Kruekutt’s 2020 Favorites: Not Necessarily New Albums

This year, I’m starting off my “best of” retrospective with albums that aren’t technically “new” — compilations, live albums, reissues and (re)discoveries from previous years — that grabbed me on first listen, then compelled repeated plays in 2020. I’m not gonna rank them except for my Top Pick, which I’ll save for the very end. The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!) Where available, listening opportunities are linked in the album title or included below my summary via Bandcamp, YouTube or Spotify.

Big Big Train, Summer’s Lease (compilation) and Empire (live): This year, I’ve bought music from even more far-flung corners of the world than usual — including Big Big Train’s Japanese-only retrospective. Disc 1 features various rarities on CD for the first time: re-recordings old and new (including excerpts from my intro to the band, the Stone and Steel Blu-Ray), plus the “London Song” sequence from Folklore in all its sprawling glory. Disc 2 leans into the post-Underfall Yard era with a solid mix of epics and, um, shorter epics, plus an unreleased instrumental as dessert. It’s all impeccably curated, and (in retrospect) a fitting capstone to the work of recently departed Train crew Dave Gregory Rachel Hall and Danny Manners. In a similar fashion, Empire is a fond farewell — the last concert played by this incarnation of the band (including Cosmograf’s Robin Armstrong) before COVID-19 killed off their first-ever North American tour. Which makes the entire show, brilliantly performed as always, even more poignant, from the rocket-fueled opener “Alive” to the romantic, spiraling coda for the best version of “East Coast Racer” yet. Sorry, there’s something in my eye . . .

The Firesign Theatre, How Can You Be in Two Places at Once When You’re Not Anywhere At All (rediscovery): This spring, my big brother Bob pointed me back to this 1969 classic — quite possibly the single most insane comedy album ever recorded. The half-hour long title track’s surrealistic road trip morphs into a wickedly irreverent (yet oddly touching) patriotic pageant, with stopover cameos from Lewis Carroll and James Joyce; “The Further Adventures Of Nick Danger,” memorized and mimed to by me and my roommates back in college, is a hallucinogenic smoothie of hardboiled detective drama, time travel and the Beatles’ White Album. “Wait a minute — didn’t I say that line on the other side of the record?” Believe me, you need to find out.

Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter, FACE (discovery): My New Year’s resolution was to become a MoonJune Music subscriber through Bandcamp; twelve months later, it’s still one of the best musical decisions I made. In recent years, touch guitarist Reuter has become a major contributor to Leonardo Pavkovic’s ongoing quest to “explore and expand boundaries of jazz, rock, ethnographic, avant, the unknown and anything between and beyond,” frequently joined by King Crimson drummer Mastelotto (his partner with Tony Levin in Stick Men). The 2017 FACE (not actually on MoonJune) stands out in the duo’s catalog: a single, 35-minute instrumental travelogue that swiftly spans the globe and its myriad rhythms, aided and abetted by Steven Wilson and associates of David Lynch, Tool and the Rembrandts. Blink with your ears and you’ll miss the transitions from theme to theme and place to place; this one both demands and thoroughly rewards my attention every time. Hopefully, the excerpts linked above will convince you — don’t hesitate to hop on board!

The Neal Morse Band, The Great Adventour Live in Brno (live): every bit as impressive as when I saw this show in Detroit the same year, the NMB’s concert take on The Great Adventure is even tighter, more driven and more finely honed than the studio version. Kaleidoscopic contrasts of rhythm, instrumental color, vocal textures (mainly from Morse, guitarist Eric Gillette and keyboardist Bill Hubauer) and tonality mesh effortlessly with drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy’s George’s badass forward propulsion, mirroring the lyrical highs and lows of the journey to John Bunyan’s Celestial City. The result is sustained, extended, unforced ecstasy in the Czech audience, capturing how Morse’s recent work embodies the ongoing ideal of American revivalist religion. A journey worth taking, whether you caught this in person or not.

