Friday, June 8, 2018

Welcome Back!

I've decided after a long hiatus to try to revive my progressive rock music blog. Over the past several years I've struggled to keep up with it since I got married and then returned back to school. Life was fairly busy for a while, but I've missed writing and thought it would be the perfect time to get back into it. I just wanted to kind of re-introduce myself and what the purpose of this blog is. I'll begin by saying that I'm not a very critical person, and I don't enjoy writing negative things. What I like to do is write about the things that I love, so my purpose with this blog is to share music that I'm passionate about. So, don't expect any negative reviews- if I happen to not like an album, I prefer not to listen to it much and would therefore prefer not to write about it as well. But I'm hoping if anybody reads this, that they are maybe inspired by my reviews to check out some new music they might not have otherwise looked into.

I'm still not completely sure all the things that I want to do in this blog- I'm still deciding how ambitious I want to be. But, what I do know for sure is that I will be posting reviews of new albums that I come across that I love and that are within the Progressive Rock realm. I want to try to catch up on all the 2018 albums that I've really enjoyed and then by the end of the year, have a wrap-up post that highlights all my favorite music of the year.

I have decided on a simple 5 star rating system as well to give some idea of how I feel about each album. In summary:
1 Star: A bad album that is unlistenable to me
2 Stars: A mediocre album that may have a couple decent tracks or moments, but overall is meandering and uninteresting
3 Stars: A good album that is may be uneven in spots but has some highlights and is an enjoyable listen
4 Stars: A fantastic album that is solid from start to finish
5 Stars: A masterpiece; on the short-list of my favorite all-time albums

As I'm sure you could gather from my previous statement, there will most likely never be 1 or 2 star albums featured on this blog. I will mostly focus on the 3-star and above albums. I plan on a 5-star album to be a very rare thing, only reserved for the most special albums.

 So, I hope that anyone who might visit here finds something to enjoy and that you find my reviews interesting. I'll try my best to keep up with writing about all the latest and greatest albums I come across in the Progressive Rock world. Below is my first review after coming back for the excellent new Spock's Beard album, Noise Floor. Hopefully this gives you some idea of what to expect. Thanks, and have fun listening!

Spock's Beard- Noise Floor


Spock's Beard is well known in the Progressive Rock community. They can be considered pioneers of the modern prog revival and have been around for over twenty years. The have gone through many lineup changes throughout their history, but they always hold on to their signature sound even while forging new ground. "Noise Floor" is the band's 13th album, and is truly an amazing achievement for a band with such an extensive catalog of high quality progressive rock releases. The newest album blasts off with "To Breathe Another Day" which is a high energy rocker that sets an energetic pace for what is to come. There is a fantastic middle instrumental section that gives the whole band a chance to shine as Alan Morse's guitar and Ryo Okumoto's keyboards trade solos with the high octane rhythm section of Dave Meros on bass and Nick D'Virgilio on drums. Ted Leonard also sounds amazing on vocals throughout the track, bringing to mind Steve Walsh of Kansas fame.

From that solid opening, the band continues to really shine throughout the album. The musicianship is strong throughout, which is no surprise considering all those involved. The songs are really well thought out and are a joy to listen to. The band was clearly focusing on a more melodic approach to songwriting, which I think really makes for an enjoyable listen where every song is catchy in its own way and never outstays its welcome. "Somebody's Home" is a gem of a song, making use of the acoustic guitar interplay that the band is known for, but instead of being showy and needlessly complex, the focus is on the song and the emotional message in the words. It is a sweet song that really shines with beautiful strings and Ted Leonard giving a great impassioned vocal performance. It is certainly a highlight of the record.

 "Have We All Gone Crazy Yet" is a personal favorite of mine, and I'm sure will be a personal favorite for many long-term fans of the band. This is where some of the band's fun, quirky style comes into play in spectacular fashion. What drew me to the band in the first place is that first and foremost, the music is fun. I listen to music mostly to experience joy and excitement, and I feel that Spock's Beard embodies this. This track bounces around with some wonderful interplay from all the instruments, with some jazziness and twists and turns that keep the listener guessing as the track progresses. This is excellent prog to my ears. "So This Is Life" comes as a bit of a breather and is a great mash-up of The Beatles and Pink Floyd. I appreciate what the Beard are doing here, and this track sounds different from the tracks surrounding it, and frankly from most of the music in the Spock's Beard catalog. But this gives it a certain freshness and makes the track that much more interesting.

