The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2

In Part 1 of Tim Bowness’ latest Progarchy interview, Tim discussed his previous solo albums, working again with his first band Plenty, reuniting with Steven Wilson for new No-Man music, and how all this feeds into his new album Flowers At The Scene (released March 1 on Inside Out Music).   We dig into the new album in depth below!  Note that [brackets] below indicate editorial insertions.

Pulling it back to Flowers At The Scene, it’s interesting what you said about how really, there are some [pieces] that you’re producing, there’s some that you and Brian [Hulse] are working on, there’s some that you and Brian and Steven [Wilson] are working on.   It all feels like a unity when I listen to it.  Despite the variety of colors, it’s, as you say, it feeds on what you’ve done before, but it goes in really interesting, different directions.  Are there any particular songs that you feel are at the core of the album?

I would say you’re right, it does feel like an album.  One thing that’s important to me is, I know in this age of streaming and Spotify it’s not particularly fashionable, but I love the album.  I’ve always loved the album as a statement.  And in some ways, although this album is different from the other albums – I mean, the previous three albums had themes to a degree.  Lost In The Ghost Light was a narrative concept album. Stupid Things That Mean The World and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had linking lyrical themes in a way.  This is different in the sense that it’s eleven very separate moods, very separate lyrics, very separate songs.  And yet it fits together, I think, in a kind of classic 43-minute album format.  And in some ways, I think it’s the album that flows best of all four.  There’s something about it that it kind of moves from one mood to another.  And yet it holds together.

I suppose the key songs would have been when “Flowers At The Scene” and “Not Married Anymore” were written.  And I just felt that Brian and I had been coming up with material that had its own distinct identity.  And I also had a certain idea of how I wanted them to sound – and suddenly that was it!  And I guess that there’s this [Robert] Fripp line, he would always say that a new direction presented itself.  And I think that it’s true, because I’d continued writing material on my own, and I’d continued writing material with Stephen Bennett while I was recording the Plenty album.  And although the material was good, it felt like it was gonna be a continuation of Lost In The Ghost Light or Stupid Things That Mean The World.

And I think that it was when I’d written the fifth song with no purpose really – Brian and I just kept on writing together because we were excited by what we were doing.  And I think it would have been “Flowers At The Scene”, the title track itself, and I thought, “this is the new direction; it’s presented itself.” And from that moment on, it became a very exciting and immersive project and I said to Brian, “I think this is the basis of a new solo album. And it feels like a fresh direction after the other albums.”  And you’re right that, what’s kind of interesting for me is it’s fresh, it’s a reset, but perhaps because of the mood of some of the music and because of my voice, there’s also a sense of continuation.

And certainly one of the things that contributes to it being fresh is this cast of musicians that you gathered, which is really genuinely impressive.  So many great names with great work that have fed into this.  I was wondering if I could just toss out names and, in a few words, you could try to describe what each of these guys have brought to the music for the album.  Starting with Jim Matheos.

Well, Jim’s somebody I’ve known for a few years.  He asked me to guest on an OSI album [Blood], probably about nine years ago now.  And I really enjoyed it.  So the track, which is called “No Celebrations”, felt very different for me; it was very much in that OSI art-metal style, but it accommodated my singing as well.  And after that, we carried on communicating together.  So occasionally he’s asked me for advice about things, and also we had co-written a couple of tracks that had never been released.

And when I was doing this album, I thought I’d love to get him involved.  Because one of the tracks I’d been developing had him on anyway, and he’s an incredibly versatile guitarist.  Very, very nice guy, but what people I don’t think are aware of is how versatile his talent is.  So his own music can be anything from sort of ambient experimental to metal to classical acoustic guitar.  And I knew how good he was as a soloist, and so I got him – really, he was my stunt guitarist on the album on a few tracks.  And he did some fantastic work on it.

Peter Hammill.  What a legend!

Yeah!  Well, Peter’s somebody who when I was growing up, when I was in my teens, he was one of my favorite singers.  And as I’ve said to people, what’s interesting with this album is that, probably my five favorite singers when I was 13 would have been David Bowie, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Kevin Godley.  And I’ve two of them on the album, and it’s an incredible thrill to have that!

Over the years, Peter’s become a friend.  We ended up playing on lots of the same albums in Italy, and we got to know one another.  And over the years, he’s guested on my work; and we even live in the same small town in England!  And so he’s probably my sort of coffee and chat companion, where we’ve put the political and the musical world to rights once a month.  And as I always say about Peter, he’s as nice, generous and decent as his music is frightening!

[Laughs] Oh, that’s a great summary!

[Laughs] Absolutely!  Cause, you know, you wouldn’t want him to be as frightening as [Van der Graaf Generator’s] Pawn Hearts really, would you?

[Laughs] No, not in the slightest!

It is true; you’d be coughing your coffee up.  It’s not good!  [Both laugh] So yeah, lovely guy, and we’ve worked on a few things.  And the thing about Peter is he is very honest about his opinion.  So interestingly enough, I’d asked him to work on Lost in the Ghost Light, but he wasn’t as much a fan of that material.  So basically, he works on what he likes.  And he’d worked on the Stupid Things That Mean the World album, and I’d played him this album in progress.  He’d mixed an album for me as well.  There’s a Bowness/[Peter] Chilvers album that’s been unreleased that Peter’s mixed, which is quite an interesting project in itself.

And while I was making the new album I said, “ah, you know, a couple of Hammill-shaped holes here!”  And he heard it, and he heard exactly what I wanted, and he really liked the material.  One of the tracks he put a great deal into it, there’s a track on it called “It’s The World”.  I’d played it to him, and initially I wanted his bite – there’s a real sort of bite in his voice, I wanted this in the chorus.  And he said, “Yep, I know exactly what you want; I’ll get it to you.  But I tell you what else I’ll give you; I’ll give you guitars, because the guitars on this aren’t working!”  And so he completely re-recorded the chorus guitars, and almost went into sort of Rikki Nadir [from Hammill’s proto-punk solo album Nadir’s Big Chance] mode, and did a fantastic job.

So on the track “It’s The World” he’s on kind of backing and lead vocals, and also adds some really ferocious guitar parts.  And he made the piece work.  So that was an interesting case, where the piece I think was pretty good as it was, but he gave it an extra edge and an extra looseness.

Got it!  One of the newer singers on the album is David Longdon.  I know you collaborated with Big Big Train on a b-side [“Seen Better Days (the brass band’s last piece)”].  What did David bring?

Well, I suppose I asked him to be on the piece [“Borderline”] and I’d suggested a particular approach to backing vocal which he used.   I almost wanted this kind of rich, Michael McDonald/Steely Dan approach.  That’s something I wanted: a comfortable bed of David Longdon voice, really, and he gave that.  And then he added some flute as a means of contrasting with the trumpet.  And he did a beautiful job in both cases, really.  So I suppose what he gave was himself, so he kind of knew the places where I wanted him to play, and where I wanted him to be, and with the backing vocal he was effectively re-singing the melody that I’d already sung on the demo.

But with the flute, he performed a really beautiful solo, and it was great!  Because although the trumpet was recorded in the outback in Australia – I used a jazz musician, a guy called Ian Dixon, who’s worked with No-Man, he was on Returning Jesus, several tracks on that, and he’s a wonderful sort of jazz trumpet player.  And his studio is a tin shack in the outback in Australia!  And he said when he recorded it, it was in the middle of the rainy season.  So he’s recording that with crashing rain on the tin roof – which I thought was very romantic!  And David really beautifully worked with Ian’s trumpet.  And to me, it sounds as if the two could be in the room together playing!  So they worked very nicely together, and I suppose in that case, I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted.  But it was still different, the playing, the expression that the two of them had given was entirely their own.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2”

The State of Prog 2018: Lightning Round Reviews, November 20-30

Based on these four new albums, progressive rock is doing just fine, thank you!  I’m not feeling the need for a Personal Progginess Perception scale this time around, so capsule reviews and ratings of this quartet follow the jump.

