It seems way too long since we heard from one of the best bands too few folks know about, Tin Spirits. Adventurous poppy prog with seriously meaningful lyrics. The first two albums are must owns, and I’m sure the third will be as well.
Here’s the post that appeared on social media about an hour ago:
Dear Tins fans, we are delighted to let you know that after a lengthy leave of absence, work on the new album has begun. Will keep you updated but it’s so great to be back in a room making music
A special episode of Progarchy Radio, featuring NOTHING but the music of Dave Gregory, guitarist extraordinaire for Big Big Train and Tin Spirits. Also featuring Gregory playing in and for XTC, The Dukes of Stratosphear, Peter Gabriel, Porcupine Tree, Steve Hogarth.
And, after you’ve listened to our episode, be sure to check out Gregory’s amazing interview with Mark Powell:
I’m not sure if I could exactly articulate my reasons as to why, but I’m not the least surprised that Dave Gregory’s birthday is two days away from the Autumnal Equinox. There’s a fullness and a force of the seasons not only in the calmness that radiates from Gregory’s humane qualities (he’s a true gentleman), but there’s also an intensity of life in all of his art.
Clearly, his music resides somewhere in that last joyous blast of summer love and freedom.
Regardless, happy birthday, Mr. Gregory. I know I speak for many upon many when I thank you for all you’ve given to the music world over the past four decades. Whether it’s pop, punk, new wave, rock, chamber, or prog, you give your absolute all.
The best way to celebrate such a feast? Listen and watch away!
And best of all, a brilliant interview with Dave. Well worth watching it all.
Seeing the little girls in their Easter dresses, witnessing the arrival of the first flowers, and feeling the cool pine air coming off of the Rockies, I couldn’t help but think of this glorious song from almost a year ago. Ave, Tin Spirits!
In the process of putting together an end-of-the-year book list for CWR, I came upon my 2004 post on my favorite books and music of 2004. The music list is quite interesting, with just one overtly prog album (Pain of Salvation’s “Be,” which is, in hindsight, one of my least favorite POS releases), and a fair amount of jazz (no surprise) and country (some surprise). I’m glad to say I still listen to much of the music on that list.
This year, I’ve decided to break my music picks from 2014 into three categories: prog/rock, jazz, and the kitchen sink (country, electronica, weirdness). I want to emphasize “favorite” here because there were so many releases I simply didn’t get to, despite uploading over 6500 songs in the past 12 months. Ah well!
And I’m going to try to keep it short and simple, with the exception of my thoughts on my #1 pick in prog, which is also my Favorite Album of the Year. What is it? Read on!
Favorite Prog and Rock Albums of 2014:
12. “Live at Rome Olympic Stadium” by Muse and “Tales from the Netherlands” by Mystery. Muse is about as proggy as a mega-selling, world-famous band can be, known for putting on live performances that are equally energetic and well played. This July 2013 performance is no exception, with the trio ripping through nineteen of their eclectic songs, ranging from from electro-tinged funk (“Panic Station”) to Queen-ish pomp (“Knights of Cydonia”) to Floyd-ish slyness (“Animals”). The DVD is very impressive, not only because it was filmed with HD/4K cameras but also because the band is at the top of their game.
Mystery is fronted by Benoit David, who was lead singer for Yes for a short time a few years ago, before illness led to his firing. David never seemed comfortable with Yes, but his work with Mystery is of the highest caliber. The Montreal-based group is lead by multi-instrumentalist Michel St-Père (guitars, keyboards, bass, production) and has an epic, soaring sound built on fabulous melodies and exquisitely structured songs. The production, for a live album, is excellent, and David (who has since left the group) is in top form; this is not easy music to navigate vocally, yet he nails it at every twist and turn.
11. “Magnolia” by Pineapple Thief. Bruce Soord has more talent in his toes than most alt-bands have in their entirety, whether it be as a writer, producer, player, or singer. I’ve enjoyed everything from Pineapple Thief, but this collection of incisive, beautifully burnished tunes is Soord’s best work yet, the sort of intelligent, catchy, and detailed modern rock that deserves to be all over the airwaves. Classic Rock magazine sums it nicely: “Small but perfectly formed pockets of 21st century prog.”
10. “The Ocean At the End” by Tea Party. I was thrilled that this Canadian trio (now based in Australia) got together again after several years apart; I still listen to their early albums (“Splendor Solis”, “Edges of Twilight”) which feature an overt Led Zep vibe with a brooding, even epic, melancholy, rooted in Jeff Martin’s powerful voice and bluesy guitar playing. The latter quality is more in evidence here, and the rocking cuts (“Brazil” and “The Cass Corridor”) are the least enjoyable for me. The highlights are the dark cover of “The Maker,” the aching “Black Roses”, and the tour de force “The Ocean at the End”. Distinctive, powerful, emotive rock.
