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Progressive Music Awards 2012

Howdy folks,

I’ve come out of hiding for a brief moment to share a fun bit of information.

 

The fine folks at Classic Rock Presents: Prog! are holding a year-in-review reader’s poll. Now if you aren’t a subscriber to this fine publication, don’t worry, we all make mistakes. But as soon as you’re done reading my amazing blog, you should head over to the link below and let your voice be heard.

 

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Prog Rock Used To Be So Cool, Until It Did All That “Progressing”

ATTENTION MUSICIANS: Who the hell do you think you are? Don’t you realize that you’re leeches on society, only able to subsist because you’ve been able to deceive and exploit your audience into overpaying for the small modicum of entertainment you provide? Don’t you realize that you owe your fans your very lives, as well as the lives at least two of your more-preferred offspring? The very thought that an artist, especially in progressive rock, would even consider producing music that didn’t conform to the totally reasonable and valid expectations of their fan base makes me sick to the point of hallucination. And surely I must be hallucinating if my ears are hearing what they think they’ve been hearing from some of my favorite prog artists over the past few months.

Breakfast of champions

Hey Opeth, did you guys forget what metal sounds like? At what point did you decide that Heritage  needed to be an hour-long tribute to crappy 70’s prog bands? I listen to you because Mikael sounds like a demon who was fed a strict diet of motor oil and broken Christmas ornaments. I need some brutal death metal growling! I don’t particularly care that you were able to resurrect elements of classic prog that had been lost to majority of the new prog generation by seamlessly integrating those elements into your already eclectic interpretation of progressive metal, or that Mikael actually has an amazing voice when singing cleanly. I don’t pay you to expand the genre, I pay you to play “Deliverance” really fucking fast! DOUBLE BASS DRUMS, CAN YOU PLAY THEM?!?!?!

Yo, Steven Wilson, what’s with all the not-Porcupine-Tree you’ve been doing lately? Did I tell you that you could take a break, and do totally awesome things like re-master classic King Crimson albums? Why did you think it would be accetpable to do another solo album? You didn’t even get Gavin Harrison to play drums on it this time! Get back in the studio, on the side of the glass WITHOUT the mixing equipment, pick up that acoustic guitar, and play something that sounds vaguely Pink Floyd and/or Radiohead-ish. So help me God if you play something that sounds at all like Krautrock…

Mike Portnoy, listen, I know it’s been a rough year for you. I’m sure it’s been painful for you to watch as your former band-mates move on with another drummer (named Mike no less!) while you’ve been left to fend for yourself, out in the cold, with only six or seven projects to pass the time (Adrenaline Mob, Hail, Transatlantic, Neal Morse’s band, playing with Stone Sour, that thing with John Sykes, I think I heard you’re opening up a pro-wrestling school with Chris Jericho…) but come on man, you’re starting to bore me. When am I going to be able to hear the exact same beats I heard on Systematic ChaosOctavarium, Black Clouds and Silver Linings again? I’m not digging this whole “variety” thing across your new projects. And don’t you think it’s time for a Liquid Tension Experiment reunion, again? Tony Levin could turn into a pile of dust at any moment, time is running out! (Note: I would still pay money to hear a pile of Tony Levin-dust play Chapman Stick).

The structural damage done to one's face when first hearing "Juular" can be devastating.

Oh man…Devin Townsend…I don’t even know where to begin with you. Pick a genre and stick with it man! Do you know how long I’ve had to go without being able to pigeonhole you with traditional labels? You’re metal, you’re pop, you’re electronic, you’re new-age, I think I even heard some bluegrass recently. You’re like a hairless Canadian Frank Zappa sometimes!  If Epicloud isn’t another concept album about coffee and cheeseburgers narrated by the Ziltoid puppet, I’m going to strongly consider canceling my pre-order for the DTP box set. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Look music slaves, it’s very simple. Progressive rock isn’t about progressing. It’s about doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over again. The only thing progressive rock fans want to change about their music is the time signature. The sooner you all remember this important concept and get back to doing what you were doing back in 2000 the happier we’re all going to be, OK? This genre isn’t based on innovation, or expansion, or exploration, or any of those fun-sounding hippie words. The reason you all practiced your rudiments is so that you can play rudimentary music (it all makes sense now!). The sooner you all revert back to your established formulas the happier we’ll all be. And by “we” I mean everyone except you.

They’re here!

Even though I’ve been listening to both albums for awhile now, having the new these babies in my hands feels good!

Kudos to Anthony Clarkson, Brian Kibbons, and Travis Smith on the art.

In the age of electronic music, sometimes it’s just nice to have a new, physical album to enjoy. Or two!

