Win 2 Tickets to STABBING A DEAD HORSE (Feb. 2, 2014)

Progarchy is happy to host our very first contest EVER, courtesy of the Mighty Matt Stevens, Anglo-Saxon demigod of guitar and all things guitar-related.

FATD

And, the prize?–2 tickets to the SLIGHT RETURN of the “Stabbing A Dead Horse, February 2, 2014, Camden Barfly.

Featuring Knifeworld, The Fierce & The Dead and Trojan Horse.

Knifeworld: A unique London psychedelic band at the forefront of the new UK progressive movement including members of Gong, Cardiacs, Guapo and Chrome Hoof.

Fierce And The Dead: “…post-hardcore bass tone; pulsing motorik drums; chiming, interlocking guitars somewhere between Afrobeat and Robert Fripp (and) shockingly brutal bursts of math-metal” Rock-A-Rolla Magazine

Trojan Horse: “THE FUTURE OF PROG WITH NOT A CAPE OR MELLOTRON IN SIGHT”

For more information regarding the tour: http://louderthanwar.com/ or http://mamacolive.com/thebarfly/listings/upcoming-events/9373/stabbing-a-dead-horse-slight-return-tour-feat-knifeworld-the-fierce-the-dead-trojan-horse/

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The rules (obviously, only for those who live within a reasonable distance of the venue; all Progarchists excluded):

Be the first to email  progarchy@gmail.com with the correct answer to the following three questions:

 

1) What is the name of the third track of the first solo album from Matt Stevens?

2) In what year did Knifeworld form?

3) Who actually built the Trojan Horse in the ancient world?

 

Good luck!

Celebr8.3 News

Photo from PROG.
Photo from PROG.

Jerry Ewing’s PROG has a nice teaser about the forthcoming prog festival, Celeb8.3.  For our British and European readers especially.  The rest of us get to joy for you and sorrow for us!

Incredible lineup: Andy Tillison’s The Tangent, Robin Armstrong’s Cosmograf, Matt Stevens’ The Fierce and the Dead, and Stu Nicholson’s Galahad.  Sheesh, like “old home week” at college.  Ok, feeling nothing but joy for my prog friends on the other side of the Atlantic, nothing but joy. . . .

http://www.progrockmag.com/news/celebr8-3-confirms-first-acts/

Nick’s Best of 2013 (Part 1)

In this, the first part of my round-up of 2013’s best releases, I highlight eleven superb albums that all made it onto my shortlist and managed to remain there – no mean feat given the incredible quality of the new music that appeared this year. Each of these has made a huge impression on me and yet, amazingly, none of them feature in my Top Ten. (We’d best not dwell on the excellent releases from Days Between Stations, Lifesigns, Spock’s Beard and others that eventually got pushed off the bottom of this shortlist, but what can you do when progressive music is enjoying a fecundity not seen since the early 70s?)

I won’t even attempt to rank this selection, but will instead list the albums by artist, alphabetically. Think of them all as being in a notional 11th place in my Best of 2013 list!

A word on criteria: I have considered only studio albums and I have ignored remasters, remixes and rereleases (whole or partial) of pre-2013 material. (In one case, this has had a significant impact on my choices.)

Ready? Off we go…

amplifierAmplifier – Echo Street

The masters of the heavy groove take a step back from the sprawling madness of 2011’s splendid The Octopus. The result is more reflective and refined but no less compelling. Echo Street is subtle rather than subdued, rich in atmosphere (‘matmosphere’?) and dreamy soundscapes but still with enough big riffs to get the blood pumping. The highlight is probably Where The River Goes, an epic that starts in delicate fashion with 12-string acoustic guitar before building to a thunderous conclusion.

ee2Big Big Train – English Electric, Part 2

Part 1 was my Album of 2012, but don’t be fooled by the follow-up’s apparent lowly position this year, as the difference in quality really isn’t that huge. Like its predecessor, Part 2 is a paean to the landscapes, history and fading industrial heritage of England. There are excellent songs to be found here – Worked Out, The Permanent Way and Keeper Of Abbeys are probably the highlights for me – but the album doesn’t flow as smoothly as Part 1 (a minor defect that combined album English Electric: Full Power has since rectified though a reordering of tracks and the introduction of new material).

