Shining Pyramid, Tree, December 29, 2020 Tracks: Transmitter C (9:18), Triskel (4:11), Campfire (3:03), Rain (4:58), Like Katriona (10:20), Weird Science (6:15), Joy? (5:32)
London’s Shining Pyramid released their third album back at the very end of December 2020. This follows 2015’s self-titled debut, loosely based on the 1895 Arthur Machen of the same name, and 2018’s Children of Stones. Their latest album, Tree, was my introduction to the band, as they generously sent me a CD to review. I was hooked from the opening electronic notes, which reminded me a little bit of Oak, who I seem to mention a lot around here. The duo is comprised of Nick Adams on guitars and Peter Jeal on keyboards. A page on their website offers a breakdown of the guitars and keyboards used on the album. I’m not a musician, but I found it interesting that Adams used such a wide array of guitars and basses on the record. They all sound wonderful.
Swirling synths set the stage on Tree, but the spacey guitar quickly steps into the spotlight, taking on a Floydian tone with a bit of the late Piotr Grudziński (Riverside) thrown in for good measure. It would be a mistake to describe this album as only ambient, or only atmospheric, electronic, or space rock. It contains elements of those things, but the guitar keeps the album rooted in rock territory, even if the album is on the sedate side of the rock spectrum.
Perhaps what I like most about Tree is the variety it contains, even though it’s only 44 minutes long. The opening track, “Transmitter C,” centers around a very spacey guitar with electronic synth sounds swirling around it. “Campfire” places an undistorted guitar seemingly just behind the bass in the mix, giving it a bit of a distant feel before the keyboards build and take the main spot in the mix. It isn’t particularly atmospheric. The next track, “Rain,” offers an ambient sound centered on a simple repeated piano refrain. That refrain, along with the bass, serves as a framework to support the varying synth sounds that keep the track interesting as it proceeds. Each track on the record sounds unique. They share common elements, but the band approach them in different ways.
My favorite tracks are “Transmitter C” and “Like Katriona.” They’re both the longest songs on the album, allowing the music to build and grow. They also both feature a spacey Floydian guitar tone and appropriately proggy keyboards. These tracks sound the most musically focused and cohesive as well. A fun fact from their website: the ring of sound waves printed on the physical CD was taken from Adams’ guitar on “Like Katriona.” That’s a pretty cool little thing to throw into the physical product.
I couldn’t help but feel a calming sense of peace when I listened to Tree with undivided attention. The music is calm and almost hypnotic at points. Frankly it was just what I needed. It gives you space to reflect, but it does so with interesting musical textures that make you want to return to it. For those into the atmospheric and ambient sides of prog, give Shining Pyramid a listen. They won’t disappoint.
Cobalt Chapel, Orange Synthetic, Klove Recordings, January 29, 2021 Tracks: In Company (4:27), The Sequel (3:49), Message To (3:18), A Father’s Lament (3:41), Our Angel Polygon (4:32), Cry A Spiral (4:53), It’s The End, The End (5:26), Pretty Mire, Be My Friend (4:04), E.B. (2:15), Orange Synthetic (6:21)
Yorkshire, UK, duo Cobalt Chapel recently released their second album, Orange Synthetic, and it’s a wonderful contemporary progressive take on the psychedelic music of the 1960s. It has fresh production values with lush textures and glowing vocals. So who are Cobalt Chapel? Cecilia Fage (from Matt Berry & The Maypoles) and Jarrod Gosling (from I Monster). Gosling also happens to make the album artwork for Tim Bowness‘ solo albums.
Fage’s vocals are the clear centerpiece of the album, and her voice is absolutely stunning. It’s treated with some echoey effects that give it a choral feeling, which matches the aesthetic implied by the band’s name. The album sounds fantastic, with the vocals and music clear, clean, and distinct. The various organs and keyboards are the primary musical sounds, with their textures swirling around the listeners head as Fage sings in the center. The guitar, drums, and soft bass complete the psychedelic sound. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding album out today. It is mixed very well with everything easy to pick out. Nothing is muddled. You can even make out the clicking of keys or buttons on whatever instrument Gosling is playing at the end of “A Father’s Lament.” There’s a slight hum in the background at that point which makes you feel like you’re in the room with him as he closes out the song. The whole record is really a pleasure to listen to.
