Last night, as I was getting ever closer to sleep, I decided to check out the website for Rocket 88 Books.
I’ve been reading and throughly enjoying their book on the history of Dream Theater, LIFTING SHADOWS.
Lo and behold, what did I find on the website? That Rocket 88 will soon be releasing a paperback version of the 2012 coffee-table book, THE SPIRIT OF TALK TALK.
For those of you who know me, you know how much I adore Talk Talk. But, even with my normal lack of frugality and my love of the band, I just couldn’t bring myself to pay the price that was being asked for that hardback–no matter how beautiful–three years ago.
And yet, here it is.
So, of course, I ordered it. Immediately. Here’s the response I awoke to from the press:
Congratulations, you were the first person to pre-order the new paperback edition of the Spirit of Talk Talk book! And before we have even told anyone it is avalable, impressive work
The email that was sent to you to confirm the order bounced back though, that address you gave us was email@example.com
We have taken a high level executive decision and reckon it should have been firstname.lastname@example.org and have updated it.
We can also confirm we have your order, reference number: xxxx.
We will keep you updated along the way on progress we can tell you that books are planned to be in the UK in October but will take a little longer to get to our warehouse in the US, so you should expect to have your book in November.
It sounds like you’re very, very good at executive decisions.
Yes, email@example.com is correct. I can only blame large, clumsy fingers on my typo. I don’t want to badmouth my fingers too much, though, as they’ve served me well in handshakes, eating, opening doors, etc.
I just happened to be on the Rocket 88 website and saw the new books. Great press, by the way. I’m just finishing up the LIFTING SHADOWS about Dream Theater.
Again, thanks for taking the time to clarify. No worries on October or November. Either way, I’ll be happy.
And, finally, their response to my response to their response:
Ha! Yep keep those fingers handy.
Thanks for your kind words and great to hear you’re also enjoying Lifting Shadows. We have a couple more titles coming in that area too which may interest you as we are presently working feverishly to finish books from Devin Townsend and from Opeth.
Ok, so I know that I wasted some poor person’s time. But, you know what? They now have my total loyalty. If every one in the world brought this kind of excellence and humor to what ever it is they do, we’d have a pretty great world.
Review of Bjorn Riis, LULLABIES IN A CAR CRASH (Karisma Records, 2014). 52 minutes. Six songs: A New Day; Stay Calm; Disappear; Out of Reach; The Chase; Lullaby in a Car Crash.
Without a doubt, my favorite Porcupine Tree song is “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.” If you could take the best of that 12 minute song—its moodiness, its psychedelic atmosphere, its thundering bass and guitar, its surrealism—and expand it to 52 minutes in length, you’d have Riis’s solo album, LULLABIES IN A CAR CRASH.
Of course, you might also find yourself with a slightly less depressing version of Pink Floyd’s ANIMALS or THE FINAL CUT or a less religious and more nordic version of Talk Talk’s SPIRIT OF EDEN.
Whatever you’d have, you’d be listening to and holding something of intensity, struggle, and beauty. LULLABIES couldn’t be any moodier, frankly. In fact, if you’re feeling the holiday blues at all, don’t come near this album. If, however, you’re in a good state of mind, in a darkened room, wearing your state-of-the-art headphones, and sipping a vodka-tonic, then you’re a blessed listener. It won’t get better than this.
Indeed, this is the perfect early 1980s album, the type of album that you could (and probably will, even if you’re now in your 40s) listen to again and again and again, trying to immerse yourself in the very Riis-Hollis-Waters-Wilson atmosphere: thick, claustrophobic, and all-pervasive.
No one can avoid comparing Riis’s work here or with Airbag to Floyd and PT. Yet, there’s something distinctively Riis-ian, too. This is no mere cover band. By no means. In large part, Riis brings three critical things to each of his albums: 1) a haunting vocal style; 2) the uncanny ability to allow his music to flow, organically, as did Mark Hollis; and 3) an outrageously fine sense of audiophilia.