Jaco Pastorius, Truth, Liberty and Soul: Live in NYC (live, archival, discovery): 2020 was the year I came across Resonance Records, where “jazz detective” Zev Feldman has been unearthing incredible archival treasures for nearly a decade. Jaco Pastorius single-handedly revolutionized electric bass playing in the 1970s; this 2017 release captures him in 1982, fresh from his boundary-busting stint in jazz-rock titans Weather Report. Fronting a big band of great players — the best New York horns, the drum/percussion duo of Peter Erskine and Don Alias, Othello Molineaux on steel pans and harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielmanns — Pastorius mixes classic tunes with his own soulful writing. It’s a mighty, bubbling noise — jazz, funk, rock, reggae, swing and more, with a groove that never stops and heart behind the flash. Irresistible for anyone with a pulse!

Porcupine Tree, In Absentia (deluxe reissue): Not the Porcupine Tree album that hooked me (that was Deadwing, promised its own deluxe box next year) but, looking back, my firm favorite of the band’s late period. Freshly signed to the American label that brought us Trans Siberian Orchestra, Steven Wilson and company made the polar opposite of a sentimental holiday album, focusing on the inner motivations of — serial killers? What makes that work? Well, how about: the full-on debut of Gavin Harrison’s stylish, rhythmically slippery drumming; Richard Barbieri’s off-center, arresting synth textures and solos; Colin Edwin’s relentless, incomparably steady bass workouts; Steven Wilson’s reignited love of metal slamming up against the songcraft developed on Stupid Dream and Lightbulb Sun, as well as a fixation with Beach Boys-tinged harmonies? Oh, and a clutch of superior tunes that became perennial favorites, both on the main album (“Blackest Eyes,” “Trains,” “The Sound of Muzak”) and the bonus disc (“Drown With Me,” “Futile”). Add in subtle yet superb remastering and you have a near-perfect example of how these boxes should be done.

Pure Reason Revolution, The Dark Third (reissue): At a time when progressive rock’s troops were thin on the ground, PRR provided reinforcements — and a breath of fresh air. It’s still hard to believe a major label released The Dark Third back in 2006; the effortlessly evolving long-form suites, the sweet-and-sour pairings of lush soundscapes and jacked-up beats were a vivid variant on Pink Floyd’s classic palette that turned the bass and drums up to 11. Jon Courtney, Chloe Alper and their cohorts weave the webs of melody and harmony; Paul Northfield’s co-production brings out the cavernous bottom end. The new bonus disc includes both the intriguing student work that led to Sony signing PRR and outtakes that showed up in different forms on later albums. Always an booming, blissed-out listen, now more inviting than ever.

Tears for Fears, The Seeds of Love (reissue): A marvelously all-over-the-place, widescreen record. Unabashedly pop but also fearlessly expanding the TFF sound into psychedelia (the title track was everywhere back in 1989), soul (big shout-out to Oleta Adams and Tessa Niles, who pushed Roland Orzbaal and Curt Smith to new vocal heights on “Woman in Chains” & “Swords & Knives”), jazz (Nicky Holland & Adams serve up stunningly tasty piano), world music (Jon Hassell’s superlative trumpet on “Standing on the Corner of the Third World” & “Famous Last Words”) and even a touch of prog-funk on “Year of the Knife.’ The squeaky-clean remaster (plenty of headroom and dynamic range) is dandy, but if you need more, the super-deluxe set linked above includes some dynamite rehearsal recordings.

and my Top Pick . . .

Ella Fitzgerald, The Lost Berlin Tapes (live, archival): My recent listening has tacked in the direction of mainstream jazz; if I had to speculate as to why, I’d say I might be looking for less tension and more release during my unobligated time. But what’s on offer is a factor as well. Instead of baking sourdough bread or taking up acoustic guitar during the time of COVID, it’s as if jazz musicians and aficionados have all dug deep in their closets and simultaneously unearthed long lost vintage recordings — which record companies eager to fill their distribution pipelines have snapped up and launched into the wider world. 

This, in my view, is the best of that harvest: an astounding, life-affirming 1962 concert buried in the archives of Ella Fitzgerald’s manager until now. Ella and her fellas (Paul Smith on piano, Wilfred Middlebrooks on bass, Stan Levey on drums) are at their absolute peak, in tune with each other and with an extroverted, enthralled Berlin audience. Every note of this concert radiates warmth and inner joy, even when the mood darkens on torch songs like “Cry Me A River” and Billie Holiday’s “Good Morning Heartache.” And when Ella swings on “Jersey Bounce,” jumps on “Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie,” digs into Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Him So” (resulting in an immediate, complete encore!), then breaks into her trademark scatting on “Mack the Knife,” well, she is unstoppable. I have had no finer feeling listening to music this year; whatever may ail your soul, I believe that The Lost Berlin Tapes are good medicine for it.

