Rick’s Quick Takes for April

Short, sharp shocks this month: all albums and EPs reviewed below come in under the old school LP limit of 45 minutes! Purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing; album playlists or samples follow each review.

Entransient, Ghosts in the Halls: My hometown’s very own prog-metal band lays out the cards for all to see on their Facebook page: “Melodic neo/post-prog rock from Michigan. Influenced by Anathema, Alcest, and Porcupine Tree.” The good news is that guitarists Matt Schrauben & Doug Murray, bassist Nick Hagen, drummer Jeremy Hyde and vocalist/keyboardist Scott Murray refine those influences into a distinctive blend, marked by rich atmosphere and a towering core sound. The opening epic “Parasite” grabs hold immediately with its games of acoustic/electric musical chairs; “Synergize” and “Last Strawman” drive forward without mercy, as Murray testifies fiercely over bare grooves and fuzzed chords alike. More reflective moments like the title track, “Misplaced” and “Where the Shadows Lie” dial down the tempos and the lyrical angst while keeping the edge intact as the band prowls lush, more aerated soundscapes. (Kudos for Hagen’s mixing and engineering, as well as for the mastering work of The Pineapple Thief’s Steve Kitch; the band’s dynamic and textural range is captured with crystalline clarity throughout.) Entransient has an open, readily appealing touch to their music; as they blaze a fresh trail in a style that easily collapses into cliché, they’re well worth a listen.

Envy of None: No, this sounds nothing like Rush, even with Alex Lifeson’s guitar work in the mix. (If that’s what you want, the new anniversary edition of Moving Pictures is now available — and getting glowing reviews from unlikely sources like Pitchfork, for pete’s sake.) Lifeson does provide satisfying crunch, acoustic contrast, and creative lead work in spades, bedding in seamlessly with fellow core players Andy Curran (bass & guitar) and Alfio Annibalini (guitar and keys). They weave a darkly enticing aural mesh that cradles the understated, seductive singing of Maiah Wynne; her breathily fragile volleys, playing off the sticky minimalist hooks embedded in EoN’s web, are what might really ensnare you. Musically, this is all about basic song forms deployed in ambient/industrial/goth/post-rock styles; the seasoned instrumental interplay and Wynne’s preternaturally mature vocal work are what elevate the album above the obvious genre markers. So it’s old-fashioned chemistry and star quality, from veterans and newcomer alike, that turn out to be key to Envy of None’s appeal. Try it on that basis and see if it grabs you.

Continue reading “Rick’s Quick Takes for April”

Rolling Back the Clock With Rush’s “Roll the Bones”

Rush roll the bones-coverIf I had to pick one Rush album between 1984-1996 to be my favorite, I would pick Roll the Bones without hesitation. I grew up with the early era of Rush (through Moving Pictures), and I didn’t come to the 80s (meaning post MP, which I consider to be more like their 70s output) music until I was in college. I’m in my late 20s, to give you a little perspective on where I’m coming from. I was drawn to the hard and heavy music and the rough philosophical and fantastical lyrics of that era of the band.

After Moving Pictures, the band’s sounds changed to reflect the times, although they changed very gracefully, which is more than I’ll say for other progressive rock bands in the 80s. The keyboards were far more prominent than they had been, with Lifeson’s stunning guitar work dropping back into the mix or taking on a more synthesized tone.

Neil Peart’s lyrics also changed. They remained philosophical, but his philosophy was maturing. It was less Ayn Randian and more Aristotelian. It was also far more poetic than his 70s lyrics, making it far more difficult to absorb, in my opinion. (I’m borrowing rather heavily from Brad Birzer’s Neil Peart: Cultural RePercussions. He has spent more years than I’ve been alive absorbing this era of Rush’s music, and he understands it far better than I do.)

I believe Roll the Bones marks a big change in direction for Rush. After a decade of the keyboards dominating, and arguably softening, Rush’s sound, the band returned to a heavier sound. “Dreamline,” the opening track, brings the rock back into the forefront. The first thing you hear is a simple drum beat quickly followed by Lifeson’s guitar. The guitar has an arena sound to it with a little bit of reverb – perhaps influenced by the larger and larger shows the band was playing over the previous decade.