There are folk elements to the music, with the album being influenced by Yorkshire itself. The song “E.B.” sounds the most folky, with instruments kept to a relative minimum and Fage’s voice carrying the brief track. Overall though the music retains a psychedelic vibe through heavy use of keyboards and organs, along with very 60s-sounding drums and guitars. The music is much more upbeat than the type of psychedelic music I’m more familiar with, though. It isn’t as spacey, although there are times when it sounds like they’re about to launch into the spacier side of this corner of rock music. They never quite get there all the way, except for on “Cry A Spiral,” which is the spaciest track on the record. Even on that song the ending is heavier and more lush-sounding, ending with a light touch of saxophone and various organs. Melody takes a central position on the album, which is perhaps what makes this album so appealing on repeated listens. You’re left feeling refreshed after listening to Orange Synthetic.
If I had to make one complaint, it’s that I would have preferred some longer extended instrumental sections. The end of the first track, “In Company,” breaks into what sounds like it’s going to be a wonderfully psychedelic Floydian soundscape, but then it breaks off suddenly. The second track similarly fades out as it enters an instrumental passage. The third track does the same thing. It drops into the beginning of a 1960s-style psychedelic mood, yet it cuts off after a few brief seconds. At about 43 minutes in length, I think there’s room on the album for some longer musical exploration. They set the listener up for it, but they leave me longing for that instrumental space to breathe.
The title track, which ends the record, is the longest on the album at over six minutes, and it has a longer instrumental passage in the middle that feels much more natural for this kind of music. When Fage’s vocals kick in again after that passage, I’m left satisfied. In that regard the song is the perfect ending for the album. I just wish more of the songs on the album more generously balanced the instrumental side of this style of music with Fage’s beautiful vocals by having more extended musical passages.
I highly recommend Cobalt Chapel’s sophomore album, Orange Synthetic. It’s a refreshing blend of upbeat psychedelic music with stunningly beautiful vocals presented with choral overtones. The music is accessible, yet complex enough to reward on repeated listens. Cobalt Chapel have masterfully brought the psychedelic sounds of a bygone era into fresh territory for a contemporary audience.
Lucid Planet, II, November 2020 Tracks: Anamnesis (12:25), Entrancement (5:33), Organic Hard Drive (9:39), Offer (4:15), On The Way (9:38), Digital Ritual (4:57), Face The Sun (11:49), Zenith (9:56)
Perhaps I’m going out on a limb in calling Lucid Planet’s new album “metal,” but I’ve always had a pretty broad understanding of what metal can include. For instance I’ve long considered much of Rush’s output to be metal. But be not deceived. Lucid Planet’s sophomore album, II, released five years after their debut, is not Dream Theater progressive metal. Rather they remind me of Tool in many ways, especially in the rhythm sections on “Anamnesis,” “Organic Hard Drive,” and “Zenith.”
Maybe “heavy prog” is a better term. The Melbourne, Australia-based band uses the terms “progressive,” “tribal,” and “psychedelic” on their website, and those are all good descriptors for what they do. They travel in and out of various styles and influences seamlessly. No one track limits itself to any particular style. The primal elements are particularly strong on “Entrancement,” which creates a psychedelic atmosphere through droning vocals and simple acoustic instrumentation. The song is a bit unexpected after the first track, but it works well in expanding the horizon of what the band does. Right away we know that this group plans to cover a lot of ground. The female vocals in parts of that track add a pleasant touch to what would otherwise be a rather dark song. The primal elements mesh well with their album artwork as well.
Webster’s Dictionary defines “surreal” as an adjective meaning “marked by the intense irrational reality of a dream.” In other words, something so bizarre that it shouldn’t be real, yet it is. This may be the most accurate name for an album I’ve ever encountered.
Composer, musician, engineer, and producer Garrett N. has a background making music for commercials, films, and documentaries, in addition to a few of his own progressive albums. That background helps explain the non-traditional nature of this album. Garrett performed all the music on the album, displaying wide musical talents. He also sings on the few tracks that have lyrics.