Video: Adrian Belew Power Trio @ Williamsburg Waterfront

Apparently I’m still alive. Unfortunately, other priorities have arisen over the past few months that have kept me from writing about the various prog topic bouncing in around in my head.

As a sincere sign that I plan on once again spewing prog-based ramblings into the void, please enjoy this crappy video I took of Adrian Belew Power Trio at a recent concert at the Williamsburg Waterfront in Brooklyn. No hipsters were harmed in the making of this video.

New Beardfish……soon!

Rarely does NOT going on tour ever result in an increase in a band’s popularity. Yet that was exactly the result when Sweden’s Beardfish, a modern mix of Zappa, Genesis, and their own unique flavors, missed out on what would have been their first American run with the latest (perhaps last) incarnation of the Progressive Nation tour back in 2009, due to financial issues with their label.

Apparently simply being temporarily included on the tour line-up was enough to spark the interest of North American fans, who have been anxiously awaiting news of new albums and potential live dates on this side of the Atlantic for years now. The band is certainly prolific enough, having producing five albums since 2003, so it’s not as if new fans have been suffering due to a lack of material to digest. Still, prog fans are a voracious bunch, so it was with great joy that news of the band’s latest album, Mammoth, reached our facebook pages, twitter feeds, and other channels for information late last year. Since then there have been a few juicy leaks here and there, such as some distorted and grainy live performance of two new tracks finding their way onto youtube (you can google them if you like, I personally think it will be worth waiting to hear the cleaner studio versions). The most enticing item however was released when front man Rikard Sjöblom (I dare you to pronounce that) appeared on the International Prog Rock Show to promote both Mammoth as well as his very enjoyable side-project “Gungfly”. The guys over at IPRS were kind enough to upload the edited version of the first track from Mammoth titled “The Platform”, which you can find below:

Note: If anyone can get me a stand-alone cut of the band’s cover of “The Little House I Used to Live In” that they played on this same show, I will love you forever.

Reviews of this album are already starting to pop up around the web on a few blogs (not this one! Unless someone with a promo copy is feeling super cool…*cough*), and they’ve been almost universally positive. Personally, Beardfish has been one of my favorite bands for the past two years, so I can’t wait to get my mitts on this new material. The album is set to land in consumers’ hands at the end of March, so be on the look out for it. If Mammoth is as good as I’m hoping it will be, it will cement Beardfish’s place as a major force in the progressive rock landscape for the foreseeable future.

Album Review: Audio Insight – Dimensions

One of the reasons progressive rock lost popularity in the 1980s was that there weren’t very many new, young bands that took up the prog mantel once some of the older groups retired or became stale. Thus is makes me very happy when I come across young prog bands in this today, and it gives me hope for the genre in the coming years.

Audio Insight is one of those young bands. Hailing from the great state of New Jersey (which no one is allowed to mock on A Prog Blog), this trio has laid a solid foundation with their first album Dimensions.

The first thing that struck me about Audio Insight is how mature they sound for their age, both in terms of the band member’s actual ages as well as the lifespan of the band. Already they’ve figured out how to strike a good balance between showing off their chops and maintaining a good feel for the structure of their songs, something that many older prog bands continue to struggle with. Instead of sounding self indulgent and amateurish, Audio Insight impresses me with an album that sounds like the 3rd or 4th by professional musicians, and not the first album by a trio of college students.

Another pitfall that Audio Insight manages to avoid, one that I see a lot of young bands on the heavier side of the prog spectrum fall into, is the use of nondescript and interchangeable riffs that make tracks boring and forgettable. Instead of crafting interesting melodies, a band will simply down-tune themselves into oblivion and push out something guttural and indecipherable. On Dimensions, this is not the case.  Each track has its own identity, and it’s seems like the two years spent writing and recording were two years of actual time and effort. Audio Insight majors in a modern form of prog metal that is both heavy and melodic, which is a difficult balance to maintain even for established groups. The group’s sound has a mainstream appeal that will attract fans from similar genres, but material is varied enough that it should still please fans rooted in more stereotypical prog metal.

Audio Insight wears their influences on their sleeve, and fans of Coheed and Cambria will either love or hate the  group for this. While this similarity doesn’t particularly bother me, seeing as it’s the group’s first release, I’m hoping that the band is able to create a more distinct identity for themselves with future releases. I think the group has a lot of potential, and I’d hate for that to be dismissed simply because fans might see them as a C&C clone. Also, like a lot of prog, the vocals will most likely be a polarizing aspect of Audio Insight’s sound. The vocals aren’t bad by any means, but if one was to listen to just the vocal track, you might think you were listening to Fall Out Boy or similar bands.

The result of all of these characteristics is a heavy, high-energy, easily accessible form of prog that will appeal to younger audiences and hopefully some open-minded veterans as well. I think this group has a ton of potential if they can continue to evolve, using this strong first offering as a launching point. They’re playing February 13th at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, NJ for the chance to play at the Bamboozle festival later this year. Go support them, New Jersey music, and young prog musicians all in one fell swoop.

