2.0 In a Row: Progarchy Reviews 3rDegree’s Fantastic Ones and Zeros, Vol. 0

A few years back, 3rDegree’s Ones and Zeros, Vol. 1 took the prog world by storm, being 3rDegree Ones and Zeros Vol 0one of the highest rated and reviewed albums of that year.  For good reason too.  Combining excellent music with contemporaneous subject matter of very high relevance, it did – extremely well – what prog does better than any other genre.  Namely, it provided music and lyrics that, in addition to being entertaining, made the engaged listener think.  But Vol. 1 was not the whole story – there was another one to come.  And here, in 2018, Ones and Zeros, Vol. 0 has now arrived.  And we can happily say that 3rDegree has done it again, providing another album that builds upon and maintains the excellence of its predecessor.

Both this album and its predecessor combine excellent prog rock music with timely subject matter.  Musically, the album both pays homage to the classic prog movement while still providing a modern, unique sound.  Topically, the lyrics explore our modern, digital, technological world, with a particular focus on its dark underbelly.  For these reasons, Vol. 0 – along with its predecessor – pull off perfectly what exemplifies one of the best aspects of the current prog scene, namely complex, engaging music combined with a biting but (very) necessary cultural critique.

The songs on this album flow together nicely, with the instrumental track Re1nstall_Overture providing a charging-out-of-the-gate musical opening.  Connecting follows, with some biting lyrics regarding social media, trolling, and addiction to the same.  Olympia follows with some great melodies and lyrics about android love … cue Rachel from Blade Runner.

Most of the next song, The Future Doesn’t Need You, as an easy, breezy feel, while lyrically hammering home the theme of technology addiction and its effects on the wider culture.  I’m wondering if they drew inspiration from this essay, which is similarly titled.  Unintended Consequence musically has an early-to-mid 80’s feel, while lyrically mocking the hubris of those who believe tech is all that is needed to make the world a better place.

Perfect Babies is chock full of excellent lyrics that explore the understandable desire of every parent to give their kids as many advantages in life as possible, juxtaposed with a subtle warning against the temptation of taking biotech shortcuts.  Logical Conclusion meanwhile explores one of the drivers of human need for technological master – the uncontrolled whims of nature – extending into the conceit that we might be able to pull it off (hint: we can’t).

The epic Click Away! comes up next, and it’s a doozy, divided into multiple movements. There are so many different musical moods and styles throughout it would be more efficient to simply listen to the track than to try and list them here.  This one is best listened to at your computer, as the lyrics are found on the Valhalla Biotech website.  It’s great to sit back, read the lyrics off the website while listening to a clever critique of social media and its attendant addictions.

The title track, , closes the album, with the question “are you a one or are you a zero.”

Making a concept album hold together is tough enough.  Doing it over multiple albums is even harder.  In the wake of the standard set by Ones and Zeros, Vol. 1, the pressure to deliver a worthy follow-up could have weighed heavily on 3rDegree.  And yet, as 3rDegreeevidenced by Vol. 0, the band seemed impervious, delivering exactly the sequel that a fan of its predecessor would have hoped for.  In what is shaping up to be a very good year in the prog scene, 3rDegee has delivered one of the best albums of the year, combining interesting music and topical lyrics.  Well done, guys.

New 3RDegree Released

3RDegree

A copy of the new 3RDegree album arrived at progarchy HQ this weekend.  Very much looking forward to listening.  3RDegree are always extraordinary in their passionate intellect as well as in their perfectionist presentation.

One of America’s finest, to be sure.

To order a copy, go here: https://3rdegree.bandcamp.com/album/ones-zeros-vol-0

3RDegree: The Proggiest Temperature for the Summer of 2015

3RDegree: Ones & Zeros Volume 1

10t Records; Release Date August 18th 2015

Produced by: Dobbs, Kliesch & Pashman

 OnesANDzeros

3RDegree is:

Patrick Kliesch/ Electric Guitar, acoustic 6-string, synth programming, backing vocals

George Dobbs/ Lead vocals, keyboards, percussion, backing vocals

Robert James Pashman/ Bass, additional keyboards, backing vocals

Aaron Nobel/ Drums, percussion

Eric Pseja/ Electric Guitar, acoustic 12-string, backing vocals

Bryan Zeigler/ Electric Guitar, backing vocals

3rdegreeBANDphoto

It’s hard for a band to follow a good to near great album (The Long Division, 2012) with an even more superior outing, but 3RDegree has done just that. Ones & Zeros is simply a great piece of progressive music. It is to The Long Division as Close to the Edge was to Fragile and Moving Pictures was to Permanent Waves.

