The Flower Kings – Islands – Album Review

The Flower Kings – Islands – Inside Out Music, October 30, 2020
Tracks: 
CD 1 – 1. Racing With Blinders On (4:24), 2. From The Ground (4:02), 3. Black Swan (5:53), 4. Morning News (4:01) 5. Broken (6:38) 6. Goodbye Outrage (2:19), 7. Journeyman (1:43), 8. Tangerine (3:51), 9. Solaris (9:10), 10.  Heart Of The Valley (4:18), 11. Man In A Two Peace Suit (3:21)
CD 2 – 1. All I Need Is Love (5:48), 2. A New Species (5:45), 3. Northern Lights (5:43), 4. Hidden Angles (0:50), 5. Serpentine (3:52), 6. Looking For Answers (4:30), 7. Telescope (4:41), 8. Fool’s Gold (3:11), 9. Between Hope & Fear (4:29), 10. Islands (4:12) 

In an effort to find some sort of silver lining in this ridiculously crappy year, I’ll point out that there have been a lot of great releases in the progressive rock world in 2020. The Flower Kings’ upcoming album, Islands, probably wouldn’t have been released this year if the year had unfolded as normal. With many countries in lockdown and bands unable to tour, numerous musicians have found themselves with, as Styx once put it, too much time on their hands.

Multinational band The Flower Kings chose to make the best of their extra free time and use the Internet to their advantage, recording their new album from homes in Sweden, Austria, California, Denmark, and Italy. Fittingly, the album emphasizes the many forms of isolation we experience in 2020 – beyond just the physical. Thus the title Islands

I’m not an expert on The Flower Kings’ discography, but I generally like their music and appreciate the profound impact they have had on the rebirth of classic progressive rock starting in the 1990s. I didn’t particularly enjoy last year’s Waiting for Miracles. It was a little too political for my taste. The artwork alone was a bit obnoxious – an elephant standing on a house of cards while being hypnotized and surrounded by a bunch of oranges… that’s about as subtle as a political cartoon.

Roger Dean’s artwork for Islands, on the other hand, is fantastic. It’s too bad he hasn’t been doing their artwork all along, because it really fits their music. The lyrics “Upside down between earth and sky” from the track “Between Hope & Fear” are particularly reflected in the album art. Islands in particular has a lot of nods to Yes, which has probably always been in their music. Jonas Reingold’s bass stands out to me as being particularly Yes-like on this record. 

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The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”
Andy Tillison

Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent

The Tangent Auto Reconnaissance Album CoverThe Tangent, Auto Reconnaissance, Inside Out Muisc, Release date: August 21, 2020

Tracks: Life On Hold (5:31), Jinxed In Jersey (15:57), Under Your Spell (5:45), The Tower Of Babel (4:36), Lie Back & Think Of England (28:16), The Midas Touch (5:55), Proxima (Bonus Track) (12:27)

The Band: Andy Tillison (vocals, keys), Jonas Reingold (bass), Luke Machin (guitar), Theo Travis (saxophone, flute), Steve Roberts (drums), and artwork by Ed Unitsky

Last Saturday (August 15, 2020) I had the wonderful opportunity to speak with the brilliant Andy Tillison about his latest album from The Tangent: Auto Reconnaissance. A truly outstanding album, it is my favorite Tangent album since 2015’s A Spark in the Aether (which was my album of the year that year). Lyrically and musically this albums stuns.

I won’t bog you down with a long review here, but you’ll be hooked from the very first notes. Tillison’s combination of storytelling is at its prime on “Jinxed in Jersey,” and his cultural critique is in fine form on “Lie Back and Think of England.” The passion in his voice is palpable – a direct consequence of the unique writing style he adopted beginning with 2013’s masterpiece Le Sacre du Travail. Andy and I talked about that very thing at length in the latter half of the interview. As he says below, this album is much more philosophical than the last two. That is expertly displayed on “Tower of Babel,” where Tillison takes the technocracy head on.