Not Actually A Review of Transatlantic’s Whirld Tour 2010 – Live From Sheperd’s Bush Empire DVD

I wanted to write a review of this DVD. I really did. I tried more than once to get it started. Every time I began writing though, I realized that I wasn’t saying anything that I didn’t already say in my review of the Whirlwind album or their tour stop here in NYC. It kept coming back to the basics: The band is awesome, the new music is pretty good, and their live shows are highly enjoyable.

I liked the DVD a lot, and any fan of Transatlantic will enjoy it as well. Pick it up! (You should probably do so here).

There are the few things I will say specifically about the DVD:

  • The vocals are the best they’ve ever been in the band. They added some new harmonies for the tour, and each new part definitely enhances the total package. Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy both sound significantly better than they did on the last DVD, and of course the addition of Daniel Gildenlow as a touring member just brings the performance to the next level. Of course Neil and Roine are still great. All around a great vocal performance from everyone on stage.
  • Speaking of Daniel and Pete, they are, in my opinion, the highlights of the DVD. Daniel brings that energy and enthusiasm to the stage that is so often lacking in the live performances of prog bands, and I’m extremely thankful that so much of him made it onto the DVD. Pete is notable for the great contrast between his presence on the last DVD and this one. He’s more animated, his parts stand out more (more an attribute of the song writing than his performance I suppose), and he handles a much larger portion of the vocal work, doing a damn good job with it. His performance here makes me wish I didn’t hate Marillion!
  • The special features are…ok. Buy the DVD for the concert.

Oh, also, I’m on the DVD, look!

I’m actually that blurry and poorly lit in real life

Again, I wish I had more to say about this, but there’s just very little else I can say that wouldn’t be repeating my last two posts about The Whirlwind. So check out the DVD, support the band, and maybe they’ll be motivated to take less than 9 years to get back together this time. I hear Portnoy will have some free time! (bad joke, sorry)

Album Review: King Capisce – King Capisce

King Capisce loves saxophone. That’s the clear message I received after listening to their self titled debut album recently. It’s not that I’ve never heard a saxophone, or that I dislike saxophone, or that I suffered a saxophone related trauma when I was a child which soured me on all saxophone-related activity for the rest of my life. Some of my favorite people play saxophone, like Charlie Parker, Bill Clinton and Ernie from Sesame Street. However I clearly do not come anywhere remotely close to the level of passion King Capisce has for the instrument.

To be fair, any band that features not one but two saxophone players is going to have their sound somewhat characterized by the inclusion of those instruments. What strikes me however is the complete omnipresence of saxophone in both the instrumentation and the final mix of each track. 90% of the time if there’s a melody it’s being played on saxophone, while the other 10% of the time the saxophones are bleeding uncontrollably into the sonic spaces left by the lead instruments, preventing you from focusing your attention on the rest of the group.

I do think that the inclusion of both saxophone players is a unique and interesting texture and a credit to the band’s overall sound, but most of the time I find myself wondering what potential lies beyond the thick forest of woodwind. King Capisce’s song writing is extremely varied, and the group is very adept at changes faces track to track, shifting from sleepy post-rock to frantic Mars Volta-style prog, to a jazz style that inspires a delightfully deviant type of energy for me as a listener. The drum work is also particularly tasteful and smooth. Hell, it’s not even that the saxophone players are bad! It is just that the saxophone presence is so ubiquitous that it washes away all of these very interesting and diverse elements and leaves behind a wall of sound entirely uniform and unfortunately lacking in contrast.

As a British group, I’m guessing that my chances to see King Capisce live will be few and far between. I would still like to see a live show however, because have a feeling that, in a live setting, my opinions could very well change. There’s definitely a strong current of momentum and a spark of liveliness in the band’s music that I think would be translated extremely well on stage.

For their second album I would hope that King Capisce explores the roles of the other instruments in more depth, while taking their foot off the gas pedal on the saxophone side of the equation. I honestly wouldn’t change a single other thing about the band, and I think there’s significant potential for growth in the future. You can make your own judgments yourself by going to the band’s myspace page, or by downloading two tracks off the album which the band has generously made available to the public:

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3463011/01%20Cheer%20up%20Cyclops.mp3

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/3463011/09%20Boundless%20%28%2BReprise%29.mp3

Album Review: Time Columns – Sunriseinthesea

I’m a sucker for certain musical elements in prog. Your music could be absolutely terrible, but if you happen to include one or more of my prog turn-ons, then there’s a 99% chance that I’m going to like your music anyway. Bands with no vocals, bands that write music mostly with a 3-beat feel (or who use excessive triplet patterns), bands that create dense layers of poly-rhythms and bands that use arpeggios endlessly; these are the groups that I have an irrational affinity for. It’s a problem that I have no intention of fixing.

