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Posts tagged “Coheed and Cambria

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.

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Is Prog Becoming Popular? Is that Even Allowed?

To be honest, I was hoping to be writing a totally different article. Specifically, it was going to be a review of the Between the Buried and Me/Cynic/Devin Townsend/Scale the Summit show (billed as ‘The Great Misdirect Tour’ after BTBAM’s latest album) at Irving Plaza a few weekends ago. However a little over a month before the show something very peculiar happened that caused me to write this particular article instead.

*Insert Macaulay-Culkin-Home-Alone-Style-Face-Slap-And-Scream here*

The show sold out. Not only did it sell out, but it sold out ridiculously quick. Not the ‘oh crap I forgot Phish tickets were going on sale at noon today and now it’s 12:05pm and all three nights at Madison Square Garden are sold out’ level of bullshit I suffered through in December, but all things considered this might have been even more surprising. To have a show sell out over a month before the first band takes the stage is not something any progressive rock fan born after 1980 is used to. At first I blamed myself for waiting to buy tickets, but then I realized that I could surely pin this on someone or something else besides my own procrastination.

The first question that popped into my head was ‘Did they underestimate the size of the venue?’ Irving Plaza holds 1,200 people according to Wikipedia. That’s a pretty tiny venue to hold a show featuring four bands, even if none of them are even remotely famous. I think the bar downstairs in my building holds almost half that.

A typical progressive rock concert crowd

On the other hand, I can’t blame the organizers for booking such a small venue either. Until now the only way a progressive rock band could fill any venue was if said band was an established group made up of older British gentlemen in their 40s-60s, in which case an audience of 30-50 year old fans would drastically over-pay to see their idols musically masturbate on stage for a few hours and maybe play some of their hits (note: this trend is not exclusive to prog. I’m looking at you, Rolling Stones). So when the ‘Great Misdirect Tour’ was announced, it was safe to assume that there was no chance that any of the performances would be held in a major venue. New, young prog bands for the past 20 years have almost universally generated zero hype and zero money, and multiplying zero by four bands is still $0.00. I can count the number of fresh prog faces that have seen major success in the past 20 years on one hand, at least here in the US.

I spent the remaining weeks before the concert looking for tickets everywhere I could. Except for one string of extremely sketchy ticket broker websites that were charging hundreds of dollars for individual tickets that they probably didn’t actually have, no one had even a tiny glimmer of hope for me. Something I noticed as I made my search, however, was that NYC wasn’t the only city that had zero tickets available weeks before the tour’s stop there. In fact I could only find two cities on the tour that consistently had tickets available during my searches (note: The capital region of New York state and Charlotte, North Carolina are apparently prog-haters).

So my disappointment here in NYC appeared to be more than an isolated incident. While I’m sure the promoters were happy to be selling out the venues they booked, I have to hope that they also came to the same conclusion that I came to. At some point while no one was paying attention, progressive rock crossed some threshold and became somewhat popular with new fans.

Now hold on, I’m not saying that next year we’re going to see Emerson, Lake, and Palmer play the Super Bowl. But look around, and you’ll see more and more that prog has started to creep out of nerd’s basements and into the mainstream. Some examples for you to consider:

Oh yeah, this is WAY better than 'Closer to the Heart'.

Rush is rumored to have been scheduled to play the opening ceremony of the Vancouver Olympics, but their segment was scrapped as being too ‘up-beat’ following the death of Georgian luger Nodar Kumaritashvili. Notice how the show was themed around the different provinces of Canada, moving from east to west? Also notice how Ontario and the Great Lakes region were skipped over? I’ll tell you who noticed, Rush fans. I don’t know why line-dancing-lumberjack fiddle battles were deemed to be more appropriate than the country’s chief musical export, but I guess it’s just another reason to hate Canada.

– Speaking of the Super Bowl, the Who worked TWO segments of their rock opera Tommy into their half time show, something I am declaring the ‘proggiest moment in Super Bowl history’. Ringo’s kid also did a pretty good job of pretending to play drums.

– Continuing with our current theme, prog has inched its way into sports via other avenues as well. NBC has used Dream Theater as background music for sports vignettes in the past, and the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs enter the court to Dream Theater every game. This puts Dream Theater in the same stratosphere as such illustrious artists as Baha Men, Sisqo, Rednex, and The Village People.