Let’s Get Surreal is extremely synth-heavy in a Pink Floyd sort of way. I’d say Floyd is the biggest rock/psychedelic influence here, and at times it works very well. The first four tracks in particular are quite strong in this regard. There is a sci-fi cinematic feel to some of the synths sounds too, in a sort of 1950s alien sci-fi movie way. With that said, the slightly distorted acoustic guitar on “The Eternal Laugh” is a welcome addition. The next track, “Quiet,” features what sounds like extremely distorted electric guitar… maybe too distorted. Definitely a gritty sound. The blending of different types of synths, drums, and guitars manages to work, however. The bit of flute on “Scorpio/Ramos” is nice, although the song could have used a lot more of it.
Garrett appears to making a bit of a political statement on a few tracks, particularly on “Saddam/Espace.” This song has a remix of former US President George W. Bush giving a speech about Saddam Hussein and all that mess. It is an interesting reworking of the speech, with blurred repetition of Bush saying “terror” playing through the background. The album was recorded between 2013-2017, so this track seems like it is 10-15 years past when it should have been released. That particular moment has passed, making this song lose a lot of its punch.
At an hour and thirteen minutes in length, the album kind of drags a bit because a lot of it sounds the same. There are a few songs that could have had a few minutes trimmed out. The album is at its best when other instruments are mixed in with the synths, rather than the lengthy sections that are only synthesizers.
Ultimately, this album sounds more like a tv show soundtrack than it does a rock album. It is mostly instrumental, with synths dominating the instruments being used. As such, it doesn’t sound like a typical instrumental prog album. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but it does feel like we are missing a piece of the puzzle. “Let’s Get Surreal” won’t be for everyone, but those into the more psychedelic side of prog should appreciate it.
Every genre has a holy trinity, for prog it’s Yes, King Crimson and Pink Floyd, metal is Led Zep, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, NWOBH is Iron Maiden, Saxon, Def Leppard, neo prog has IQ, Marillion and Pallas and now Rushdenbeat has it’s trinity, you have the Fierce and the Dead, Orange Clocks and now presenting their debut EP, The Paperweight Array, the third leg to the mighty sound that is Rushdenbeat, which is, to my mind the defining sound of 2017.
After my review for Progarchy about Orange Clocks, I inadvertently coined the phrase ‘Rushdenbeat’ and suddenly it took a life of it’s own on, with a Facebook group and a # as well!
Following this Aaron Hemmington got in touch and sent me a copy of the bands debut EP Transmissions from a Distant Star, a three-track introduction to their psychedelic world.
For those who aren’t aware Rushden (as per our good friend Professor Wikipedia) is part of the county of Northamptonshire, and was home to such luminaries as H E Bates, darts player James Richardson, and of course (although Wikipedia needs updating) Matt Stevens.
What is it about small English towns that can be the epicentre of something new and exciting?
I grew up in Rotherham, where the best thing going for it was the road to Sheffield where all the decent record stores were, and yet from 1991 onwards Rotherham had been home to the Classic Rock Society, and a Northern pulse for progressive rock, handy if you happened to be 17, into prog and on a bus route into town!
It seems as Matt Stevens himself has questioned on Facebook, that pre-internet, when you were in a small town, certain things either passed you by, or you found yourself in a particular group of friends where certain locations and musical tastes influenced you.
I remember saving all my money from my summer job for a trip down to London because the record stores there would have far more rare and esoteric albums, and I wasn’t able to just log in using my smart phone, search them and then buy them.
I think the mid 90’s were the golden days of record collecting, where finding music was much more of a hunt, more of a chase, and you appreciated listening to it more because you had put so much more effort into it.
That is the same with bands from smaller towns, Rushden I would imagine, like Rotherham would be bypassed by all the big names, and so if you wanted to hear the music you liked, then the only way to do it would be to form a band and play it yourself.
That is the ethos that runs through Rushdenbeat and so many other small town bands making a big noise.
Transmissions from a Distant Star, starts with the title track, some fantastic spiky guitar work and then a wonderfully spacey chorus that brings to mind a whole mix of sounds, there’s elements of XTC, some Canterbury scene and a whole summer of ’67 vibe carrying through the sound.
A perfect way to introduce yourself and it makes a massive impact as you listen to it.
Going Back, showcases how the band works with each other, the Paperweight Array being an old school power trio, with Aaron on guitar, vocals and keys, Just on bass and keys and Dunc on drums and percussion.
