What new music and archival finds are heading our way in the next couple of months? Check out the representative sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below. (Box sets based on reissues will follow in a separate article!) Pre-order links are embedded in the artist/title listings below.
Amanda Lehmann, Innocence and Illusion:“a fusion of prog, rock, ballads, and elements of jazz-blues” from the British guitarist/vocalist best known as Steve Hackett’s recurring sidekick. Available direct from Lehmann’s webstore as CD or digital download.
The Neal Morse Band, Innocence and Danger: another double album from Neal, Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Bill Hubauer and Eric Gillette. No overarching concept this time — just everything and the kitchen sink, ranging from a cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” to brand-new half-hour epics. Available from Inside Out as 2CD, 2CD/DVD or 3 LPs/2 CDs
Trifecta, Fragments: what happens when Steven Wilson’s rhythm section turns his pre-show sound checks into “jazz club”? Short, sharp tracks that mix the undeniable chops and musicality of Adam Holzman on keys, Nick Beggs on Stick and Craig Blundell on drums with droll unpredictability and loopy titles like “Clean Up on Aisle Five” and “Pavlov’s Dog Killed Schrodinger’s Cat”. Available from Burning Shed as CD or LP (black or neon orange).
The Mute Gods, Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (InsideOut, 2017)
Tracks: Saltatio Mortis (1:57), Animal Army (5:00), We Can’t Carry On (5:11), The Dumbing of the Stupid (7:08), Early Warning (3:57), Tardigrades Will Inherit the Earth (5:02), Window Onto the Sun (6:00), Lament (2:01), The Singing Fish of Batticaloa (8:25), The Andromeda Strain (2:57), Stranger than Fiction (4:23)
I’m going to catch hell for that title. I really don’t want to get political, but it seems that the regressive leftists are taking over this beloved genre we like to call prog. (I am, after all, the one who just last year wrote an article entitled, “Keep Your Politics Out of My Prog.”) Anyways, the first part of this article will be a subjective rant. The second half will be a relatively objective review. Both are neatly titled, in case you want to skip the rant part.
“Fronting up a band as a bass player and vocalist is a tough gig – one with which I’ve had some experience. Geddy shows how it should be done. In a power trio, every little helps and additional duties on bass pedals, double-neck guitar and synths made for a fulsome sound in his stadium filling band Rush.”
2. JACO PASTORIUS
“Also often cited as the most influential player ever, his approach to Jazz and the fretless instrument was ground breaking. It’s hard to find someone Jaco didn’t influence. The 80s music charts were populated with hits featuring many Jaco clones – and for good reason.”
1. CHRIS SQUIRE
“My biggest musical influence ever. His sound and tone inspired a legion of players. Chris’ own inspirations were Paul McCartney and John Entwistle, two players who probably influenced more than most. But for me, Chris will always be top of the list. Sorely missed.”
The Mute Gods have released a music video for their song, “Nightschool For Idiots,” which happens to be my favorite song off of their album, Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me. This song was certainly written from the heart. I’ve read mixed reviews on it, but I love it. Enjoy.
Wilson confirmed Beggs’ report when Wilson posted on Facebook on April 21:
Just 30 minutes before we went on stage in Vienna tonight I heard that Prince had died, I couldn’t believe it. It was a very tough show for me to play. The word “genius” is used a bit too often and loosely within the music world, but I think Prince was the real thing, perhaps the most naturally gifted performer of all time. I saw him play live several times, and his show at The O2 Arena in London in 2007 I would rate as the greatest concert I ever saw (Craig Blundell is agreeing with me now, he was there too).
The run of albums from Dirty Mind in 1980 through to Sign ‘O’ the Times in 1987 matches anyone in its sustained brilliance, and it was such a big part of my soundtrack as a teenager (some of you will know that The Ballad of Dorothy Parker from the latter album was on the mixtape made by my character in Hand.Cannot.Erase., which is pretty much what my mixtape would have been at that time in my life).
Tonight I made a humble attempt to sing his song Sign ‘O’ the Times, in fact just before we played David Bowie‘s Space Oddity. It’s been a while since I recorded my version so I couldn’t remember it very well, but I wanted to at least try it, it would have seemed strange to pay tribute to one unique musical genius and not the other. Farewell strange purple one, and thanks for it all.
