The Big Fall Prog Preview!

What new music, live albums, and reissues (deluxe and otherwise) are heading our way between now and Black Friday?  Check out the exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below.  Pre-order links are for CDs or combo packages; vinyl editions are frequently available from the same website.

  • September 21:
    • Marillion, Happiness is Cologne and Popular Music.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • Nosound, Allow Yourself.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • September 28:
    • Blackfield, Open Mind (The Best of Blackfield).  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Star Clocks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 5:
    • Steve Hackett, Broken Skies – Outspread Wings (1984-2006).  Esoteric Recordings reissue box set (6 CDs + 2 DVDs).  Pre-order autographed copies from Hackettsongs.
    • King Crimson, Meltdown: Live in Mexico.  3 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 12:
    • Glass Hammer, Chronomonaut.  Pre-order autographed copies or the deluxe bundle from Glass Hammer’s webstore.  Pre-order deadline: October 11.
    • Sanguine Hum, Now We Have Power.  Pre-order from Bandcamp.
  • October 19:
    • Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.  The first full-length album from Frankenmuth, Michigan’s young Zepheads.  Pre-order at GvF’s webstore.
    • iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds.  Live in the studio; audio/video bundle.  Pre-order at Burning Shed.
    • In Continuum, Acceleration Theory.  With Dave Kerzner and an all-star line-up.  Pre-order bundles from Bandcamp. Pre-order deadline for special bundles: September 30.
    • Frank Sinatra, Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition.  Yes, really.  The greatest concept album of the pre-rock era, with Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle at their most gorgeous and devastating.  “Make it one for my baby … and one more for the road.” More info at Super Deluxe Edition.
  • October 26:
    • Anathema, Internal Landscapes.  The best of the band’s Kscope albums.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Haken, Vector.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Procol Harum, Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  Esoteric Recordings reissue with bonus tracks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 2:
    • Opeth, Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 9:
    • Jethro Tull, This Was — The 50th Anniversary Edition. Steven Wilson remix included, on 3 CDs + DVD.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Friendship.  Pre-order from Rikard’s webstore.
  • November 16:
    • Marillion, Brave Live and Live in Glasgow.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • The Tangent, Proxy.  Pre-order special bundles from The Tangent webstore.
  • November 23:
    • Marillion, Clutching at Straws Special Edition.  4 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order autographed copies from Marillion or Fish.
  • TBA:
    • The Beatles, White Album 50th Anniversary Edition?
    • Big Big Train, Merchants of Light Blu-Ray
    • King Crimson, The ReConstruKction of Light (40th Anniversary reissue) and Heaven and Earth (Crimson ProjeKcts box set)

— Rick Krueger

Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part I

As you all happily know, Timelord has announced his top albums of 2017 already.  When he did, I was a bit surprised.  Wait, is it that time of year already?  What about albums that come out in December?  The more I thought about it, the more I thought Timelord was absolutely right to announce his top picks.  Not much is going to happen this month, and, even if something does come out, it will be hard to measure against what already exists.  Should something come out and shake up my list, I will, of course, be happy.  For any thing that could possibly shake up this list would have to be really, really good.

And, as you also happily know, Tad Wert took a unique perspective on his top picks, focusing on the live releases of the year rather than on the studio releases.  Bravo!

Unlike 2012-2016, this is the first year that I found actually easy when ranking.  That is, picking and ranking has been relatively easy.  As some of the other progarchists have said over the past half decade, so much prog had come out in any previous years that it felt like “taking a sip from the fire hose.”

This year, 2017, just feels different.  The quality definitely outdid the quantity.

Before starting rankings, though, I would be dead wrong not to mention two critical things.

Jerry Ewing
Our Fearless Leader, Jerry Ewing.

First, God bless, Jerry Ewing, and his glorious PROG magazine.  For a time there, we all thought the ship was gone, our captain lost at sea in a corporate hurricane of insanity and avarice.  Then, Ewing emerged—and stronger than ever.  Congratulations, Jerry.  Long may you lead our little platoon of prog-loving weirdos.

Second, may God bless, Tim Hall (Kaylr).  I never actually met Tim, but I really appreciated his views on everything.  He was always intelligent and prudent, and our loss is heaven’s gain.  Tim, if you can, please say hello to Hendrix, Morrison, Emerson, Lake, Squire, and all of the other greats of the last half century.  And, say hi to my dad, my grandparents, and my daughter, Cecilia Rose, as well.  Someday, brother, someday. . .

On to the show!

Continue reading “Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part I”

My Best of 2017???

