As some of you might remember, fellow progarchist Dave Bandanna (of the English prog band, Salander) graciously asked me a year ago to write lyrics for a new band/project, called Birzer Bandana. We released that album, BECOMING ONE, earlier this year.
I’ve now written the lyrics for the second album–a concept album revolving around the mystery of a man trapped somewhere and in some way on a starship heading into a black hole. As with the first album, this new one explores existential questions of life, love, loss, and hope. For better or worse, these are themes I, personally, can’t escape, and, frankly, it’s really healthy for me to write them down in lyric form.
Dave just sent me a working version of the 14-minute track, “The Void.” To my mind, this is Dave’s best craftsmanship as a composer.
To write “I’m excited” would be the grand understatement of the day. Dave’s work is nothing short of brilliant. I’ll be equally excited to share it with everyone someday. . . .
There’s a new band on the prog block: Birzer Bandana, which is Progarchy’s own Brad Birzer (lyrics) and Salander’s Dave Bandana (music and performance). According to Brad’s liner notes, his lyrics were jumpstarted by the science fiction classic A Canticle For Leibowitz, and the opening track, “Awash”, definitely conjures up images of a post-nuclear wasteland.
Awash in light, bathed and comforted
Head… deadly, deadly, deadly heat
Burns the skin and the retinas
Irradiated skies baptize the earth.
Bandana’s music is appropriately somber and evocative of someone trudging through desert sands. Olga Kent’s beautiful violin lends an exotic air.
Things pick up a bit in the second song, “Dance”. I love Bandana’s double-tracked vocals here, and the combination of acoustic guitar, hand percussion (tabla?), Kent’s bewitching violin, and some classic-era prog organ make for a terrific track. Imagine late-period Beatles collaborating with Pink Floyd, and you get an idea of how this one sounds.
Salander are re-releasing The Fragility Of Innocence on November 20th. The album has been totally remastered and will contain three extra tracks that date back to 2005. These were the first tracks recorded by Dave Smith and Dave Curnow and sowed the seed of ideas that would later find the two Dave’s forming Salander. These tracks too have been remastered. Two are instrumentals and the other came about when Dave C discovered a Jon Anderson Lyric generator on the internet. All he had to do was enter a name, a place and a general item onto the site. He chose Floppsy The Bunny,Osnabruch, and a Pot Noodle. Thus, the words spat back to us became the song.
The Fragility Of Innocence will be available from www.salander.bandcamp.com as a name your price in order for people who bought the original to download the remastered version with bonus tracks for free.
There are no plans for any new Salander music in the near future as Dave Smith is now living and working in Lanzarote in The Canary Islands but he hopes to start writing in the new year.
Let me (Brad) just state: this is one of the single most powerful albums I have ever heard. I loved the first two Salander releases–CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT and STENDEC–but this is even superior to those two. I’ve had a review copy for a while now, but I simply have not been able to write about FRAGILITY as it simply moves me so much, I can’t express my views in words. Strange, I suppose, but true. I’m going to keep trying, however.
Regardless, you need to BUY this album, and now.–BB
Just received this from the two Daves of Salander. Last year’s two releases from the band certainly made my top 10 of the year, and I have no doubt this will album equal or surpass the first two.–Brad
We are pleased to announce that a new Salander album will be released on March 3rd on Bandcamp www.salander.bandcamp.com. It is called The Fragility of Innocence and is a concept album about an 8 year old girl living in Iceland called Silja.
Dave Curnow has written the story and this will come packaged with the album.
We thank you for your support this past year and thank you in advance for your interest in this new album. We really hope you enjoy it as it probably will be our last.
And, my final “best of” post for 2014. Let’s hope that you’re not getting too tired of these!
I’ve saved the albums that hit me the hardest—at level of mind and soul—for the last.I guess it’s somewhat goofy to have a “top eight,” but these are my top eight.These are the albums that did everything right, the ones that pulled it all together, offering real glimpses of the turning spheres.The first seven are in no particular order.I like them equally, and I think they’ve each attained the highest an album can reach but in quite different ways.
