Earlier this year, I questioned whether or not 2018 was going to be a poor year for prog. It seemed like the the progressive rock community took a few months to stop and take a collective breath… but that was only the breath before the plunge. The second half of the year saw many excellent new releases. The following are some of my favorites from 2018, in no particular order (my top two at the bottom of this list are tied for first place).
Now here is an interesting and promising new Prog band. UMÆ is an internation trio featuring guitarist Guðjón Sveinsson, singer/guitarist Anthony Cliplef, and drummer Samy George-Salib. The band has recently launched a debut single “Turn Back Time” via Prog Magazine which features guest contributions by John Wesley (Porcuine Tree) and Haken bassist Conner Green. Their debut album “Lost in the View” is out in December, and beside mentioned gentlemen it also features Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson, Miles Davis) and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band).
Read an interview with Anthony and Guðjón below.
Hello! Thanks for responding to this interview. How have you guys been lately?
G: We’ve been great thank you! Excited for the release, and hard at work preparing for it.
How might you introduce yourselves to new potential listeners?
A: UMÆ is an experience; emotional; meaningful; energetic; somber; melancholic. We are all over the board, but I swear it is cohesive. [laughs]
What inspired the name of the band — UMÆ?
A: Guðjón and I were spitballing a lot of ideas during the demoing phase, some more jokingly than others, but we settled on this one, which uses Icelandic characters, but doesn’t mean anything in Icelandic. I like the idea of a word that isn’t already defined. It gives us the opportunity to define it by the music and artwork we create and associate with it.
How did UMÆ initially form as a creative unit?
A: Well, I went on a trip to a prog festival, where I ended up meeting and playing music with Guðjón, Samy, and many other people. We all had similar interests in music, and we all enjoyed sharing the stage together.
After I returned home from the trip, I was inspired by the jamming, so I decided to contact Guðjón about possibly collaborating on some music. I sent some rough demos, he shared some examples of his own, we shared bands with each other. From there, we laid out plans for me to travel across the ocean to Iceland and start writing. Very soon we sent demos over to Samy and convinced him to commit to the project.
You are about to release a debut album titled “Lost in the View.” Where did the inspiration for it come from and how did you go about the whole process of writing and recording it?
G: In essence it just comes down to our love of music, and willingness to create. It’s hard to pinpoint a specific inspiration for the exact music featured on the album. Some of it was written well before we started working on it together, as far back as 10 years, which was the case for the already-released single “Turn Back Time”. The lyrical concept came as a sort of reaction to the music, and we soon found ourselves writing around that concept.
Over the 6 initial weeks that Anth spent in Iceland, we recorded and arranged demos for the whole album. We started in my living room; plugged in a guitar and played whatever was on our minds. In about three weeks we already had the basis to all the songs. The remaining three weeks were spent arranging the song structures, filling in blanks and sculpting the general vision for the sound of the record. Some of these early demo recordings even made it into the final product. We focused on retaining the initial feeling we got from each and every part, and enhancing it further with the arrangements, and later on lyrics.
The recording process took place literally over the world. We recorded drums with Samy in Toronto over an intense 3 day session. Over the course of a year, we’ve built the layers on top of these bed tracks, with recording taking place in 4 locations in Iceland, 5 different home studios in the US, and more recently, in Sweden. We’ve been tweaking and adding stuff along the way down to these very last days.
UMÆ is a trio in its core but the upcoming full-length release features quite a number of guest musicians, including John Wesley (Porcupine Tree), Conner Green (Haken), Adam Holzman (Steven Wilson) and Eric Gillette (Neal Morse Band). How did the collaboration with each of them come about? How much did they actually contribute in the writing phase?
G: Once the music started coming together, we soon started looking at people that we thought would be a good fit for various parts of the album. We had a good feeling about the music, and decided to aim high from the get-go.
Fairly early in the process we reached out to Conner, who was up for the task, and eventually played on most of the album. At that time all the foundations to the songs were already laid out on guitar and drums, along with some of the main melodies. We left it up to him to interpret the bass parts, and were really happy with the end results.
On the keyboard front, most of the album features Magnús Jóhann, a brilliant young player from Iceland who we worked closely with. On two of the heavier songs however, we wanted to try a little different “flavor”, and figured Adam Holzman might be good fit. So we contacted him; thankfully he was up for it and was able to find a time within his touring schedule to record it. Similarly there the songs were already laid out, and we presented our rough idea of the sounds we were going for. His take on it ended up being just right.
We wrote and recorded all the vocals initially, but didn’t feel our voices were the right fit for certain songs. Samy had encountered John Wesley around the time we were exploring options for these songs, and presented the idea of his involvement. He was up for giving it a shot, and when we heard his take on “Turn Back Time” we were immediately sold.
On one of the tracks we entertained the idea of having a guest solo spot. Eric Gillette responded quickly to our inquiry, and before we knew it we had a killer solo in our hands! He’s such an amazing player, and we’re really stoked to have him appear on the track.
What can be expected from the upcoming album? Would you say the released single for “Turn Back Time” is an accurate sample?
G: Yes and no. The track contains some of the main themes from the album, and lyrically is somewhat representative of the concept, but definitely does not cover the wide range of influences we tap into throughout the album. It’s a good start of the journey that gets a nod here and there, but the atmosphere shifts to a bleaker tone as the album progresses.
What’s your songwriting process like?