Of course, has there been a misfire from any Scandinavian prog release since Roine Stolt’s mind-bogglingly good THE FLOWER KING? Not that I know of.
In a previous post or two, I’ve tried to explain what I mean by 2014 being a significant year in the history of progressive rock. Something(s)—though I still can’t quite get my fingers exactly on it—is quite different. That is, 2014 is not 2013, in the way that 2013 resembled but improved upon 2012, 2011, and 2010.
And, just to be clear, I’m not one of those proggers who actually thinks all new music must progress in the sense of offering some new technique the world has never heard before. Sure, I love innovation. But, never for innovation’s sake. Innovation, by its very nature, is always momentary. I want permanence. And, permanence comes only with the discovery and uncovering of beauty. If the new technique or innovation leads to a better understanding of beauty, so be it. But, I would, I hope, always choose the timeless and true and beautiful over the clever and ephemeral.
So, what’s different about 2014 and what I believe to be a new wave of progressive rock? Three things spring to mind. First, the best of 2014—and there’s an immense amount of good—is beautiful. Second, it’s eclectic. Third, it’s atmospheric.
A few years ago, several progarchists were happily complaining that so much prog is being released into the world that it’s impossible to catch up with it or, once caught up, stay up with it. True, I think. And, all to the good. Competition is rarely a bad thing, and competition for market and attention has forced proggers to think in very creative and entrepreneurial ways. This is as true in selling music as it is in making music.
Take one very specific example. Andy Tillison has always been one of the two or three demigods of Third Wave prog. Take a listen, however, to his 2014 release, Electronic Sinfonia No. 2. It is a thing of intense beauty, eclectic, and atmospheric. It is the perfect fourth-wave prog release, in many, many ways.
Because we’ve been so overwhelmed with so much goodness over the last two decades, and, especially, the last few years, Anathema’s Distant Satellite is a severe disappointment. Had it been released five years ago, it would have been pretty great. Now, though, in this context, it’s simply a parody of Anathema and Radiohead.
Well, enough ranting. I’d like to start describing my favorites of this year. In no particular order, I offer my first glimpse into my loves of 2014. Pink Floyd’s THE ENDLESS RIVER. I’ve been shocked at how many folks on the internet have decried it, as a betrayal to Roger Waters and to traditional Pink Floyd. Since when has PF ever been traditional? The Endless River is something PF has never been before. It has echoes of Echoes, but it also had a lot of Tangerine Dream in it. It’s interesting, it’s soaring, it’s daring, it’s full of whale song. Just listen to Skins and Unsung. There’s no ego. Just flight.
And, what an incredible honor to the brilliance of Rick Wright.
I’e always liked Mike Portnoy. In fact, I’ve been quite taken with him, and I’ve been more than willing to put up with his own eccentricities and strong opinions. But, when he lamented a new PF album this past summer, something in me gave. My respect for the former DT drummer has declined dramatically.
Around the time that the Division Bell was released, Wright admitted that he feared that PF had lost some of its creativity, and he cited Mark Hollis as an inspiration. Talk Talk, he argued, got away with much, mostly because Hollis had the integrity to dream and dare. He wanted Floyd to have the same spirit.
Well, here it is. THE ENDLESS RIVER.
What do David Gilmour and Nick Mason have to prove? Nothing, really. And, they prove nothing except the ability to offer a memorial to Rick. Amen. If every person in the world offered such a tribute to a lost friend, this would be a much better world.
Gilmour and Mason, I salute you for doing the right thing, the good thing, the true thing.
One of the best and most interesting Englishmen I’ve never actually met in person, Richard Thresh, recommended I check out a Norwegian band, Airbag, about two summers ago. Richard’s views and recommendations are almost always (in fact, I can’t think of one with which I’ve disagreed) spot on. He cautioned me that a lot of prog folk in the U.K. have dismissed them as warmed-over Pink Floyd, but that I should still listen to them anyway.
I did. But, appearances first.