If you haven’t listened to The Mute Gods yet, you really should. They have crafted one of the best albums of 2016.
Nick Beggs himself will personally take you through the album, track-by-track, if you listen to his detailed, in-depth interview with Progarchy from last week.
Also, here’s the press release from Inside Out records, which accurately describes what’s going on with this supremely excellent album:
Nick Beggs (Steven Wilson, Lifesigns), Roger King (Steve Hackett) and Marco Minnemann (Joe Satriani) join forces to deliver engaging, expansive rock for the thinking person
Is everything truly as it seems? Are we living in a state of manufactured reality? How can regular people rise above the propaganda that floods daily existence? Those are some of the important questions The Mute Gods explore on its debut album Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me on InsideOut Music.
The album’s 11 provocative tracks explore the dark clouds governments, corporations, media, and religious institutions form atop society. Songs such as “Praying to a Mute God,” “Feed the Troll,” “Your Dark Ideas,” and “In the Crosshairs” look at how we’re driven to distraction by these forces, taking our focus away from important issues and meaningful personal priorities. Musically, the album is a mercurial journey that seamlessly shifts between the realms of progressive rock and adventurous pop.
“We live in a time of heightened religious fundamentalism in which people deliver the wrath of God or speak out on his behalf,” says Nick Beggs. “When did God appoint these dubious PR men? The people in this world who should truly be listened to are often the ones who are silenced. The voice of reason seems strangely quiet in the face of so much disinformation. The Mute Gods address this imbalance.”
The band is the brainchild of Beggs, an acclaimed bassist, Stick player, songwriter and vocalist, with a footprint stamped across a wide range of genres including progressive rock, pop, Celtic, funk, and soul. Collectively, his own band and project releases have sold more than four million copies.
Beggs has also worked with some of the biggest names in rock and pop, including Belinda Carlisle, John Paul Jones, Gary Numan, Cliff Richard, Seal, and Tina Turner. In the progressive rock realm, he’s performed with Steve Hackett, Steve Howe, Iona, Lifesigns, and Rick Wakeman. Currently, Beggs records and tours with Steven Wilson, the progressive artist enjoying significant acclaim and chart success with Hand. Cannot. Erase., his latest release.
The Mute Gods came together during Beggs’ tenures with Hackett and Wilson. Roger King, the album’s keyboardist and producer, worked with Beggs on Hackett’s sold-out multi-year Genesis Revisited tour. King has long been Hackett’s right-hand man, serving in production, arrangement and writing capacities for the ex-Genesis guitarist. Marco Minnemann, considered one of the most important drummers of his generation, has worked with Beggs extensively on many Wilson tours and recordings.
The album also features contributions from other rock, pop and jazz luminaries, including keyboardist Adam Holzman (Miles Davis, Steven Wilson), drummers Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard, Tears for Fears) and Gary O’Toole (Steve Hackett, China Crisis, Kylie Minogue), and multi- instrumentalist Rob Reed (Magenta) as well as Ricky Wilde (who happens to be Kim Wilde’s brother).
Perhaps the most important special guest on the album is Beggs’ daughter Lula, an emerging singer- songwriter. The album closes with “Father Daughter,” a poignant reminder of keeping family intact even in the face of difficult challenges. The emotional vocal duet between Beggs and Lula looks at the struggle of a father reconciling dealing with his responsibilities to the world with the needs of his children.
Nick Beggs: string basses, string guitars, Chapman Stick, programming, keyboards and vocals
Roger King: keyboards, programming, guitars, backing vocals, production and mastering
Marco Minnemann: drums, guitars and sound design
Guests on the album:
Ricky Wilde: keyboards, programming, guitars and backing vocals
Frank Van Bogaert: keyboards and backing vocals, additional mixing
Nick Beggs spoke with Progarchy today! Listen above to this exciting interview, in which The Blonde Bombshell talks in detail about the tracks on The Mute Gods album, as well as his upcoming tour with Steven Wilson, and the nature of prog rock music.