Listening to the mighty sound they make you wouldn’t think there were only three of them!
Again there is a lot of power in the riffs and the interplay between all three of them is one of the EP’s strengths, you can tell these guys know how to play, and more importantly know how to play with each other to bring the best out of them.
Corporal Cameo is a neo gothic old school psychedelic story, with some fantastic lyrics, and some wonderfully trippy keyboard sounds, and another one of those brilliant guitar riffs.
Listening to their sound and performance on this one, and you’d think Corporal Cameo was a lost 60’s psych classic that Stuart Maconie had dug up for his Freak Zone on BBC Radio 6.
This is a fantastic introduction to where the band are coming from, and it has to be said encapsulates in the most positive way the small town atmosphere that has led to the creation of some of the most exciting music in the UK, and indeed probably throughout the world. Whilst it’s wonderful in this digital all connected age to be able to see beyond your horizons at the touch of a button, I wonder how much of an impact that will make on all the small town musicians sat in their bedrooms, using music as an escape?
Transmissions from a Distant Star is available here
Astra posted this seven hours ago on social media. Excellent news! The first two albums are simply outstanding. Great psychedelic prog. The “Prisoner” ending is a little spooky, however!
First off, I have to apologize for just dropping off the map for so long. You all deserve much more than that and since so many of you have been nice enough to write and ask “What’s going on with ASTRA?” I wanted to give you all a status update.
Back when our drummer David Hurley left ASTRA in 2013, no one could really foresee the difficulties ahead. We knew carrying on without Dave would be a hard road to travel but we had no idea just how much of an impact his departure would have on us. The 5 of us had an undeniable chemistry that just worked so well in every aspect, but especially when it came to songwriting. After Dave left, I think we were all pretty bummed out and while we were working on writing material for our 3rd album, our frustrations slowly started cropping up. We decided to take a short break which turned into a long break, which turned into a longer break, which happens to be where we’re at now. Because of this long hiatus some of the guys have become extremely busy with their own musical projects which, unfortunately, now leaves very little time for ASTRA.
However, I do have some good news! I just recently spoke with all of the original ASTRA members, including Dave, and everyone is down to record a 3rd ASTRA album if we can get enough material together. Another bit of good news is that Stuart and I have been playing and writing together and we’re hoping that we can eventually make this 3rd album a reality.
Now, none of this is a guarantee but I think it is a step in the right direction. ASTRA will always be my baby and my first love when it comes to music and I don’t want to give up on her so I’m going to do all that I can to make this happen. This will most likely take quite some time since everyone is so busy but I will try to keep you all updated as best I can. I will also try to be much more diligent in responding to your emails and messages in the future.
Lastly, a huge THANK YOU is long overdue, so, thank you all for sticking with ASTRA through the years and for being such amazing fans. I love you all more than words can say and I’m going to do my best to bring some new ASTRA music to your ears as soon as possible.
A little over twenty years ago, Arjen Anthony Lucassen anonymously released an album named, STRANGE HOBBY. The artist spot on the CD was left as a “?” A love letter to the psychedelic-pop era of music, 1965-1970, STRANGE HOBBY was recorded in Abbey Road studio and contained a total of eighteen covers.
It came out at roughly the same time that his ACTUAL FANTASY did. A totally different style, though, one that allows the perfectionist to let loose.
Twenty-five years ago this fall, progarchist editor Craig Breaden and I were in Waterloo Records, Austin, Texas. There it was on the shelves—the final Talk Talk album, LAUGHING STOCK, in all of its James Marsh-esque glory. Of course, I purchased it as quickly as possible. After all, it had just come out, and Craig and I were living in pre-internet days in northern Utah. We had a music store nearby, but however good it was—and, frankly, it was pretty good—it wouldn’t have dreamt of carrying anything by a band so strange as Talk Talk.
So fortunate we were at a history conference in Texas at the same moment as LAUGHING STOCK’s release.