The music is diverse, with a heavy jazz theme throughout. The classic prog sound that the band has curated over the years is everywhere – Auto Reconnaissance sounds like a Tangent album. The saxophone and flute from Theo Travis add to that seventies Tull vibe, but Luke Machin’s crunching guitars bring the rock. He also brings the soul when he needs to. I can’t recommend this album enough. It’s absolutely breathtaking.


After a few pleasantries (which I didn’t include in the transcript but left in the audio), we dug right into the album. The interview is pretty wide ranging covering the recording process, the overall concept, a deep dive on a couple tracks (“Jinxed in Jersey” and “Tower of Babel”), some philosophical musings on America, Britain, technology, television, etc., and a detailed look at Tillison’s writing process. We also talked a bit about the overall history of the band and Tillison’s own background with music and why he originally wanted to create The Tangent.

Bryan: So tell me a little bit about Auto Reconnaissance and the background of the album and where the ideas for it grew out of.

Andy: Well the background of – this album was recorded before the word coronavirus entered my life. When I say recorded – it was written before that. We were just hearing the news coming out of China at the beginning of the year. We were recording parts of it when we were together, so I was able to record the drums here with Steve, and Theo came here, which basically means that all the keyboards, all the vocals, the drums, and all the saxophones and flutes were recorded actually in this room on the microphone I’m talking to you with for the most part. That was kind of nice to be able to do, and just after that we started picking up the fact that there may be lockdowns and things. But in any case, Jonas Reingold was going to play all his bass parts in Austria anyway because he was about to set off on the Steve Hackett world tour. Luke was going to do his parts at his house anyways because he’s got his own studio there, all his guitar amps are there. It would seem pointless dragging them all the way up to Yorkshire. We recorded it in our normal way, in fact slightly more together this time than any time in the past. It would be us, you know – the lockdown comes along and everybody has to find new ways to work and we find a way of actually doing it together, which was a bit bizarre.

The background to the actual record – it was made in a fractious time in England. The end of the final debates on Brexit as three years of arguing came to a close. Very depressing times when England was busy shouting at itself. Signs of a bad debate, much in the same way as I guess there’s a big fight between the Republicans and the Democrats over on your side of the water. You know, I wanted something that reflected that, but I didn’t want something to be miserable, so I wanted to make an album that – I think it was about really looking at the problems that we were in but having a bright light visible at the end of the tunnel that we were in at the time. I think that’s what I was trying to do with this record. That’s why the title is Auto Reconnaissance, which means looking at yourself. That involves everybody looking at themselves – whole countries looking at themselves and working out our place in the world really. I think that’s what the focus of the album was, yeah.

Continue reading “Thinking of England: A Conversation with Andy Tillison of The Tangent”

Steve Hackett Sells England By the Pound – Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI – 10/3/19

Steve Hackett, Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI, October 3, 2019
Band:
Steve Hackett, Nad Sylvan, Craig Blundell, Jonas Reingold, Rob Townsend, Roger King

Setlist:
Set 1
Every Day
Under the Eye of the Sun
Fallen Walls and Pedestals
Beasts in Our Time
The Virgin and the Gypsy
Tigermoth
Spectral Mornings
The Red Flower of Tachai Blooms Everywhere
Clocks – The Angel of Mons

Set 2
Dancing With the Moonlit Knight
I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)
Firth of Fifth
More Fool Me
The Battle of Epping Forest
After the Ordeal
The Cinema Show
Aisle of Plenty
Deja Vu
Dance on a Volcano

Encore
Los Endos

I had been looking forward to this concert ever since I bought tickets at the beginning of the year. I had never seen Steve Hackett live, but it had been at the top of my bucket list for a while. He’s my favorite guitarist, and I’ve loved all of the recent Genesis Revisited live albums. I consider Selling England By the Pound to be one of the finest albums ever made, so I couldn’t pass on the opportunity to see Mr. Hackett and company perform it live. They didn’t disappoint.

During the first half of the show, the band played highlights from Hackett’s 1979 solo album Spectral Mornings and this year’s At the Edge of Light. The whole set was very strong, but I particularly enjoyed Craig Blundell’s drum solo. Some drum solos can be a little boring, but not this one. Very engaging, interesting, and complex. The opening “Every Day” really highlighted the light and airy style of Hackett’s solo music, while “Beasts In Our Time” showed how heavy his music can be. Jonas Reingold’s bass was exceptional all night, but the bass line on “Under the Eye of the Sun” really allowed his talent to shine.

