Rick’s Quick Takes for July

In addition to this month’s new music, I’ve taken a few column inches to double back on “Blasts from the Past” — albums that I missed the first time around or haven’t heard in a while, but have become firm favorites as I discovered (or rediscovered) them during the first six months of this year. For new releases, purchasing links are embedded in each artist/title listing, with playlists or samples following each review as available; Blasts from the Past have listening links embedded in each album title.

Tim Bowness, Butterfly Mind: As Bowness mentioned in his latest Progarchy interview, the concept of his 2020 album Late Night Laments‘ was of a fragile refuge, however imperfect, from current societal storms. Butterfly Mind drops those defenses, confronting protest (“We Feel”), polemics (“Only A Fool”), fear of the future (the album frame “Say Your Goodbyes”) and, yes, death (“About the Light That Hits the Forest Floor”) with Bowness’ typically thoughtful, allusive lyrics and rich, warmly delivered melodies. But there’s also a gritty energy welling up from the roots of the music (bassist Nick Beggs and drummer Richard Jupp are a fabulous rhythm section), toughening the musical tendrils nurtured by soloists like Jethro Tull’s Ian Anderson, Magazine’s Dave Formula, Big Big Train’s Greg Spawton and former No-Man bandmate Ben Coleman. Urgent art-rock that compels multiple listens, as beauty takes on today’s ugliness without flinching. Preorder now for August 5th release.

The Dear Hunter, Antimai: having cleansed their palette with 2017’s relatively straightforward All Is As All Should Be, Casey Crescenzo and his crew of emocore/musical theater/prog rockers settle in for some serious world-building. Exploring the dystopian culture that underlies Crescenzo’s short film The Indigo Child from bottom (“Ring 8 – Poverty”) to top (“Ring 1 – The Tower”), his lyrics portray the variations of despair, complacence, and self-deception each imagined caste falls prey to. Honestly, it’s the music that provides sharper differentiation between social strata, with surprising amounts of sonorous brass — plus jazz/funk, R&B and even hip-hop — snuggling alongside TDH’s trademark power chords, mallet percussion riffs and singalong choruses stacked with Beach-Boys-meet-Queen harmonies. It feels a bit like an aural version of a cinematic trilogy’s middle installment — lots of set-up, with the ultimate payoff beyond the horizon — but with TDH’s sonic and structural ambition clicking so often, Antimai is quite a dazzling trip.

Fernando Perdomo, Out To Sea 4: Even with this year’s return of Cruise to the Edge (the series’ initial impetus), this fresh installment of nautically-themed prog instrumentals comes as a surprise — but then it did to Perdomo as well! Written in the heat of inspiration, his new compositions are sure-footed and energized from first to last, immediately appealing while packed with depth. Playing all the instruments, Perdomo lays down powerful, propulsive grooves on bass and drums and sets up sparkling, jangly chordal textures and fires off his arresting themes on guitar with confidence and aplomb. And his guitar solos! Never pat or predictable, always heartfelt and daringly executed, each solo is a ravishing song in itself. The only reason I haven’t mentioned any standout tracks: every single one is equally excellent. If you’ve heard Out To Sea 1, 2 and 3, you’ll definitely want this; if Fernando Perdomo’s name is new to you, you won’t regret giving OTS 4, the high water mark of a really fine run of albums, a spin.

Robert Berry’s 3.2 Alive at Progstock: Berry’s recent posthumous collaboration with Keith Emerson (an extension of his work with Emerson and Carl Palmer in the 1980s band 3) gave him renewed exposure and the chance to command prog festival stages in 2019. Surrounded by chops-heavy compadres Paul Keller, Andrew Colyer and Jimmy Keegan, he delivers with a thrilling mix of 3 and 3.2 highlights, prog classics as reimagined for 1990s tribute albums, solo tracks and even “Deck the Halls” a la 1980s Rush! Plus, Berry’s unpretentious spoken introductions, peaking behind the curtain to reveal how the music came to be, are nearly as riveting as the performances themselves. All in all, this CD/DVD set is a worthy showcase for a remarkably underrated musician, finally in the spotlight after decades behind the scenes. (Watch for a Progarchy interview with Berry about his next project, SiX By SiX, coming soon.)

Blasts From The Past:

  • Battles caught my ear opening for Primus back in May; their first two albums, 2007’s Mirrored & 2011’s Gloss Drop, turned out to be especially exciting. Glitchy electronica that defies predictability with every asymmetric loop, candy-coated melody, whipsaw rhythmic shift, and whomping backbeat, with each album meant to be experienced in one extended go. As proggy as dance music gets!
  • Tears For Fears’ The Tipping Point inspired a deep dive into the lesser known corners of their catalog. Roland Orzbaal and Curtis Smith’s 2004 reunion, Everybody Loves a Happy Ending (which I never heard at the time), lives up to the same high standards as their latest; unstoppable riffs and hooks abound in killer songs like “Call me Mellow”, “Who Killed Tangerine?” and the delectable “Ladybird”.
  • Andy Tillison’s reflections on soul music in his recent Progarchy interview sent me back to Stevie Wonder’s masterful 1970s albums, where Wonder blended soaring melodies, sophisticated chord structures, groundbreaking synthesizer work and heaping helpings of funk rhythms for one innovative, irresistible breakthrough after another. 1976’s Songs in the Key of Life remains Wonder’s most expansive, fascinating and welcoming classic, ranging from the swing of “Sir Duke” to the drive of “I Wish” and “Isn’t She Lovely” to the sardonic classical gas of “Pastime Paradise”. And the songs you don’t know from this double album are just as good — or often better! Sheer genius at its peak.

