Celebrating Kate Bush!

Stranger things are happening again! This time, the benefit doesn’t go to Weezer (or even Toto), but one of Progarchy’s long-time faves, the utterly unique Kate Bush. From her website:

“Running Up That Hill has just gone to No 2 in the UK charts and No. 1 in Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Sweden…. How utterly brilliant! It’s hard to take in the speed at which this has all been happening since the release of the first part of the Stranger Things new series. So many young people who love the show, discovering the song for the first time. The response to Running Up That Hill is something that has had its own energy and volition. A direct relationship between the shows and their audience and one that has stood completely outside of the music business. We’ve all been astounded to watch the track explode! Thanks so much to everyone who has supported the song and a really special thank you to the Duffer Brothers for creating something with such heart . All best wishes, Kate

In addition, “Running Up That Hill” has re-entered the Billboard Magazine Hot 100 at number 8 –Bush’s first Top 10 placement ever in the US. Slate Magazine breaks down how she got there:

It Took More Than Stranger Things to Make Kate Bush’s First Top 10 Hit

All this has provided the perfect excuse for me to break out my Kate Bush box sets and revel in her breathtaking creativity. My fave albums – The Kick Inside, Hounds of Love and the 1986 compilation The Whole Story — remain the same. Though I’ve always been a fan of 2005’s Aerial, 2016’s live Before the Dawn is thoroughly stunning, and the 2018 remasters unveiled the charms of Never For Ever and the wonderfully bonkers The Dreaming for me. As summer listening projects go, this one’s a winner! (I’m also re-reading Graeme Thomson’s fine biography of Ms. Bush , Under the Ivy.)

Or, I might just check out “Running Up That Hill” one more time:

— Rick Krueger

A Tribute to Kings: Primus and Battles in Concert

Primus: A Tribute to Kings with Battles, GLC Live at 20 Monroe, Grand Rapids, Michigan, May 31, 2022

Having been sucked in to seeing this show by the sheer audacity of the concept — Primus covering Rush’ complete album A Farewell to Kings — I wasn’t sure what to expect in terms of the audience. On the night, GLC Live hosted what was by no means a typical “progressive rock” crowd. With all the restrooms equally busy at the usual break points, I saw pierced youth, middle-aged mullet wearers, date night couples, Gen X parents with their Millennial kids and the occasional fan in costume (from silk kimonos to the hat pictured here, depicting the album cover of Primus’ Sailing the Seas of Cheese) packing the standing-room-only main floor. So I got as close to the soundboard as I could and awaited the night’s developments.

Making their Grand Rapids debut, New York City’s Battles got the crowd moving with a ecstatic blend of electronica, funk and rock, mostly from 2019’s stellar Juice B Crypts album. Ian Williams set the mood with his genial dad-dancing — triggering loops and laying down riffs on synth, garnishing the resulting blend with effects-laden guitar riffs and the odd solo in the moment. John Stanier, a hard-hitting drummer in the John Bonham vein, drove the tunes and cued one whiplash rhythm change after another, triggering new beats and repeatedly bashing his elevated crash cymbal along the way. The grooves were relentless but refreshingly unpredictable and airy; the interlocking melodic lines ranged from punky ferocity to video-game-soundtrack campiness; and the occasional pre-recorded guest vocal (like Jon Anderson adding some Yes-style sunshine to “Sugar Foot”) always seemed to furnish a cherry on top the sweet sonic sundae. Williams and Stanier have forged an impressively interactive relationship with their electronics in real time, bringing an artsy asymmetry and freshness to their music that gathered thrilling momentum as the set progressed. After 45 minutes of Battles, I felt like I’d already got my money’s worth. (And I can’t recommend their recorded catalog highly enough — if there’s such a thing as dance music for prog heads, this is it!)

Battles onstage at GLC Live: L to R, John Stanier and Ian Williams.

Following the openers’ clean lines and summery vibe, the headliners’ full-on first set was initially bewildering to a newbie like me. Bypassing their long-ago radio hits for the most part, Primus conjured up a thick, hypnotic pulse to jam on extended, deep catalog tracks like opener “Harold of the Rocks” and “American Life”, as well as new music from their Conspiranoid EP. While that approach grabbed the already-primed crowd from the start, I had to get my bearings. Still, it was quickly evident that Les Claypool’s circular, polyphonic bass riffs are the heart of Primus’ sound (with his outsider sensibility every bit as evident instrumentally as in his carnival barker voice and Zappaesque lyrics); that drummer Tim “Herb” Alexander not only locks in with Claypool’s grooves, but that he pretty much fills the remaining space in the soundfield; and that their tight connection allows Larry “Ler” LaLonde the freedom to play guitar in a completely lateral fashion, with blindingly off-angle solos that seem to defy not only the laws of tradition, but possibly the laws of physics. Add in a full-on light show and quirkily-cued screen projections, and you had an undeniably appealing set, connecting with the audience via its eccentricities, not despite them. But one question remained for me: how well could Primus, who opened for Rush back in their own early days, possibly recreate the operatic metal sound of their heroes in the 1970s?

