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”

Porcupine Tree In Concert: Not Closed, Continuing

Porcupine Tree, Auditorium Theatre, Chicago, Illinois, September 20, 2022.

The kick-off of Porcupine Tree’s first Chicago show in twelve years was nothing if not dramatic: a deep drone booming out as automated stage lighting menacingly swept the 3,000+ plus audience, the house lights dimming at the point of maximum tension — then a full-on visual assault from lights and screen, tracking with the slashing hard rock riffs of In Absentia’s “Blackest Eyes”.

At stage left: Richard Barbieri, ensconced in his wraparound nest of keyboards, conjuring up fearsome sonic webs of mist, gloom and abrasive noise as required. At stage right: Gavin Harrison, similarly surrounded by an overwhelming array of drums, cymbals and percussive accessories — and somehow appearing to be able to hit them all at once. And at center stage: Steven Wilson, throwing shapes on guitar as the power chords crashed, scrambling toward the mike on bare feet to chime in with typically sunny lyrics about a serial killer making a move on his desired prey.

It was an impressive opening, but something seemed off, and Wilson quickly acknowledged the state of affairs — sickness had been running through the band, and tonight it was effecting his voice. Promising his best efforts on both the Tree’s back catalog and the whole of their new album Closure/Continuation, singer and band proceeded to a nimble, ominous reading of “Harridan” and a lilting take on “Of The New Day.” Here Wilson’s challenges for the evening became apparent, as congestion and pitching problems crept into passages sung with less than full power. By “Rats Return”, though, Wilson had his voice under control, excoriating the cowardice of political strongmen both at the top of his lungs and in chilling undertones, while vicious fuzzed riffs raged around him.

The rest of the first set was completely stunning, mixing new tracks with superbly chosen throwbacks like the Floydian angst of “Even Less” and the doomy drive of “Drown With Me”. A zesty “The Sound Of Muzak” had it all: a bitterly hilarious Wilson intro (“21 years ago, I wrote a song about how music was becoming commodified — something you picked up at the supermarket, or as part of a software application. Well, thank goodness that didn’t come to pass!”), one bewilderingly brilliant Harrison drum fill after another, and a spontaneous audience singalong to the choogling chorus. Then it was Barbieri’s turn to stoke the darkly atmospheric “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled”, its instrumental build eerily synced with the video suicide note of Heaven’s Gate cult founder Marshall Applewhite. And after senseless death, mourning: the new “Chimera’s Wreck” finally clicked into place for me as a survivor’s lament, Wilson diving into the depths of human experience, probing extremes in search of exorcism and catharsis. But after that emotional a ride, what do you do for the second half?

Continue reading “Porcupine Tree In Concert: Not Closed, Continuing”

IOISH Plans on Hypnotizing You with “What You Need It For”

Indian instrumental experimental act IOISH has launched a new single from the forthcoming album “In Waves.” The music video for “What You Need It For” is streaming now. You can watch it below.

The single, mixed and mastered by Brett Caldas Lima, marks the 10th anniversary of IOISH.

Commented the founder Vaibhav Bhutani: “I always had a vision to make an audio-visual themed album, but I did not have the resources for it. Now that I am done with my degrees, I can just go for it. For this album, I got some of the best people in India and around the world, like Shantanu Sudarshan, whom I’ve known since more than a decade, and I’ve always considered him as the best drummer in the country. On the bass is Nikhil Rufus Raj, a veteran in the local music scene. I’ve looked up to his music since I started playing. He’s a brilliant musician and a great guy! On this particular track we have Meredith Moore who plays for giants like Paul McCartney, Mumford and Sons, Robbie Williams, and Josh Groban to name a few. I came up with the basic structure of the song and send it to other musicians to add what they can to it. I believe that collective effort is what makes something grow! Also, we have Brett Caldas Lima on the mixing/mastering duties, he’s just an overall legend.

As a sound therapist Bhutani realized the importance of music in its purest form which is to be instrumental in its existence. 

He goes on saying: “I believe that as there is nothing or rather no one else that can distract one from their thoughts while listening to music without lyrics. Interestingly enough, I noticed how many people are actually scared to feel something and use certain type of music to escape. I just want people to know and acknowledge what they are feeling as that awareness can help us grow a lot as humans, as a collective group of individuals.

Bhutani already plans on the next single.