Continue reading “The State of Prog 2018: Lightning Round Reviews, November 20-30”

The Big Fall Prog Preview!

What new music, live albums, and reissues (deluxe and otherwise) are heading our way between now and Black Friday?  Check out the exhaustive (and possibly exhausting) sampling of promised progressive goodies — along with a few other personal priorities — below.  Pre-order links are for CDs or combo packages; vinyl editions are frequently available from the same website.

  • September 21:
    • Marillion, Happiness is Cologne and Popular Music.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • Nosound, Allow Yourself.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • September 28:
    • Blackfield, Open Mind (The Best of Blackfield).  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin, Star Clocks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 5:
    • Steve Hackett, Broken Skies – Outspread Wings (1984-2006).  Esoteric Recordings reissue box set (6 CDs + 2 DVDs).  Pre-order autographed copies from Hackettsongs.
    • King Crimson, Meltdown: Live in Mexico.  3 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • October 12:
    • Glass Hammer, Chronomonaut.  Pre-order autographed copies or the deluxe bundle from Glass Hammer’s webstore.  Pre-order deadline: October 11.
    • Sanguine Hum, Now We Have Power.  Pre-order from Bandcamp.
  • October 19:
    • Greta Van Fleet, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.  The first full-length album from Frankenmuth, Michigan’s young Zepheads.  Pre-order at GvF’s webstore.
    • iamthemorning, Ocean Sounds.  Live in the studio; audio/video bundle.  Pre-order at Burning Shed.
    • In Continuum, Acceleration Theory.  With Dave Kerzner and an all-star line-up.  Pre-order bundles from Bandcamp. Pre-order deadline for special bundles: September 30.
    • Frank Sinatra, Only the Lonely: 60th Anniversary Edition.  Yes, really.  The greatest concept album of the pre-rock era, with Sinatra and arranger Nelson Riddle at their most gorgeous and devastating.  “Make it one for my baby … and one more for the road.” More info at Super Deluxe Edition.
  • October 26:
    • Anathema, Internal Landscapes.  The best of the band’s Kscope albums.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Haken, Vector.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Procol Harum, Live In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra.  Esoteric Recordings reissue with bonus tracks.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 2:
    • Opeth, Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Steven Wilson, Home Invasion: In Concert at the Royal Albert Hall.  Various audio & video formats/bundles available.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
  • November 9:
    • Jethro Tull, This Was — The 50th Anniversary Edition. Steven Wilson remix included, on 3 CDs + DVD.  Pre-order from Burning Shed.
    • Rikard Sjöblom’s Gungfly, Friendship.  Pre-order from Rikard’s webstore.
  • November 16:
    • Marillion, Brave Live and Live in Glasgow.  Limited edition live reissues from Racket Records and earMusic.  Pre-order at Amazon or other online retailers.
    • The Tangent, Proxy.  Pre-order special bundles from The Tangent webstore.
  • November 23:
    • Marillion, Clutching at Straws Special Edition.  4 CDs + 1 BluRay.  Pre-order autographed copies from Marillion or Fish.
  • TBA:
    • The Beatles, White Album 50th Anniversary Edition?
    • Big Big Train, Merchants of Light Blu-Ray
    • King Crimson, The ReConstruKction of Light (40th Anniversary reissue) and Heaven and Earth (Crimson ProjeKcts box set)

— Rick Krueger

Sanguine Hum Joins BEM

Wow, this is absolutely huge news.  Congratulations to all involved, but especially to David Elliott!  One of the finest labels in prog snags one of the finest bands in prog!

Sanguine Hum sign to BEM for new album Now We Have Power
Bad Elephant Music is proud to announce that renowned and respected Oxfordshire-based progressive rock outfit Sanguine Hum is joining the BEM family, and will be releasing their long-awaited new album, Now We Have Power, this October.

The follow-up and sequel to 2015’s acclaimed double CD Now We Have Light (“a masterpiece”, in the words of All About Jazz magazine) continues the story of Don through a surreal lyrical and musical landscape. Now We Have Power also sees the return of original drummer Paul Mallyon to the fold as a special guest.

Joff Winks, Sanguine Hum’s guitarist and vocalist: “Making Now We Have Power has been a long, but enjoyable process and we’re really thrilled that Bad Elephant are on board with us to present the album to the world. There is an exciting vibe at BEM that is totally about putting interesting and unique music first and we’re really happy to be part of their enthusiastic team for this release.”

“It’s a real honour to be working with a band as respected as Sanguine Hum”, says BEM’s label manager, David Elliott. “Now We Have Power builds on its predecessor, a true progression in every way. It’s been great working with Matt Baber on his solo album, and now having The Hum as part of the family is just brilliant”.

Now We Have Power will be released on CD and high-quality digital download on 12th October 2018, with pre-orders opening in late August.

SANGUINE HUM
Sanguine Hum began as a musical collaboration through the early 2000s between school friends Joff Winks and Matt Baber, who set about writing and recording a unique blend of musical compositions inspired by artists such as the Flaming Lips, Tortoise, Aphex Twin and Frank Zappa. Operating under three different monikers – Joff Winks Band, Antique Seeking Nuns and Nunbient – during which time bassist Brad Waissman and drummer Paul Mallyon joined the party –  the band eventually settled on the name Sanguine Hum with the release of their first album, Diving Bell, in 2009.

With No-Man drummer Andrew Booker added to the ranks, the band appeared at the prestigious RoSFest festival in 2012 – available as the Live In America set – and released their second album, The Weight Of The World the following year. The new record saw a Prog Magazine nomination for ‘Newcomer of the Year’, as well as being named as one of Stuart Maconie’s BBC Radio 6 Music Freakzone albums of 2013.

The band put aside the following year to rehearse and record Now We Have Light, a hugely ambitious concept double CD, released in 2015 and proving to be their most successful release so far. After the exhausting process of realising NWHL, the guys went back to Songs For Days, an album they’d recorded as The Joff Winks Band three years prior to Diving Bell, releasing it under the Sanguine Hum moniker as What We Ask Is Where We Begin in early 2016.

With Now We Have Power in the bag by the end of 2017, and as a part of the Bad Elephant Music family, Sanguine Hum are ready to further realise their unique musical vision, cementing their reputation in the top tier of modern progressive artists.
Follow Sanguine Hum on Facebook 

Find out more at Sanguine Hum’s website

Progarchy Radio Episode Four: THE TANGENT

prog7
Episode Four

Today’s episode features the music of Andy Tillison and The Tangent.  And, it’s our longest episode yet!  1 hour and 35 minutes.  You really get your money’s worth!

Three tracks from The Tangent plus music from Thomas Dolby, Tears for Fears, Black Vines, Sanguine Hum, Dead Can Dance, and Steve Wilson.

2015, a musical review

Hello Prog Pickers, happy 2016, where the hell did last year go?

It feels a bit bittersweet really sitting here and compiling this, as I am writing this the same day that I heard that David Bowie died, and I am sure that by the time I am writing next years review that Blackstar will be up there amongst the releases of 2016.

Time to reflect on a year full of personal changes and successes as well as the loss of a close friend that hit me hard.

Throughout the highs and lows and in-between bits that make up life in the 21st century music has been one of my constant companions, and trying to whittle down the best (in my humble opinion) albums of the last twelve months is no easy business, with such a slew of strong releases from new names and existing bands, trying to get this list into shape has been like trying to herd cats, and there have been some great albums by artists like Steven Wilson, Guapo, District 97, Dave Sturt, John Hackett, Jeff Lynne’s ELO, Tim Bowness and Guy Garvey that didn’t make the cut, not to mention releases by artists like Bruce Soord and Arcade Messiah that I haven’t even heard yet.

The only criteria for this list is that the album had to be a new release from the last year, so the wonderful 5.1 Yes remasters, the 5.1 Jethro Tull boxes, Esoterics excellent Anthony Phillips reissues, King Crimsons Thrak box and the Steve Hackett Premonitions set and David Bowies Five Years (1969-1973) all fall by the wayside.

