The Neal Morse Band live in concert at the Crofoot Ballroom, Pontiac, Michigan, February 24, 2019. Thanks to Paula Pasma for the great pic!

Prog Past, Present, and Yet To Come

One of Robert Fripp’s “devil bugs” caught up with the Krueger household on February 24 — the same day a “bomb cyclone” hit West Michigan, causing a 30-degree temperature drop in 24 hours, along with whiteout snowstorms.  It’s taken this long for us (and the region) to emerge from hibernation  — but through the depths of winter to the cusp of spring, music has taken sad songs and made them better.

That very day late last month, I trekked across the state to catch The Neal Morse Band’s Great Adventour stop in suburban Detroit; Neal and his merry crew (including son Will and daughter Jayda at the merch table) didn’t disappoint.   As I anticipatedThe NMB’s live take on The Great Adventure was even tighter, more driven and more finely honed than the fine studio album (first half glitches to Morse’s keyboard rig notwithstanding).

Hearing all of TGA in one go brought home how thoroughly integrated the new effort is.  The key musical themes (as well as flashbacks to The Similitude of A Dream) aren’t just repeated, they’re developed in near-symphonic ways: transposed, transformed rhythmically and harmonically, recapped in unexpected contexts throughout the work.  Kaleidoscopic contrasts of rhythm, instrumental color, vocal textures (mainly from Morse, guitarist Eric Gillette, keyboardist Bill Hubauer) and tonality meshed smoothly with drummer Mike Portnoy and bassist Randy’s George’s badass forward propulsion, ably mirroring the lyrical highs and lows of another journey to the Celestial City.

In sum, TGA is a genuinely impressive concept work, marked by ambition, intelligence, technique and sentiment in just the right proportions.  The result at the end of each set (and the encore medley that covered Morse’s entire solo career, ending the night where it began) was sustained, extended, unforced ecstasy in the audience — a feeling that, I believe, couldn’t have been manufactured or manipulated into existence.  I couldn’t help think that, consciously or not,  Morse’s recent work fully embodies the ongoing ideal of American revivalist religion — an ideal, whatever its flaws, that’s been a cultural constant from the Puritan theologizing of Jonathan Edwards to the rough-hewn democratic juggernaut of today’s Pentecostalism.

And, in the inspired, paradoxically complex simplicity of its drive to the finish, The Great Adventure live reminded me of nothing so much as Gustav Mahler’s massive Resurrection Symphony. Like Mahler, Morse and band embraced everything that came to hand, running the risk of grandiosity to shape a new musical world — a payoff acknowledged by the heartfelt, fervent applause of the 300 souls in attendance.

Continue reading “Prog Past, Present, and Yet To Come”

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2

In Part 1 of Tim Bowness’ latest Progarchy interview, Tim discussed his previous solo albums, working again with his first band Plenty, reuniting with Steven Wilson for new No-Man music, and how all this feeds into his new album Flowers At The Scene (released March 1 on Inside Out Music).   We dig into the new album in depth below!  Note that [brackets] below indicate editorial insertions.

Pulling it back to Flowers At The Scene, it’s interesting what you said about how really, there are some [pieces] that you’re producing, there’s some that you and Brian [Hulse] are working on, there’s some that you and Brian and Steven [Wilson] are working on.   It all feels like a unity when I listen to it.  Despite the variety of colors, it’s, as you say, it feeds on what you’ve done before, but it goes in really interesting, different directions.  Are there any particular songs that you feel are at the core of the album?

I would say you’re right, it does feel like an album.  One thing that’s important to me is, I know in this age of streaming and Spotify it’s not particularly fashionable, but I love the album.  I’ve always loved the album as a statement.  And in some ways, although this album is different from the other albums – I mean, the previous three albums had themes to a degree.  Lost In The Ghost Light was a narrative concept album. Stupid Things That Mean The World and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had linking lyrical themes in a way.  This is different in the sense that it’s eleven very separate moods, very separate lyrics, very separate songs.  And yet it fits together, I think, in a kind of classic 43-minute album format.  And in some ways, I think it’s the album that flows best of all four.  There’s something about it that it kind of moves from one mood to another.  And yet it holds together.

