The Big Big Tangent

Subtitle: “Or, How Plato Made Me Realize We Need to Love 2013.  And, If We Don’t, Why We’re Idiots.”

A week or so ago, I had the opportunity to list my top 9 of 11 albums of the past 11 months.  Several other progarchists have as well, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed looking at their lists as well as reading the reasons why the lists are what they are.  I really, really like the other progarchists.  And, of course, I’d be a fool not to.  Amazing writers and thinkers and critics, all.

Another page from the booklet.  Courtesy of the band and the artist, Matt Sefton.
From the 96-page BBTFP booklet. Courtesy of the band and the artist, Matt Sefton.

I’ve been a bit surprised, frankly, that there hasn’t been more overlap in the lists.  I don’t mean this in the sense that I expect conformity.  Far from it.  We took the name progarchists—complete with the angry and brazen red anarchy sign in the middle—for a reason.  We’re a free community—free speech, free minds, free citizenship, and free souls.  We have no NSA, CIA, or IRS.  Nor would we ever want any of these.  And, we’ve really no formal rules.  We just want to write as well as we can about what we love as much as we love.  Any contributor to progarchy is free to post as often or as infrequently as so desired, and the same is true with the length of each post.

I, as well as many others, regard 2013 as the best year of prog in a very, very long time, perhaps the best year ever.  I know that some (well, one in particular—a novelist, an Englishman, and a software developer/code guy; but why name names!) might think this is hyperbole.  But, having listened to prog and music associated with prog for almost four decades of my four and one-half decades of life, I think I might be entitled to a little meta-ness.  And, maybe to a bit of hyperbole.  But, no, I actually believe it.  This has been the best year in the history of prog.  This doesn’t mean that 2012 wasn’t astounding or that 1972 was less astounding than it actually was.  Being a historian and somewhat taken with the idea of tradition, continuity, and change, I can’t but help recognize that the greatness of 2013 could never have existed without the greatness of, say, 1972, 1973, 1988, or 1994.

In my previous posts regarding 2013, I thanked a number of folks, praised a number of folks, and listed some amazing, astounding, music—all of which, I’m sure I will continue to listen to for year to come, the good Lord willing.  And, I’m sure in five years, a release such as Desolation Rose might take on new meaning.  Perhaps it will be the end of an era for Swedish prog or, even, the beginning of an era for the Flower Kings.  Time will tell.

So, what a blessing it has been to listen to such fine music.  My nine of 11 included, in no order, Cosmograf, The Flower Kings, Ayreon, Leah, Kingbathmat, The Fierce and the Dead, Fractal Mirror, Days Between Stations, and Nosound.

The cover of the new Sam Healy solo album, SAND.
The cover of the new Sam Healy solo album, SAND.

And, there’s still so much to think about for 2013.  What about Sam Healy (SAND), Mike Kershaw, Haken, Francisco Rafert, Ollocs,and Sky Architects?  Brilliant overload, and I very much look forward to the immersion that awaits.

No one will be shocked by my final 2 of the 11 that have yet to be mentioned.  If you’ve looked at all at progarchy, you know that I can’t say negative things about either of these bands . . . or of Rush or of Talk Talk.  Granted, I’m smitten.  But, I hope you’ll agree that I’m smitten for some very specific and justified reasons.  That is, please don’t dismiss the following, just because I’ve praised them beyond what any reasonable Stoic with any real self respect would expect.  No restraint with these two, however.  Admittedly.

So, let me make my huge, huge claim.  The following two releases are not just great for 2013, they are all-time great, great for prog, great for rock, great for music.  In his under appreciated book, NOT AS GOOD AS THE BOOK, Andy Tillison offers a very interesting take on the current movement (3rd wave) of progressive rock.

The current, or third wave of new progressive rock bands is as interesting for demographic and social reasons as much as for its music . . . . Suddenly a wave of people in their late thirties began to form progressive rock bands, which in itself is interesting because new bands are formed by younger people. . . .

