“Best ofs” are flying around every where at the moment.
The top 10. The top 22. The top 25. Best albums. Best songs. Best gigs.
Admittedly, I not only love all of these lists, but I encourage and contribute to them. List, list, list! Yet, in the middle of it all, I also worry. Are we allowing the conventions of time to limit our vision? Things that came out in 2015 have relevance, while things that came out in 2010 have weight. What about those things that came out between 2010 and now?
So, in the spirit of lists and in the warning labels that should come attached to every one of them, I offer the following about a favorite from. . . not 2015. . . but 2014. May it never be forgotten.
On June 10, 2014, Zee Baig, Chicago prog mastermind and professional artist (photography), revealed to the world Fire Garden’s first full LP, the gorgeous SOUND OF MAJESTIC COLORS. A little less than two years earlier, he had tempted us all with his three-song EP, appropriately entitled THE PRELUDE. It was a smart move on Zee’s part, as it truly whetted the appetite. For eighteen months, I looked forward to the full album. And, when it finally arrived, it did no–in any way–disappoint. It was everything the EP had promised and, then, so much more. The band kindly sent me a review copy, but I was also more than happy to purchase a personal copy. And, so glad that I did. Zee does nothing if not perfectly, and a beautiful package arrived promptly from the Windy City, complete with a lovingly-crafted CD and case, a poster, small stickers, and a large bumper sticker, “GOT PROG?” I had never applied a bumper sticker to my car before. I generally find them entertaining but tacky. This one was so good, however—and I was moving to Boulder, Colorado—I had to apply it. And, there it proudly remains. It’s actually attracted a lot of attention, especially when I was in Colorado.
As I type this, the band is recording (literally, as I type this) its second album. I type “band” for convenience, but Zee properly labels Fire Garden a “project,” rather than a band, and, of course, he’s right. As a project, it magnifies the art, soul, and mind of Zee rather than being a mere expression of each.
SOUND OF MAJESTIC COLORS has been in constant rotation in my playlist for eighteen-months now. Never has it left that playlist, and never has it bored me. Indeed, as with all true art, the album reveals more and more to me with each listen. Granted, I received the album just days before moving to Colorado for a year, so it is tied up with very good personal feelings and memories of my time at CU-Boulder. But, lots of albums could have done that—at least in terms of possibilities—but it was Fire Garden that best expressed my love of life along the Front Range. Even now, as I listen to it, I can remember with absolute clarity the view of Rocky Mountain National Park from our back deck.
Zee describes his own music as a reflection of his love for progressive metal bands such as Dream Theater as well as for much harder prog such as Rush. He also properly notes that he doesn’t really like categorization and that he goes where the muses lead him. Amen.
As many times as I’ve listened to the album, I still can’t quite place it into any specific category of music. Yes, I hear Zee’s love of Dream Theater, Drama-era Yes, and Rush and other bands too, but Zee offers something quite different than any one of these bands does. He shares the tightness of both DT and Rush, but he’s also more melodic than DT and more intense than Rush. His lyrics, too, speak to a million things. If I’m understanding every thing I’m hearing, I assume that Zee and I have a fairly similar view of the world, but I may be missing some depth here. He’s younger than I am by almost two decades, but I still think we view the world in a rather similar fashion. His love of intensity and perfection certainly inspires me. No doubt about it.
And, interestingly enough, the lyrics point out everything from a love of Christopher Nolen’s Dark Knight trilogy to existential angst to perseverance to the nature of grace. All to the good!
Zee has offered a few teasers from time to time on social media about the forthcoming album, and, of course, he is genius. The big news is that the new album will feature Jimmy Keegan, the drummer from Spock’s Beard.
Add to this the fact that the first album featured engineers from Dream Theater and Rush, and you get a really good sense of what means what to Zee. As I’ve already written, this is not a guy to do anything half way. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing with excellence. Zee is excellence, and excellence is Zee.
As we exit 2015 and contemplate the best of this year, let’s not forgot what led into it, what came immediately before it, and what will spring from it. Fire Garden’s new album is certainly one I anticipate the most for the upcoming year.
Make sure you visit Zee’s official site: http://firegardenmusic.com. He keeps it up regularly, and I’m always interested in what he’s listening to at the moment.