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

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.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hall Of Fame: Close To The Edge by Yes

I have decided, after much thought, that I am going to create a Hall of Fame on this blog. The tab for said Hall of Fame is located at the top of this blog and is called "The Leviathan Hall Of Fame." The Hall Of Fame will contain songs or albums that I consider to be classic. You can call them strong recommendations or just a list of my favorites, but I thought it would be fun to put them in a hall of fame to honor the music that has touched me so deeply throughout my life. The hope is that The Hall of Fame will become a huge list of what I consider the best in music. Then, the viewers of this blog can conveniently go there in order to find some very strong recommendations about which music to pursue. Of course, in the beginning, the list might seem sparse, but I'm hoping over time it will grow and become quite substantial. Also, there is not really any limitations to what I can include there. I will try to stick to music that I consider progressive, though, so as to keep some consistency.

So, for my first entry into the Hall of Fame, I figure that a good choice would be the prog classic, "Close To The Edge" by Yes. For the purposes of this entry, I am referring only to the song, not the entire album (although later I may decide to induct the entire album). "Close To The Edge" was one of the first progressive rock epics I was introduced to when I was first getting into prog music. I was pretty much blown away by it on first listen. My dad was the one to share it with me, and he warned me that it was really weird, especially the beginning. But, I really connected with it right away, and I feel that "Close To The Edge" is one of the biggest reasons why I am a huge prog fan today.

The epic is introduced by sounds of nature, taking you into an alternate world. I feel the best music is able to transport you to another world, and Yes has a unique talent to do just that. The music is then quite chaotic with mainly a crazy drumbeat, noodling guitar, tinkling keyboards and thumping bass, interrupted occasionally by Jon Anderson's spacey vocals. Then, the chaos subsides, the guitar plays the main melody of the song and things get underway. What really sticks out to me here is Chris Squire's bass playing. Before listening to progressive music, I often was unable to recognize the bass in rock music. But, here, it is unmistakable due to Chris Squire's distinct tone and groove. Now, the bass is one of my favorite instruments to listen for.

About eight and a half minutes in, the upbeat music stops, and what is left behind is a dreamy atmospheric section that is truly heavenly. Jon Anderson, Chris Squire and Steve Howe sing some wonderful harmonies that truly bring tears to my eyes. Then, Rick Wakeman comes in with a powerful organ solo that is mind-blowing. It is truly one of the highlights in progressive rock for me. Then, the band kicks back in with the killer main melody of the beginning before it fades out with the same sounds of nature that began the epic, bringing everything full circle. It is truly musical perfection. I wish I had the ability to describe the true euphoria that I feel when listening to this epic. It transports me to another world, and makes me feel true happiness.

Here is the epic split up into two youtube videos. Please have a listen and hopefully you'll be transported to another world like I am.

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Prog Band On Late Night TV?

I was pleasantly surprised to find out that a prog band was featured on a late night talk show in the US. The talk show is The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson, which is one of my favorite talk shows on TV right now. On Monday, March 14th, they had '70s English Prog band, Stackridge, perform on the show. Craig introduced them as a band that his brother called "The New Genesis." This is a band that I'm not too familiar with, but apparently they reformed in 1999. The song they performed on the show was "The Last Plimsoll" from their 1974 album, "The Man In The Bowler Hat (AKA Pinafore Days)." To my ears, this track sounds very inspired by Sgt. Peppers era Beatles, which is a good thing in my book. It is really cool to hear a proggy band on a talk show, so I thought I had to share. Here is the video:

I hope you enjoyed that! I might pick up some Stackridge based on that, they sound really good. Hopefully this will lead to more progressive music on TV!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Artist Spotlight: The Reign Of Kindo

I thought it might be a fun idea to spotlight some of my favorite musical artists when there aren't many new albums to review. So, the first band I thought I would spotlight is a new band I have been obsessed with over the past few months, namely, The Reign of Kindo.