Continue reading “Steve Hackett Sells England By the Pound – Live at 20 Monroe Live, Grand Rapids, MI – 10/3/19”

Album Review: The Sea Within

If you think you know what The Sea Within will sound like just from knowing who’s involved — The Flower Kings’ guitar/bass team of Roine Stolt and Jonas Reingold, Pain of Salvation’s Daniel Gildenlöw and Flying Colors’ Casey McPherson singing, Tom Brislin on keyboards and Marco Minnemann on drums — think again.  Sure, put these six proggers together in a studio, and they’ll work from their signature sounds and strengths.  But they also play off each other in unique ways, stretch out in unexpected directions, and come up with a rewarding, thoroughly listenable debut.

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Steve Hackett: The Progarchy Interview

Yesterday I had the immense pleasure and privilege of talking by phone with Steve Hackett as he prepares for his 2018 Tour de Force.  Over the course of 30 minutes, Steve was genial, gracious and forthcoming.  He talked about life on a prog rock cruise, his busy agenda for this year, the musicians he works with, his take on where progressive music might be heading, and much more.  Steve’s words (slightly edited for clarity and organized by topic) follow!

About this year’s Cruise to the Edge:

“Absolutely marvelous.  I think this was our fourth Cruise, as was the case for many of the acts, and I think everyone said this time they felt that it was the best of the lot, because so many people knew each other, familiar faces.  They have a boatload of about 3,000 people.  In the end, when you’ve done this thing before, people just keep coming back, and saying, ‘Oh, hi, Steve.’ ‘Hi, Fred.’ All that is just wonderful, it’s mind-boggling, it’s like a sort of brotherhood on the briny, on the high seas.  It’s wonderful that these cruises have become such a success.   I get to hook up with all sorts of extraordinary pals, such as the guys from Marillion and all the Yes guys, of course, and Martin Barre of Jethro Tull, and so many.  So there’s a great camaraderie amongst everybody, so we all got time to hang out together, see each other’s shows, and it’s become a great tradition.”

ctte kerzner hackett

About sitting in and collaborations:

“I sat in with Dave Kerzner on the Cruise, I’ve played on a couple of albums of his.  In a way, I think there’s this thing about helping each other out, as I say, this brotherhood feeling.  And he’s tremendously hard working, he’s done so many things recently, and it’s great.  He often says, ‘Ooh, I’ve got such and such, do you feel like using that?’ in his studio.  Between all of us, we’ve got a ton of contacts and we help each other.  It’s a great time in rock & roll, it’s very much everyone’s feeding everyone else, it’s really very good.”

“We played a version of this thing called ‘Stranded,’ which was on his first album.  It was a poolside thing where we did that at night, but it really took off.  I’m hoping we see a film of it at some point.”  [Here’s Steve’s solo from the end of ‘Stranded,” as played on Cruise to the Edge 2018.  Thanks to Dave Kerzner, guitarist extraordinaire Fernando Perdomo, and Fernando’s friend Cyndi for supplying the video!]

 

“I think perhaps it’s a case of having been in the industry for a certain amount of time, where the people remember me via Genesis or GTR or solo stuff, or whatever it happens to be.  Over and above that, I’ve worked with a tremendous amount of artists, showing up, doing the solos.  Not always guitar – sometimes it’s harmonica or other strange things that I get asked to do, and if I can fit it into the schedule, I like doing it.  I’ve worked with all sorts of artists.  It hasn’t always been rock; sometimes it’s been other stuff – Evelyn Glennie, which is avant-garde stuff, a Hungarian band called Djabe.  I do stuff with them and meet musicians all over the world.”

Continue reading “Steve Hackett: The Progarchy Interview”

Support this fall’s Tangent/Karmakanic tour!

From Jonas Reingold via Facebook:

Hello everybody,

I´m very pleased to present the next Karmakanic/Tangent output. It will be a live CD from the upcoming European/US tour this fall. To be released Jan 2018.

