Well, I must admit, I am a bit sorry to have taken so long to get all my “best of 2016” out. Four parts is outrageous, even by prog standards. Too much music, too little time, too many keys on my keyboard!
So, the final part of 2016 list is nothing less than a bit of cleanup, an attempt to give coherence to a number of disparate things.
First, I want to offer a huge thanks to all of you for reading Progarchy and also to all of our writers. Obviously, we do what we do for love, not profit. But, it’s truly a community effort. Again, a profound thank you–to all members of the progarchy community.
Second, I’d like to single out three companies for making reviewing so much easier than it might otherwise be. An amazing slap on the back to Roie Avin and Jeff Wagner at Insideout! Incredible guys, incredible company. Another loud and hearty shout out to Brian Rocha of Fresno Media not only for his wit and friendship, but also for all of his excellent support. And, again to Steve Babb of Sound Resources (Glass Hammer).
Third, there are a few musical releases from 2016 that don’t fit easily into the lists I’ve offered thus far.
One album I’ve thoroughly enjoyed but have not had long enough to offer it a place within my lists is The Gift’s latest album, WHY THE SEA IS SALT. It’s extraordinary, and I very much look forward to spending more time with it.
I must also recognize Steven Wilson’s ep, 4.5, and The Tangent’s single, “A Few Steps Down the Wrong Road.” Each is simply outstanding.
Finally, this year’s progarchy audiophile award goes to Steven Wilson for his work remixing so many classic albums. Indeed, Wilson has remixed so many, it’s becoming hard to keep track of them all. But, I’d like to single out the ones that meant so much to me this year: Jethro Tull’s STAND UP and AQUALUNG; XTC’s SKYLARKING; King Crimson’s BEAT; and Yes’s TALES FROM TOPOGRAPHIC OCEANS.
From the beginning of this, let me [Brad] note that I think that VALKYRIE is not only Glass Hammer’s finest achievement, but it’s the best album of 2016, thus far.
PROGARCHY: Steve and Fred, after so many years of writing, recording, and producing, what motives you? I ask this, because most bands go the other direction. They start strong, and they lose it. You, however, do just the opposite. You started very strong, and you just keep getting better. Why, how? What’s your secret?
Fred: Luck, perhaps? It may have a little to do with the fact we’re easily distracted and move from one thing to the next like butterflies so we never have a chance to get too stale. We are always interested in trying something different. I think in this case we benefit from having little bits of stuff fly by on the wind and stick to us- post rock, ambient video game music; things we don’t necessarily know well enough to emulate too specifically, but that influence what we’re doing at any given time. The other thing is surrounding ourselves with the right people and I think that has a lot to do with the new album working out as well as it has.
Steve: We’re driven and we just don’t stop. Momentum is important. We have awesome bandmates who invest themselves into our vision and a support team that keeps everything behind the scenes running smoothly. I’m with Fred on the butterfly theory. There are a million things I’d like to try with Glass Hammer. We’ll never get to the end of my list or Fred’s.
PROGARCHY: What do you think Glass Hammer means as a band, a concept, a project? Where do you see Valkyrie in your personal history, and where do you see it in the long tradition of rock and prog?
Fred: I don’t know what it means. I feel like I have to leave those questions to the people on the outside looking in; people that have an objective view of it all. My perspective is kind of mundane. For me Glass Hammer is an outlet for the music I write and Valkyrie is the latest work we’ve done and that’s it. Time will tell us where Valkyrie fits in the history of the band and of prog in general. I have high hopes though that it will be remembered as an important album in our catalog but it’s not my call.
Steve: For me, Glass Hammer satisfies the need to create and share the work. We’re a musical expression of a world-view as well, and I guess I’ve driven that idea. Valkyrie is or was quite personal. The story of the soldier and the girl started as a way for me to deal with trauma from my own experience. The hope being, that as I wrote it I could build the story toward a hopeful ending, and thus, find answers to my own dilemma. What happened was that I realized how insignificant my experience was when compared to others. It helped me mend. My Valkyrie has already arrived and guided me home so to speak. What happened to me was no battlefield experience and we need to confess that unless we’ve actually been in that situation there is no way we could possibly be able to relate to those who have, or even write music about it. I can’t reduce that sort of horror into music or lyrics. Still, trauma takes many forms in many lives. I just hope Valkyrie helps others, and especially encourages family and friends of trauma survivors. Survivors don’t make it home without help. As for Valkyrie’s place in history I can’t say. We just hope everyone enjoys it and that it has as much or more impact as other important albums in our back catalog.
Holy schnikees this looks amazing! So thrilled to see the trajectory of a band move more and more toward perfection. Incredible. Glass Hammer is simply nothing short of astounding. Thank you, Steve and Fred! So much brightness you offer in a world of immense darkness.
