Joy in the Wasteland: Riverside’s Seventh

A Review of Riverside, Wasteland (Insideout, 2018).

wasteland by riverside
Wasteland, released two days ago.

At first, I was surprised that the two best (and best known, at least in American prog circles) Polish bands named their most recent albums, Wasteland. Well, ok, there’s a slight difference. Newspaperflyhunting named its album with a plural. Still, it must be more than a coincidence. Presumably, each took the name either from the Arthurian legends or from T.S. Eliot (who took his from the Arthurian legends).  Regardless, the title fits for most of our world of 2018.

Continue reading “Joy in the Wasteland: Riverside’s Seventh”

Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part II

Continued from Part I: https://progarchy.com/2017/12/05/birzers-best-of-2017-part-i/

Hay ManNo. 5.  Cosmograf, HAY MAN DREAMS.  I’m pretty much a shoo-in for purchasing every thing Robin Armstrong—master of all things chronometry—does.  I love the angst and the seriousness he brings to each and every note and lyric.  Spirited without being gushy, and thoughtful without being pedantic.  I also love how entrepreneurial he is in his approach to music—finding the best musician to fit each part he’s written.  Whatever Armstrong does, he always achieves something serious and meaningful.  The HAY-MAN DREAMS is no different.  As with everything Armstrong does, there is gravitas.

Continue reading “Birzer’s Best of 2017, Part II”

Guest Post: Michał Pawłowski on Labels and Steven Wilson

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Love it or hate it, it’s Steven Wilson!

The following came in as a comment on a post regarding the media and fan reaction to the new Steven Wilson album, TO THE BONE.  It’s so good, though, that I don’t want it to get lost in the shuffle of comments.  So, without permission!!!, I’m posting it as its own post. Michał Pawłowski is founder and lead of the astounding art rock band, newspaperflyhunting.  He’s also a really brilliant and good person.

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A very very good point Brad! Strangely enough (or not) the comments that jump on me on social media are more along the lines of ‘Wilson betrayed prog, if you like the album, there must be something wrong with you! Bring back PT!’

“What the?????” First of all ‘prog Wilson’ for me is: 1) “The Sky Moves Sideways” and “Signify”, 2) More importantly: prog is all his output taken together. ‘Prog Wilson’ is not “Grace for Drowning” and “Raven” as I don’t really count retro as progressive and those people on social media I quoted above somehow see this direction (a fraction of SW’s overall output) as THE Wilson. I do not – it was a phase in his career (probably caused by his remixing King Crimson et al. at that time) that seems to have passed (or abated) as all phases in his career do. This is the very thing that makes him TRULY progessive, now culminated in a self-proclaimed ‘pop’ album released after the retro of “Raven” and the wonderfully eclectic “H.C.E.”.

The position you descibe, ‘you must like his new album or you betray prog!” is equally daft. I don’t listen to genres. I use genre names so that I can communicate ideas (like this post), they have no qualitative value for me. I don’t like “Raven” not because it’s retro (prog) but because when I listen to it I’m bored. It doesn’t resonate. The label doesn’t change anything either way. I heven’t heard “To the Bone” in full yet (I’m waiting for the CD), but I like the tracks I heard a lot and Pariah is one of the best things SW has ever done.

Pop or not, prog or not I like what I hear and this is what ultimately matters. One should not like a poor record any more or less because it is a poor record in a genre they happen to like. And no album should be forced down my throat because it’s prog or Wilson or classic or whatever. People should grow good sets of ears and an anti-social media shield 😉

Latest Single: Newspaperflyhunting’s “Hours Pass”

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The first single from their forthcoming album.

Our great Polish friends, the members of Newspaperflyhunting, have just released their latest single at Bandcamp.

In continuity with their past musical approach, but armed with excellent new ideas, the band progresses properly.  Be prepared for a much proggier 1985 New Order mixed with some 1990 Cranberries mixed with the genius that alone belongs to NPFH!

From their forthcoming album.

https://newspaperflyhunting.bandcamp.com/album/hours-pass-single

soundstreamsunday: “Through the Lurking Glass” by newspaperflyhunting

newspaperflyhunting1When the Polish band newspaperflyhunting released Iceberg Soul in 2014, to my ears it was a shot across the bow of prog, which maybe needed a little hard striving to bust out of the templates.  The album was an original in a widening landscape littered with knockoffs, so while their sound skimmed Pink Floyd and the Velvet Underground, Mazzy Star and modern metal, their song structures, melodies, and presentation were a strong reminder of prog’s roots: a playground for the far out and unexpected, combining psychedelia, improvisation, and musics new and old, with a focus on riffs and the straight-up sonic power of rock’s stomp.  This was not a music to be sequestered unto itself, and reminds me how the Soft Machine cut their teeth opening for Jimi Hendrix, and Yes was as likely to be paired with Iron Butterfly, or Rush with ZZ Top, as with strictly like-minded souls.