Ones & Zeros is 3RDegree’s 5th and latest studio album. The ten track album is a concept piece that submerges the listener into both the current high-tech, omni-present surveillance state (the panopticon social media saturated society) as well as a dehumanized and dystopic near future where the eternal questions of life, death, and meaning intersect with hubris, power, and control.

I refrain from a detailed track by track analysis as each song builds on its predecessor in weaving a themed arc. In a general way the music inhabits a near-future world where the protagonist (and the listener) is confronted by the ubiquitous Valhalla Biotech Corporation and its death-defying, age-enhancing science of perpetual longevity—at, and for, a price…the price of freedom, dignity, and humanity.

From the 17 second electronic “sci-fi” voice introduction to the final track’s synthetic “fade out” the big smile on my face and the bobbing of my head hardly dissipated.  This is an inspiring, ambitious, intelligent and tight work of musical story-telling. The lyrics are deep and clever, worthy of a Roger Waters, if Waters was encouraging and hopeful in assisting and guiding broken and subjugated victims of technology’s amoral metastasis. While somewhat reminiscent of the best of IQ’s social commentary, the libretto of this disc hearkens to Orwell and Heinlein in these current days of Edward Snowden, but trapped in the amber of corporate and soulless medical archiving of bodies and lives. You just know the music is deep when as you’re listening to it you reminisce about the discovery of reading the best of Philip K. Dick or even Vonnegut.

The music in some ways is a perfect throw-back to the classic ‘70s era. When George Dobbs starts to sing “These are extraordinary times…” on track 2, one is almost reminded of Jon Anderson on some long lost YES classic. But 3RDegree is no Starcastle/YES clone. And while at times they make me think of Ambrosia meets Glass Hammer (i.e. stunning studio musicianship filtered through an uplifted human decency) they have their own sound—and it’s a poetic and tight swirl of cautious optimism. Though I may have been a bit underwhelmed by George Dobbs on The Long Division, here he ‘notches’ it up and shows what a remarkable set of pipes he has—clear, strong, and suitably emotive; I’m impressed!

I wish I had had a printed sheet of lyrics while listening (though, this will joyfully cause me to re-listen multiple times) as the many clever lines bear fruit upon reflection, to-wit: “every gadget’s an extension of my motives and my ego. And now that I’m totally integrated I’d be foolish not to upgrade” and “try keeping a secret in the age of a diode” and again “we’ve come so far, from Saturn devouring his own son.”

If modern and contemporary radio were sane, Track 3, This Is the Future would be a popular “single” with its catchy and infectious drive. Track 4 with its almost lullaby like opening is a delicate love song to life with a desperation of sorrow beautifully realized by Dobbs. The drumming of Aaron Noble is muscularly aggressive and he really shines on Track 5, The Best & Brightest, as well as Track 6, Circuit Court. The 8:49 epic Track 7, Life At Any Cost may be the most brilliant composition with a stunning instrumental break around the 3 minute mark where drums, killer guitar riffing, and then keys, coalesce into melodic prog greatness! Robert Pashman also turns in some really fine lumbering Bass work—a brontosaurus ninja with precisely crushing weight!

Mirroring a line in the second song, this entire album is a very PRESENT “singularity” of what the band itself calls its music: “song-centric” progressive rock. Indeed.

This is not just another futuristic, sci-fi derivative, or empty piece of generic “concept” bandwagoning. 3RDegree has constructed a compelling symphony of energetic songs with truly meaningful lyrics that take the listener on a journey. And no, it isn’t Valhalla Biotech that we thank for delivering its predatory singular relationships with ersatz and faux fragmentation, stasis quarantine, and finally deletion from the human family of love and joy, but rather the six artists from Bergen County, New Jersey who have given us hope for, if not a “better” future, than at least one with a glimmer of a transcendent day.

A++, 10 of 10, “must-buy” rating.

I’m hoping fellow Progarchy “archivists” also weigh in on this disc with additional reviews. I really love this album. It’s being added to my “best of” for 2015…with a “bullet” and I expect it will be on many other best of year lists as well.  Special mention should be made of the colorful and impressionistic artwork that adorns this disc.  A swirling of yellow and reds (that’s probably NOT Elvis) that evokes the legendary Moodies.  The 10t web-site indicates this “Vol 1” of One & Zeros will be followed by a Vol. 2 next year.  2016 can’t get here soon enough!

I really love this album.

