Rick’s Quick Takes for September

Another month of thoroughly enjoyable releases across the progressive spectrum from quiet to loud, from controlled to anarchic — often all in the same album! As always, order links are included in the artist/album title listing, and streaming audio or samples follow the review.

Cosmograf, Heroic Materials: Robin Armstrong’s latest concept album speaks softly and hits home hard. As a World War II fighter pilot recalls the challenge he rose to as a young man and laments the passing of his golden era, he also sounds the alarm about the challenges the generations who’ve followed have inherited. Throughout, Armstrong’s lyrics are simply stated yet deeply affecting, sung with real gravity and soul. And as the music patiently unreels, it becomes impossible to pick out a standout track; each brooding acoustic interlude, each stinging electric solo, each cinematic ebb and flow leaves its indelible mark. Elegiac in its evocation of past glories, urgent in its call to action today, breathtaking in its poised blend of fragility and strength, Heroic Materials is a riveting listen and a thing of beauty, already on my list of favorites for this year.

Dim Gray, Firmament: a Norwegian band that’s getting a broader push courtesy of Kingmaker Management, with an opening slot on Big Big Train’s recent tour (to say nothing of Oskar Holldorf’s filling BBT’s keyboards/backing vocals slot live) and their second effort released through the English Electric label. Kingmaker knows how to pick ’em; Holldorff, guitarist Hakon Høiberg and drummer Tom Ian Klungland whip up a mighty noise on Firmament’s 12 succinct tracks, with Holldorff and Høiberg’s ethereal, evocative singing launched above one swirling, quasi-orchestral crescendo after another. From opener “Mare” to finale “Meridian”, middle-aged farts like me might hear echoes of Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound, Brian Wilson’s pocket symphonies and Avalon-era Roxy Music, while younger listeners may catch hints of Fleet Foxes’ seamless, potent vocalises and Sigur Ros’ relentless ensemble builds. Whatever Dim Gray’s influences, the trio’s pin-sharp ensemble and pacing, thrilling sense of dynamics and undeniable gift for melody make for an arresting sound, with impressionistic lyrics that complement the sweep and yearning of the music. Here’s an album that not only dreams big, but actually delivers.

Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited Live – Seconds Out & More: by my count, this is Hackett’s sixth live set since the Genesis Revisited concept revived his worldwide touring mojo a decade ago, beating out even Rush’s late career live output. Too much of a good thing? Arguably — but on the other hand, both Bryan Morey and I raved about this tour when it hit the Midwest this past spring, so I can also argue that more is better! With Amanda Lehmann complementing his usual merry men on second guitar, Hackett and band rip through a set of solo classics (and I wholeheartedly include Surrender of Silence tracks “Held In the Shadows” and “The Devil’s Cathedral” in that description) that climax with Lehmann’s floating vocals and Craig Blundell’s jaw-dropping drum workout on the vintage “Shadow Of The Hierophant”. Then it’s nirvana for Hackett-era Genesis fans, with the entirety of their 1977 live masterwork reprised (and sometimes gently, sometimes deliriously reimagined) in one go. Gorgeous sound whatever the format, and nicely hi-def visuals on the BluRay; it all does what it says on the cover, with Hackett’s usual flair and panache. See you next year for the Foxtrot At Fifty set?

King’s X, Three Sides of One: “Calling all saviors/And I’m shouting at God/Oh won’t you come and save us/Don’t you think we need you now/So let it rain, to wash the fear away.” dUg pinnick’s vocal testifies while his bass thunders, Ty Tabor’s guitars chime and howl like lightning, Jerry Gaskill’s drums crack open the earth and sky. And the apocalyptic “Let It Rain” is only the start for a trio that’s lost none of its power. King’s X’s first album in fourteen years, Three Sides of One’s rock is thick, gnarly, punchy and unbelievably tough no matter the tempo or texture, always locked into a sweet groove that carries you along. With Pinnick’s gospel-rooted shouts complemented by Tabor and Gaskill’s spindly, psychedelic harmonies, the band prowls the waterfront of life today, calling out the hucksters of “Festival” and the digital overlords of “Swipe Up”, commiserating with “all the lonely people” of “Give It Up” and “Holidays”. Stir in the drained cynicism of “Flood Pt. 1” and the dystopian parable “All God’s Children” and you have a compelling vision of societal despair. Human love (“Take the Time”, “She Called Me Home”) offers respite, but there’s no closure in sight; as pinnick preaches on the final track, “The whole world is crying for love/Every everywhere.” Lighting candles and cursing the darkness with alternate breaths, King’s X rocks on regardless — and I consider that heartening in and of itself.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for September”