“Through the Lurking Glass” is representative of the rest of Iceberg Soul, which is unfussy and melodically rich, a dark stage lit by accents like Fender Rhodes piano and an innocent, plaintive vocal approach which is improved by its Polish tilt.  It’s an utterly unique record.  Along with the work of Gazpacho, newspaperflyhunting is the best argument I can find for the continuing vitality of progressive rock.

soundstreamsunday presents one song or live set by an artist each week, and in theory wants to be an infinite linear mix tape where the songs relate and progress as a whole. For the complete playlist, go here: soundstreamsunday archive and playlist, or check related articles by clicking on”soundstreamsunday” in the tags section above.

SAND No. 2: The Unadulterated Excellence of Sam Healy

A review of SAND (Sam Healy), A SLEEPER, JUST AWAKE (forthcoming, September 30, 2016).  9 tracks.

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SAND, A SLEEPER JUST AWAKE (forthcoming, September 30, 2016)

As much as I’d like to start with something artsy (the album deserves it), I’ll just be really, utterly, completely, and totally blunt.  This album is extraordinary.  After a summer of horrors and violence (not personally, but around the world), this album seems like the necessary art to calm the savage soul.  I think this is, quite possibly, Healy’s best.

As I’ve written a number of times before when writing about Healy (solo) and about North Atlantic Oscillation, he does three things with unadulterated excellence.

Continue reading “SAND No. 2: The Unadulterated Excellence of Sam Healy”

THREE WORDS by Newspaperflyhunting

Newspaperflyhunting, THREE WORDS EP (2015).

The band:

  • Michał Pawłowski: guitars, backing vocals
  • Jacek Bezubik: guitars, lead and backing vocals
  • Gosia Sutuła-Grabowska: basses, lead and backing vocals
  • Krzysztof Sarna: drums
  • Beata Grzegorczyk-Andrejczuk: Fender Rhodes piano
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THREE WORDS.

 

There’s something just so terribly infectious about the music of Newspaperflyhunting.

Granted, the name of the band is the weirdest thing since Annie Oakley shot three playing cards (ace of hearts, of course) at 100 yards while looking at the target through a mirror.  Yes, as with Oakley, Newspaperflyhunting brings a standard of excellence to every single thing it touches and produces.

The band’s latest EP, THE THREE WORDS, is a thing of wonder, beauty, and majesty.

Though the three-song EP has a familiar Newspaperflyhunting sound, THE THREE WORDS is different from their other releases and offers the long-time listener even new aural ecstasies.

As I’ve mentioned previously, the band’s music possesses much in common with the American and British neo-psychedelic wall-of-sound revival of the late 1980s which saw the rise and glory of such bands as Opal, Mazzy Star, the Cocteau Twins, and My Bloody Valentine.  Whatever the similarities, however, Newspaperflyhunting (as the name would suggest) is very much—maybe even absolutely—its own band.  Other than being from Poland and believing in the purity of art, Newspaperflyhunting evades any easy labeling or categorization.

At nearly 11 minutes in length, the opening track, “3 Words,” a song ostensibly about wisdom, tradition, and loss.  The song builds slowly but surely in the first two minutes, exploding at the 1:56 mark.  The voice drones (appropriately) as much as sings in a longing fashion, a plea for attention and contemplation.  The mood of the song changes numerous times through the 11 minutes, demanding the full immersion of the listener.

At just under 10 minutes, “Past Perfect (revisited),” track two, is a remake of an older Newspaperflyhunting song.  Never satisfied with the song, the band completely rebuilt it for the THREE WORDS EP.  The new version of the song is nothing short of stunning.  The female vocalist especially brings the song to life, drawing the listener into introspection as well as inspiration.

“Demolished Mansions” reflects the overall themes of the EP: the loss of tradition, replaced by heartless modernity.  There might also—though I speculate, nothing more—be something scriptural in the title, a loss and the death of God in our insane whirligig.

***

To order: http://newspaperflyhunting.bandcamp.com/album/the-three-words-ep

The band’s description of itself: “Formed in 2006 in Białystok, Poland. Prog/post/space rock. Longing, melancholy, and rays of light scattered throughout. Introspective music, disregarding trends or expectations.”  One of the most accurate self-evaluations I’ve encountered in my life.

Our 2001st Post: Celebrating the Book of Riverside and Mariusz Duda

Riverside's latest album, LOVE, FEAR, AND THE TIME MACHINE (InsideOut, 2015).
Riverside’s latest album, LOVE, FEAR, AND THE TIME MACHINE (InsideOut, 2015).