Links:

3RDegree Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/#!/3RDegree?fref=ts

3RDegree 10t web site: http://www.3rdegreeonline.com/3RDegree/Home.html (some great photos and bio’s of the guys)

3RDegree Bandcamp: http://3rdegree.bandcamp.com

All Rush Albums as ranked by 3RDegree’s Robert James Pashman @3RDegreeONLINE

RUSH

To help you think about my “Top Ten Rush Albums EVER” challenge, here is a repost of a most excellent Facebook post by 3RDegree’s Robert James Pashman:

All Rush Albums as ranked by 3RDegree’s Robert James Pashman:

[from October 3, 2013 at 2:33am]

Caveat — even not so good “albums” have some, even many great “songs” so take the tendency toward judging Rush (and other bands) by ALBUM with a grain of salt.

1. Moving Pictures 1981

I’ve fought this forever, claiming my fave as Permanent Waves but its appeal is undeniable. Too obvious because it’s their best seller but it’s Rush at its Rushiest and is practically a greatest hits collection on its own. When there’s a Rush best of collection made, it’s often interesting to see what song from Moving Pictures is left off of it. Has probably the best album side ever made by anyone.

2. Permanent Waves 1980

I think this is the archetype for Moving Pictures and has an even better epic song on it than Moving Pictures does (“Natural Science” being better than “The Camera Eye”). Has 2 radio staples (“The Spirit Of Radio” and “Freewill”) and even 2 out-of-character love songs (or relationship songs) that are both home runs (“Entre Nous” and “Different Strings”).

3. Power Windows 1985

This one is chock-full of orchestration, keyboards and even a choir (all on “Marathon”) and has some of the best Peart lyrics ever committed to paper. It was used as a teaching tool in schools even.  Some saw this as the apex of the band getting in too deep with keyboards and far away from what made them great, but I see it as the band successfully staying relevant, strongly melodic and not afraid of dressing up the songs any way they saw fit.

4. A Farewell To Kings 1977

Probably the most interesting Rush album as it incorporates keyboards for solos and effect and includes lot of sci-fi overtones. The staple “Closer To The Heart” sneaks its way into the madness too.

5. Hemispheres 1978

More of the same from the previous album but with slightly more “filler” moments and perhaps a bit too much repeating of themes on the side one long epic.

6. 2112 1976

Many would have this higher but that’s probably based on how good side one’s title track epic is. It’s sort of legendary now if you’ve seen the documentary how this is the album that they held up a big middle finger to the music industry and got rewarded for it from fans and never had to answer to the “suits” again. For that alone, it’s totally cool.

7-9. Signals 1982, Grace Under Pressure 1984, Hold Your Fire 1987

I think all of these are pretty equally interesting, incorporating the keyboards of the time and reggae and pop stylings. I think Signals gets a little “samey” synth-wise, whereas GUP and HYF offer more variety but Signals has great lyrics and a few of their best (“Subdivisions”, “Losing It”) and their only Top 40 “hit” (“New World Man”). GUP has a dark feel to it and HYF the excellent underrated “Open Secrets”.

10. Clockwork Angels 2012

A band staying relevant decades into their career. The title track is one of their best songs ever. The album hasn’t a clunker really and it’s got an over-arching theme. It’s their first entire concept album.

11. Counterparts 1993

The best from the 90s. Has their answer to grunge (“Stick It Out”), a too-wordy but excellent emotional masterpiece (“Nobody’s Hero”) and their best instrumental out of the many they put out in the 90s (“Leave That Thing Alone”).  Also has one of my favorite dark horse tracks with “Double Agent”.

12-13. Snakes & Arrows 2007, Presto 1989

Two of the best of the “medium quality” Rush albums. S & A‘s “Far Cry”, “Armor & Sword” and “Spindrift” are hard hitting, excellent tracks and Presto‘s “Show Don’t Tell” signified the band with the guitar and the riff in the forefront after many albums with Alex sharing space with keyboards.  “The Pass” is one of Rush’s most emotional and melodic tracks with “Available Light” a close second.

14. Vapor Trails 2002

Strange with its orchestrated and overdubbed bass and guitar tracks on almost every track but has the standout “Ghost Rider” and ultra-strange “Freeze”. At this point, we were just happy to have them back.

15. Fly By Night 1975

Lots of interesting proto-prog (as pertaining to Rush only) mixed with single length tracks.

16. Roll The Bones 1991

Some of Rush’s best and worst songs are on this thin-sounding album. It’s probably their most overrated—if only because it did well at the time. “Face Up”, “Neurotica” and 2 others are just horrible. There’s way more interesting things about some of the worst tracks on other albums but these lesser-known RTB tracks are borderline embarrasing.