He admits: “As I earn from my day job I do need some time in between releases to earn back the investment. The next song is almost ready. Also, this album is divided in three parts (three songs each). This part of the album deals with the emotions that I had to let go of. The next part will be of the emotions I hold on to, and act up in the moment. And the final one will be about the stuff that makes me want to get up and do something with this thing called life. I am working on the projection mapping material for the live set. As I am a huge Amon Tobin fan, you can expect something along the lines of what he does combined with Sigur Ros.

The new single “What You Need It For” is streaming now. Watch the video below, or stream in on SoundCloud, Spotify or Apple Music here.

IOISH online:

Website
Facebook
Instagram

Background:

IOISH’s sound is a mix of soulful guitars layered with atmospheric textures that are soaked in melodious grooves and riffs evoking a progressive rock feel. The combined elements make for an immersive and moody trip for the audience. One that they can immediately engage with.

Over the years IOISH has played alongside bands like Tides From Nebula, I Am Waiting For You Last Summer, The Ocean Collective, Intervals and As I Lay Dying during their Indian tours. 

Album Review: @SolaceSupplice “Liturgies Contemporaines”

Solace Supplice - Liturgies ContemporainesSolace Supplice, Liturgies Contemporaines, June 15, 2022
Tracks: Le Tartuffe Exemplaire (5:12), Sunset Street (4:12), A Demi-Maux (4:03), Les Miradors (6:46), Cosmos Adultérin (3:57), Schizophrénie Paranoïde (3:14), Au Cirque Des Âmes (4:10), En Guidant Les Hussards (4:19), Liturgies Contemporaines (3:53), Dans La Couche Du Diable (4:46), Marasmes Et Décadence (4:33)

[Edit: I discovered just after finishing this review and posting it that primary band member Eric Bouillette passed away last month. Our deepest condolences to his family and the band. He was an incredibly talented musician and artist.]

For my third review of recent French releases (see 1 and 2), I bring you Solace Supplice’s Liturgies Contemporaines. Ok, I’m cheating. The band is technically based in England, but the lyrics are in French and the primary players are French. The album has a solid soundscape that is both moody and epic, with a variety of musical textures and sounds.

Primary members Eric Bouillette and Anne-Claire Rallo are members of Nine Skies, a fine band that has made some waves in prog circles in recent years. Both are multi-instrumentalists, with Bouillette playing guitars, keyboards, and violins as well as singing. Rallo plays keyboards and bass. They are joined by Jimmy Pallagrosi on drums, Laurent Benhamou on saxophone on a couple tracks, and Willow Beggs (Nick Beggs’ daughter) on bass on several tracks.  

The record opens with an old English-language clip from the BBC. The song quickly dives into a fast-paced guitar-driven gallop, with that BBC clip popping up again periodically. I liked the inclusion of that clip because it elevates the scope of the record just a bit – makes things feel a little bit more epic. 

The title track, “Liturgies Contemporaines,” is probably my favorite on the record. It is brooding and atmospheric, slightly reminiscent of Steven Wilson or Porcupine Tree. The vocals and guitars really shine over the repeating keyboard line and simple drum riff. Bouillette’s vocals really stand out on this song. The tone he creates on this is rather different than on the rest of the record, and I think he sounds best on this song. Sometimes his vocals are a bit monotonous when singing the French lyrics, but his voice is very dynamic on the title track.

Lyrically the album leans on the more obscure, allowing for more interpretation. It also helps that they’re in French, forcing English listeners to either dig deep (lyrics posted on their website), or just appreciate them for the way they sound. Bouillette’s style of singing works well on “Dans La Couche Du Diable.” The song starts quieter with piano and acoustic guitar, over which he gently sings. A pounding guitar and drum riff kicks in with a marching beat, and the vocals march along with it. The result is quite effective, especially as the song builds towards the end. The track swells towards the end as the keyboards swirl in the background. With a little extra working at the end, I think it would have made a better ending track to close the album, as “Marasmes Et Décadence” doesn’t go much of anywhere musically for most of the song until the guitar solo, bass, and keyboard solo kick in at the end. “Dans La Couche Du Diable” sounds more like an album closer to me. 

