Muse Announces Pre-Order of New Album, Releases Music Video

Muse has announced the release of their new album, Drones, due out in early June. They have also released a music video to the song, “Psycho.” It sounds as if they have gone back to their earlier, heavier style, which the band said they would do on this upcoming album. Gone (from this particular song) are the synth-poppy sounds featured so heavily on The 2nd Law. In my opinion, the heavier, more basic rock sound is a good thing.

“Psycho” sounds, lyrically, like it could have been written by Roger Waters. Very much about mind control and being ordered around by those in authority (you’ll see what I mean in the video). Muse continues their long string of anti-big government and anti-oppression themes with this album. The album title, Drones, is fitting. I look forward to hearing the whole album. A word of warning about the music video – the song is marked as explicit on iTunes, for language (pervasive use of the F-word).

https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/drones/id973555620

http://muse.mu/home.htm

From Carl’s Critical Kitchen: A Baker’s Dozen of Tasty Prog/Rock from 2014

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“Guitar and Music Paper” (1927) by Juan Gris

In the process of putting together an end-of-the-year book list for CWR, I came upon my 2004 post on my favorite books and music of 2004. The music list is quite interesting, with just one overtly prog album (Pain of Salvation’s “Be,” which is, in hindsight, one of my least favorite POS releases), and a fair amount of jazz (no surprise) and country (some surprise). I’m glad to say I still listen to much of the music on that list.

This year, I’ve decided to break my music picks from 2014 into three categories: prog/rock, jazz, and the kitchen sink (country, electronica, weirdness). I want to emphasize “favorite” here because there were so many releases I simply didn’t get to, despite uploading over 6500 songs in the past 12 months. Ah well!

And I’m going to try to keep it short and simple, with the exception of my thoughts on my #1 pick in prog, which is also my Favorite Album of the Year. What is it? Read on!

Favorite Prog and Rock Albums of 2014:

12. “Live at Rome Olympic Stadium” by Muse and “Tales from the Netherlands” by Mystery. Muse is about as proggy as a mega-selling, world-famous band can be, known for putting on live performances that are equally energetic and well played. This July 2013 performance is no exception, with the trio ripping through nineteen of their eclectic songs, ranging from from electro-tinged funk (“Panic Station”) to Queen-ish pomp (“Knights of Cydonia”) to Floyd-ish slyness (“Animals”). The DVD is very impressive, not only because it was filmed with HD/4K cameras but also because the band is at the top of their game.

Mystery is fronted by Benoit David, who was lead singer for Yes for a short time a few years ago, before illness led to his firing. David never seemed comfortable with Yes, but his work with Mystery is of the highest caliber. The Montreal-based group is lead by multi-instrumentalist Michel St-Père  (guitars, keyboards, bass, production) and has an epic, soaring sound built on fabulous melodies and exquisitely structured songs. The production, for a live album, is excellent, and David (who has since left the group) is in top form; this is not easy music to navigate vocally, yet he nails it at every twist and turn.

11. “Magnolia” by Pineapple Thief. Bruce Soord has more talent in his toes than most alt-bands have in their entirety, whether it be as a writer, producer, player, or singer. I’ve enjoyed everything from Pineapple Thief, but this collection of incisive, beautifully burnished tunes is Soord’s best work yet, the sort of intelligent, catchy, and detailed modern rock that deserves to be all over the airwaves. Classic Rock magazine sums it nicely: “Small but perfectly formed pockets of 21st century prog.”

10. “The Ocean At the End” by Tea Party. I was thrilled that this Canadian trio (now based in Australia) got together again after several years apart; I still listen to their early albums (“Splendor Solis”, “Edges of Twilight”) which feature an overt Led Zep vibe with a brooding, even epic, melancholy, rooted in Jeff Martin’s powerful voice and bluesy guitar playing. The latter quality is more in evidence here, and the rocking cuts (“Brazil” and “The Cass Corridor”) are the least enjoyable for me. The highlights are the dark cover of “The Maker,” the aching “Black Roses”, and the tour de force “The Ocean at the End”. Distinctive, powerful, emotive rock.