Primus onstage at GLC Live: left to right, Larry LaLonde, Tim Alexander (behind drums), Les Claypool)

The answer: better than anyone had a right to expect. Primus had unquestionably done their homework; “A Farewell to Kings'” chiming classical intro and lumbering riffs plus “Xanadu’s” double-neck duet and bell tree accents proved the opening shots of an awe-inspiring re-creation, with all of Rush’s instrumental bells and whistles delightfully present and correct. All three players were stretching themselves to hit their marks, and you could tell how the effort had strengthened their overall bond as a band. And I’ll give the kimono-clad Claypool full credit for giving Geddy Lee’s utterly impossible vocals his best shot; generally sticking to a lower octave, occasionally letting loose with appropriate Plant-y screams, inviting the obvious singalong on “Closer to the Heart”, he was obviously having the time of his life nearly a year into this tour. By the time “Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage” (complete with Captain Smiler onboard the good ship Rocinante onscreen) gathered speed and dove into its climactic black hole, I was sold — even though my aching back meant I didn’t stay for what turned out to be an extended encore. Along with Battles’ marvelous opening set, my introduction to Primus’ weird world of pure imagination and their well-done “tribute to kings” proved to be an appropriately titled evening: a first-rate, full-on musical experience. If the above strikes your fancy and you get the chance, this tour is well worth your time and cash!

— Rick Krueger

Battles Setlist:

  • The Yabba
  • Hiro 3
  • IPT-2
  • Summer Simmer/Ice Cream (featuring Matias Aguayo)
  • A Loop So Nice . . .
  • Titanium 2 Step (featuring Sal Principato)
  • Fort Greene Park
  • Sugar Foot (featuring Jon Anderson and Prairie WWWW)
  • TRAS
  • Ambulance
  • Atlas

Primus Setlist:

  • Harold of the Rocks
  • Fisticuffs
  • The Pressman (quickly abandoned because, to quote Claypool, “I can’t remember the words. We’ll play something else!”)
  • American Life
  • Conspiranoia
  • Professor Nutterbutter’s House of Treats
  • Del Davis Tree Farm
  • Erin on the Side of Caution
  • Welcome to This World
  • Jerry Was a Race-Car Driver
  • A Farewell to Kings
  • Xanadu
  • Closer to the Heart
  • Cinderella Man
  • Madrigal
  • Cygnus X-1, Book 1: The Voyage
  • Too Many Puppies/Sgt. Baker/Too Many Puppies
  • Follow the Fool
  • Southbound Pachyderm

Album Review – Fairy Tale’s “That Is The Question”

a0043426731_10Fairy Tale, That Is The Question, 2021
Tracks:
Wasting The Sound 1 (1:36), That Is The Question (3:48), Time Heals Nothing (4:37), Wasting The Sound 2 (1:42), Wake Up (4:13), Girl Of The Opera (3:24), Wise Men Keep Silent (5:00), Wasting The Sound 3 (1:14), Sophie (11:19), Dot (0:24)

While Slovakia’s Fairy Tale may be a new band to Progarchy, the group has a long history making music dating back to the mid 1990s. The longtime project of Peter Kravec has seen a couple iterations, but the current version was created in 2003 when Kravec met singer Barbora Koláriková. They have since made five albums, including this one, released at the end of October 2021. Kravec plays guitars and produced the record, and Koláriková plays bass guitar in addition to handling all the vocals. They are joined by drummer L’ubomír Pavelka, and Marek Škvarenin and Adam Lukáč play keyboards on various tracks. 

The album ranges in tone from ambient and electronic sounds to a harder progressive rock edge. The band describes themselves as art rock and prog with elements of ambient. At under forty minutes, it’s a short record, which means the disparate sounds of ambient music with heavier rock sometimes clash, although I don’t think the album is necessarily meant to be a concept album. 

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The heavier parts of this record, such as the title track, have a very upbeat tempo, which contrasts with the more ambient elements. With that said, even the title track has a deeper moment with heavy bass and an overlay of Fripp-Like guitar. This smoothly blends into “Time Heals Nothing,” which opens with quieter keyboards and clean electric guitar. 

