THE VOID: Working on the Second Birzer Bandana Album

image1As some of you might remember, fellow progarchist Dave Bandanna (of the English prog band, Salander) graciously asked me a year ago to write lyrics for a new band/project, called Birzer Bandana.  We released that album, BECOMING ONE, earlier this year.

I’ve now written the lyrics for the second album–a concept album revolving around the mystery of a man trapped somewhere and in some way on a starship heading into a black hole. As with the first album, this new one explores existential questions of life, love, loss, and hope. For better or worse, these are themes I, personally, can’t escape, and, frankly, it’s really healthy for me to write them down in lyric form.

Dave just sent me a working version of the 14-minute track, “The Void.” To my mind, this is Dave’s best craftsmanship as a composer.

To write “I’m excited” would be the grand understatement of the day. Dave’s work is nothing short of brilliant.  I’ll be equally excited to share it with everyone someday. . . .

Birzer Bandana’s First Album Reviewed

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Mark Naida of Hillsdale College has written a beautiful review of Birzer Bandana’s first album, BECOMING ONE.  Thank you,  Mark!

Theology, intellectual rock, and the liberal arts — these are three main elements of the debut album by Birzer Bandana, a collaboration between progressive rock musician Dave Smith and Hillsdale College Professor of History Bradley Birzer.

Birzer provided the concept and lyrics, and Smith wrote the music for the seven-song progressive rock album “Becoming One,” which was released on Spotify, Bandcamp, and iTunes March 18.

Progressive rock seeks to combine the formal elements of classical music while also embracing the eclectic side of rock and roll music, according to music critic Lucas Biela of progarchives.com.

“Rock bands like the Rolling Stones wanted to show pure emotion in their music. Prog is a more intellectual genre that shares ideas,” Birzer said.

To read the full review, please go here: http://hillsdalecollegian.com/2017/04/birzer-bandana-ties-together-science-fiction-apocalyptic-poetry-british-prog-rock/

A Love of Lingering: Salander’s STENDEC (2014)

A review of Salander, “STENDEC” (2014, independent release). Tracks: Pearls Upon a Crown; Book of Lies; Ever After; Hypothesis 11/8; Situation Disorientation; Controlled Flight Into Terrain; and Zeitgeist. Total time: 65 minutes.  Recommendation: HIGHEST; MUST OWN

Salander's second album of 2014: STENDEC.  Even better than the amazing first album.
Salander’s second album of 2014: STENDEC. Even better than the amazing first album.

From the moment I first heard “CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT” by Salander, I knew I not only loved the music, but I also knew I would love the musicians as well.

And, so it came to pass.

A rather significant part of my 2014 has been the sheer joy of getting to know Dave Smith, one of the two Daves who make up Salander. Sadly, I’ve not had the chance to get to know Dave Curnow, the other Dave, but I trust the judgment of the first Dave. So, per my respect of Dave, Dave must also be great.

Ok, now I’m getting confused.

There are a thousand things to appreciate about Salander. First, the level of professional artistry is as good as it gets. The two Daves not only play each of the instruments on the album, they do so with elegance and perfectionism.

Second, the lyrics move and flow powerfully as an integral part of the entire art. These are not add ons, nor are they the rock equivalent of an “um” or an “err”: “baby, baby.” No, these are fine, deep, thoughtful words integrated with the notes and the lines.

Salander and the two Daves: Words, notes, lines.

Third, Salander are willing to linger. That is, they take their time to build their art, to build anticipation, and to explore an idea. Rushed, hurried, and superficial are not descriptions applicable to anything this extraordinary band does.

Beginning with Spirit of Eden-esque sounds of nature, cries, pings, wind, and waves, the opening track, “Pearls Upon a Crown,” lingers and hovers for almost six full minutes.  Very Talk Talkish, it also reminds me of the best of Pure Reason Revolution and Spiritualized. Space rock atmospherics at its best. A gorgeous Gilmour-like guitar comes at 2.59 into the music, but no vocals emerge until 5.57.

The words open with a Socratic moment: “Can you feel the power.” Essentially, the Daves ask, how far can you allow your imagination to soar? And, will you trust your deepest and best part to another?

Regardless of style, Salander has invited you into their art.  The choice to enter is yours.  But, once you’ve accepted, there’s no turning back.  Indeed, no mere sprinkling or christening here.  They demand full immersion.

The second track, a bitter folkish wall of sound tale of deception, is as epic as the first track. At 11 minutes, “The Book of Lies” again shows Salander at its most diverse and epic. 

The third track, a much sweeter (or so it seems, musically) take on life and music, “Ever After,” takes us back to the end of “Pearls.” Who do you trust, and how far are you willing to trust that person with what matters most to you?