Peart’s drums punch throughout, and Lifeson’s guitar leads the musical way with his signature tone. Instead of the swirling keyboard sounds, the band turned back to their core of drums, bass, and guitar. It sounds more like the Rush I originally fell in love with. While I have come to appreciate every Rush album, I much prefer their heavier rock side.

We even get the band’s first instrumental since “YYZ” with “Where’s My Thing?, Pt. 4: Gangster Of Boats Trilogy.” Geddy, Alex, and Neil all slay on this. We get some great guitar shredding, we get some in-your-face basslines, and we get Neil showing us why he’s the best drummer who ever lived.

With “The Big Wheel,” we get two very distinct styles. The chorus has a very pleasant and hummable melody, but the verses, are pure prog with complex musicality and jarring arrangements. The album is full of surprises.

Roll the Bones doesn’t really have the proto-metal elements of some of their early work, but it does have some unexpected influences that at least keep the album sounding fresh. I don’t think anyone was expecting a mild rap and funk influence on the title track, yet it totally works. Sure it may not be my favorite Rush song, but it’s certainly memorable – and not in a bad way. Lifeson’s guitar really brings things together on the title track. The inclusion of acoustic guitar was also a nice touch. The keyboards add flourishes, much like they did in their 70s music, rather than leading the way.

Continue reading “Rolling Back the Clock With Rush’s “Roll the Bones””

Alex Lifeson’s New Band Release New Track

It’s been a very long time since we’ve heard new music from Alex Lifeson. Apart from Alex’s guest appearances on other albums, it’s been a decade since Rush’s masterpiece, Clockwork Angels. Lifeson’s new band, Envy of None, sounds nothing like Rush, but this track off their upcoming album is excellent nonetheless.

After listening to the song, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Envy of None are signed to Kscope. They have an atmospheric and industrial edge to them that Kscope is known for. Hopefully the rest of the album will be just as good.

Check out more info on the album at Prog magazine: https://www.loudersound.com/news/alex-lifeson-returns-with-envy-of-none-and-a-brand-new-video-for-liar

Album due out April 11.

Envy of None – Liar – YouTube

RIP Mary Weinrib

Geddy Lee’s mother, Mary Weinrib, passed away on July 2 at the age of 95. Many of you probably already know this, but she was a Holocaust survivor who met her husband, Morris, at Auschwitz. She gave her total support to Geddy and his bandmates when they started Rush, and obviously without her we wouldn’t have been blessed with Rush’s music.

From her obituary:

Manya (Malka) Rubinstein was born in 1925 in Warsaw and grew up in Wierzbnik, a Jewish shtetl that was part of Starachowice, Poland, which was occupied by the Germans beginning in 1939. Mary endured the labor camp at the munition’s factory in Starachowice and the concentration camps at Auschwitz, where she met and fell in love with her husband Morris Weinrib, and at Bergen-Belsen, where she was finally liberated in April 1945. Reunited and married in 1946, Mary and Morris emigrated to Canada. After her husband Morris’s sudden death in 1965, Mary was left with three young children and a variety store that her husband had owned and managed. Mary was determined to learn the business; and, against the advice of well-meaning friends, she took over managing their store in Newmarket, and she successfully ran the business until she retired. People were drawn to her zest for life, her sense of humor, and her compassion and generous spirit. There’s a customer for everything, Mary would say, and if you couldn’t find it at Times Square Discount, you didn’t need it. Preparing family meals at Rosh Hashanah and Passover was a large-scale labor of love for Mary, who cherished her family above all; and after full days running the store, Mary would cook and bake over several nights, making everybody’s favorite dishes and desserts. The mother of Rush bass player and lead singer Geddy Lee, Mary was an early supporter and a fixture at Rush concerts. When the first Rush album was released, Mary plastered the windows of her store with Rush posters and gave albums away to any kids who wanted them but didn’t have the money to buy them. Among the longest living Holocaust survivors, Mary lived to see her family grow and prosper. 

We offer our sincerest condolences to Geddy Lee and the rest of his family, including Alex Lifeson, who I’m sure was close with Geddy’s mother as well, since they were childhood friends.