Maybe when I get to the point where in one year I’ve listened to more new old music than new music I may redefine the criteria, but as the joy of experiencing new music is one of lifes pleasures I hope that year is a long way off.

So, this here list is it A) chronological? No. B) Alphabetical? No. C) All my own personal opinion? Totally and irrefutably.

So any typos, artists missing or albums you think should have been included, that’s all the authors fault!

Lets dive in and see what 2015 left me with…

tregeagle

 

Napier’s Bones

Tregeagles Choice

www.napiersbones.bandcamp.com

A new name to me, UK prog duo Napiers Bones released their second album, and Nathan Jon Tillett and Gordon Midgley have a definite vision of storytelling, that fits comfortably in the classic prog mould.

With its roots in Cornish Folklore, the album has lots in common with folk rock operas like Fairport Conventions Babbacombe Lee or Peter Bellamys The Transports whilst neatly slotting into the prog storytelling genre occupied by artists like Ayreon or Rick Wakeman.

The mood from start to finish mirrors the story as it mixes it blends of folk themes, with some fantastical musical highs as it runs the gamut of classical prog, heavier guitar based tracks, and beautiful piece of guitar soloing over some of the most atmospheric keyboards I have heard for a long time. This is musical double hander as the story drives the music, and the songs are more performed rather than sung. I think that this epic performance would work wonders as a musical.

The way the music, the story and the vocals pull you into the record are a testament to the vision of Napiers Bones, and both Tillet and Midgley should rightly be proud of this musical achievement.

.raging silence

This Raging Silence: Isotopes and Endoscopes

www.thisragingsilence.com

Bristol based progressive quartet, This Raging Silence released their debut album earlier this year, and the 6 epic tracks on here are just sublime to listen to.

Formed by Jeff Cox, John Tyrer, Dave Appleford and Garry Davies the sound is very much towards the darker end of the prog sound as heavy riffs and driving bass flow through the album. In fact this album is beautifully performed as whole, the mood changes deftly and intricately and the way the band bounce off each other throughout is a delight to listen to. Sitting at the more atmospheric and darker end of the prog spectrum, this is a rare old treat and an album that anyone who gives houseroom to Porcupine Tree, District 97 or Trojanhorse will enjoy.

magnet

The Fierce and the Dead: Magnet

Bad Elephant Music

www.badelephant.co.uk

I know it’s an EP but there are more musical ideas crammed onto these 4 tracks than some bands have in a lifetime and astonishingly it’s been two years since experimental instrumental noiseniks The Fierce and the Dead released the acclaimed Spooky Action album, having seen them live several times in that period, the new music here on the Magnet EP shows how far they have travelled and evolved musically since then.

Magnet in Your Face is just short of two minutes worth of intense guitar duels hooked on a mighty riff that takes your breath away and as an introduction almost leaps out and says ‘Hello, did you miss us??’ the four piece of Kevin Feazey, Matt Stevens, Steve Cleaton and Stuart Marshall never stand still, they’re sound is continuously evolving over every release, whilst remaining true to their ethos. The interplay between all four members here is key to their success, they are in the truest form a group, there is no one dominant member, and that’s what makes this music work so well, they know each other so well that they can bounce off each other and drive the music on. There is no ego here, there is only art. If you haven’t joined the Fierce and the Dead cult yet, then you need to buy Magnet, its pull is irresistible.

halotora

Halo Tora: Omni/One

www.halotora.com

Another band I hadn’t heard of before this year this is Halo Toras debut album, and having heard good things about them from other friends I was intrigued as to what they would sound like. They have worked hard on the road and as a result their debut is as strong a piece of atmospheric post prog that I have had the pleasure to listen to.

The band, Chris Alexander (guitar/vocals) Ian McCall (guitar/vocals) Mark Young (bass) Chris McKeown (drums) and Ryan Connery (keyboards) use all the musical tools and skill at their disposable to intricately layer dense and subtle musical soundscapes, which like on Permanent revolution build and build as their vocals and guitars intertwine. This is a fantastically well-written debut album, and works on so many levels from the music, the lyrics and the deft interplay between the band.

dodson and fogg

Dodson & Fogg: Warning Signs

http://wisdomtwinsbooks.weebly.com/dodson-and-fogg-cds.html

Warning Signs, is one man musical revolutions Chris Wades strongest musical statement to date, hinting at a very different approach, gone are the striking paintings and images that normally adorn the albums, instead the cover is a moody photo of Chris, showing for the first time on the album cover the man behind the music. The songs are more intimate and feel more like a singer/songwriter album of the early 70’s, than a psychedelic project.

More personal and with a wonderful production, that sounds like Chris is singing in your front room and the album is imbued with warmth and charm, from the Beatle esque title track to the wonderfully guitar heavy Following the Man, with its great lyrics and chord driven sound its another wonderful slice of 70’s rock, with a great solo, reminding us how great a guitarist Chris is. This is an exciting and interesting slight change of direction for Chris, and adds so much more to the Dodson and Fogg sound, being a superb example of the singer songwriter genre.

sanguine hum

Sanguine Hum: Now We Have Light

Esoteric Records EANTCD21042

www.esotericrecordings.com

Third album in and Sanguine Hum are continuing to fulfil their musical promise that last studio album the Weight of the World delivered, and not only that they have delivered us a genuine contemporary prog magnum opus in the process.

Now We Have Light, with it’s startlingly eye-catching artwork that is intrinsic to the story is a double album of majestic proportions.

Running the whole gamut of classic prog, via rock, jazz and some beautifully layered sounds, amazing vocal harmonies, and intense musical sections like on Bubble Trouble that will blow your mind, this is an astonishing album.

From the introduction of Desolation Song, nicely setting the musical scene, and carried through tracks like Getting Warmer, and the brilliantly titled ‘Shit!’ the Hum are a musical powerhouse, welding their influences together to create a coherent, immersive whole.

Add in the driving rock and funk of Cat Factory with it’s array of real synths, and superb musical interplay with a propelling bass and a great big crunchy riff is an instrumental highlight, whilst the sublime End of the Line carries through the narrative into the centrepiece of Disc 2, the 5 part Spanning the Eternal Abyss, which pulls in so many musical styles, and weaves them together beautifully, that by the time that Settle Down with its great synth work has finished, you are blown away by the power of Sanguine Hum.

This multi-layered and exciting record proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sanguine Hum are one of the best progressive bands on the planet.

71R0HHLaiqL._SY355_

Lonely Robot: Please Come Home

www.insideoutmusic.com

This is John Mitchells latest musical project, having contributed to Frost*, Arena, It Bites and many other projects over the years Johns talents as a guitarist, vocalist and producer are undisputed. This album reaffirms the stamp of quality that John brings to any album he works on, and is a fantastic piece of work from the opening instrumental power of Airlock, featuring the unique talents of Jem Godfrey to the closing The Red Balloon; this is a powerful album of amazing musical moments and haunting beauty. Dealing with alienation, loneliness and the human condition the lyrics are never short of genius, and the music is atmospheric, haunting and elegiac throughout.

As albums go this is a stunningly original record, with some majestic songwriting from John Mitchell, and like all great producers he knows how to cherry pick the best collaborators to bring something of themselves to his album, and still maintain his overall identity.

Grand Tour

Grand Tour Heavy on the Beach

www.grandtourmusic.org

This wonderfully evocative concept album is the culmination of years of work from former Abel Ganz man Hew Montgomery, and is based around his fascination with all things Cold War and Nuclear, and seems unnervingly contemporary with the challenges the world is facing today with a resurgent Russia and the rise of Islamic State. Joined by the vocal talents of Joe Cairney, and Mark Spalding on guitar and Bruce Levick on drums, this is a band of no mean talent, and this album delivers the goods time after time.