Porcupine Tree, long lauded by the progressive rock community as ‘the band we love that eventually the mainstream is going to listen to and steal from us’ is finally starting to slide down that slippery slope into popularity. First in April they’ll be performing at Coachella, one of the biggest music festivals in the US, along with other prog-curious artists Les Claypool, Coheed and Cambria, and headliner Muse. Then in September they will be playing at Radio City Music Hall here in NYC, which is especially impressive considering that they were playing tiny bars here in the states five years ago. The ascension of Porcupine Tree into the mainstream is something progressive rock fans have been both dreading and praying for, as this may be a major sign of the pending prog-pocalypse, where the prog-faithful will be raptured to prog-heaven. It’s in the prog-Bible, you should read it some time.

– As of this writing, the game Rock Band has 24 songs available specifically labeled as ‘Progressive’ or ‘Prog’. The fact that this surpasses the number of songs they have available labeled as ‘Emo’, ‘New Wave’, or ‘Glam’ is extremely satisfying.

'Maxim' probably would have been a better name for a prog magazine, is that taken?

Classic Rock Magazine has begun issuing a quarterly piece they’ve titled Prog! dedicated to the genre. It’s an English publication so I haven’t gotten my hands on it, but hopefully they’ve put more effort into writing articles for Prog! than they did coming up with the amazing title. (note: I realize I’m criticizing someone for title originality on my progressive rock blog titled ‘A Progressive Rock Blog’. Shut up.)

So there are just some examples of progressive rock’s progression (ha!) into main stream society. I’ll be the first to admit that prog hasn’t exactly climbed to the top of the pop culture mountain, but it’s certainly in a more prominent position than the one the genre was occupying for the past two decades.

What does this mean for progressive rock? I know a lot of music listeners who for the most part stick to genres that they feel are ‘underground’, and who extract some amount of joy from the idea that their music is ‘pure’, as it hasn’t been touched and corrupted by the masses. Prog has plenty of fans like this as well, and they readily admit that they don’t want their favorite bands to become popular. I understand this motivation, but personally I feel the exact opposite way. All I’ve ever wanted is for other people to listen to the same music I enjoy and find their own level of pleasure in it, instead of instantly dismissing it as comical or foolish (note: To be fair, this is exactly what I do to country/emo/nu metal/any kind of music with the word ‘Jesus’ in it. I’m not trying to be musical Gandhi here and treat everyone as equals). If all of this is stupid speculation based on the fact that I couldn’t get tickets to a show I wanted to go see, and chances are that it is, then shame on me for creating hype where there is none. But if on New Year’s Eve I look up at a TV at whatever party I’m at, and Beardfish is playing as the clock hits midnight, and I’m not in Sweden, then I’m going to be shouting ‘I told you so’ as loudly and joyfully as a drunken prog fan can.


Invasion of the prog-lodytes: Examples of how progressive rock is sneaking into new genres of music

What years of listening to Rush records in your mothers basement can do to your complexion.

What years of listening to Rush records in your mother's basement can do to your complexion.

Prog has always claimed that it was ‘music for musicians’. It’s a pretty attractive label, and much better than the alternative ‘music for geeks who aren’t getting laid’. Regardless of the tag-line, the point is that even if you don’t actively listen to progressive rock, chances are that the bands you DO listen to count progressive rock artists among their influences. When young bands (that don’t suck) are talking to the press and the reporter asks them who their influences are, if they’re brave enough to mention people outside their own genre 90% of the time the drummer will include Neil Peart and/or Mike Portnoy, bass players will mention Geddy Lee, Tony Levin, and/or Chris Squire, and keyboard…well…ok, if they have a keyboard player, chances are he isn’t being given any face time unless he’s also the front man and super duper pretty (guitarists gets more genre dependent, but I see Steve Vai’s, David Gilmour’s, Frank Zappa’s, and Steve Howe’s names thrown out a lot).

So what happened to all these progressive-rock-influenced artists? How come none of them ended up making progressive rock? The answer is that you are simply being a naive fool. Progressive rock has worked long and hard to covertly work its way into more mainstream genres, and the fruits of decades of labor are now beginning to ripen. Below you will find examples of some genres where artists are now becoming popular who show significant signs that they’ve been infected with the prog.

METAL


What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

What, no corpsepaint for the baby?