????????Glide – Assemblage One & Two

Who knew that Echo & The Bunnymen guitarist Will Sergeant was such a fan of 70s electronica pioneers like Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream? Or that he could pay homage in such a respectful and skillful manner? Assemblage is wonderfully evocative of that classic era of electronic music without being derivative. Strongly recommended if you are a fan of TD or other artists of that ilk. Its hypnotic rhythms will transport you to other realms…

guapoGuapo – History Of The Visitation

‘Guapo’ means ‘handsome’ in Spanish, but I’m not sure that’s an entirely appropriate term for the music that Dave Smith, Kavus Torabi, James Sedwards & Emmett Elvin have produced here. Visitation, Guapo’s first recorded output for five years, is a satisfyingly dense and complex slab of instrumental art rock, full of dark tones and edgy riffs. Intense 26-minute opener The Pilman Radiant dominates, providing all the shifting moods and time signatures that a prog fan craves, while Complex #7 provides a richly atmospheric interlude in which to catch the breath before the mayhem resumes with up-tempo closing number Tremors From The Future. Highly recommended.

lunarossaLuna Rossa – Sleeping Pills & Lullabies

The glorious voice of Anne-Marie Helder continues to delight, this time in partnership with fellow Panic Room member Jonathan Edwards. Panic Room’s Skin was one of last year’s surprise hits for me, a powerful demonstration of the growing sophistication and maturity of their sound. Much of that improvement carries over to the efforts of this acoustic double-act (unsurprisingly, given they are the principal songwriters for the band). Sleeping Pills is a delicate and beautiful album, beguiling in its simplicity.

midlakeMidlake – Antiphon

Imagine what it must feel like to be stalled in the midst of a lengthy and difficult recording process for your fourth album, when suddenly you lose your vocalist and principal songwriter! Midlake certainly demonstrated the ‘courage of others’ in scrapping two years of work and starting again from scratch. Given these circumstances, new album Antiphon, written and recorded in only six months, is a triumph. Stand-out tracks from these champions of American prog folk are probably The Old And The Young and Ages, although the whole piece is immensely enjoyable, albeit without quite the same degree of melancholic elegance as its predecessor.

sandSand – Sand

A magnificent solo effort from North Atlantic Oscillation’s Sam Healy. Sam has suggested that Sand serves as a ‘musical palette cleanser’ before work begins on new NAO material, and he has spoken of this album’s different feel – but in truth, Sand could easily be mistaken for a new NAO album. The characteristic NAO ingredients are all here – drum machines, samples, layered electronics and dreamy vocal harmonies – but Sand manages to eclipse 2012’s Fog Electric, feeling somewhat gentler and more refined. Stand-out tracks for me are Clay, Destroyer and Astray.

shinebackShineback – Rise Up Forgotten, Return Destroyed

A bold statement from Tinyfish frontman Simon Godfrey, ably assisted by lyricist Rob Ramsay. With its strong pop, dance music and electronica influences it certainly won’t be to every proghead’s taste, but adventurousness such as this is surely necessary to evolve and reinvigorate the genre. Highlights are probably Passengers, the languid Faultlines – the “A paper doll in Scissorland” lyric is particularly memorable – and the ten-minute title track. The vocals are at times a little too thin and tend to get overwhelmed by the more forceful passages of music, else this might have made my Top Ten.

solsticeSolstice – Prophecy

I’ve always had a soft spot for Solstice. I saw them live many times during the mid 80s and the feel-good hippy vibe of their performances never failed to put a smile on the face. It was gratifying to see them return in 2010 with Spirit and even more gratifying to see them take further strides forward this year with Prophecy. The focal point, as ever, is the superb guitar playing of Andy Glass, but everyone plays their part and Jenny Newman’s violin playing contributes greatly to the overall feel of the album. Forget the new age lyrics if that kind of thing bothers you and just revel in the gloriously uplifting sounds that this band can produce. A most welcome bonus is a trio of Steven Wilson remixes of tracks from the band’s 1984 debut Silent Dance that greatly improve on the originals.

Sound-of-Contact-Dimensionaut-Cover-300x300Sound Of Contact – Dimensionaut

The debut release from the new project of Simon Collins and Dave Kerzner is another of 2013’s unexpected pleasures. The underlying concept doesn’t really fire the imagination, to be honest, but the music most certainly does! Ironically, the album’s prog epic – the 19-minute Möbius Slip – is probably the weakest track, but that’s mainly because the rest of it is so melodic and catchy as hell. It is difficult to pick out highlights, but the five-track sequence from Pale Blue Dot through to Beyond Illumination is near-perfect. Simon Collins is excellent on vocals, with just the slightest hint of father Phil prompting a shiver of recognition here and there.