With swathes of vast Floydian keyboard work, and real epic movements, this is a slice of classic concept prog, with wonderfully direct lyrics from Cairney that reference the beach time after time, and with motifs that crop up throughout the album, this is a piece of art that has to be listened to all the way through.

Like all the best concepts from Dark Side of the Moon, to Le Sacre du Travail, this isn’t an album to dip into. It’s all or nothing, and with the devastatingly powerful instrumental Little Boy and the Fat Man, referencing the two nuclear devices that devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the two part track The Grand Tour which almost bookends the album, and the superb title track that is classic prog given a contemporary twist, this album is magnificent in every sense of the word.

The hard work that Hew has put into this pays off magnificently and I would say this is his crowning musical achievement so far.

psb

Public Service Broadcasting The Race for Space

www.publicservicebroadcasting.net

English musical duo Public Service Broadcastings raison D’Etre is creating musical soundscapes based around old film footage. Taking as their concept for album number 2 is the Space Race between the USSR and the USA and their starting point is setting John F Kennedy’s speech about The Race for Space to haunting choral music, (with motifs that reoccur throughout the album) and ending with the last manned moon landing.

The artwork for this album is wonderful, two different covers on either side of the record showing either the American or the Russian perspective, and a beautiful booklet in the vinyl edition, which I had to have.

From the driving Sputnik, the jazz funk of Gagarin and then the haunting tribute to the astronauts killed in the Apollo 1 disaster (Fire in the Cockpit) and the celebration of Valentina Tereshkova who became the first woman in space (Valentina, with guest vocals from the Smoke Fairies) and the elegiac closing Tomorrow (when Apollo 17 became the last manned flight to leave the Moon), this album sets itself as referencing a specific period in time, when, with space flight anything seemed possible.

The beauty of Public Service Broadcasting is their use of archive recordings, and matching the music to the mood to evoke a golden era of interstellar travel when everything seemed possible, and it’s 43 minutes plus brings that period back to life and reminds us musically of a time when we spent looking at the stars in optimism, instead of gazing down at our feet.

The Dead Astronaut

The Dead Astronaut

www.thedeadastronautuk.bandcamp.com

Hi-Fiction Science guitarist and songwriter James McKeown recently released his latest solo album under the sobriquet The Dead Astronaut, a hauntingly beautiful and occasionally uncomfortably personal record, it s a triumph of the songwriting craft.

From it’s haunting and sparse artwork by highly regarded designer Carl Glover, to the musical contents, the album is as different from Hi Fiction Science as is possible to get, and has a loose narrative written around some highly personal and emotional issues experienced by James.

With a small core of collaborators, including HFS band mates Aidan Searle and Jeff Green and guitarist Paul Bradley, one of the sounds that is at the heart of this record, and believe me, this is a record that is full of heart and soul, is the cello of Charlotte Nicholls, which, when coupled with the emotionally raw and confessional style of songs that James presents here, adds so much to the texture and the tone of the record, and yes, I am talking about a record as I opted for the vinyl edition, which is a pure immersive experience to listen to.

The word bleak comes up again and again when describing the themes on this album, and this shouldn’t ever put you off, there is beauty in this darkness, and whilst James is pouring out his heart, the production and the music adds warmth, almost like the song is giving him a big hug as he’s singing it.

This album has a very English sound to it, and the pared back sound allows the songs to breath and the lyrics to shine, it’s like the difference between early Pink Floyd records and Syd Barrett solo records.

You can hear the humanity and the raw emotions on display throughout this album, and again you can feel it, through the music, the lyrics and the sparse packaging, this isn’t an album that can be ignored.

Once it’s in your heart and in your head it takes over the room you are listening to it, and it’s one of those albums that demands your attention, and rewards your listening time and time again.

wearekin

We Are Kin: Pandora

Bad Elephant Music

www.badelephant.co.uk

Every so often a record drops through the door (or in this case on email) from a label who are kind enough to let us review their latest offerings, and you know nothing of the band, nothing of what to expect from the album, and you put it on with a sense of anticipation, and excitement (as I still get a massive buzz from hearing new music, and hope I always do) and then as you immerse yourself in the record, and listen to it, you find you’ve found the sort of record that stays with you forever.

This is one of those records. I listened to it once, then again, and again, and again each time getting more and more out of it.

Manchester based band We are Kin (Dan Zambas and Gary Boast, now fleshed out by newer members Lee Braddock, Lauren Smith and Adam McCann) are purveyors of the sort of atmospheric prog rock that grows layer on layer, subtly and intelligently. Pandora is a very specific sound and style, and the overall concept is that of artificial intelligence, and its uses, and this is what drives the sound along, with original vocalist Hannah Cotterill in fine form on opener Home Sweet Home, and the music here has space to breathe and grow. Nothing is forced, nothing jars, everything ebbs and flows like a good story or album should do. As Soul builds and builds to a magnificent climax, then we head deep into concept territory as Scottish poet Alex Dunedin guests on the impassioned and exceptional The Speech, which leads into the magnificent The Hard Decision, whilst Zambas vocals shine throughout the album, especially on The Weight of the World, whilst the closing Breathe Out is as fine a piece of music as you are likely to hear anywhere this year.

This record from start to finish, from concept to execution, and from production to performance is as close to perfection as you are going to get. The music, the lyrics, the story all flows together and it transcend genre and sound to become something timeless and original and new. If I were to nominate a record that sums up 2015 for me, this would be it, it’s become part of the fabric of my musical life and a record that I can’t recommend enough to everyone.

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Tom Slatter: Fit The Fourth

Bad Elephant Music

www.badelephant.co.uk

Tom Slatter is a unique beast in the world of contemporary music, in that he doesn’t, in any way sound like anyone else, or fit neatly into a pigeonhole or pre-determined genre. This makes my job a little harder, but his music a lot more exciting.

This is Tom’s fourth full-length release, and his first under the wings (or trunk) of the Bad Elephant boys, whose musical taste is set to eclectic, and whose first vision is do we like it? And then, if we like it, someone else will!

Tom is considered steam punk prog, and is probably the only one in that genre, he’s one on his own this lad, not just a multi-instrumentalist, but also a weaver or worlds and teller of tales, Toms narrative comes from the dark nights round the campfire where you would try to scare each other, or weave more fantastically intricate stories into your narrative. The brilliant opener Some of the Creatures have Broken the Locks on the door to Lab 558 sets the imagination racing with just the title, and the post apocalyptic science fiction story that evolves is reminiscent of early Doctor Who or Quatermass, and sets the tone for the rest of this darkly compelling album. Seven bells John is to the fore on The Steam Engine Murders and the trial of Seven-Bells, which is gothic noir, mixed with music hall and penny dreadfuls, With his mix of Victoriana, steam punk, prog and narrative drive, this is a wonderful album that deserves to be listened to and appreciated, as a record unlike any other you’ll hear this year.

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Theo Travis Double Talk: Transgression

Esoteric Antenna EANTCD1052

www.esotericrecordings.com

British saxophonist, flautist and clarinettist Travis is the go to man for many artists including and this new album produced by Steven Wilson, showcases why Travis is the premier jazz rock saxophonist of his generation. With his taut band Mike Outram (guitar) Pete Whittaker (organ) and Nic France, Transgression showcases the versatility of the man himself, with a mixture of new material and reinterpretations of classic pieces (like Robert Wyatt & Phillip Catherine’s Maryam). The line between the type of jazz that Travis is proficient at, and progressive rock is a very fine one, and this crosses those borders with style and aplomb. A particular highlight and stand out track here is the reworking of Travis and Tangent main man Andy Tillison’s co-write (and title track of 2006 Tangent album) A Place in the Queue, with the subtle reworking of Travis sax, the organ of Pete Whittaker and the deft and intricate interplay between the band, it takes the original and goes somewhere new and exciting with it, and I have no doubt that Andy Tillison would approve. Elsewhere the co-write with Dave Sturt the fantastic Everything I Feared, and the epic title track that showcases the best of Theo Travis and his tight band, his versatility, his power and his dextrous musical performances are a joy to behold. I find, as I am getting a little older I am starting to really get into the grooves and the places that well played sax jazz takes you, and this album is wonderful. In fact I would go so far to say its probably more progressive than most of the progressive releases I have heard all year.

ostinato

Stephen W Tayler: Ostinato

Esoteric Antenna EANCT1054

www.esotericrecordings.com

Not a name many will be familiar with, however Stephen W Tayler is a versatile and talented producer, engineer, sound designer and mixer who has worked with such talents as Peter Gabriel, Underworld, Howard Jones, Rush and most recently Kate Bush (on her latest records and her recent live performances).