Bouillette’s guitar work is dynamic throughout the record, with clean solos on “A Demi-Maux” and grittier shredding on “Les Miradors.” The atmospheric guitar on the title track really shows the range of his capabilities, with the guitar contributing to the soundscape and standing center-stage in the second half of the song. The band scatter in some unexpected musical moments to keep us on our toes. Bouillette’s violin on “Au Cirque Des Âmes” has a gypsy jazz feel to it, and the saxophone on “En Guidant Les Hussards” adds a jazzy and atmospheric sound.

I’ve found Liturgies Contemporaines compelling on repeated listens. It has a solid rock drive with multiple textures and a variety of sounds that manages to remain cohesive. The title track really makes the album for me – I just wish it were longer. The songs could have also been edited to flow together a little better, as the general production value strikes me as being a concept album. All the same, the record is worth multiple listens for fans of contemporary prog. Certainly fans of Nine Skies will want to check it out, if they haven’t already. 

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Glass Hammer Release Video from Upcoming Album “At The Gate”

Glass Hammer news from the band:

‘The Years Roll By’ is the first of two music videos from the band’s new concept album.

The Years Roll By is the opening track on Glass Hammer’s At The Gate concept album —set for release on October 7th, 2022.

Bandleader Steve Babb said the following about the new album: “At The Gate completes our sword and sorcery inspired trilogy that began with 2020s Dreaming City. We followed that up with last year’s Skallagrim—Into The Breach.”

For the uninitiated, he went on to explain. “It’s the story of a scarred and battered thief, Skallagrim, who’s had his memory stolen along with the love of his life. He’s got to fight unimaginable horrors and slay hideous creatures and sorcerous villains if he’s ever to reclaim either. Finally, at the end of the last album, his memory is returned, but he finds himself cursed to wait one thousand years for a chance to find his lost love! At The Gate picks up at the end of his tale as he prepares to face the ultimate challenge of his life—to finally rescue his girl and defeat the evil being who has imprisoned her.

“Of course, as with any Glass Hammer concept album, there is more to it than a simple plot. On the surface, it appears to be about magic swords and heroes, but it’s actually a story about confronting evil, how to survive it, and how to face despair and heartache.

And most importantly, it’s about why the pursuit of profound and lasting joy in an often joyless world is worthwhile, even when all available evidence suggests it cannot be found.”  

Babb says he chose to open the album with a ballad. “…something ethereal, something reminiscent of what our fans call classic Glass Hammer. The Years Roll By fits the bill, I think. Of course, there’ll be plenty of metal and prog on the new album. The next music video I plan to release hits really hard!”

Autographed copies of At The Gate are available for pre-order on the Glass Hammer Store website. www.glasshammer.com

Arnaud Quevedo & Friends – Double Album Review

Arnaud Quevedo & Friends - Electric TalesArnaud Quevedo & Friends, Electric Tales, 2020
Tracks: 
Electric Overture (1:32), The Dark Jester (7:24), The Electric Princess Part 1 (9:06), The Electric Princess Part 2 (9:02), Entering… (Impro) (4:11) Mushi’s Forest (6:21), Flower Fields (Impro) (3:26), The Hypothetical Knight (6:24), Hope (5:07), Electric Dreamer (3:49)

Arnaud Quevedo & Friends - RoanArnaud Quevedo & Friends, Roan, Bad Dog Promotions, 2021
Tracks: Aube (1:33), Prologue (4:33) Découverte (8:48), Curiosité (2:26), Féerie (3:22), Dépassement (3:17), Nostalgie (1:56), Ryoko (12:33), Fardeau (1:51), Chrysalide (4:41), Métamorphose (5:50), Épilogue (3:30)

For the second in my series of reviews of French artists (see number 1 here), we have Arnaud Quevedo & Friends, a guitar-centered jazz fusion outfit based in La Rochelle, France. The group centers around Arnaud Quevedo, a guitarist and music teacher at Conservatoire La Rochelle. Bassist Noé Russeil joins Quevedo on both records, as does double bassist Éva Tribolles. Both also provide vocals. Lucille Mille plays flute and sings on Electric Tales, Julien Gomila plays saxophone on that record. There is a much larger cast on Roan, composed of more stringed and blown instruments. While Quevedo plays drums on Electric Tales, that duty is expertly handled by Anthony Raynal on Roan

One of the primary differences between the two records is the lyrics on Electric Tales are in English while they are in French on Roan. I prefer the French vocals because they sound more natural to both the music and for the singers. Some of the English lyrics, like on “The Dark Jester,” are really difficult to understand. 

