Light Tile

Jun. 29th, 2015 06:02 pm
progbear: Major-General Progbear (My handlebar)
Self-portrait from Santa Cruz city streets, reminding me that I’m overdue for another photo taken at the oceanside:

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Work on Confirmed Bachelors is continuing apace. I already have the first draft of the first acts of two episodes complete. Cross your fingers that this project isn’t another that I’ll leave partially finished before abandoning and having nothing come of it. When it’s at a later state of development, I’ll start thinking about crowdfunding options. And if/when I find a suitable actor who’s game, I want to film a table-read to help drum up interest. More as it develops...

I was bummed by the passing of Chris Squire over the weekend. Yes were one of my favourite bands, a serious highlight of my discography that I never get bored with. Fragile and Close to the Edge are still in heavy rotation at Casa de Progbear lo these many years later. The bass is an instrument I rarely pay much attention to, but I certainly did when Mr. Squire was playing. Just check out “Heart of the Sunrise,” he defies being ignored.

Park-housing-mate A___ is currently on vacation in the Sierras. I feel like such a slovenly housekeeper compared to him; I returned to the park this week to find the stovetop, toilet and bathroom/kitchen sinks spotlessly clean! I ought to be ashamed of myself!
progbear: Major-General Progbear (My handlebar)
Nocturnal self-portrait from the streets of Berserkeley:

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An extremely sad week...

Francesco di Giacomo, lead singer of the Italian band Banco del Mutuo Soccorso, died on Friday in a car accident. He was 66. He remains one of my favourite singers of all time. I remember buying the 1975 Manticore release back in 1991 (one of my first purchases from the then-new Amoeba Records), which I admit to buying for its cover, and absolutely falling in love with the album’s contents. I never, ever thought I’d see them live, but in 2000 I did indeed see them in concert in L.A. When Francesco took the stage to sing the climactic part in “Metamorfosi,” I was actually moved to tears.

Then, this morning, I discovered this...

Video behind the cut )

It seems Bernd “Nossi” Noske, lead singer and drummer of the German hard rock/progressive band Birth Control also passed away. They were another band I have long been a fan of, and I think Nossi was one of the more underrated hard rock singers out there, so his is another great loss.

On to less depressing news: [ profile] albadger and I finally got round to trying out Saturn Café, a sort of vegetarian comfort-food place made to look like a 50s diner. It was good!
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
I know, I promised you my Prog 2013 rundown, but never delivered.

Well, here, this may tide you over. An excerpt from You Have a Chance from the Rome-based folk-progressive band Camelias Garden. Not the best of 2013, but almost certainly the most underrated. Gentle, pastoral acoustic music like this is all too rare these days:

progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)

Naturally, stuff falls through the cracks. That’s what this post is for; all the stuff I never got to hear in its entirety in 2010 but which I felt needed a mention anyway just for the sake of completeness:

The stuff I pretty much missed out on in 2010 )
progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)
Friendship Arch, Kiev, Ukraine

Today we look at artists from the rest of the world, specifically Cuba, Uzbekistan and Ukraine.

Reviews of Anima Mundi, and Karfagen )
progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)
San Francisco Bay Bridge

Today we look at artists from the United States and Canada.

Reviews of Ephemeral Sun, Mars Hollow and Mystery )
progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)

A sadly woefully incomplete view of the Scandinavian scene of 2010.

Reviews of Khatsaturjan and The Windmill )
progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)
Bayreuth Hofgarten

Today we look at artists from Germany and the Netherlands.

Reviews of Argos, Frequency Drift and Sky Architect )
progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)

Yeah, I ran out of Italian records to review, so I threw one from another Mediterranean country in here. So sue me!