But wait, there’s more! Watch for my “new album” favorites from 2020 coming soon . . .

— Rick Krueger

The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!

As always seems to be the case, there’s tons of great music coming out between now and Black Friday, November 27. Below, the merest sampling of upcoming releases in prog and other genres below, with purchase links to Progarchy’s favorite online store Burning Shed unless otherwise noted.

Out now:

Simon Collins, Becoming Human: after 3 solo albums and Sound of Contact’s acclaimed Dimensionaut, Phil Collins’ oldest son returns on vocals. keys and drums; his new effort encompasses rock, pop, prog, electronica and industrial genres. Plus an existential inquiry into the meaning of life! Available on CD from Frontiers Records.

John Petrucci, Terminal Velocity: the Dream Theater guitarist reunites with Mike Portnoy on drums for his second solo set of instrumentals. Plus Dave LaRue of the Dixie Dregs and Flying Colors on bass. Expect lotsa notes! Available on CD or 2 LP from Sound Mind Records/The Orchard.

The Pineapple Thief, Versions of the Truth: Hot on the heels of their first US tour, Bruce Soord and Gavin Harrison helm TPT’s latest collection of brooding, stylized alt/art rock, honing in on the post-truth society’s impact on people and relationships. Available on CD, BluRay (with bonus track plus alternate, hi-res and surround mixes), LP or boxset (2 CDs/DVD/BluRay) – plus there’s a t-shirt!

Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Alone Together: Sjöblom spearheads a thoroughly groovy collection on vocals, guitar and organ, with Petter and Rasmus Diamant jumping in on drums and bass. Heartfelt portraits of daily life and love that yield extended, organic instrumental jams and exude optimism in the midst of ongoing isolation. Available on CD and LP (black or deep blood red vinyl).

[Upcoming releases follow the jump …]

Continue reading “The Big Prog (Plus) Preview for Fall 2020!”

20 in 2020: My Highlights So Far

It’s been a grim old half-year, hasn’t it?

If you were to hunt for any positives to come out of lockdown, one of the few might be the increased opportunities it has afforded many of us to sit down and listen to music, in lieu of social or outdoor activities. Indeed, this simple act seems more important than ever as a means of raising spirits and maintaining one’s mental health in these troubled times.

The pandemic has wrecked the live music scene for the moment, and made the business of recording new material much more challenging, but it doesn’t seem to have stemmed the flow of new releases too much just yet, thankfully. So here’s a round-up of twenty things that have particularly caught my ear over the past six months.

Note: wherever possible, links in this piece are to the relevant Bandcamp page (or, failing that, to sites like Burning Shed or Music Glue).

Let’s start with stuff that might be regarded as ‘mainstream prog’. The epitome of this has to be The Red Planet by Rick Wakeman – an album that ploughs a much proggier, Moog-laden furrow than the maestro’s other recent, piano-based work. It’s a delight from start to finish, and my only regret is that I opted for the digital release rather than the CD or vinyl with their distinctive cardboard pop-up covers.

The Red Planet, by Rick Wakeman (Pop-up vinyl version)

Also firmly and squarely in the ‘mainstream prog’ camp lie Pendragon‘s latest, Love Over Fear, and Masters Of Illusion by Magenta. The former is easily the band’s best work for quite a while and features gorgeous aquatic-themed cover art (see below-left). The latter is an intriguing concept album paying tribute to Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney, Christopher Lee and other stars of classic horror movies. Even better than both of these is the splendid Things Unseen, by I Am The Manic Whale, an album that is uplifting and light in tone yet also satisfyingly intricate. Highlights are the 19-minute epic Celebrity and the touching paean to a newborn infant, Smile.

