Archive for the ‘Update Existing Band’ Category

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

arK – Wild Untamed Imaginings

November 4, 2010

arK – 2010 line-up (not in photo order) – Ant Short (vocals, flute), Peter Wheatley (guitar, backing vocals), Steve Harris (synth-guitar), John Jowitt (bass), Tim Churchman (drums)

The affectation of capitalizing the last letter of arK is new for the band for it’s 2010 reunion release Wild Untamed Imaginings, perhaps to distinguish themselves from the Norwegian prog metal band or the Swedish glam rock band with the same name (actually, the Swedish guys are The Ark). The story is that these old buddys, after having disbanded around 15 years ago, ran into each other in a pub. They got to talking (and, I assume, drinking), and decided they should get together again and re-record some of their old songs. They also managed to talk their most famous member, IQ/Jadis bassist John Jowitt, into rejoining for the fun. The new line-up also features drummer Tim Churchman (formerly of Darwin’s Radio) on drums. The web site also has photos taken by new IQ (and also formerly Darwin’s Radio) keyman Mark Westworth posted there. The land of British Neo-Prog is a small world, it seems.

Wild Untamed Imaginings is a slick album, released on the ProgRock Records label (the US one, not the UK one). I’d hardly call this prog rock, though. Arena Rock gives the right general impression, with longish songs that are keyboard-heavy anthems with proggy touches including up-front bass work, acoustic guitars, heavy keyboard sweetening, loads of overdubs, and head-banging, fist-pumping rock’n’roll compositions. Think Styx, Foreigner or even Asia and you’re in the right ballpark. Not bad for all that, just don’t expect … well … Wild Untamed Imaginings. Worth a listen for those who aren’t too snobby about their “prog”, and I’d say there’s certainly some enjoyment to be had in this reunion. — Fred Trafton

Click here for arK‘s web site
Click here for arK‘s MySpace page
Click here for arK‘s page on the ProgRock Records site, where you can also order Wild Untamed Imaginings

The Red Masque – Fossileyes/Stars Fall On Me

October 28, 2010

About time I got around to updating The Red Masque again. They’ve released two albums since I last updated their GEPR entry, and both of them are excellent. The first is their long-awaited studio album Fossileyes, and the second is a Live album, Stars Fall On Me, which has excellent sound due to the fact of it being recorded live at Orion Studios. I’ll focus this review mostly on Fossileyes, especially since the live album takes much of its material from there.

Fossileyes, as Lynnette told me about four years ago now, is more aggressive rhythmically than previous albums. It’s still got that dark, gloomy, strange, otherworldly, “end-of-the-universe and wish-I-wasn’t-here” feel to it. Gritty “King Crimson-meets-the-Sex-Pistols” rock passages vie with accordions, disturbing overdubbed vocalizations and odd-noise-soundscapes for ear time. If these folks have never heard Robert Fripp‘s League of Gentlemen album, I’ll bet they’d like it. But Fripp‘s got nothing on The Red Masque when it comes to dissonances and noise.

But don’t take the King Crimson comparisons too much to heart. If I had to pidgeonhole The Red Masque in any particular category, it would be RIO, a fact borne out by the fact that both ReR and Wayside Music carry this title in their catalogs. Actually, like most modern prog bands, they probably do more download business than actual hard media … I downloaded both Fossil Eyes and Stars Fall On Me from emusic, and the quality of both is quite good (though they still incorrectly name the live album as Stars FELL On Me). Stars …, in fact, is download-only.

Fossileyes is good stuff, and if you’re a fan of The Red Masque‘s previous albums, you’ll already know this is a must-have. For those of you who aren’t yet in on The Red Masque‘s cult, this album might be your entry ticket. Hang on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride. But, in the end, a rewarding one. A very interesting, rule-breaking band that actually doesn’t like to be called “prog” because they don’t like being pigeonholed into even this broad category. They’re just doing what they like, and would be happy if you like it too, and want to come along for the ride.

