New and Noteworthy on Bandcamp!

Nearly six months into the worldwide coronavirus epidemic, Bandcamp continues to be a lifeline for musicians.  Since March, fans have purchased more than $75 million worth of music and merchandise there  — including more than $20 million from four Bandcamp Fridays, when the website has waived its fees for artists and labels.  Last week, the announcement was made that Bandcamp Fridays will continue for the rest of 2020.

So (as your pocketbook permits), what’s worth your hard-earned cash on August 7, September 4, October 2, November 6, or December 4?  From my Bandcamp collection and wishlist, a few suggestions:

iatmw things unseenI Am the Manic Whale, Things Unseen:  I’m blown away by the energy, humor and sheer delight these young British proggers bring to their story-songs; this third album could be their best yet, with crystal clear production by Rob Aubrey.  There’s wickedly cheery satire in “Billionaire” and “Celebrity”, an atmospheric trip to Narnia in “The Deplorable Word” and unbounded joy at the gift of children in “Smile” and “Halcyon Days”.  Not to mention IAtMW’s very own train song, “Valenta Scream”, challenging Big Big Train with (in my opinion) the best lyrical simile of 2020: “Making it look so very easy/Eating up the distance like a cheese sandwich.”  Really.

 

mcstine minnemannMcStine and Minnemann: left-field, shreddy art-pop to get your adrenalin flowing. Randy McStine (guitars, vocals, other stuff) and Marco Minnemann (drums, vocals, other stuff) prove steady hands on the steering wheel for wild rides like “Your Offenses” and “Activate”, as well as the stark ballad “The Closer”.  Sure, the songs are short; they’re also stuffed to the gills with ethereal melodies and harmonies, woozily evocative lyrics, ear-grabbing riffs, impossible  drum fills, freaky collages of sound and radical mood shifts.  Don’t expect to focus on anything else while you’re listening to this — just hold on tight and have fun.

 

sancious eyes wide openDavid Sancious, Eyes Wide Open:  a charter member of Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band, Sancious led the critically acclaimed trio Tone before tackling wingman duties for Peter Gabriel and Sting.  The focus of Eyes Wide Open (finished before lockdowns and protests swallowed news feeds whole) on today’s cultural unrest proves eerily prescient; the vocal tracks “Urban Psalm #3” and “If” and the instrumental “War in Heaven” are ambitious statements on universal human dignity that can lay claim to the moody, magnificent heights of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.  Sancious sings on half the tracks and plays burning guitar and keys throughout, fusing jazz, rock and gospel into winning combinations, atop unbelievably funky drumming by Vinnie Colaiuta, Will Calhoun (Living Colour) and Michael Bland (Prince).  

 

spiraling transmitterSpiraling, Transmitter:  Back in the early 2000s, Tom Brislin (now tearing up the keys in Kansas) led this obscure, wonderful power-pop band in between side gigs with Meat Loaf, Yes and Camel.   On this re-release from 2002, Brislin’s sardonic, appealing vocal delivery perfectly matches the bone-dry wit of “The Girl on Top (Of the Piano)”, “The L Word III” and “(Get Your Own) Holy Grail”.  And the music is built to match: irresistible hooks, propulsive rhythms and riffs that take unexpected detours, every sonic crevice crammed full of nifty synth riffs, effects and solos.  This is unbelievably catchy, unbelievably sharp stuff.   (Check out Brislin’s new, punky public service announcement too!)

 

tmt still aliveTiger Moth Tales, Still Alive/A Visit to Rockfield:  This isn’t the Tiger Moth Tales album Peter Jones planned to release this year — but it’s definitely one that fits the moment.  His gift for melody and innate hopefulness gives these six new tracks (well, five plus a reprise) an effervescence and a glow that can warm the coldest heart.  There’s a beautiful, broad range of expression here, from the optimistic fortitude of the title track and the epic sweep of “The Mighty Fallen” to the rhythm box-laden goofiness of “Whistle Along.”   The bonus DVD features Jones and TMT in session at the legendary Rockfield Studios.  Enjoy this love letter to the world from deepest Nottinghamshire.

 

soft machine baked potatoMoonJune Records: Soft Machine’s Live at the Baked Potato is the latest release from global impresario Leonardo Pavkovic.  On this beauty, the Softs’ explorations are every bit as daring and delectable as when I heard them live in 2018.  Plus, there are plenty of other face-melting instrumental jazz/rock/avant/ethno albums coming soon from Stick Men, touch guitarist Markus Reuter, guitarist Mark Wingfield and a host of other international talents!  Watch for more news at the MoonJune Bandcamp page, or do what I did; subscribe and get everything MoonJune releases for a year!