What can one say about Poland’s greatest, Newspaperflyhunting?Craig Breaden has already explained—in perfect detail—why this is a perfect album.From atmospherics to piercingly intelligent lyrics to mood swinging melodies, these Eastern Europeans have created what is certainly one of the most innovating and interesting albums of the last few decades.The album, ICEBERG SOUL, has much in common with early 1990’s American psychedelic revival, and there’s a real Mazzy Star and Opal feel to much of the music.But, whereas Mazzy Star was really good, Newspaperflyhunting is simply excellent.Droning, walls of sound, haunting guitar lines—this album has it all.
Salander, a new band from England, has blown me away as much as Newspaperflyhunting, and the two bands have much in common.Slander is only two guys, each named Dave, but you’d never know it listening to the music.Much as Cailyn plays every single thing on her album, the two Daves do the same.Their two albums this year, CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT and STENDEC, are really one album, a journey through the wonders and terrors of the world, seen and unseen.The two Daves move effortlessly from one style of music to another, but they always hold it all together with what can only be described as a Salander sound.These two albums provide a journey that you hope never ends.
Armed with some new producers and engineers and a barrel full of confidence, the Anglo-Dutch-American band, Fractal Mirror, has proven the worth of community and friendship a million times over with GARDEN OF GHOSTS, a landmark album.As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets in this album.But, whereas those 1980’s bands felt as though they had one cool trick, Fractal Mirror is the real deal.GARDEN OF GHOSTS is mind-bogglingly good—stunning in every way—and we are so blessed to be catching them at the beginning of their journey.Certainly, it’s Gothic in tone, but it’s always soaring and light and dark and maddening and enlightening and loving. . . .It’s also quite defiant, and, at times, the lyrics make Neil Peart look like a softy.
I think the first album by the Tin Spirits one of my all-time favorite albums.It would certainly be in my top ten all-time albums.In particular, the song “Broken” is a masterpiece, a progged-out Allman Brothers kind of song.I eagerly awaited SCORCH, and I’ve not been disappointed.This is guitar prog, pop prog, rock prog—however one might label it, it’s just amazingly good.The four guys in the band obviously really like one another, and their friendship comes out in a myriad of ways in the music.The best song on Scorch, “Summer Now,” might very well be the best song of the year.As with Flying Colors, the Tin Spirits should be playing on every single album-rock radio across North America.The contrast between the two bands?Where Flying Colors might cross the line and go “over the top,” the Tin Spirits go for taste, class, and a dignified restraint.
Not to be too jingoistic, but one of the best aspects of 2014 has been the emergence of a number of North American prog bands.I’ve already mentioned several over the last few posts.The very best of the American prog bands, though, is Fire Garden.Holy Schnikees these guys are good.Scratch that.These guys are amazing!They clearly love Dream Theater, but they’re also 20x better than Dream Theater.Just as the Tin Spirits goes for dignified restraint, so does Fire Garden.Rather than play 30 notes in a millisecond, master musician and lyricist Zee Baig goes for just the necessary ones, the ones most needed for creativity and beauty.Again, that dignified restraint, when employed properly, can be such a beautiful thing.As I noted with Threshold and Haken, I don’t generally gravitate toward the heavier stuff.With Fire Garden, I happily embrace it.Of course, their heaviness is more Rush than Metallica. But, again, everything is perfect.I’ve focused on the band’s ubercoolleader, Zee, but everyone is in top form here.Zee pulls it all together.
I’m almost afraid to mention John Bassett.I’ve praised the that English stocking cap-wearing bard so many times, folks might start to wonder if I have some bizarre motive or some mancrush.Trust me, I’m married and have six kids.Yet, I do really love Bassett—just not in THAT way.Bassett’s music, through Kingbathmat, appeared in my life just a few years ago, but I can’t imagine my love of prog or music without him now, even as I look back to four decades of music obsession.Bassett’s first solo album, Uneßarth, is a psychedelic folk album, the kind of album that Storm Corrosion should have been.Somehow, Bassett’s actual voice (vocals) have a guitar-like quality.It’s bizarre.Beautifully and wondrously bizarre.And, despite his own self-deprecating remarks about merely being a “muppet”, Bassett is one of our best cultural critics.Of course, I love Animal, and there is a slight resemblance.Equally interesting, Bassett went the Matt Stevens/Fierce and the Dead route with his second album of 2014, a vocal-less progressive metal affair called Arcade Messiah.Each reveals a fascinating side to this very fascinating artist.What would I love to see—Bassett to bring these two styles together in Kingbathmat, writing a full-blown prog epic, unapologetic and unrelentingly so.