Jazz is the name of the game here, but it remains tied to the rock world throughout. Electric Tales periodically reminded me of The Tangent, another band that heavily leans on jazz. “The Electric Princess” Parts 1 and 2 are almost entirely instrumental, with some more easily understandable lyrics near the end of part 2. The guitar and flute are prominent throughout, balancing the jazz with a rock feel. Continue reading “Arnaud Quevedo & Friends – Double Album Review”

Rick’s Quick Takes for August

It’s been another excellent month for new music. So let’s just cut to the chase, shall we? Purchase links are embedded in the artist/title listing; playlists or video samplers follow each review.

Dave Kerzner, The Traveler: A third concept album from Kerzner, continuing the through line of New World and Static (with nods to In Continuum’s Acceleration Theory lurking about as well). The opener “Another Lifetime” sets out this record’s remarkable strengths: confident, appealing songwriting with hooky yet sophisticated melodies and structures; Kerzner’s best, widest ranging vocals to date; and the perfectly judged contributions of Fernando Perdomo on guitar, Joe Deninzon on violin, Ruti Celli on cello and Marco Minneman on drums (only a smattering of the stellar guest list here). The dry, forward sound and the copious use of vintage keyboards on tunes like “A Time In Your Mind” evokes early-80s Genesis at times (since Kerzner got those keyboards from Tony Banks, no real surprise there), but the power ballad “Took It For Granted” and the closing suite framed by the two parts of “Here and Now” show Kerzner moving his character’s story forward while striking out in fresh musical directions like the sunshine guitar pop of “A Better Life”. Overall, Kerzner exhibits a lighter touch here, and The Traveler is the better for it; by letting his new songs sell themselves and keeping proceedings to the point, he both satisfies us and leaves us wanting more. After repeated listens, this one’s already on my “favorites of ’22” list!

Lonely Robot, A Model Life: John Mitchell has had a rough last few years, and he doesn’t care who knows it. In the wake of a global pandemic, the collapse of a long-term relationship, and a confrontation with his deepest doubts and fears, Mitchell’s done what he does best: slip into his Lonely Robot persona and pour it all out in a fine set of laterally structured, elegantly crafted, fearlessly emotional songs. Writing, singing and playing (especially in his rekindled relationship with the guitar solo) at peak inspiration, Mitchell lays the ghost of his former love (the nervy “Recalibrating”, the forlorn “Mandalay”), skewers our mad world (“Digital God Machine” and “Island of Misfit Toys”), mourns ways of lives and times now in the rearview mirror (the breathtaking ballad “Species in Transition”, the crunching elegy “Starlit Stardust”), and ponders how and why he became who he is (the brilliant final run of “Rain Kings”, “Duty of Care”, “In Memoriam”). Easily his best work under the Lonely Robot banner, Mitchell wears his heart on his sleeve and plays to the gallery at the same time; this is an outright spectacular effort that’s got both all the feels and all the chops. (Check out our latest interview with John Mitchell here.)

Motorpsycho, Ancient Astronauts: the kings of Norwegian drone-prog continue their enviable hot streak on their fifth album in six years. “We’re all a little bit insane,” Bent Saether chirps on the opener “The Ladder”, and as the track spirals upward, mingling the howl of Hans Magnus Ryan’s guitar and Saether’s darkly glimmering Mellotron, you believe him. The edgily abstract interlude “The Flower of Awareness” cleanses the palette for a Crimsonesque workout on “Mona Lisa/Azrael”; Ryan builds towering edifices of distortion over a trademark Saether riff, as drummer Tomas Jarmyr matches their ebb and flow all the way through the shuddering climax and the slo-mo collapse. Astonishingly, all this just serves as prologue to the “Chariot of the Sun: To Phaeton on the Occasion of the Sunrise (Theme from an Imagined Movie)” It’s as if Motorpsycho’s brief for this 22-minute finale was to rival “La Villa Strangiato” in both range and focus; gentle strumming and wordless vocals give way to more menacing bass riffs, fuzz guitar deployed in duet and counterpoint, feral percussive cross-rhythms. It all mounts to multiple climaxes (a mighty unison riff, ominous post-rock minimalism) that circle back to end with the melancholy lyricism that kicked it all off. Ancient Astronauts is a genuinely thrilling ride; strap in and brace yourself for liftoff.

