Cosmografic Silences: The Unreasonable Art of Robin Armstrong

cosmograf unreasonable
If you’ve yet to do so, go to the bottom of this review, order the album, then return for the review.

When it comes to finding the legitimate inheritors of the legacy of Pink Floyd’s dystopian psychedelic prog phase (in particular, ANIMALS), there are only three serious contenders: Airbag; Dave Kerzner; and Cosmograf.  While all three are excellent, Cosmograf has consistently honored the tradition while progressing in the most existentialist ways possible.  Airbag might be more atmospheric, and Kerzner might be poppier, but no one does what Cosmograf does when it comes to angst and intensity.

Continue reading “Cosmografic Silences: The Unreasonable Art of Robin Armstrong”

Robin Armstrong on the Physical Art of Prog

Not atypically stunning artwork from Cosmograf.
Not atypically stunning artwork from Cosmograf.

Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf) has some very important things to write about the actual, tangible, physical art of prog.

A few folk have been asking about the availability of lyrics for the Cosmograf Albums. We don’t provide these in any other form other than in the CD booklets. The reason for that is that we want to protect the remaining value of the physical product in a world where it is being increasingly marginalised alongside less and less available income streams for bands. A huge amount of work goes into our booklets with superb artwork and photography, which often never gets seen by those buying from digital platforms. When you buy a CD not only do you get a great audio experience you get the great artwork and the printed lyrics too.

Amen, Robin.  Amen.

Robin Armstrong Tells It Like It Is

Robin Armstrong’s (Cosmograf) latest post on his website is a must-read defense of Steven Wilson’s hard-won popularity. Here’s an excerpt:

Well here’s the rub, you, like me and thousands upon thousands of people making music in the world today are entitled to precisely nothing.  We have no right to be heard, no right to earn a living from our art and certainly no right to success.  For the mere mortals, these things have to be earned, slogged at, and when some little successes arrive, appreciate them.

The truth is, that making a record now has never been easier.  Making a record that people will listen to got harder, much harder.   When someone makes a record that people are falling over themselves to listen to, in a genre of music that’s similar to yours, be bloody inspired, I know I am…

Read the whole thing here.

The Sadly Decaying Orbit of Anathema: Distant Satellites Fails

[Review of Anathema, Distant Satellites (Kscope, 2014). Reviewed from digital files and without liner notes or lyrics.]

anathema-distant-satellitesNOT RECOMMENDED.

I would give much either to have the opportunity to write a different review or avoid writing a review of this album altogether. The latter is my usual M.O. when I don’t like something or when I think something is subpar. Though other progarchists would justly and properly disagree with me on this issue, I think it important to spend our time writing and thinking about beautiful things. Life is simply too short to waste on mud, muck, and decay, and art is too precious and rare to squander or abuse it.

Also, simply put, I’m not good at writing about things I don’t like. I would also guess that spending time with things that are poor or corrupt damage my soul (and yours) irreparably.

But, I can neither ignore the new Anathema nor write a positive review of it without being dishonest. Distant Satellites is not corrupt, but it is, for the band, sub par. I wish Anathema would have taken more time with the writing of this album or simply have taken time off for a rest. Or, perhaps, the band could have released just a few of the best songs as an EP rather than as a full-fledged album.  As an album, it can’t hold together.

A year ago, if someone had asked me to discuss the present state of rock music, I would have sung the praises of Big Big Train and The Tangent, correctly claiming that each band was reach so far and attaining so much that they were very close to becoming untouchable. 2014 wouldn’t change this assessment. BBT and The Tangent are not only at the very top of their game, they are at the very top of THE game. Outside of North American bands (I’m intentionally excluding Rush and Glass Hammer), I would have gladly said that Cosmograf and Anathema were so close to untouchable as to be nearly at the level of the top two. 2014, thus far, has drastically changed the prog landscape. Whereas Cosmograf has moved into the top three with its new masterpiece, Capacitor, Distant Satellites reveals a broken or, at best, wounded, decaying Anathema.