Once again, here comes the bro-mance.Sorry, Sally!I love your man, too.Just in very different ways than do you.I’m not sure Andy Tillison is capable of a misstep.Not only has he been one of the two or three most important musicians of what he’s insightfully called “Third Wave Prog,” he’s now becoming one of the two or three most important musicians in what I’ve attempted—admittedly, not very successfully—“Fourth Wave Prog.”His only release this year (what a funny thing to type) is under the name, cleverly, The Andy Tillison Multiplex.The album: ELECTRONIC SINFONIA 2.Just as Cailyn has brought classical music back into the world of prog, Andy is bringing jazz and jazz fusion back into prog.This album is beyond stunning.It is the very essence of taste itself.Every note, every line, every segue is just astounding.Tillison is a perfectionist, and it shows on and in all that he does.Thank you, Mr. Diskdrive.Rage on.
And, so I come to my favorite album of 2014.It took a while for me to get here, and if you fine progarchist reader are still with me, bless you.God has granted you immense patience.Though, as I’ve noted, this has been one of the best years ever in prog—and I’ve loved everything I’ve mentioned in the previous posts—I’ve loved this the most: Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR.Made by master of chronometry, Robin Armstrong, CAPACITOR is the perfect album.To those of you who write and produce instrumental music, thank you.And, please accept my apologies.I love what you do, but, not being trained in music, I don’t always get what you’re doing, even if I love it.For me, prog has been centrally about the lyrics and the story telling, with the music augmenting the two.I love the Word and the words.And, that brings me to CAPACITOR, a story that has everything.It’s a mix of science fiction and the occult, a play on religious revivals and scientific fetishes of a century ago.It’s not steam punk, it’s seance punk!And, what a story.Simply put, it’s the best sci-fi story of 2014.Part Arthur Conan Doyle, part Ray Bradbury, it’s purely Robin Armstrong.And, as we all know, Robin is not only a perfectionist, he’s an aural genius.He knows exactly how to mix word and note.This album is so good, it, almost by itself, redefines the entire genre.This is an album to match CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and, much more recently, ENGLISH ELECTRIC and LE SACRE DU TRAVAIL.
N.B. Please forgive any typos. I have a three-year old princess acting rather grumpy as she deals with the flu. Lots of distractions in the Birzer household.
Andy Tillison and Brian Watson have convincingly argued in favor of dividing the history of prog into three waves, the third wave beginning around 1994 or so.
If Tillison and Watson are correct, and I suspect they are, I believe we might have entered what we could call the fourth wave.
The turning point came in 2013 with grand and profound releases from Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer. These albums were so excellent, perhaps the best in prog history, that they might very well have represented the apex of third-wave prog.
Take a listen to any of the above mentioned artists in 2014. Their music, especially when compared to the releases of the previous several years, offers something much more experimental and reflective. The story telling is less narrative and more punctuated, the lyrics more imagistic.
Anyway, I’m thinking (and typing) out loud. I’ll give it more thought.
A review of Salander, “STENDEC” (2014, independent release). Tracks: Pearls Upon a Crown; Book of Lies; Ever After; Hypothesis 11/8; Situation Disorientation; Controlled Flight Into Terrain; and Zeitgeist. Total time: 65 minutes. Recommendation: HIGHEST; MUST OWN
A rather significant part of my 2014 has been the sheer joy of getting to know Dave Smith, one of the two Daves who make up Salander. Sadly, I’ve not had the chance to get to know Dave Curnow, the other Dave, but I trust the judgment of the first Dave. So, per my respect of Dave, Dave must also be great.
Ok, now I’m getting confused.
There are a thousand things to appreciate about Salander. First, the level of professional artistry is as good as it gets. The two Daves not only play each of the instruments on the album, they do so with elegance and perfectionism.
Second, the lyrics move and flow powerfully as an integral part of the entire art. These are not add ons, nor are they the rock equivalent of an “um” or an “err”: “baby, baby.” No, these are fine, deep, thoughtful words integrated with the notes and the lines.
Salander and the two Daves: Words, notes, lines.
Third, Salander are willing to linger. That is, they take their time to build their art, to build anticipation, and to explore an idea. Rushed, hurried, and superficial are not descriptions applicable to anything this extraordinary band does.