Reviews of Alma sideris, Ciccada and Three Monks )
progbear: Major-General Progbear (Default)

I’d initially intended to begin my 2010 recap with a look back on the releases of 2009 and how my opinion changed on those albums...or not. I just decided I’d dive right in. The hot spot for prog of 2010 is definitely Italy as you can tell by the big honkin’ Italian flag at the top of this page. So much of a hot spot, that I’m forced to split my Italian overview into three (well, two-and-two-thirds, really):

Reviews of Areknamés, Conqueror and Eris Pluvia )
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
Here’s a recent performance by the vintage Italian progressive rock band Locanda delle Fate, now reunited with their original singer Leonardo Sasso:

I was surprised that he was in great voice here. (Doesn’t look bad, either!) I do hope they can reel these guys in for one of the U.S. prog festivals in 2011!
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
King Crimson’s “Starless” played on iPhones:

That Manetron app almost makes me want an iPhone. Almost.
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
Probably the last of these, until I get some new CDs of albums I didn’t get the chance to review properly (really looking forward to that Deluge Grander disc!). Today, we look at a couple of contemporary American acts:

Phideaux - Number Seven

Phideaux: Number Seven

I’ve been aware of Phideaux Xavier’s music (thank you [ profile] bigjohnsf for the heads-up) since his semi-official debut disc, 1992’s ambitious Friction, complete with a gorgeous, art-filled 24-page booklet (which sadly had the tendency to get squished/deformed by the tabs of the jewel case). Since then, he’s gone from strength to strength, gleefully crossing the borders between progressive, “alternative” and electronica without ever being beholden to any specific one and always keeping you guessing at what he’s going to do next. Like all his albums, Number Seven has no obvious influences one can pinpoint, it simply sounds like a Phideaux album, and you kind of need to hear one to know what I mean. For what it’s worth, Number Seven probably sounds more “prog” than any other Phideaux album thus far (amazing what a little Mellotron can do) and yet still is in the vein of his previous releases with its mix of mixed male/female harmony vocals, folkish touches and exotic instrumentation. A definite thumbs-up for this one!

Phideaux on the web

Zombi - Spirit Animal

Zombi: Spirit Animal

Pittsburgh, PA’s two-man synth army Zombi have been kicking around since 2003. This latest outing offers something of a more rocking take on the Tangerine Dream sound circa Force Majeure. While there’s lots of analog bleeps and sequencer lines going on, I daresay you probably wouldn’t find this very “meditative.” It’s fairly active and kinetic for electronic music. Funnily enough, the more Mellotron-heavy passages reminded me of Änglagård. I’ve heard mixed reviews of this and didn’t know quite what to expect (apart from the heavily Moog-y sound), but I liked it!

Zombi on the web

Annoying musical reviewing trend of 2009: comparing bands to Black Sabbath when they sound nothing like them. Seriously, can we stop this? Particularly as I don’t like BS, and it may thus hurt sales by keeping people like me away. They did it with Astra and, thank God, I didn’t hear so much as one millisecond that reminded me of the Sabs in any way!
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
For the latest edition of the 2009 Year in Progressive Rock overview, two artists from Europe:

Il Castello di Atlante - Cap. 7 - Tra le antiche mura

Il Castello di Atlante: Cap. 7: Tra le antiche mura

Il Castello di Atlante have been kicking around Italy since 1974, but didn’t release their debut single until 1983, and their debut album in 1992! Since then, they’ve been rather more prolific, this being their seventh official album (as the title implies), including an archival release and a live disc.

I must say, the spoken narration at the start of this didn’t fill me with high hopes, but CdA are decent enough purveyors of the distinctive Italian sound. I don’t know if they’ll ever be anyone’s favourite, but they are reasonably good at what they do, and I definitely approve of the use of violin. Anyone into the “Italian prog” sound is likely to at least enjoy some of this. I do recommend trying it first to decide whether or not you feel confident shelling the dough out for it, though.

Narr - Oxymore Dans La Chrysalide Des Rêves

Narr: Oxymore dans le chrysalide des rêves

Well, if nothing else, this young French quartet get the award for best album title of 2009! Musically this is an oddly restrained, jazzy sound, spotlighting clean-toned guitar, flute and the unusual baritone vocals of bassist Clément Werner. While I can’t say their album filled me with any great desire to sing their praises, it’s also unlike any other band I can name operating today, and that has to count for something. At least their music is not yet another bloody variant on the Hyphenate-Metal formula.