Their first album cover—the best in my opinion—could be the sequel to Talk Talk’s The Party’s Over. This has James Marsh written (illustrated!) all over it. A single bulbous blue eye cries a teardrop of blood. It is equally disturbing and artistically enticing.
Before even talking indepth about the music, let me add up a couple of things. A recommendation from Richard Thresh, a band from Norway, and a cover painting inspired by James Marsh. Three for three.
What about the music? Yes, they wear their Pink Floyd (mostly Gilmour) influences rather dramatically on their psychedelic sleeves. In fact, they do so really loudly. And, the cover of their most recent album, Greatest Show on Earth, has a very 1980s Floydish look. The guitarwork could be done by a student of Gilmour’s, and the organist possesses a rather Wrightish touch.
Comparing them to Floyd, though, isn’t enough. Not surprisingly, especially given the artwork of the first album, a rather strong air of Mark Hollis and Tim Friese-Greene hangs over all in a thick entangled and shifting haze as well.
Some reviewers also have heard some A-ha in Airbag. Granted, each band begins with an A, and each is from Norway. Otherwise, I hear no similarities at all between the two. This, though, is quite possibly a limitation on my part, as I own all of Airbag’s music, while I’ve listened to only two of A-ha’s albums—each years ago.
Whatever influences these guy wear openly, they are their own band. The musicianship of Airbag is simply outstanding. For proof of this, listen to their two-track live album, Live in Oslo (2008). Holy smokes, this is great stuff. Though only 24 minutes long, Live in Oslo ranks, at least in my mind, as a live recording up there with Rush’s Exit Stage Left and Anathema’s Universal. These guys can really, really, really (I could keep going here) play.
It was listening to this short live album that convinced me of their excellence. The two songs sound almost conducted in the sense that Bruno Walter conducts the Viennese Philharmonic.
A point about the lyrics. I know absolutely nothing in any personal way about the musicians in Airbag. If they vote socialist or if they worship Freya—I have no idea.
But, I really (yes, multiply this word several times) like their lyrics. The lyrics are more Hollis than Floyd. And, that’s a good thing, as they reach a very poetic level. One could easily listen to the vocals merely as another instrument in the Airbag’s music–the singer is this good to be a standalone instrument—but one should really attempt to bring the lyrics and their meaning into he music. As just mentioned, they reach poetic levels, but they also deal very interestingly with what might be called, apolitically, libertarian themes. Meaning, they lyrics explore very nicely and intelligently the role of community, individuality, rights, artistry, creativity, and conformity.
My final word in this post. Don’t let the comparisons to Pink Floyd throw you off. Yes, the band is rather proudly and openly Floydian, but in terms of skill, musicianship, harmony, purpose, and lyricism, they reach toward great heights.
When your monthly budget allows you to purchase that next cd and you’re in the mood to try out a new band, don’t overlook these guys.
I almost did, but Richard Thresh prevented me from making this mistake. Start with the two-song live album. If you like it, purchase any or all of their three studio albums: Identity; All Rights Removed; and/or The Greatest Show on Earth. You won’t regret it. In fact, you might even need to send a thank you note to Richard.
Just when I thought spring might have sprung in Michigan, vernal verities hit hard. Upon arising from my heavy slumbers, I have looked out the window to discover there’s a fresh layer of snow upon everything. Old Tom was right: April is the cruelest month.
Some great things happening in the world of music, especially as interests the citizens of progarchy. So, in no order discernable to me:
John Bassett, Integrity’s Minstrel, continues to receive nothing but excellent reviews for his solo album, Unearth. Not surprisingly.
Andy Tillison reports the first version of the new The Tangent album is done and will be released early next year by Insideout Music.
Also, don’t forget that Andy is selling much of his excellent back catalogue through his online website. To purchase, go here: http://thetangent.org [navigate through a couple of pages; it’s worth it]
Our own lovely metal maid, Leah McHenry, has just raised the full $25,000 of her Indiego campaign. And, even three days early of her goal. Congratulations to Leah! We’re extremely proud of her. And, of course, we’re looking forward to the followup to her spectacular Otherworld.