Muse, Will of the People: they’re baaack!!!!!! And as usual, Matt Bellamy, Chris Wolstenholme and Dominic Howard earn every one of those exclamation points. The guitars and drums are turned up to 12, the classical keyboard licks pack double the bombast (including a Bach “Toccata and Fugue” steal), the electronica wallows in creepshow kitsch, the vacuum-packed harmonies are piled even higher, and the gang chants are bellowed louder than ever. All this sound and fury portrays a world on the brink, an elite obsessed with control, and a populace angry that the game is rigged. Still, it’s hard to know who Bellamy is rooting for; at times, his lyrics and driven singing seem equally repulsed by both the leaders (“Compliance”, Kill or Be Killed”) and the led (the title track and “Euphoria”). But in the end, this is quite the slamming album; if you’re in the mood for existential desperation set to one badass, air-guitarable riff and singalong chorus after another — and these days, who isn’t? — this just may be your ticket. Might want to only play that obscenity-laden final track when no one else is around, though.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for August”

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/

Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell: The 2022 Progarchy Interview

When we last talked with singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/prog man-about-town John Mitchell back in 2020, he said that the songs on his 4th Lonely Robot album Feelings Are Good were about “very down to earth things,” in contrast to the outer space trappings of his three previous efforts. The new Lonely Robot effort, A Model Life (released on August 26th), burrows even further into inner space, as Mitchell grapples with recent experiences of loss, loneliness, frustration, conflict and even death. But as heavy as the subject matter is, this album is by no means a downer. Preview tracks like the driving opener “Recalibrating” and the quirky “Island of Misfit Toys” once again reveal Mitchell’s gift for memorable melodies and hooks, his empathetic lyrical journeys from crisis to closure, and his instantly recognizable way with a cathartic guitar solo. Confronting a world in the grip of obsessions, searching for a way through life’s challenges, and emerging at peace with himself, on A Model Life Mitchell invites us to discover what does and doesn’t really matter, charming and comforting us with his remarkable gifts all the way.

In the middle of a busy day filming the video for A Model Life’s “Digital God Machine”, John Mitchell took the time to have a wide-ranging, candid and remarkably humorous chat with us about the new album. Watch the complete interview (including sundry musings and digressions on Netflix documentaries, Phil Collins’ memoir, the forcible learning of Rush songs, changing flat tires near blind curves, grass clipping collection fees and much more) below; a transcription of highlights follows.

The last time we talked, it was about 5 or 6 months into the pandemic – which was right before Feelings Are Good came out.  So, my first question for you is a two-parter. How does A Model Life chart a different path from that album?  But also, what might the two albums have in common?

The things that they do have in common — I do think of them as quite brother-and-sister albums in a way.  I think that in hindsight, I’m much happier with the production on this latest record. 

The main difference is, at the time that I did Feelings Are Good, I was still in a relationship, but writing songs about not being in a relationship!  But by the time I did A Model Life, the whole thing was over; I was into the whole recovery period of what I was writing about.  I approached the songs very differently from that perspective.

And from a production point of view, they are very different.  I wanted Feelings Are Good to be a tiny bit more rough around the edges.  So, the drum sound on Feelings Are Good is deliberately a bit more trashy; the guitar sounds aren’t quite as refined as they are on this latest record. 

They do have a lot in common in terms of that they’re more personal.  I’m writing about much more personal subject matter.  And who knows what happens next!  I might go back to writing about otherworldly things of which I do not know! [Laughs]

I see!  It’s true; lyrically, I feel like you really dug deeply this time around.  There’s a lot of frustration that comes through, and the emotions you’re singing about are right there, they’re up front.  You mentioned the end of a relationship.  Are you OK with talking about some of the other things you might have been drawing on as well?

Yeah, of course; I’ll talk about anything.  That’s the whole point of this – it’s been very cathartic for me to address certain things.  The way that I view things in life – my background is quite complicated.  I was adopted by a family, by two people who were considerably older than they would have been had they been my biological mother’s age, who was 17 when she had me.

I find it fascinating that, at the same time in equal measure, I can chart that fact that a lot of my traits as a human being I have inherited, I think, from my [adoptive] mother – a lot of very good traits.  They always say, is it nurture or nature?  Well, I think largely it’s nurture . . .