Erik Heter’s grand interview with Mariusz Duda this past summer, The Duda Abides, reawakened (or least reminded me of) much of my love of Riverside.  And, that love is and never has been a shy love.  I first heard Riverside sometime between 2005’s SECOND LIFE SYNDROME and 2007’s RAPID EYE MOVEMENT.  I was immediately riveted by their music.  Not only do I love the Polish people and culture, I love prog and rock—so what a perfect mix of things.

Frankly, if you measure Poland’s prog and art rock output through Riverside and Newspaperflyhunting, it’s hard not to think of Poland as one of the most important countries in the world when it comes to producing modern music.

Continue reading “Our 2001st Post: Celebrating the Book of Riverside and Mariusz Duda”

Hit By a White Car: The Best 8 ALBUMS of 2014

And, my final “best of” post for 2014.  Let’s hope that you’re not getting too tired of these!

I’ve saved the albums that hit me the hardest—at level of mind and soul—for the last.  I guess it’s somewhat goofy to have a “top eight,” but these are my top eight.  These are the albums that did everything right, the ones that pulled it all together, offering real glimpses of the turning spheres.  The first seven are in no particular order.  I like them equally, and I think they’ve each attained the highest an album can reach but in quite different ways.

Poland's best.
Poland’s best.

What can one say about Poland’s greatest, Newspaperflyhunting?  Craig Breaden has already explained—in perfect detail—why this is a perfect album.  From atmospherics to piercingly intelligent lyrics to mood swinging melodies, these Eastern Europeans have created what is certainly one of the most innovating and interesting albums of the last few decades.  The album, ICEBERG SOUL, has much in common with early 1990’s American psychedelic revival, and there’s a real Mazzy Star and Opal feel to much of the music.  But, whereas Mazzy Star was really good, Newspaperflyhunting is simply excellent.  Droning, walls of sound, haunting guitar lines—this album has it all.

Two guys named Dave.
Two guys named Dave.

Salander, a new band from England, has blown me away as much as Newspaperflyhunting, and the two bands have much in common.  Slander is only two guys, each named Dave, but you’d never know it listening to the music.  Much as Cailyn plays every single thing on her album, the two Daves do the same.  Their two albums this year, CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT and STENDEC, are really one album, a journey through the wonders and terrors of the world, seen and unseen.  The two Daves move effortlessly from one style of music to another, but they always hold it all together with what can only be described as a Salander sound.  These two albums provide a journey that you hope never ends.

The end result of Americans, Brits, and Dutch working together: pure goodness.
The end result of Americans, Brits, and Dutch working together: pure goodness.

Armed with some new producers and engineers and a barrel full of confidence, the Anglo-Dutch-American band, Fractal Mirror, has proven the worth of community and friendship a million times over with GARDEN OF GHOSTS, a landmark album.  As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets in this album.  But, whereas those 1980’s bands felt as though they had one cool trick, Fractal Mirror is the real deal.  GARDEN OF GHOSTS is mind-bogglingly good—stunning in every way—and we are so blessed to be catching them at the beginning of their journey.  Certainly, it’s Gothic in tone, but it’s always soaring and light and dark and maddening and enlightening and loving. . . .  It’s also quite defiant, and, at times, the lyrics make Neil Peart look like a softy.

Sowing some seeds of love.
Sowing some seeds of love.

I think the first album by the Tin Spirits one of my all-time favorite albums.  It would certainly be in my top ten all-time albums.  In particular, the song “Broken” is a masterpiece, a progged-out Allman Brothers kind of song.  I eagerly awaited SCORCH, and I’ve not been disappointed.  This is guitar prog, pop prog, rock prog—however one might label it, it’s just amazingly good.  The four guys in the band obviously really like one another, and their friendship comes out in a myriad of ways in the music.  The best song on Scorch, “Summer Now,” might very well be the best song of the year.  As with Flying Colors, the Tin Spirits should be playing on every single album-rock radio across North America.  The contrast between the two bands?  Where Flying Colors might cross the line and go “over the top,” the Tin Spirits go for taste, class, and a dignified restraint.

American demi-god Zee behind the wheel.
American demi-god Zee behind the wheel.

