As many of you have probably noticed, there’s no SOUNDSTREAM column this weekend.
Our beloved Craig Breaden has been posting them now for exactly 2 years–104 total, one per Sunday. They’ve been extraordinary. In fact, Craig’s not capable of doing anything halfway. He’s just as extraordinary as his posts and writing. Crisp, adventurous, imaginative, integrity–all words that describe Craig.
After 104 episodes, Craig is taking a well-deserved vacation with his family.
It’s rather hard for me not to feel a twinge of nostalgia as I think back a quarter of a century. Through my great friends, Craig Breaden, Joel Haskard, and Kevin McCormick, I was discovering a world of neo-psychedelic pop. Lush, organic, voluptuous. The Sundays, Catherine Wheel, The Charlatans, House of Love, Mazzy Star, Jane’s Addiction, and the Cocteau Twins were in full (and fulsome!) form. Phish, Smashing Pumpkins, and Lush were about to hit it big, though I really had no idea just how big they would hit.
Even old mainstays such as The Cure and XTC were releasing some of their best material at the same time.
The Gift, WHY THE SEA IS SALT (Bad Elephant Music, 2016). Tracks: At Sea; Sweeper of Dreams; Tuesday’s Child; The Tallest Tree; All These Things; and Ondine’s Song.
Talk about mythic. The Gift has given us a love song to the vast world of the oceans. Well, “love” might be too strong. There’s love here, to be sure, but there’s also fear and mystery and more than a bit of properly understood awe.
Finding myself quite taken with this most recent release, I keep feeling waves of nostalgia for the first time my great friend, Craig Breaden, introduced me to real Procol Harum—not the Procol Harum of the top 40, but Procol Harum in all of the band’s art rock glory. Yes, The Gift talk about “Salty Dogs”, but it’s far more than this lyrical reference that calls me back to my first moments with that Procol Harum album, more than a quarter of a century ago, now.
Partly, it’s the flow of the album.
Partly, it’s the intelligence of the lyrics.
And, partly, it’s the whimsy that mixes so well with gravity—not an easy skill for any lyricist.
And, there’s another fantastic aspect to this album—the flow of the music perfectly follows the flow of an ocean journey. How The Gift accomplished this so ably, I’m not sure. But, every instrument—whether the keys, the bass (love the bass playing on this album; absolutely love it), the voice, or the guitar—leads to the next one, always playing nicely as it trades off the focus, one to the next. The effect is an usual and compelling flow for the listener as he (or she!) journeys from one wave to the next.
Twenty-five years ago this fall, progarchist editor Craig Breaden and I were in Waterloo Records, Austin, Texas. There it was on the shelves—the final Talk Talk album, LAUGHING STOCK, in all of its James Marsh-esque glory. Of course, I purchased it as quickly as possible. After all, it had just come out, and Craig and I were living in pre-internet days in northern Utah. We had a music store nearby, but however good it was—and, frankly, it was pretty good—it wouldn’t have dreamt of carrying anything by a band so strange as Talk Talk.
So fortunate we were at a history conference in Texas at the same moment as LAUGHING STOCK’s release.
Craig and I were not only officemates and apartment mates, but we were best friends and music mates. How many hours flew by with Craig and I devouring music—old and new—and then discussing and analyzing every bit of it. I still cherish these nights and even weekend-days as some of the best of my life. Though I’d grown up in a house that respected nearly every form of music, I had never been introduced to some of the great psychedelic and experimental rock acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unless it was by Yes, Genesis, or Jethro Tull, I really didn’t know it. Craig played Procol Harum, Soft Machine, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic for me. I fell in love with each. As the time Craig and I (and another close friend, Joel) were spending so much time together, the music scene itself was going through a bit of a psychedelic revival—with World Party, Charlatans, and others—and this only added to our excitement.
As soon as we returned from Austin, I recorded the full album of LAUGHING STOCK on each side of a double-sided TDK cassette and enthusiastically played this tape over and over and over and over. . . . Even though Craig and I had shared many enthusiasms with each other, this obsession with Talk Talk seemed more than a bit too enthusiastic to Craig.
By sheer force of will, I fear, Craig had to accept this or our friendship would suffer! Of course, here we are, a quarter of a century later, still very close friends and co-editors of progarchy. . . . You know the story ended well.
For nearly thirty years, I instantly answered the question of “what is your favorite band” with Talk Talk and Rush. If pushed a bit more, I would add Tears for Fears and, depending on my mood, Genesis or Yes or XTC. This rote answer became almost proudly knee-jerk on my part.
When challenged about this opinion, I rather haughtily pointed to THE COLOUR OF SPRING, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and LAUGHING STOCK. After all, who could top fourteen months a shot, recording in dark, deserted churches, challenging every single bit of corporate conformity in the music business.
Mark Hollis, Tim-Friese-Green, and Phill Brown were not just three more musicians in the industry, they lingered as demi-gods at the very edge of Valhalla itself, ready to release Ragnoräk at any moment. And, power to them! As far as I was concerned, the music industry needed and deserved a revolution.