The final three tracks of the main album are all fantastic pieces of music that close the album strongly. "One So Wise" is another joyous expression of music from the band that calls back to some of the strongest pieces of the last couple Spock's Beard albums (both of the Ted Leonard era albums, Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep and The Oblivion Particle). It is anthemic and has a Kansas vibe to it, especially Ted's incredible vocals. I love the bass-line and how the song moves along so seamlessly with some great keyboard work by Ryo Okumoto. This is modern Spock's at their finest. But, speaking of Ryo, he isn't done shining yet, as "Box Of Spiders" is purely a showcase of his talents as a writer and musician. This is maybe my favorite Spock's Beard instrumental ever. Up to this point, the focus has been on more melodic, catchy songs, but this is where the band just goes full on prog and the results are glorious. This piece goes through so many changes in time signatures, styles, and sounds. This is just an incredible work of crazy, progressive, complex and intricate art. I love this track. The album closes ironically with "Beginnings" which hearkens back to the classic Spock's Beard sound of the Neal Morse era of the band more than any of the other tracks, with some interesting vocal interplay between Alan Morse, Nick D'Virgilio and Ted Leonard. It is majestic and grandiose, which is a fantastic way to end an incredible album.

There is also a bonus disc called "From The Cutting Room Floor" with some additional tracks that are a great accompaniment to the album. I think there is some wisdom in separating out these tracks from the main disc. These tracks, although also great songs, don't quite fit in as much with the rest of the songs, and find a great home here on what can be considered a fantastic little EP. "Days We'll Remember" is a nostalgic ballad that has a strong sense of melody and a great sing-along chorus. "Bulletproof" is perhaps my favorite of the bonus disc songs with a very positive feel and some great pop sensibilities. Things slow down just slightly for the very pleasant "Vault" that is very influenced by Ted Leonard, sounding even like his other band, Enchant, at times and has a fantastic build up. This disc closes with the fabulous instrumental "Armegeddon Nervous" which moves along at a quick pace and allows for the band to shine one last time with some great instrumental interplay. 

"Noise Floor" is a remarkable achievement for a band that is on their 13th album. I am always so impressed with the band and how they adapt as they go through each lineup change. This time they lost Jimmy Keegan, but they were able to bring back Nick D'Virgilio in the studio to cover the drum parts. But, the band are still going strong and I hope above all other hopes that the band keeps going and keeps evolving. Everybody shines on this album, from the musicianship to the song writing and arranging, this is a beautiful album full of amazing compositions. I'm so impressed with the band and heartily recommend this album to all prog music lovers. They are indeed firing on all cylinders and I can't wait to hear more in the future. This album will be on heavy rotation for me for quite some time.

Rating: 4 Stars.


 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Sorry For The Long Absence!

I haven't written in this blog for a long time, and I feel very bad about it. It has been a crazy month. But, I plan to start back up in writing regularly in this blog. I have many prog albums to review from this year. Soon there should be reviews of Beardfish's Mammoth, Pendragon's Passion, Wobbler's Rites At Dawn, and Neal Morse's Testimony 2 among many others. I also plan to give a detailed review of the Neal Morse concert I attended this past weekend, which ended up being one of the musical highlights in my life this far. I can't wait to share all of this with all of you. I hope you haven't given up on checking out this blog. I promise to have many things in the upcoming weeks for all you prog fans to enjoy. Thanks for reading, and I'll be back soon with a new entry!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

First Quarter Report

So, the first quarter of 2011 is over, and I thought I would give my general impressions about new music I discovered over the course of the last three months. The best album by far of the first quarter for me is "Snowtorch" by Phideaux. Fresh off the heals of two incredible albums ("Doomsday Afternoon" and "Number Seven"), Phideaux has managed to release his third masterpiece in a row. I love everything about "Snowtorch" and am forever grateful to Phideaux for allowing me to hear it early. It hearkens back to the classic prog days with some vintage sounds, influences and even the album length. But, Phideaux put their unique stamp on it and create a piece of music that is both fun and heartfelt.

Another big album to be released this quarter is "Mammoth" by Beardfish. I feel that "Mammoth" is a return to form from one of my favorite bands. "Destined Solitaire" definitely has its moments, but as an album, I felt it was a little disjointed. Some moments just didn't work for me. "Mammoth" on the other hand is a complete beast of a record and is full of highlights. The epic "And The Stone Said: If I Could Speak" is worth purchasing the album. The band at times takes a harder edge, but never looses that special eclectic proginess that I love from them. A full review of "Mammoth" should be coming soon (hopefully this weekend).

The biggest surprise of the first quarter is by far "Voice" by Hiromi. I usually stick to prog, but "Voice" is a full on Jazz album and I just love it. It is completely instrumental, sticking to the trio of piano, bass and drums. Hiromi is an incredible jazz pianist who just blows me away whenever I hear her playing. She has to be one of the best piano players in the world. I love all the various moods that can be felt throughout this album. A review should come shortly for this album as well. Another album I thoroughly enjoyed was "The Suffering Joy" by Magic Pie. I will admit that I'm not as excited about it now as when it first came out, but it is still a satisfying slice of symphonic prog and definitely the best album the band has released this far in their career.

Beyond those albums, I've fallen for the beautiful simplicity of "The King Is Dead" by The Decemberists. By no means a prog album, I would actually place it somewhere between country and folk. I haven't listened to it much, but I've really been digging "The Perils of Time Travel" by Thank You Scientist. It is only a 30 minute EP, but it showcases a very modern sounding band with some unique flavors. I especially love the saxophone they use in their music. They sound like some crazy mix between the band 3 and Dave Matthews Band.