17. Test For Echo 1996

“Driven”, “Time & Motion” and “Totem” are really interesting but the rest of the album is just meh. Judging from Rush’s set lists, I think they agree with me.

18. Caress Of Steel 1975

They get an “A for effort” here but ultimately failed at the time only to try again and succeed with 2112. This album interests me when I hear it if only because I know it the least and it sounds “new”.

19. Rush 1974

Not bad, just not quite Rush yet.

3RDegree Remastered 1996 “Human Interest Story”

From 10T News:

 

3RDEGREE re-release their seminal 1996 CD HUMAN INTEREST STORY as a re-mastered digital download exclusively available immediately through 10T Records’ online store.  HUMAN INTEREST STORY will be available through all major mainstream online download outlets (iTunes, Amazon, etc.) on December 10, 2013.  This is the very first time the album has been available digitally anywhere except the band’s own website.

Before American progressive rock band 3RDegree came to the consciousness of the worldwideprog rock press with the 2008 album NARROW-CASTER and its follow-up release, 2012’s THE LONG DIVISION, the band knocked around the New York City area from 1990 to 1997 with little notice. They put out 2 albums during this timeframe, the second of which, 1996‘s HUMAN INTEREST STORY, was a particular milestone.

Having just added lead vocalist George Dobbs the summer before, the album’s April release was the culmination of 3 solid years of writing and recording to which Dobbs added his golden pipes in the 11th hour, taking over the spot from bassist/keyboardist Robert James Pashman. ”I was more than happy to relinquish the lead vocals in exchange for a better band and a less busyme!” says Pashman.

For listeners familiar with the band’s more recent albums, HUMAN INTEREST STORY does not sound a decade away from it’s follow-up. Patrick Kliesch explains, “Since Narrow-Caster consisted of many songs or ideas started in ’95-’97 but not finished, there’s a connection between the albums despite the 8 year break-up in the band”.

“Perhaps because of the band’s now more masked 90’s influences of Soundgarden, Jellyfish, and King’s X, Human is more guitar heavy, with keyboards in the background as more of a garnish than a main course” adds Dobbs.

“Never mind a second chance, HUMAN INTEREST STORY never got a first chance really. Marketing an album such as this in the mid-90’s was beyond frustrating!” notes now occasional drummer Rob Durham. Many songs from this 1996 collection have appeared in recent 3RDegree set lists. “There’s a bunch of songs that sit very nicely next to our newer material and are very much a part of us, so we keep playing them” says Pashman.

Songs like the title track with it’s memorable melody sailing on top of the start-stop rhythm section and its Jerry Springer-inspired subject matter (sister song to The Long Division’s “Televised” about reality shows), the heart-on-sleeve delivery of the vocal on the Todd Rundgren-inspired “Ladder,” and the snarky tone by Dobbs on the intense “Top Secret” (the NSA flavored ditty written the year Snowden was entering kindergarten). This song, from the point of view of a spy laughing at “the little people,” shows Dobbs doing something he would reprise on THE LONG DIVISION’s “Incoherent Ramblings,” delivered in the voice of a TV political strategist.

Additionally, anyone who purchases the new collection via digital download directly from10TRecords.com will be emailed a code for an exclusive download of a new song from the band called “What It Means To Be Human” (no relation!).  This is 3RDegree’s first new music since the summer of 2012.

While a new album is forthcoming in 2014, 10T Records president Steve Carroll says, “Anyone thirsty for new 3RDegree who hasn’t delved into material from their 90’s incarnation is really missing something special. This material from the 20-something version of 3RDegree is no less interesting or polished!

All tracks from HUMAN INTEREST STORY are now available to preview in their entirety on the 3RDegree artist page at 10T Records.  Downloads are immediately available in MP3, M4A (Apple Lossless) and Hi Def 16-bit WAV formats.

After December 10th, HUMAN INTEREST STORY will be available through all major mainstream digital download outlets.

You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

3RDegree and John Galgano Show

concert 3d degree galganoThis was just posted on Facebook, and I’m now thinking it might be worth a car trip to Connecticut!

3RDegree is pleased to announce John Galgano (and Izz Lite) will be opening up the show on May 13th at Marisa’s Ristorante in Trumbull, CT as part of the PROG ON THE SOUND concert series. John is a driving force behind Izz who have been a fantastic generator of great prog rock albums since the late 90’s and John’s solo album REAL LIFE IS MEETING is a highlight of 2012. Sharing the stage with him has been something 3RDegree has wanted to do for a while.

