Monday, 29 December 2014
Thursday, 18 December 2014
Well, everyone does it! So, here's my choice as of today. Like all things, it may be different tomorrow, but this is as good as I can make it. Again, it has been a very good year for prog rock. It gladdens my heart that the music I loved as a teenager back in the 70's is now not only accepted again but celebrated and even embraced by new groups and artists. Long may it continue. So here's my personal favourites of the year in no particular order. That would be asking too much!
Opeth - Pale Communion
Motorpsycho - Still Life with Eggplant
Spleen Arcana - The Light Beyond the Shades
Cosmograf - Capacitor
Zuffanti - La Quarta Vittima
Anathema - Distant Satellites
IQ - The Road to Bones
Flying Colors - Second Nature
Tim Bowness - Abandoned Dancehall Dreams
United Progressive Fraternity - Fall in Love with the World
Schnauser - Protein For Everyone
Tin Spirits - Scorch
Nick Magnus - N'monix
Engineers - Always Returning
Rhys Marsh - Sentiment
RPWL - Wanted
Syd Arthur - Sound Mirror
Stars in Battledress - In Droplet Form
Kaukasus - 'I'
The Samurai of Prog - The Imperial Hotel
The top spot still goes to Sentiment by Rhys Marsh. A quite magnificent album. Faultless in my opinion.
Label of the year without a doubt is Esoteric Antenna. They have released the most distinctive and stylistically broadest albums this year. The quality has been consistently outstanding. Well done to Mark and Vicky Powell.
The annual King Crimson Box Set of the Year Award goes to Starless of course. I do love those boxes but I hope we can get back to having the rest of the studio back catalogue released next year.
That's all for now!
Monday, 24 November 2014
It's getting to that time of year when we think about our favourite albums of the year. It has been another bumper year as far as I am concerned so the problem was what to choose as the best. Problem now solved with the release of Rhys Marsh's solo album "Sentiment". This is an absolute corker of an album. It has everything I like in my prog, especially the ubiquitous mellotron and there is plenty of that on here. This album therefore has the epic majesty of early Crimson, the Scandinivian melancholy of Anekdoten, White Willow and the such (Marsh is an Englishman, based in Norway), even hints of the classical art rock of early Dead Can Dance and with nods to the modern take on the emotional torch songs of Tim Bowness it ticks all the right boxes for me! But it's the sweeping wonder of these songs that captivates. Hugely emotional and musically rivetting, with all the songs deftly arranged to maximise their impact succinctly. No song longer than around 6 minutes or so and with the whole collection nimbly coming in at a satisfying 41 minutes. It's been a great year for Marsh as his other, more experimental project as part of the trio Kaukasus also rates highly on my radar. At this rate Rhys Marsh is very soon going to be quite a force to be reckoned with. So, album of the year? You bet!
Thursday, 6 November 2014
This is easy. Relayer has always been my favourite Yes album, ever since getting it for Christmas in 1975! I loved every aspect of the album. The music, lyrics, playing, sleeve design. Apart from the production. It just always sounded a bit of a splurge. So much going on, it just sounded too busy, messy and a mush of sound. I put it down to how it was recorded, using a mobile recording unit at Chris Squires fledgling recording studio. If it was recorded in a proper professional studio, it may have sounded better? However, this new mix by Steven Wilson proves that it was recorded fine. In fact this new mix was a profound experience. I mean that! I have lived with this recording for nearly 40 years and have owned it on vinyl, cassette and all the various CD incarnations. But it has never been a totally satisfying listen. So, I resigned myself to the fact that one of my favourite ever recordings would sound as it always has. But, listening to this new mix! This is how it should have sounded. Everything that should be there is there, but clearer and so better defined. There are layers and layers of instrumentation and vocals, but you can now pinpoint them with precision accuracy! It is like listening to this recording for the first time. Wilson's remixes for the other Yes albums have been interesting and worthwhile, but the difference he has made on Relayer is profound indeed.
