Progarchy’s End of Summer Round Up

There has been a lot of quality prog released this summer. Overall I’d say there isn’t as much top tier level stuff (i.e., albums that rank with some of the best ever made in the genre), but there have been a lot of solid albums worthy of your attention released lately. This list won’t be exhaustive, but it should be a good starting point for people looking for some new music. Order is completely arbitrary. Ok maybe this first one is at the top for a reason.

Nad Sylvan – The Regal Bastard

Steve Hackett’s touring vocalist released his best solo album to date this summer. It is a little more accessible than the first two albums in the Vampirate trilogy, but it retains some of the same themes and motifs. Sylvan has a lot of talent, and this album stands above the crowd this summer. If you only listen to one album off this list, choose this one. And check out my interview with Nad from earlier this summer: https://progarchy.com/2019/06/30/the-vampirate-speaks-a-conversation-with-nad-sylvan/

Tool – Fear Inoculum

I’ve only ever passively listened to Tool, but I found this album to be quite good. Was it worth the wait for diehard Tool fans? I’m not sure, but this is a solid album that is heavy without being overpowering. Check out Rick Krueger’s review: https://progarchy.com/2019/09/01/tool-fear-inoculum/

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District 97, Screens

Impossibly sick drum groove by Jonathan Schang: check.  Heavy unison guitar/bass riff from Jim Tashijan and Tim Seisser: check.  “Yep, that’s District 97. Now where was I?”

But then new keyboardist Andrew Lawrence joins in, steering opener “Forest Fire” in a head-snapping direction with cool, jazzy chords.  Cue Leslie Hunt, riding a thrilling vocal line over a cascade of progressions and textures  — including off-kilter breakdowns from Lawrence and Schang.  By the time the track climaxes with a powerhouse unison lick (all in under five minutes), my head’s where it belongs — in the music.

Screens feels like a fresh start for District 97.  The Chicago quintet’s trademarks — Hunt’s lush tone and oblique, syncopated melodies, Tashijan and Seisser’s thick crunch and odd-time riffage, Schang’s lateral ideas and heady polyrhythms — are all present, correct and on point.  But to me, Lawrence is the secret ingredient that’s taken them to a new level, bringing a love of jazz fusion and a rich sense of harmony to the party.

This edition of the band isn’t afraid to take chances with the new tunes — leaving more space, leaning into dynamic contrast, unexpectedly launching skittery, Zappaesque flurries of noise.  Which enables shorter tracks like “Sea I Provide”, “Trigger” and “Blueprint” to cover lots of ground, and the extended efforts “Sheep”, “Bread & Yarn” and “Ghost Girl” to feel like genuine epics. Everybody contributes to the writing and all the players solo — which makes the overall sound more unified and more expansive at the same time.

And all this gives Leslie Hunt more room to run than ever.  It’s hard to think of a vocalist in progressive music with so many tools at her disposal: a gutsy, versatile sound and technique; deeply expressive emotional range; a fertile, eclectic imagination powering her melodies and lyrics.  On Screens, Hunt simultaneously sounds fully unleashed and fully integrated into the band.  Focusing on the lyrical theme of isolation (self-inflicted in “Sheep” and “Shapeshifter”, imposed by others in “Trigger” and “Ghost Girl”), she makes a meal of it: throughout the album, she reacts, resists, reflects, rages — and when she can, reaches out (especially in the poppy “Sea I Provide” and the gorgeous ballad “Blueprint”).   She’s something else.

For all their obvious love of the genre, talent and energy (I’ve been bowled over both times I’ve seen them play to hometown crowds), I’ve sometimes felt that District 97’s music had trouble standing out in a crowded field, especially when they’ve leaned into the metal.  Trouble with Machines and In Vaults are fine albums, but over the years they  blurred together in my ears.  Gratifyingly, Screens busts out into new territory, stretching D97’s sound and style in refreshing, exciting ways, and setting the table for continued growth.  This one’s a winner that’s worth your time and attention.

Screens is currently available as a signed advance CD from the band.  The digital version (released October 4) can be pre-ordered at Bandcamp.  The regular CD (released October 11 in the US) can be pre-ordered at Amazon.

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— Rick Krueger

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Big 2019 Fall Prog (Plus) Preview!