Recently, I’ve realized that Talk Talk no longer holds top spot in my mind when it comes to bands (Big Big Train has finally replaced Talk Talk in my mind and in my soul), but it will always be in the top three for me. For too many years, Talk Talk was my go-to band, my comfort and my first love in the world of music. To this day—and, I presume, to the end of my days—the final three albums the band made will always be the three by which I judge every other release in the music world. Few albums or bands, then or now, can measure up to such heights. But, such is my mind and soul.
Part II to come soon. . . . In the meantime, enjoy 19 minutes of Hollis talking about LAUGHING STOCK.
A few days ago, I felt absolutely snarky and thought, “why not write down exactly what I think of music from the 1980s.” In some ways, I feel I have the right to do this in a manner I could never do for any other decade.
After all, I was in seventh grade when a very disturbed fanboy tried to kill the fortieth president, and I was a first-semester senior in college when the Berlin Wall came down.
Yes, I’m very much a man of the 1980s. Reagan, Rush, Blade Runner. . . how I remember the 1980s. I came of age in that rather incredible decade.
Life continued after 1989, however, though I wasn’t so sure at the time that it would.
1990 proved to be one of the most interesting years in my personal life when it came to career choices as well as to music.
The chances are quite good that you’re not reading this post because you want to know my career choices or why I made them. So, I’ll confine myself to the music that I loved that year.
I owe almost all of my good fortune to three very great guys, Ron Strayer (now, a high up with Microsoft), Kevin McCormick (now, justly, a progarchy editor), and Craig Breaden (now, happily, one of progarchy’s editors). Ron introduced me to what would very soon be called “alternative” but was then being called “college rock” or “modern rock.” Kevin sent me recommendations, including the rather insistent demand to purchase cds by World Party and The Sundays. And, finally, Craig introduced me not only to neo-psychedelia but also to psychedelia from its original age. It was Craig who introduced me to Van Morrison, Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, and Traffic.
I’d loved prog and New Wave all of my 22 years at that point, but my vision was pretty limited to only these genres by the end of 1989. Well, this isn’t quite accurate. I also knew classical and jazz fairly well.
With the help of three friends, 1990 opened up huge musical vistas for me in the non-jazz, non-classic genres.
Richard Thompson, as a part of French Frith Kaiser Thompson, wrote two of the best songs I’ve ever: “Peppermint Rock” and “The Killing Jar.” Folk acid psychedelia by guys who had been there before there was a need for a revival.
Suzanne Vega’s third album, DAYS OF OPEN HAND, came out that year, and it’s still one of my favorite albums. Vega has always produced gorgeous pop and folk in the vein of XTC and others. If this is pop, it’s very high pop. Importantly, she never became political like so many of her counterparts. Rather, she gracefully let the music and lyrics remain art. Her breathy vocals–weird and yet captivating–only add to her appeal.
Echo and the Bunnymen’s almost totally forgotten and (when remembered) maligned album, REVERBERATION, is a slice of pop-rock perfection. Yes, it’s missing Ian McCulloch, but this only lets Will Sergeant soar. Frankly, their sound hit its height with OCEAN RAIN and fell flat on the follow-up album. This one, REVERBERATION, reveals an effective rebirth of the band. The new vocalist, while not possessing the cancerous gravel of McCulloch’s voice, captures the spirit of the lyrics perfectly. Word play and cliché become clever and, indeed, addictive. There’s not a dud song on the album, but the employment of psychedelic Indian musicians really works rather perfectly on “Enlighten Me” and on the Doorish “Flaming Red.” The former is one of the finest songs the band ever wrote.
Mazzy Star. Hardly anyone remembers this California psychedelic folk and navel-gazing band that emerged from the underground band, Opal. Too bad–as 1990’s SHE HANGS BRIGHTLY is a thing of disturbing beauty. Walls of sound, clever lyrics, and earnest production make this album a masterpiece of the neo-psych revival.
“Is it too late, baby?” World Party. What to say about this about that hasn’t been said by a million others? While Karl Wallinger continues to make interesting music (despite severe health problems), he really threw every thing his soul possessed into GOODBYE JUMBO. From the crazy Beatle-sque cover to the basement production, this is a gem. All of the songs work very well, though they rarely reach beyond simple Beatle’s pop. Taken as a whole, however, this is a prog-pop album. Not that the individual songs are prog. They’re not even close. But, imagine a really, really, really clever Paul McCartney reworking side 2 of Abbey Road. Then, you’d have GOODBYE JUMBO. Thank you, world, indeed.
The Sundays. Ok, so the lead singer is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. This doesn’t hurt my opinion of the band. But, really, it’s her voice. That voice. How to describe it? There are no words, really, that could capture it. She’s playful. She’s earnest. She’s flirtatious. She’s so utterly sincere. Oh, Harriet. At one time, you were my Beatrice. Her husband, David Gavurin, knows exactly how to write music to match his wife’s voice. What a team. And, they did the album merely for the fun of it, which makes it even more enjoyable. If you don’t own this or if you’ve never heard of The Sundays, treat yourself. You’ll never regret this purchase. Promise.
