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/
Happy 2018 to our loyal IZZ fans! We wanted to take a moment to let you know that there is new music on the horizon.
In late Spring, Laura Meade will release her first full-legnth studio album which features special guest artists including several of her IZZ bandmates. Written by Laura Meade and arranged and produced by me (John!), Laura’s album combines her passion for musical theatre with her art-rock sensibilities. Doone Records will have an announcement about the release date in the near future. On Wednesday, May 9th, Laura will be joining District 97 and Schooltree in Arlington, MA at the Regent Theatre for a night of Female-fronted art-rock, presented by NewEars.org. More information to follow.
IZZ is also back in the studio in full recording mode after writing together for the better part of a year. We are really excited about the freshness of the songs and can’t wait for you all to hear what we have been working on. We recently got together to film one of our final rehearsals before we went into the studio to start recording and we plan on releasing some of that footage later on this year in conjunction with the album release. We really enjoyed having a camera crew there filming as a “fly on the wall” of our rehearsal. They were able to capture some great stuff, including a new interview where we discussed a wide range of topics for the first time together on film.
So stay tuned…We have exciting new music in store for you in 2018.
IZZ, Everlasting Instant (Doone, 2015). Tracks: Own the Mystery; Every Minute; Start Again; If It’s True; The Three Seers; The Everlasting Instant; Keep Away; Can’t Feel the Earth, Part IV; Illuminata; Sincerest Life; Like a Straight Line.
Birzer rating: 9/10
Concluding their trilogy—which includes the brilliant The Darkened Room and Crush of Night—Everlasting Instant is full of wonders. Though I rarely employ labels, this album makes me wonder if this is more art rock or more prog rock? Like much of the music once made by Talk Talk and now by Gazpacho and Elbow, IZZ produces densely layered and atmospheric albums, mysteries in and of themselves. Lyrically, the album offers the highest of poetic visions, calling us to things much greater than this realilty.
Perhaps most impressively, IZZ sounds at once like a group of very talented individual musicians as well as a cohesive and intense community of like-minded persons. Few bands can balance the individual talent of the musician with the force of the group as a collective. IZZ can and does. And, it does it very well.
Electric piano begins the first track, Own the Mystery, accompanied by a soft but firm male voice. Drums and a woodwind join at just under the minute mark. There’s a John Barleycorn and Colour of Spring feel to this opening track, but IZZ is never derivative, simply respectful of those who came before and also brimming with taste. A woman’s voice joins, and a dialogue—not unbecoming an T.S. Eliot play—begins. Does age slow us down, or does it make us wise? Perhaps, at some level, it does both. Most importantly, do we “own the mystery,” accepting the beauty and flaws of ourselves and those we love? Or, do we simply glide through life?
Track two, “Every Minute” is instrumental, a short guitar- and keyboard-driven meditation, followed by “Start Again,” an actual rebirth of the album, truly a second beginning to this conclusion of the trilogy.
This rebirth, however, comes in darkness. Someone has abandoned us, left us to bleed, alone, and on the floor. In isolation, the protagonist cries in agony, but an agony that stems from the soul rather than the body.
If It’s True, the fourth song on the album, finds us in a skeptical nightclub of mellow upper-class tipsy folks, all awaiting papers from their lawyers.
“The Three Seers” begins with a Simon and Garfunkel vocal (gorgeous) and grand piano. Visions hover in the air. Are the visions fanciful or true? If the latter, a game change lingers in the room. The middle part of the song, interestingly enough, resembles some of Keith Emerson’s less over-the-top playing, the song reaching its apex a little over three minutes into it, as drums and spacey keyboards join. The Three Seers ends gently, moving without a break into the soft electronica of the title track. The voice is now female (actually two voices), and the song seems to put the listener in a faerie tale told in the nursery. Lyrically, the words continue to discuss “hovering in the air,” and the songs becomes full-out rock (IZZ style) at about 1:27. Swirling guitars and drums and bass blast forward, and the song reaches perhaps the most intense moment of the entire album.