The strongest part of the record comes in the second half of “Time Heals Nothing,” which features a seriousness and an intensity in the music and the lyrical delivery that is more pronounced than on other songs. The song gradually builds towards the end into a wonderful “wall of sound” effect, which blends the ambient with the rock in a seamless way. I also think this song also has the best lyrics of the album. It deals with themes of joy and suffering, forgiveness and grace. There is an element of nihilism in the second half of the song, which can be gleaned from the title. For example:

Souls are burning
And we are boring
Time heals nothing

Souls are burning
Knowledge is boring
Time heals nothing

The electric guitar opening to “Wise Men Keep Silent” has a soothing atmospheric quality that reflects the shorter instrumental tracks, although these more ambient qualities are not tied in throughout as well as they could be. “Wise Men Keep Silent” demonstrates what Fairy Tale does best: ambient and atmospheric music sprinkled with rock influences. The instrumental track includes Barbora using her voice as an instrument, which adds a calming sensation. As I’ve been listening to Devin Townsend’s late 2021 ambient record, Snuggles (which I really should review at some point) recently, I’ll add that I hear similar elements in this song, as well as in other parts of That Is The Question.

At just over eleven minutes in length, “Sophie” is the epic of the album. It has a more electronic influence to it, and it allows the varying musical influences to dance with each other more so than on many of the other songs. There are moments where it feels disjointed, particularly in the transitions, but overall it works well. 

If the artwork looks familiar, that’s because it’s by the great Hugh Syme, who is perhaps most well known for his work with Rush. The artwork throughout the CD digipack is characteristic of his work, and it is quite good. It adds an extra layer of professionalism to the overall packaging. 

While the individual musical elements on the album are all quite good, I think the album could use a bit more focus, or a longer running time with extended songs that tie the various musical elements together better. The shorter songs help serve that purpose, but I’m not entirely convinced that their style of upbeat rock works with more melancholic ambient tones, apart from the ending of “Time Heals Nothing,” which addresses this concern very well. My concerns may be a matter of taste, however, and you should be the judge of that for yourself. Overall I still say the music is very good and worth checking out.

https://fairytaleartrock.bandcamp.com/album/that-is-the-question
https://fairytale.peterkravec.com
https://www.instagram.com/fairytale_artrock/
https://twitter.com/FairyT_artrock

Rick’s Quick Takes for March

Lots of great music has crossed the metaphorical Progarchy transom this month! Purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; album playlists or samples follow each review.

The Flower Kings, By Royal Decree: Fun fact: this is the third double album in a row from king of Kings Roine Stolt and his merry band. And like 2019’s Waiting for Miracles (which started the streak) it’s compulsively listenable from start to finish. Fresh out of lockdown, Stolt, singer Hasse Fröberg, keyboardist Zach Kamins, drummer Mirko deMaio and alternating bassists Jonas Reingold & Michael Stolt laid down 18 songs in the studio, negotiating the twists and turns of wildly varied material (some of which dates back to the early 1990s) with energy, precision and evident delight. Not a trace of metal here, and I hear much more psychedelia, fusion and Eurofunk in the mix than stereotypical “prog” — but to my ears, that’s what makes goodies like the unpredictable opener “The Great Pretender”, the ravishing ballads “A Million Stars” and “Silent Ways”, and the off-kilter eccentricity “Letter” so fresh and fun. There are plenty of serious lyrical moments too, as in “The Soldier” and “Revolution”; but, by and large, By Royal Decree is the sound of Stolt and company refreshed and revisiting their optimistic roots, soaring on the wings of one marvelous melody after another. It’s as much a joy to hear as it must have been to create.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for March”

Bjørn Riis Releases Music Video Off Upcoming Album

Bjørn Riis is one of the most criminally underrated guitarists and artists out there. I have been consistently returning to his solo albums over the past few years, and they never disappoint. He’s a brilliant guitarist, and he manages to make so much out of the sparsest sounds. Where it would lack in other artists’ music, a simple drum beat creates the perfect mood and textures in Riis’ work. He is a master of a spacey atmospheric sound that is hauntingly beautiful.

Today he released a music video for his song, “The Siren,” told from the perspective of someone watching a dancer. The song is off his upcoming album, Everything to Everyone. The track features piano from Simen Valldal Johannessen of Oak, one of my favorite bands of the last several years. Riis has also provided guest guitars on a few Oak tracks.

The album is out April 7, and it can be ordered at various sites at the following link from Karisma Records: https://link.karismarecords.no/Bjorn-Riis_Everything-To-Everyone_Album

Bjørn Riis – The Siren – YouTube

Rick’s Quick Takes for February

Brought to you (mostly) by the letter B! Purchasing links are embedded in the artist/title listing; a sample follows each review.