Not surprisingly given its title, “Hypothesis 11/8,” the fourth track is instrumental and serves as the perfect interlude for this rather heavy album. The first minute has a Vangelis feel to it, and it could certainly serve as the cinematic soundscape to much of Blade Runner. The final three minutes of the four-minute track allow the two Daves to demonstrate their excellence at drums, bass, and guitar. This is really prog at its finest. Listening to this track for the twentieth time or so, I’m still reminded of Cosmograf in terms of expertise and craft.

“Situation disorientation,” the fifth track, follows the interlude with more atmospherics slowly resolving into an angsty and contemplative space rock song, pulsating and pounding by its end. The lyrics swirl around a love affair gone terribly wrong, with the protagonist plagued with guilt, pride, and doubt.

The longest song of the album, “Controlled Flight Into Terrain,” comes in at just under fourteen minutes. The Daves have broken it into four sections, the name of the album coming from section three, STENDEC. Interestingly enough, STENDEC was the last word coming from a Chilean plane that mysteriously disappeared in 1947. Over the last seventy years, STENDEC has become synonymous with UFO abduction. The story and riddle of the word fits perfectly with the themes of the album: confusion, gravitas, and loss. Section III, STENDEC, is perfectly creepy, spooky, and claustrophobic.  It gives me chills with every listen.

The album concludes with “Zeitgeist,” a tune that could have come out of the best of rock’s moment of New Wave in the early 1980s and the walls of sound of the end of that decade. As with Salander songs, the vocals are captivating, demanding the full attention of the listener. The song’s lyrics deal with the mystery of time and the loss of the past without surety of the future. Rather brilliantly, Salander presents a wall of sound, full of anxiety, with heavy but tasteful guitar and a lush angelic background soundscape.  Of all the songs here, this is the most reminiscent of the best of their first album.

I’ve had a copy of STENDEC for almost two months, and I’m sorry I’ve not had the chance to review it before now. But, it’s an incredibly important album, and it deserves as much attention as possible, inside and outside of the prog community. Without question, this is one of the best albums of the year. No person who loves prog or music should not include this in her or his collection. Certainly, a must own.

STENDEC also caught me by surprise, coming out so closely following the release of CRASH COURSE. I gave CRASH COURSE my highest recommendation. Amazingly enough, STENDEC is even better, as it’s even deeper and more coherent as an album. Even after 20 or so listens, I’m still stunned by its excellence and the ability to draw me into and immerse myself in the album. While I don’t want to seem greedy, it would be an understatement to state: I can’t wait to see what album three will bring.

To order it, please go here.

Walls of Permeable Sound: Salander Roars

Salander's 2014 album, Crash Course for Dessert.
Salander’s 2014 album, Crash Course for Dessert.

Just a little over a month ago, while interviewing for a one-year visiting professorship at a rather glorious Rocky Mountain university, I received an email from the U.K. from someone named Dave Smith of a new prog band called “Salander.” I could never explain why rationally, but I knew I liked Dave immediately. I’m sure having a momentary email break from intensive interviews and breathing in the fresh air of my beloved American West didn’t hurt my mood. That Dave is equally a fan of Big Big Train certainly didn’t displease me, either.

Well, one thing led to another. We corresponded a bit, Dave sent me a link to his new album, and I asked him to become a progarchist. You might have read his several pieces he’s already posted here. He’s a great writer and reviewer, and I’m very glad to have him as a citizen of the republic of progarchy. “Very” isn’t nearly a strong enough descriptive, but you get the point.

Well, let me state definitely, Dave’s album, “Crash Course for Dessert,” will almost certainly make into my top 10 for 2014 and probably my top 5. Holy schnikees this is amazing stuff.

I don’t know where the name came from, but Salader is the last name of the fictional character in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson. I assume this is the connection, but don’t take this as gospel.

As it turns out—much to my shock—Salander is only two guys, each named Dave. Dave Curnow and Dave Smith. Here’s the official writeup:

Influences. 
Everything is influenced by something else and that creates something different. 
Dave C loves the blues and Guitar influenced rock. Led Zeppelin to Devin Townsend. 
Dave S loves Prog from early Genesis to Big Big Train and Glass Hammer. 
They both love the music of Pink Floyd and the lyrics of Jon Anderson. Salander was born at the start of 2013.The two Daves have been work colleagues and friends for years and had been playing in a rock /blues band that played covers. The two Daves started to write some originals. Dave S wrote the music and Dave C the lyrics. After leaving the band they started to record some of these songs in Dave S’s home studio. The tracks were recorded layer by layer starting with either a drum pattern or a chord sequence. Lyrics would then be written by Dave C or drawn from his vast collections of poems and songs written over the years. In September 2013 the concept came together for Crash Course For Dessert and recording took 3 months. Dave S took a further 6 weeks to mix and master the album.
 Due to financial constraint and the fact there are only the two of them, there are no plans to play live, although it can not be written out entirely.
They are now working on the follow up to Crash Course For Dessert.