Not to be too jingoistic, but one of the best aspects of 2014 has been the emergence of a number of North American prog bands.  I’ve already mentioned several over the last few posts.  The very best of the American prog bands, though, is Fire Garden.  Holy Schnikees these guys are good.  Scratch that.  These guys are amazing!  They clearly love Dream Theater, but they’re also 20x better than Dream Theater.  Just as the Tin Spirits goes for dignified restraint, so does Fire Garden.  Rather than play 30 notes in a millisecond, master musician and lyricist Zee Baig goes for just the necessary ones, the ones most needed for creativity and beauty.  Again, that dignified restraint, when employed properly, can be such a beautiful thing.  As I noted with Threshold and Haken, I don’t generally gravitate toward the heavier stuff.  With Fire Garden, I happily embrace it.  Of course, their heaviness is more Rush than Metallica.   But, again, everything is perfect.  I’ve focused on the band’s ubercoolleader, Zee, but everyone is in top form here.  Zee pulls it all together.

So much greater than a muppet.
So much greater than a muppet.

I’m almost afraid to mention John Bassett.  I’ve praised the that English stocking cap-wearing bard so many times, folks might start to wonder if I have some bizarre motive or some mancrush.  Trust me, I’m married and have six kids.  Yet, I do really love Bassett—just not in THAT way.  Bassett’s music, through Kingbathmat, appeared in my life just a few years ago, but I can’t imagine my love of prog or music without him now, even as I look back to four decades of music obsession.  Bassett’s first solo album, Uneßarth, is a psychedelic folk album, the kind of album that Storm Corrosion should have been.  Somehow, Bassett’s actual voice (vocals) have a guitar-like quality.  It’s bizarre.  Beautifully and wondrously bizarre.  And, despite his own self-deprecating remarks about merely being a “muppet”, Bassett is one of our best cultural critics.  Of course, I love Animal, and there is a slight resemblance.  Equally interesting, Bassett went the Matt Stevens/Fierce and the Dead route with his second album of 2014, a vocal-less progressive metal affair called Arcade Messiah.  Each reveals a fascinating side to this very fascinating artist.  What would I love to see—Bassett to bring these two styles together in Kingbathmat, writing a full-blown prog epic, unapologetic and unrelentingly so.

Taste defined.
Taste defined.

Once again, here comes the bro-mance.  Sorry, Sally!  I love your man, too.  Just in very different ways than do you.  I’m not sure Andy Tillison is capable of a misstep.  Not only has he been one of the two or three most important musicians of what he’s insightfully called “Third Wave Prog,” he’s now becoming one of the two or three most important musicians in what I’ve attempted—admittedly, not very successfully—“Fourth Wave Prog.”  His only release this year (what a funny thing to type) is under the name, cleverly, The Andy Tillison Multiplex.  The album: ELECTRONIC SINFONIA 2.  Just as Cailyn has brought classical music back into the world of prog, Andy is bringing jazz and jazz fusion back into prog.  This album is beyond stunning.  It is the very essence of taste itself.  Every note, every line, every segue is just astounding.  Tillison is a perfectionist, and it shows on and in all that he does.  Thank you, Mr. Diskdrive.  Rage on.

The best album of 2014 and a masterpiece for decades to come.
The best album of 2014 and a masterpiece for decades to come.

And, so I come to my favorite album of 2014.  It took a while for me to get here, and if you fine progarchist reader are still with me, bless you.  God has granted you immense patience.  Though, as I’ve noted, this has been one of the best years ever in prog—and I’ve loved everything I’ve mentioned in the previous posts—I’ve loved this the most: Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR.  Made by master of chronometry, Robin Armstrong, CAPACITOR is the perfect album.  To those of you who write and produce instrumental music, thank you.  And, please accept my apologies.  I love what you do, but, not being trained in music, I don’t always get what you’re doing, even if I love it.  For me, prog has been centrally about the lyrics and the story telling, with the music augmenting the two.  I love the Word and the words.  And, that brings me to CAPACITOR, a story that has everything.  It’s a mix of science fiction and the occult, a play on religious revivals and scientific fetishes of a century ago.  It’s not steam punk, it’s seance punk!  And, what a story.  Simply put, it’s the best sci-fi story of 2014.  Part Arthur Conan Doyle, part Ray Bradbury, it’s purely Robin Armstrong.  And, as we all know, Robin is not only a perfectionist, he’s an aural genius.  He knows exactly how to mix word and note.  This album is so good, it, almost by itself, redefines the entire genre.  This is an album to match CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and, much more recently, ENGLISH ELECTRIC and LE SACRE DU TRAVAIL.

N.B.  Please forgive any typos.  I have a three-year old princess acting rather grumpy as she deals with the flu.  Lots of distractions in the Birzer household.

Previous posts in my “Best of 2014” series:

Part I: https://progarchy.com/2014/12/17/my-best-of-2014-part-i-by-the-way-which-one-is-pink/

Part II: https://progarchy.com/2014/12/18/my-best-of-2014-part-ii-but-im-not-dead-yet/

Part III: https://progarchy.com/2014/12/19/best-of-2014-part-iv-welcome-to-the-mask-machine/