So let me start bitching about this even before the tour has started and nothing is recorded yet. Why? That’s a valid question and I will try to answer it to the best of my knowledge.

WE NEED THE MONEY!!!! PERIOD!!!

We lost a well payed gig in Boston that was one of the anchor gigs to finance this tour. We run into totally overpriced VISA application costs. Do you know how much a application cost for a band like us? 2500 US dollars, just to get in. Then add flights, accommodation, hiring a van, gas, hiring a rehearsal room, paying salary for the band members, domestic travels prior the rehearsals and all other little things that I´ve forgotten right now and you´ll probably understand that the numbers are totally in the red.

So why even think of doing this? Why just not cut the whining and throw this project right out of the window? I´ll try to answer that too.

To run a band is probably the worst business idea you can have. No money coming in a lot of money going out, poor attendance, over the years I´ve also felt lack of support from band members, although, with the current line up I´ve never heard a bad word, yet. And you all know how to make a musician complain don’t ya??? Give him a gig!! But even though with all this in consideration you do it anyway. Why?????

I LOVE MUSIC!!! PERIOD!!!

I also love the people that actually supporting the scene, buying the albums and are attending the shows. That means the world to me. To see a person actually getting moved by something you wrote or played on a recording in a shabby studio somewhere when presented on a stage in another shabby and funky club somewhere in the world is the actually payment for all the hassle, you feel connected, you´re part of something bigger.

So that’s why we, Tangent and Karmakanic reaching out to you guys and giving you all a chance to support this tour but also even more important, support the scene. You can support the tour in two different ways.

Option 1: Pre-Order this live recording just like a normal CD for 15:95 Euro

Option 2: Be one of 200 that will get their full name on the actual front cover of the CD. 34:95 Euro.

Your choice!!!

And of course, if you think that this tour support is just a big chunk of bogus we’re totally fine with that as long as you attend one of this shows on the upcoming tour.
Sincerely

Jonas Reingold

 

Note from Rick K.: you can preorder “TangeKanic Live” at Reingold Records.  I did!

Scando-Anglo Hippiedom: A Karmakanic Album in Six Parts

Really, who doesn’t admire wild Scandinavian hippies?  One can only imagine those Viking lovers of peace returning in their long boats to establish a loving order upon all the conquered, asking for forgiveness!  Even the clever name of the band, Karmakanic reveals much about the very intentions of ever-amusing Jonas Reingold (The Flower Kings, The Tangent).  The band’s outstanding 2008 album, WHO’S THE BOSS OF THE FACTORY, especially exemplified the best ideals of the late 1960s.

IN A PERFECT WORLD (2011) did as well, but despite the opening track, “1969,” the album didn’t cohere as well as the previous one.

Karmakanic-DOT-960x960
Karmakanic’s best, DOT.

Whatever the case might have been, Reingold has just released the best of the Karmakanic albums, DOT (officially out from Insideout on July 22, 2016).   It is an extraordinary release in every single and imaginable way.  Not only its structure and flow, but its lyrics, especially, are quite moving.

Continue reading “Scando-Anglo Hippiedom: A Karmakanic Album in Six Parts”

10 Years of PARADOX HOTEL (Flower Kings)

In just two days, one of my all-time favorite albums will turn 10-years old.  Happy birthday, PARADOX HOTEL (Insideout Music, 2006).

Paradox_hotel_cover
Insideout, 2006.

I still remember well the day it arrived from amazon.com.  I had thought the previous album, ADAM AND EVE, outstanding, but I was looking for something a bit more expansive in terms of music as well as lyrical scope.  Given that this new album would be a return to a two-disk format, I’d assumed that Roine and Co. would not disappoint.

Not only did the band NOT disappoint, but they soared.

If forced to rank this cd within the Flower Kings’ discography, PARADOX HOTEL would sit very comfortably in the second best position, just below their best album, SPACE REVOLVER.

IMG_0001
Expansive.

