A Favorite Discovery of 2012: Yppah

Besides Big Big Train, one of my favorite discoveries of the past year has been Joe Corrales Jr.’s project, Yppah. Their latest album is Eighty One, released on the Ninja Tune label.

Corrales is similar to Matt Stevens (another Progarchy favorite) in that he likes to lay down a bed of rhythm using delays and samples while playing beautiful guitar filigrees on top of it. His style is much simpler than Stevens’, however, as he stresses the groove above all else. The bottom line for me is that his music makes me feel happy when I listen to it. (Which makes sense if you read the band’s name backwards!) Snatches of wordless chants swim in and out of the mix, Anomie Belle adds her siren vocals to several of the songs, Eno-esque audio effects burble along, and the percussion percolates with a world music feel. All of this creates an overall atmosphere of relaxed bliss. This is music for a sunny Sunday afternoon.

Yppah’s bandcamp site states,

Drawing on a cultural heritage that took in My Bloody Valentine alongside hip hop and heavily influenced by various forms of electronic music, psychedelic soul and rock, his music often mixes guitars shoved through massive reverbs/delays, keyboards/synthesizers, live drums, and other techniques.

Can hip-hop influenced music find a place in the prog music universe? Listen to “Happy To See You” below and decide for yourself. Beginning with a nice little guitar riff, the swelling synth background soon takes over and we are soaring through the clouds pictured on the album cover. There’s a brief detour to listen to a children’s chorus sweetly chanting us along our journey before the guitar comes back, turbocharged this time, to shoot us into the stratosphere.

If you’re interested in more, watch the in-studio performance below. A word of warning: Anomie Belle does some rapping in the second song, “Film Burn”, but it’s quickly followed by some beautiful violin work (she’s a classically trained violinist). And hey, if Rush can rap in “Roll The Bones”, then I guess it’s OK, right?

Mike Portnoy is the Best

So far, I have revealed that Mike Portnoy is on two items of my “Best of 2012” album list.

You know, I agree with what Mike frequently says: there is no “best”; only “favorite”.

I agree that this is a great way to keep the peace when people are being obnoxious and unreasonable.

And it’s also a fine way to habitually cultivate humility on a personal level.

So okay, Mike, you got it. You’re one of my favorite drummers, and you are on many of my favorite albums this year!

But surely something only becomes a favorite because we consider it the best.

And the real reason we share “best of” lists, is not because we claim omniscience, but because we want to share what we know and love, so that others will do the same for us.

If they do, we can thereby learn from them, and thus grow in our love…

We don’t want to merely win musical arguments. We want to learn from the musical experiences of others, and to expand our own experiences, and to enlarge the way we think about music.

But still, when it comes to aesthetic argument, Roger Scruton gets it right:

Perhaps the most persistent error in aesthetics is that contained in the Latin tag that de gustibus non est disputandum— that there is no disputing tastes. On the contrary, tastes are the things that are most vigorously disputed, precisely because this is the one area of human life where dispute is the whole point of it. As Kant argued, in matters of aesthetic judgement we are “suitors for agreement” with our fellows; we are inviting others to endorse our preferences and also exposing those preferences to criticism. And when we debate the point we do not merely rest our judgement in a bare “I like it” or “It looks fine to me”; we search our moral horizons for the considerations that can be brought to judgement’s aid. Just consider the debates over modernism in architecture. When Le Corbusier proposed his solution to the problem of Paris, which was to demolish the city and replace it with a park of scattered glass towers and raised walkways, with the proletariat neatly stacked in their boxes and encouraged to take restorative walks from time to time on the trampled grass below, he was expressing a judgement of taste. But he was not just saying, “I like it that way.” He was telling us that that is how it ought to be: he was conveying a vision of human life and its fulfilment, and proposing the forms that gave the best and most lucid expression to that vision. And it is because the city council of Paris was rightly repelled by that vision, on grounds as much moral and spiritual as purely formal, that Le Corbusier’s aesthetic was rejected and Paris saved.

Check out this great issue (#14) of iDrum, with Mike Portnoy as the cover story: http://bit.ly/iDrum_Issue_14

Lots of interactive goodies in that one!

Stay tuned for more Mike Portnoy on my Best of 2012 list.

Flying Colors (Best of 2012 — Part 4)

Flying Colors

Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is Flying Colors.

The sad fact is that so many “supergroup” collaborations end up being less than the sum of their parts.

But this collaboration is a glorious exception. Everything has gone right here.

Neal Morse (and Mike Portnoy) teaming up with Steve Morse (and Dave LaRue)?

Continue reading “Flying Colors (Best of 2012 — Part 4)”

Momentum (Best of 2012 — Part 3)

Momentum

Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is Neal Morse’s Momentum.

Brad Birzer appends a useful album overview to the end of his epic CWR review of Neal Morse’s career:

Not a concept in the way several of his other albums are, Momentum most resembles his penultimate album with Spock’s Beard, “V.” As with its 2000 counterpart, Momentum has six songs. The first five are eight minutes or less long, with the last song being a 34-minute epic.

With skill and passion, Morse’s new album considers [in “Momentum”:] the pace of modernity and our reactions to it, [in “Thoughts Part 5”:] the necessity of appearing deep in conversation, [in “Smoke and Mirrors”:] how to weather deception in this world, [in “Weathering Sky”:] how one interprets his calling in the world, and [in “Freak”:] the way a powerful spiritual figure would be perceived should he arrive bodily in the present day (I’ll leave it for the reader to discover the identity of the protagonist in the track, “Freak,” as Morse deftly leaves the identity a mystery until the very end of the song) in his shorter tunes.

The epic is, well, epic. As the title, “World without End,” suggests, the thirty-four minutes explore the motivations of a person, and especially whether he or she is trying to shape the ephemeral or the permanent and timeless.