The ever-interesting Mike Kershaw is about to release his next album. We very much look forward to it as well.
PROG magazine, edited by the incomparable Jerry Ewing, will now be distributed in physical form throughout North America.
The Black Vines, heavy rockers, from the Sheffield area of England, have just released their second album, Return of the Splendid Bastards. It’s some great, great rock. To download or purchase the physical CD, go here: http://blackvines.bandcamp.com
The Reasoning is offering some really nice bundles at their online webstore:
You may also have noticed that our website has been updated. We have had a clear-out, done a major restructure and completely rebuilt the shop. Rob, our ivory tickler, has done a splendid job and we here at Comet HQ are extremely grateful to him. You will find the new shop stocked to the hilt with a bunch of wonderful new discounted “bundles” plus new individual items and, of course, the usual shop fair. There may even be some copies of CDs that have not been available for a very long time (wink, wink). Your shopping experience is now going to be quicker AND simpler. Win! Have a look at what’s available and treat yourself… because you’re worth it.
From a few hints offered, it appears that Arjen Lucassen is deep into his next project. His legions of fans can collectively sigh, “amen.”
The new Cosmograf, Capacitor, is done, and from the trailer, it looks nothing short of spectacular. Indeed, when it comes to watching this video, I might have an addiction problem. “Hello, my name is Brad Birzer, and I’m a Cosmografaholic.” Righteously ominous. To watch (and you should, repeatedly), go here: https://progarchy.com/2014/04/01/capacitor-the-amazing-spirit-capture/
I’m very happy to announce that within the quasi-anarchical structure of progarchy, Craig Breaden has achieved the rank of editor! This comes with a Vorpal Blade and an additional 17 hit points. Craig has been a close friend of mine since 1990, and he first introduced me to some of the greatest music of the late 1960s and 1970s, especially to much of the best rock not found in what’s typically called progressive or new wave. From Spooky Tooth to Richard Thompson to Newspaperflyhunting and everything in between, Craig throws himself into reviewing, always revealing equal depths of intellect, humanity, and grace in his articles. He is a real treasure in the world of music. He’s also, importantly, a professional sound archivist, as well as a devoted father and husband. He’s a hard guy not to love and respect.
Nemo Dre finally revealed to me his real name.
Burning Shed is now selling Suzanne Vega’s music. This is very cool and speaks well of both Vega and Burning Shed.
As I mentioned yesterday (https://progarchy.com/2014/03/19/1994-a-pretty-good-year/), I thought 1994 was a “pretty good year” for music. Thinking about 1994 made me think about 1984, and, methinks (don’t you hate it when writers use such pretentious words! Ha), 1984 puts 1994 to shame. In fact, it puts many, many years to shame.
As a product of midwestern America, Ronald Reagan will always dominate my main image and memory of 1984. I write this nonpolitically. Whatever you thought of Reagan as a leader, the man wielded supernatural charisma. He was, simply put, a presence.
But, other images emerge as well from 1984: movies such as 16 Candles, Red Dawn, and The Killing Fields. Chernyanko becoming head of the Soviets. Paul McCartney arrested for possession of pot. The fall of AT&T. The arrival of the first Macintosh. What a year.
Beyond the above, I most remember the music. What a year of greatness for those of us who love innovation and beauty in music. So without further bloviation, I offer my favorites of that august year.
Rush, Grace Under Pressure. This is not only my favorite Rush album, it was and remains my favorite album of 1984. I’ve written about this elsewhere, but it’s worth noting again that I think Rush perfectly captured the tensions of that year: the horrors of the gulags; the destruction of the environment; the loss of a friend; and so on.