Here, his musical vision unfolds through an intense, exciting and beautiful journey, mixing the minimalism of Terry Riley or Phillip Glass with the electronica of John Foxx or Tangerine Dream. With powerful metronomic rhythms, subtle and haunting electronics and distorted electronic voices, the album starts with the powerful trance like Euro Star (reminiscent of the more ambient stylings of Rob Duggan), whilst the percussive power of Peripherique is an astonishing musical tour de force, the driving percussion, the electronic sounds, the pulsing beat throughout, propel the track into your mind, and it’s not hard to imagine chilling out to this in a club scene.

Drawing on his 40 years of experience in the music industry and experience working with many great artists, this album is full of beautiful sonic sounds, and the tracks insinuate themselves into your head and take you on a musical journey, the pulsating Metro is like taking a ride on the ubiquitous train, whilst the wonderful final track The Boy Who Said Yes features a sample of the 13 year old Stephen W Tayler performing Breet/Weills Der Jasager, and works beautifully in the context of the album.

This is a refreshing, exciting and absorbing piece of contemporary electronica.

Gavin Harrison

Gavin Harrison: Cheating the Polygraph

www.gavharrison.com

The effect of Gavin Harrison’s rather spectacular new album is an astonishing, intelligent reinterpretation of Porcupine Tree songs, and whilst the song remains the same, the sound really doesn’t.

Instead of the sonic experimentations and haunting undertones that you get from a great Steven Wilson song, this is the pinnacle of the art of reinvention (and one other artists can learns from) because Harrison (who I assume everyone knows – if not, he’s one of the finest drummers in the world today, heir apparent to Bill Brufords jazz prog throne) and collaborator Lawrence Cottle have skilfully and adeptly produced a damn fine jazz album. And man, does it swing!

This covers the whole gamut from Porcupine Tree’s mighty back catalogue, and the skilful swing driven funk adaptation of The Pills I’m Taking (from Fear of Blank Planets Anaesthetize suite) is mighty to hear, and takes the track so far from the original, that you do have to jump back and listen and compare. It’s like the Baz Luhrman Romeo and Juliet film, the original source material is there, you just have to dig a little deeper to find it.

The sinewy bass drives the inspired combination of Lightbulb Suns Hatesong with Deadwings Halo, and it’s like the two were meant to be together, as the sinister undertones and the brass mix together to create a piece that could have fallen off a 1970’s film noir soundtrack, and then the funk kicks in. With a skilful jazz orchestra and of course Harrisons taut powerful drumming underpinning the whole affair, it allows Cottle and Harrison to go out there in reinterpreting and rearranging these classic songs, as trumpet, trombone and sax duel with each other as familiar riffs appear and sneak off into the ether, as the full band kicks in with some mighty power, and of course Harrisons glorious drumming and some amazing bass work.

This is a covers album like no other, and with the way these Porcupine Tree songs have been remained and so expertly dissected and reassembled, it is one of the most progressive releases (and the most enjoyable) you’ll hear so far this year!

tangent1

The Tangent A Spark in the Aether

www.thetangent.org

On this epic release Andy has swapped the realism of Le Sacre du Travail for escapism, and the sometimes-introverted imagery of Le Sacre for what can only be described as a full on prog rock album, with the emphasis firmly on rock.
Instead of the view from the windscreen, this is far more the view from the widescreen.
Starting with the wonderful title track with its mammoth keyboard riff, and lyrics looking at the current state of the prog scene (in rude health currently) the lyrical theme of this (and several other songs) is a musical equivalent of those TV documentaries that revisits communities after a period of time to see where they are now, and is revisited as a coda on the album as a gargantuan keyboard based musical celebration, with the wonderfully catchy chorus rounding the record off.
This revisitation of themes from The Music that Died Alone is continued on the unashamedly prog Codpieces and Capes, covering musical bases from Yes to Tull and all points in betweens, it reflects on themes originally riffed on during Suppers Off, about the fact that there are many fantastic bands including the Tangent who are out there still making relevant albums, whilst 5.1 reissues get more sales and coverage.
This opening quartet is closed off by the epically Floydian Aftereugene, with its epic slow build, and then a barely muttered “careful with that sax, Eugene”, before Theo Travis is let loose on his Saxes in a manic jazz explosion.
The centrepiece of the album, the 21 minutes plus The Celluloid Road, is an Andy Tillison Disk drive-through that takes us travelling through mythical America as seen on the big screen. Really letting loose and rarely letting up it covers more genres than your average HMV, with the band firing on all cylinders as the Tangent V8 drives us coast to coast, and finishes in the brilliantly funky pounding rock of San Francisco.
As evocative as the movies and shows that are name checked it makes me want to go on a stateside road trip, with Andy as my tour guide. This album is big, bold, and loud and demands to be played live.

Hope you enjoyed my list and a big thank you to all the artists and creative types who helped brighten up 2015 with some amazing records, concerts and videos, here’s to 2016.

Me

 

February First Impressions…

As Winter gives way to another Spring, new album releases are finding their way onto my radar in ever increasing numbers. Three new CDs dropped onto my doormat in rapid succession a couple of days ago and each, in its own way, is making a big first impression.

lr

First up, we have Please Come Home, by Lonely Robot, John Mitchell’s new solo project. This is a disc that grabs you immediately – melodic and catchy as hell, with superb guitar playing throughout. If you enjoyed Sound Of Contact’s debut, or the recent release from former SoC member Dave Kerzner, there’s a strong possibility that you will fall in love with this. A proper review will follow soon…

psb

Next is Public Service Broadcasting‘s second full album release, The Race For Space. If you’ve not heard this band, you really should give them a listen. They expertly blend sampled clips from various audiovisual archives with a unique musical style that is very difficult to pin down, leaping between pop, dance, ambient & electronic. Imagine if Kraftwerk played conventional instruments as well as synths… and were English… and wore tweed. It isn’t prog but it is innovative and highly entertaining. This album scores bonus points with an unashamed space geek like me simply because of its subject matter: the ‘golden era’ of space exploration, from Sputnik through to Apollo 17.

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Finally, we have Sanguine Hum’s double-CD magnum opus, Now We Have Light. Confronted with this sprawling, ambitious epic, I can imagine just how a Genesis fan must have felt back in 1974, expecting another Selling England but faced with the intense, bewildering genius of The Lamb. On the strength of just two listens, it’s already clear that this is an altogether darker, more mature and more subtle offering than its excellent predecessor, The Weight Of The World. Dare I say an early candidate for Album Of The Year? Time will tell. It’s going to take me a while to untangle the complex musical threads of this album and make sense of it all, but it’s an adventure I look forward to with relish…

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 3)

Following on from Part 1 and Part 2, here is the third and final part of my ‘Best of 2013’ list: positions 5 to 1 in my Top Ten.

(By the way, if you are wondering at the absence of Big Big Train’s magnificent English Electric: Full Power, remember that I am excluding rereleases of older material; without that restriction, it would most certainly be up near the top of my list!)

 

5. Maschine – Rubidium

The debut release from the formerly-dubbed Concrete Lake, featuring two alumni of The Tangent: guitarist Luke Machin and bassist Dan Mash. Be prepared for a rollercoaster ride through a dizzying array of different musical styles as this album jumps effortlessly from prog metal shredding to jazz to salsa (yes, really!) and back again. It’s bonkers, but I love it to bits.