Coming soon: Phideaux and Zombi.
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
2009: The Year in Progressive Rock continued, with two young West Coast USA acts:

Cirrus Bay - A Step Into Elsewhere

Cirrus Bay: A Step Into Elsewhere

Second album by this Washington State quartet, fronted by dual female vocalists. As you’d probably guess, Yes and Renaissance are the main influences. It’s pleasant enough but it’s all a bit anodyne, really. Another band that can’t resist drowning everything in a persistent wash of Mellotron string sounds. I was reminded of the late, lamented Bay Area band Episode a bit.

Cirrus Bay’s website

Crime in Choir - Gift Givers

Crime in Choir: Gift Givers

You know, since the demise of the wonderfully eclectic and daring Azigza, I have been worried by the dearth of a local prog band to root for. All right, there is Headshear, but they’re not exactly prolific (quietly releasing their debut CD back in ’06). Not to worry, here comes Crime in Choir! The completely instrumental Gift Givers elicits comparisons to Gong, Djam Karet and Tangerine Dream with a healthy mix of electronics and jazz-rock soloing. The concise tracks make sure it never gets boring, the quality of the album is high throughout. If I have one complaint about the disc, it’s that at 34 minutes it’s awful short. At least they didn’t see the need to pad it out to 80 minutes like some bands I could mention!

Crime in Choir’s site

Up next: Il Castello di Atlante and Narr
progbear: King Gorice XII of Witchland (Gorice XII)
Part 4 in my overview of prog stuff from 2009, part 2 in my look at stuff released by the Muséa label, this time focusing on more established acts.

Kotebel - Ouroboros

Kotebel: Ouroboros

Part of me can’t help but wonder, is there a sudden fascination with the works of E. R. Eddison? The previously-reviewed Astra had a track called “Ouroboros” too. Must be a coincidence, but I’ve gone for the above user-icon anyway.

On to the subject of Kotebel, they’re a Spanish/Venezuelan band that have been around for about a decade now, but this is the first I’ve heard by them. It’s instrumental music with a base in King Crimson with a sort of modern classical feel, lots of piano and subtle use of guitar. Not “easy” music perhaps, but very sophisticated. One listen isn’t really enough for a proper review but this one gets a cautious recommendation.

Kotebel’s site

Minimum Vital - Capitaines

Minimum Vital: Capitaines

You know, France’s Minimum Vital really ought to just go onto the auto-buy list. Their sound (a sort of Canterbury-derived light fusion sound with Medieval folk references) has changed little over the years, apart from the addition of the male-female vocal interplay with 1993’s La Source. But they can always be counted on quality material, (twin) brothers Thierry and Jean-Luc Payssan have a very good instinct when it comes to good music. There seems to be a greater use of hand-drums and other odd percussion (did I detect tympani?) here and there that suggests more of an Indian/Southeast Asian influence that I hope they explore further in the future. Celtic folk fans take note: they open the album with a version of the old Irish folk song “She Moves Through the Fair.” This album gets my highest recommendation, it may be their best album since the aforementioned La Source.

Minimum Vital’s website

Coming soon: Cirrus Bay and Crime in Choir
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
I’ll get to the Kotebel and Minimum Vital reviews later (probably tomorrow). In the meantime, there are lots of bands out there whose new albums aren’t out for full streaming in their entirety, but who have selected tracks up via their Myspace/homepages. Let’s take a look at some of these, shall we?

More behind the cut )

In short:

HEAD OF THE CLASS: Deluge Grander, Flor de Loto, Gargamel, IQ, Subsignal, 3

MORE RESEARCH REQUIRED: Arpia, Astralis, Beardfish, The Dear Hunter, Eidôlon, Fantasmagoria, Illumion, Nodo Gordiano, Parzivals Eye, Syzygy, Viima, Wobbler

FAILING GRADES: Adventure, Ars Nova, Blind Ego, 5bridgeS, Lazuli, Malibran, Metamorphosis, Nemo, The Source
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
One source that can frequently be counted on for quality modern progressive is France’s Muséa label. Since the dark days of the mid-80’s, the Metz-based non-profit has been doing a fine job of both unearthing gems from the past to reissue as well as scoping out new talent from all over the world. Sure, some of their discoveries have been mediocre at best (all right, a lot of them, too many to list here) but they have also made some very bright discoveries. Even looking aside their fine reissue program, their discovery of hot new (for the 90s) talent like Minimum Vital, Tiemko and Halloween is a fine measure of any label.