I’m not sure how much I agree with Andy regarding this.  I’m also not sure I disagree.  I just know that I’ve always judged eras or periods by what releases seem to have best represented those eras.  Highly subjective, highly personal, and highly confessional, I admit.  But, I can’t escape it.  For me, there have been roughly four periods: the period around Close to the Edge and Selling England by the Pound; the period around The Colour of Spring, Spirit of Eden, and Laughing Stock; a little bit longer—or more stretched out—period around Brave, The Light, Space Revolver; and Lex Rex.

Of course, I’ve only listed three.  We’re passing through the fourth as I type this.  Indeed, the fourth is coming from my speakers as I type this.  Over the last year and a half some extraordinary (I’m trying to use this word in its purest sense) things have happened, all in England and around, apparently, some kind of conflicted twins.

When asked about why he participated in latest release from The Tangent, Big Big Train’s singer, David Longdon, replied:

Amusingly, [Tillison] has said that The Tangent is Big Big Train’s evil twin.

In this annus mirabilis, does this mean we have to choose the good and the evil?  Plato (sorry; I’m not trying to be pretentious, but I did just finish my 15th year of teaching western civilization to first-year college students.  And, I like Plato.) helped define the virtue of prudence: the ability to discern good from evil.

Well, thank the Celestial King of the Platonic Realm of the Eternal Good, True, and Beautiful, we get both, and we don’t have to feel guilty or go to Confession.

Progarchy Best All-Around Progger, 2013, Brit: Sally Collyer.
Progarchy Best All-Around Progger, 2013, Brit: Sally Collyer.

Aside from being the Cain and Abel of prog, The Tangent and Big Big Train offer the overall music world three vital things and always in abundance of quality.

First, each group is smart, intelligent, and insightful.  Neither group panders.  The music is fresh, the lyrics insightful—every aspect is full of mystery and awe.  The listener comes away dazzled, intrigued, curious, and satisfied, all at the same time.

Second, each group strives for excellence in every aspect of the release—from the writing, to the performing, to the engineering, to the mastering, to the packaging.  And, equally important, to interaction with fans.  Who doesn’t expect an encouraging word and some interesting insight on art, history, and politics—always with integrity—from either band?

MARTIN STEPHEN COVER PICAs maybe point 2.5 or, at least, the culmination of the first two points, each band has the confidence to embrace the label of prog and to embrace the inheritance it entails without being encumbered by it.

In Big Big Train’s English Electric Full Power, there are hints of Genesis and, equally, hints of The Colour of Spring and Spirit of Eden.  But, of course, in the end, it’s always Greg, Andy, David, Dave, Danny, Nick, and Rob.

In The Tangent’s Le Sacre du Travail, there are obvious references as well as hints to Moving Pictures, The Sound of Music, and The Final Cut.  But, of course, in the end, it’s always mostly Andy.

Big Big Train's justly deserve award, "Breakthrough Artist of 2013," by Jerry Ewing and the readers of PROG.
Big Big Train’s justly deserve award, “Breakthrough Artist of 2013,” by Jerry Ewing and the readers of PROG.

Regardless, each gives us what David Elliott masterfully calls “Bloody Prog™” and does so without hesitation.  Indeed, each offers it without embarrassment or diversion, but with solidity of soul and mind.

Finally, but intimately related to the first two, each band releases things not with the expectation of conformity or uniformity or propaganda, but with full-blown art.  Each band loves the art for the sake of the art, while never failing to recognize that art must have a context and an audience.  Not to pander to, of course, but to meet, to leaven.

Life is simply too short not to praise where praise is due.  Life is too short to ignore the beauty in front of us.  And, no matter how dreary this world of insanities, of blood thirsty ideologies, of vague nihilisms, and of corporate cronyism, let us—with Plato—love what we ought to love.

The Tangent and Big Big Train have given us art not just for the immediate consumption of it, or for the year, 2013,—but for a generation and, if so worthy, for several generations, perhaps uncounted because uncountable.

 

[Ed. note–if there are any typos in this post, I apologize.  I’ve been grading finals, and I’ve been holding my two-year old daughter on my lap.  She’s a bit more into Barney than Tillison or Spawton at this point.]