How different a year ago was. Looking at the trajectory of Anathema—from A Natural Disaster to Universal—I would have placed good money on the rise of the band. Well, not really, I think gambling is a waste of time and money. But, you get the idea. I mean, really, Universal has to be one of the best live albums of the rock era. In terms of intensity and significance, this was a band with everything. While I would not have rated the two lead vocalists of Anathema—Vincent Cavanaugh and Lee Douglas—at the level of, say, David Longdon, Susie Bogdanowicz, or Leah McHenry, they would be close.

As mentioned above, I really wish I could write a different review for the new album. I have now listened to Distant Satellites close to a dozen times in hopes of coming to love it. Every listen, though, only makes realize how poor it is compared to their previous releases. Not that it’s terrible. Overall, it’s ok, but it’s, unfortunately, not much better than ok. I find myself wanting to skip through almost every song. There are two exceptions to this. Track Four, “Ariel,” has to be one of the single best songs Anathema has ever written.

The second best song on the album, “Distant Satellites,” is fascinating, but not necessarily for the right reasons. I’m fairly sure that if I allowed 100 dedicated prog fans to listen to it for the first time without giving them a single piece of information about the track, 75 to 90 of them would claim it to be a never-before-recorded track from Radiohead’s Kid A sessions. Indeed, I won’t be totally surprised when my physical copy finally arrives from the UK, if the liner notes reveal that Thom Yorke actually wrote the track and sang lead vocals on it. It’s one thing to pay homage to an exemplar, it’s a very different thing to mimic them. I really don’t know what to make of all of this, or why Anathema decided to pursue the course it did.

I really wish I could proclaim Distant Satellites to be the finest work yet by Anathema. I would be lying, though.

If you’re an Anathema or Kscope completest, buy this. Otherwise, I simply can’t recommend it. Other than tracks 4 and 9 and, possibly, 10, it’s not worth the price. Purchasing it would be kind of like putting stock in the Skylab project a few days before it crashed into Australia.

Let’s all hope the band’s followup puts them back into orbit.

An Edwardian Trip through Hades: CAPACITOR by COSMOGRAF

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.
Stunning album cover by the wonderful Graeme Bell. A progged-out version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

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).

The white car.  Original photography by Dan Armstrong.  Booklet art by Robin Armstrong.
The white car. Original photography by Dan Armstrong. Booklet art by Robin Armstrong.

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.

 

A Masterpiece

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.

 

To pre-order for the June 2, 2014, release, please go here.

Progarchist and quasi-Kiwi Russell Clarke receives his copy and is quite elated.
Progarchist and quasi-Kiwi Russell Clarke receives his copy and is quite elated.

Cosmograf, CAPACITOR: Preorder Tomorrow, April 11.

Stunning album cover.  A progged-out version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.
Stunning album cover. A progged-out version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

Master of all things Chronometric and Progometric, Robin Armstrong, has just announced that the new Cosmograf CD, CAPACITOR, will be available for pre-order tomorrow, Friday, April 11.

Progarchy’s advice: pre-order early and often.

Pre-order will be available through the Cosmograf website: http://www.cosmograf.com

To see the album trailer, watch below.

Cosmograf Trailer, “Capacitor”

Here She Comes: April 5 Progarchy News

Just when I thought spring might have sprung in Michigan, vernal verities hit hard. Upon arising from my heavy slumbers, I have looked out the window to discover there’s a fresh layer of snow upon everything. Old Tom was right: April is the cruelest month.

Some great things happening in the world of music, especially as interests the citizens of progarchy. So, in no order discernable to me:

Unearth-Album-Cover
Bassett, contemplating immensity.

John Bassett, Integrity’s Minstrel, continues to receive nothing but excellent reviews for his solo album, Unearth.  Not surprisingly.

Mischievous progger, Andy Tillison.
Mischievous progger, Andy Tillison.

Andy Tillison reports the first version of the new The Tangent album is done and will be released early next year by Insideout Music.

Also, don’t forget that Andy is selling much of his excellent back catalogue through his online website.  To purchase, go here: http://thetangent.org [navigate through a couple of pages; it’s worth it]

Leah, Metal Maid.
Leah, Metal Maid.