I think part of my obsession comes from the fact that this is a band that is very different from what I typically listen to. They are not really progressive rock in the sense that I'm used to. Sure, there are some progressive elements in their sound, but mostly they are an indie jazz rock group. Of course, musical labels aren't too important, what matters is the music and how it connects to the listener. For me, The Reign of Kindo create a unique blend of sumptuous melody, jaw-dropping musicality, and heartfelt emotion. The passion for music oozes out of each of the musicians in this band and I find myself totally captivated by the music they create.

I thought it would be fun to go through their relatively short career so far and showcase some incredible youtube videos of them performing songs throughout their discography. The hope is that you will watch the videos and perhaps become enchanted like I was by the music.

First, they released their self-titled EP which contains 24 minutes of beauty that really showcased their sound right from the start. The six tracks on this EP really show this groups penchant for tight musicianship and melody. Here is one of the tracks from that record called "Needle and Thread":

I love all the musicians involved, from the extremely tight drummer, to the incredibly smooth vocals. Just because it is so awesome, I have to include another song from their EP. My personal favorite, "Just Wait":

It is just too cool for words, and I struggle to really capture how I feel about this music in writing. It just grooves so magnificently and the piano playing is sublime. It is refreshing to hear a rather young group of musicians playing music that is technical and led by piano. I love it.

Their next album is "Rhythm, Chord & Melody" which is a true masterpiece to me. Everything just works perfectly here. They took everything that worked from their EP and expanded upon it. The title track itself, which is a pleasant instrumental, is just true genius. I love the controlled chaos of this group as they get into their more frantic moments. But, at its heart, there is just a certain groove that is infectious. Here is a video of the last song of that album, "Hold Out":

Their most recent album is "This Is What Happens" from last year. This is my favorite work of theirs, and since I already called their previous album a masterpiece, that is high praise. Every track on this album is brilliant and has a really transcendent quality about it. All the trademarks of their sound are still here: the super smooth vocals, the sublime jazzy piano, the jaw-dropping rhythm section and grooving guitar work. I am blown away by this band and the sounds they are able to create. Have a listen to the somewhat chaotic but beautiful track from this album called, "Bullets In The Air":

I just can't get enough of this band and their sound. There is just something about it that brings tears to my eyes every time. At times it is fun and others it is heart-breakingly beautiful. I only hope they continue to release music of this high level of excellence. I am going to end this spotlight with one of my all time favorite tracks of theirs called "Flowers By The Moon". It is hauntingly beautiful, with some wonderful violin work.

I hope this hasn't been too long and perhaps has introduced a few people to an incredible band that deserves some attention. I can't wait for what this band comes up with next! It is exciting!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Album Review: Phideaux- Snowtorch

Phideaux is a band very close to my heart. Fronted by multi-instrumentalist/musical genius, Phideaux Xavier, they have crafted some of the greatest progressive rock of the modern era. In particular, I find Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven to be masterpieces of progressive music that have a very important place in my music collection. So, I was thrilled to be amongst the first people to hear the newest Phideaux release, entitled Snowtorch. The man himself, Phideaux Xavier, sent out early copies of his album to several close friends, fans and reviewers, and I was privileged to be amongst this group. Along with the copy of the album, Phideaux wrote a note that said that this version of the album is about 99% finished, so there might be a few differences between this and the finalized product that comes out in just a couple weeks. So, just keep that in mind as you read this review.

I am pleased to say that Snowtorch is a monster of an album. It hits all the right chords for me musically, and I place it amongst his trilogy of excellence along with Doomsday Afternoon and Number Seven. All the trademarks of the Phideaux sound are present here: the great vocal combination of Phideaux's unique tone along with the gorgeous female vocals, the beautiful piano melodies, the acoustic guitar passages, a very strong influence from the early prog pioneers but with a modern edge, the quirky yet highly intelligent lyrics, weaving through several different musical passages with ease, and the list goes on and on. It is all here, and all done to perfection.