A lot of what troubles me over the years has been this strange phenomenon of, whilst having [laughs] unfeasibly vast Impostor Syndrome, I think at the same time I am fascinated by the fact that a lot of the good parts of my makeup are from my [adoptive] mum’s kindness!  When you’re adopted by somebody who ultimately – my dad, he basically killed himself when I was 12.  Somebody I didn’t really know, but I felt some great duty to live up to in some strange way, whereas I think the opposite is true.  Being adopted you don’t have the same sort of genetics.  I never have been an academic in the way that he was; my skill set is completely opposite to what his would have been.  So, I’m very interested by those things – why it’s taken me this long to realize it’s a fool’s errand to try and chase somebody’s ghost, as it were.

[Tracks] like “Starlit Stardust”, “Rain Kings”, “In Memoriam” – those sound like you’re putting grief on record.

Yeah, pretty much.  Certainly “Duty of Care” and “In Memoriam”.  “Duty of Care” is pretty much about the twin nature of the relationship with my dad and with my mom.  I think it’s been really helpful for me. 

I know that [laughs] not everybody’s gonna want to – what did Phil Collins say?  He kind of retired from music didn’t he, in the early 90s.  And he pretty much said, no one wants to hear another Phil Collins divorce record. [Laughs]  And I thought, “well, Phil, you could be right”!  But Phil, whether you like him playing drums in early Genesis, or whatever you like or don’t like about Phil Collins, you can’t deny that he’s very good at tickling the emotional buttons that people relate to.

I think a lot of things I’m writing are relatable subjects.  And it’s not just me that has gone through these things in life.  I have found it cathartic to write about it.  And if I find it cathartic to write about it, I’m sure somebody might find it cathartic.  But the next time around I might write a completely cheery reggae record, so who knows? . . .

You’ve mentioned not fitting in and not wanting to be part of any cool kids ‘club that would have you as a member.  Is “Digital God Machine” part of that as well?

Continue reading “Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell: The 2022 Progarchy Interview”

Album Review: The Traveler, Dave Kerzner

Dave Kerzner, The Traveler (Sonic Elements, 2022): ★★★★½ = 9/10 = A+

Dave Kerzner’s third studio solo album is another triumph. Collaborating with some of the greatest musicians in prog, Kerzner produces another astonishing sonic experience. As with his previous solo works, his technical expertise places the highest quality audio elements in the service of loving song-craft.

This time around, Kerzner’s solo writing is the strongest it has ever been. If you want prog epics, go to Arc of Life (where Kerzner collaborated on the best Yes album of the past decade, despite the ABWH-like absurdity whereby the musicians creating the masterpiece don’t call themselves “Yes”), but if you want concise mastery of the art of songwriting, check out The Traveler masterclass, where Kerzner’s lyrics rise to the highest level in order to fully complement his sonic world of wonders.

The B-side of the album (tracks 5 to 9), however, could be considered a prog-length suite, since tracks 5 and 9 (“Here and Now”, Parts 1 and 2) act as an impressive frame for the seamless sonic journey that unfolds over the inner tracks 6 to 8 (“Better Life,” “Cannot Get It Back,” and “Feels Like Home”).

“Here and Now, Part 2” is itself worth the price of admission for the entire disc. Genesis fans will smile as Kerzner takes a page out of the Genesis playbook and cleverly references “Cinema Show” at the beginning of the track, and he then proceeds to put Tony Banks’ keyboard sounds to further exciting use. With Nick D’Virgilio on drums and Billy Sherwood on bass powering the song, the track brings the album to an exhilarating climax, ending with a reference to both the opening track “Another Life” and also to the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”

The Genesis keyboard tricks are deployed throughout the album, on tracks like “A Time in Your Mind” (which sounds like 80s Genesis), confirming Kerzner as the premier keyboard wizard of our time. The keyboard sounds on this album are consistently jaw-dropping and make it immensely pleasurable for listen after listen.

D’Virgilio plays on most of the album, but there’s also Marco Minnemann on tracks 1 and 2. “Ghostwritten Fables” (track 2), in particular, exhibits such astonishingly virtuosic drumming that it proves what a huge difference it makes to have only the highest echelon talent behind the kit on any song. Because Kerzner is the coolest guy in prog, he gets collaboration from amazing musicians on every track. Check out the credits (found at the end of this review) for many other eye-popping surprise appearances here, like Steve Hackett and David Longdon.