I hear the echoes, I learned your love for life
I feel the way that you would
Suicide in the hills above old Hollywood
Is never gonna change the world
Ultravox, Lament. My favorite Ultravox album? Maybe. As much as Rush captured the spirit of the year, so did Ultravox. From the worry expressed in “White China” to the longing of “When the Time Comes,” Lament is a masterpiece.
Will you stand or fall, with your future in another’s hands
Will you stand or fall, when your life is not your own
Talk Talk, It’s My Life. While this is certainly not Talk Talk’s best album, it is quite good. In particular, Hollis reveals much of his genius in songwriting, whatever the “new wave” trappings of the song. Underneath whatever flesh the band gave the music, the lyrics cry out with a poetic lamentation of both confusion and hope.
The dice decide my fate, that’s a shame
In these trembling hands my faith
Tells me to react, I don’t care
Maybe it’s unkind if I should change
A feeling that we share, it’s a shame
Simple Minds, Sparkle in the Rain. Again, while this isn’t the best Simple Minds had to offer, it was the last great gasp of the band before entering into an overwhelming celebrity. Kerr’s Catholicism especially reveals itself in songs such “Book of Brilliant Things” and “East at Easter.”
I thank you for the shadows
It takes two or three to make company
I thank you for the lightning that shoots up and sparkles in the rain
Not long ago on progarchy, I wrote about a demo ep sent to me, way back in the late 1990s. The lead singer of the band, Ordinary Psycho, David Gulvin, offered a copy to any of the main participants of Within Without, a Danish-run site dedicated to the music of Mark Hollis.
In response to my recent post, fondly remembering how much pleasure that small cd has given me over a decade and a half, the guitarist, Tony Gulvin, sent progarchy a copy of the band’s second lp, Vol. II.
Holy Schnikees. Yes, let me quote the late Chris Farley one more time: Holy Schnikees.
This is a masterpiece, a gorgeously textured and nuanced cd that should be very well known by all readers of progarchy. Holy Schnikees. Yes, I had to state this for a third time. In sum (and I’ll write more later), this CD helps explain much of the leap from the late 1980s and early 1990s contemplative goth and post-rock to the full-blown explosion of third-wave prog around 2000. Imagine New Model Army asking Roger Waters and Mark Hollis to join a common band. You’d be very, very close to what is produced with Vol. II. And, just in case you doubt the prog credentials, Emerald Part I is 9:02 long, and Emerald Part II is a little over 4:38 long, followed by 21 minutes of silence! Move aside, Porcupine Tree. This is the real deal. Drums, guitar, bass, and anguished voices mix profoundly with woodwinds, piano, and strings.
I’m eager to give this CD a full review. How did I ever miss this? Thank God, I have it now. Well, at least, thank Tony Gulvin!
This month at Progarchy, in addition to writing and analyzing about many, many things, we’re having a bit of celebration of Kevin McCormick’s first album, With the Coming of Evening (1993). It’s been 20 years since it first appeared, and, sadly, this masterpiece is still relatively forgotten.
This needs to change.
It’s nearly impossible to label in terms of styles. McCormick, much influenced by every great composer, performer, and group from Andres Segovia and Viktor Villa-Lobos to Rush and Talk Talk, brings everything good to his music.
A nationally award-winning poet, published composer (for classical guitar as well as choir), and professional classical guitarist, he offers his very artful being and soul to his music. Like many in the prog world, McCormick’s a perfectionist in everything he does. But, it’s not completely fair to label this album “in the prog world,” though it comes as close to prog as any genre in the music world.
Had With the Coming of Evening been released now, in the days of internet sovereignty, many would label this album as post-rock or post-prog, akin to the Icelandic shoe-gazing of Sigur Ros. No doubt, Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock hover lovingly over this work, though McCormick is always his own man.
Very much so.
Nor, would he have it any other way. As humble as he is talented, McCormick would gladly take blame for any fault, and, being Kevin, he would rarely take credit for anything brilliant he produces. He would say he discovered what is already, simply having been the first to notice it or remember it.