Of course, the whole experience is enhanced by the exceptional work in the packaging too. This is the best reproduction of the original sleeve in CD form I have come across and it is nice to see alternative artwork from Roger Dean too. The notes by Sid Smith are as informative as always, with some great live photos showing the stage design in all it's glory. The blu-ray is stuffed with hi-res, 5.1 mixes, instrumental mixes, live tracks, flat transfers and needle-drops. Every possible permutation of the album is here. This is a master class in how to do archival releases.
I cannot wait to see what the team come up with for Topographic Oceans!
Saturday, 18 October 2014
Well, here it is. This years King Crimson box set. This time based around the Starless and Bible Black album. This set completes the trilogy of boxes based around what I consider Crimson's most electrifying period from 1972 to 1974. Though we were all amazed at the previous boxes, I think this one ups the ante even more. The quality of restoration and sound reproduction has been taken to an even higher standard, thanks to David Singleton's endeavours. On the Blu-ray Discs you have stereo up to LPCM 24/192 and DTS-HD Master Audio. That is top of the range. The music I will need time to digest, but what I have heard so far is a band that is truly pushing the boundaries in terms of playing the album material and in improvisations. The latter is where the gold is! So, now to digest this lot. There will be more on all this.
Sunday, 12 October 2014
There is lots and lots of new releases and top re-releases coming out over October and November. But I will ignore all those for now and look at these new SACD discs of UK's two studio albums and live album which have just been issued in Japan.
Over the last few years Universal Japan have been releasing a range SHM-SACD discs primarily aimed at the audiophile market. They all seem to be sourced from the original master tapes. What sets them apart is that they are flat transfers from these tapes. That is, there is no further mastering involved in the transfer of the tapes to discs. That is unusual for the Japanese who do seem to like lots of compression and EQ in their discs. So, with these they do seem to understand the need to achieve the best reproduction of the original tapes without any additional tinkering.
I am pleased to say that these new reissues of the UK albums are DSD flat transfers from the original tapes and not from Eddie Jobsons remasters of a few years back as was originally rumoured and feared! Though it doesn't state it in the notes, I believe these new transfers were done this year. So all that is good, so what about the actual discs themselves? Well, the original EG discs of many years back didn't actually sound too bad for a first issue. Compared to what companies were dishing out back in the day they sounded not bad at all. Maybe a bit flat to my ears, but sonically could have been a lot worse. These new transfers sound not dissimilar but there is far more detail and depth to the sound. For instance on "In the Dead of Night" from the first studio album you can actually discern Wetton hitting his bass strings. The clarity and separation is that good! This is true for all three discs. So, for me these will be my go to versions for listening to UK. And as usual the packaging is top notch too. The discs are in their own protective sleeve, with a complete mini reproduction of the original LP sleeve, together with inserts and lyric sheet in English and Japanese, all housed in a cardboard box. Yes, it's all over the top, but that's how the Japanese do things and I am happy they do!
Tuesday, 16 September 2014
As we all know now, the beast that is King Crimson is back. But not a reconvening of what went before. Fripp has built a new band from the ground up. We have Mel Collins back on saxes and flutes. Jakko is in to add extra English guitar and vocals. We also have industrial drummer and REM member Bill Rieflin to be the third drummer along with stalwart Pat Mastelloto and Gavin Harrison who was added on the last Crimson outing. Then there is Tony Levin of course. A Crimson now without him is unthinkable.
To put it mildly when I heard that Fripp was going back on the road I was shocked. He never seemed happy with playing live now. He hated the photos and all the business side of it. I think we all felt resigned to the fact that KC was probably over. But not only has he put the band back together, but in such an original way is really shocking. This lineup is inspired and the stuff they are playing is mind boggling. Fripp is even playing live with lights on him! Who would have thought. He has even given interviews for the like of Wire and Prog magazine. He seems to have become rejuvenated somehow and really enjoying for once playing In King Crimson.