Charlatans UK. SOME FRIENDLY. I know next to nothing about this band, but I absolutely dug their sound when Ron introduced them to me. I’d never quite heard drumming like this (though, The Cure would use the exact same style on their 1991 album, WISH). The drums, the keyboards, and the bass make this one of the most interesting albums I’ve ever heard it. While I wouldn’t place it up there with the previous albums I’ve mentioned in terms of outright excellence and staying power, it’s still really good.
House of Love. Album title? I’m not sure, as there’s none listed. Just the band’s name with a butterfly. Some of the album fails, but when it works, it works in a stellar fashion. The album is worth owning for the first two tracks alone—”Hannah” and “Shine On”—which really blend into one continuous 10-minute track. Great build up and perfect execution on these two songs. From what little I know of the band, they were a bunch of really raucous and idiotic druggies. Still, some amazing talent there.
Cocteau Twins, HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS. The best for last? I’m not sure, but, sheesh, do I love this album. Aside from LOVELESS by My Bloody Valentine, no album reaches as close to shoe-gaze perfection as does HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS. This album simply never ages. It’s so weird and yet so continuously captivating. I assume the artsts behind Cocteau Twins wield some special instrument to speed up or delay time, but I can’t verify this. Listening to this album is NEVER a casual experience. It demands full immersion, but you re-emerge not as one drowned but as one baptized.
Just in case you ever wondered what the editors of Progarchy did before Progarchy (or, even the internet!) existed, here is a rare glimpse into the early life of editor Craig Breaden. Taken in the Rockies, somewhere near the Utah-Idaho-Wyoming border. Ca. 1991. Photo by yours truly–BB, ed.
Just when I thought spring might have sprung in Michigan, vernal verities hit hard. Upon arising from my heavy slumbers, I have looked out the window to discover there’s a fresh layer of snow upon everything. Old Tom was right: April is the cruelest month.
Some great things happening in the world of music, especially as interests the citizens of progarchy. So, in no order discernable to me:
John Bassett, Integrity’s Minstrel, continues to receive nothing but excellent reviews for his solo album, Unearth. Not surprisingly.
Andy Tillison reports the first version of the new The Tangent album is done and will be released early next year by Insideout Music.
Also, don’t forget that Andy is selling much of his excellent back catalogue through his online website. To purchase, go here: http://thetangent.org [navigate through a couple of pages; it’s worth it]
Our own lovely metal maid, Leah McHenry, has just raised the full $25,000 of her Indiego campaign. And, even three days early of her goal. Congratulations to Leah! We’re extremely proud of her. And, of course, we’re looking forward to the followup to her spectacular Otherworld.
The ever-interesting Mike Kershaw is about to release his next album. We very much look forward to it as well.
PROG magazine, edited by the incomparable Jerry Ewing, will now be distributed in physical form throughout North America.
The Black Vines, heavy rockers, from the Sheffield area of England, have just released their second album, Return of the Splendid Bastards. It’s some great, great rock. To download or purchase the physical CD, go here: http://blackvines.bandcamp.com
The Reasoning is offering some really nice bundles at their online webstore:
You may also have noticed that our website has been updated. We have had a clear-out, done a major restructure and completely rebuilt the shop. Rob, our ivory tickler, has done a splendid job and we here at Comet HQ are extremely grateful to him. You will find the new shop stocked to the hilt with a bunch of wonderful new discounted “bundles” plus new individual items and, of course, the usual shop fair. There may even be some copies of CDs that have not been available for a very long time (wink, wink). Your shopping experience is now going to be quicker AND simpler. Win! Have a look at what’s available and treat yourself… because you’re worth it.
From a few hints offered, it appears that Arjen Lucassen is deep into his next project. His legions of fans can collectively sigh, “amen.”
The new Cosmograf, Capacitor, is done, and from the trailer, it looks nothing short of spectacular. Indeed, when it comes to watching this video, I might have an addiction problem. “Hello, my name is Brad Birzer, and I’m a Cosmografaholic.” Righteously ominous. To watch (and you should, repeatedly), go here: https://progarchy.com/2014/04/01/capacitor-the-amazing-spirit-capture/
I’m very happy to announce that within the quasi-anarchical structure of progarchy, Craig Breaden has achieved the rank of editor! This comes with a Vorpal Blade and an additional 17 hit points. Craig has been a close friend of mine since 1990, and he first introduced me to some of the greatest music of the late 1960s and 1970s, especially to much of the best rock not found in what’s typically called progressive or new wave. From Spooky Tooth to Richard Thompson to Newspaperflyhunting and everything in between, Craig throws himself into reviewing, always revealing equal depths of intellect, humanity, and grace in his articles. He is a real treasure in the world of music. He’s also, importantly, a professional sound archivist, as well as a devoted father and husband. He’s a hard guy not to love and respect.
Nemo Dre finally revealed to me his real name.
Burning Shed is now selling Suzanne Vega’s music. This is very cool and speaks well of both Vega and Burning Shed.