To write is human, but to edit is divine

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It’s time to admit it. Too many bands are releasing albums that are too long.

Digital technology makes it possible, but reviewers must now unite in their opposition to today’s most ridiculous musical trend.

Any album longer than 45 minutes must be criticized mercilessly if the artist has failed to edit it.

The first item in any review should be a list of the songs that should have been cut. If the artist won’t do it, then the reviewer should begin the review with an elementary lesson for the artist in how their new release is abusing the listener’s patience.

If artists don’t want the reviewers editing their work for them, and if artists don’t want listeners only downloading or listening piecemeal, then they have to start showing some discipline.

There is so much good music out there. But too many artists are wasting our time.

There, I said it. Let the discussion begin at Progarchy on this. Perhaps we can begin by taking AMG as our reference point:

I want artists to produce coherent, holistic albums. This is not the same thing from lining up 10 songs you wrote in a specific order that works pretty well. For me, the peak of the album is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or The Wall. When I start The Wall I listen to it front to back and I enjoy the whole experience. Similarly, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son or Symphony X‘s V: The New Mythology Suite. These are albums that use the form to create something cohesive and should a band need 75 minutes to do that, more power to them. The key, though, is immersion. Listeners lose themselves in the music and the album is akin to looking at a painting. Sure, you could look at the left half now and the right half later, but a painting is meant to be seen in its totality. Such albums are usually carefully crafted so as to be continuously interesting and engaging; both as composition and narration. The best album-as-whole is the record that has likely been heavily edited because it needs to be perfect.

Releasing the 15 songs I wrote in the last 18 months without consideration for time and space is not constructing an album. This is, rather, a playlist. There are plenty of great records that are playlists; in fact, I think most albums that are released are simply playlists.2 But that changes expectations. In this case, there will be varying compositional quality and it behooves bands to remove the worst material to improve the flow and feel of their playlist. Historically, this meant sitting down and cutting down to the LP length. And while this is hard, anyone who makes music knows that we all write stuff that we don’t like as well. We all produce music that we think is subpar, even if we like this riff or that idea. The musician who wants to produce the best album possible will either re-write those pieces or drop them. They edit.

Playlist albums are more likely to be repetitive at longer lengths, particularly if they lack dynamics. I love Amon Amarth, but those guys write pretty much the same songs for every album. They’re really good at it, but a 75 minute Amon Amarth album would fall absolutely flat. By the 40-minute mark, you’ve heard everything you’re going to hear and at that point you’re pretty much ready to move on. You’ll see them live, of course, but then they play 120 minutes of their best material, not their most recent.

Sometimes you’ll encounter albums where every song is great but it’s super long, making it enjoyable in two sittings. But is that a successful album? My answer is no. A successful album is something that you want to hear in a single sitting. Generally, the most successful albums are the ones which end before you’re ready. The ones that leave you wanting more. I review new albums on these terms. When enjoyable records crest at 55, 60, or 70 minutes and I’m bored, I consider it an editing problem. An album with plenty of interesting sections but that falls flat on a total listen is a failure which could have been averted with better editing.3 I’d say the same thing of a 30 minute album that I was bored with by the end, too. It’s the whole that matters.

Ultimately, I think that records that bloat make for bad records and that labels are releasing fewer good records because of it. If you’re a person who doesn’t enjoy albums as a whole, then this isn’t a problem. But what are we to do when we review? Our job is to review albums. That means pointing out the strengths and weaknesses of the whole product that we’re reviewing. Since we judge them as single units, rather than rating how much we like each song and creating a composite score, length risks dropping scores due to dropping quality.

People, we must learn from ages past. Vinyl is the gold standard here, and we must learn from it. Exceed the running time length of an LP at your own peril, dear artists. You have been warned.

Mini Moogs: Micro Reviews, Part I

Mini Moogs: Micro Reviews, Part I

Some rather extraordinary physical CDs have arrived at progarchy HQ recently.  Here’s a run-down of each, listed in no particular order—except how they’re stacked on my desk.

pohja konn
Estonian prog.

The top of the stack is from Estonia, Põhja Konn (meaning, in English, “The Dragon (or, strangely, enough “frog”) of the North”).  This is pretty amazing prog, though I have no clue what the lyrics or the CD-booklet state.  Embarrassingly enough, I thought the language was Finnish at first, only to realize—after some searching—that it’s Estonian.  I must admit, I love the art of the packaging—a cross between an Phish’s JUNTA and Big Big Train’s THE UNDERFALL YARD.  The music itself is unapologetically 1970s prog—with Squire-like bass, Howe-like guitar, and Banks-like keyboards.  That I don’t understand the lyrics actually makes this release even more interesting, as it adds more than an element of mystery to this whole thing.  Highly recommended.

Continue reading “Mini Moogs: Micro Reviews, Part I”

Ayreon, Opera, Prog: Totally and Utterly Over the Top.

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Masterful.

Ayreon Universe: The Best of Ayreon Live (Mascot, 2018).  In various forms-including CD, DVD, and/or Blu-Ray. Whichever version you purchase, you’ll get 30 tracks.

The stage is massive. The number of musicians is massive. The visuals are massive.  The sound is massive.  Some might even state—without exaggeration—that this whole thing is over the top.  But, then, what do you expect?  It’s part opera, which is always over the top.  It’s part prog, which is always over the top.  How could prog opera not be doubly over the top?

Then, of course, it’s all written by Arjen Anthony Lucassen, who is always over the top.  Now, it must be at least triply over the top, right?