I suppose the key songs would have been when “Flowers At The Scene” and “Not Married Anymore” were written.  And I just felt that Brian and I had been coming up with material that had its own distinct identity.  And I also had a certain idea of how I wanted them to sound – and suddenly that was it!  And I guess that there’s this [Robert] Fripp line, he would always say that a new direction presented itself.  And I think that it’s true, because I’d continued writing material on my own, and I’d continued writing material with Stephen Bennett while I was recording the Plenty album.  And although the material was good, it felt like it was gonna be a continuation of Lost In The Ghost Light or Stupid Things That Mean The World.

And I think that it was when I’d written the fifth song with no purpose really – Brian and I just kept on writing together because we were excited by what we were doing.  And I think it would have been “Flowers At The Scene”, the title track itself, and I thought, “this is the new direction; it’s presented itself.” And from that moment on, it became a very exciting and immersive project and I said to Brian, “I think this is the basis of a new solo album. And it feels like a fresh direction after the other albums.”  And you’re right that, what’s kind of interesting for me is it’s fresh, it’s a reset, but perhaps because of the mood of some of the music and because of my voice, there’s also a sense of continuation.

And certainly one of the things that contributes to it being fresh is this cast of musicians that you gathered, which is really genuinely impressive.  So many great names with great work that have fed into this.  I was wondering if I could just toss out names and, in a few words, you could try to describe what each of these guys have brought to the music for the album.  Starting with Jim Matheos.

Well, Jim’s somebody I’ve known for a few years.  He asked me to guest on an OSI album [Blood], probably about nine years ago now.  And I really enjoyed it.  So the track, which is called “No Celebrations”, felt very different for me; it was very much in that OSI art-metal style, but it accommodated my singing as well.  And after that, we carried on communicating together.  So occasionally he’s asked me for advice about things, and also we had co-written a couple of tracks that had never been released.

And when I was doing this album, I thought I’d love to get him involved.  Because one of the tracks I’d been developing had him on anyway, and he’s an incredibly versatile guitarist.  Very, very nice guy, but what people I don’t think are aware of is how versatile his talent is.  So his own music can be anything from sort of ambient experimental to metal to classical acoustic guitar.  And I knew how good he was as a soloist, and so I got him – really, he was my stunt guitarist on the album on a few tracks.  And he did some fantastic work on it.

Peter Hammill.  What a legend!

Yeah!  Well, Peter’s somebody who when I was growing up, when I was in my teens, he was one of my favorite singers.  And as I’ve said to people, what’s interesting with this album is that, probably my five favorite singers when I was 13 would have been David Bowie, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel, Kate Bush and Kevin Godley.  And I’ve two of them on the album, and it’s an incredible thrill to have that!

Over the years, Peter’s become a friend.  We ended up playing on lots of the same albums in Italy, and we got to know one another.  And over the years, he’s guested on my work; and we even live in the same small town in England!  And so he’s probably my sort of coffee and chat companion, where we’ve put the political and the musical world to rights once a month.  And as I always say about Peter, he’s as nice, generous and decent as his music is frightening!

[Laughs] Oh, that’s a great summary!

[Laughs] Absolutely!  Cause, you know, you wouldn’t want him to be as frightening as [Van der Graaf Generator’s] Pawn Hearts really, would you?

[Laughs] No, not in the slightest!

It is true; you’d be coughing your coffee up.  It’s not good!  [Both laugh] So yeah, lovely guy, and we’ve worked on a few things.  And the thing about Peter is he is very honest about his opinion.  So interestingly enough, I’d asked him to work on Lost in the Ghost Light, but he wasn’t as much a fan of that material.  So basically, he works on what he likes.  And he’d worked on the Stupid Things That Mean the World album, and I’d played him this album in progress.  He’d mixed an album for me as well.  There’s a Bowness/[Peter] Chilvers album that’s been unreleased that Peter’s mixed, which is quite an interesting project in itself.

And while I was making the new album I said, “ah, you know, a couple of Hammill-shaped holes here!”  And he heard it, and he heard exactly what I wanted, and he really liked the material.  One of the tracks he put a great deal into it, there’s a track on it called “It’s The World”.  I’d played it to him, and initially I wanted his bite – there’s a real sort of bite in his voice, I wanted this in the chorus.  And he said, “Yep, I know exactly what you want; I’ll get it to you.  But I tell you what else I’ll give you; I’ll give you guitars, because the guitars on this aren’t working!”  And so he completely re-recorded the chorus guitars, and almost went into sort of Rikki Nadir [from Hammill’s proto-punk solo album Nadir’s Big Chance] mode, and did a fantastic job.