We reviewed one of his concerts with Wilson back in June 2015 when he visited us in Vancouver, Canada.
Thanks again, Nick! We can’t wait to hear whatever Sir Nicholas does next. In the meantime, all Progarchists should do nothing until they hear this excellent new album from The Mute Gods…
Here’s a video for one of the songs we talked about:
Nick is also a talented illustrator as well as being a far-from-mute prog god:
I’m old enough to remember those halcyon days of the early-to-mid-’70s when FM radio was full of great music. Every time I turned on my J.C. Penney clock radio, I knew the odds were good that something great would come blasting out of that tiny speaker. The likes of Yes, ELP, Jethro Tull, Kansas, Bowie, 10cc, and many others dominated the playlists of my local “progressive rock radio” station, WKDF.
Artists like the aforementioned walked a tightrope between pop accessibility and progressive complexity with an ease that today seems miraculous. Garnering lots of radio play, a group like Electric Light Orchestra could appeal to teenyboppers as well as college-age music geeks.
Fast forward a few decades, and those of us pining for that golden age of FM radio are now well-served by Nick Beggs’ new project, The Mute Gods. Right out of the gate, the album’s title track, “Do Nothing Till Hear From Me”, is a tour de force of instrumental prowess and spectacular vocals. Set in a totalitarian dystopia where no one can be trusted and the singer is on the run, the song is 7-plus minutes of aural bliss.
There’s a reason Nick Beggs has played with everyone from Celtic-prog band Iona to Steven Wilson: the man is a monster on the bass and stick. I’ve always been a sucker for inventive and melodic bass work, and Beggs delivers on every track. At times sounding like Chris Squire and others like Tony Levin, Beggs is able to go from providing a discreet pulse to thundering beats in a flash, all the while maintaining a unique melodicism. I’m now a huge fan.
That said, this is not a bass showcase. The band is tight as hell and every member makes significant contributions. In addition to bass and stick, Beggs also plays guitar, keyboards, and handles lead vocals. Marco Minneman (drums, percussion, guitars, sound design) played with Beggs in Steven Wilson’s band, while Roger King (keyboards, guitars, backing vocals, programming, and production) played with Beggs in Steve Hackett’s band.
This is one of the best-produced albums I’ve heard in quite a while, with a mix that allows each instrument to shine without overwhelming the overall sound. Little details are there for the discerning listener to enjoy, like the brief retro organ solo in “Your Dark Ideas”, or the Frippy guitar in “Praying to a Mute God”.
And how about the songs themselves! They move from peak to peak, with gorgeous melodies. I am often reminded of prime Alan Parsons Project as well as Hackett-era Genesis (especially on “Strange Relationship”). Lyrically, they tend to deal with alienation, paranoia, and the irrationality of current times. As Beggs states on their official site, “The record has a number of moods. But overall, it’s a rather disgruntled rant at the dystopia we’ve created for ourselves and our children.”
“Feed the Troll” is a very creepy look at an internet stalker who could have come from the dark imagination of Steven Wilson. “Swimming Horses” is a meditation on the passing of time, while “Father Daughter” is a beautiful duet between a father and daughter in which he confesses his regret at not being there for her as she grew up. “Praying to a Mute God” addresses the nutjobs who claim to speak to speak on God’s behalf. Heavy stuff, but the stunning music helps it go down easily.
There’s only one slight misstep, “Nightschool For Idiots”, which gets dangerously high on my cheese-o-meter. But hey, even that one is a pleasant listen.
So is this album pop, or is it prog? The Mute Gods successfully walk that tightrope with a superb collection of songs – it’s both and it’s more; it’s just great, great music. With Do Nothing Till You Hear from Me, The Mute Gods have set the bar very high for everyone else in 2016.
Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR is everything a rock album should be. And, I do mean EVERYTHING. EVERY. SINGLE. THING. It is wholesome, fractured, creepy, uplifting, contemplative, mythic, existentialist, moving, intense, wired, dramatic, contemplative, Stoic, mystifying, weird, satisfying, honed, nuanced, dark, and light.
The Meaning of It All
If I could capture the album in one sentence, comparing it to other forms of art, I would and will put it this way: CAPACITOR is an Edwardian journey into the Hades of the Ancient Greeks but emerging in BIOSHOCK.