The first fruits of all this endeavour, apart from the concerts in the US are a Tourbox which came out of the blue last week. There was nothing beforehand to warn us of the imminent release of this. A newsletter was sent out last weekend from the Burning Shed web site informing us of the shipping of this 2CD King Crimson Tourbox. Of course I ordered. Burning Shed may have jumped the gun as the ordering of this was withdrawn till Wednesday (the day after the bands first public performance). But it was shipped on Wednesday and received on Friday.
This Tourbox, unlike others KC have released is no mere compilation of fragments and odds and sods. This is packed with choice cuts showcasing the band in its various guises over the years. There are even a couple of outtakes from the Jakszyk, Fripp and Collins sessions of a few years back, which may mark the genesis of the current lineup.
The packaging too is outstanding. Both discs housed in a hardback digipak design. The 24 page booklet has notes by Sid Smith of course which focus on the archiving of the band. I was pleased to see a pic of the cassette edition of Larks' Tongues in Aspic which was my first introduction to the album back in the 70's. Haven't seen that in nearly 40 years!
Get the Tourbox! It's a bargain, especially at £15 which is unbelievable value for a limited release.
It's good to have the band back, especially in such a refreshing lineup. Now, to that Starless box set next month.
Friday, 22 August 2014
Sorry dear readers for the lack of postings. Due to some family stuff and decorating! Anyway, hopefully normal service will be resumed shortly. But here is a quick update.
Really enjoying the new Kenso album. For those not in the know, Kenso are a fantastic Japanese band who expertly mix symphonic prog and jazz rock fusion. A sort of bit of Bruford, Brand X with the jazzier bits of mid period Genesis. They don't release often as the band I think are just a part time project as the leader, guitarist Yoshihisa Shimizu is a dentist! Anyway, this new one is more melodic but still full of their complex compositions. Excellent stuff. The box set of their back catalogue from a few years back is one of my most prized posessions.
Finally, why is everyone hating the new Yes album? I have never experienced such polar opposite views to my own on this. I think it's quite excellent. Yes, it's very laid back, but the addition of Jon Davison is such a positive effect. I am glad music is such a personal thing.
Sunday, 6 July 2014
Yes I know it's not prog. But Vini Reilly's work shares a similar aesthetic for ambition and ability that a lot in prog aspires to. Though his band (or more a moniker really) The Durutti Column came out of the post-punk fallout of the late 70's and were signed to Factory, Vini's music owed very little to the abrasive sounds that were left in the wake of the Sex Pistols. This first album was full of delicate, thoughtful and reflective guitar vignettes. From the liner notes of this recent expanded and remastered re-release on Factory Benelux, it seems Vini spent a couple of days in the studio setting down some guitar pieces and then got so fed up with producer Martin Hannett's tinkering with synths and rhythm machines that he left. Hannett was then left to add synths and rhythm around what Vini had produced. The results are timeless instrumentals, showcasing Vini's prodigous guitar technique and style, which has been so distinctive and joyous throughout the years. The rhythms and synth "tweets" may sound primitive now, but they add a certain archaic charm which suits the reflective and almost dreamlike ambience of these tunes.
Vini was never a well man. Like his music, fragile and otherwordly. I think his health has declined even further over the last few years. But he still seems to produce music to this day and for that we can be thankful. This first album may have been produced in less than amiable surroundings, but that was the Factory way! The results however are simply beautiful!
Sunday, 29 June 2014
We all have heroes. People we admire from a distance, who's music, films, books or whatever makes a difference to our lives in some way. I have them. Some have been with me nearly all my life. Tim Bowness is one, who's voice has been with me ever since I heard him sing " Days in the Trees" back in the early 90's. That defining moment was the start of a love affair with that voice. Probably more than love! His voice reaches places that other voices just don't even begin to make a dent. Together with Steven Wilson as no-man that voice has taken me through my emotional highs and lows of my life since first being heard. The voice has popped up all over the place, with nosound, Henry Fool, Samuel Smiles, Peter Chilvers, Richard Barbieri, Nick Magnus, Slow Electric to name a few.