I’ve avoided lumping new Glass Hammer album Dreaming City in with the aforementioned ‘mainstream prog’ releases, only because this album has a pleasing, harder-than-expected edge to it. I’ll admit that Glass Hammer’s output hasn’t always clicked for me, but I’ve very much enjoyed the heavier tone here, as well as the forays into electronica. Heavier still, and just as engrossing, are Inescapable by Godsticks, and Jupiter Hollow‘s latest, Bereavement.

What else has grabbed my attention? Pure Reason Revolution‘s comeback album Eupnea stands out, as does Celexa Dreams by Kyros – an even better album than 2016’s impressive Vox Humana, I reckon. Earworm Rumour and the dramatic In Vantablack are especially noteworthy. If you enjoy slap bass and plenty of synths, you should definitely check this one out!

Rumour by Kyros, from Celexa Dreams

The pop and contemporary music influences that have shaped Celexa Dreams are even more prevalent in another couple of this year’s quality releases: The Empathy Machine by Chimpan A, and Valor by The Opium Cartel. Chimpan A is a side-project of Magenta’s Rob Reed which has been dormant since a 2006 debut album. This long overdue follow-up is a slick, smooth, highly palatable mix of prog, pop, electronica and dance beats, with excellent vocal performances. Valor, meanwhile, is a more straightforward homage to the pop music of the 1980s, but is no less elegant or enjoyable for all that. Elegance is also the watchword in Modern Ruins, by Tim Bowness & Peter Chilvers. This is minimalist art rock at its finest, with Bowness as soothing and seductive as he’s ever been.

In The Streets by The Opium Cartel, from Valor

Instrumental albums have very much been on my radar this year: not just Rick Wakeman’s aforementioned offering, but also material from younger, less established acts. Zopp’s eponymous debut release is a superb slice of jazz-tinged, Canterbury-inspired prog, featuring guest appearances from Andy Tillison and Theo Travis (Andy also engineered and co-produced this one). Much more squarely in jazz territory lies the Jazz Sabbath project, from Rick’s son Adam Wakeman. This imagines an amusing alternate history in which Black Sabbath made their name by ripping off the songs of jazz pianist Milton Keanes! The version of Iron Man on here is especially entertaining. Finally, I can’t leave the Instrumental category behind without mentioning Final Quiet, from the gloriously-named Flies Are Spies From Hell. This is post-rock, but with more delicacy and subtle variation than is generally found in that particular sub-genre.

Before The Light by Zopp, from Zopp

Funnily enough, my favourite releases of 2020 so far would mostly not be categorised as prog. Chief amongst these is Darkness Brings The Wonders Home by Smoke Fairies – a moody, mesmeric album in which minor keys, intertwined guitar parts and vocal harmonies combine to bewitching effect. Stand out tracks are Coffee Shop Blues, Chocolate Rabbit and Chew Your Bones. Equally compelling is Jonathan Hultén‘s acoustic solo album Chants From Another Place, a haunting, mysterious work that taps into obscure folk and choral traditions.

Chew Your Bones by Smoke Fairies, from Darkness Brings The Wonders Home

Folk influences also permeate two other 2020 releases that are particularly dear to my heart: Let It All In by Baltimore band Arbouretum, and The Life Of The Honeybee And Other Moments Of Clarity, from Glasgow-based Abel Ganz. The former deftly blends americana, psych and even krautrock, courtesy of the pulsating, hypnotic 11-minute title track. The latter is a majestic and beautiful prog album that somehow improves upon the mood-enhancing, sunny, summery feel of its 2014 predecessor. I guarantee it’ll lift your spirits if you give it a spin. It’s hard to pick a favourite track, but the epic Sepia And White is truly spectacular.

I’ll finish with a shout-out for KOYO, a band local to me, whose new album You Said It has been on constant rotation at home. This is more direct and punchy, and less psychedelia-influenced, than its 2017 predecessor. Overall, it’s not especially proggy, though album closer Against All Odds definitely leans in that direction, while Out Of Control wouldn’t sound out of place on Steven Wilson’s To The Bone. In fact, it’s easy to imagine Wilson producing an album like this, were he to opt for a grungier, more alt rock direction on some future release. However you want to label it, this is a hugely engaging, lively and enjoyable listen, and one of my favourites of the year so far.