Beginning with Spirit of Eden-esque sounds of nature, cries, pings, wind, and waves, the opening track, “Pearls Upon a Crown,” lingers and hovers for almost six full minutes. Very Talk Talkish, it also reminds me of the best of Pure Reason Revolution and Spiritualized. Space rock atmospherics at its best. A gorgeous Gilmour-like guitar comes at 2.59 into the music, but no vocals emerge until 5.57.
The words open with a Socratic moment: “Can you feel the power.” Essentially, the Daves ask, how far can you allow your imagination to soar? And, will you trust your deepest and best part to another?
Regardless of style, Salander has invited you into their art. The choice to enter is yours. But, once you’ve accepted, there’s no turning back. Indeed, no mere sprinkling or christening here. They demand full immersion.
The second track, a bitter folkish wall of sound tale of deception, is as epic as the first track. At 11 minutes, “The Book of Lies” again shows Salander at its most diverse and epic.
The third track, a much sweeter (or so it seems, musically) take on life and music, “Ever After,” takes us back to the end of “Pearls.” Who do you trust, and how far are you willing to trust that person with what matters most to you?
Not surprisingly given its title, “Hypothesis 11/8,” the fourth track is instrumental and serves as the perfect interlude for this rather heavy album. The first minute has a Vangelis feel to it, and it could certainly serve as the cinematic soundscape to much of Blade Runner. The final three minutes of the four-minute track allow the two Daves to demonstrate their excellence at drums, bass, and guitar. This is really prog at its finest. Listening to this track for the twentieth time or so, I’m still reminded of Cosmograf in terms of expertise and craft.
“Situation disorientation,” the fifth track, follows the interlude with more atmospherics slowly resolving into an angsty and contemplative space rock song, pulsating and pounding by its end. The lyrics swirl around a love affair gone terribly wrong, with the protagonist plagued with guilt, pride, and doubt.
The longest song of the album, “Controlled Flight Into Terrain,” comes in at just under fourteen minutes. The Daves have broken it into four sections, the name of the album coming from section three, STENDEC. Interestingly enough, STENDEC was the last word coming from a Chilean plane that mysteriously disappeared in 1947. Over the last seventy years, STENDEC has become synonymous with UFO abduction. The story and riddle of the word fits perfectly with the themes of the album: confusion, gravitas, and loss. Section III, STENDEC, is perfectly creepy, spooky, and claustrophobic. It gives me chills with every listen.
The album concludes with “Zeitgeist,” a tune that could have come out of the best of rock’s moment of New Wave in the early 1980s and the walls of sound of the end of that decade. As with Salander songs, the vocals are captivating, demanding the full attention of the listener. The song’s lyrics deal with the mystery of time and the loss of the past without surety of the future. Rather brilliantly, Salander presents a wall of sound, full of anxiety, with heavy but tasteful guitar and a lush angelic background soundscape. Of all the songs here, this is the most reminiscent of the best of their first album.
I’ve had a copy of STENDEC for almost two months, and I’m sorry I’ve not had the chance to review it before now. But, it’s an incredibly important album, and it deserves as much attention as possible, inside and outside of the prog community. Without question, this is one of the best albums of the year. No person who loves prog or music should not include this in her or his collection. Certainly, a must own.
STENDEC also caught me by surprise, coming out so closely following the release of CRASH COURSE. I gave CRASH COURSE my highest recommendation. Amazingly enough, STENDEC is even better, as it’s even deeper and more coherent as an album. Even after 20 or so listens, I’m still stunned by its excellence and the ability to draw me into and immerse myself in the album. While I don’t want to seem greedy, it would be an understatement to state: I can’t wait to see what album three will bring.
It gives me great pleasure to announce that at 8.04pm this evening Salander gave birth to a new album. Everyone is doing fine. We have called it STENDEC. It weighs in at 65 minutes and we hope it will have a bright future. Anyone wishing to view our new arrival can do so via the Salander bandcamp page.
Just a little over a month ago, while interviewing for a one-year visiting professorship at a rather glorious Rocky Mountain university, I received an email from the U.K. from someone named Dave Smith of a new prog band called “Salander.” I could never explain why rationally, but I knew I liked Dave immediately. I’m sure having a momentary email break from intensive interviews and breathing in the fresh air of my beloved American West didn’t hurt my mood. That Dave is equally a fan of Big Big Train certainly didn’t displease me, either.