So on the track “It’s The World” he’s on kind of backing and lead vocals, and also adds some really ferocious guitar parts.  And he made the piece work.  So that was an interesting case, where the piece I think was pretty good as it was, but he gave it an extra edge and an extra looseness.

Got it!  One of the newer singers on the album is David Longdon.  I know you collaborated with Big Big Train on a b-side [“Seen Better Days (the brass band’s last piece)”].  What did David bring?

Well, I suppose I asked him to be on the piece [“Borderline”] and I’d suggested a particular approach to backing vocal which he used.   I almost wanted this kind of rich, Michael McDonald/Steely Dan approach.  That’s something I wanted: a comfortable bed of David Longdon voice, really, and he gave that.  And then he added some flute as a means of contrasting with the trumpet.  And he did a beautiful job in both cases, really.  So I suppose what he gave was himself, so he kind of knew the places where I wanted him to play, and where I wanted him to be, and with the backing vocal he was effectively re-singing the melody that I’d already sung on the demo.

But with the flute, he performed a really beautiful solo, and it was great!  Because although the trumpet was recorded in the outback in Australia – I used a jazz musician, a guy called Ian Dixon, who’s worked with No-Man, he was on Returning Jesus, several tracks on that, and he’s a wonderful sort of jazz trumpet player.  And his studio is a tin shack in the outback in Australia!  And he said when he recorded it, it was in the middle of the rainy season.  So he’s recording that with crashing rain on the tin roof – which I thought was very romantic!  And David really beautifully worked with Ian’s trumpet.  And to me, it sounds as if the two could be in the room together playing!  So they worked very nicely together, and I suppose in that case, I knew what I wanted, and I got what I wanted.  But it was still different, the playing, the expression that the two of them had given was entirely their own.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 2”

The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 1

Tim Bowness first made waves in the art-rock world in the 1990s via No-Man, his longtime collaboration with Steven Wilson; albums like Flowermouth and Wild Opera led to Bowness’ working with Robert Fripp, Phil Manzanera, Nosound’s Giancarlo Erra (on Memories of Machines’ Warm Winter) and many others.  Since 2014, Bowness has also pursued a solo career, with a trio of critically acclaimed albums released on Inside Out Music.

Bowness’ latest album, Flowers At The Scene, is out on March 1.  Having previously interviewed Tim in 2015 and 2017,  it’s been exciting for us at Progarchy both to hear the new album in advance — and to talk about it with Tim in depth.   In the first part of a 3-part interview,  Tim lays out what’s led up to Flowers At The Scene, and how it’s different from his previous solo albums — and also teases No-Man’s first new music in more than a decade!

So first of all, congratulations on the new album; I’ve really enjoyed listening to it.    What a prolific run in the last five years! 

Thank you!  Yep!

Could you unpack for us how the albums you’ve made for Inside Out, starting with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams – how have they led up to Flowers at the Scene?

Well, I think that Flowers At The Scene is kind of a statement in itself, really; it feels like a reset of the solo career.  And I think that the other three Inside Out solo albums really were leading up to Lost In The Ghost Light.  I think that was the conclusion of a particular way of working.

It started off really with – when I’d written Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, that was an album that  I presented to Steven Wilson as a possible No-Man album, and it was pretty much how we’d done No-Man’s Schoolyard Ghosts – that I’d written songs and I’d co-written songs, and I’d brought what I thought was the best of that to Steven and had an idea for an album.  And with Schoolyard Ghosts, we then worked on the material together, produced the material together, Steven added to what I’d written and so on.  But with Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, he was in the middle of working on his Raven album, and just said, “Look, I’ll mix it; this is your album.  Release a solo work!”

So that’s how the recent run of solo albums started; it was something I’d assembled with a No-Man album in mind, and it became what feels like my debut solo album. (I know it’s my second solo album, but it feels like my debut solo album!)  Stupid Things That Mean the World emerged out of that, really, in that Abandoned Dancehall Dreams had got a very positive reaction and I was feeling very energized by that, really, so I was writing quite a lot of the time.