Let me just state from the outset that I love that Chris had the gumption to post his favorites albums of the year already.  We’re not even in December, Chris!  Love it.

So, just as an experiment, I checked my player’s settings and calculated the albums I listened to the most.  While I can’t claim this to be a fair statement of what I think the best of the year was–after all, some albums, such as Glass Hammer’s UNTOLD TALES.  It’s only had a month to compete against some albums that have had 11 months.  Still, it’s a marker.

Additionally, because my player calculates the number of plays for the year total, it registers all albums in my collections, not just those that came out in 2017.  So, by the number, folks, by the numbers—the ten most played albums in the Birzer house for the last 11 months.

No. 10 most played of 2017:

Glass Hammer Untold

 

Continue reading “My Best of 2017???”

A Return to Brilliance: THE OPTIMIST by Anathema

Review of Anathema, THE OPTIMIST (Kscope, 2017).

anathema optimist
A return to brilliance.

THE OPTIMIST is a wonderful album, a true expression of the best that is in, ironically enough, a band named Anathema.

When the band returned to the music scene after a five-year absence in 2008 with a reworking of their previous music, HINDSIGHT, I was pretty much smitten.  Then, in 2010, with the release of their first proper album in seven years, WE’RE HERE BECAUSE WE’RE HERE, up through their 2013 live album, UNIVERSAL, Anathema was not only not only gloriously on fire but, perhaps, unstoppable.

Continue reading “A Return to Brilliance: THE OPTIMIST by Anathema”

Anathema’s Latest Masterpiece: A Sort of Homecoming (Live, 2015, in Liverpool)

Anathema, A SORT OF HOMECOMING (KScope, 2015).  Blu-ray, DVD, and 2 CD book edition.  Recorded live at Liverpool Theater, March 7, 2015.  Film by Lasse Hoile.

Songs: The Lost Song, Part 2; Untouchable Parts 1 and 2; Thin Air; Dreaming Light; Anathema; Ariel; Electricity; Temporary Peace; The Beginning and the End; Distant Satellites; Take Shelter; Internal Landscapes; A Natural Disaster; and Fragile Dreams.

Anathema's latest live release, A SORT OF HOMECOMING. Nothing to do with U2, as far as I know.
Anathema’s latest live release, A SORT OF HOMECOMING. Nothing to do with U2, as far as I know.

I don’t think I could explain why, but I find myself always getting emotional when I think of Anathema.  Let me clarify.  I don’t weep or anything like that.  But, I find myself increasingly impossible to separate myself from the music of the band.  It grabs me—for better and for worse—at the deepest levels.  This said, I think UNIVERSAL is quite possibly the greatest concert film I’ve ever seen. And, I’ve seen quite a few.  And, I’ve seen quite a few brilliant ones.  So, this is not feint praise.  By no means.  UNIVERSAL never grows old.  The setting, the lighting, the intensity—all of it reaches towards the absolute heights of beauty, goodness, and truth.  The band just radiates integrity.

Continue reading “Anathema’s Latest Masterpiece: A Sort of Homecoming (Live, 2015, in Liverpool)”

