Saturday, 30 November 2013

Piled High


Getting to that time of year where all prog heads start thinking about their fav albums of the year. I have started piling mine as shown above. Not complete yet as it has been a bumper year for new prog. Long may it continue. Don't worry Mr Wilson's latest will be in there. But it's a biggie and would topple the stack! Not good!


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything

Arjen is back, doing what he does best. That is, Prog Opera! No one else can assemble such a huge cast of vocalists and instrumentalists and produce such epic music so effortlessly. We all thought the lengthy Ayreon project had come to an end, concentrating as he was on Guilt Machine, Star One and last years excellent solo album. But here he is again, still mixing prog, metal, folk, classical in a strange, hybrid melange that always seems to work. Here, he has great help from the likes of John Wetton, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Steve Hackett amongst many others.

It may not be very original, but somehow Arjen puts his stamp on it all and you cannot criticise his boldness and enthusiasm. To totally appreciate and immerse yourself in Arjens world, you need to get the sumptuous super deluxe edition, which is a large format hardbound book affair, which houses the two vocal and two instrumental CDs plus the making of DVD. The latter is interesting, offering an insight into Arjen's meticuluous methods for bringing the project together. You cannot help being carried away with his boyish enthusiasm for all the people he brings on board and his love for music making. Nice one Arjen.




Friday, 22 November 2013

Cassiber - 1982-1992 Box Set


I almost completely forgot about this. I actually ordered this box set nearly a year ago from the ReRmegacorp web site. It has taken till now to actually finish it and release it. I think this type of, on the edge type of music is having a hard time at the moment. ReR are actually going the way of downloads rather than release physical product, such is the cost of producing music with such a specialised and to be honest, small audience. It's a shame, as no one produces such genre defying music as the likes of Cassiber did back in the late 70's and through the 80's.

Cassiber were basically a collective of Christoph Anders, Heiner Goebbels, Alfred Harth and drummer extraordinaire, Chris Cutler. This box set is a collection of all their albums, plus odds and sods as well as a DVD of live performances. The set is the latest in a series of incredible collections put together by Cutlers' label Recommended. Previous boxes have been by the Art Bears, Henry Cow and This Heat. They are truly labours of love. All have been gorgeously mastered by Bob Drake (apart from the This Heat box, which was mastered by Denis Blackham) and have fantastically detailed booklets with lots of rare archival photographs. It may have taken longer than expected, but this latest box does not disappoint and is produced to the same high standards as the others. This may be the last big release like this from ReR, which is a pity. I know that with the interest in progressive music on the rise, more and more people will start to investigate the further, outer reaches of the genre. It's all here, in all its' glory.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Airbag - The Greatest Show On Earth


This has been a difficult one. The Norwegian band, Airbag have released two previously exemplary albums of atmospheric prog, in the vein of RPWL and Riverside. The reviews for this, their latest have been a bit cool, mostly considering the band to be too near their Pink Floyd roots for comfort and lacking any real originality. On the first couple of listens I tend to agree. I was on the whole underwhelmed. But I had an inkling this was going to be one of those albums. You listen to it initially and it doesn't really click, but there is something in the back of your head that keeps making you go back to it. You just have this feeling that you will get it eventually.

After spending a while with it, it did click. I still don't think it stands up with their first two yet, but it is getting there. It is beautifully put together and the musicianship is superb. It sounds sumptuous. The songs slowly reveal their riches, taking their time to be fully absorbed. I think it is one of those albums that requires patience to really appreciate. I am getting to love this album. Slowly, but surely!


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Instrumental Rock

Here are two prime examples of instrumental based rock; The Fierce and the Dead's "Spooky Action" and Zevious's "Passing Through The Wall". Although rock and especially progressive rock is littered with purely instrumental based music as part of lengthy vocal based epics or between song pieces, bands playing entirely instrumental music are actually few and far between. Lets not count the electronic bands like Tangerine Dream. That's a different kettle of fish! The bands I am thinking about are the likes of Dif Juz, Blind Idiot God, Philharmonie, Pell Mell and The Science Group for instance. All are worth checking out.