Craig and I were not only officemates and apartment mates, but we were best friends and music mates. How many hours flew by with Craig and I devouring music—old and new—and then discussing and analyzing every bit of it. I still cherish these nights and even weekend-days as some of the best of my life. Though I’d grown up in a house that respected nearly every form of music, I had never been introduced to some of the great psychedelic and experimental rock acts of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Unless it was by Yes, Genesis, or Jethro Tull, I really didn’t know it. Craig played Procol Harum, Soft Machine, Spooky Tooth, and Traffic for me. I fell in love with each. As the time Craig and I (and another close friend, Joel) were spending so much time together, the music scene itself was going through a bit of a psychedelic revival—with World Party, Charlatans, and others—and this only added to our excitement.
As soon as we returned from Austin, I recorded the full album of LAUGHING STOCK on each side of a double-sided TDK cassette and enthusiastically played this tape over and over and over and over. . . . Even though Craig and I had shared many enthusiasms with each other, this obsession with Talk Talk seemed more than a bit too enthusiastic to Craig.
By sheer force of will, I fear, Craig had to accept this or our friendship would suffer! Of course, here we are, a quarter of a century later, still very close friends and co-editors of progarchy. . . . You know the story ended well.
For nearly thirty years, I instantly answered the question of “what is your favorite band” with Talk Talk and Rush. If pushed a bit more, I would add Tears for Fears and, depending on my mood, Genesis or Yes or XTC. This rote answer became almost proudly knee-jerk on my part.
When challenged about this opinion, I rather haughtily pointed to THE COLOUR OF SPRING, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and LAUGHING STOCK. After all, who could top fourteen months a shot, recording in dark, deserted churches, challenging every single bit of corporate conformity in the music business.
Mark Hollis, Tim-Friese-Green, and Phill Brown were not just three more musicians in the industry, they lingered as demi-gods at the very edge of Valhalla itself, ready to release Ragnoräk at any moment. And, power to them! As far as I was concerned, the music industry needed and deserved a revolution.
Recently, I’ve realized that Talk Talk no longer holds top spot in my mind when it comes to bands (Big Big Train has finally replaced Talk Talk in my mind and in my soul), but it will always be in the top three for me. For too many years, Talk Talk was my go-to band, my comfort and my first love in the world of music. To this day—and, I presume, to the end of my days—the final three albums the band made will always be the three by which I judge every other release in the music world. Few albums or bands, then or now, can measure up to such heights. But, such is my mind and soul.
Part II to come soon. . . . In the meantime, enjoy 19 minutes of Hollis talking about LAUGHING STOCK.
Artist: Spiritual Beggars Album Title: Sunrise To Sundown Label: Inside Out Records Date of Release: 18 March 2016 If you’re looking for a musical experience to surprise you and offer something completely different from what has gone before, I wouldn’t recommend Spiritual Beggars to you. Theirs is not a blueprint that seeks to challenge listeners […]
A few days ago, I felt absolutely snarky and thought, “why not write down exactly what I think of music from the 1980s.” In some ways, I feel I have the right to do this in a manner I could never do for any other decade.
After all, I was in seventh grade when a very disturbed fanboy tried to kill the fortieth president, and I was a first-semester senior in college when the Berlin Wall came down.
Yes, I’m very much a man of the 1980s. Reagan, Rush, Blade Runner. . . how I remember the 1980s. I came of age in that rather incredible decade.
Life continued after 1989, however, though I wasn’t so sure at the time that it would.
1990 proved to be one of the most interesting years in my personal life when it came to career choices as well as to music.
The chances are quite good that you’re not reading this post because you want to know my career choices or why I made them. So, I’ll confine myself to the music that I loved that year.
I owe almost all of my good fortune to three very great guys, Ron Strayer (now, a high up with Microsoft), Kevin McCormick (now, justly, a progarchy editor), and Craig Breaden (now, happily, one of progarchy’s editors). Ron introduced me to what would very soon be called “alternative” but was then being called “college rock” or “modern rock.” Kevin sent me recommendations, including the rather insistent demand to purchase cds by World Party and The Sundays. And, finally, Craig introduced me not only to neo-psychedelia but also to psychedelia from its original age. It was Craig who introduced me to Van Morrison, Spooky Tooth, Procol Harum, and Traffic.
I’d loved prog and New Wave all of my 22 years at that point, but my vision was pretty limited to only these genres by the end of 1989. Well, this isn’t quite accurate. I also knew classical and jazz fairly well.
With the help of three friends, 1990 opened up huge musical vistas for me in the non-jazz, non-classic genres.