9. “Beyond the Visable Light” by Ovrfwrd. This album made a late charge on my playlist, as each listen revealed deeper layers of detail, melody, and interplay. The four-man group from Minneapolis is instrumental only, with an emphasis on group dynamics and song structures that are complex but very accessible. There is a lot of territory covered in the 5-song, 48-minute-long album, with grungy, propulsive passages melting into subtle, jazz-ish sections, and then giving way to Deep Purple-ish organ, and so forth. Great use of piano throughout, which brings a distinctive detail to the entire, enjoyable affair. Continue reading “From Carl’s Critical Kitchen: A Baker’s Dozen of Tasty Prog/Rock from 2014”→
And, my final “best of” post for 2014. Let’s hope that you’re not getting too tired of these!
I’ve saved the albums that hit me the hardest—at level of mind and soul—for the last.I guess it’s somewhat goofy to have a “top eight,” but these are my top eight.These are the albums that did everything right, the ones that pulled it all together, offering real glimpses of the turning spheres.The first seven are in no particular order.I like them equally, and I think they’ve each attained the highest an album can reach but in quite different ways.
What can one say about Poland’s greatest, Newspaperflyhunting?Craig Breaden has already explained—in perfect detail—why this is a perfect album.From atmospherics to piercingly intelligent lyrics to mood swinging melodies, these Eastern Europeans have created what is certainly one of the most innovating and interesting albums of the last few decades.The album, ICEBERG SOUL, has much in common with early 1990’s American psychedelic revival, and there’s a real Mazzy Star and Opal feel to much of the music.But, whereas Mazzy Star was really good, Newspaperflyhunting is simply excellent.Droning, walls of sound, haunting guitar lines—this album has it all.
Salander, a new band from England, has blown me away as much as Newspaperflyhunting, and the two bands have much in common.Slander is only two guys, each named Dave, but you’d never know it listening to the music.Much as Cailyn plays every single thing on her album, the two Daves do the same.Their two albums this year, CRASH COURSE FOR DESSERT and STENDEC, are really one album, a journey through the wonders and terrors of the world, seen and unseen.The two Daves move effortlessly from one style of music to another, but they always hold it all together with what can only be described as a Salander sound.These two albums provide a journey that you hope never ends.
Armed with some new producers and engineers and a barrel full of confidence, the Anglo-Dutch-American band, Fractal Mirror, has proven the worth of community and friendship a million times over with GARDEN OF GHOSTS, a landmark album.As mentioned previously, there’s a lot of Bauhaus and Love and Rockets in this album.But, whereas those 1980’s bands felt as though they had one cool trick, Fractal Mirror is the real deal.GARDEN OF GHOSTS is mind-bogglingly good—stunning in every way—and we are so blessed to be catching them at the beginning of their journey.Certainly, it’s Gothic in tone, but it’s always soaring and light and dark and maddening and enlightening and loving. . . .It’s also quite defiant, and, at times, the lyrics make Neil Peart look like a softy.
I think the first album by the Tin Spirits one of my all-time favorite albums.It would certainly be in my top ten all-time albums.In particular, the song “Broken” is a masterpiece, a progged-out Allman Brothers kind of song.I eagerly awaited SCORCH, and I’ve not been disappointed.This is guitar prog, pop prog, rock prog—however one might label it, it’s just amazingly good.The four guys in the band obviously really like one another, and their friendship comes out in a myriad of ways in the music.The best song on Scorch, “Summer Now,” might very well be the best song of the year.As with Flying Colors, the Tin Spirits should be playing on every single album-rock radio across North America.The contrast between the two bands?Where Flying Colors might cross the line and go “over the top,” the Tin Spirits go for taste, class, and a dignified restraint.
Not to be too jingoistic, but one of the best aspects of 2014 has been the emergence of a number of North American prog bands.I’ve already mentioned several over the last few posts.The very best of the American prog bands, though, is Fire Garden.Holy Schnikees these guys are good.Scratch that.These guys are amazing!They clearly love Dream Theater, but they’re also 20x better than Dream Theater.Just as the Tin Spirits goes for dignified restraint, so does Fire Garden.Rather than play 30 notes in a millisecond, master musician and lyricist Zee Baig goes for just the necessary ones, the ones most needed for creativity and beauty.Again, that dignified restraint, when employed properly, can be such a beautiful thing.As I noted with Threshold and Haken, I don’t generally gravitate toward the heavier stuff.With Fire Garden, I happily embrace it.Of course, their heaviness is more Rush than Metallica. But, again, everything is perfect.I’ve focused on the band’s ubercoolleader, Zee, but everyone is in top form here.Zee pulls it all together.