Metal was one of the earliest and easiest genres for prog to branch into. For one, a lot of metal musicians are extremely talented. I realize that, to people who aren’t fans of metal, a lot of the music just sounds like loud noise and unintelligible lyrics, but under the growling and the corpsepaint you’ll find some of the most technically skilled musicians around. Good metal guitarists can play diminished augmented pentatonic chords using alternate sweep picking just as fast as the proggy-ist prog douche bag guitar player, they just chose not to so because it’s not brutal enough (note: metal people judge all things on a scale of 1-brutal). Metal drummers and prog drummers are in an eternal pissing contest over who can play double bass faster, and just like how metal singers and prog singers are always trying to see how high they can sing without causing a sonic boom. Also, they put equal emphasis on physical activity and hygiene in their personal lives. So prog and metal have been pushing each other’s buttons for a very very long time, and the results have been enjoyable for both fan bases:

Examples of prog/metal marriages:

Dream Theater – Basically the flag bearer for progressive rock. Train of Thought is their most metal album, but every album has significant metal overtones through out. Scenes from a Memory is widely considered to be one of the best prog album of the 1990’s if not of all time. (Dream Theater Example – “Painc Attack”)

Opeth – If Dream Theater is a prog band with metal overtones, Opeth is a death metal band with prog overtones. The band drifts between melodic haunting passages and crushing metal destruction almost too freely. If you can’t handle cookie monster-style vocals you’d best start with Damnation which is their ‘mellow’ album, but then quickly get Deliverance and give that a spin as well. (Opeth Example – Death Whispered a Lulaby, and then The Drapery Falls)

Other prog/metal bands (and their albums that you should check out):

Symphony X –  V (Example: “Inferno”)

Fates WarningInside Out (Example: “One“)

Queensryche Operation: Mindcrime (Example: “Spreading the Disease”)

ToolLateralus (Example: “Sober”)

Between the Buried and Me Colors (Example: “White Walls”)

Scale the Summit Carving Desert Canyons (Example: “Dunes”)

Pain of Salvation One Hour by the Concrete Lake (Example: Inside)

Coheed and Cambria (Example: “Welcome Home”)

Jazz


Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

Above him, Led Zeppelin was stealing his music

The other genre that prog was able to easily seduce was jazz. Jazz has been the most popular kid in school basically forever. Everyone wants to claim that they’re influenced by jazz, or that they have jazz tendencies, or that they once slept with jazz at a party but jazz wouldn’t remember it because jazz was really drunk that night. No matter how much jazz wants to deny it, jazz and prog did in fact hook up a few times in the 60s and 70s, resulting in the genre fusion. If you know jazz, think of Kind of Blue. Fusion is the exact opposite of that. It’s fast, complicated, crazy shit that most of the time sounds like a bad jam session made up of really good musicians (note: I love fusion). If someone tried to dance to fusion they’d be mistaken for a seizure victim and taken to a hospital. The people who play fusion are of course ridiculously talented to the point where they could probably have a full conversation with each other using only their instruments. One problem fusion inherited from jazz  is that any band that considers itself to have drawn from jazz and some other genre automatically considers itself to be ‘fusion’. What can I say, jazz was a whore:

Examples of prog/jazz marriages:

Mahavishnu Orchestra – If there was ever a band that sounded like an acid trip, I’d pick Mahavishnu Orchestra. Drawing from Indian, European, jazz, and classical music, as well as John McLaughlin’s own eccentricity, the music they produced was frantic, intensely complex, and mind blowing once you manage to wrap your brain around it. Birds of Fire and Apocalypse may be the best characterizations of the band’s sound, but if you don’t enjoy either album that’s fine, you’re probably still too sane. (Mahavishnu Orchestra Example: “Trilogy”)

Frank Zapppa – I’m not even going to try to explain Frank Zappa in three lines. I don’t even know if I can call the majority of what he did ‘fusion’ but he’s fucking important and he fits best here. Go listen to Hot Rats, Roxy and Elsewhere and Apostrophe, and if you don’t like those don’t worry about it, there’s about five billion other albums that sound totally different that you can get into. (Frank Zappa Example: “Waka/Jawaka”)

Other prog/jazz bands (and their albums that that you should check out):

The Mars VoltaFrancis the Mute (Example: “Wax Simulacra”)

The Dixie DregsNight of the Living Dregs (Example: “Assembly Line”)

Liquid Tension Experiment Liquid Tension Experiment 2 (Example: “Biaxadent)

Jam Bands


There wasnt actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

There wasn't actually any mud. Hippies are just this dirty.