Stars Fall On Me features “Carbon 14”, “Das Snail” and “The Spider is the Web” from Fossileyes, plus “Passage” and “House of Ash” from Feathers for Flesh and “Birdbrain” from Victoria and the Haruspex. The album ends with a nearly 20-minute improv. The recording quality is excellent, sometimes it’s hard to be sure if you’re listening to the live or the studio versions of these songs, particularly the Fossileyes cuts. If you’re a Red Masque fan, you’re going to really want this album, available only as a download. For those not yet in the know, go with Fossileyes first.

You can also check out video of this concert. But I’ll warn you, the sound on the video is not the quality of the Stars Fall On Me download … I’d say the sound on this was picked up on the camcorder’s microphone. The video’s not exactly pro quality, but hey, what do you want for free? Links below. — Fred Trafton

Click here for The Red Masque‘s web site

The following links are for video of the concert performed live at Orion Studios from which Stars Fall On Me was recorded:
Carbon 14/Das Snail, Passage, House of Ash, The Spider Is The Web, Birdbrain, Improvisation/Tidal.

Glass Hammer – If

September 29, 2010

As I said in a previous GEPR review, I liked Glass Hammer‘s last album Three Cheers for the Broken Hearted. But I must admit, I was somewhat disappointed with its low Progginess Quotient (“PQ”. Yeah, I just made it up). Fortunately for us, however, there was still more progressive music that needed to escape the fertile brains (and nimble fingers!) of Mssrs. Babb and Schendel. And so, in 2010, they return with a new line-up and an album that can only be described as an unbridled progressive masterwork. If there’s anything negative to be said about it, it’s that it definitely borrows a lot of prog mannerisms from the stylings of Yes. But since Yes hasn’t really been up to the challenge for many years now, I can only say, “Thank You, Steve and Fred!”

But even this complaint is a bit unfair. Yes would have never made this album, in any incarnation. New vocalist Jon Davison really sounds exactly like that other Jon, right down to the vocal harmonies and “DUT-DUT”‘s (obviously designed by the composers to emphasize the similarity in their voice timbres), but though the lyrics are similar in their “spiritual” bent, they are neither the sorts of esoteric poetry Jon Anderson used to enjoy, nor the overtly Christian lyrics sometimes to be found on Glass Hammer albums. Instead, they are simply uplifting messages suitable for virtually any religious belief … though if you’re Christian, you’ll certainly hear some of these lyrics as Christian spirituality.

New guitarist Alan Shikoh sometimes sound more Holdsworth than Howe, but sometimes exactly like Howe. Schendel‘s keyboards are frequently very Wakeman, but other times more Emerson or Banks. Perhaps it would be best to say that all these people are very familiar with the musical style of Yes, and this shows through clearly, but they also all have their own styles that makes this an album that both sounds like Yes and sounds like … Glass Hammer. Even the album cover was done by an artist who clearly is familiar with Roger Dean, in both artistic and font designs, and yet is also different.

I’m prepared to say this is the best Glass Hammer studio album to date, though since I haven’t heard Lex Rex or Chronometree in their studio versions, my comparison may be incomplete. But it would be very difficult to top this one, and I’ll definitely say it’s my favorite studio album from Shadowlands through If, and I really liked most of those. A true masterpiece from guys who consistently amaze, from whom you never know quite what to expect on the next album. If If was a Yes album, I’d rate it only behind Relayer and Tales from Topographic Oceans. Not behind Close to the Edge? Hmm .. it’s a toss-up. Really, If is that good, though very different from CttE. I’ve listened to it at least 6 or 7 times now, and it continues to improve with each listen. I very rarely do that with an album these days, but this one is really inspiring. If you think “they don’t make albums like this any more”, you’re wrong. — Fred Trafton

Click here for Glass Hammer‘s web site

Tangerine Dream – Two Oldies But Goodies

September 8, 2010

Whilst walking on the boardwalk on vacation in Ocean City, New Jersey, I happened upon a recycled CD shop. Since we all know that CD’s are soon to be relegated to the same “has-been” category as vinyl, I decided to stop and see if they had anything interesting. Though their prog content was pretty sparse, they did seem to specialize in ’70’s and ’80’s “Classic Rock”. I found a few albums that I thought sounded interesting, and finally left with Tangerine Dream‘s Tangram and Hyperborea albums, neither of which I had ever heard. The originals, not the new re-recordings (see last paragraph).