Dave Curnow. 
Lyrics. 
Lead Guitars. Rhythm Guitars. 
Lead Vocal on Ground Proximity Warning and Take Me away

Dave Smith. 
Music. 
Keyboards. Bass. Drum Programming. Rhythm Guitars. Spanish Guitars. 
Lead Vocal on all songs except Ground Proximity Warning.

Well, ok. Feel free to take a moment to digest all of that. . . .

There’s nothing quite like wearing one’s influences on one’s sleeves. This seems especially true for two English guys named Dave. As I glory in the sheer aural pleasures of this album, I hear elements of Big Big Train, Cosmograf, Talk Talk, World Party, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, as well as Trevor Horn’s early 1980’s production style and Thomas Dolby’s funk period (this was the most shocking element of the album!). And, yet, in the end, as with almost any great art, the album very much belongs to Salander. Three things tie together all of its various styles and fusions—a wall of sound, an earnest maturity of lyrics and music, and a lot of psychedelia.

The first time I listened to the album, I thought, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” The second time, I thought, “Wow, that’s really, really interesting.” On the third listen, it hit me what they were doing.  And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with true words to match my feelings for this album. On the fourth and all subsequent listens, I’ve just simply and immeasurably enjoyed the flow of it all, taking it for the beautiful thing it is.

While I very much like all nine tracks, the standouts for me are Track 4, “Desert Sands,” a Cosmografic space tune; Track 7, “Take Me Away,” a Dead Can Dance mid-1990s tune with plaintive haunting poetry masquerading as lyrics; and Track 9, “Princess,” the perfect conclusion to a mesmerizing album, revealing some intriguing theological and existential symbolism.

I have only two criticisms of the album, neither of which really amount to much. First, I wish the mix would have increased the volume of the vocals a smidgeon. While no one will regard either Dave as possessing a “beautiful” voice, their vocals are excellent, and each vocalist knows what his abilities and limits are, vocally, and utilizes them wonderfully. As the mix stands, the vocals essentially serve as another instrument—but they deserve a bit more.

Second, I wish that the two Daves would have linked and meshed all of the tracks, one into another, with no silence between them. While I think “Crash Course” could be one song with nine parts, I also think it might have worked best as three songs with three parts each. The one really funky track, “Make Me Dance,” which feels like a Trevor Horn 12-inch remix from 1982, would feel a bit more integrated.

These, however, are nothing but very minor thoughts. The more I listen to the album, the less these two criticisms make sense.

So, in conclusion—check these guys out. Check them out now!  “Crash Course for Dessert” is an outstanding album that deserves to be widely heard and distributed. A real joy.

To purchase their music (at any price), go here: http://salander.bandcamp.com/album/crash-course-for-dessert

Rick Wakeman Live, April 24, 2014: A Review

by Dave Smith
wakeman 40th
Rick Wakeman. Journey To The Centre Of The Earth.  Newcastle City Hall. 24th April 2014
***
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth has been played live in the UK on three occasions. Once at Crystal Palace and twice at the Festival Hall London. It was here that the recording was made that went on to sell 15,000,000 copies. So tonight was the fourth time it had been played and the first time in it’s newly extended version due to Rick finding the old manuscript with the music that had been left off the original recording.

There was an air of expectancy from the mainly older looking crowd gathered to pay homage. The stage looked amazing with Ricks’ keyboard bank taking centre stage. The organ pipes at the back looked down on the seating for the orchestra and choir and a large chair was positioned for the narrator.

At 8.00pm prompt, Rick casually walked onto the stage dressed in a two piece suit. The audience responded and seemed to put him at ease. The was a Roland Piano set up at the front of stage and Rick went on to tell us who had influenced and encouraged him in the early days. These included Cat Stevens and David Bowie, so we got renditions of Morning Has Broken and Life on Mars. After forty minutes of humour and music, Rick left the stage and soon after the orchestra and choir started to filter on. Then the lights dimmed and on came Rick in white t shirt and trousers and the most magnificent silver sequin cape. Thus began our Journey.

The sound was crystal clear and the playing was impeccable. The strings and the brass shone through and the choir added an extra texture. They played the whole thing straight through. You could hear a pin drop during the quiet bits as the audience seemed transfixed. But as the build up to Hall of the Mountain King and the final closing notes approached the crowd were ready to jump to their feet to show their appreciation of such an outstanding piece of music.

Rick was overwhelmed by the support. I think he wasn’t too sure how the reaction was going to be, but he needn’t have been worried

For an encore they played some music from Return to the Centre of the Earth and then the final Hall section again, this time with rick out front duelling with the guitar player with Rick playing his over the shoulder synth guitar.

Another standing ovation then he was gone. A wonderful evening of nostalgia and superb music. If you are in two minds as to whether to get a ticket for the remaining shows… I say see it while you can. You won’t be disappointed.

 

[Dave is a great Englishman from Durham.  He’s also a member of the progressive rock band, Salander.  We’re very proud to have him write for progarchy–ed.]