Still it’s his name on the work, and he recognizes that this comes with a certain amount of responsibility and duty–to all who came before him and all who will come after him. McCormick would even want his inspirations to be proud of him. After all, what would Mark Hollis think of just some ghastly American cover band?
No, McCormick is his own man.
I should be upfront about my bias. I’ve known Kevin since the fall of 1986, when we were each freshmen in college. Though we’d talked off an on our first month and a half of the semester, it was on a plane ride from Chicago to Denver over fall break that really allowed us to get to know each other. After that, we were as thick as thieves. Well, as thieving as two would-be Catholic boys could be.
As with all meaningful college friendships, we talked late into the night, read and critiqued each other’s work, had deep (well, at the time, they seemed deep) philosophical debates, talked (of course) about girls, discussed which albums were the best ever, mocked the cafeteria food, and so on.
The following year, we traveled throughout southern Europe and also the UK together. I spent the year in Innsbruck, Austria, and Kevin lived in Rome.
When traveling together for three weeks in England, we paid homage to all of the great recording studios, tried to find Mark Hollis at EMI headquarters, and even (oh so very obnoxiously) thought we’d tracked down Sting’s house. Kevin rang the doorbell, but, thank the Good Lord, neither Mr. Sting nor Mrs. Sting answered.
We also, of course, visited Stonehenge.
If we’d had Facebook, then, we probably would’ve visited Greg Spawton, David Longdon, Matt Stevens (was he in kindergarten, then?), Robin Armstrong, Matt Cohen, and Giancarlo Erra, too. “Who are these crazy Americans knocking on our door! Go visit someone like Mr. and Mrs. Sting!”
Our third year, back at our Catholic college in northern Indiana, we shared a dorm room. That year, I also hosted a Friday night prog show (called, can you believe it, “Nocturnal Omissions”–I really thought I was clever) on our college radio station, and Kevin would often co-host with me. He founded a band, St. Paul and the Martyrs, which became the most popular band on campus, covering everything from XTC to Yes to Blancmange.
Our final year, I helped produce an extremely elaborate charity concert, and St. Paul and the Martyrs performed–the entire Dark Side of the Moon, complete with a avant garde film and elaborate stage lighting, followed by a performance (less elaborate in terms of production) of side one of Spirit of Eden.
When Kevin returned from several years in Japan and (truly) traveling the world, we spent a few years together in graduate school, Kevin in music, me in history.
Kevin is godfather to my oldest son, and I to his second daughter. We remain as close as we ever were.
What about the music?
Come on, Birzer. This is a music site, not a “here’s what I did in college” site. True, true. But, so much of my own thoughts regarding Kevin’s music are related to our friendship. Every time I put on one of his albums, it’s as though I’ve just had one of the best conversations in my life.
So, I’ve asked others at Progarchy to review With the Coming of Evening. You know my bias–so, now I’ll state what I believe as objectively as possible.
Kevin is brilliant, as a lyricist, as a composer, and as a person. His first album, With the Coming of Evening, the first of a trilogy, is a stunning piece of work, and it deserves to be regarded not just as a post-rock classic, but as a rock and prog classic.
It’s not easy listening. Kevin takes so many chances and weaves his music in so many unusual ways, that one has to immerse oneself in it. It’s gorgeous. It’s like reading a T.S. Eliot poem. No one who wants to understand an Eliot poem reads it as a spectator. You either become a part of it, or you misunderstand it.
If there’s a misstep on the album, it comes with the 9th track, “Looks Like Rain.” Its blues structure and blue lamentations stick out a little too much. A remix of this album would almost certainly leave this song out. It’s still an excellent song. It just doesn’t fit tightly with the rest of the album–which really must be taken as an organic and mesmeric whole.
Kevin took six years to write and record the follow-up album, Squall (1999), and he’s ready to record the conclusion to the trilogy.
More on Kevin to come. . . .
But, for now, treat yourself to his backcatalogue. I give it my highest recommendation. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that he one of the nicest guys in all of creation. . . .