“To give away a secret…” – Kate Bush decoded

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David Mitchell, the author of Cloud Atlas, has just written a truly remarkable and insightful piece in the Guardian about Kate Bush and her musical achievement. His discussion of Kate’s masterpieces is so good that every Kate fan will delight in it and find themselves rushing to listen again to these beloved albums.

Every word of Mitchell’s essay rings true. His memories of youthful, pre-Internet encounters with Kate’s music are so beautiful, they will remind you of special scenes from your own life. I was also thrilled to find him conclude his piece with this exhilarating interpretation of “Under the Ivy,” one of my very favorite Kate songs of all time:

I can’t help but interpret “Under the Ivy”, a B-side from the Hounds of Love era, as a kind of self-portrait or “meta-song” about the Kate and her oeuvre that have existed “away from the party” of musical fashion since the start of her career. Her music is secluded “under the ivy” and yet it invites you to join it, almost coyly: “It wouldn’t take me long / to tell you how to find me … ” Both Kate’s wariness of celebrity and her oneness with music and sound are recalled by the lines: “I sit here in the thunder / The green on the grey / I feel it all around me / And it’s not easy for me / To give away a secret / It’s not safe.” Yet she does give away secrets: they’re just coded, in extraordinary songs like this one.

Fans want more of what we loved the first time, yet we complain if things feel repetitive. Kate is a mighty exception to all this, as rare as a yeti. Her fidelity to her ever-curious, ever-morphing muse has won her a body of fans who hold her songs as treasured possessions to be carried through life. By dint of never having been in fashion, she has never fallen out of fashion. By taking bold artistic risks that she navigates with ingenuity and wisely chosen collaborators, the albums Kate made in her late 40s and 50s equal and surpass the songs recorded in her teens and 20s that made her famous. To any artist in any field, her example is a hope-instilling exhortation to evolve, to reinvent, to reimagine what we do.

Note that Mitchell has written the introduction to a print edition of Kate’s lyrics which is published by Faber & Faber: How to Be Invisible.

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Top 10 Prog Albums of 2018: #4 Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut

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Oh, I don’t care what your favorite Glass Hammer album is. This one is mine!

Chronomonaut is a magnificent achievement. I was not prepared to love this album as much as I do. But truly, resistance is futile. This is quite simply, in my opinion, the finest prog statement Glass Hammer has ever made.

And they were albe to make it because, rather than be complacent or predictable, they decided to take risks and blaze an adventurous trail instead. Not only that, they dared to face, head on, their fans’ own penchant for nostalgia, by choosing to confront it in themselves as well, and to overcome and transform it by means of an unexpected, thoughtfully coherent artistic reckoning.

The two tracks that instantly won me over were “Roll for Initiative” (propelled by the mightiest bass playing I have heard since Chris Squire) and “Blinding Light” (with its truly fantastic horn arrangements, which I now think should become a Glass Hammer signature).

Soon enough I was quickly subdued by the devastating thematic track “The Past is Past,” and then the totally rockin’ “A Hole in the Sky,” and then the righteously sprawling album closer “Fade Away.” What feats of musicianship, what joys to savor!

Further still, sprinkled like extra treats at an already lavish banquet, are the quirky instrumentals which stand out with exceptional prog cred, as independently stimulating in their own right: “Clockwork,” “It Always Burns Sideways,” and “Tangerine Meme.” I always look forward to each one of them, and I dare anybody to call such fascinating tracks “filler.”

Finally, Susie’s vocal contributions add another dazzling dimension to the whole proceedings, with the diverse scenes painted by “Twilight of the Godz,” “1980 Something,” and “Melancholy Holiday” constituting definitive proof of the musical richness that Glass Hammer can pack into one glorious album.

If you haven’t picked this one up, don’t miss it. One of the year’s most thrilling albums awaits you. You will find resistance is futile: you will be air drumming, or playing air guitar, and saluting Glass Hammer as you join in the rockin’ republic of prog.

Top 10 Prog Albums of 2018: #3 Gungfly – Friendship

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Ever since Gungfly’s On her Journey to the Sun dominated my January listening, the year 2018 has been saturated with the brilliance of Rikard Sjöblom, especially as I proceeded to mine the stereophonic riches of the Gungfly Rumbling Box since its release earlier this year.

Even so, I was scarcely prepared for the devastatingly jazzy prog onslaught of Friendship when it finally arrived. Thanks to multiple listens, which have only led to ever-increasing enjoyment, the disc makes my Top 10 Prog list here at #3.

The theme of friendship is very skillfully handled, making this a concept album that ascends to the highest echelons of excellence.

In an age where digital media are relentlessly assaulting polite society, and people whom you thought were your friends suddenly unfriend you and ghost you on account of some mysteriously vague line demarcating a non-negotiable political tribalism, the poignancy of this Gungfly album’s deep exploration of childhood memories is all the more powerful.

The album gently evokes not only feelings that many will recognize as resonating with their own experiences of personal loss, but it also evokes the loss of genuine human sympathy and compassion as a generational event, as technology brutally empowers people to treat others as they themselves would never want to be treated.