Spooky-Action-CD-Cover-FinishedOverThe Fierce & The Dead – Spooky Action

Matt Stevens & Co move from strength to strength with this, their second album. As before, it’s an unfailingly energetic and heady mix of King Crimson, math rock, punk and other influences – difficult to categorise adequately, but that is surely part of the attraction. This is the sound of a band charting new ground and growing in confidence as they do so. I can’t wait to hear what they come up with next.

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.

My best of, must owns, of 2013

Prog7 - Version 2I realize it’s not the end of the calendar year, but it is the second day of Advent, and it seems like a proper time to list what I love about the music of this past year.  

The year, frankly, has overwhelmed me—but all in a good way.  As someone who has followed prog rather consciously since about 1981 (age 13) and has been exposed to it since about 1971 (age 3), I love the genre.  Frankly, I love many forms of music, including classical, opera, and jazz.  I’ve never learned to appreciate anything about country and rap, and, given that I’m 46, such prejudices will probably remain.

Sometime around age 22 or 23, though, I realized that financially, I was going to have to chose a genre if I wanted to collect and listen with any seriousness.  Perhaps it’s the slight OCD or some other quirk I possess, but I’ve never liked doing any thing half way.  In fact, as my maternal grandparents taught me—whether in taking care of the yard or cooking a meal or baking a loaf of bread or even in helping a neighbor—there’s no sense at all in doing something only partially.  In fact, to do anything partially was to slap yourself, integrity, and God in the face.  If you’re going to do something, do it well.  In fact, do it with excellence, if you possibly can.

So, if I wanted to throw myself into a genre, and not do it halfway, I had to choose between jazz and prog.  I love poetry too much, so prog seemed the best genre, as I find much to appreciate in fine lyric writing.  And, even in psychedelic lyric writing, there’s a joy to figuring out the puzzle of imagery.

And, so choosing prog, I realized soon after that I’d chosen a genre made up a lot of folks like myself—a number of OCD perfectionists!  And, I found that almost everyone making prog was (and is!) deeply committed and intelligent.  And, so were (and are!) the fans.  No one who loves the superficial of life becomes a prog musician, artist, or aficionado.

The problem was, of course, that when I was age 22 (1990), there wasn’t a lot of prog happening.  At least not much new was coming out.  Yet, prog could be found all throughout the rock world—though not always in the likeliest places.  As a genre, though, prog was probably at its lowest point in terms of what was being released.  Yet. . . yet. . . we were only a few years away from Brave and The Light and The Flower King . . .

Flash forward 23 years.  Holy schnikees.  What a year 2013 has been.  Really, could it be better?  Doubtful.  And, as I mentioned in my Preliminary Awards piece a few days ago, an argument could be made that we’ve reached the pinnacle, the Mount Everest of Prog!  I know, I know.  Eric Perry is going to slap me down for being hyperbolic.  Damnit, Eric, I’m from Kansas!  We’re not exactly subtle!!!

Phew.  Ok, I feel better getting all of that out.

Two quick comments.  First, these are in no order, other than alphabetical.  Frankly, these albums are just too good to allow my own will to separate one from another by “better or better.”   With one exception.  I would think any lover of the genre would want to own each of these.  Second, there are several albums that I suspect are wonderful, but do to my loan limitation because of family and work, I didn’t have time to absorb.  This latter list includes releases by Sam Healy (SAND is en route to the States as I type this), Mike Kershaw, Haken, Francisco Rafert, Ollocs,and Sky Architects, I apologize to these artists, as they took the time to contact me, and I was unable to give them credit where credit is due.  In due time, I will, however.