Out Of Control by KOYO, from You Said It

Chloe Alper, Apprentice of the Universe @chloealper

Chloe Alper, whose magical voice and versatile musicianship was no small contribution to the enduring magic of Pure Reason Revolution, is doing some very interesting solo work these days, creating amazing music that still gives us “something to dream about” — to quote PRR’s first-released song, “Apprentice of the Universe” (April 19, 2004, on Poptones MC5089SCD).

Check out this nifty video for her current project, Tiny Giant, which showcases the witty single “Thirsty,” the first of a double A-side:

“The Intention Craft” by Pure Reason Revolution

On Oct 24, 2005, the enhanced CD was released, as catalogue number SonyBMG 6759302. Included were three tracks plus a video:

1. The Intention Craft
2. Sound Of Free
3. Asleep Under The Eiderdown
4. The Intention Craft (Video)

The three tracks were also released on 10″ blue vinyl with a picture sleeve (as SonyBMG 6759306).

Even more rare, there was also a white label, white sleeve 10″ vinyl pressing, exclusively for record company staff, the band, and management (and, confusingly, also numbered SonyBMG 6759306).

The entire album of The Dark Third was then released on April 10, 2006, but without “The Intention Craft” on the UK version.

There, The Dark Third was the nine-track version with “The Exact Colour” and “The Twyncyn/Trembling Willows” as tracks 5 and 8, respectively.

Not until July 25, 2006, was the US version released, which was now a ten-track version (adding “Asleep Under Eiderdown” as a hidden track). This was the version that you (like me) probably know best, with “Nimos and Tambos” and “Arrival/The Intention Craft” swapped in for tracks 5 and 8.

For me, “Nimos and Tambos” was the gateway track. It immediately grabbed me and has never, ever let go since.

In my own playlist, I find the album flows perfectly with the US tracks for 5 and 8 placed immediately after the UK tracks for 5 and 8 respectively.

I call this 12-track playlist “The Definitive Version,” and I wish someone would do a CD reissue with this optimal track order, all on one CD.

As a band we’re fascinated with the questions raised about the origins and meanings of dreams. By the time we die we’ll have spent more than six years of our life dreaming, and a third of our lives asleep, relays Pure Reason Revolution’s lyricist/songwriter Jon Courtney. The Dark Third is kind of a concept album that investigates the supposedly sharp boundary between dreaming and wakefulness, and that perhaps the two states aren’t so different. So begins the surrealistic sonic journey of The Dark Third, Pure Reason Revolution’s explosive debut album. A love of art and a passion for music come together on their debut, where the surreal serves as inspiration for concrete lyrical and musical ideas. Pure Reason Revolution’s sound marries all that is good in rock `n’ roll, an infectious blend of today’s pop sensibilities and classic rock stylings as refreshing as it is timeless.

Other advance singles included: “Apprentice of the Universe” (Apr 19, 2004, with “Nimos and Tambos” as the B-side) and “The Bright Ambassadors of Morning” (Apr 11, 2005, also with a video of the song).

Also preceding the full album was a limited promo sampler:

1. Goshen Remains
2. Apprentice of the Universe
3. The Bright Ambassadors of Morning
4. Bullits Dominae
5. The Intention Craft

More widespread was the sampler Cautionary Tales for the Brave (Oct 3, 2005), SonyBMG 82876725952:

1. In Aurelia
2. The Bright Ambassadors Of Morning
3a. Arrival
3b. The Intention Craft
4a. He Tried To Show Them Magic
4b. Ambassadors Return

“In Aurelia” was also later released as a single (Nov 2005), and on An Introduction to Pure Reason Revolution (July 2006):

1. Nimos & Tambos
2. The Twyncyn / Trembling Willows
3. Asleep Under Eiderdown
4. In Aurelia
5. The Intention Craft

Note how this sampler ends with “The Intention Craft.”

Because The Dark Third is such a startling, unexpected masterpiece that towers above decades of releases, it deserves to be kept in print, but this time in a definitive edition. I would add “In Aurelia” and “Sound of Free” to fill out such a one-disc edition, to 14 tracks.

Second Spring #6: “Bright Ambassadors of Morning” by Pure Reason Revolution

prr dark third
From 2006.