Just take the first track, the epic "Snowtorch (Part One)" that is almost 20 minutes long and features just about everything I love about Phideaux. It starts off rather slowly, but builds up in intensity throughout the track in a magnificent fashion. The whole band is playing fantastically with one another. I certainly love the instrumental section about six and a half minutes in that seems to nod in the direction of Gentle Giant with some great vintage keyboard sounds and guitar playing. Then there is a great section where wind instruments get the chance to shine amongst the symphonic mix. What follows are some truly majestic sections with a great keyboard melody at the forefront. Then comes a Beatles' inspired section that includes some clever lyrics sung by Mr. Phideaux himself.

But, at about the 13 minute mark, my favorite section of the album (and perhaps all of Phideaux's catalog) begins with a wonderful piano medley accompanied by violin and some great vocalizations. The piano begins playing a majestic melody, perhaps in the style of Neal Morse, that really brings to mind the wonder of being out in the middle of space. Then the piano morphs into a quirky, quick section that brings to mind ELP at their most technically furious. This instrumental section is phenomenal and builds fantastically towards an almost funky section that even includes saxophone. The keyboards, violin and saxophone along a solid drum and bass backdrop really make this a magical piece of music. I just could not keep the smile of pure joy off my face when I first heard this section. It is absolutely breathtaking.

Things slow down considerably for "Helix", which could perhaps be considered the ballad of the album. Truly it is a little breather between the two epic parts of Snowtorch that bookend it. The best part about this track to me is the feel that it conveys. I feel as I'm listening to it as if I am floating through space listening to the beautiful female vocals and beautiful violin, keyboard and guitar that surrounds those vocals. I almost get a dreamy Yes vibe from this track. Part Two of Snowtorch begins with an interesting instrumental section that really features the acoustic guitar. It is a great way to build-up into the second half of the album, with a wonderfully quirky stop-and-start style rhythm.

After a bit of a fade out from that section, the acoustic guitar remains a major presence into the next instrumental section which starts slowly, but then kicks in with some intense keyboards and fast drumming. What I love about this whole opening section is that it is really a fantastic introduction into the second half of the record, before themes from part one are re-introduced. I love when the familiar keyboard line from part one comes out from the somewhat chaotic instrumental section, taking us back into familiar Snowtorch territory. For some reason, this whole second part (and perhaps the album as a whole) really brings to mind "A Passion Play" from Jethro Tull--an album that I truly love.

The album concludes in spectacular fashion, bringing back the themes from the first part of the album. There is even a little epilogue of a track that is a lot of fun and ends the album on an upbeat note, leaving the listener wanting more. And, with that, the only criticism I can give towards this album is that it feels a little short. But, perhaps at the same time that is one of its greatest strengths. It is very compact, devoid of any weak spots, and leaves the listener wanting more. A piece of music should never be extended just to fill the length of a CD, and Phideaux seems to have a good sense of how long this piece should be. There is not a wasted moment--every second of this album is top-notch.

I feel that Phideaux has very much succeeded in creating a modern progressive masterpiece with Snowtorch. I find myself debating if I prefer it or Doomsday Afternoon as my favorite Phideaux album. They are both incredible in their own way. I love how Phideaux manages to pay homage to the progressive rock artists that influence him (Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant, etc.) but crafts a sound all his own that is unique to him. When I hear Phideaux, I instantly recognize it, and that to me is a quality only the best bands possess. I love the playing on this album and I love the spacey feel that fits perfectly with the unique lyrics. Phideaux has created something truly special here and I can't wait to see what he comes up with next. It is exciting when a band is at their creative peak and continues to put out high quality music year after year. I recommend this album to all. Those who already love Phideaux, will love this album, and I imagine those that don't could become new converts to the world of Phideaux. I strongly suggest you give it a chance. A perfect album.