***

So, the list of the must-own cds of 2013, with two important exceptions.

ayreon

Ayreon, The Theory of Everything.  I hope to offer a full review of this soon, and I think fellow progarchist Tad Wert will as well.  The earlier series of Ayreon albums—possibly and arguably one of the most complex science fiction stories ever written—seems to have become self contained and at an end.  Now, if I’m understanding the lyrics from Arjen Lucassen’s latest correctly, Ayreon has become a project about exploring the self rather than about the self exploring the universe.  This is not easy listening, in terms of music or lyrics.  The former is a shifting feast of glory, no idea lasting more than two or three minutes before gorgeously transforming into some new idea, and the latter is deeply introspective and intelligent.  I’ve never had the chance to meet Arjen, but I would guess that he must be about as interesting as possible.  For him to keep such a huge range of ideas in one album, musically and lyrically, screams brilliance.  I only have one complaint with this release.  I’m a huge fan of Arjen’s voice, and he relies on the voices of others.  All good, if not outstanding, but I want Arjen’s voice.

***

cosmograf

Cosmograf, The Man Left in Space.  Phew.  Yes, let me write that one more time.  Phew.  That English chronometric and entrepreneurial demigod, Robin Armstrong, has now released four albums under the project name of Cosmograf.  Each is better than the last.  And, each of “the last” was pretty amazing and astounding and outstanding and lovely and meaningful and . . . you get the point.  The Man Left in Space is existentialism at its best.  Just as Arjen has written one of the finest science fiction stories of the last century, Robin has given us the musical equivalent of of the works of Albert Camus and Gabriel Marcel.  Add to near perfect story telling the musical work of Greg Spawton, Matt Stevens, Nick D’Virgilio, and, among the best, Robin himself, and you have a work of art that will stand the test of time.  A family man who loves speed, Robin also loves excellence.

***

days_between_stations_in_extremis_resized

Days Between Stations, In Extremis.  This one was a complete surprise to me.  A review copy arrived in the mail, courtesy of the band and the master of American prog PR, Billy James.  I was intrigued by the cover [que, background sound, Brad’s mother: “Never trust a book by its cover. . . “], though I frankly don’t like it that much.  It’s by the famous Paul Whitehead, but it’s a little too psychedelic for my tastes.  But, then, I looked at the musician list.  Holy smokes!  Tony Levin, Billy Sherwood, Colin Moulding, and Rick Wakeman.  How did this come about, I wondered?  Sherwood and Moulding sing on the album, and neither has ever sounded better.  Indeed, they seemed to have been created and birthed for this album.  Overall, In Extremis is symphonic prog at its best.  At 8 tracks over 70 minutes, the album never lags.  It flows together beautifully and movingly.  There are some of the most gut-wrenching passages, emotionally, I’ve ever heard in a prog album.  And, the two main members of the band, Oscar Fuentis Bills and Sepand Samzadeh, know exactly when to linger over a musical part and when to move on.  The high point: The Eggshell Man.  I have no idea who or what he is, but I’d like to meet him.

***

firece spooky action

The Fierce and the Dead, Spooky Action.  Four great guys—Matt Stevens, Kev Feazey, Stuart Marshall, and Steve Cleaton—making the best music possible for two other great guys, David Elliott, European Perspective Guy (I think this is official superhero name) and founder of Bad Elephant Music, along with the hilarious and artful James Allen.  Matt Stevens is a stunning person and artist.  It’s been fascinating and heartening to watch him struggle as he makes his way into the profession.  He very openly asks about opportunities.  Should he pursue fame first or art first?  I always know where Matt is going to land.  Probably many of us do.  He always comes down on the side of art, knowing the fame will follow when it follows.  I hope and pray he never changes his mind or soul regarding this.  There are lots and lots of folks out there—not just progarchists—cheering these guys on.  As my close friend and fellow progarchist, Pete Blum, has said, nothing has hit him so hard since the days of Zappa.  And, for Pete, this is a massive and important statement.  Everything on this album is wonderful.  In particular, I’m quite taken with Parts 4 and 5, a continuation of a theme that Matt and the guys started with Part I, their 19 minutes epic from their very first release.  TFATD, not surprisingly, also seems to have started somewhat of a sub genre within prog, the prog instrumental album.  In otherwords, what TFATD is doing is roughly equivalent to what progressive jazz was in the 1960s and 1970s.  A good sign for the health of all concerned.  In particular, newly emerging bands such as Ollocs and Rafert are also releasing instrumental albums, all of them quite good.

***

"Pure Flower Kings, pure prog and Kingly epic."