Taking the name of the song from lyrics by Pink Floyd, Pure Reason Revolution offered some of the best existentialist-electronica prog of the first decade of the 21st century with the fourth track–“Bright Ambassadors of Morning”–from their first and finest studio album, THE DARK THIRD.  The entire album is nothing if not a masterpiece, a blistering and loving whole, a deep and abiding well of creativity.

Not until nearly six minutes into the album does a human voice even appear, letting the listener know that this album is a work of art, not an attempt at popular cash-making.

The album itself deals with the dream state of human existence–the one third of our lives in which we allow the sandman to invade and Morpheus to rule.

TimeLord emailed me over the weekend, and we “talked” nothing but Pure Reason Revolution.  Since receiving the first email from my favorite progarchist Canadian philosopher, I’ve not listened to much else.  Three days later, and it seems critical to make this track my sixth Second Spring.

Continue reading “Second Spring #6: “Bright Ambassadors of Morning” by Pure Reason Revolution”

My Best of 2017???

Let me just state from the outset that I love that Chris had the gumption to post his favorites albums of the year already.  We’re not even in December, Chris!  Love it.

So, just as an experiment, I checked my player’s settings and calculated the albums I listened to the most.  While I can’t claim this to be a fair statement of what I think the best of the year was–after all, some albums, such as Glass Hammer’s UNTOLD TALES.  It’s only had a month to compete against some albums that have had 11 months.  Still, it’s a marker.

Additionally, because my player calculates the number of plays for the year total, it registers all albums in my collections, not just those that came out in 2017.  So, by the number, folks, by the numbers—the ten most played albums in the Birzer house for the last 11 months.

No. 10 most played of 2017:

Glass Hammer Untold

 

Continue reading “My Best of 2017???”

PRR’s THE DARK THIRD: 10 Years Later

thedarkthird
One of at least three different covers for this album.

If there’s anything in the music world quite like Pure Reason Revolution’s first full album, THE DARK THIRD, I’ve never encountered it.  Of course, I can think of Talk Talk, Lush, Pink Floyd, My Bloody Valentine, Porcupine Tree, Cocteau Twins, NAO, and Newspaperflyhunting. . . but PRR is still something rather altogether different.

Even upon my very first listen, I remember being just utterly dazzled.  Hard to believe that has already been a decade ago.  it was the first album I ever purchased as a download.  Frankly, I hate downloads, and I have long since bought the actual physical CD of THE DAR THIRD, but I remember well putting my credit card number in and waiting nervously for it to appear in iTunes.

Continue reading “PRR’s THE DARK THIRD: 10 Years Later”

Vertica: Evoking and Melding the Spirits of Flannery O’Connor and Sixpence

Review of Vertica, The Haunted South (Radiant Records, 2014). Songs: Holding Smoke; Temperance; Ghost of Summer; Always; Obsidian; You’ve Been Warned; The Wind Has Teeth; Believing and Pretending; The Furthest Place; Open Water; Pearl; One Last Chance to Resurrect; Go North.

The band: Emily Brunson (Lead Vocals); Tyler Downey (Guitar, Vocals); Joshua Ruppert (Bass); James McCurley (Drums, Vocals, Piano).  Producer and Engineer: Jerry Guidroz

Verticals first album, the very gothic (southern gothic, that is) THE HAUNTED SOUTH.
Vertica’s first album, the very gothic (southern gothic, that is) THE HAUNTED SOUTH.

For quite a while in the 1990s, I thought pop couldn’t get much better than Sixpence None the Richer. The first album grabbed me, the second captivated me, and the third floored me. Absolutely floored me. I still think that third one (their 1997 self titled album) one of the best albums I’ve ever heard or probably ever will hear. It’s not at the level of Skylarking or Songs from the Big Chair, but it’s very, very close. Then, of course, came the fourth album, Divine Discontent. What a disappointment. Granted, it wasn’t the kind of disappointment I felt with Pure Reason Revolution’s Amor Vincit Omnia—which I discarded rather unceremoniously after only a few listens. What a piece of barnyard excrement that was. I’m honestly not sure how a band could fall so quickly and steeply.

Stop, Birzer! This isn’t an article about your personal rants or about the decline of PRR (though, The Dark Third is just so, so could—how could they fall apart so quickly. . . ).