I have to admit that one of my favorite moments on the disc is when the title track glides on into the killer guitar solo that is expertly framed by an ecstatically swirling keyboard flight path:

Go listen to 3:10—4:10 on the album track…

Indeed, that is definitely one of the best minutes of prog we have heard all year.

(Note: 2:49—3:18 in the video below has the killer guitar solo, but omits the awesome keyboard/guitar dogfight. But I am not complaining: I love that I heard the Single Edit version first by watching it as a sneak peek on YouTube; and then, even though I had already fallen in love with the song, when I downloaded the album itself, I got the extra thrill of hearing the suddenly-new keyboard/guitar dogfight now added to the end! It was a unique experience unparalleled by any previous prog preview encounter!)

Continue reading “Momentum (Best of 2012 — Part 3)”

Clockwork Angels (Best of 2012 — Part 2)

Another one of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is Rush’s Clockwork Angels.

Stories like “Xanadu” and “Cygnus X-1” were what first enthralled me. So it is a dream come true to have a full-blown concept album from Rush after all these years. And with an accompanying novel, no less.

“Though Rush has often embraced huge themes and stories, sometimes over several albums, this is the first time the band has attempted a full concept. The story, nearly sixty-seven minutes long, follows the journey of a young man finding his own voice in a society ruled by indeterminate god-like fates (the Watchmaker and the Clockwork Angels), a rule-based conformity but peopled by a number of eccentric persons and subcultures,” writes Brad Birzer.

The story seems to be ever ancient (obviously it’s an epic remake of Red Barchetta, and Subdivisions, and [insert your favorite Rush song here]), yet ever new: “a very Calvinistic set of gods attempt to control all through mechanized precision, while alchemy, rather than science, has progressed. The album is divided into twelve songs, each represented by an alchemic symbol positioned at each hour of a twelve-hour clock.” (Brad Birzer on the story)

Brad also notes:

What is especially fascinating is that Rush—in music and lyrics—has with Clockwork Angels created an all-embracing mythos, referencing their own works and music going back to the band’s very first album. There are hints, some overt and some not, from albums across the past four decades, and the protagonist must—as with Aeneas and a number of other classical heroes—experience, survive, and outwit the gods.

In Clockwork Angels, though, the hero realizes one very vital thing: the divine will always control time. The gods might not control our individual fates—despite what the priests and politician tells us—but, in the end, Chronos devours all. But, within that given time in the world, man can do many things, and he can even dream and pursue the highest of all things.

In other words, Neil Peart continues to inspire. As Brad has noted elsewhere, “Neil was the big brother who introduced us to the literature our teachers seemed to have misplaced: classical myth, Voltaire, Coleridge, Twain, Dos Passos, Hemingway, Rand, Tolkien, Eliot, and others.”

Brad’s tribute to Rush there hits the target:

In the late 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s many of us lovingly thought of ourselves as the younger brothers of Peart. He was the genius kid with integrity, who always walked through the halls with two hilarious, equally smart (if not overtly intellectual) and infinitely loyal friends. One of his friends had parents who had survived the Holocaust camps of the Nazis. The other friend had folks who had escaped the prison camps of the Communists. Now, the three were free to express themselves in any way they so decided on this side of the Atlantic.

These three confidently confronted the world as a perfect trio, unbreakable and ever mutually re-enforcing and inspiring.

We looked up to all three as those who could understand our failures and successes, our desires and our alienation, our rejection of conformist culture and our drive to better ourselves.

Going where I want, instead of where I should
I peer out at the passing shadows
Carried through the night into the city
Where a young man has a chance of making good

A chance to break from the past
The caravan thunders onward
Stars winking through the canvas hood
On my way at last 

Also on my 2012 list is Oceania. Like Brad, fan boy Billy Corgan also knows how to pay appropriate tribute to Rush.

Oceania (Best of 2012 — Part 1)

The Smashing Pumpkins

One of the albums in my Top Ten for 2012 is The Smashing Pumpkins’ Oceania.

Volcanic bass guitarist Nicole Fiorentino and Rush fanboy Billy Corgan deliver some especially mind-blowing musical moments. The title track invites us to go swimming in 9:07 minutes of heavy prog wonder, in which we encounter an acoustic guitar island and then ride out more waves with multiple distorted guitar solos.

But every track is a keeper. In the album order, my four fave tracks are “Quasar” (which rocks things off with an appropriately heavy mystic quest, as the chorus sings out the Tetragrammaton—YHWH—until meditative bliss is encountered), “The Celestials” (complete with a heavenly epiphany—see next paragraph below), “My Love is Winter” (an incredibly melodic mind-grabber that builds the tension expertly in a prolonged way and then attains delirious resolution after teasing us delightfully with the extended musical deferral), and “The Chimera” (for its epic monster riffing).

“My Love is Winter” was the divinely lovely song that stayed with me most when away from the headphones; but “The Celestials” is perhaps my upper-echelon selection for epic greatness. It opens with an awesome sing-along acoustic guitar enticement. Then it blasts into rock trio orbit at 1:16 as the bass (oh yeah! dig the bass!), the guitar, and the drums prepare for the jump to light speed. And wham, at 1:52 we launch into hyperspace and the whole world suddenly accelerates and then magically slows down as, now outside time, we cosmically survey it all via the synthesizer’s lens. Powered into crazy warp speed by the ripping guitar beginning at 2:22, then eventually, at the edge of the universe, at the three-minute mark, the horizon of spiritual enlightenment is crossed as the music invites us to contemplate the spiritual master’s most divine insight (sung in harmony with the guitar): “Everything I want is free.”

Wow.

“Everything I want is free.”

Give somebody this album as a gift for Christmas.

May the music help you swim in the ocean of love. Ride on!

Oceania