The Flower Kings, Desolation Rose.  This release surprised me as well, but not for the reason Days Between Stations did.  As far as I know, I own everything Roine Stolt has made or contributed to since about 1994.  Every side project, everything.  So, there was never a question about whether or not I would buy the new Flower Kings album.  I would certainly list Space Revolver (2000) and Paradox Hotel (2006) as two of my favorite albums of all time.  Stolt always has the power to release wonder in me.  Whether it’s the wonder about the first day of creation (Unfold the Future) or John Paul’s Pizza (Space Revolver), I love the libertarian, hippie, playful spirit of Stolt and the band.  Really, think about the members of this band.  Stolt, Bodin, Reingold, Froberg, and Lehrmann.  Already reads like a “supergroup.”  Not that they can’t be as serious as they can be trippy. One only has to listen to “Bavarian Skies” or the “Ghost of Red Cloud” to know just how deep they can be.  What surprised me about the new album, “Desolation Rose” is just how political and angry it is.  I don’t disagree with the anger or the politics.  In fact, I think I totally agree.  But, “Desolation Rose,” lyrically, is about as far away from “Stardust We Are” as one could possibly imagine.  This diversity just demonstrates how talented this Swedish band really is.  The entire album builds until it reaches its highpoint (in terms of intensity) in “Dark Fascist Skies.”  The final two songs, “Blood of Eden” and “Silent Graveyards,” offer a rather calming denouement.

***

fractal mirror

Fractal Mirror, Strange Attractors.  I’ve already had a chance to write a long review of this excellent album on progarchy, and it was (and is) a great honor do so.  Strange Attractors is not only one of the best releases of 2013, it’s the freshman release of a brand new group.  Three folks—all of whom met one another through the internet prog community (how cool is this!)—makes up this band.  Leo Koperdraat, Ed Van Haagen, and Frank Urbaniak.  But, we have to add a fourth.  It’s art comes from Brian Watson.  This is really important.  Not only is Watson an amazing artist, but he also creates an image for the band in the way one associates Yes with Roger Dean, Talk Talk with James Marsh, and Jim Trainer with Big Big Train.  It’s one of the joys of prog.  The art can be (and should be!) as beautiful and meaningful as the music and lyrics.  But, back to the music.  The three members of Fractal Mirror have created a stunning progressive soundscape, gothic and heavy in tone, but light in the space created.  I realize this sounds like a contradiction, and I wish I had the ability to explain it better.  I don’t, sadly.  It’s really not like anything I’ve heard before.  Suffice it to state, it’s quite refreshing and welcoming in its own intensity.

***

leah otherworld

Leah, Otherworld.  This is the only EP to make the “best of” list this year.  It’s also the only release I’m listing in which the artist (Leah McHenry) doesn’t consider herself a progger.  She places herself more in the metal camp, and this becomes obvious in the final song of the EP, “Dreamland,” a beauty and the beast duet with lots of metal “growling.”  Whatever one wants to label Leah’s musical style—and I would call it a cross between Sarah Maclachlan and Arjen Lucassen—it is very artful.  Leah’s voice could haunt a moor!  So much depth, truth, and beauty in every note.  The EP is only five songs long—Shores of Your Lies, Northern Edge, Surrounded, Do Not Stand, and Dreamland.  The first four possess a very Celtic/Nordic northern edge to them.  In fact, I called my initial review of the EP, “On the Northern Edge of Prog.”  I’m not bragging, but I am rather proud of this title.  it seems to capture exactly what Leah is.  Arjen Lucassen, if you read this blog, please look into Leah’s music.  I could see the two of you working very well together.  Leah, as it turns out, is also about as interesting a person as one might find anywhere.  Since Otherworld first arrived at progarchy hq, it’s been in constant listening rotation, and I pretty much have every note and lyric memorized at this point.