 

4. Riverside – Shrine Of New Generation Slaves

A minor change in direction for Poland’s premier prog rockers finds them flirting with more straightforward hard rock, blues and even jazz influences in places, to great effect. The resulting album is more cohesive conceptually than any of their previous work and touches on similar issues to those explored by The Tangent’s latest opus. Disc 2 of the special edition features over 22 minutes of instrumental music quite different in tone from the main album but highly enjoyable nonetheless.

 

3. Sanguine Hum – Weight Of The World

An accomplished follow-up to 2010’s Diving Bell from Joff Winks, Matt Baber & Co. Sanguine Hum’s sound calls to mind Turin Brakes, Pierre Moerlen’s Gong, the layered electronica of North Atlantic Oscillation and even Porcupine Tree in their more reflective moments. It’s captivating, however you describe it, and the songs on this album are beautifully constructed. Apparently, the band have two album’s worth of new material already written, which bodes well for the future.

 

2. The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail

The best release yet from the ‘Steely Dan of prog’, offering a more coherent vision than their earlier high points Not As Good As The Book and A Place In The Queue. With music loosely inspired by Stravinsky’s Rite Of Spring and a thought-provoking, opinion-polarising message regarding the mundanity of the daily grind and our role as wage slaves, this is a progressive tour de force as far as I’m concerned.

 

1. Steven Wilson – The Raven That Refused To Sing

Quite simply, Steven Wilson’s finest work to date. Opting for a live recording approach over meticulous overdubs has paid off handsomely and the music frequently builds to a thrilling intensity as this masterful band of players feed off each others’ energy. It is difficult to pick out highlights from something so consistently brilliant, but Guthrie Govan’s guitar solo in Drive Home really does take the breath away, leaving us wondering how in the name of prog Wilson is going to better this.

My Review of 2013

2013, what a superb year for prog music, there have been dozens of fantastic albums released across the whole gamut, from classic English prog, to experimental rock music, and returns of several prog legends with fantastic new albums and new bands making waves and moving the genre on.
This is what I consider to be the albums that have been the strongest this year, and ones which I have kept coming back to over and over again, the musicality, the performances, the songwriting, the production, the sound is different from album to album, the topics wide ranging and when you listen to these albums back to back, they are all fresh, vibrant and new.
This is my sound of 2013, and these are albums that will stay with me, long after 2013 is but a memory.

Kingbathmat: Overcoming the Monster

Following on from last years superb Truth Button, Kingbathmat returned in triumph, on their most assured album to date, Overcoming the Monster is all about dealing with psychological obstacles, which is reflected in the brilliantly observant lyrics, and the superb cover art as well.
Masters of making an album, rather than just one track, the full force of Kingbathmats impressive musical arsenal is unleashed and untamed over these 6 fantastic tracks, with luscious harmonies reminiscent of Yes in their heyday, with tracks like the driving Parasomnia and the musical finale, the epic riff driven full on space rock masterpiece that is Kubrick Moon, with its superb guitar and keyboard work, and the interplay between all 4 members of the band is a joy to listen to as the track reaches its epic conclusion after 11 plus minutes of sheer musical abandon.

Lifesigns by Lifesigns

Keyboard player John Young, bassist Nick Beggs and Martin ‘Frosty’ Beedle have combined their not inconsiderable talents, and present 5 amazing tracks as the Lifesigns project.
With guests of the calibre of Steve Hackett, Thijs Van Leer, Robin Boult and Jakko Jakszyk Lifesigns fits nicely in the English progressive tradition, with inventive performances, quality musicianship, (the interplay between Beggs fluid bass playing and Youngs superb keyboard playing is a particular delight, while Beedle builds on and adds to a tradition of inventive percussion started by Bill Bruford and others) and instead of imitating or following a pre-ordained idea of what progressive rock should be, this is showing what it is.
Intelligent mature well crafted songs, atmospheric and ambient soundscapes created by the band, where Youngs emotive vocals weave over, and the beauty of the album from the superb Lighthouse to the closing 11 minutes worth of Carousel, Lifesigns is the sound of three talented musicians having the time of their life, not compromising, and delivering the album they were born to make.

Thieves Kitchen-One for Sorrow Two for Joy

The trio of Amy Darby, Phil Mercy and Thomas Johnson have moved from being a live band to a studio project, and in the process have moved organically away from Thieves Kitchens original prog roots, into something more prog folk, with some fantastic vocals from Amy, whilst Phil’s versatility as a guitarist shows all over this album from the brilliant The Weaver, the two epics in which the album hangs, Germander Speedwell and the closing Of Sparks and Spires, whilst Thomas is as inventive a keyboard player as any on the current scene. This is a well-performed, well-produced album, which is made to be listened as a whole. There’s no dipping in or out of songs here and this is a superb musical meeting point of songs and lyrics and performance, and a high point in Thieves Kitchens story so far.

Ravens & Lullabies: Gordon Giltrap & Oliver Wakeman

Two musical powerhouses in their respective fields, guitar maestro Giltrap and keyboard supreme Oliver Wakeman combine their considerable talents on this magnificent concept album on Esoteric.
With Giltraps effortlessly beautiful playing and Wakemans beautifully fluid keyboards, any album with one of them on is a joy; with them both together you’re getting a masterclass in collaborative performances.
With Olivers vocalist of choice the incomparable Paul Manzi on board (seeing Oliver and Paul perform together sends shivers down your spine) and with Wakeman and Giltrap trading licks, exchanging riffs and building things of beauty around each others talents, has to be heard to be believed.
This album is a thing of great power and great beauty and is one which you’ll find you keep returning to again and again, and each time you’ll discover something new, one of the best albums either man has put their name to, and this is one of those collaborations you hope continues.

John Lees’ Barclay James Harvest: North

The first new studio album from John Lees BJH since 1999’s Nexus, this is a superb continuation of the BJH sound, and a triumphant musical return for one of the most underrated bands of the progressive scene, this is classic BJH at its finest.
However in an album full of strong tracks like the digital single Unreservedly Yours, The highlights of this superb album, which as the name suggests draws on the Northern roots of the band, reflecting beautifully and evocatively on where they came from, is the epic and beautiful title track, which brings the landscape and area home to anyone from the North, especially if they are so far from home, that and its beautiful finale At the End of the Day, a wonderful musical end with words from a poem by Northern poet Ammon Wrigley, these two tracks close a magnificent and wonderful album, with grace, beauty and pathos
This deserves to be acclaimed as a great album from John Lees Barclay James Harvest, building on the fine musical tradition and heritage that BJH have, whilst giving their sound a contemporary feel.

Manning: The Root, the Leaf & The Bone

This is Guys 14th album, and he shows no sign of slowing up, with a magnificent concept all about change and time passing, brilliantly executed and realised, with superb pieces like the opening title track, the dramatic Forge with its fantastic percussive sound, and the lyrical themes running through the album about what has been lost to progress.
The core Manning band are a stunningly tight group, and guest musicians like Chloe Hetherington and Marek Arnold enhance the magic of Guys music.
This is a brilliant folk tinged work that shows Guys songwriting to be top notch and is another triumph for Manning.