Unlike jazz and metal, prog hasn’t shared a lot of common ground with the jam scene. The Grateful Dead were thoroughly un-complicated and yet they became extremely popular by touring their asses off and playing a lot of simple country and blues covers in cool new ways  (making them…….progressive? MY BRAIN CAN’T HANDLE THAT). For a long time hippies were content bopping along to country and blues music, and probably would have been fine like this forever, until Phish came along and expanded the genre by writing songs that made as little sense as possible. Moving from the relatively comfortable confines of country and blues to the total nonsense that Phish produced (note: I love Phish) blew hippie’s minds. So hippie musicians, being totally incapable of rejecting any art form, started incorporating every possible genre of music into the covers they played, into their huge and totally awesome music festivals, and eventually into their own music. Alternative and bluegrass were some of the first genres to gain popularity with hippies, then some electronica and punk weaved its way in, and now metal and prog are starting to poke their heads in as well:

Examples of prog/jam band marriages:

Umphrey’s Mcgee – UM is the cream of the crop as far as blending technical skill and musicality. It’s really an amazing balancing act that they pull off, and they do it flawlessly. I also find their live improv stuff to be far less meandering and self indulgent than a lot of other jam bands. Anchor Drops is the place you start for their studio efforts, but after that I suggest downloading their eight billion podcasts, as a lot of their best songs haven’t ever been recorded in the studio. Honestly I’m not even going to bother discussing other prog/jam band marriages in depth, Umphrey’s is really the top of the line and an experience like no other. (Umphreys Mcgee Example: “Bridgeless”)

Other prog/jam bands (and their albums that you should check out):

The Disco Biscuits Uncivilized Area (Example – “I-man”)

Keller Williams Laugh (Example – “Freeker by the Speeker)

moe.Wormwood (Example – “Crab Eyes”)

Oysterhead The Grand Pecking Order (Example – “Mr. Oysterhead”)

Bluegrass


A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

A tradional bluegrass band. Guitar, upright bass, banjo, mandolin, and no black people.

I’m going to be upfront about this. I hate country music more than any other genre of music on the planet. Most of the performers are talentless and I think the stereotypes it generates are more damaging to rednecks than gangster rap is to urban youth. That being said, I also think the slide guitar/dobro, mandolin, and banjo are some of the coolest instruments ever. So I compromise and enjoy bluegrass. Bluegrass to me, is what happened to all the talented southern musicians. They sing about all the same topics the crappy country artists do, but their songs are ten million times more interesting and their lyrics are ten million times more creative. To be honest I don’t know if bluegrass is actually even aware of progressive rock, but both genres are fast, technical, and full of energy, so if they haven’t met maybe I can help.

Examples of prog/bluegrass marriages:

Bela Fleck and the Flecktones – This band probably only gets lumped in with bluegrass because it features a banjo. It’s also probably one of the few, if not only bluegrass band to include sax and electronic drums (note: electronic drums that are actually awesome, unlike most electronic kits which sound horrible). All of that being said, Bela Fleck might be the most well known and universally respected banjo player ever (even more than Steve Martin!), and Victor Wooten is part of the pantheon of modern bass gods. Kind of bluegrass, kind of fusion, whatever, it’s extremely creative and fun to listen to. Little Worlds is a 3-disc set that’s probably less bluegrass-y than their past efforts, but it’s a great introduction to their sound. (Bela Fleck and the Flecktones Example: “Next”)

Yonder Mountain String Band – The shining symbol of ‘new grass‘, YMSB is talented and technically proficient and blah blah blah, but that’s probably the least attended to part of their music. What makes them such an incredible band is how they’ve taken bluegrass out of the realm of genres like polka (i.e. dance music that’s a joke to most people) and made it emotional and joyful. I’ve never seen so many universally happy people in my entire life as I’ve seen at YMSB shows. The crowd just emits rainbows and sunshine and good emotions. They make 80 year old men act like 10 year olds on their birthday, and the coolest hipster turns into a Appalachian mountain dweller before their onslaught of elation. Mountain Tracks: Volume 5 is a great selection of live tracks to check out, and their new album The Show is pretty solid. (Yonder Mountain String Band Example: Sideshow Blues)

Other prog/bluegrass bands (and their albums that you should check out)

Railroad EarthAmen Corner (Example: “Seven Story Mountain”)

Hopefully this has given you a decent idea of how prog isn’t actually as alien a genre as one might think. There’s a lot of common ground between prog and genres that are far more popular, and there has been and will continue to be bleeding between groups as new bands find their own unique sounds.

P.S. – I do want to mention one band that I left out, that being Muse. Muse has a totally absurd amount of popularity for a band that prog fans consider to be ‘one of us’. It’s not super duper technical, but it at least creates the illusion of being super duper technical, and sometimes that’s good enough. It is high energy and features a guy who sings high enough to make the guy from The Darkness jealous so I guess the leap in prog-faith isn’t too absurd.  I can’t really explain why the rest of the world loves them, not that I’m complaining either. So I guess if a band like Muse can be touring with U2 and performing on the VMAs then I can still hope that prog will take over all of music one day. A man can dream can’t he…a man can dream…