Both Zevious and TFATD share a common King Crimson streak which permeates their music. Zevious take a much more angular, avant rock approach whereas TFATD are more playful. In fact TFATD do remind me of Pell Mell, the 90's US band, but much more aggressive and with greater complex structuring. I even pick up on a Zeuhl like fercoity in the fuzzy bass playing. I do enjoy the Zevious album a lot, but it's "Spooky Action" that shines brighter. With the unfeasably tall Matt Stevens really impressing on guitar (check out his beguiling solo albums), taking in everything from Discipline era Fripp like arpeggios to Lee Ranaldo's post hardcore noise rock, it's all out-there exciting stuff. These guys could be one of the best instrumental rock bands ever!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Roger Eno - Little Things Left Behind 1988 - 1998

Roger, the talented one of the Eno brothers. Only joking! Though Roger is the trained musician, whereas Brian was always the non-musician. It may have been through brother Brian's connection that Roger's music was able to come to the attention of a wider audience, but his music would have shone through anyway, such is its strength and beauty. Obviously inspired by Erik Satie's minimalist style, Roger's goes further to produce intimate, reflective, heartfelt vignettes. Over the forty tracks which grace the 2CD's here, every piece is imbued with rich melody and an uncanny ability to be at once still and animated, perfectly judging the arrangements and instrumentation to obtain maximum emotional resonance. Simply beautifully sublime. Lovely photographs by Roger's daughter Cecily throughout the packaging and booklet.


The Who - Tommy 2013 Super Deluxe Edition

Here is another example of why the the physical medium is still reigning supreme over digital downloads. For anyone interested at all in music, collecting is a part of that. Actually owning something physical and tangible is so much part of the listening experience. The look, touch and smell of the physical product is what excites us as much as hearing what lies within. Seeing this large format version of The Who's Tommy takes me right back to my schooldays and experiencing the album in all its 12 inch vinyl glory. This new super deluxe version is at once a superbly written document on the making of the album and a complete archival library of the album, in hi res stereo, surround, the demos and live presentation. It does please me so much, that record companies are still willing to spend the time and effort in really producing these box sets to the standards as this. That there is still a market for them is heartening too. There are still people out there where music is an experience that means something more than just pressing a button on a computer to download digital files on an ipod which are then just played in the background.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rhys Marsh - Suspended In A Weightless Wind

I am a big fan of Rhys Marsh's Norwegian melancholia. In some ways he shares a similar sonic attitude as Tim Bowness, mixing a love for 60's and 70's singer/songwriters and progressive rock. On this very limited ep he covers songs by Nick Drake, Scott Walker, CSN, King Crimson and Family. I like the way he turns things around, making Nick Drake's "Things Behind the Sun" into a huge, mellotron drenched symphonic prog epic, and Crimsons "Moonchild" into a Scott Walker like torch song. It's a shame this is not a full albums worth of Marsh's inspired interpretations. But it is volume 1, so thankfully there is more to come.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Yes - Close to the Edge Steven Wilson 2013 Mixes

Out of all the versions I have heard of this album, whether vinyl LP, cassette, CD, SHM CD, SACD, nothing compares to this. Just considering the stereo portion of the blu ray disc, the 24/96 LPCM transfer is stunning. I have never heard CTTE sound so clean and clear. The litmus test for CTTE has always been Wakemans church organ solo on the title track. On previous CD versions, this has always distorted. Not here. It is grand, full and simply pleasant to listen to. Yes always excelled at vocal harmonies and these are really highlighted in this new mix, especially during the "I Get Up, I Get Down" section.

The blu ray is brimming with every conceivable version of the album. Maybe too much, but it is all here anyway, from vinyl transfers, original mixes, surround mixes, single edits and instrumental versions. Special mention on the blu ray menus. I am never too bothered by this on these discs, but the authoring by Neil Wilkes and design by Claire Bidwell is exemplary. Everything is clearly laid out and looks stunning as the screen shots below show.

The 20 page booklet is nicely done too. Superb notes by Sid Smith, though the type for me is a bit small. Don't they realise that us old proggers' eyesight is not what it used to be! The booklet fits loosely within the gatefold of the mini LP design, so you will need to keep the whole package in the supplied plastic sleeve. Just watch out for the adhesive on the closing flap. This can easily stick to the album artwork.