A: Guðjón kind of touched on that already, but I’ll elaborate a bit. When I compose a piece from beginning to end, like our aforementioned single, I typically work from a melody and or chord idea, and sometimes just a rhythmic idea. I like to use programming software to document the guitar I’ve come up with, then build the other instruments around it. It’s all midi programmed, but it gives me a good sense of what the song could sound like.
When Guðjón and I were co-writing songs, there were many times where he had a riff or two, I had a riff or two, we placed them in order, and basically connected the dots by filling in the middle. Sometimes we had no idea how we were going to make two parts connect, but we managed to pull them together. So that’s a bit of a deeper glimpse into the process.
What are your ultimate hopes for UMÆ as a band?
G: Hopefully we’ll eventually manage to make a living out of making and performing music. Anything beyond that is a bonus really.
I’m kidding, world domination of course.
Do you have any bigger plans for the future?
G: Bigger? For sure, although we can’t really say much at this point, other than that these plans are currently in formation.
The last words are yours.
A: To keep up with UMÆ, our single releases, album release, touring plans, and all other major news, go to https://www.umaeband.com/
Thanks for having us on this interview!
It took me a few listens before I truly found my way into Vector, the new studio offering from Haken.
And then I realized:
It’s the musical blot!
Genesis pun intended. Allow me to explain…
I was really looking forward to this album, because as I listened to L-1VE, their brilliant live album from earlier this year, I became convinced that, with Rush now retired, it is Haken that reigns supreme.
Haken’s ability to play with such complexity and virtuosity live, in such a compelling and spirited way, embodies that living “spirit of radio” that Rush had been able to offer live for so many decades.
L-1VE reminded me of Exit… Stage Left, in that it was a perfect overview of the band’s career, as well as definitive proof of their being today’s live band without equal.
At any rate, I was baffled by Vector at first, because initially it didn’t seem to be musically or lyrically coherent.
But the breakthrough came for me when I read the Man of Much Metal’s review of it, wherein he put forth the thesis that Vector is “an understated and clever homage to every single previous incarnation of the band within the music.”
In illustration of this thesis, he averred that Affinity can be heard within “The Good Doctor,” The Mountain within “Puzzle Box,” Aquarius within “Veil,” and Visions within “Host.”
This immediately rang true for me, as I realized each song indeed marked a “vector,” or definite trajectory, in fact audible in previous manifestations of the band.
In my mind, I added my own perception of the teleological spirit of Restoration in “A Cell Divides,” and of the jaw-dropping response induced by L-1VE (with its dazzling live display of unmatched technical musical ability) in the instrumental “Nil by Mouth.”
While the Vector album, on the one hand, thus didn’t have the overall coherent feel that comes from a spatio-temporally undivided live performance (which is what the career overview of L-1VE records), on the other hand, its fragmentary studio snapshots of discretely engineered musical styles did supply quantum musical “blots” of a Haken offered via a more scattershot distribution.
Thus, like the “ink blot” on the cover, you can see the Haken you want to see, if only you look more closely.
As for what Haken is overall, who knows; it is as if the band is saying, “It is up to you to perceive it; we are not going to decide it in advance, to fit some marketing categories or any other reductive schema.”
Look within the music, and you will see what is there.
And as I understand the point of this exercise, it is not so much “to project your own meaning” onto the music, but rather to be an active participant in the music itself, along with Haken.
Just as they themselves won’t reduce the musical experience in advance, so too do they invite you not to insist in advance that your musical experience be able to be put in a nice and neat little box.
So, instead they have given us quite the little puzzle box on Vector.
I believe I have solved it.
Not a musical box, but a most satisfying musical ink blot.
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:
- October 5:
- October 12:
- 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:
- November 2:
- November 9:
- 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:
- 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
Haken just released a music video for new song “The Good Doctor” off upcoming album, Vector. If this song is anything to go by, Vector will be another re-styling of Haken’s unique sound. This particular song sees the band go from Muse-like sounds to Meshuggah-esque blasts, all in about 3 minutes. The result is obviously 100% Haken.
Speaking of Muse… they also have an album coming out later this year: Simulation Theory. They have released several music videos so far, and it seems like the band have moved in a more synth-pop direction, especially compared to the hard-rock bombast of 2015’s Drones. The guitar seems especially lacking in this most recent song:
Is it heresy for me to be enjoying Haken’s new live album — L-1VE — more than any other live album released this year, including BBT’s Merchants of Light?
In any case, I am looking forward to Haken’s forthcoming new release, and the tour with Bent Knee and Leprous, more than any other this year.
Vector will be available as a limited edition 2CD mediabook (including instrumental versions), a gatefold vinyl 2LP + CD, a standard CD jewelcase & as a digital download.
2. The Good Doctor
3. Puzzle Box
5. Nil By Mouth
7. A Cell Divides
Haken are inviting fans to submit their own version of the Rorschach test ink-blot image which graces the album’s cover, and one winner’s art will be picked by the band to be etched into every vinyl copy of Vector. Submissions are open now, closing on Aug. 10, and can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Lucky US residents can look forward to an incredible line-up of bands touring this fall. Co-headliners are Haken, showcasing Album No. 5, and the mighty Leprous. Supporting them are the magnificent Bent Knee, whose Land Animal was my top album of 2017.
Take it from me, you will NOT want to miss this!
Further details, including dates and venues for all 28 gigs, are at https://www.loudersound.com/news/haken-finish-album-no5-and-announce-co-headline-tour-with-leprous