In this post I’ll be looking at two new bands they’ve uncovered:

Narrow Pass - In This World and Beyond

Narrow Pass: In This World and Beyond

Second album by this Italian band, a project of ex-Eris Pluvia guitarist Mauro Montobbio. Joined by singer Valeria Caucino, they employ a symphonic folk-rock style drawing on influences from Yes, Renaissance, Sandy Denny, Clannad and other symphonic prog and folk/Celtic artists. I’m reminded of the latter-day progressive band Magenta a bit, but Narrow Pass are much folkier. A bit more consistent, too, but this album did tend to drag on after a while. Still, a pleasant album, if it sounds appealing to you I’d recommend giving this a try!

Narrow Pass’ Myspace page

TEE - The Earth Explorer

TEE: The Earth Explorer

Yowzah! Now we’re talking! A spin-off of the late Japanese band Interpose+, TEE (which is variously interpreted as standing for The Euro Express or The Earth Explorer) make a fully instrumental brand of progressive rock that’s complex and highly appealing. They’re fronted by a flute player, Kenji Imai, which gives them a distinctive sound. I detect influences from King Crimson and UK, plus fusion bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra. I was reminded of the 90’s US prog band Atavism of Twilight, although mainly on account of the instrumentation. I like TEE a lot better; their music is more accessible and better constructed, not “complex for complex’s sake” like AoT often struck me.

I liked this album from start to finish and thus far it’s getting my vote as Best of 2009. Oddly enough, I haven’t heard other folks talking about this at all! Turn off that damned Transatlantic crap and try something new!

TEE’s Myspace page

Up next: Kotebel and Minimum Vital
progbear: Weenies from Spongebob (weenies)
OK, folks keep saying that I listen to too much old music, and that I’m too hard on new “prog” bands. Fine. Thanks to free streaming, I can try before I buy a lot of these bands and I’ll be reviewing them here for your convenience.

Astra - The Weirding

Astra: The Weirding

Probably the highest-rated prog album of the year that’s not by one of the disgusting fanboy-magnet bands (Porcupine Tree, Transatlantic, Riverside). This was described to me as “Pink Floyd-meets-ELP,” which sounds awfully gruesome but it’s not as bad as that sounds, although I can kind of hear where the previous reviewer was coming from; there’s spacy Floydian soundscapes galore on this disc, plus tons of up-front Moog-like synthesizer leads. I’d say more like Meddle-era Floyd meets Lizard-era King Crimson. With fewer “chamber music” instruments and more synth. They make the classic prog-rookie mistake of overdosing on the Mellotron strings/choir sounds, though; such things are better used with more subtlety. Vocals are...okay, variously I’m reminded of a couple of obscure bands, too obscure to be worth mentioning here, but the disc is largely instrumental. It’s more about tone than anything, pleasant listening but at times I forgot it was even on and it faded into the background. But it was OK. I definitely prefer it to the “cheesy 80’s-style AOR anthems alternating with Berkelee School of Music noodling” school of latter-day “prog” favoured by the loathsome Neal Morse and his ilk. Time will tell if this will stand the test of time, though, or find itself on the junkheap of yesterday’s failed “retro-prog” heroes (see Landberk, Sinkadus, Deadwood Forest and dozens of other deservedly forgotten bands).

Обійми Дощу - Елегія

Обійми Дощу (Obiimi Doshchu): Елегія (Elergiya)

Kiev, Ukraine-based band whose latest album is available for free download (there’s no physical CD out there). It’s pretty impressive stuff; moody modern progressive with savage guitars and lots of strings (violin, cello). Reminds me of Sweden’s Anekdoten if they had more of a “chamber music” feel and weren’t so derivative of King Crimson.

Download from here

Coming soon: Narrow Pass and TEE (The Earth Explorer)

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