This is a great package, as I think most of us were expecting. But this exceeds those and is a prime example on how to do these archival releases properly. I cannot wait for the next installment in the Spring whatever that will be. I wonder what they will do with "Tales from Topographic Oceans"? It's already on 2CD's, plus a blu ray would make for at least a 3 disc set. I smell a box set coming on!


Friday, 8 November 2013

XTC - Nonsuch Steven Wilson 2013 Mixes

That busy Wilson bloke is up to his old tricks again. This month sees not one, but three of his latest remixes released. There is this, the first of his XTC remixes, then there is "Close to the Edge", first in a series of Yes remixes and the latest Jethro Tull, "Benefit".

XTC were one of my favourite post punk bands. They quickly transcended their new wave roots with the excellent third album, "The Black Sea". My personal favourite album is "The Big Express" so I am looking forward to what Mr Wilson does with that. I never really got on with "Nonsuch" for some reason. Maybe I found their songwriting at this point a bit too precious and for want of a better word, nice! But on revisiting the album, via the hi res stereo blu ray portion of this set, this is an album of beautiful, sophisticated and witty songwriting. I don't think there are many songwriters in the league of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding for clever and memorable wordplay. That Dave Gregory is now a member of Big Big Train is no mere coincidence. Both bands excell in presenting a thoroughly English form of songwriting, that somehow hankers back to days of traditionalism.

The presentation of this package is similar to the King Crimson reissues, double digipak with booklet held in the middle, all placed in a slipcase. The layout is a bit confusing as nowhere does it actually say what is on the CD. There is just a list of mixes. The assumption is the new 2013 mix is on the CD. The booklet has very good in depth interviews with all concerned. So, Wilson does it again. A great, detailed mix. I cannot comment on the surround stuff as I dont do surround. Next up is CTTE, which will be in tomorrow. That's the biggie!


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Burning Shed Re-issues


Releasd together, these two expanded, remastered re-issues from the Burning Shed label are exceptional examples in presentation and content. The first is the "California, Norfolk" album by Peter Chilvers and the Godlike Tim Bowness, now expanded to 2CD's. The second is the "Slope" solo album by Steve Jansen, now expanded to 3 discs! I wish David Sylvian was doing work like this, that was both interesting and approachable. Both packages have their discs housed in hardback, booksized digipaks. It's so gratifying seeing independant labels like Burning Shed (who are also one of the best online retailers) taking the time and effort to produce top quality packages like this.


Sand - Sand

To be honest I wasn't really expecting much from this, purely from not knowing much about it. The previous North Atlantic Oscillation albums were very good indeed and I picked this up simply because I had those albums. Just for completeness you understand! But this solo effort by frontman Sam Healy is extraordinarily good. It has the same blissed out, electro prog feel of NAO, but this is more traditionally song based in structure. The densely layered and treated guitars, synths and percussion make for a hugely epic sound. The absolute standout for me is "Clay". This is such a wonderful, hook laden song with a great, orchestral coda. This album was a surprise, a very good one indeed.


Bill Nelson - Getting The Holy Ghost Across

One of my favourite Bill Nelson albums. Though released in 1986 and certainly of the time, Bill's songwriting and musicianship shine through the 80's gloss. This was another unhappy relationship with a major label, here CBS but the results are startling. Along the lines of the lush, liquid sounds of "The Love That Whirls" and "Chimera" this was a more lighter effort, even commercial. You can still sense the influence of Yellow Magic Orchestra, who he had a close relationship with. The single "Wildest Dreams" should have been a hit.

CBS refused to release this on CD for some reason until 2006 when Bill secured a release on his own Sonoluxe label. However, he completely revamped the artwork, which though good wasn't as classy as the original LP design. Thankfully for this expanded release via Esoteric, the original design has been reinstated, beautifully realised by Phil Smee. All the tracks from the original album, the mini-LP, "Living For The Spangled Moment" and the "Wildest Dreams" single are included. A superb reissue for one of Bill's best.