Keep Away is another contemplative number, keyboards awash. Guitar and bass predominate about two and one half minutes into the song, and the bass, especially, resembles Chris Squire’s magnificent playing on 1975’s Fish Out of Water. As with almost every song on the album, a number of changes take place, include a middle section again resembling the best of ELP. To make it even more interesting, however, a strong female voice comes in during the ELP/electronica part of the song, warning us not to “wake the sleeper.” Further, as the voice of Sybil, she warns that one must “swallow his pride to save his soul.” Dante could not have stated it better.
Can’t Feel the Earth, Part IV, of course, finishes the three earlier parts of “Can’t Feel the Earth.” The bass, again, is outstanding, sounding, however, more like Tony Levin than Squire here. A driving song, everything jams here: all of the instruments and the voices. The lyrics praise “inspiration” as the motive for greatness, beauty, and becoming.
Illuminata is a bizarre song. Still excellent, but truly bizarre. Again, throw in some ELP, musically. The reason it’s bizarre, however, has more to do with the lyrics than the music. The lyrics are at once blatant and esoteric. They plead for an honest evaluation of self, but the lyrics also claim this will lead to “illuminata”? I have no idea what this means, aside from the word being a form of Latin regarding revelation. Is this Catholic, new age, pagan? I have no idea, but I feel like it must matter—perhaps a critical point in the album.
The penultimate song, “Sincerest Life,” has a Jon Anderson atmosphere, and IZZ proclaims “this world is love.”
The final song, “Like a Straight Line,” a quiet piano and voice number that becomes quite theatric and hopeful, of course, concludes the trilogy. Again, while it’s clear that IZZ is proclaiming the never-ceasing love of some kind of holy figure, it’s equally impossible to know who that holy figure is. Is this Mary, Star of the Sea, Jesus, or someone else?
Everlasting Instant is an absolute gem. Of course, nothing IZZ does is unimportant, but this album is even great by IZZ standards. And those standards start near the top of Olympus. Still, Olympus might be accurate. The only real flaw of the album, and, hence, the 9/10, is simply that the lyrics are incomprehensible toward the end of the album. It’s one thing to be artful, but it’s quite another to be so open to any interpretation as to become meaningless. Let’s hope Galgano and co. explain a bit more what’s going on here. They don’t have to give away the store, but it would be nice to know the prices of the merchandise within.
Review of Vertica, The Haunted South (Radiant Records, 2014). Songs: Holding Smoke; Temperance; Ghost of Summer; Always; Obsidian; You’ve Been Warned; The Wind Has Teeth; Believing and Pretending; The Furthest Place; Open Water; Pearl; One Last Chance to Resurrect; Go North.
The band: Emily Brunson (Lead Vocals); Tyler Downey (Guitar, Vocals); Joshua Ruppert (Bass); James McCurley (Drums, Vocals, Piano). Producer and Engineer: Jerry Guidroz
For quite a while in the 1990s, I thought pop couldn’t get much better than Sixpence None the Richer. The first album grabbed me, the second captivated me, and the third floored me. Absolutely floored me. I still think that third one (their 1997 self titled album) one of the best albums I’ve ever heard or probably ever will hear. It’s not at the level of Skylarking or Songs from the Big Chair, but it’s very, very close. Then, of course, came the fourth album, Divine Discontent. What a disappointment. Granted, it wasn’t the kind of disappointment I felt with Pure Reason Revolution’s Amor Vincit Omnia—which I discarded rather unceremoniously after only a few listens. What a piece of barnyard excrement that was. I’m honestly not sure how a band could fall so quickly and steeply.
Stop, Birzer! This isn’t an article about your personal rants or about the decline of PRR (though, The Dark Third is just so, so could—how could they fall apart so quickly. . . ).
