truly worthy of being in the upper echelon in that beloved genre, is the outrageously distinctive jazz sensibility that Leslie Hunt brings to these songs.

In fact, it is hard not to classify Trouble with Machines as the best jazz album of the year!

Just listen to all those wildly intricate jazzy vocal lines that Leslie does. Totally mind-blowing. And all in perfect coordination with her bandmates.

I was going to put Map of the Past by It Bites into this slot in my top ten, but Trouble with Machines won out instead. Partly this is because of my own metallic predilection, a longstanding gravitation towards riff-tastic guitar work.

But mostly this is because the prog-pop excellence of It Bites was eclipsed for me by the more purely pop perfection of Bend Sinister, which won a spot in my Top Ten this year instead. Beautiful as Map of the Past is, the purer power pop perfection of Small Fame wins out.

In other words, for me the prog on the It Bites disc is less innovative than District 97’s prog-giness, and the pop less perfect than Bend Sinister’s pop-iness. But darn it, this was a tough call to make.

I love how District 97 has a bunch of my all-time favorites as their prog influences: e.g., you can catch them live doing eminently satisfying covers of Rush and Genesis. But then they transcend all that and do something amazing: i.e., they are able to be their own audaciously unique selves.

What a great album this is. Don’t miss it. I think it exhibits a magical truth of prog: viz., how a truly great group must be one that is made up of extremely talented individuals but who then become something even greater than the mere sum of their parts.

Moreover, this amazing group is arguably what jazz was always meant to become, in order to articulate the maximum impact of its full musical potential. At least that’s what their amazing jazz metal is for a guy like me.

Wildly exemplary.

Small Fame (Best of 2012 — Part 7)

Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is Bend Sinister’s Small Fame.

I was pleased to see that they also made Mike Portnoy‘s own personal top ten for this year.

Together with Rush and Leah, Bend Sinister joins the Canadian artists on my list this year. Like Leah, they are also local talent, located here in British Columbia. (Don’t miss their upcoming show, if you need a good idea for a Christmas vacation destination!)

The band takes its name from that book by Nabokov. (Ha! Reference to The Police there, for the quick-witted.)

I don’t want to put words into his mouth, but I think Carl‘s longstanding complaint with Rush is that their songwriting (not their musicianship) leaves something to be desired. (I assume he is talking about their most infamous four- and five-minute forays, not their prog masterpieces. Out of respect, I won’t name names here, but feel free to pile on in the comment box below with your own nominations. Rush does have some real stinkeroos, which are of course handily eclipsed by all their best and greatest.)

The great thing about Bend Sinister is that they are superb craftsmen of song. Above all, their talent at songcraft shines forth magnificently with this wonderful release, Small Fame.

For those would say that there is not enough prog here for their tastes, I would only point to “Quest for Love,” which proves that Bend Sinister could be as prog as they want to be, any time they would choose. But what I admire about them is how they always put their musical talents in the service of truly excellent songs. In other words, if someone wanted to complain, the complaint would have to be the opposite of Carl’s quarrel with Rush: be more prog!

Well, I will leave it to Bend Sinister to be just what they want to be. Because what they are is amazing. They could be full-on crazy prog, if they wanted to be. But arguably they are something much, much better than that.

Masters of the song.