The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
L’Etagere Du Travail

After a break of 2 yrs Andy Tillison and the Tangent return with not one, but two stunning new albums.
The main treat is the new studio album proper Le Sacre Du Travail, which translates as the Rite of Work. Influenced strongly by Stravinskys Rite of Spring, this is a contemporary progressive symphony for modern times, with Andy thinking big about things that don’t necessarily fascinate other songwriters, the music itself is written and should be listened to as a complete symphony, like Andy says, progressive music should take you on a journey, and Le Sacre does that, from the opening of Coming up on the Hour (overture) the 22 minute epic Morning Journey and Arrival, its musical dexterity, with wryly observant and sympathetic lyrics, pulling you into the piece, and its counterpart the leading to the conclusion of the symphony, Evening TV, with its cyclical ending of ‘it all starts again’. This is one of the finest examples of a rock sinfonia I have ever heard.
The companion piece of an album as well L’Etagere Du Travail, the Shelf of Work, a 10 track supplementary disc of outtakes and alternate mixes available only from the Tangents website, from the older material the remix Dansant Du Paris is the Tangent go pop, with a fantastic sax break and clever remix, and a different version of the brilliant Ethernet. There are also 5 extra tracks on here, the brilliant Monsanto, the contemplative lost in Ledston, however the stand out track here is the fantastic Suppers Off, an amazing piece of work, from the free festivals of the 70’s to the corporate greed of today via questions about why people have stopped making things and only want to make money, this is a musical angry young man statement, with big questions about musical recycling, and how come big bands remaster stuff all the time, and people lap it up.
To create a masterpiece like Le Sacre is achievement enough, but to then follow it up with a companion album including Suppers Off which would be a significant track by anyone’s standards is an astonishing record by any musician, but to do it in one year as a simultaneous release reminds us why Andy Tillison is one of the most important voices on the prog scene.

Shineback: Rise up Forgotten Return Destroyed

This debut release by Tinyfish frontman Simon Godfrey with lyrics from Robert Ramsay, this is a step away from the Tinyfish sound.
Drawing on a diverse range of genres and sounds, this tells the story of Dora who videos her dreams and is drawn into a dark journey into her own past uncovering dark secrets.
Danny Claires vocals work so well on the album in the musical blog interludes, telling part of Dora’s story, whilst musically the genres flip from the driving electro rock of Is this the Dream? The synth driven Bedlam days that mixes techno and garage sounds, with some great keyboard work.
Godfrey has pulled together an amazing story and the electro emphasised music taking his muse in a totally different direction from anything he’s done before.
His own insomnia is drawn on throughout the album adding to the story, particularly on the mood changing piano driven Faultlines, his vocals being sublime throughout the album, whilst the title track is 10 minutes plus of musical brilliance.
This is a superb debut for a talented musician stepping out from the music he’s known for, into a left field musical future. The fact that this succeeds so well is testament to Godfreys talent and vision, and his choice of collaborators (including Matt Stevens, Dec Burke, Henry Rogers). This is fantastic.

The Fierce and the Dead: Spooky Action

The Fierce and the Dead is this intense, powerful, exciting groove monster.
The 11 new tracks that make up this mighty album all take you different places, and into unexpected territories, from the opening groove of Part 4, the driving intensity of the single Ark underpinned by a monster bass riff, and powerful percussion sound, whilst the twin guitars trade riffs and licks of an almost industrial nature, it’s a mighty blend of light and shade.
There are hints of jazz, of rock, of prog, of allsorts running through this album, and plenty of sounds coming through that you wouldn’t expect a guitar to be able to make, the fantastic Lets start a Cult with its stabs of brass and epic finish, the funk stomp of I like it, I’m into it, with its great drum beats and dirty bass and guitar sound, and a that killer riff, this is the sound of a band operating at full capacity.
Kev Feazey plays his bass like a third guitar, whilst the guitar sparring of Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton is exemplorary, both being mighty guitarists, whilst the drums of Stuart Marshall underpin everything and build to the mighty sound of the Fierce and the Dead.
This is experimental, this is exciting, this is everything that is good about instrumental rock, new, fresh and an album you will keep returning to, time and time again as there is so much depth to these tracks that you pick something new up every time you listen.

Sanguine Hum: The Weight of the World

Oxfords Sanguine Hum took their debut, Diving Bell as their starting point, and pushed their music even further creatively and musically, creating as they do so, one of the most interesting, exciting and unpredictable albums I have heard all year.
From the musical tour de force that is the epic title track, clocking in at well over 15 minutes, and not one minute of which is wasted, there are hints of electronica running throughout the album, pulsing through the fantastic Cognoscenti, providing an exciting counterpoint to the beautifully melodic guitars and the driving percussion, whilst Day of Release provides one of the many musical highpoints, with hints of early OMD and Joffs vocal melody providing a sublime contrast.
From the start not a moment is wasted, not a foot is put wrong, and there is beauty throughout the album, in the music, the lyrics, the spaces between the notes.
This is an album like albums are supposed to be made, running almost seamlessly from start to finish.
I would argue that they are one of the few truly progressive bands out there, not copying, but creating, not imitating, but innovating.

Conundrum in Deed – Gentlemen

This is London based quartet Conundrum In Deeds debut album and is classic jazz prog rock, with their sound being enhanced by the fact that instead of different keyboard sounds, its just Sadlers piano adding to the rock, sound, and from the opening Falling leaves, right through to the closing title track, the music entrances you, draws you in and takes you on a journey.
With the lyrics as important (if not more so) than the music, songs like the beautifully mellow Strangers in Sympathy, the driving funk bass driven Love in the Age of Technology, the brilliant Holy Flowers, and the majestic Rise/Church Bells with its stunning bass/piano interplay.
Conundrum in Deed are the finished article, a superb band with something new to say, echoing the sounds of yesterday, reminiscent of bands like Caravan and others of that ilk from the Canterbury Scene.

Big Big Train – English Electric Full Power

A monumental collection by anyone standards, this is strange as it may seem, my first introduction to Big Big Train, and what an introduction.
This is English Electric parts One and Two, and the EP Make some Noise, in a lavish hardback book with some beautiful new pictures, stories behind the songs, and is a weighty package suitable for one of the greatest musical projects its been my pleasure to listen to.
From the opener of Make some Noise, and into the albums proper, the expansive sound, the powerful musicianship, the intelligent and well observed lyrics, this is a complete musical package.
Tracks like Uncle Jack, the haunting and poignant A boy in darkness, the English sound of Hedgerow and Keeper of Abbeys, and the frankly brilliant East Coast Racer make this a double album to get lost in, you don’t listen to one or two songs, you clear the decks, turn off the phone or internet, put the album on and sit down, let it wash over you, as you absorb its beauty, its strength, its power.
This is a magical work and one, which in 20 years time will be looked on as a significant musical achievement.

There are loads more albums that could have made this list, and some honourable mentions must go out to Chris Wade, whose been so prolific this year (three Dodson & Fogg albums, and one prog instrumental one) that it has been hard to choose between them, the musical maturity and progression from Derring Do, to The Call, via the Sounds of Day and Night have been exciting to listen to, and fascinating to see where Chris is going to take his musical talent next, I predict even bigger things for him in 2014.
Haze’s fantastic Last Battle saw their triumphant return, and what was nearly a goodbye has become a new beginning for them.
Jump just get better and better, and like a fine wine keep on maturing, and their stunning Black Pilgrim takes familiar themes and weaves their musical magic round them.
If I’ve missed out some other big releases like the Steven Wilson album, or the new Magenta album then it’s because sadly I’ve not heard them yet!
2013 will go down in Prog history as a superb year, and I am already excited about the prospect of 2014, so I shall end by wishing you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Prog 2013 – An Unordered List

Last year was an incredible year for Progressive Music (note: upper case), but in my opinion, 2013 has been even better. Thanks to this community (Progarchy) and the ever-lively Big Big Train Facebook group, I have been exposed to more new prog in 2013 than in any year since the halcyon days of the early 70s. As a result, my wallet has been considerably lightened, but my musical universe has been enriched way beyond mere monetary value.

What follows is a brief review of my top ten purchases in 2013 – albums received for review or borrowed from friends are not included, however much I enjoyed them. The list is alphabetic, as each of these albums is my favourite when I’m listening to it, depending on my mood.