Glass Hammer is in full production on “Valkyrie”, a full-blown concept album that bassist Steve Babb compares to their previous works “Lex Rex” and “The Inconsolable Secret”.
“Still, we’ve managed to come at this album in a totally new way. We have been in the rehearsal room for months, rehearsing the album as if it were to be a live concert. Our shows are so much more edgy than our studio albums and we really wanted to capture that energy. When we felt the ‘show’ was ready, we hit record. That happened over the last weekend and the results are outstanding. There is still a lot of studio work to do, but the basic tracks have been captured and we are well on our way to making “Valkyrie” a very unique album.”
As for the concept Babb was willing to say that, “‘Valkyrie’ is about a soldier who marches away to battle only to find himself embroiled in a war that was far more than he bargained for. The story is intense, as is the music.”
No release date has been set yet but the band has promised “Valkyrie” for sometime in the fall of 2016.
A review of Glass Hammer, DOUBLE LIVE (deluxe edition, Sound Resources, 2015).
2 CDs/1 DVD. Tracks: Nothing, Everything; So Close, So Far; Mythopoeia; Third Floor; The Knights of the North; If the Stars; and Time Marches On. The DVD consists of the 1.5 hours of the show at RosFest, May 3, 2015.
Glass Hammer: Steve Babb; Susie Bogdanowicz; Carl Groves; Aaron Raulston; Kamran Alan Shikoh; and Fred Schendel.
For a band that specializes in writing studio masterpiece after studio masterpiece, it’s somewhat surprising to find that Glass Hammer has released six live albums (albums defined as CDs and/or DVDs): LIVE AND REVIVED; LEX LIVE; LIVE AT NEARFEST; LIVE AT BELMONT; LIVE AT THE TIVOLI; and, now, DOUBLE LIVE. Two live songs also appear on 2007’s COMPILATIONS. The band doesn’t even tour that much, but, when it does, it’s something mightily special.
Additionally, the band has over twenty years of material to choose from. Not surprisingly, three of the seven live tracks on DOUBLE LIVE come from the band’s last album, but the selections reach all the way back to 1995. “Nothing, Everything,” “Mythopoeia,” and “Third Floor” come from THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD (2015). “If the Stars” from IF (2010). “The Knight of the North” from INCONSOLABLE SECRET (2005). “So Close, So Far” from SHADOWLANDS (2004). And, “Time Marches On” from PERELANDRA (1995). I was a bit surprised by the last selection as it appears three other times on Glass Hammer releases. Still, of the four versions, this is by far the best.
Coming off what is arguably their best album to date, THE BREAKING OF THE WORLD, the six members on stage look as happy and as confident as can be. It’s an absolute joy to watch them perform on stage even though the camera work is a bit stiff compared to, say, the visually fluid LEX LIVE. Clearly, they love each other, their music, and their ability to perform their art together and for others. Joy simply exudes from the screen. Babb grooves, Schendel glides, Raulston pounds, and Shikoh soars. And, sheesh, are these guys tight. I could probably watch the interaction of bass, drums, guitar, and keys in “Time Marches On”—especially beginning at the the 1:23:34 mark. Holy Moses, these guys are amazing. All of them. I’d love to just tell each one of them individually—”you are doing what you were meant to do on this Earth!!!!”
Though I adamantly love the Glass Hammer albums fronted by Carl Groves and Susie Bogdanowicz (CULTURE OF ASCENT, ODE TO ECHO, and THE BREAKING OF THE WATER), I had no idea what kind of a frontman Groves would prove to be on a live stage. I had no worries about Bogdanowicz.
She possesses one of the two best voices in rock today, and I’ve said this and written this repeatedly. She’s also gorgeous (her all black outfit makes her look like a superhero), and it’s quite clear that she gives every aspect of her soul to this music. Unlike so many in the world of music, she also conveys all of this power on stage as a person and an artist with a clearly good and gentle soul. It’s a fascinating paradox.
Groves, though, clearly proves his mettle on this live album. He’s absolutely fun to watch. I wish I had better descriptives coming to my tired mind at the moment, but the word that keeps coming to me is “fun.” And, I mean this in the best sense. He’s playful and mischievous, but not at all self centered. He’s the front man, but he leads as one of equals not as the cock on parade.
While I noted above that this is one very tight band, I also have to say this: while the band celebrates its friendship and art, we, too, should be celebrating. It’s an honor, a privilege, and an inspiration to look at what Babb and Schendel have accomplished over the past two decades. I could never even count how many hours of sheer pleasure they’ve given me, how many times they’ve inspired me, and how often they’ve demonstrated that good and light can exist in a world of darkness and chaos.