And with Lost In The Ghost Light, that was the conclusion of a project that I’d kind of been working on probably for about ten years.  And some of the songs in that concept had been on Schoolyard Ghosts, some on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams, some on Stupid Things That Mean the World.  And I didn’t think I was going to complete it!  But there was a certain point in 2016 when I focused on it and it all came together.

And with Lost In The Ghost Light, it felt like a conclusion to a particular way of writing and working, and I think specifically that pieces like “Smiler at 50” from Abandoned Dancehall Dreams or “Sing to Me” from Stupid Things That Mean The World, that it was almost like an album-length exploration of that type of music.  And of course, it had a very specific overall concept, which is the first time that I’ve ever worked, really, with a kind of narrative concept album.  The Lost In The Ghost Light story was one that I’d been writing about for years and one that I really wanted to finish.  So I was delighted when it was finished!

But after that, it really felt like I needed to do something completely fresh, completely refresh my own musical palette to keep things exciting.

Thanks!  The other thing that you’ve done recently is you’ve also gone back even deeper into your past.  I know that you worked with Brian Hulse and David K. Jones to re-record the music of your very first band, Plenty.  And It Could Be Home is a really delightful album. Was that part of your process for trying to find something new?  How did that project feed into this new album?

I think you’re right; I think it did feed into this album in some ways.  Because what was interesting is that we’d not worked together for thirty years, and it was actually very creative.  Going back to that material, we wanted to be faithful to it.  But what was exciting was that we were doing something new with it, and it was taking us to new places.  Partly, in my case, it was re-introducing me to ways of singing and writing I’d long abandoned.  And so, as much as it was old material, it really felt like it was a new project.  And we enjoyed doing that so much that Brian and I continued writing together.

And we just felt that what we were coming up was something that wasn’t Plenty, and it was kind of hinting at what I wanted to do on my next solo album.  So it definitely directly fed into Flowers At the Scene, the fact that we just continued to write, record, produce together.  And eventually there was a project that we were both excited about, and that became Flowers At The Scene.  And of course, there are other collaborations and other methods of writing used on the album.  But yeah, I think the Plenty experience directly led to this and fed into it.

Continue reading “The Progarchy Interview: Tim Bowness, Part 1”

Why Burning Shed Matters

A great comment from Pete Morgan (founder of Burning Shed).  Very honored to have him post at progarchy.  [Lee, we love you, too; but, you already knew this!]

***

Thanks for the comments about us versus Amazon.

Firstly, no we’ll never be able to compete with them. That’s partly due to scale but also because, unlike Amazon, we pay all of our taxes on top of trying to pay our staff a decent wage. In that regard it is not a level playing field.

Nevertheless, we are often cheaper than them on new releases because the ‘free’ delivery is built into the cost of the item or the Amazon Prime fee (there’s no such thing as a free lunch after all).

Packages shipped from one side of the Atlantic to the other will by post always take a week or so. Other than sending everything by courier (at great cost) there’s not much we can do about that, sorry, but we do try to ship as far ahead of release date as possible.

I don’t agree that our postage charges are a ‘bit of a rip off’. International postage is expensive and we charge £3.08 for a CD in a card mailer which is less than Royal Mail’s standard Airmail tariff (£3.30) as we pass on our volume discount to customers.

We’re always looking for cheaper ways to send things though and if we can do it we will.

I hope you’ll continue to give us a go on those occasions where we have something Amazon don’t.

Cheers

Pete

Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light

Years ago, when I was 16 I found an organization that helped with my curiosity about progressive rock, it was called the Classic Rock Society, they were based in Rotherham (a short bus ride away from the small village I lived in at the time) and they met on a Wednesday night in a pub. Beer and prog, all within a short distance from my front door, what was not to like?

One night at the pub talking about prog music in 1995 a friend lent me an album by a band I’d never heard of called No-Man, the album was Flowermouth, and it’s mix of shifting sounds and emotive vocals was my first introduction to the works of Mr Steven Wilson and Mr Tim Bowness, and I was hooked.

Luckily I got to see Porcupine Tree not so longer afterwards, but despite following No-Man and Tim Bowness solo work, it took me slightly longer (nearly 20 years in fact) to see Tim live, with Henry Fool at Eppyfest in 2014, followed quickly by seeing him at the Louisiana in Bristol in 2015.