Steven WilsonThe Raven That Refused To Sing: A superb album from start to finish, replete with powerful, hard-rocking passages, beautiful melodies, jazzy interludes, lush arrangements, and oodles of emotion (not something SW is renowned for). Much as I enjoy SW’s guitar playing, I’m delighted that he has handed over most of the guitar work to the incredible Guthrie Govan and stepped back to be more of a musical director – he has always been an excellent songwriter, but I think his compositions have benefitted greatly from this change of focus. I also think this is Wilson’s strongest and most confident vocal performance ever. Of course the rest of the band members are all outstanding, but in particular I love Wilson’s use of Theo Travis’ woodwinds to add an extra dimension that was sometimes lacking in the Porcupine Tree soundscape.

SW

Spock’s BeardBrief Nocturnes and Dreamless SleepI love Nick D’Virgilio’s singing and drumming and was concerned when I heard that he’d left Spock’s Beard, but I needn’t have worried. I thought X was an excellent album, but Brief Nocturnes is even better. Ted Leonard not only brings his powerful and emotive vocal delivery to the band (I think he’s the best vocalist the Beard have had to date), but also his strong compositional skills, which were always evident with Enchant. And Jimmy Keegan is a monster drummer, a worthy full-time successor to the vacated “batterie” stool (he’s been touring with the band for years). Ryo’s keyboard work has also been going from strength to strength since Neal Morse, the uber-controlling force, left the band, while Alan Morse and Dave Meros seem to be even more energised by the injection of new blood into the band. A strong set of songs, powerfully delivered by a great band.

SB

Sanguine HumThe Weight of the World: Sanguine Hum are one of my favourite “new” finds. This Oxford-based band deliver layered and beautifully structured compositions with plenty of dynamics, which never fail to surprise and delight. One reviewer described their approach as “polymath”, but I think this may give the wrong impression – while their music is precise, it is never clinical, and while complex, it is never complicated for the sake of it. Although I slightly prefer their first album, “Diving Bell”, “Weight of the World” is an excellent album that gets repeated listening, and will continue to do so.

SH

RiversideShrine of New Generation Slaves: “SoNGS”, to my ears, is the best Riverside album since their impressive debut “Out Of Myself” in 2004. With greater emphasis on songwriting rather than thrash, and more varied textures that their last few albums, this album is imminently listenable, apart from the rather tiresome first few minutes of the opening song, which seems to stutter along for ages before it gets going. Mariusz Duda’s side project, Lunatic Soul, is definitely bleeding back into Riverside, which I’m delighted about. More, please Mariusz…

Riverside

HakenThe Mountain: For me, the find of the year. Two months go I’d never heard of this band, but now I have all three of their albums and can’t stop listening to them. “The Mountain” is a real tour de force, with light and shade, strong melodies, excellent harmonies, tight ensemble playing and impressive pyrotechnics that are just right in context of each song, when they explode. I think their “Gentle Giant” moment (The Cockroach King) is one of the finest since the great band themselves were performing – far better than Spock’s Beard’s efforts (which are nevertheless uniformly good), and rivalling Kevin Gilbert’s genius in his “Suit Canon”. This band has everything (except a permanent bass player – sad that I’m living on the wrong continent, too old and simply not talented enough to audition for the post… !). Great album, and great band with a stellar future.

Haken

CosmografThe Man Left In Space: I’m a sucker for good sci-fi – combine it with superb songwriting and musicianship from wide range of musicians and I’m in there, lead boots, space suit and all. The first time I heard this album, I thought some of the the interludes caused the album to lose momentum musically, but repeated listening has completely dispelled that impression. I now think this is a beautifully balanced album, lyrically and musically, and I’m really looking forward to the next Cosmograf album (which is always a good sign).

cosmograf

Big Big TrainEnglish Electric Full Power: “English Electric”, parts 1 and 2, were already two of my all-time favourite albums, but the combined and expanded package, “Full Power”, has raised the bar even higher. I have already written full reviews of the individual albums (here on Progarchy and elsewhere), so suffice to say that the re-ordering of the songs and the additional material has created one of the most satisfying listening experiences I’ve had since I first became “aware” of music. Brilliant songwriting, meaningful lyrics, exemplary delivery, superb, lush production. And of course, there’s also the magnificent packaging…

BBT

AyreonThe Theory of Everything: Two adjectives often associated with Ayreon are “bombastic” and “overblown”, but I prefer to use adjectives such as “majestic” and “melodic”. Arjen Lucassen has more musical ideas than is reasonable for any single human being, and he seems to be a helluva nice guy as well. “The Theory of Everything” is his best work, including side projects, since “The Human Equation”, which was my first encounter with his music and still my favourite. However, I’ve only had TTOE for two weeks, and already it is threatening to nudge THE aside. With a stellar cast of musicians and singers, including major prog alumni John Wetton, Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson, Jordan Rudess and Steve Hackett, he’s created another intense epic work that soars and delights, while examining the very human themes of genius, deception, ambition, pride and love. As a scientist, I also appreciate the recurring symbol of the lighthouse, representing intellect and science casting illumination through the gloom. Brilliant album.

ayreon

The AristocratsCulture Clash: This band has literally blown my socks off (it’s OK, it’s summer in the southern hemisphere, so I’m not too uncomfortable). I bought the “Boing! We’ll Do It Live” DVD earlier this year, and was mesmerised by the incredible technical abilities of the three musicians, Govan Guthrie (guitar), Marco Minnemann (drums) and Bryan Beller (bass). But this is not just a musical show-off band – not only do they write splendid (instrumental) music that crosses a vast range of genres (truly Progressive), but their obvious enjoyment of the music, and each other, is completely infectious. “Culture Clash”, their second album, sees them settling into their relationships and interactions, and writing music specifically for each other – and it’s a sheer delight. Want more!

aristocrats

Antione FafardOccultus Tramatis: I get to listen to a lot of new music while I’m working, putting science textbooks together. Much of it tends to slip by me while I’m concentrating on the work, but every now and then an album wrests my attention from whatever I’m doing and forces me to focus on the music. “Occultus Tramatis” was one of those albums. Canadian bassist Antione Fafard has put together a star-studded cast of jazz, jazz-fusion and progressive rock performers including Jerry Goodman and drummers Simon Phillips, Chad Wackerman, Terry Bozzio and Gavin Harrison, and produced an outstanding album of prog fusion, which despite its musical complexity and ever changing time signatures is nevertheless fresh and rewarding, revealing different possibilities every time you listen to it. Each track has its own feel, with changes of pace, a variety of complex rhythms and contrasting instrumental arrangements, but the album still still has an organic flow. I listened to my review copy twice straight through, and immediately ordered the CD. Challenging, but excellent.

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Honourable mention:
Thieves’ Kitchen – One For Sorrow, Two For Joy: I marginally prefer The Water Road, but this is a strong collection of jazzy prog songs.

Roy Harper – Man and Myth: Powerful, emotional work.

The Flower Kings – Desolation Rose: Their darkest album to date, but a real return to form. May have made it into my top 10 if it had arrived earlier.

Amplifier – Echo Street: Gorgeous guitar-based, atmospheric music.

Airbag – The Greatest Show On Earth: Only arrived last week. Excellent album that is rapidly growing on me.

Notable omission:
Lifesigns: This is a strange one for me. I really like the instrumental work, but some of the compositions seem to meander for long periods. And I can’t get into the vocals – the delivery seems flat and unidimensional to me. Sorry.

Not considered (see above, but added to my wish list):
Comedy of Errors – Fanfare & Fantasy
Days Between Stations – In Extremis
Dream Theater – Dream Theater
KingBathmat – Overcoming the Monster
Levin Minnemann Rudess – LMR
Magenta – The Twenty Seven Club
Moon Safari – Himlabacken Vol. 1
Persona Grata – Reaching Places High Above
PFM – Da Mozart A Celebration
Shadow Circus – On A Dark and Stormy Night
Sound of Contact – Dimensionaut
The Tangent – Le Sacre Du Travail
TesseracT – Altered State
Verbal Delirium – From The Small Hours of Weakness
Von Hertzen Brothers – Nine Lives

Verdict:
So much to listen to, so little time.  Prog has never been healthier.

Craig Farham/faroutsider