9. “Beyond the Visable Light” by Ovrfwrd. This album made a late charge on my playlist, as each listen revealed deeper layers of detail, melody, and interplay. The four-man group from Minneapolis is instrumental only, with an emphasis on group dynamics and song structures that are complex but very accessible. There is a lot of territory covered in the 5-song, 48-minute-long album, with grungy, propulsive passages melting into subtle, jazz-ish sections, and then giving way to Deep Purple-ish organ, and so forth. Great use of piano throughout, which brings a distinctive detail to the entire, enjoyable affair. Continue reading “From Carl’s Critical Kitchen: A Baker’s Dozen of Tasty Prog/Rock from 2014”

Muse to Start Work on New Album

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According to Mark Kielty of PROG Magazine, Muse is set to start work on their 7th album within the next month.

But the follow-up to 2012’s The 2nd Law isn’t likely to be released until 2015.

Howard tells KROQ: “We’re going to go back in May and start working on some new stuff, so I think we’ll start recording it this year.

“If we can get something out this year that would be great – but definitely next year.

Frontman Matt Bellamy recently said he’d written some “good tracks” for the project and that the trio were aiming to return to a “more basic” sound.

He reported: “We focused on things like synthesizers, drum machines and stuff. On this next album, we’re going to veer back towards musicianship again: guitar, bass and drums. It’s probably going to be a bit of a rawer album, and definitely a bit more rock, I’d say.”

I’m glad they are deciding to steer back towards a more rock sound. It seemed like they were starting to head too far into the pop direction with the 2nd Law. Knowing Muse, the musicianship on the album will be fantastic, as will the ensuing concert. I believe I can safely say that 2015 will be a good year for prog.

Four Years Ago Today: Recollections

More reflections from the past.  This one from four years ago today, January 1, 2010.  Still lots of love for Steven Wilson.

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mobile_pic1A Steven Wilson solo albums can only come out every so often, sadly.  Technically, “Insurgentes” came out at the beginning of 2009.  But, for us Wilson nerds who follow his career way too closely, “Insurgentes” came out in 2008, even only in Wilson’s self-proclaimed hated MP3.  According to my iTunes stats, “Insurgentes” remains my most played cd of this past year.

It was closely followed, again according to my iTunes stats, by Guilt Machine, “On This Perfect Day,” Oceansize, “Frames,” and Riverside, “ADHD.”

Like the cat who adopted us in the summer of 2009 and with whom/which I fell in love, Guilt Machine has been a constant for me since its release in the summer.

There were however, two really, really disappointing CDs.  So disappointing in fact that I’m embarrassed I own them:

  • Dream Theater                      “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”
  • Pure Reason Revolution       “Love Conquers All”

Not sure what either group was thinking in the direction taken.

And, finally, a fun and novel album, but almost assuredly nothing that will stick with me for years to come:

  • Muse                           “The Resistance”

Lyrically, a great album, and moments of absolute musical genius can be found everywhere.  But, excess whimsy mars the album, and everytime I doubted how serious the musicians were about this, I doubted my interest in their project.

 

[Additional note found: “Thus far, 2009 has been bleak.  Dream Theater’s new album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings,” serves as an incoherent exercise in notes chasing notes and embarrassingly written lyrics.  Pure Reason Revolution’s “Amor Vincit Omnia” offers nothing but miserable sexual decadence and ridiculous Euro dance-type music.  The title should’ve been Lust Conquers All, not Love Conquers All.  How this could be the same band that released the captivating “The Dark Third,” I have no idea.”]

Muse- Pop Prog?

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Muse has been one of my favorite bands for a while now. In fact, they were probably one of my first introductions to the progressive genre, although I didn’t know it at the time. (My first real introduction to prog was through Rush when I was in sixth grade.) Over the years, Muse has been called many different things, including progressive rock, space rock, alternative rock (but what isn’t called that these days? Mumford and Sons is even called alternative rock. Ok.), and symphonic rock. Ok, so that all sounds like it fits nicely into prog. But there is one strange thing about Muse that does not quite add up. They are popular. Very popular, in fact. These days, it seems that if a band is popular across wide audiences and continents, they are making pretty bad music (there are obviously exceptions, and I am probably being too pessimistic), but Muse has been making excellent music for over ten years now.