Richard Thompson, as a part of French Frith Kaiser Thompson, wrote two of the best songs I’ve ever: “Peppermint Rock” and “The Killing Jar.” Folk acid psychedelia by guys who had been there before there was a need for a revival.
Suzanne Vega’s third album, DAYS OF OPEN HAND, came out that year, and it’s still one of my favorite albums. Vega has always produced gorgeous pop and folk in the vein of XTC and others. If this is pop, it’s very high pop. Importantly, she never became political like so many of her counterparts. Rather, she gracefully let the music and lyrics remain art. Her breathy vocals–weird and yet captivating–only add to her appeal.
Echo and the Bunnymen’s almost totally forgotten and (when remembered) maligned album, REVERBERATION, is a slice of pop-rock perfection. Yes, it’s missing Ian McCulloch, but this only lets Will Sergeant soar. Frankly, their sound hit its height with OCEAN RAIN and fell flat on the follow-up album. This one, REVERBERATION, reveals an effective rebirth of the band. The new vocalist, while not possessing the cancerous gravel of McCulloch’s voice, captures the spirit of the lyrics perfectly. Word play and cliché become clever and, indeed, addictive. There’s not a dud song on the album, but the employment of psychedelic Indian musicians really works rather perfectly on “Enlighten Me” and on the Doorish “Flaming Red.” The former is one of the finest songs the band ever wrote.
Mazzy Star. Hardly anyone remembers this California psychedelic folk and navel-gazing band that emerged from the underground band, Opal. Too bad–as 1990’s SHE HANGS BRIGHTLY is a thing of disturbing beauty. Walls of sound, clever lyrics, and earnest production make this album a masterpiece of the neo-psych revival.
“Is it too late, baby?” World Party. What to say about this about that hasn’t been said by a million others? While Karl Wallinger continues to make interesting music (despite severe health problems), he really threw every thing his soul possessed into GOODBYE JUMBO. From the crazy Beatle-sque cover to the basement production, this is a gem. All of the songs work very well, though they rarely reach beyond simple Beatle’s pop. Taken as a whole, however, this is a prog-pop album. Not that the individual songs are prog. They’re not even close. But, imagine a really, really, really clever Paul McCartney reworking side 2 of Abbey Road. Then, you’d have GOODBYE JUMBO. Thank you, world, indeed.
The Sundays. Ok, so the lead singer is one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. This doesn’t hurt my opinion of the band. But, really, it’s her voice. That voice. How to describe it? There are no words, really, that could capture it. She’s playful. She’s earnest. She’s flirtatious. She’s so utterly sincere. Oh, Harriet. At one time, you were my Beatrice. Her husband, David Gavurin, knows exactly how to write music to match his wife’s voice. What a team. And, they did the album merely for the fun of it, which makes it even more enjoyable. If you don’t own this or if you’ve never heard of The Sundays, treat yourself. You’ll never regret this purchase. Promise.
Charlatans UK. SOME FRIENDLY. I know next to nothing about this band, but I absolutely dug their sound when Ron introduced them to me. I’d never quite heard drumming like this (though, The Cure would use the exact same style on their 1991 album, WISH). The drums, the keyboards, and the bass make this one of the most interesting albums I’ve ever heard it. While I wouldn’t place it up there with the previous albums I’ve mentioned in terms of outright excellence and staying power, it’s still really good.
House of Love. Album title? I’m not sure, as there’s none listed. Just the band’s name with a butterfly. Some of the album fails, but when it works, it works in a stellar fashion. The album is worth owning for the first two tracks alone—”Hannah” and “Shine On”—which really blend into one continuous 10-minute track. Great build up and perfect execution on these two songs. From what little I know of the band, they were a bunch of really raucous and idiotic druggies. Still, some amazing talent there.
Cocteau Twins, HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS. The best for last? I’m not sure, but, sheesh, do I love this album. Aside from LOVELESS by My Bloody Valentine, no album reaches as close to shoe-gaze perfection as does HEAVEN OR LAS VEGAS. This album simply never ages. It’s so weird and yet so continuously captivating. I assume the artsts behind Cocteau Twins wield some special instrument to speed up or delay time, but I can’t verify this. Listening to this album is NEVER a casual experience. It demands full immersion, but you re-emerge not as one drowned but as one baptized.