Rating: 10/10

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Concert Review: Yellow Matter Custard In Long Beach

I was privileged to be able to attend a concert by Beatles tribute band, Yellow Matter Custard, last week. They did two shows back in 2003--the second was actually recorded for DVD and CD and showcased a group of very talented musicians having a blast playing many classic (and lesser known) Beatles songs. They decided to "come together" again and play some more Beatles tunes in three very lucky cities. The band consists of Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse, Paul Gilbert, and newcomer Kasim Sulton who replaced Matt Bissonette, the man who played with them in 2003. This time around, Mike Portnoy made sure to craft a setlist that did not include a single repeat from the shows they played in 2003. I was worried that we would get the lesser Beatles songs, since these weren't good enough to make the top thirty songs that they played last time. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the killer setlist, which I think was even stronger than the one from 2003. It is a real testament to how strong the Beatles' catalogue is (heck, they could probably even make an equally strong third setlist).

The show was truly incredible. It was apparent that each of the four musicians were having a blast on stage. Their energy really transferred to the audience and made for a great experience. Even though they stayed mostly faithful to the Beatles' arrangements of the songs they played, they had a few moments that allowed for their incredible musicianship to shine. One particular example was an extended guitar solo at the end of Taxman that showcased Paul Gilbert's amazing skills at the guitar. They also really shone during a White Album medley where Alan Morse came in as a guest and traded solos with Paul Gilbert and Neal Morse. Throughout the night, they all traded off vocals and each had their strong vocal moments. I was also impressed by the harmonies they were able to pull off as a group. The show ended perfectly with the Abbey Road suite from the second side of Abbey. The musicians really played their hearts out and the night was brought to a thrilling conclusion.

I loved this concert experience. Although the Beatles' music is not the most technically complex music ever written, there is a timeless quality about it. They are true pioneers in the rock sound of today and I believe are one of the most important bands to influence Progressive Rock itself. It seemed fitting that these progressive rock musicians would pay tribute to the band that might have been the first to be truly progressive. I left the concert that night with a smile on my face and a desire to listen to my Beatles' albums at home.

Here is the complete setlist of what they played, which I feel is a perfect balance of the well known songs, along with some surprises of songs that aren't played very often at all.

Back In The USSR
I Got A Feeling
And Your Bird Can Sing
Day Tripper
Getting Better
It Won't Be Long
You Really Got A Hold On Me
Lady Madonna
We Can Work It Out
I'm A Loser
I Don't Want To Spoil The Party
Penny Lane
The Fool On The Hill
You've Got To Hide Your Love Away
Things We Said Today
If I Needed Someone
Its Only Love
She's A Woman
The Word
Any Time At All
Paperback Writer
Don't Let Me Down
I'm So Tired
Savoy Truffle
Glass Onion
Yer Blues
Helter Skelter
You Never Give Me Your Money
Sun King
Mean Mr. Mustard
Her Majesty
Polythene Pam
She Came In Through The Bathroom Window
Golden Slumbers
Carry That Weight
The End

39 classic Beatles' songs that they all played excellently (40, if their impromptu rendition of Birthday is to be counted). Overall a very enjoyable night full of fun and great musicianship. I am very glad I was able to attend!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Many Exciting Things To Come!

Welcome back to my progressive rock blog- The Leviathan. I used to post regularly in this blog, but for some reason, stopped writing a while ago. But, I am dedicated now to bringing you, the readers, a regularly updated blog about the music I discover throughout the year. The music discussed will typically be Progressive Rock since that is my favorite genre. My promise is to review every new album I hear in the year 2011 in this blog. I already have posted several from the last two months. In the next few weeks, expect a few more reviews, including a review of 'Snowtorch' by Phideaux and 'Invisible Places' by Presto Ballet.

When I don't have new albums to review, I plan to spotlight bands, albums or even songs that I have been obsessed with lately that I feel are worth sharing. So, I hope you will continue to check this blog regularly for my insight into the extraordinary music of today. My promise to you is to bring regularly scheduled posts that will hopefully enlighten you on new music you can discover. I hope you stick around, because it should be a fun journey!