Other albums that are good, but haven't really grabbed me the same way as the others are "XXV" by Pallas. It has moments of greatness, but there are moments where the music drags, making it a little difficult to get through. "Welcome To My DNA" by Blackfield is pleasant enough, but lacks the specialness of the first two albums. Maybe I'll find more to love as I listen more.

So, to summarize, here is my top ten releases of the first quarter of 2011:
10. The Collective- Scale The Summit
9. Invisible Places- Presto Ballet
8. Welcome To My DNA- Blackfield
7. XXV- Pallas
6. The Perils of Time Travel- Thank You Scientist
5. The Suffering Joy- Magic Pie
4. The King Is Dead- The Decemberists
3. Voice- Hiromi
2. Mammoth- Beardfish
1. Snowtorch- Phideaux

There is a lot to look forward to in the second quarter. There should be releases from Pendragon, Mars Hollow, Neal Morse, The Dear Hunter, Symphony X and Karmakanic, among others. It should be good!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Hall Of Fame: The Tall Ships by It Bites


It Bites is what could be called a progressive pop band, and boy are they good at what they do. This is my first and only It Bites record, and I think it is brilliant from beginning to finish. I love this record from the opening harmonies of "Oh My God" to the big grandiose finale of "This is England". I purchased this album after hearing many good things about it from sources that I consider reputable and heard a sample of "Oh My God" that made me smile in delight as I listened. When the CD arrived, I immediately put it in my car, and it stayed in my car CD player for at least a month solid. At first I was only sold on a few songs and considered certain songs to be mediocre, but after repeated listenings, I found those songs to be highly enjoyable and to have great catchy hooks. Very impressive work!

The star of this album for me is John Mitchell who seems to be in every new prog rock project these days. He lends his voice and guitar skills to this, his first It Bites album. His voice fits the music perfectly and the guitar is tasteful and downright brilliant in spots. The truly progressive rock moments are fairly sparse throughout the album, but when they appear, they are refreshing and not overblown. The main progressive tracks are the opener, "Oh My God" which has beautiful vocal harmonies, "The Wind That Shakes the Barley" which goes into a very impressive progressive instrumental section, and the 13 minute epic, "This is England" which moves through several different movements before landing on its bombastic finale. The songs in between are all catchy and fun and are a pleasure to listen to over and over again.

"The Tall Ships" is very consistent and I love the sound that the band creates. I highly recommend this album to any music fan, especially one who enjoys a good amount of pop hooks as well as some progressive elements thrown in. All in all a very enjoyable listen and an album I keep coming back to.

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Tangent- Going Off On Two (CD/DVD)

One of my favorite bands, The Tangent, is releasing a live DVD/CD called "Going Off On Two." It should be released in mid April, but it can be pre-ordered now at www.thetangent.org.

I have included the trailer to this DVD below. It looks and sounds fantastic. It is very interesting to release a live performance of the band in the studio with no audience. Also included on the live set is a performance of "The Mind's Eye" from their upcoming album "COMM" which will hopefully be out in September of this year. Based on this short clip, it very well may be a contender for album of the year (although it is going to have some stiff competition).

So, for your enjoyment, here is the video:

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hall Of Fame: The Whirlwind by Transatlantic


Some excerpts from a review I wrote on this album:

“The Whirlwind” is a masterful concept album from the minds of Neal Morse, Roine Stolt, Pete Trewavas and Mike Portnoy. When I first heard that Transatlantic was reuniting for another album, I was ecstatic. “Bridge Across Forever” is my favorite album of all time, and when I discovered that Transatlantic essentially broke up after this masterpiece, I was crushed. I figured that I would never hear new Transatlantic material. Thankfully, I was wrong, and not only did Transatlantic meet my high expectations, they exceeded them. “The Whirlwind” is a beautiful album that captures for me four talented artists at the peak of their creativity and ability.

Pete Trewavas really impresses me with his bass work on this album, it is consistently amazing throughout the album. Roine Stolt has some amazing guitar solos peppered throughout the album (some of the best in my opinion come in the middle of “The Wind Blew Them All Away” and “Out of the Night”). Mike Portnoy is amazing on drums as usual and I always love Neal and he continues to shine on this album by bringing a high level of emotion and passion to everything he does. I absolutely love the Overture that starts the album. It is a masterful way to include all the main themes that will be explored throughout the album in such a way to build excitement in the listener. Other favorite moments include the heartfelt "Rose Colored Glasses" and the last half of “Is It Really Happening?” where the music gets faster and faster and all members of the band play at breakneck speed.

I love the creativity that abounds when these four individuals get together to create music and I hope to hear a lot more from them in the future. There is a sense of fun in this record that is infectious and that is part of what I love about what Transatlantic brings to the table. They can be goofy and fun in one moment and heartfelt and passionate the next. They truly have a love of the progressive rock of the seventies and that shines throughout the album as well. This album is most definitely a masterpiece and I expected nothing less from the creative forces at work behind it.