Vertica's four members.
Vertica’s four members.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to praise a great (brilliant) new band. I’ve had a review copy of Vertica’s The Haunted South for a little over a month now. And, I’ve thought about writing this review ten to twenty times, at least. Today, I finally made myself write it. By made myself—I don’t want to suggest writing this is a burden. It’s not a burden in the least, though it is hard work. Why? The album is just so good, I owe it the very best review I can give it. The album is so good, writing a review of it somewhat intimidates me. On the good side. . . in the time I’ve had a copy of this album, I’ve listened to it at least thirty times. Probably once a day.

It’s not prog, but it is very fine pop-rock with lots of art and prog elements. If you could combine the best of Mazzy Star, Sixpence None the Richer, The Cranberries, and IZZ, you’d come very close to the excellence of this band. Some of it is folkish, some of it is simply poetic, some of it is gothic, some of it is pop, and some of it is very hard.

Yet, with nothing but excellence, The Haunted South all flows together.

There’s something distinctive about the voice of the lead vocalist, Emily Brunson. She does sound a bit like the lead singer of Sixpence, but without the coyishly girlish voice often employed on the poppier tunes of Sixpence. Brunson’s voice can be sweet, but it’s always utterly earnest and never saccharine. The lead songwriter, James McCurley, knows exactly how to write music to fit Brunson’s near perfect vocals as well. Anyway, no matter what style of music or genre Vertica is employing, Brunson’s vocals are so good and so distinctive, they essentially become the sound of the band.

This brings me to McCurley. This is a guy to watch over the next several years and even decades. He’s already proven his talent, now he will show us what a force he is. He can write music very well. I assume he’ll only get better. But, his greatest strength is his lyric writing. I’m always a sucker for great lyrics, and these are great lyrics. Poetic in a mysterious, haunting, fog-filled woods kind of way. Listening to this lyrics, I feel as though I’ve found a connection to the voice and soul of Flannery O’Conner, fifty years later.

If you order this CD, and you should, avoid the download. Not because the music isn’t wonderful—because it is—but because you owe it to yourself to own the booklet, complete with lyrics.

Oh, boy. Love finding new things. I’ll be following Vertica for years to come. And, the adventure has just begun.

To order (and you should; early and often), click either of these links.

https://vertica.bandcamp.com/album/the-haunted-south

http://www.radiantrecords.com/products/555-vertica-the-haunted-south.aspx

Four Years Ago Today: Recollections

More reflections from the past.  This one from four years ago today, January 1, 2010.  Still lots of love for Steven Wilson.

***

mobile_pic1A Steven Wilson solo albums can only come out every so often, sadly.  Technically, “Insurgentes” came out at the beginning of 2009.  But, for us Wilson nerds who follow his career way too closely, “Insurgentes” came out in 2008, even only in Wilson’s self-proclaimed hated MP3.  According to my iTunes stats, “Insurgentes” remains my most played cd of this past year.

It was closely followed, again according to my iTunes stats, by Guilt Machine, “On This Perfect Day,” Oceansize, “Frames,” and Riverside, “ADHD.”

Like the cat who adopted us in the summer of 2009 and with whom/which I fell in love, Guilt Machine has been a constant for me since its release in the summer.

There were however, two really, really disappointing CDs.  So disappointing in fact that I’m embarrassed I own them:

  • Dream Theater                      “Black Clouds and Silver Linings”
  • Pure Reason Revolution       “Love Conquers All”

Not sure what either group was thinking in the direction taken.

And, finally, a fun and novel album, but almost assuredly nothing that will stick with me for years to come:

  • Muse                           “The Resistance”

Lyrically, a great album, and moments of absolute musical genius can be found everywhere.  But, excess whimsy mars the album, and everytime I doubted how serious the musicians were about this, I doubted my interest in their project.

 

[Additional note found: “Thus far, 2009 has been bleak.  Dream Theater’s new album, “Black Clouds and Silver Linings,” serves as an incoherent exercise in notes chasing notes and embarrassingly written lyrics.  Pure Reason Revolution’s “Amor Vincit Omnia” offers nothing but miserable sexual decadence and ridiculous Euro dance-type music.  The title should’ve been Lust Conquers All, not Love Conquers All.  How this could be the same band that released the captivating “The Dark Third,” I have no idea.”]