Continue reading “Tim Bowness Lost in the Ghost Light”

Finding Sublime: Tim Bowness And The Things That Matter

Press_Cover_01

For such a uniquely talented vocalist and musician, Tim Bowness doesn’t need to fill the frame.  As his band Henry Fool hinted on 2013’s excellent and slyly-titled Men Singing (https://progarchy.com/2013/08/12/men-singing-by-henry-fool/), what a voice is and what it has to say is as elastic as what we’re willing to hear.  His long partnership with Steven Wilson in no-man likewise produces soundscapes that find a wholeness in laying back and cherry-picking essentials.  Getting to the heart of what matters and why is a recurring theme in Bowness’s work, and It is fitting that Bowness’s new album begins with a song titled “Electric Teenage Dream,” the video for which sets images of jurassic 1950s technology against words echoing our slippery grasp on the electronic toys that so demand our attention. 

Stupid Things That Mean The World is rich with rejoinders to a world running over with unfiltered shadowplay.  Teasing out the meaningful from the stupid things (sometimes finding they might be one and the same), trying to jump start a false life on found truths, to, as one song says, “press reset,” is a central struggle, and Bowness’s emotive, low-key delivery makes the struggle immediate, engaging, and deeply moving.

With a voice embedded in British folk and art rock but defining a space entirely his own, Bowness sings towards a quiet grandeur.  And yet while that stately-paced slow burn colors much of the record with the torch-driven songcraft common to his work (thinking particularly of no-man’s Returning Jesus), the album ignites under the heat Bowness brings to “Stupid Things That Mean The World,” “The Great Electric Teenage Dream,” and “Press Reset,” their detailed observations accompanied by taut arrangements moving from the apocalyptic to the pop.  The moods he summons join together seamlessly, so this is indeed an album rather than a collection of songs, a conjuring of Johnny Hartman entwined with Nick Drake and Radiohead and autumn leaves falling.  Jarrod Gosling’s artwork nails the vibe, with its feel of a classic EG Records album cover mirroring the hidden edges and complexities of the music within, and the credits are a who’s who of cross-generational art rock, including Bruce Soord, Peter Hammill, Phil Manzanera, Pat Mastelotto, Colin Edwin, Anna Phoebe, David Rhodes, Rhys Marsh, and members of the no-man live band  (Stephen Bennett, Michael Bearpark and Sanguine Hum’s Andrew Booker), with Andrew Keeling providing string arrangements.  It makes for a complete and satisfying experience, and again shows the kind of standard we’ve come to expect from the music Bowness creates.

Progarchy sat down with Tim via email to talk about the new album, his music and career, and what’s next for him.

The production on Stupid Things That Mean The World is immediate, it feels live, and you are upfront in the mix. What sort of decisions did you make to have this record sound the way it does?
I’d have offered opinions about mix/instrument levels, treatments and so on. Pretty much as I usually do on any project, except on my solo works no-one argues with me and I get rejected less! 🙂

I have ideas about sounds and approaches to music and inevitably I pursue those (for better or worse). I quite like live and direct approaches to drum, strings and vocal production in particular, and I also like allowing quieter elements to dominate busy arrangements.

Tell us about the title of the record, and what brought you to the themes you explore, particularly in “Electric Teenage Dream,” “Press Reset,” and the title track?
The title song is about a relationship, but not necessarily a romantic one. It could be about a collapsed close friendship, or life in a band or a business with a sort of kindred spirit.

The title concerns the small and seemingly trivial things that make us who we are or help us through our lives. It could be an old toy, art/music, shared intimate language, a belief system, an annual holiday, the image or idea of someone you loved in your youth etc etc. I was also thinking of something like the significance of the seemingly insignificant Rosebud in Citizen Kane.

Press Reset and At The End Of The Holiday are my two favourite lyrics on the album and have more of a short story quality about them. The first is a depiction of someone desperate to escape the pressures of their life, while the second is about a temporary escape from domestic difficulties. Press Reset’s theme is something that has interested me for a long time – people consciously disappearing from their own lives and families – and something that in retrospect I realised had happened in my own family.

The lyric to The Great Electric Teenage Dream is part of a larger project called Third Monster On The Left, which is about what it’s like for musicians of a certain age to make music at this point in the 21st Century. A few tracks from it appeared on Abandoned Dancehall Dreams and I’m hoping to present it as a complete project at some point in the future.