New Cosmograf Album Out September 9

0839d079-7846-6a46-5885-3da41b8cbf90Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf will be releasing their latest album, Heroic Materials, on September 9, 2022.  The album is available for pre-order from Armstrong’s record label, Gravity Dream music, on CD (digipack and deluxe media book edition) and vinyl. The vinyl won’t be available by the date of release, but vinyl purchasers will be able to get a digital download on release day if they want. 

https://www.cosmograf.com
Purchase: https://www.gravitydream.co.uk/product-category/cosmograf/

Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog

One indication of the absolute glut of recorded music available today: more of what I’ve whimsically labelled “DIY (for Do It Yourself, a la Peter Gabriel) Britprog” is available than ever. With Prog Magazine providing a megaphone and Big Big Train’s international impact paving the way, countless musicians from England have brushed up their chops, dusted off their home recording setups, and churned out self-released albums by the bushel in the past decade. Even as the chances of market penetration narrow in the age of Spotify and live lockdowns, an astonishing number of artists seem compelled to keep plowing the furrows first tilled by Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Yes, Genesis and their sundry heirs. The sheer amount of “meh” music that’s resulted notwithstanding, three recent releases (and a teaser of more to come) indicate there’s still enough fertile soil in that ground to keep yielding fresh harvests.

First up: Tiger Moth Tales’ The Whispering of the World from late 2020, for which TMT mainman Peter Jones stripped down both his writing and his usual instrumentation. Working with producers Robert Reed and Andrew Lawson, Jones eschewed multi-sectional tunesmithery and one-man-bandship in favor of a song cycle for voice, piano and string quartet. The result works like gangbusters! From the vigorous, propulsive opener “Taking the Dawn” through melancholy mini-epics like the title track, “Quiet Night” and “Waving, Drowning” to the grave, sweeping pop of “Blackbird” (no, not THAT one, but arguably as affecting) and the closer “Lost to the Years”, every track feels unpretentious, fresh and heartfelt. The semi-classical sonics mesh effortlessly with the compelling songcraft; Jones’ sensitive singing and lush piano playing weaves in and around the light and shade of the strings. Even better, the music proves the right medium for the lyrical message, as Jones narrates a cathartic passage through (in his words) “special or significant moments . . . coming to terms with both losing those close to us and our own mortality and place in the universe.” Sound a bit heavy? Well, yeah — but paired with Jones’ solo Quiet Room Session, The Whispering of the World is a sentimental journey well worth taking. Sample it for yourself, then order it on Bandcamp.

Continue reading “Weekend Roundup 2: DIY Britprog”

The Ultimate Prog Super-Hero Team-Up?

From Big Big Train’s Facebook page:

We are delighted to announce that Robin Armstrong will be joining the live line-up of Big Big Train for our shows in 2018 and beyond.

Robin is a multi-instrumentalist and the leader of progressive rock band, Cosmograf. Nick, Rachel and Greg have played as guest musicians on Cosmograf albums and we are looking forward to performing with Robin at our shows at The Anvil in Basingstoke and at the Night of the Prog festival in Loreley, Germany.

 

Will the good Dr. Birzer’s head explode anticipating all the proggy goodness to come?

Tune in tomorrow … same prog-time … same prog-channel!

 

— Rick Krueger

A Proggy Christmas, 2017 Edition

First the Big Big Train Christmas single, then the new Tiger Moth Tales album, now this — our Founding Progarchist’s stocking is filling up quick!  From Cosmograf’s Facebook page:

“Cosmograf will be releasing a single record on December 1st, entitled ‘A Festive Ghost’. Exclusively distributed in digital only format via Bandcamp, this unconventional Christmas song is a wistful reflection on the pressures of maintaining damaged relationships at the time of the festive season.

All of the instruments on this record are played by Robin himself including the drums.

A donation is being made to MacMillan Cancer Care for each download purchased.”

 

Robin Armstrong Tells It Like It Is

Robin Armstrong’s (Cosmograf) latest post on his website is a must-read defense of Steven Wilson’s hard-won popularity. Here’s an excerpt:

Well here’s the rub, you, like me and thousands upon thousands of people making music in the world today are entitled to precisely nothing.  We have no right to be heard, no right to earn a living from our art and certainly no right to success.  For the mere mortals, these things have to be earned, slogged at, and when some little successes arrive, appreciate them.

The truth is, that making a record now has never been easier.  Making a record that people will listen to got harder, much harder.   When someone makes a record that people are falling over themselves to listen to, in a genre of music that’s similar to yours, be bloody inspired, I know I am…

Read the whole thing here.