No, you’d be wrong.

Continue reading “Ayreon, Opera, Prog: Totally and Utterly Over the Top.”

Jason Rubenstein, FOUR POINTS OF FOCUS

Rubenstein
A breath-taking EP.

It would be hard to find a more appropriate word to describe the outstanding music of Jason Rubenstein than “focus.”  Focused, he most certainly is.  And, we’re all the better for it.

This past week, Rubenstein released an EP, FOUR POINTS OF FOCUS, roughly eighteen minutes of deeply intelligent and cinematic instrumental music, all centered around piano.

Continue reading “Jason Rubenstein, FOUR POINTS OF FOCUS”

Big Big Train Swan Hunter News

Big Big Train by Simon Hogg
Big Big Train, photo by Simon Hogg.

SWAN HUNTER by Big Big Train

Three times Progressive Music Award winning band, Big Big Train, will be releasing the Swan Hunter single on 13thJuly 2018.

Swan Hunter is an elegy for the shipbuilding communities of the north-east.

Vocalist David Longdon says:

Imagine being a child who grew up within this community, seeing these huge vessels grow daily until their launch. Imagine the relentless sound of machinery and construction workers. Your father most likely would have worked there and probably his father before him. It must have been almost impossible back then to imagine a time when this way of life would come to an end. This is what you knew and it defined you.

The single release features a remix of the studio album version and a live performance of Swan Hunter, alongside two previously unreleased tracks.

Swan Hunter is available on CD, download and streaming from 13thJuly.

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Big Big Train Live:

Big Big Train will be playing at The Anvil, Basingstoke, England on 11thJuly and at Loreley, Night of the Prog festival, Germany, on 13thJuly.

 

Press and radio comments:

‘Big Big Train have revisited the sound world of early Genesis and Yes and have managed to create music with great emotional clout’ John Bungey, THE TIMES

‘They make beautiful, pastoral quintessentially English music: their name is Big Big Train’Bob Harris, BBC Radio Two

‘Beautifully understated yet consistently enthralling, Big Big Train wield pathos and poignancy with elegance and relish, amidst a musical backdrop that is as vivid as it is finessed’ Dom Lawson, PROG magazine

 

 

 

Tom Timely’s “The Elf King”–a Prog Masterpiece?

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Just a smidgeon of confidence!

Tom Timely has written, produced, and released a single under the title, “The Elf King.”  Unfortunately, at the moment, it seems only to be available as a Facebook video. Here’s hoping Timely will move it to Youtube.

 

Somewhat astoundingly, Timely begins his video with “Introducing A Prog-Rock Masterpiece,” all in Tolkienian, Elven script.

Indeed, he writes on his Facebook post:

My new song! Remind yourself of an earlier time over and over…until it becomes your reality. Think of the things you could do if you had the key to unlock the past….You could change things! Some call it nostalgia, I call it the key. Check out my song and see if it takes you back.

So, kudos to Mr. Timely for possessing so much confidence.  His pronouncement of “introducing” a “classic” reminds me of the founding father Benjamin Franklin when he wrote, rather proudly, that he possessed the virtue of humility.

Some things, simply put, cannot be bestowed on one’s self.  Anyway, I’ll just take this as Mr. Timely’s enthusiasm.

The single, “The Elf King,” is quite excellent, introducing us to some very Yes-ish bass, combined with Kansas and Genesis-like keyboards throughout much of the song, though harpsicord is the first instrument the listener hears.  I can’t quite place the voice, but Timely (I’m assuming it’s Timely on vocals) has a Styx-like feel to me.  While the entire middle and sections sound very reminiscent of Tony Banks’s work on Gabriel-era Genesis, the song itself seems to have been a long, forgotten part of Leftoverature.

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Since I’ve referenced Yes, Genesis, Kansas, and Styx, you might very well get the opinion that this is pure nostalgia prog.  Heck, even Timely himself admits the element of nostalgia. Yet, this song is definitely more than a sum of its parts, and no one of the bands mentioned above could’ve written this song as is.  Thus, there’s a real genius in the way Timely pulls all of this older pieces together into a new whole.

I have a feeling Timely might very well have introduced a masterpiece. What say you???

 

 

Mark Hollis, Part II: Aching for Grace

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Ironic or sincere?  1988’s Spirit of Eden.

Yesterday, I had the grand fortune of spending a serious amount of time listening to and writing about Talk Talk.  There are few subjects in the world that give me so much pleasure as does TT. For years, one of my closest friends (and a friend since the fall of 1986), Kevin McCormick (a fellow progarchist and progarchy editor) and I have talked about writing a full-length book on Talk Talk.  We even have a rather strong and detailed outline.  The publishing venues, sadly, are not as easy to find as one might imagine. While Talk Talk has a loyal following, it is a small one.  A few years ago, we submitted a proposal—which, from my biased perspective was really good—to 33 1/3 Books (Bloomsbury).  Sadly, they not only felt no enthuasiam for our project, they deemed it unworthy, even of comment.  Just a simple “no thanks.”  But, Kevin and I are nothing if nothing if not persistent and enthusiastic.  Indeed, some might even say “obnoxious!”

So, if there’s anyone in the reading audience who would like to publish a roughly 60,000 word manuscript on the significance and influence of Talk Talk, please let us know!  We could have a completed book to you within a year or less.

Continue reading “Mark Hollis, Part II: Aching for Grace”