This being the case, I guess Baltimore’s Time Columns was already aware of my prog-vices, because these characteristics describe basically all of the songs on their EP, Sunriseinthesea (not that that’s a bad thing! It just means this review is most likely biased as hell).

The multi-instrumentalist duo (I’m still debating whether or not a duo can even be prog, I feel like the minimum number of people in a prog band has to be 3, with the preferable number being 11) creates their music using looping technology that, while popular in other genres, has seen limited integration in prog. Watch this video of Keller Williams (jump to around 4:50) demonstrating how he uses looping to create a full band of Keller Williams-es to support himself in a live setting in a very short amount of time:

I have to imagine Time Columns’ use of looping was born out of necessity. It has to be difficult to play your material live when your drummer is also one of your guitar players, and your other guitar player is also your keyboard player. I’ve been a fan of this technology for awhile, and I was pleased to hear that a prog band was using it so prominently.

Sunriseinthesea, strikes me as a strong first effort, and a good introduction for people who want to get into math rock without jumping directly into the mind-bogglingly technical deep end of the genre. That’s not to say that Time Columns isn’t technically talented. I’m only saying that their material doesn’t embrace the finger-contorting fretwork or calf-crushing double bass; the oh-my-god-how-is-he-doing-that side of the math rock spectrum. Instead, their sound is much more relaxed, and focuses on creating a solid, proggy groove for them to build off of, something which I suspect is a by-product of using loops so frequently.

The group could be diagnosed as having Andrew W.K. Syndrome, a common disease in which every song on a band’s album starts sounding the same. However, as a rule I will forgive bands of this infraction when it occurs on their first release, as I find it can take an album or two for a group to develop their full spectrum of sound outside of what they might be immediately comfortable with. Besides, much like Andrew W.K., I still like what I’m hearing, even if it doesn’t have a lot of variety to it.

Fans of Scale the Summit or Gordian Knot will find themselves enjoying Time Columns. The band will be touring in the very near future, and I know I personally plan on checking them out, even if it’s only to see how they pull off their live material. Check them out at http://timecolumns.bandcamp.com, like them on facebook, and you can follow them on twitter.

Album Review: The Suite Unraveling – Music for Robots

Who’s hungry! (also, is that Bryan Safi on the right?)

I have a soft spot in my brain for instrumental groups. Prog artists are rarely great with words, and often they just end up sounding contrived, shallow, or foolish when they try to come up with lyrics that fit their ridiculous melodies. Instrumental groups are wise enough to forego these often pointless exercises, and I appreciate their ability to communicate without being explicit (as a wise robot once said, “Your lyrics lack subtlety, you can’t just have your characters announce how they feel! That makes me feel angry!”)

The Suite Unraveling is a good example of how you don’t need words in music. The group falls somewhere on the spectrum between jazz and prog, which can be a hard line to straddle without becoming boring as hell or overly pretentious (or most often, both). Typically bands in this predicament will get too comfortable in their own skin and forget that their music needs to go somewhere, instead of droning on for ten minutes on the same chord progression like a depressed Buddhist chant. The Suite Unraveling avoids this pit fall on their most recent album, Music for Robots, fairly well. While I’d be lying if I told you that these songs rush from phrase to phrase, you will never wonder when the band is going to get over themselves and move on to the next point they’re trying to make. The vibe the album creates is methodical but energized, and even on my first listen I found myself really enjoying what my ear holes were witnessing.

The first comparisons I drew in my mind listening to Music for Robots were to the albums King Crimson put out between In the Court of the Crimson King and Red, as well as some of the less frantic Mahavishnu Orchestra selections. All of these bands take a “we’ll get there when we get there” approach to their songs that I find extremely listenable, though I know others don’t share this view. None of this is music to dance, headbang, skank, or freak out to, but it’s not music to zone out to either. In each song there’s a lot going on at any given moment, yet none of it ever happens in an ADHD sort of way where everything becomes random and disjointed, and substance gets lost in a flurry of poly-rhythms, prime numbers and dissonance. One idea clearly follows another, and instead of trying to squish and trim it’s material the band takes it’s time exploring each moment they create before moving on to the next.

It’s not music that will appeal to everyone immediately, but I really enjoyed listening to Music for Robots. As I said before, if you like early King Crimson but want something less sinister, or if you like Mahvishnu Orchestra but desire a little less aural masturbation (note: Obviously I’m still a huge fan of aural masturbation!) then you very well might enjoy The Suite Unraveling.

Check them out at http://www.suiteunraveling.blogspot.com/

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