Muse’s best albums are Origin of Symmetry (2001), Absolution (2003, with cover art by the great Storm Thorgerson- Dark Side of the Moon), Black Holes and Revelations (2006), and The Resistance (2009). Their first album, Showbiz (1999), and their most recent album, The 2nd Law (2012), did not thrill me, but maybe I should give them another go around. Their sound is defined by singer/guitarist/studio keyboardist Matthew Bellamy’s magnificent voice. Bellamy is also an artist on the guitar, able to manipulate it to make almost any sound he wants. Often times, what sounds like synthesizer on the album is actually guitar in concert. Christopher Wolstenholme is no slouch on bass either. Many of their songs feature bass as the melody driving the song (ex. Starlight off of Black Holes and Revelations). Dominic Howard on drums is also an excellent percussionist, able to deliver both hard rocking drum riffs along with quieter, more technical drumming. Their use of keyboards and piano, along with a symphony on The Resistance, showcases their ability to explore different areas of the musical realm. They are more than willing to experiment with many different sounds, and more often than not it is breathtaking. Their technical, musical skill is some of the best in the modern, popular rock world.

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Muse’s lyrics tend to deal with vague political ideas. They can be described as libertarian/anarchist, much like Rush. Origin of Symmetry deals with the dangers of new technology and what can happen when it is misused. Absolution is apocalyptic in nature, with songs ranging from the urgency of “Time is Running Out” to the symphonic beauty of “Blackout.” Black Holes and Revelations, probably their most popular album, deals with themes of science fiction and oppressive governments (Ayn Rand?). The Resistance discusses ideas of resisting governmental overreach, along with what the world would be like under a one world government. They end the album with a stunning three part symphonic piece that is very relaxing. All in all, Muse’s lyrics make the listener think, like all good prog should.

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Going back to Muse’s popularity, this is a band that can sell out arenas anywhere. From the 02 in London, to Lollapalooza in Chicago, Muse sells out venues to people who cannot get enough of their music. Is this a sign from God that the people are hungry for prog?! I certainly hope so. Deep down inside, every educated, thinking individual loves prog, and if Muse is a path by which millions of young people can be introduced to this wonderful genre, then more power to them. Here is to hoping that people listen to their Muse and are directed toward the beauty found in the genre of progressive rock.

A Pilgrim’s Prog-ress

I balked for a few moments at the temptation of writing an indulgent, long, complex, and idiosyncratic post about my journey to and into prog, and then realized: hey, this is Progarchy.com! If I cannot string together tenuously-related, semi-mystical concepts and conceits imbued with mythical overtones, quasi-autobiographical meta-narratives, and intertwining (and purposely confusing) philosophical musings here, then what’s the point of this wonderful blog? (No need to answer that, as I’m already soloing  on my inner Moog without regard for the boring 4/4 time signature others might wish to force upon me.) Actually, much of what follows was already presented in a long-ish comment I left on a previous post below. But Brad, as he often does, inspired me to do more, even at the risk of embarrassing the shy and retiring Olson clan. So here goes.

I was oddly oblivious to most music until my early teens. This was due in part to being raised in a Fundamentalist home and church, both of which largely frowned on rock music as the rhythmic spawn of the devil, meant to corrupt good morals and encourage bad haircuts. Yes, the stereotypes do hold, at least to some degree.  I heard a lot of church music (classic Protestant hymns, some of them very good) and mostly bland to bad contemporary Christian music. Then, around the age of fourteen or so, I started listening to the radio (one station, weak signal) and began to slowly accumulate a few tapes. My road to prog went through AOR acts such as Journey, REO Speedwagon, Loverboy, Foreigner, and Styx, with a helping of popular mid-80s albums by ELO, Elton John, Toto, and Queen. I found the standard rock of the day (including some of the stuff above) to be rather dull; I was fascinated by the more extended songs of Elton (the early 1970s albums especially), Queen, Asia, and the Moody Blues. I’m happy to say I was hooked on “Bohemian Rhapsody” long before “Wayne’s World” re-presented it to my generation. Also, I thought the usual popular, party music about sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll was mostly shallow, even if occasionally diverting. Which is another way of saying I secretly listened to my share of Van Halen while playing some laughable air guitar (oh, wait, all air guitar is laughable). I did not, however, ever party. Seriously.