Know That You Were Loved was the last song written for the album and it’s possibly the most emotional song on the album. To an extent, it deals with death bed reminiscences and has roots in the work I used to do with the elderly at old people’s homes in the 1980s.

Cheery!

3) What’s your favorite song on the new record?
For very different reasons, Know That You Were Loved, Press Reset and The Great Electric Teenage Dream are my favourite songs on the album. Partly because they either achieved or exceeded my ideas of what the songs could be and partly because they were developing all the time due to some really nice contributions from the guest musicians.

4) You’ve said that this record and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams constitute a new chapter for you. Why do you think that is?
Due to my input in terms of writing and production, ADD and Stupid Things feel more like ‘solo’ works than anything else I’ve done.

In both cases, there was a lot less co-writing than on most projects I’m involved with. Also, with both these albums everything had to begin and end with strong input from me. I assembled the collaborators, booked the studios, provided the material, suggested the sonic approach and so on.

While I might contribute a fair amount to no-man, Henry Fool or Bowness/Chilvers, my input is still being filtered through somebody else’s wishes, opinions and organisational ability, so they’re very much collaborations.

5) What’s your approach to arranging on your solo records as opposed to other projects like no-man?
I think my approach to arranging varies from project to project and song to song as arrangements have to work for the benefits of the song or the musicians involved in the recording.

A good example of differences between projects would be the piece Press Reset. If I’d have presented the song to no-man (for example), Steven would have most likely complicated the final section’s chords and not allowed through the more simplistic pummelling coda rhythm. Conversely, Steven may have simplified compositional aspects of Know That You Were Loved while suggesting a more dense arrangement. Basically, if I’d have presented Press Reset to no-man, Peter Chilvers, Henry Fool or Memories Of Machines, the finished result would have been different and in some cases radically different due to the involvement of other people.

6) You have a distinct, instantly recognizable style, and a signature delivery. What/who shaped your development as a singer?
Ultimately, as with the music, what comes out is instinctive and natural. It may sound corny, but my singing’s my emotional response to whatever music I’m singing over really.

When I started out, my singing inspirations would have been the likes of Kevin Godley, Peter Hammill, Peter Gabriel and David Bowie. Later on, I really liked Paddy McAloon, John Martyn, Nick Drake, David Crosby, Mark Eitzel and others, plus female singers such as Joni Mitchell, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone and Kate Bush.

I hope I’ve developed my own voice over time. It’s something I don’t think about much when I’m actually singing, so I’m not sure how much influence from others comes through.

7) How would you describe your writing process?
Anything that works basically.

Songs can come from me writing on acoustic guitar or playing on my synth or programming within GarageBand or Logic. I can either start with a strong sense of something I want to create, or an idea can naturally emerge out of the process of just playing.

Songs like Know That You Were Loved, I Fought Against The South and Everything You’re Not/Everything But You developed out of me playing on the guitar. The likes of Press Reset and Smiler At 52 came out of programming and then making the pieces more organic and loose with instrumental additions. The Warm-Up Man Forever came out of a combination of looping, playing keyboards and programming.

When I co-write, it can be in real time (generally me with a pianist or a live band) or retrospectively working from existing backing tracks.

8) Can you talk a little bit about Jarrod Gosling’s artwork for Stupid Things and Abandoned Dancehall Dreams?
I think Jarrod’s got a really distinctive style and I used him in order to distinguish the look of my work from the look of no-man’s, and also to reinforce the sense that the solo albums represented a new chapter for me.

Artwork is important to me. I started buying music in an era when the imagery of album covers was a significant part of the music experience and I’ve never lost that fascination with attention to detail or the evocative link between sounds and image.

Jarrod’s a lovely guy and very easy to work with. He listens to other people’s ideas without compromising his own singular style.

9) As someone who is not only an artist but also involved in the business of music, what’s your take on the way music is distributed today?
A big and complex issue!

The internet has been a blessing and a curse to musicians. It’s allowed Burning Shed to thrive internationally in a way that would have been difficult before, so the immediacy of access has mostly been a positive thing for the company. I’ve always felt that Burning Shed has pushed forward traditional ideas – elaborate packaging, physical product, conceptually intentional albums – via an innovative, contemporary medium.