Well, one thing led to another. We corresponded a bit, Dave sent me a link to his new album, and I asked him to become a progarchist. You might have read his several pieces he’s already posted here. He’s a great writer and reviewer, and I’m very glad to have him as a citizen of the republic of progarchy. “Very” isn’t nearly a strong enough descriptive, but you get the point.
Well, let me state definitely, Dave’s album, “Crash Course for Dessert,” will almost certainly make into my top 10 for 2014 and probably my top 5. Holy schnikees this is amazing stuff.
I don’t know where the name came from, but Salader is the last name of the fictional character in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larrson. I assume this is the connection, but don’t take this as gospel.
As it turns out—much to my shock—Salander is only two guys, each named Dave. Dave Curnow and Dave Smith. Here’s the official writeup:
Influences. Everything is influenced by something else and that creates something different. Dave C loves the blues and Guitar influenced rock. Led Zeppelin to Devin Townsend. Dave S loves Prog from early Genesis to Big Big Train and Glass Hammer. They both love the music of Pink Floyd and the lyrics of Jon Anderson. Salander was born at the start of 2013.The two Daves have been work colleagues and friends for years and had been playing in a rock /blues band that played covers. The two Daves started to write some originals. Dave S wrote the music and Dave C the lyrics. After leaving the band they started to record some of these songs in Dave S’s home studio. The tracks were recorded layer by layer starting with either a drum pattern or a chord sequence. Lyrics would then be written by Dave C or drawn from his vast collections of poems and songs written over the years. In September 2013 the concept came together for Crash Course For Dessert and recording took 3 months. Dave S took a further 6 weeks to mix and master the album. Due to financial constraint and the fact there are only the two of them, there are no plans to play live, although it can not be written out entirely. They are now working on the follow up to Crash Course For Dessert.
Dave Curnow. Lyrics. Lead Guitars. Rhythm Guitars. Lead Vocal on Ground Proximity Warning and Take Me away
Dave Smith. Music. Keyboards. Bass. Drum Programming. Rhythm Guitars. Spanish Guitars. Lead Vocal on all songs except Ground Proximity Warning.
Well, ok. Feel free to take a moment to digest all of that. . . .
There’s nothing quite like wearing one’s influences on one’s sleeves. This seems especially true for two English guys named Dave. As I glory in the sheer aural pleasures of this album, I hear elements of Big Big Train, Cosmograf, Talk Talk, World Party, Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance, as well as Trevor Horn’s early 1980’s production style and Thomas Dolby’s funk period (this was the most shocking element of the album!). And, yet, in the end, as with almost any great art, the album very much belongs to Salander. Three things tie together all of its various styles and fusions—a wall of sound, an earnest maturity of lyrics and music, and a lot of psychedelia.
The first time I listened to the album, I thought, “Wow, that’s really interesting.” The second time, I thought, “Wow, that’s really, really interesting.” On the third listen, it hit me what they were doing. And, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t come up with true words to match my feelings for this album. On the fourth and all subsequent listens, I’ve just simply and immeasurably enjoyed the flow of it all, taking it for the beautiful thing it is.
While I very much like all nine tracks, the standouts for me are Track 4, “Desert Sands,” a Cosmografic space tune; Track 7, “Take Me Away,” a Dead Can Dance mid-1990s tune with plaintive haunting poetry masquerading as lyrics; and Track 9, “Princess,” the perfect conclusion to a mesmerizing album, revealing some intriguing theological and existential symbolism.
I have only two criticisms of the album, neither of which really amount to much. First, I wish the mix would have increased the volume of the vocals a smidgeon. While no one will regard either Dave as possessing a “beautiful” voice, their vocals are excellent, and each vocalist knows what his abilities and limits are, vocally, and utilizes them wonderfully. As the mix stands, the vocals essentially serve as another instrument—but they deserve a bit more.
Second, I wish that the two Daves would have linked and meshed all of the tracks, one into another, with no silence between them. While I think “Crash Course” could be one song with nine parts, I also think it might have worked best as three songs with three parts each. The one really funky track, “Make Me Dance,” which feels like a Trevor Horn 12-inch remix from 1982, would feel a bit more integrated.
These, however, are nothing but very minor thoughts. The more I listen to the album, the less these two criticisms make sense.
So, in conclusion—check these guys out. Check them out now! “Crash Course for Dessert” is an outstanding album that deserves to be widely heard and distributed. A real joy.