Our own lovely metal maid, Leah McHenry, has just raised the full $25,000 of her Indiego campaign. And, even three days early of her goal. Congratulations to Leah! We’re extremely proud of her. And, of course, we’re looking forward to the followup to her spectacular Otherworld.

Mike Kershaw, Wakefield's progger.
Mike Kershaw, Wakefield’s progger.

The ever-interesting Mike Kershaw is about to release his next album.  We very much look forward to it as well.

Edited by everyone's favorite Master of Fate, Jerry Ewing.
Edited by everyone’s favorite Master of Fate, Jerry Ewing.

PROG magazine, edited by the incomparable Jerry Ewing, will now be distributed in physical form throughout North America.

cover

The Black Vines, heavy rockers, from the Sheffield area of England, have just released their second album, Return of the Splendid Bastards. It’s some great, great rock. To download or purchase the physical CD, go here: http://blackvines.bandcamp.com

Dr. Rachel Cohen, lead singer of The Reasoning.  Photo by Tim Hall.
Dr. Rachel Cohen, lead singer of The Reasoning. Photo by Tim Hall.

The Reasoning is offering some really nice bundles at their online webstore:

You may also have noticed that our website has been updated. We have had a clear-out, done a major restructure and completely rebuilt the shop. Rob, our ivory tickler, has done a splendid job and we here at Comet HQ are extremely grateful to him. You will find the new shop stocked to the hilt with a bunch of wonderful new discounted “bundles” plus new individual items and, of course, the usual shop fair. There may even be some copies of CDs that have not been available for a very long time (wink, wink). Your shopping experience is now going to be quicker AND simpler. Win! Have a look at what’s available and treat yourself… because you’re worth it.

To check out the bundles, go here: http://www.thereasoning.com/shop/

Lego Arjen.
Lego Arjen.

From a few hints offered, it appears that Arjen Lucassen is deep into his next project. His legions of fans can collectively sigh, “amen.”

Stunning album cover.  A progged version of Dolby's GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS.  Brilliant.
Stunning album cover. A progged version of Dolby’s GOLDEN AGE OF WIRELESS. Brilliant.

The new Cosmograf, Capacitor, is done, and from the trailer, it looks nothing short of spectacular. Indeed, when it comes to watching this video, I might have an addiction problem. “Hello, my name is Brad Birzer, and I’m a Cosmografaholic.” Righteously ominous.  To watch (and you should, repeatedly), go here: https://progarchy.com/2014/04/01/capacitor-the-amazing-spirit-capture/

New progarchy editor, Craig Breaden.
New progarchy editor, Craig Breaden.

I’m very happy to announce that within the quasi-anarchical structure of progarchy, Craig Breaden has achieved the rank of editor! This comes with a Vorpal Blade and an additional 17 hit points. Craig has been a close friend of mine since 1990, and he first introduced me to some of the greatest music of the late 1960s and 1970s, especially to much of the best rock not found in what’s typically called progressive or new wave. From Spooky Tooth to Richard Thompson to Newspaperflyhunting and everything in between, Craig throws himself into reviewing, always revealing equal depths of intellect, humanity, and grace in his articles. He is a real treasure in the world of music. He’s also, importantly, a professional sound archivist, as well as a devoted father and husband. He’s a hard guy not to love and respect.

The elusive Nemo Dre.
The elusive Nemo Dre.

Nemo Dre finally revealed to me his real name.

 

One of Suzanne Vega's best albums, Nine Objects of Desire.
One of Suzanne Vega’s best albums, Nine Objects of Desire.

Burning Shed is now selling Suzanne Vega’s music. This is very cool and speaks well of both Vega and Burning Shed.

One of the best albums of all time, The Colour of Spring.
One of the best albums of all time, The Colour of Spring.

Finally, it’s April 5, International Talk Talk Day. https://progarchy.com/2013/04/05/here-she-comes-laughter-upon-her-lips-talk-talks-1986-masterpiece/  Make sure you listen to your favorite Talk Talk album today to celebrate.