— Rick Krueger

Kruekutt’s 2017 Favorites: New Albums & Videos

by Rick Krueger

After the jump are the new albums and videos from 2017 that grabbed me on first or second listen, then compelled repeated plays.  I’m not gonna rank them except for my Top Favorite, which I’ll save for the very end.  The others are listed alphabetically by artist. (Old school style, that is — last names first where necessary!)  Links to the ones I’ve previously reviewed are embedded in the album titles.

Continue reading “Kruekutt’s 2017 Favorites: New Albums & Videos”

Rick’s Quick Takes: All Is As All Should Be by The Dear Hunter

by Rick Krueger

The Dear Hunter first caught my attention when I saw them open for Coheed & Cambria and Porcupine Tree in 2009.  Imagine a group of hardcore punk rockers who’ve raided their parents’ record collections, only to be captivated by the Beach Boys and Queen records they’ve found.  It was hard-driving, deeply melodic, richly textured, over-the-top melodramatic, way impressive stuff.

Since then, I’ve happily followed TDH’s career, enjoying their Acts I-V concept albums, but more drawn to unrelated projects like their Color Spectrum EP set.  This new EP, their first self-released project, distills what makes Casey Crescenzo and company’s music special into just 25 minutes and 6 “all killer no filler” tracks.

As always with these guys, if your attention drifts, you might think you’ve accidentally stumbled into a completely different song.  For example, the agile Latin groove and warm, open-hearted verses of opener “The Right Wrong” slam directly into a stratospheric chorus of shreddy vocals, simultaneously putting the hardcore hammer down, then morphing into and out of a giddily rocking bridge in a flash.  “Blame Paradise” encompasses a seriously badass beat, a off-kilter opening riff, call and answer vocal patter over surf-music guitar, an unstoppable harmony chorus, a spooky instrumental bridge, an ominous vocal/synth duet, and an atonal dead-stop finale.  Whew!

“Beyond the Pale” slows things down in a riveting ballad that piles on the rich vocal harmonies, unexpected harmonic shifts, and synthesized strings and percussion.  When it can’t do anything else, it collapses into stasis, then seques into “Shake Me (Awake),” an utterly glorious Brian Wilson pastiche for the emo generation (with Freddie Mercury-like rhymes and a vaudevillian softshoe bridge to boot).

“Witness Me” aims true at mid-tempo existential yearning, telling its tale through multiple vocal characters, the verses downshifting into a gorgeous synth turnaround before the theatrical chorus, the hardcore holler of the bridge, and the “keep dreaming” electronica-laced fade-outThe closing title track starts softly, climbing through muted verses to a floating chorus as a gently funky beat gains strength.  Edgy, ascending guitars build to a big choral climax  — only to wrap around to the song’s muted beginning, with a final half-verse just hanging there, suspended in mid-air.

And here’s the thing about The Dear Hunter’s music: as wildly disjunctive as all this sounds, the whole EP flows brilliantly from start to finish.  Every new element is a surprise, even a shock, as it kicks in — but almost immediately it feels inevitable and right.  This is great progressive punk-pop, made with open-hearted emotion, craft and commitment.  When Crescenzo sings and TDH locks in around him, they’ll sweep you along with them, no matter how bumpy the ride gets.

All Is As All Should Be is available for download now on ITunes and Bandcamp.   I completely missed the pre-order for physical formats (vinyl and CD), which are already sold out; here’s hoping a second pressing follows soon!  The EP is released to streaming services on December 8.

CEO’s Ten Favorite Prog & Rock CDs of 2016

After failing to post any “Favorite Music of 2015…” lists last year, I’ve decided that I should avoid elaborate explanations for my choices, but simply note a thing or two about each release that captured my ears and held my attention. I’ve also decided to post three separate but fairly short lists: Prog/Rock, Jazz, and Everything Else. In short, I’m trying to kill my propensity for overkill. I suspect I’ll fail! Here, first, are my picks for favorite prog & rock albums of the past year (give or take a few months):

• “The Prelude Implicit” by Kansas | This is, I think, one of the best feel-good stories in kansas_thepreludeimplicitprog of 2016. After all, Kansas could have just kept touring and playing the same old—ranging from good to great to classic—tunes. Instead, they produced a very good, even great, album. As I wrote in my Progarchy.com review: “In short, the band has found a commendable and impressive balance between old and new, with plenty of prog-heavy, classic Kansas-like passages, but with an emphasis on ensemble playing over solos.  … Kansas is to be commended for embracing their past while clearly moving forward with a confident and often exceptional collection of songs. Highly recommended for both longtime Kansas fans and for those who like melodic, well-crafted prog that puts the emphasis on memorable songs and musical cohesion over theatrics and solos.”

 “Secrets” by Ian Fletcher Thornley | I was initially flummoxed by this album, expecting thornley_secretsa variation on the hard-rocking, high energy music of Big Wreck and Thornley, both fronted, of course, by the prolific Canadian singer, guitarist, writer, and producer. I finally listened to it late one night, in the dark, and I finally heard it on its own terms: acoustic, reflective, mellow, mournful, defiant, sad, and yet shot through with a sense of cautious hope. Thornley demonstrates that his remarkable writing skills are equal to his vocal prowess, which is an aural wine bearing hints of Big Country (“Frozen Pond”), Chris Cornell (“Feel”), Peter Gabriel (“Stay”), Bruce Springsteen (“Just To Know I Can”), and Jeff Buckley (“Blown Wide Open”). In the end, this is a modern blues record featuring every shade and hue of sadness, longing, and loss.

Continue reading “CEO’s Ten Favorite Prog & Rock CDs of 2016”