Interestingly enough, when PARADOX HOTEL came out, Stolt expressed some concern.  Usually, a band hypes its latest album as its best (well, “hype” it too strong, as bands earnestly believe this to be true, as they should), but Stolt argued that he had thought the music of ADAM AND EVE more interesting and complex.  Yet, the fans had not responded to ADAM AND EVE as the band had hoped, so they had returned to a poppier sound with PARADOX HOTEL.

As is always the case with The Flower Kings, the band alternates between incredibly complicated and tight jazz-fusion-esque music to more loose and open progressive-pop and rock.  If ADAM AND EVE tended toward the former, PARADOX HOTEL certainly embraces the latter.

And, yet, while the complexity might not exist track by track, it does overall.  It contains some of the darkest music the band has ever written, such as track seven on the first disk, “Bavarian Skies,” but it also reveals the most expansive and joyous the band has ever been with tracks such as “End on a High Note.”

This is a fascinating album in terms of its flow and its story.  Though I do not know exactly what the album is about, I have interpreted it—from my first listen to it a decade ago—as a rather Dantesque examination of some form of purgatory.  The Paradox Hotel is not quite the Mansion with Many Rooms of Heaven, but it is certainly a way station between this world and the next.  After all, immediately upon checking in we meet monsters, men, U2 (I think, in “Hit Me With a Hit”), aviators, the young, Nazis, moms, the jealous, the violent, and the egotistical avaricious.  Yet, through all of this, hope remains.  Dreams and lights keep us centered on the end of the journey.

Disk two, by far the more experimental of the two disks, gives us even more glimpses of heaven, allowing us to touch, step toward, and dance in anticipation.  Further, we learn that life will kill us and come to the nearly penultimate doubts in asking the most theological existential question ever offered: what if God is alone?

IMG
Definitely the most theologically existential song in the history of prog.

Finally, on track eight of disk two, we meet many of the dead who have moved through the hotel from time to time (or time to eternity, more likely), and we end with the glorious “Blue Planet,” seeing what voyages yet remain as we get caught in the revolving hotel doors.

It really could get no more C.S. Lewis and The Great Divorce or J.R.R. Tolkien and “Leaf by Niggle” than this.  Indeed, if the Inklings had made prog albums, they would’ve made PARADOX HOTEL.

Or, maybe it really is a Swedish meditation on Dante’s Purgatorio.
Truly, this is some of the most satisfying, thought-provoking, and comforting music I have encountered in my own 48 years in this world.  Yet one more reason to praise Stolt and Co. for the glories they see and reveal to all of us.

The Tangent’s PYRAMIDS AND STARS, 10 Years On

There are few bands that perform as well live as they do in the studio.  And, of course, there are some for which the opposite is true.

One band that only gets that much more interesting live is Andy Tillison’s ever-evolving The Tangent.  This year, amazingly enough, is the tenth anniversary of the first live The Tangent release, PYRAMIDS AND STARS.  Looking at the line up for that tour, one has to wonder if one is caught in some kind of heavenly time-loop or fantasy prog game.  Andy Tillison, Roine Stolt, Jonas Reingold, Sam Baines, and Zoltan Csorsz.  The lineup could be for a Flower Kings album or, perhaps, a Steven Wilson album.

2005.  Very rare.
2005. Very rare.

The ever, endlessly talented Ed Unitsky painted the cover, and, of course, it’s gorgeous.

Only six songs make up this 77-minute feast: The World That We Drive Through; The Canterbury Sequence; The Winning Game; The Music That Died Alone; In Darkest Dreams; and the only song under six minutes in length, a cover version of (ELP) Lucky Man.

The songs—all of which come from the first two The Tangent albums—sound as gorgeous as Unitsky’s cover art would suggest.  This is The Tangent, but it’s The Tangent fully alive.  What happened in the studio is merely prologue.  That the embryo, this the fine young man come of age.

Andy and Roine are especially playful and open to the spirit of the muses.  Their love of this music is palatable.

Sadly, this live album is extremely hard to find, and I made it a point several years ago to dig deeply across and through the internet to find a copy.  It was well worth the hunt, for I treasure this album like no other.  It’s a precious thing to behold.