Archive for December, 2010

Persephone’s Dream – Pan: An Urban Pastoral

December 31, 2010

Whether it was my lackluster review of Pyre of Dreams, the increasing irrelevance of web sites like the GEPR, or just an oversight, Persephone’s Dream didn’t send me a promo when their new album Pan: An Urban Pastoral was released. So, when I saw it on sale from ProgRock Records as a “Christmas Special”, I decided I needed to order it. Maybe it’s just that you appreciate an album more when you buy it. Maybe it’s that Persephone’s Dream has just outdone themselves on this album. Maybe I was just in the right mood. But I have to say Pan: An Urban Pastoral is far and away the best thing PD has ever done.

Though the band members have remained fairly stable since Pyre of Dreams (with the exception of yet another new female vocalist, Ashley Peer and new bassist Roman Prokopenko), Pan sounds very little like the previous albums. Gone is the reverb and goth feel. Gone, too, is what I was calling the “Classic Rock” feel. This album is certainly prog rock, though of a unique kind. It’s a concept album about a young man who lives in the gray, overpopulated city. Sad and depressed, he encounters the god Pan in a series of … uhm … visions? Hallucinations? Teleportations? Even he’s not entirely sure. The encounters with Pan and his wild Maenads in nature settings are odd … just when they become obviously homoerotic, the lyrics appear to step back from this and females become involved … somehow. I’m guessing they were afraid of putting their audience off if they were too transparent on this “touchy” subject (he says with tongue in cheek). The story is chaotic and lusty, and perhaps the primary message that comes through clearly is that we’ve become so mired in our daily controlled techno working lives that we’ve forgotten how important it is to feel the grass between our toes, dance naked in the sunshine and abandon ourselves to pleasure. Surely, this must be Pan’s message to us in the 21st century.

Musically, the instrumentation is stark and crystal clear. There isn’t much of instruments playing simultaneously or washes of string or horn sweetening; instead each instrument stands out individually in sharp relief against the musical equivalent of a black background. Synth passages tend to be single-note lines, perhaps with some crunchy electric guitar chords to set these off, or picked acoustic guitar patterns. In several places, a bass, drum and chord sequence starts, but when the vocals come in they seem to be singing the lyrics to a different song in a key only vaguely related to the chords. On a more poorly produced album, I would say the singer can’t find the right pitch, but here both the male and female vocalists sing with compete authority and control … it’s very clearly supposed to sound this way. I imagine in a few more listenings, the harmonies will “click” and I’ll be saying, “Oh, of course! It’s not wrong, it’s just not what I was expecting.”

Time will tell whether this album will be judged a masterpiece by the prog rock community. It’s already on the top-5 album list from the ProgRock Records label, so it’s doing well as far as sales go. As for my opinion, it’s by far the best Persephone’s Dream album thus far, and is also way better than the vast majority of prog releases, in this year or any other. I’m still getting used to the sound on this recording, which is both extremely professional-sounding and also very odd-sounding in its starkness. I read in an interview that the whole thing was recorded on Mac PC’s using Garage Band (the free recording software that comes with a Mac). If so, I must say this album is a fine example of what can be done with this free software, and makes me want to try it out myself.

In conclusion, Pan: An Urban Pastoral is likely to make my top-10 list for 2010, and is a must-hear for everyone this year. Great stuff, and a giant step for Persephone’s Dream. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Persephone’s Dream‘s web site
Click here for the Persephone’s Dream page on the ProgRock Records web site

Argos – 1st and Circles

December 6, 2010

Argos – Thomas Klarmann (basses, flute, keyboards, guitars, lead vocals, programming), Ulf
Jacobs (drums, percussion, Roland DM, backing vocals), Robert Gozon (lead vocals, keyboards,
guitars), Rico Florczak (guitars)

Argos, from Germany, could pass for a ’70’s Canterbury band … no, make that a Floydian space rock band. With ’60’s harpsichord psych and a Beatles vibe. And a bit of Gentle Giant medieval flavor and vocal counterpoint. And Van der Graaf Generator vocal stylings too. Oh, never mind, they’ve obviously studied their early prog/classic rock and love it, and wanted to make music that sounded like all of the above. With song titles like “Canterbury Souls: The Hat Goes North” and “Nursed By Giants”, they wear these influences on their sleeves. Fortunately, they’re all very good musicians, and they’ve succeeded very well in capturing the spirit of these old masters without being a direct copy of any of them.

Both of their albums, Argos and Circles are excellent. Not “original” in any earth-shattering way, but nicely composed, played and recorded with plenty of content to satisfy any lover of symphonic prog and/or the above-mentioned bands. Good harmonized vocals without a hint of German accent. Don’t be put off by the description of these guys as “neo-prog” on some web sites. That’s certainly not the first thing that springs to my mind as a description, even if it is literally true (it is, after all, modern prog). Easy on the ears without being too sweet, simplistic or cheezy, and easy to recommend.

There’s a third album in the works, and you can hear some early demos of work-in-progress on their MySpace page (link below). — Fred Trafton

Click here for ArgosMySpace page
Click here for ArgosFacebook page