***

Kingbathmat OTM

Kingbathmat, Overcoming the Monster.  When we first started progarchy just a little over a year ago, I received a note from Stereohead Records of the U.K., asking me if we’d be interested in reviewing a cd by Kingbathmat.  Sure, I thought.  Of course.  Only the dead wouldn’t be intrigued by a band with that name.  Well, since then, I’ve not only listened to about as much Kingbathmat as exists (still missing a small bit of their back catalogue, but this will be rectified at the beginning of 2014, when the new tax year begins!).  I love these guys.  I’ve had the chance to get to know John Bassett and Bernard (he seems to have several last names on the internet!).  What incredible guys.  Really a band of Peart’s “Tom Sawyers.”  Mean, mean stride, never renting the mind to god or government.  Smart, insightful, unafraid.  Frankly, these are the kind of guys I would want next to me should I ever find myself under fire.  As with Leah, I’m not sure that Kingbathmat is perfectly prog.  But, then again, if it’s “perfectly prog,” it’s probably not prog at all.  Kingbathmat mix a number of styles, many of them heavy, to form a mythic maze of musical inspiration.  They are by far the heaviest in my list for 2013.  The “Tom Sawyer” reference is not just lyrical.  Parts of Kingbathmat pay great homage to early and mid-period Rush.  Of all Rush albums, Counterparts is my least favorite.  That doesn’t mean I don’t love it.  I’ve been a Rush man since 1981, and I will die a Rush man.  So, any criticism is relative.  But, if you could imagine Rush entering the studio with the music of Counterparts, the lyrics more intense than culturally sensitive, and a producer who wants to rock, really rock, you’d have an inkling of what “Overcoming the Monster” is.  Every song is a joy.  Not in the precious, sappy sense, but in the satisfying, just sense.  Everything is really quite perfect: vocals, bass, guitar, drums.  Since I first received a copy of OVERCOMING, I’ve probably listened to it every other day.  After a hard day of teaching (a job I love) or writing something scholarly, there’s nothing quite like putting this cd on, sitting back, and saying, “yeah, it was a good day.”

***

KSCOPE245

Nosound, Afterthoughts.  Giancarlo Erra might be the anti-Kingbathmat.  Erra, an Italian demigod of sound in his own right, loves silence and space as much as Kingbathmat loves walls of Rush/Soundgarden-like sounds of thunder!  Indeed, Erra has a lot of Spirit of Eden and Laughing Stock in him, a lot of Arvo Part, too.  If there are three notes, maybe there should be two.  If there are two notes, maybe there should be one.  If there is one note, maybe you should let silence have its say.  I’ve been following the work of Giancarlo Erra for almost a decade now.  He always entrances and entices me.  He creates soundscapes so powerfully delicate that one wants to drown in their dreamlike, twilight quality.  He’s also every bit the lyricist Hollis was at his best.  He’s also really a complete artist.  He not only writes his music and lyrics, he creates his own packaging, is a rather jaw-dropping photographer, and even designs his own computer apps.  I was thrilled that Kscope just re-released his early masterpiece, Lightdark (2008), remastered.  As with Lightdark, Afterthoughts just flows.  Gentle, punctuated, quiet, loud, emptiness, walls.  Listening to Afterthoughts is akin to standing on a peak in the Idaho Rockies, watching a violent storm pass under you in an adjoining valley.  Nothing is unneeded, and nothing needs to be added.  Afterthoughts is what it is, another Erra masterpiece.

***

Two more to go, but supper’s ready . . . .

TFATD, Spooky Action–Streaming Live and Legally

Enjoy Matt, Kev, and all of TFATD.

http://www.musicradar.com/news/guitars/exclusive-album-stream-the-fierce-the-dead-spooky-action-587116

And, from Matt and the guys today via email:

 

***

Listen to the whole album streaming at Total Guitar now!!

The new album ‘Spooky Action‘ is almost here, out on November 4th. However, we know you are an impatient bunch so you can now stream the whole album exclusively over at the Total Guitar Magazine website for the next 48 hours!

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO SPOOKY ACTION NOW!!

And you still have a little bit of time to pre-order the new album before it’s release date on November 4th and bag yourself a bonus live track, or a discounted CD/T-shirt bundle.

Digital pre-orders here:
http://music.badelephant.co.uk/album/spooky-action

CD and T-Shirt pre-orders here:
http://themerchdesk.com/shop/index.php?route=product/category&path=136_163

And another heads up – we will be appearing on Steve ‘Snooker’ Davis’ Interesting Alternative Show on Phoenix FM next monday. We’ll be celebrating ‘Spooky Action’ release day by picking our favourite music and chatting to Steve and Kavus. Will be much fun.

Get involved!