Dave Bainbridge, To The Far Away: put simply, a thrilling, ravishingly beautiful album. Separated from his fiancée on the eve of their wedding by the COVID pandemic, guitarist/keyboardist Bainbridge focused on the essentials — love and the longing it stirs, the beauty of the world and the changing seasons, the desire for hope and a future. Poet Lynn Caldwell’s words (movingly sung by Sally Minnear and Iain Hornal) capture these themes with rich simplicity, cradled in a lush orchestral blend of rock, prog and Celtic folk. Often evoking the palette of his breakthrough band Iona, Bainbridge and a stellar group of collaborators grab your attention and your heartstrings again and again, whether on the dramatic instrumental “Rain and Sun”, the epic paean to the creative spirit “Ghost Light”, the classically-tinged rhapsody “Infinitude (Region of the Stars)” or the yearning sprint of “Speed Your Journey”. Already one of my favorites of 2022, and recommended without hesitation. (And check out our extensive interview with Dave here.)

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for February”

Kruekutt’s 2021 Favorites!

I thought I didn’t have a big list of favorites from this year’s listening — until I revisited my six-month survey from back in June and added in the good stuff I’ve heard since then! The listing below incorporates links to full or capsule reviews, or other relevant pieces on Progarchy and elsewhere; albums I haven’t written about yet get brief comments, along with my Top Favorites of the year. Most of these are available to check out online in some form; if you find yourself especially enjoying something, use that Christmas cash and support your choice with a purchase! And the winners are . . .

Continue reading “Kruekutt’s 2021 Favorites!”

In Concert: Genesis’ Last Domino Falls?

Genesis, United Center, Chicago, November 15, 2021

The moment was perfect.  In a blaze of white light recalling their iconic Seconds Out album cover, Genesis kicked off opening night of their North American tour with a rampaging “Duke’s Intro”, the instrumental beginning and end of 1980’s Duke.  And boy, did that one bring back memories as it rampaged.

The impact of hearing 1978’s And Then There Were Three and the ensuing deep dive into Genesis’ back catalog.  Hearing the band live the same year (my first rock concert ever) and being thoroughly blown away by their precision and power.  Seeing them again in 1980 — when, with live guitarist Daryl Steurmer ill, Genesis still put on a great show as a quartet — then in 1981, when they opened with that same arresting fanfare.

Forty years on, I was happy that Genesis still meant business; the players — Tony Banks, Mike Rutherford, Daryl Steurmer & Nic Collins — were firing on all cylinders from the word go, a tight ensemble that already promised each player choice turns in the limelight.

And already sitting at center stage, surveying the scene with a satisfaction that was obvious even to those five rows from the top of Chicago’s United Center, Phil Collins was getting ready to sing.

Continue reading “In Concert: Genesis’ Last Domino Falls?”

Rick’s Quick Takes for November

Discipline, Unfolded Like Staircase: a stone cold classic of late 1990s prog, freshly remixed by Rush producer Terry Brown. True, this Detroit quartet wore their influences (Gabriel-era Genesis, 1980s King Crimson, Peter Hammill and Van der Graaf Generator) on their sleeves here, but they also gave them a fresh, arresting spin. As Jon Preston Bouda’s guitar, Matthew Kennedy’s bass and Paul Dzendel’s drums weave grim, mesmeric webs of sound, Matthew Parmenter’s flamboyant vocals and literate scenarios drill deep into existential desperation. Lush, dramatic and riveting, the four twilit epics included here, kicking off with the Dante-influenced “Canto IV (Limbo)”, will get under your skin in a breathtaking way. In short, I believe you need this music; get it on CD or LP from The BandWagon USA or download it at Bandcamp. (Here’s hoping Discipline’s studio follow-up To Shatter All Accord and the live This One’s for England get similar treatment in the near future.)

Ross Jennings, A Shadow of My Future Self: a superbly accomplished, immensely appealing solo debut from Haken frontman Jennings. Recorded during (what else?) COVID lockdown, he spans and mixes genres with ease, diving headlong into folk (“Better Times”), funk with lashings of metal (“Violet”), power pop (“Rocket Science”), cinematic ballads (the moving elegy “Catcher in the Rye”) — oh, and even extended-song-form-verging-on-prog workouts (“Phoenix” and “Grounded”). Jennings is at the top of his game on vocals and guitar, backed by stellar players. And the songwriting is outright wonderful; on every single track, the riffs demand air guitar, the verses demand your attention, and the choruses demand a cathartic singalong. Yes, all of this raises my hopes for Jennings’ upcoming collaboration with Nick D’Virgilio and Neal Morse, but that can wait; this thrilling, eclectic album is a genuine treat in itself. Unquestionably my pick of the month. Get it on CD or LP (merch and bundles also available) at OMerch.