Tangram turns out to be the first album released by Tangerine Dream after the departure of longtime member Peter Baumann and the addition of new member Johannes Schmoelling. I had stopped listening to TD, one of my all-time-favorite bands, after the release of Force Majeure and Cyclone because I thought these were getting too predictable, and even “poppy”. Now I would say “New-agey”, though that term hadn’t really come into vogue yet. But it seems I stopped one album too early, because Tangram is right up there with the best of Tangerine Dream‘s earlier albums, even my favorites Rubycon and Phaedra. If you’re not into this sort of thing, Tangram won’t convince you otherwise. I saw one review of this album saying it’s the first album that “points the way to their newer, more accessible sound” or some such statement. Not to my ears … two side-long compositions that bring to mind Rubycon far more than anything else. Personally, I was mentally teleported back to the good old days of the ’70’s. Never mind that this album was released in 1980, it still has that ’70’s vibe. Well worth the six bucks I payed for it.

Hyperborea was released in 1983, the same line-up as Tangram and a couple of other albums in between. The sound has changed since Tangram and is starting to move further into the areas I didn’t care for. But I would say it’s still a good album, perhaps a bit like Stratosfear, which I still liked. Not so many sequencer passages (too bad, I like TD‘s sequencer passages), but still containing some of the more atonal soundscapes I also like. A pretty good album, though not their best (in my opinion, of course). Still, at six bucks, it’s hard to say anything bad about the album. It’s still classic TD and not techno dance music.

But a full-priced digitally-mastered re-recorded version? Maybe not. There are such things, of both of these albums. Tangram 2008 and Hyperborea 2008. I’ve heard pieces of both of these. Don’t bother. The originals are far better, to my ears. I can handle a little tape hiss to get those amazing analog sounds.

Click here for the official Tangerine Dream web site

Eris Pluvia – Third Eye Light

June 4, 2010

The previous Eris Pluvia GEPR update, stating that the new album would be released in 2008, was just a wee bit off the mark … by more than a year. Still, I can’t really complain. If it took them a little extra time to make this album sound this good, then it was well worth the wait. Because Third Eye Light is an exceptionally great piece of work.

Firstly — and this wasn’t at all evident from the previously-reviewed demo — this is a concept album. No flying saucers, dragons or rampant Gods in this concept, though. This is mature prog, and “bombastic” is the last word that will come to mind when you listen to this album. The concept is about somebody going to a “show”. At first it’s not clear what sort of “show” it is, but as the story moves along, it’s apparently a show of paintings … or maybe photographs … possibly even sculptures, or a mixture of all of the above. The songs are about the feelings being experienced while looking at the art, the reactions of others in the gallery, and the reactions of the person telling the story to the other patrons’ reactions. Finally, there’s a surprise ending. But I won’t spoil it for you. Pure poetry in lyrical form.

Musically, I’ll stick by my previous description … mostly mellow acoustic and electric guitars with a few heavier sections and lots of sweet synths, keyboards and flute (from a guest flautist who plays on most of the cuts). The vocals are almost all in English, with a noticeable Italian accent. Usually a heavy accent grates on my nerves a bit, and I’m one of those who usually says, “I wish they had just sung it in their own language.” But in this case, the accented inflections actually seem to become part of the musicality of the lyrics. These accented vocals fit perfectly with the music and I wouldn’t have them change a thing.

Don’t listen to anyone who tries to categorize this as “neo-prog“. No way. It’s very mature Italian-style prog. A casual listen might make you think this is AOR, but when you listen carefully, the complexity level is too high for that. It’s just so smoothly performed and cleanly recorded that you don’t immediately notice the “progressiveness”. I’m very impressed with Third Eye Light and highly recommend it to all lovers of the mellower end of the symphonic prog spectrum, particularly if you like the Italian style. High on my list for “best of 2010”. Check it out! — Fred Trafton