From my perspective, each made one of the best albums of 2012.  Sadly, neither has received enough attention.  May this be rectified in 2013!

Challenging Greed and Media Whoredom: 3rdegree’s “The Long Division”

“The Long Division” By 3rdegree (2012)

Sometime right after Christmas, I had the great joy of receiving a package addressed to Progarchy from New Jersey.  A nice note accompanied the very intriguingly-packaged CD, “The Long Division” by 3rdegree.  long division cover

Lots of great CDs have come in for review, but I’m always surprised when they’re not accompanied by some explanation.  Or, it would be better to write: I love getting notes from the artists themselves.  Even the short “Hey, let us know what you think” offers a personal connection.  Maybe it’s just my Kansas upbringing regarding such things as “thank you notes.”  But, I digress.

Suffice it to write, the note from Robert of 3rdegree said: love what you’re doing; please check us out when you have a moment.

Absolutely!

And, for the last month, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying my time with 3rdegree’s 2012 release, “The Long Division.”  Imagine Steely Dan, Echolyn, and Tears for Fears in the studio together.  Maybe throw in just a touch of the more complex aspects of some 70s harder rock.  Prog it all up and throw some New Jersey attitude in.  Finally, mix in some really bitter populist–true and righteous (in the best sense)–lyrics, and you start to approach the wonder that is 3rdegree.

And, I should mention, this is really, really American.  How can I state this?  I’m frankly not entirely sure.  But, the whole cd certainly feels very American.

As with much of prog, there’s a real perfectionism here, too.  The keyboards (especially the piano), the bass, the drums, and the guitars sound very sharp.  The mix is simply excellent, and the group feels tight.  My guess is they like each other very much.  I don’t think it would be possible to play like this without a real sense of perfectionism and sympathy with and respect for one another.

My favorite part, though, are the vocals.  The closest comparison I could make–in terms of vocals–is to the best of Spock’s Beard, Gentile Giant, and early Echolyn.  I can’t imagine the vocal arrangements here ever getting boring or rote in any way.  Outstanding.  Truly outstanding.

This leads me, naturally, to the lyrics.  When Carl, Chris, and I started Progarchy, we decided to make music the focus and avoid–wherever possible–the subject of religion and politics.  The three of us already do that fervently elsewhere on the web.  Progarchy is meant to be a music site, open to all.

That said, I don’t think it would be possible to review this cd without at least a mention of the politics presented here.  Never dumbed down (thank you, 3rdegree), the lyrics reflect a real anger at the state of American political culture.  Whether that anger stems from a Left or a Right–a liberal/Democratic or conservative/Republican–position, I just can’t tell, despite my numerous readings of the lyrics.  My guess is that these guys are simply too smart to be either left or right.  Clearly, they’re not fans of corporate welfare.  But, they don’t seem thrilled with eco-freaks either.  Here’s their own statement on their website:

“You’re Fooling Yourselves!”, wails 3RDegree lead singer/keyboardist George Dobbs on the band’s lead-off single from the new CD THE LONG DIVISION-their first since 2008.  This song-as well as a few others on the first half of the album-flesh out the band’s 2012 political treatise: that America’s political parties (and probably those in other countries) have long divided it’s populous on the basis of color, salary, sex, age and much else, have played on their fears, and have used their accumulated powers to build up largesse to keep their supporters in the fold.  Ok, it’s not always that heavy, but the album was penned in the shadow of the 2008 economic collapse that was happening right as 3RDegree were releasing their first album in 12 years:  NARROW-CASTER.  While that third album was a combination of fresh songs and resurrected ideas from the period just before the band’s original breakup in 1997, THE LONG DIVISION is in the shared vintage of Tea Parties, Occupy Movements, shovel-ready jobs and banks and car companies “too big to fail”.

Well, from whatever position, I like it.

I can’t give enough praise to this CD.  It’s the kind of cd that makes you increasingly enthusiastic with each new track.  One track is utterly brilliant, and just when you think there’s no way the band can top track one, track two starts, and you’re blown away.  Then, track three, four, five. . . .  It just keeps being increasingly mind boggling.

Whatever the state of civil liberties, the economy, or government in the U.S., 3rdegree dramatically affirms my belief that American prog is alive and well.

To learn more about 3rdegree, check out their outstanding website (the perfect model of a website for any band–a fan’s dream; lots and lots of information):  http://3rdegreeonline.com/3RDegree/Home.html.  I also want to note that one of our favorite American proggers, Mark Ptak of The Advent, plays on “The Long Division” as well.  Additionally, the band supports good beer.