RochaNews! Anathema’s SORT OF HOMECOMING

KSCOPE PRESENTS: ANATHEMA’S “A SORT OF HOMECOMING,” A CONCERT FILM BY LASSE HOILE FROM ANATHEMA’S LIVERPOOL CATHEDRAL SHOW
“A Sort of Homecoming” to be released on Blu-ray, 2CD + DVD-V, LP and digital download on October 30
ENGLAND – Anathema, one of the U.K.’s most cherished and critically acclaimed rock bands, will release a live Blu-ray/audio collection entitled A Sort of Homecoming on October 30 via Kscope. Directed by Lasse Hoile (Steven Wilson, Katatonia, Opeth),  A Sort  of  Homecoming is a stunning concert film of Anathema’s homecoming show on March 7, 2015 in the spectacular setting of the Liverpool Cathedral. The concert was described by Prog Magazine as “a once in a lifetime experience that words can barely do justice.”
“I’m really happy that this night in particular has been preserved,” commented Anathema guitarist/vocalist, Vincent Cavanagh. “As anyone from Liverpool will tell you, to be given the chance to play the Anglican Cathedral is monumental and a huge honor. The place is absolutely huge. Just look at the cover, it was like doing a gig in Erebor!”
Having previously worked with Anathema on the acclaimed Universal concert film, Lasse Hoile captured the 100 minute acoustic set in high definition against the sensational backdrop of Liverpool Cathedral. Featuring 15 songs selected from the albums Distant SatellitesWeather SystemsWe’re Here Because We’re HereA Natural Disaster and Alternative 4, the ‘Anathema Acoustic’ trio of Daniel Cavanagh, Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas were joined by rhythm section John Douglas and Jamie Cavanagh, alongside their very talented close friend David Wesling on cello who also played on Hindsight (2009) and A Moment In Time (2006). For this exclusive performance the band was also joined by the renowned violinist, Anna Phoebe, on a haunting rendition of “Anathema.” The audio has been produced and mixed by Christer-André Cederberg who worked on Distant SatellitesUniversal and Weather Systems, with the cover and booklet artwork featuring the stunning photography from the show and behind the scenes by long time collaborator Caroline Traitler. This is the first Anathema live release to feature a 5.1 audio mix, engineered by Bruce Soord.
Watch the concert trailer on YouTube at: http://youtu.be/C_6vNJcaPEc and Vimeo at: https://vimeo.com/137395636.
Kscope will release A Sort of  Homecoming as:
– 4 disc box set: 2 CD concert audio (100 mins), DVD with full concert plus an additional behind the scenes film “A Temporary Peace” and concert on Blu-ray disc. In a deluxe rigid media book with 36 page booklet, presented in a slipcase
– 2CD + DVD-V: The set features the full 100 minute audio and DVD-V of the concert with 5.1 audio mixed by The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord
– Blu-ray disc: The full 100 minute concert plus an additional behind the scenes film “A Temporary Peace” with 5.1 audio mixed by The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord
LP: A gatefold triple 180g black vinyl LP including MP3 download code
Digital: Concert audio only
All formats, excluding digital download, are available to pre-order via the Kscope web-store at: www.kscopemusic.com/store.
Anathema will continue to tour throughout the remainder of 2015. A full list of dates can be seen below.
1. The Lost Song Part 2
2. Untouchable Part 1
3. Untouchable Part 2
4. Thin Air
5. Dreaming Light
6. Anathema
7. Ariel
8. Electricity
9. Temporary Peace
10. The Beginning And The End
11. Distant Satellites
12. Take Shelter
13. Internal Landscapes
14. A Natural Disaster
15. Fragile Dreams
Forming in the mid-90s, Anathema has spent the vast majority of its career making music that defies description.With its star rising ever higher, Anathema returned in 2014 with Distant Satellites. The new studio album showcased another imperious forward step into the realm of miraculous song writing. It has proved to be the band’s most widely acclaimed and celebrated record reaching #32 in the U.K. charts with the likes of The Guardian (UK), Metal Hammer (UK /DE), Kerrang (UK), Classic Rock (UK/DE), Prog Magazine (UK), Aardschok (NL), Rock Hard (DE), Rolling Stone (Aus) heaping praise on the album.
Anathema has been at the forefront of the U.K. rock/metal movement since its inception, influencing a myriad of bands to follow. What began as a pioneering journey of melodic heavy music has outgrown all genres and limitations, fearlessly exploring new territory and new ways to express feeling through sound.
Stay tuned for more information on Anathema and A Sort of Homecoming, out this fall on Kscope.
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Anathema live…
8/31 – Tokyo, Japan @ Liquid Room
9/01 – Tokyo, Japan @ Liquid Room
9/05 – Sao Paulo, Brazil @ Overload Music Festival
9/07 – Porto Alegre, Brazil @ Opiniao (w/ Paradise Lost)
9/08 – Rio, Brazil @ Circo Voador (w/ Paradise Lost)
9/11 – Atlanta, GA, USA @ Prog Power Festival
10/01 – Moscow, Russia @ Volta
10/02 – Minsk, Russia @ Re:Public
10/03 – St Petersburg, Russia @ Avrora
10/23 – Christchurch, NZ @ Dux Live
10/24 – Auckland, NZ @ Kings Arms
10/27 – Adelaide, AUS @ The Gov
10/29 – Brisbane, AUS @ Triffid
10/30 – Sydney, AUS @ Metro Theatre
10/31 – Melbourne, AUS @ Corner Hotel
11/01 – Perth, AUS @ Rosemount Hotel
11/04 – Manchester, UK @ Manchester Cathedral
11/05 – Paris, France @ Église Saint-Eustache (acoustic)
11/06 – Bochum, Germany (acoustic)
11/07 – Leipzig, Germany @ Täubchenthal (acoustic)
11/09 – Utrecht, Netherlands @ TivoliVredenburg
11/10 – Mannheim, Germany @ Capitol (acoustic)
11/11 – Sofia, Bulgaria @ Royal Bulgaria Hall (acoustic)
11/15 – 11/19 – Miami, FL, USA @ Cruise To The Edge (http://cruisetotheedge.com)
Anathema online…

http://www.kscopemusic.com/artists/anathema/

Billy Reeves Strikes Again!