After heavy immersion in the album’s seven main tracks over many months (thanks to a review copy obtained far in advance), I am now also enjoying the amazing extra tracks on my CD copy, which I of course purchased to support this fine music, yet which only recently arrived in my mailbox.

Mark my words, you will want to own this CD, and your bonus reward will be the absolutely fantastic extras: “Slow Dancer” and “Past Generation” (and a radio edit of the title track slicing it down to 6:31, less than half the length of the original epic of 13:41).

It’s almost impossible to pick a favorite track on Friendship, thanks to the continuously dazzling diversity in the music. But currently, for me, I am most fond of the rockin’ “Past Generation.”

Nonetheless, you yourself are sure to make every track your personal favorite, depending on the day of the week, and on exactly where you are in discovering the many beautiful depths of this stunning release, just as I too experienced, spinning through it and exploring every tree and glade, winding through the cycle of seasons.

Brave New World

Today marks 45 years of The Wicker Man! Did you love this classic?#horror #classichorror pic.twitter.com/he3nzRzThB

— Famous Monsters (@FamousMonsters) December 6, 2018

Quoting a post on Progarchy:

“For a song named after the early 70s British horror flick, The Wicker Man might seem deceptively upbeat”

Progarchy

Superficial differences aside, ‘Brave New World’ is quintessentially Iron Maiden. Those cultured references to English literature, sober yet deceptively dark overtones, and compositions almost bordering on progressive metal. Not to mention the galloping bass lines, rich melodic riffs and operatic vocals – basically, all Iron Maiden signatures are exhibited here.

For a song named after the early 70s British horror flick, The Wicker Man might seem deceptively upbeat. But, Brave New World, the title track is a tad disturbing —“Dying swans twisted wings, beauty not needed here.” — seems to mirror Aldous Huxley’s own dystopian vision.

Accessible, and threateningly catchy choruses – “Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, you’ve got to kill to stay alive” – illustrates one of those reasons why Iron Maiden is still that dominant heavy metal life form on this planet. How a whimsical – “Is this a new reality. Something makes me feel that…

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Top 10 Prog Albums of 2018: #2 Daniel James’ Brass Camel

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I discovered this hidden gem earlier this year via a local record store, and it has been in my heavy rotation ever since, earning the #2 spot this year, due to my frequency of listening.

But it is now available for purchase online here and also on iTunes. Check out www.djbrasscamel.com for more info.

In fact, the album only has three prog instrumental tracks, “The Bane of William Watson,” “Buenas Noches,” and “Letters of Last Resort,” yet these are surrounded by a wealth of other funky rock tracks that contain superb songwriting and impeccable musicianship.

I was lucky enough to see this band play live twice this year, and they are even more impressive in concert than on record, if you can believe it. That’s because of the truly stellar line-up of musicians, and also their penchant for covering classic prog tunes.

Mark my words, get to know this band now, because they are only getting started, and they are truly a major musical force to be reckoned with, as this fine album attests. Their funkadelic prog is guaranteed to put a smile on your face and a spring in your step.

DJBC is the real deal: talent to burn, and songs that blaze into glory like the most majestic of fireworks. Long live rock!

Top 10 Prog Albums of 2018: #1 Southern Empire – Civilisation

This year I have decided to unveil my year-end top 10 lists by following the order of my most frequent listens.

Usually I have preferred not to rank in any order (since being in a top 10 list is arguably enough of a distinction) or to attend to my more subjective emotional and intellectual responses to various features of musical excellence.

But this year (since the times they are a changin’), let’s try something new, and so I have decided to use the simpler and more objective criterion of the sheer quantity of listens.

I was surprised to discover that puts Southern Empire’s Civilisation at the top of the Top 10 Prog list for me. It took awhile for me to be won over fully to this album, but after diligently repeated listens I achieved this, and then continued to return to it again and again, because its four formidable tracks are just so gosh darn good.

“Goliath’s Moon” (9:12) has superb prog music, but the lyrics have always annoyed me as being ridiculously flimsy. I thought that, instead of singing about his stupid “diamond,” the space pirate should rather have been singing about an “angel” that he had been, against his will, compelled to sell into slavery — an action that he, lovesick for her, eternally regrets. In any case, the music is so good, I came to ignore this just complaint of mine, and to simply imagine my own better, more tragic lyrics while listening to it instead.

“Cries for the Lonely” is for me the supreme track. The first few minutes of the track are entirely instrumental, with some of the most thrilling prog of the year. And the excellence continues. Everything is dazzlingly perfect in this 19:13 epic.

“The Crossroads” (29:15) is even more epic and musically diverse. It took me awhile to know and love every bar of it, but there you have it. I listened to it enough times to acknowledge this track for what it is: a tour de force.

“Innocence and Fortune” (10:22) is a very unique song that midway veers off into some pleasingly familiar Genesis territory, in a surprising and delightful turn of events. But, most thrilling of all, is the wild finale, where we get some Dixie Dregs virtuosity, to close out the album, in its very final minutes, with uplifting and transcendent musicality.

Well, I do think I like this new rating system that I am trying out for 2018. And I am most pleased to recommend Southern Empire’s Civilisation to you as my top Top 10 Prog pick of the year. More anon.