What new music, live albums, reissues (regular, deluxe or super-deluxe) and tours are heading our way between now and All Hallows Eve?  Check out the exhaustive (and potentially exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with other personal priorities — below.  Click on the titles for pre-order links — whenever possible, you’ll wind up at the online store that gets as much money as possible directly to the musicians.

 

 

  • August:
    • Dave Kerzner, Static Live Extended Edition: recorded at the 2017 Progstock festival.  Kerzner’s complete Static album in concert, plus selected live highlights & new studio tracks.  Pre-orders ship in late August.
  • August 30:
    • Sons of Apollo, Live with the Plovdiv Psychotic Symphony: recorded at Plovdiv, Bulgaria’s Roman amphitheatre (the site of previous live efforts from Anathema and Devin Townsend).  Available in Blu-Ray, 3 CD + Blu-Ray, and 3 CD + DVD + Blu Ray versions.
    • Tool, Fear Inoculum: Tool’s first album in 13 years.  Available via digital download, as well as “a deluxe, limited-edition CD version (which) features a 4” HD rechargeable screen with exclusive video footage, charging cable, 2 watt speaker, a 36-page booklet and a digital download card.”  Really. 

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In Concert: Progtoberfest 4, Part 2

As I exited the CTA Green Line on a crisp, clear Chicago Sunday, Reggie’s Rock Club and Music Joint beckoned with the promise of Progtoberfest’s final day: twelve hours of sixteen bands on two stages. Constantly unfolding delight or endless endurance test? Only one way to find out.

(Notes for after the jump: links are provided to bands’ online presence — website, Facebook or Bandcamp pages — wherever possible.  An asterisk [*] by a band’s name means I bought one or more of their CDs at the event; A cross [+] means the band didn’t have CDs for sale — but their music is now on my want list.  Here we go …)

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Progtoberfest: Day 1 Report

by Rick Krueger

On Friday, October 20, hundreds of dedicated proggers converged on Chicago from around the country — and even from across the globe.  The location: Reggie’s Rock Club & Music Joint on the Near South Side, only two blocks away from the former Chess Records, the birthplace of great discs by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, The Rolling Stones and countless others.

Reggie’s has two main rooms, both dedicated to Progtoberfest this weekend.  The Rock Club is designed for concerts, with a raised stage, a main floor, an upper level mezzanine —and a wire fence decor motif throughout.  The Music Joint has a tinier stage tucked into the back of a narrow bar and grill.  This weekend, merch tables were crammed into every inch remaining on the main floor, and patrons less interested in the music (or needing a break from the density of the sound) took advantage of Friday and Saturday’s warm weather to eat and drink at sidewalk tables.  An upstairs space that held a record store until recently was turned into the VIP/Meet and Greet lounge for the duration.


Due to the usual complications of traveling to and around Chicago as the weekend starts, I got to my spot in the Rock Club just as Schooltree was taking the stage.  With only an hour on the schedule, they powered through highlights of their Heterotopia album, condensing the narrative to zoom in on its main character Suzi.  The set left no doubt that Lainey Schooltree is a major talent; her songwriting chops, keyboard skills and vocal versatility all came through loud and clear, grabbing and holding the audience’s attention.  The rest of the band bopped along brilliantly too, with the ebullient energy of Peter Danilchuk on organ and synth leading the way.


The crowd for Schooltree was solid, but hometown heroes District 97 were the first group to pack the place, filling both seats and standing room on the main floor.   The band took no prisoners, blasting right into riff-heavy highlights from their three albums that showed off every player’s monster chops.  Soaring above the din, Leslie Hunt pulled in the crowd with her astonishing vocal power and range.  New songs were mixed in that sent the audience head-banging and prog-pogoing with abandon.

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Progarchy Radio Episode 8

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Episode 8.

Welcome to our eighth podcast, recorded June 14, 2016.  This 2+ hour podcast features music from Cosmograf, Frost*, District 97, Steve Hackett, Gandalf’s Fist, Eric Gillette, Talk Talk, Traffic, Ordinary Psycho, Miles Davis, and Tears for Fears.

Winning the lottery with @District97

District 97 is such a great band. Here’s a taste of them live from their recent world tour. Notice how amazing Leslie Hunt is fronting the band. I love how she is so totally into the music. What a great way to draw the audience in. This is one of my favorite songs off of the last District 97 album. It’s so darn good.