Around 1985 or so, I bought a copy of “The Best of Kansas”. That opened the door to prog. There was something about the mixture of Livgren’s lead guitar, Steinhardt’s violin, and Steve Walsh’s amazing voice, along with lyrics soaked in spiritual longing and Americana, that grabbed me by the scrawny neck. Over the next three or four years, I ended up collecting everything by Kansas, Kerry Livgren (solo and with AD), and Steve Morse (solo, Dixie Dregs, etc.). My favorite Kansas albums are “Song for America” and “In the Spirit of Things”, although they weren’t the chart-toppers that “Point of Know Return” and “Leftoverture” were. I also went on a serious Moody Blues binge, focusing on the early stuff, prior to their more pop-oriented work of the mid-’80s. Then I really got into Yes (both Rabin-era and the early classic albums with Howe), Rush, and Pink Floyd; in fact, while in Bible college (1989-91), I freaked out some of my more staid classmates with my obsessive interest in Pink Floyd, Queen, Queenrÿche, and King’s X (and, yes, I also listened to Petra, David Meece, White Heart, White Cross, Russ Taff, and Margaret Becker). King’s X was a major revelation, especially the brilliant, crunching, melodic beauty of “faith hope love”, which was a masterful blend of hard rock, metal, prog, blues, and Beatle-esque harmonies. And I recall very clearly driving across the Montana plains to school in Saskatchewan, blaring “Fly By Night” and other brilliant Rush tunes. Ah, to be young again.

A quick aside here, in the spirit of musical indulgence: while in high school, I also developed a semi-secret soft spot for country artists such as Johnny Cash, Johnny Horton, and Jim Reeves. And two composers: Mozart and Brahms. I tried to get into opera (our family doctor, who owned a massive classical collection, gave it his best shot), but couldn’t get there. I would try again in the late 1990s, failing again. And at one point I must have listened to Eric Clapton’s 1989 comeback album, “Journeyman”, about a thousand times. Go figure, as it’s the only Clapton album I’ve ever fixated on. Okay, back to prog.

In my early-to-mid twenties (1989-1995), I launched into Van Morrison, Seal, Jeff Buckley, Radiohead, and jazz, five of my big musical loves ever since (I’ll eventually write some disturbingly long posts about each, I hope). My interest in prog advanced in fits and starts. Yes was a constant, as I worked through most of the band’s catalog, with excursions into solo projects by Jon Anderson, Trevor Rabin, Rick Wakeman, Bill Bruford, and Steve Howe. The next big breakthrough was Dream Theater in the late 1990s, followed by Spock’s Beard, then Porcupine Tree and a bunch of others. Then, around 2004, I “discovered” Frank Sinatra, which led to the purchase of about 1,000 Sinatra tunes (favorite album: “In the Wee Small Hours”). I mention Sinatra because I have the semi-crazy idea of writing a blog titled, “Sinatra: Grandfather of Prog?”, that will either get me ejected from Progarchy, or enshrined in the Progarchy Hall of Fame.

I fully agree with Brad: we are living in a new, golden age of prog. There is such a stunning array of prog and prog-ish music to be had, I’ve long given up hope of keeping abreast of it all. Current favorites, in addition to the already mentioned acts, include Pain of Salvation, Threshold, Riverside, Muse, Animals As Leaders, Big Big Train, Anathema, Devin Townsend, Three, Astra, Blackfield, The Pineapple Thief, King Crimson, Headspace, and Mars Volta. But there are still huge holes in my prog knowledge and experience. I’m making prog-ress, but the road continues to rise and wind ahead. Which is exciting, as it means there is more to discover and hear.