Anyway, the purpose of this post is to praise a great (brilliant) new band. I’ve had a review copy of Vertica’s The Haunted South for a little over a month now. And, I’ve thought about writing this review ten to twenty times, at least. Today, I finally made myself write it. By made myself—I don’t want to suggest writing this is a burden. It’s not a burden in the least, though it is hard work. Why? The album is just so good, I owe it the very best review I can give it. The album is so good, writing a review of it somewhat intimidates me. On the good side. . . in the time I’ve had a copy of this album, I’ve listened to it at least thirty times. Probably once a day.
It’s not prog, but it is very fine pop-rock with lots of art and prog elements. If you could combine the best of Mazzy Star, Sixpence None the Richer, The Cranberries, and IZZ, you’d come very close to the excellence of this band. Some of it is folkish, some of it is simply poetic, some of it is gothic, some of it is pop, and some of it is very hard.
Yet, with nothing but excellence, The Haunted South all flows together.
There’s something distinctive about the voice of the lead vocalist, Emily Brunson. She does sound a bit like the lead singer of Sixpence, but without the coyishly girlish voice often employed on the poppier tunes of Sixpence. Brunson’s voice can be sweet, but it’s always utterly earnest and never saccharine. The lead songwriter, James McCurley, knows exactly how to write music to fit Brunson’s near perfect vocals as well. Anyway, no matter what style of music or genre Vertica is employing, Brunson’s vocals are so good and so distinctive, they essentially become the sound of the band.
This brings me to McCurley. This is a guy to watch over the next several years and even decades. He’s already proven his talent, now he will show us what a force he is. He can write music very well. I assume he’ll only get better. But, his greatest strength is his lyric writing. I’m always a sucker for great lyrics, and these are great lyrics. Poetic in a mysterious, haunting, fog-filled woods kind of way. Listening to this lyrics, I feel as though I’ve found a connection to the voice and soul of Flannery O’Conner, fifty years later.
If you order this CD, and you should, avoid the download. Not because the music isn’t wonderful—because it is—but because you owe it to yourself to own the booklet, complete with lyrics.
Oh, boy. Love finding new things. I’ll be following Vertica for years to come. And, the adventure has just begun.
To order (and you should; early and often), click either of these links.
It’s time for our Weekly Featured Product! This week, our featured item is,Everlasting Instant, the new studio album from American progressive rock group, IZZ! Everlasting Instant, released April 7, 2015, serves as the final installment of a three-part series of albums that began with The Darkened Room (TDR) in 2009 and continued with Crush of Night in 2012. Everlasting Instant concludes this epic thematic arc with a fresh palette of sounds. From the syncopated rhythms and unpredictable meter changes of “Can’t Feel the Earth, Part IV,” to the through-composed nature of “Keep Away,” to the uplifting drama of “Sincerest Life,” the fearlessly modern sound of IZZ continues to surprise at every turn. A must-have addition to every prog collection! Purchase yours here today!
I promise to provide a much more in-depth review of this album in the coming weeks. It arrived happily this morning at the Birzer estate in Longmont, Colorado. The sun is shining, the Rockies radiating, and some of the best music of the progressive rock era (about my age, as it turns out) is playing for the third time. As most of you know, “Everlasting Instant” is the conclusion to the trilogy that began with “The Darkened Room” (2009) and continued with “Crush of Night.” (2012).
As this is merely a mini review, let me state a couple of things.
First, the album is absolutely outstanding.
Second, while it is an excellent piece of art on its own, “Everlasting Instant” successfully incorporates themes (lyrically and musically) from the previous two albums, thus closing the trilogy with a profound sense of accomplishment.
Third, the music surprises me a bit—only because it’s as melodic as all IZZ albums, but its minimalism at points and its equally hard progressive aspects jarred me several times during the initial listens. Frankly, this album is far more prog than the previous two, and it’s gone well beyond what I expect of IZZ. All to the good!
As proggers, we should all rejoice with the release of this gorgeous album.
As American proggers (those of us who are), we should raise our fists in victory. This has been a VERY, VERY good year for American prog: Glass Hammer, Neal Morse, IZZ. Please, keep them coming!