On a personal level, I feel extremely lucky that I can still release music I believe in and that there’s still an interest in what I do. Also, the internet has allowed Burning Shed to thrive internationally in a way that would have been difficult before.

10) What are you reading? What’s a current favorite record, and why?
I tend to read several books at the same time, so at the moment I’m reading Chuck Palahniuk’s Haunted, Clive James’s Sentenced To Life, Kent Haruf’s Our Souls At Night and Pete Townshend’s Who I Am. I recently finished Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel which I enjoyed, but the best book I’ve read in recent years is E L Doctorow’s Homer & Langley. It’s a brilliantly written chronicle of obsession and retreat from the world.

Musically, I go through phases of listening to back catalogues by artists (currently David Crosby, Stephen Stills, Bill Nelson/Be Bop Deluxe and The Who) and new things. Of late, I’ve liked albums by Sanguine Hum, Keaton Henson and Troyka (a really interesting contemporary UK band who are carrying on the Progressive tradition of 1970s Rock influenced Jazz).

What’s next for you?
Immediately, a new Bowness/Chilvers album. We’ve completed 90% of a follow-up to California, Norfolk and it really feels like a progression from that album. Lyrically it’s more dense and musically it really shows how Peter’s work has evolved since he’s been working with Brian Eno and Karl Hyde. I’m looking forward to hear how it develops.

Tim Bowness, Stupid Things That Mean The World (Burning Shed/Inside Out Music, available July 17, 2015: https://www.burningshed.com/store/timbowness/product/71/6640/).

Men Singing by Henry Fool

ImageHenry Fool’s new album, Men Singing, is an alternate history, a prog rock proclamation that it was the Soft Machine, not Elvis, who invented rock and roll, out of the ashes of bop, not blues.  Led by keyboardist Stephen Bennett and stellar no-man vocalist Tim Bowness (who joins his bandmates in not singing on the album — he plays guitar here), Henry Fool conjures first wave English prog and ambient while alternately dodging and burning the spirit of King Crimson’s “Starless” and Soft Machine’s Third.  If anything could convince me this is the way rock’s mainstream should have shaken out, Men Singing is it.

In writing* and on record, the project’s relationship to first generation progressive rock is explicit and real — Phil Manzanera is a collaborator here — but also cautious, with an important ambition to avoid simple mimicry.  Any way you look at it, this is not an easy thing to pull off, and in fact is the central obstacle to bands consciously working in the contemporary prog rock genre.  How to avoid stylistic forgery? The early prog groups had an entirely different set of references that, naturally, did not include prog, and there’s an uneasy recognition that once it’s “prog” it’s no longer prog.  With that said, if it’s possible to meet expectations while pushing boundaries, Men Singing more than succeeds.

The four-song album begins with the longform “Everyone in Sweden,” which maps the record.  The aggressive, energetic rhythm section structures the melodic builds and mixes, suggesting the work of Robert Wyatt with Soft Machine, Jaki LIebzeit with Can, and Klaus Schulze with Tangerine Dream.  Which is to say that Bitches Brew-era Miles hovers like some benevolent deity.  But this is not a music stuck in the past.  It has a smartly produced, live sound that brings the drums and bass up front — with a rising and falling cadre of guitars and horns and glockenspiels and mellotrons working alongside — while avoiding the airtight digital separation or cleanness of many contemporary prog albums.   It works anew the fertile ground turned over by post-rock instrumental bands like Pell Mell and Tortoise, and arguably offers a more focused experience than either of those estimable groups.

At 40 minutes, Men Singing is well-paced and doesn’t linger too long, which might have been a problem in different hands or in different eras.  Terrain is explored, not exploited, and the two 13-minute cuts are satisfying in their development.  The two shorter pieces make their point even more powerfully, with “My Favorite Zombie Dream” going some distance towards explaining the band’s name, a homage to Hal Hartley’s late 90s movie but really a nod to Hartley’s music, which colors his films in a moody, darkly humorous palette.

It’s hard to recommend this album too highly, which, given Bowness’s involvement, should be no surprise.  And while an instrumental album called Men Singing might feel clever, the voices on this record show it’s only half a joke.

*http://timbowness.wordpress.com/album-writings/henry-fool-men-singing/