Speaking of Longdon, “For Granted” serves up a poignant mediation on loss, making it another highlight on an album full of unusually strong songs. In addition to the Genesis inspirations and literal keyboard references, Kerzner also crafts his own unique sound, which on this disc seems to infuse an uplifting slab of Sigur Ros-like walls of sound into Kerzner’s signature blend. It’s yet more proof that we are living, here and now, in nothing less than the best days of prog. I think with this particular sound blend on The Traveler, Kerzner has truly found his own distinguishing keyboard sound that is nonetheless rooted in the tradition of the greatest.

The organic way in which the guitars are interwoven into the songs, especially on the standout track “Better Life” with its cathartic guitar textures, is unexpected from a solo artist like Kerzner who specializes in delivering the highest level of keyboard experiences. But it’s more proof of Kerzner’s ability to collaborate with only the best, and yet at the same time draw from them their very best playing on each of the tracks. No one is ever showboating, but yet they all manage to impress with their dedication to an exalted sonic service of the song. Fernando Perdomo, in particular, again leaves his indelible mark on a Kerzner album, as he seems to be an indispensable half of the Kerzner dynamic duo.

For those curious, Kerzner explains the album’s story concept, which will please those who like their prog with a unifying conceptual justification:

All three of my studio solo albums are concept albums and the stories are connected to each other. The character, The Traveler, is able to travel in time through his mind and influence the past or future. On “New World”, he’s stranded in the desert and has to find his way home which he thinks is in the future, on “Static” he’s lost in a chaotic world of distractions (like Idiocracy or today! haha) and on “The Traveler” he’s traveled so far into the past and future that he finally comes full circle to appreciate love, peace and harmony in the “here and now”.

All three albums have a duality of being sci fi stories and, at the same time, being stories we can relate to because they’re also about us! We’re all “time travelers” in that most of us spend more time thinking about the past or future than getting the most out of the present moment.

Complementing this uplifting concept, the music also speaks for itself, and the lyrics of each individual song stand on their own merits. This is some of the best prog you will hear, especially if you appreciate subtle art and elegant audio refinements. It’s a shoo-in for the year’s top ten, and Progarchy salutes Dave Kerzner for making the world a better place, and for showing us the way to living a better life.

Dave Kerzner – The Traveler

 Reviewed by C. S. Morrissey for Progarchy.com

1. Another Lifetime 
2. Ghostwritten Fables 
3. A Time In Your Mind 
4. For Granted 
5. Here and Now Pt1 
6. Better Life 
7. Cannot Get It Back  
8. Feels Like Home 
9. Here and Now Pt2  

All songs written by Dave Kerzner except: 
Cannot Get It Back music written by Dave Kerzner, Randy McStine and Fernando Perdomo, Lyrics by Dave Kerzner

Here and Now pt 1 & 2 music written by Dave Kerzner, Randy McStine and Fernando Perdomo, Lyrics by Dave Kerzner

Ghostwritten Fables by Dave Kerzner and Gene Siegel, Lyrics by Dave Kerzner

Cover artwork by Rafal Olbinski 
Graphic Design by Dave Kerzner 

Musicians:  
Dave Kerzner – Lead vocals, keyboards, acoustic guitars and drum programming 
Fernando Perdomo – Guitar on all tracks, bass on tracks 1, 4, 6  
Francis Dunnery – Guitar on track 6  
Randy McStine – Guitar on tracks 5, 7 and 9 
Nick D’Virgilio – Drums on tracks 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 9 
Marco Minnemann – Drums on tracks 1 and 2  
Alex Cromarty – Drums on track 8 
Stuart Fletcher – Bass on track 8 
Matt Dorsey – Bass on tracks 2, 5, 7 and 9 
Billy Sherwood – Bass on tracks 5, 7 and 9 
Jon Davison – Vocals on track 8 
Durga McBroom – Backing vocals on tracks 3, 4, 6, 7 and 8  
Alex “Yatte” Chod – Backing vocals on tracks 1, 3 
Joe Deninzon – Violins and Violas on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 9 
Ruti Celli – Cello on tracks 1, 2, 5 and 9

 

Cameo spoken word appearances by Emily Lynn, Heather Findlay, Lara Smiles and David Longdon (Here and Now pt1) as well as a guitar cameo from Steve Hackett (For Granted). 

 

Mixed and Mastered by Dave Kerzner