 

Kev, Matt, Stuart & Steve.

info@fierceandthedead.com
fierceandthedead.com
Spooky Action Pre-orders
fierceandthedead.bandcamp.com
twitter.com/tfatd
facebook.com/fierceandthedead
youtube.com/user/TFATD

The Fierce and the Dead Sign with Bad Elephant Music

The Fierce And The Dead

Photo © TheChaosEngineers.  For information:  info@thechaosengineers.com
Photo © TheChaosEngineers. For information: info@thechaosengineers.com

B.E.M. is delighted to announce partnering with The Fierce And The Dead for the production, release and worldwide distribution of the band’s second full-length album.

The Fierce And The Dead – guitarists Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton, bassist and producer Kev Feazey and drummer Stuart Marshall – was originally born out of sonic experimentation when making Matt’s second solo album, Ghost, and they’ve developed into one of the most original bands in the UK rock scene. Their unique brand of instrumental rock music, fusing rock, post-rock, punk and progressive elements, has made a big impression through one full-length album and two EPs, and their incendiary live performances, most recently as part of the Stabbing a Dead Horse tour of the UK with Knifeworld and Trojan Horse.

David Elliott, founder and CEO of Bad Elephant Music said: “We’re proper made up to be working with The Fierce And The Dead. They’re absolutely our kind of band, and lovely guys too. I’m looking forward to hearing what Matt, Kev, Stuart and Steve are going to produce for us, and of course it will be an absolute monster. Collaborating with a band of TFATD’s calibre is a huge honour for us, and we welcome them with open arms to the B.E.M. family.”

David Elliott, founder of BEM.
David Elliott, founder of BEM.

Matt Stevens, on behalf of The Fierce And The Dead, said: “We are extremely pleased to partner with Bad Elephant on this album, they are true music lovers and believe in supporting the artist. This will allow us to make the music we want to make and have the support to help us gain a wider audience, without in anyway compromising our vision for our new album. And they like a good curry, which is nice.”

The as yet untitled album is scheduled for release in the Autumn of 2013.

Fierce And The Dead sign to Bad Elephant Music for 2nd Album

[I was very happy to wake up on this Sunday morning to find this press release and this note from one of our friend, Matt Stevens, and his outstanding and innovative band, The Fierce and the Dead–Brad, ed.]

Photo © TheChaosEngineers.  For information:  info@thechaosengineers.com
Photo © TheChaosEngineers. For information: info@thechaosengineers.com

B.E.M. is delighted to announce partnering with The Fierce And The Dead for the production, release and worldwide distribution of the band’s second full-length album.

The Fierce And The Dead – guitarists Matt Stevens and Steve Cleaton, bassist and producer Kev Feazey and drummer Stuart Marshall – was originally born out of sonic experimentation when making Matt’s second solo album, Ghost, and they’ve developed into one of the most original bands in the UK rock scene. Their unique brand of instrumental rock music, fusing rock, post-rock, punk and progressive elements, has made a big impression though one full-length album and two EPs, and their incendiary live performances, most recently as part of the Stabbing a Dead Horse tour of the UK with Knifeworld and Trojan Horse.

David Elliott, founder and CEO of Bad Elephant Music said: “We’re proper made up to be working with The Fierce And The Dead. They’re absolutely our kind of band, and lovely guys too. I’m looking forward to hearing what Matt, Kev, Stuart and Steve are going to produce for us, and of course it will be an absolute monster. Collaborating with a band of TFATD’s calibre is a huge honour for us, and we welcome them with open arms to the BEM family.”Foghat Matt

Matt Stevens, on behalf of The Fierce And The Dead, said: “We are extremely pleased to partner with Bad Elephant on this album, they are true music lovers and believe in supporting the artist. This will allow us to make the music we want to make and have the support to help us gain a wider audience, without in anyway compromising our vision for our new album. And they like a good curry, which is nice.”

The as yet untitled album is scheduled for release in the Autumn of 2013.

My Top 12 Albums of 2012

I’ve taken the plunge and chosen my top albums of 2012. My top 6 came to me quite quickly. The rest took some time to rank but I finally managed it. I’ve also ‘mentioned in dispatches’ a few other albums that I either like and/or think are worth having a listen to if you haven’t already. 2012 has been a very good year indeed for the Prog world.

No 12 First Stage Zoltan by Zoltan

Zoltan - First Stage Zoltan

Wonderful cinematic soundscapes that would make John Carpenter proud. It’s all analogue and sounds great on a good hi-fi system. For lovers of atmospheric film scores.

Continue reading “My Top 12 Albums of 2012”