The Pineapple Thief, Nothing but the Truth: whatever the substantial virtues of their studio efforts, The Pineapple Thief’s recent live albums have been where they’ve shone the brightest. Their latest is no exception; filmed for streaming in lieu of their cancelled tour for Versions of the Truth, this 90-minute set finds TPT as brooding, stylish and kickass as ever. Bruce Soord nurses his songs of disillusionment and division through the gathering angst, then opens fire on one blazing chorus after another; Gavin Harrison does the unexpected on drums with astonishing regularity — and yes, I bought the BluRay for the drumcam option! Steve Kitch’s atmospheric keys and Jon Sykes’ throbbing bass are essential ingredients here, not anonymous backing. The new songs gain heightened guts and strength; the dives into the back catalog aren’t just well-calculated, but passionately played, and essential to the set. This one makes me more eager than ever to see The Pineapple Thief when they return to North America next spring. Get it on CD, LP, Blu-Ray video and deluxe artbook box (CD/DVD/BluRay) at Burning Shed.

Radiohead, Kid A Mnesia: a band hard at work tearing down the sound that made them world famous, then rebuilding from scratch. Which somehow made them more famous, given that their first Number One album in America was the result. I’ve always found Kid A gripping stuff; with their wholesale shift to glitchy electronica beats, found-sound patchworks, soupy orchestral backing and sharp-edged noise, Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and company achieved a genuine paradox — alienation embodied in music, that immediately connected with a mass audience. And when Radiohead walked backward into rock on Amnesiac, the success of their breakaway strategy made both guitar-based grooves like “I Might Be Wrong” and off-kilter art-pop like “Pyramid Song” even more effective. This triple-disc reissue pulls the era together with a bonus set of ear-tickling odds and sods: Yorke, the most deliberately unbeautiful of singers, reaches for actual purity of tone on the unreleased songs, while Greenwood scratches his avant-garde compositional itches, courtesy of a full string section. Get it on CD, LP, cassette or download from Radiohead’s webstore.

The War on Drugs, I Don’t Live Here Anymore: a recent immersion course in Adam Granduciel’s ongoing project — regrafting 1980s tropes like tick-tock rhythms and thick ambient textures onto the stock of classic rock — has proved enticing, though not consistently galvanizing. The War on Drugs’ latest slab of Big Rock Redux is their most organic album to date, integrating the blips and blobs with the rootsy muscle of a tight sextet. Whether a given track goes minimal or maximal, each musical backdrop is built in loving, precise detail, and the simple hooks become earworms before you know it. Granduciel’s vocals — his most individual to date — insistently ride the rhythms, his songs meditating on scenes of a dissatisfied youth (“Change”, “Victim”), then finding unanticipated serenity in the quiet victories and encroaching vulnerabilities of middle age (“Living Proof”, the widescreen title track, “Occasional Rain”). This one snuck up on me via multiple evening listens, and now it’s not letting go; see if it grabs you! Get it on LP, CD or cassette from TWoD’s webstore.

Porcupine Tree, Closure/Continuation

A new song from Porcupine Tree (Steven Wilson, Richard Barbieri and Gavin Harrison) is now available on all major streaming services (and on video in Europe). Herewith, “Harridan”:

The skinny from porcupinetree.com:

Harridan and a few of the other new songs have been in play since shortly after the release of The Incident. They initially lived on a hard drive in a slowly growing computer file marked PT2012, later renamed PT2015, PT2018, and so on.

There were times when we even forgot they were there, and times when they nagged us to finish them to see where they would take us. Listening to the finished pieces, it was clear that this wasn’t like any of our work outside of the band – the combined DNA of the people behind the music meant these tracks were forming what was undeniably, unmistakably, obviously a Porcupine Tree record.

You’ll hear all of that DNA flowing right through Harridan.

The new album, titled Closure/Continuation, was completed in September and will be released on Music for Nations/Sony on June 24, 2022. Regular and deluxe CD and LP editions are now available for pre-order at the PT webstore and at Burning Shed. (Burning Shed’s exclusive white vinyl version is already sold out.)

European tour dates have been announced for October/November 2022, with tickets on sale Friday, November 5. Pre-ordering the album through the PT webstore (or just registering there) guarantees pre-sale access this Wednesday, November 3. US and Canada tour dates for autumn 2022 will be announced early next year.

All details above are available via PT’s website. Let the anticipation (and/or the bellyaching) commence …

— Rick Krueger