Read more at Rush is a Band: https://www.rushisaband.com/blog/2021/07/05/5630/Geddy-Lees-mother-and-Holocaust-survivor-Mary-Weinrib-has-passed-away-at-the-age-of-95

https://youtu.be/qehYgK_IsWs

In Praise of The Professor

Suddenly, you were gone
From all the lives you left your mark upon

Neil Peart, Afterimage

A natural byproduct of having a deep and abiding passion for music is that you collect musical heroes: individuals encountered on your musical journey who leave their mark on you. These individuals stand out from the crowd, whether it be for their skill as players, their talent as creators, their personality or their life choices. You didn’t need to spend long on social media these past two days to learn that, for a great many people, Neil Peart was one such individual.

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Neil Peart: A Misfit’s Hero

I’m still reeling from the news that Neil Peart is dead. I’m sure you all are too. None of us expected this. I think we all held out a glimmer of hope that Rush would play another show now and then or come out with another album without a tour. I certainly never imagined in 2015 that Peart would be dead within five years. My heart truly goes out to his wife, daughter, Geddy, and Alex.

This isn’t an obituary. Many others know the details of Peart’s life far more than I do, and I’ll direct you towards them for those kinds of remembrances. Instead, my thoughts on Peart and Rush are deeply personal. There is nothing unique about my experiences with Rush. I know for a fact that others, possibly thousands or millions, have had similar experiences. But this is mine.

Continue reading “Neil Peart: A Misfit’s Hero”

In Memory of Neil Peart (1952-2020)

Unlike so many writing about him in the wake of his passing, Neil Peart didn’t change my life.  By the time I first seriously listened to Rush in college, when I reviewed Permanent Waves for the student newspaper, my tastes were pretty set, and they didn’t lean toward heavy rock.  (Truth to tell, I looked down on “that stuff” back then.)  So while Permanent Waves, Moving Pictures and Exit Stage Left got me into a band my best buddies from high school still raved about — they were using keyboards now! — I basically thought, “hmm … noted and logged.  Buy their stuff from now on”, and kept moving.

So I bought and enjoyed Rush’s albums through A Show of Hands; picked them up again with Roll the Bones (probably my favorite, which I know makes me a schismatic or a heretic); lost track again following Peart’s family tragedies, retirement and comeback.  All the while I dug deeper and wider musically — into classical, jazz, country, folk — and finally embraced the heavy stuff.  (This happens when your stepson digs Led Zeppelin.)

But for me and Rush, 2007’s Snakes and Arrows finally sealed the deal.  An album this good after this many years of active service didn’t just catch my ears; it commanded my respect.  I knew I had to see them live, and my high school buddy Keith obliged with tickets to their 2008 Joe Louis Arena show.  And I saw something like this:

And I was gone.  And I saw Rush four more times before they retired from live performance (usually with those high school buddies); bought Clockwork Angels, all the concert videos and everything else Rush-related I could get my hands on; exulted at their elevation to the heights of Noughties celebrity by the movers and shakers of geek culture; cheered when they made the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (and took over the induction ceremony), then finally made the cover of Rolling Stone; even grew to appreciate the over-the-top virtues of “By-Tor and the Snow Dog,” 2112 and A Farewell to Kings.

So yes, Neil Peart’s loss moves me.  But what ultimately drew me to him as a musician, a man, an artist, an exemplar?  Some attempts to unpack the mystery follow.

Continue reading “In Memory of Neil Peart (1952-2020)”

Erik Heter Remembers Neil Peart: “Exit The Warrior: Neil Peart, 1952-2020”

Erik Heter has written a beautiful piece on Neil Peart over at Spirit of Cecilia.

There are drummers, and then there are really good drummers.  And then there is Neil Peart.  It’s almost fitting of Peart that his death was not announced until today, January 10th, three days after his actual death on January 7th.  Whereas others did things in simple time and merely kept the beat, Peart’s timing – in drums and in life – was never conventional.  Hence the announcement of his death not on the day he died, but three days later.  The beats never fell quite where they were expected.

Read the rest – https://spiritofcecilia.com/2020/01/11/exit-the-warrior-neil-peart-1952-2020/

Pan Rocks Steel Drum Orchestra + @MikePortnoy Cover Rush’s “Spirit of Radio”

This is a fun one. Mike Portnoy’s latest collab finds him drumming with the Pan Rocks Steel Drum Orchestra on an instrumental cover of Rush’s classic “Spirit of Radio.” It pretty much sounds like Rush on a Caribbean vacation, and it is super fun. Check it out!