Kscope, Podcast 56, and Billy Reeves.
Kscope, Podcast 56, and Billy Reeves.

I must happily admit, every month I really look forward to iTunes informing me that a new Billy Reeves/Kscope Podcast has arrived in my podcast box (“area”? I have no idea what it’s called–something in iTunes).  This month’s–no. 56–is especially good.

http://www.kscopemusic.com/Podcasts/

Make sure you check it out.  It features music and news from Lunatic Soul, NAO, Iamthemorning, Anathema, and Steven Wilson.

The Sadly Decaying Orbit of Anathema: Distant Satellites Fails

[Review of Anathema, Distant Satellites (Kscope, 2014). Reviewed from digital files and without liner notes or lyrics.]

anathema-distant-satellitesNOT RECOMMENDED.

I would give much either to have the opportunity to write a different review or avoid writing a review of this album altogether. The latter is my usual M.O. when I don’t like something or when I think something is subpar. Though other progarchists would justly and properly disagree with me on this issue, I think it important to spend our time writing and thinking about beautiful things. Life is simply too short to waste on mud, muck, and decay, and art is too precious and rare to squander or abuse it.

Also, simply put, I’m not good at writing about things I don’t like. I would also guess that spending time with things that are poor or corrupt damage my soul (and yours) irreparably.

But, I can neither ignore the new Anathema nor write a positive review of it without being dishonest. Distant Satellites is not corrupt, but it is, for the band, sub par. I wish Anathema would have taken more time with the writing of this album or simply have taken time off for a rest. Or, perhaps, the band could have released just a few of the best songs as an EP rather than as a full-fledged album.  As an album, it can’t hold together.

A year ago, if someone had asked me to discuss the present state of rock music, I would have sung the praises of Big Big Train and The Tangent, correctly claiming that each band was reach so far and attaining so much that they were very close to becoming untouchable. 2014 wouldn’t change this assessment. BBT and The Tangent are not only at the very top of their game, they are at the very top of THE game. Outside of North American bands (I’m intentionally excluding Rush and Glass Hammer), I would have gladly said that Cosmograf and Anathema were so close to untouchable as to be nearly at the level of the top two. 2014, thus far, has drastically changed the prog landscape. Whereas Cosmograf has moved into the top three with its new masterpiece, Capacitor, Distant Satellites reveals a broken or, at best, wounded, decaying Anathema.

How different a year ago was. Looking at the trajectory of Anathema—from A Natural Disaster to Universal—I would have placed good money on the rise of the band. Well, not really, I think gambling is a waste of time and money. But, you get the idea. I mean, really, Universal has to be one of the best live albums of the rock era. In terms of intensity and significance, this was a band with everything. While I would not have rated the two lead vocalists of Anathema—Vincent Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas—at the level of, say, David Longdon, Susie Bogdanowicz, or Leah McHenry, they would be close.

As mentioned above, I really wish I could write a different review for the new album. I have now listened to Distant Satellites close to a dozen times in hopes of coming to love it. Every listen, though, only makes realize how poor it is compared to their previous releases. Not that it’s terrible. Overall, it’s ok, but it’s, unfortunately, not much better than ok. I find myself wanting to skip through almost every song. There are two exceptions to this. Track Four, “Ariel,” has to be one of the single best songs Anathema has ever written.

The second best song on the album, “Distant Satellites,” is fascinating, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I’m fairly sure that if I allowed 100 dedicated prog fans to listen to it for the first time without giving them a single piece of information about the track, 75 to 90 of them would claim it to be a never-before-recorded track from Radiohead’s Kid A sessions. Indeed, I won’t be totally surprised when my physical copy finally arrives from the UK, if the liner notes reveal that Thom Yorke actually wrote the track and sang lead vocals on it. It’s one thing to pay homage to an exemplar, it’s a very different thing to mimic them. I really don’t know what to make of all of this, or why Anathema decided to pursue the course it did.

I really wish I could proclaim Distant Satellites to be the finest work yet by Anathema. I would be lying, though.

If you’re an Anathema or Kscope completest, buy this. Otherwise, I simply can’t recommend it. Other than tracks 4 and 9 and, possibly, 10, it’s not worth the price. Purchasing it would be kind of like putting stock in the Skylab project a few days before it crashed into Australia.

Let’s all hope the band’s followup puts them back into orbit.