 

— Rick Krueger

The Progarchy Interview: Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell

Whether contributing to Clive Nolan’s Arena and Jem Godfrey’s Frost*, driving the bus in collaborations like Kino and the latter day It Bites, or helming his own Lonely Robot project, John Mitchell has brought the progressive rock world tons of cool music in the last decade-plus.  His irresistible melodic hooks, exciting riffage, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, passionate singing and meticulous craftsmanship are instantly recognizable and (at least for me) guaranteed to raise a smile.

Mitchell’s latest album, Lonely Robot’s Feelings Are Good, pivots from the high-concept themes of the Astronaut Trilogy (2015’s Please Come Home, 2017’s The Big Dream and 2019’s Under Stars), refocusing his sharp observational eye on the rich, sometimes heart-stopping drama of daily life — while resculpting the music to match, aided and abetted by ace drummer Craig Blundell.  Released by Inside Out on July 17th on CD, LP and download, Feelings Are Good  is a thrilling, wildly eclectic, moving, just plain fun listen.

Getting the chance to interview John Mitchell was just as much fun — he’s warm, humorous and gregarious, serious about his art and at ease with himself.  And as you’ll see in the video below, he was definitely having a better hair day than me!  An edited transcript of our talk follows the jump.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Lonely Robot’s John Mitchell”

Bandcamp Does It Again!

Back on March 20, Bandcamp waived its share of all sales, in order to support artists whose livelihoods were effected by the COVID-19 pandemic (especially because of cancelled live shows and tours).  The results were astonishing: $4,300,000 in sales of downloads, CDs, LPs and merch, 15 times a normal Friday’s take.

So, to their credit, Bandcamp is doing it again.  And again.  And again.

On May 1, June 5, and July 3 (the first Friday of each month), we’re waiving our revenue share for all sales on Bandcamp, from midnight to midnight PDT on each day.

(Over 150 artists and labels are offering discounts, exclusive items, merch bundles, and more this Friday.)

It may sound simple, but the best way to help artists is with your direct financial support, and we hope you’ll join us through the coming months as we work to support artists in this challenging time.

And, in case you’re wondering, there’s tons of recorded goodness available at Bandcamp from these Progarchy-favored artists:

If your budget allows it, and you need a prog fix, why not do your shopping at Bandcamp this Friday?

 

— Rick Krueger

Sounding the Bardic Depths

Friendship arises out of mere Companionship when two or more of the companions discover that they have in common some insight or interest or even taste which the others do not share and which, till that moment, each believed to be his own unique treasure (or burden). The typical expression of opening Friendship would be something like, ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’ … It is when two such persons discover one another, when, whether with immense difficulties and semi-articulate fumblings or with what would seem to us amazing and elliptical speed, they share their vision – it is then that Friendship is born.

— C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

The Bardic Depths is a rare creation; the method of its making embodies what it portrays.  It’s a distinctive take on the concept album, sparked from ongoing collaboration by two devoted lovers of progressive rock, with stellar contributions from some of the music’s current leading lights.   (Oh, and fleeting spoken-word cameos from others, including yours truly — so yeah, objectivity is out the window here.)

Lyricist Brad Birzer and vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Dave Bandana have been self-releasing enjoyable albums for a few years now,  launching impressionist volleys of lyrical prose (usually in a dystopian sci-fi framework) via arching, chantlike melodies, poised atop appealingly thick ambient pads and amiably chugging pop grooves.  When Birzer pitched the life, times and friendship of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien as an album concept, Bandana loved it — but as the music took shape, he realized that contributors who could kick things up a level were needed for the album to take wing.

Enter the Passengers — that astonishingly amiable Facebook group of fans brought together by their love of Big Big Train.  Having seen BBT live (and made numerous musical friends in the process), Bandana modestly reached out for help.  And, as the video below reveals, one thing led to another:

Continue reading “Sounding the Bardic Depths”

News of the World … of Prog

Big Big Train’s announcement of the Passengers Club and North American tour dates were just the tip of the iceberg this week!  In other progressive rock-related news:

King Crimson and The Zappa Band (the latter an authorized project of Frank Zappa’s estate, featuring alumni from his 1980s bands) will tour the USA and Canada in June & July.  One tour date (at Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts) in Virginia has been announced for June 30th; others will be announced soon.

The three-part Emerson Lake & Palmer epic “Karn Evil 9” is being developed as a science-fiction movie, to start production later this year.  ELP managers Stewart Young & Bruce Pilato will serve as producers, along with Carl Palmer and Radar Pictures (developers of the Jumanji and Riddick franchises).

Plenty of great album releases are on the way as well, including:

Tiger Moth Tales’ live CD/DVD A Visit to Zoetermeer, out on February 21 and available to pre-order on Bandcamp;

John Holden’s Rise and Fall, the follow-up to 2018’s well received Capture Light, out on February 29;

Fernando Perdomo’s Out to Sea 3: The Stormout on March 6;

Rick Wakeman & The English Rock Ensemble’s The Red Planetout in April.

Time, it would seem, for the world of prog rock to awaken from its long winter’s nap!

— Rick Krueger