Then, think about the artists involved. Andy Tillison plays keyboards on it. Matt Stevens plays guitar on it. Nick Beggs and Colin Edwin play bass on it. NVD plays all of the drums. Our modern master of sound, Rob Aubrey, the Phill Brown of our day, engineered it.
[Correction: from Rob Aubrey. My apologies for getting the credits and terms mixed up. “Hi All, Actually I didn’t ENGINEER it as such…. I recorded the Drums with NDV and then everything else was Produced and Engineered by Robin… He Mixed the album at home and I was here in an advisory role, just giving a hand when he ran into problems or I felt things needed more work. Robin and I mastered the album together just a few Months ago on my studio system here (Pro Tools) using all of his original sessions so Robin could make adjustments to the overall dynamic and “tweak” individual sounds if necessary. I cannot take credit for much as Robin really is the genius here!”]
Then, of course, there’s the artist supreme, the writer, director, and producer of it all, Robin Armstrong. English wit, critic, musician, lyricist, father, husband, entrepreneur, and demigod of chronometry, Armstrong is one of the most interesting persons of our day and age. He’s already proven everything an artist should in his previous albums, especially in The Man Left in Space.
Armstrong is a driven man, and it’s impossible to think of him without thinking not only of perfectionism, but also of his insatiable desire to perfect a thing even more so. In terms of constitution, he is probably incapable of doing otherwise. We all benefit from his unrelenting drive.
On the latest album, CAPACITOR, Armstrong explores the Edwardian fascination with spiritualism, giving us not “steam punk” but what should be called “vacuum tube punk,” something quite different from that of either H.G. Wells or Bruce Sterling.
The statement “energy cannot be created or destroyed” appears in print, in word, and in song multiple times on CAPACITOR. If this is true, Armstrong asks through his characters and story, where does our energy—our soul—go after the body fails us? We are everywhere and in every time, he notes, surrounded by the ghosts of the dead. Even if we don’t personally believe in an afterlife, we see “what they left with us.”
Ghosts appear frequently on the album, as does a vaudevillian preacher and a spiritual medium. In the end, though, especially by the final two tracks, Armstrong is critiquing the rise and predominance of “the machine,” any gadget that mechanizes us, makes us less than human, and distracts or captures our very soul and very essence, thus diminishing our humanity.
The person, it seems, can never be fully an individual without body and soul, not in war with one another, but in healthy tension.
The Meaning of It All, Continued
Musically, CAPACITOR immerses us into perfection itself. See above for the musicians Armstrong has brought together. He’s obviously a creator of community and a leavenor of talent. He’s also within the prog tradition, with musical passages inspired by, indirectly, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Big Big Train, and The Tangent and, directly, The Beatles. Indeed, one of the most rousing moments musically comes in “The Reaper’s Song,” a song that, in large part, pays homage to THE MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR by the Beatles (1967).
Sitting in a station, waiting for a train to come
Frighten all the people, standing on the platform
Trying not to push them over
Trains are gonna crush them
Stupid little people
Stupid little people
Another track, “White Car,” has absolutely nothing to do with the unfinished fragment of the Yes song from DRAMA (1980). Yes’s song will have to continue in my soul as an unresolved enigma until the end of time.
It goes without stating (though, I will state it anyway!), the last several years have been not only amazing when it comes to rock, but they have also been, probably, the best years in the history of progressive rock.
2014 has been no different.
Please, however, don’t think of Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR as merely another Cosmograf release or as merely another prog rock release.
Of course, there is no such thing as “just another Cosmograf release,” though we might become a bit jaded when it comes to another “prog rock release.” There’s so much coming out at the moment, it would be understandable—if not forgivable—to take the historic moment for granted. Even with the somewhat overwhelming number of music cds appearing over the last several years, CAPACITOR is truly something special and, dare I use a word overused and misused for its sappiness, precious.
From my way of thinking, CAPACITOR is the best cd of 2014 and one of the best prog rock releases of all time. It is, at least this year, the one for all others to surpass. I very much look forward to those who embrace the challenge.