I’m almost afraid to mention John Bassett.I’ve praised the that English stocking cap-wearing bard so many times, folks might start to wonder if I have some bizarre motive or some mancrush.Trust me, I’m married and have six kids.Yet, I do really love Bassett—just not in THAT way.Bassett’s music, through Kingbathmat, appeared in my life just a few years ago, but I can’t imagine my love of prog or music without him now, even as I look back to four decades of music obsession.Bassett’s first solo album, Uneßarth, is a psychedelic folk album, the kind of album that Storm Corrosion should have been.Somehow, Bassett’s actual voice (vocals) have a guitar-like quality.It’s bizarre.Beautifully and wondrously bizarre.And, despite his own self-deprecating remarks about merely being a “muppet”, Bassett is one of our best cultural critics.Of course, I love Animal, and there is a slight resemblance.Equally interesting, Bassett went the Matt Stevens/Fierce and the Dead route with his second album of 2014, a vocal-less progressive metal affair called Arcade Messiah.Each reveals a fascinating side to this very fascinating artist.What would I love to see—Bassett to bring these two styles together in Kingbathmat, writing a full-blown prog epic, unapologetic and unrelentingly so.
Once again, here comes the bro-mance.Sorry, Sally!I love your man, too.Just in very different ways than do you.I’m not sure Andy Tillison is capable of a misstep.Not only has he been one of the two or three most important musicians of what he’s insightfully called “Third Wave Prog,” he’s now becoming one of the two or three most important musicians in what I’ve attempted—admittedly, not very successfully—“Fourth Wave Prog.”His only release this year (what a funny thing to type) is under the name, cleverly, The Andy Tillison Multiplex.The album: ELECTRONIC SINFONIA 2.Just as Cailyn has brought classical music back into the world of prog, Andy is bringing jazz and jazz fusion back into prog.This album is beyond stunning.It is the very essence of taste itself.Every note, every line, every segue is just astounding.Tillison is a perfectionist, and it shows on and in all that he does.Thank you, Mr. Diskdrive.Rage on.
And, so I come to my favorite album of 2014.It took a while for me to get here, and if you fine progarchist reader are still with me, bless you.God has granted you immense patience.Though, as I’ve noted, this has been one of the best years ever in prog—and I’ve loved everything I’ve mentioned in the previous posts—I’ve loved this the most: Cosmograf’s CAPACITOR.Made by master of chronometry, Robin Armstrong, CAPACITOR is the perfect album.To those of you who write and produce instrumental music, thank you.And, please accept my apologies.I love what you do, but, not being trained in music, I don’t always get what you’re doing, even if I love it.For me, prog has been centrally about the lyrics and the story telling, with the music augmenting the two.I love the Word and the words.And, that brings me to CAPACITOR, a story that has everything.It’s a mix of science fiction and the occult, a play on religious revivals and scientific fetishes of a century ago.It’s not steam punk, it’s seance punk!And, what a story.Simply put, it’s the best sci-fi story of 2014.Part Arthur Conan Doyle, part Ray Bradbury, it’s purely Robin Armstrong.And, as we all know, Robin is not only a perfectionist, he’s an aural genius.He knows exactly how to mix word and note.This album is so good, it, almost by itself, redefines the entire genre.This is an album to match CLOSE TO THE EDGE, SPIRIT OF EDEN, and, much more recently, ENGLISH ELECTRIC and LE SACRE DU TRAVAIL.
N.B. Please forgive any typos. I have a three-year old princess acting rather grumpy as she deals with the flu. Lots of distractions in the Birzer household.
Andy Tillison and Brian Watson have convincingly argued in favor of dividing the history of prog into three waves, the third wave beginning around 1994 or so.
If Tillison and Watson are correct, and I suspect they are, I believe we might have entered what we could call the fourth wave.
The turning point came in 2013 with grand and profound releases from Big Big Train, The Tangent, and Glass Hammer. These albums were so excellent, perhaps the best in prog history, that they might very well have represented the apex of third-wave prog.
Take a listen to any of the above mentioned artists in 2014. Their music, especially when compared to the releases of the previous several years, offers something much more experimental and reflective. The story telling is less narrative and more punctuated, the lyrics more imagistic.
Anyway, I’m thinking (and typing) out loud. I’ll give it more thought.