2013 – The Pax Progorama

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While “pax” literally translates as peace, people generally use the term “Pax Romana” to refer to a golden age of Imperial Rome.  Well, if that’s the case, then the year 2013 has left no doubt that we are in another golden age for progressive rock.

Now, you will have excuse me a bit for the “Progorama” thing in the title, but that’s the closest thing to alliteration that came to mind.  “Pax Progtopia” doesn’t roll off the tongue quite as well.  There were a few other ideas I had, and none of them were very good … “Pax Progorama” worked the best, ok?  Hyphens added upon request.

The other question is this – do I have the best, most appropriate historical metaphor?  Could the current era be just as well described as a prog renaissance?  Probably.  We could liken the 1970’s as the original Pax Prog-O-Rama … the punk rockers as the barbarians who finally toppled a weakening empire … the 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Dark Ages (with of course, the neo-proggers being the Monks/Byzantines that preserved the flame of Western Civilization) … the rise of the Internet being equivalent to the Gutenberg printing press … and the late-1990’s and beyond representing the Renaissance and the spreading of new ideas, knowledge, and in our case here – art.  Maybe I should go back and rewrite the beginning of this post.  Then again, as Theodoric of York, Medieval Barber says …. naaaaahh (start at the point about where 1:00 minute remains …).

No matter what metaphor you choose, the resulting conclusion is still the same: Anno Domini 2013 was an incredible year for progressive rock, quite possibly the best ever.  I don’t say that lightly.  This year also gives weight to the opinion (mine, anyway) that our current Golden Age of prog has surpassed the previous one – and I don’t say that lightly, either.  The past few years, and 2013 in particular, have been nothing short of an embarrassment of riches for prog lovers.  Just how good was 2013?  Let’s take a look. Continue reading “2013 – The Pax Progorama”

A New Flower Kings Album: Desolation Rose

jrrt flower kingsIn one of the oddest moments of my adult life, I awoke to the news of a brand new Flower Kings CD.

Why, weird?

Because I spent much of yesterday listening to TFK and thinking about the past and the future.  I was reflecting on how critical TFK have been to my own creative (such as it is) and professional life.  I wrote my first biography while listening repeatedly to Stardust We Are, Flowerpower, and Space Revolver.  And, the music fit perfectly–my first book was an intellectual biography of J.R.R. Tolkien.

Last night, and my wife can confirm this, I couldn’t go to bed until I took and posted a photo of appreciation: the TFK surrounding my Tolkien book.  I felt rather frantically obsessed (called?) to take the photo before heading to bed.  Wild.

Additionally, I started planning a series in my head for Progarchy very similar to what Pete Blum has so brilliantly done with “20 Looks at The Lamb Lies Down.”  I was thinking of a twenty looks type of feature on TFK.  Anyway, much to my surprise and happiness, I awoke and saw–in fact, the very first thing I saw upon awaking–an announcement for the new TFK album, Desolation Rose.

Maybe all of this is mere coincidence, but it just doesn’t feel that way.  If you’re interested in some of my earlier thoughts on TFK, please go here.

So, for all kinds of reasons, I’m intrigued.  For some reason, the album strikes me–at least from the description Stolt released–as a sequel of sorts to both Unfold the Future and Banks of Eden.  Regardless, I’m already prepared to love the new album.  Thank you, TFK.  Long live progging Swedish hippies!!!

Official News Release, dated September 11, 2013

FLower Kings 2013

NEWS : THE FLOWER KINGS – reveal release of new studio album ‘Desolation Rose’ late October.Swedish progressive-rock royalty The Flower Kings have had a busy year since regrouping in 2012 for the ‘Banks Of Eden’ album, and with a new creative vigour the band are following that with the fantastic new album ‘Desolation Rose’ due out on 28th October 2013.
The artwork, once again created by Silas Toball, can be viewed above and the band had this to say about the forthcoming release:

“Being somewhat of a political statement, the epic theme of “Desolation Rose” is a logical step in a time where perpetual war, famine, environmental threats, religious conflicts dominate the media and our minds. This is a time to wake up and the music on this album takes you on a journey where you are forced to questions what the mainstream media feed us and to rethink your whole world view on all of the above. This is in many ways a typical Flower Kings album but we have also taken it into another realm where we do take chances and where you may struggle to get into the music – or the lyrics – but trust me when I say that you will be rewarded, as this may be our most involved, important and interesting album ever. “(Roine)

The track-listing for the album is as follows:
1 Tower ONE 13:39
2 Sleeping Bones 04:16
3 Desolation Road 04:00
4 White Tuxedos 06:30
5 The Resurrected Judas 08:24
6 Silent Masses 06:17
7 Last Carnivore 04:22
8 Dark Fascist Skies 06:05
9 Blood Of Eden 03:12
10 Silent Graveyards 02:52

Earlier this year, The Flower Kings embarked on a very special tour alongside Neal Morse & Mike Portnoy to celebrate InsideOutMusic’s 20th Anniversary, playing to sold out crowds across Europe and the US.

Look out for more information and videos in the coming weeks!
Pre Sale start soon at The Flower Kings web shop:
www.flowerkings.se

For more information visit:
www.flowerkings.se
http://www.facebook.com/TheFlowerKings
http://www.reverbnation.com/theflowerkings
http://www.myspace.com/cosmiclodge

 

Some 2012 Thoughts

Tardis-in-Space-tardis-6289809-1600-1131Looking at some of the other ‘Best of 2012’ posts here, you have to wonder how some of the other Progarchists do it.  That is, how do they find the time to listen to and fully absorb that much music (and particularly prog)?  Not to be snobby or anything, but listening to prog is not a passive thing, it takes an active effort by the listener to fully “get it”.  And yet when I read through these posts, I can conclude that my fellow Progarchists are A) listening to a lot of prog, and B) “getting it.”  With the other obligations they have in their lives – families, careers, other hobbies, other blogs – it would seem like it would take a superhuman effort to fully absorb all of that music. And yet clearly they do just that.

Alas, I think I’ve figured out their secret – most, if not all of the other Prograrchists are in possession of an ERTEM – short for “Einsteinian Relativistic Time Expansion Machine.”  In short, the ERTEM is a machine about the size of a booth or a very small room.  A person may enter his ERTEM, shut the door, and emerge in what appears to be only a few minutes to an outside observer.  But aaaah, inside the ERTEM, time expands, and the occupant therein can spend several hours of “inside time.”  Thus, the Progarchist may receive a new CD or a new album in digital format, step inside his ERTEM, and indulge in hours of listening pleasure, until they fully “grok” (apologies to Robert Heinlein) their most recent prog purchase.  They may even be smuggling their laptops in their to write some of their long, detailed, and typically excellent reviews – the type that usually send me lurching toward my computer to make yet another purchase.  Continue reading “Some 2012 Thoughts”

Drinking From the Firehose – Some Quick Reviews

drink_from_the_firehose

Like many of you, I “suffer” from the common “problem” that afflicts those of us who are prog fans in this, the Second Golden Age of Prog – mainly, that there is just so much good prog out there that nobody could possibly listen to it all.  In short, it’s like trying to drink from a firehouse.

Happily, this “problem” has been exacerbated for me since joining this site, as I have had the good fortune to be able to borrow a number of albums I had yet to hear.  As such, I’m going to write a few quick reviews (which are more like first impressions).  Please pardon the lack of detail, but do remember these reviews are worth every penny you paid me to write them ;).

The Flower Kings, Banks of Eden:  This is my second foray into Flower Kings territory, the first being ‘Space Revolver’ some time ago.  I thought the latter album was quite good, and ‘Banks of Eden’ only reinforced my good impression of these guys.  Even if there were no other good songs on the album, the hippy-dippy-trippy epic ‘Numbers’ that opens the show makes the price of admission worth it.  Luckily, there are other good songs, and thus I would definitely give this album a thumbs up.

Continue reading “Drinking From the Firehose – Some Quick Reviews”