But here he is with his first solo album in 10 years. In fact this album is probably his first real defining statement as a man alone. It's extraordinary of course. That voice never let's me down. There are elements of no-man as expected. In fact the album started out as a potential no-man album, but Wilson was busy. Doing what? A good thing I think as his absence allowed Tim to take the album into new territories. Aided by a host of empathic contributors such as Pat Mastelotto, Michael Bearpark, Andrew Keeling and Anna Phoebe it's all a joy to behold. The opening track "The Warm-Up Man Forever" is the most jaunty track on here, which reminds me somehow of Pulp (in a good way) and includes a killer chorus together with an inspired guitar solo by Bearpark. In fact Bearparks guitar playing is a standout on this album. Just listen to the wonderful, Bill Frisell like soloing on "Dancing for You"! Another favourite is "Waterfoot" which is almost a two way collaboration with Andrew Keeling as he co-wrote, arranged the strings and plays guitar, bass, organ and percussion. The result is a homage to Nick Drake, with those strings evoking Robert Kirby and the whole thing bringing long lost summer days in the English countryside to life. The whole album is a homage to days gone by! The people, places and emotions of those days of our youth. Tim feels it and makes you feel it too.
This is a special album. Well, to me anyway. That voice has been with me for years and will be for many more, soundtracking the good times and the bad times. But oh my, he has produced something here that is much more than I could have ever imagined!
Tuesday, 24 June 2014
Anathema have over their last two albums developed quite a reputation within prog circles. They are now at the position that even the Guardian newspaper reviews this latest album and gives them a 5 star rating. For me, I don't really consider Anathema progressive rock. They may be signed to Kscope which does promote itself as a post-prog label, but for me that's where the connection ends. Why not prog? Well, the music is conventionally structured, they don't really push boundaries in terms of time signatures, instrumentation embodying different types of musical styles. But in saying all that I really do like them. So forget genre pigeonholes and just enjoy the music I say!
This latest album may be my favourite. It further develops the style set down by their previous two albums. Highly emotionally charged, atmospheric and epic songs. But they have added a significant new element. By applying "beats" to their arrangements. This has added a completely new dimension to their sonic tapestry and actually doesn't sound as contrived or out of place as you may think. If anything the use of synthetic rhythms gives the songs an added emotional depth, if that is possible for this band. I am reminded of the band Lamb who similarly produced emotive music backed by strong trip-hop rhythms. Apart from that, all the usual Anathema trademarks are here intact; Daniel Cavanagh's post-shoegazing guitar, the depth of Vincent Cavanaghs's emotional vocals and Lee Douglas, simply one of the best female vocalists around. Anathema are actually one of those bands where you just forget where in the scheme of things they belong. They transcend categorisation. You just accept that they offer a truly life affirming experience.
Friday, 13 June 2014
Well here are the latest releases by Richard Pinhas. Busy man! He is best known as guitarist with Heldon who mixed Fripp styled rock and synthesiser soundscapes. Even his solo material has followed the Fripp principal of frippertronic looping and soundscaping. But whereas Fripp takes his soundscaping into more languid, thoughtful and introverted areas, Pinhas is more aggressive, organic and uncompromising. But these two new releases see the man having lost none of his fire or power. Previous releases have seen him take a more experimental approach, in someways directed by his collaborators. Though the same can be said here, there is a more structured feel to the proceedings, which gives them a sound harking back to the Heldon days. That is no bad thing.
Today we have young musicians like Matt Stevens pushing the boundaries of rock electric guitar, but an elder statesman like Pinhas is still capable of showing us a trick or two.
Wednesday, 28 May 2014
This arrived a few days back. I originally talked about the second release from Julien Gaullier's Spleen Arcana project back in early February. At that point it was only available as a download. Now, the physical CD is at last released. A much better way to enjoy this excellent album. I got what he calls the "Nature" edition. Wrapped in a lovely tied bag with a leaf slipped into the packaging. You also get a handy fridge magnet and sticker with some postcards. All in all he really has gone the extra mile to produce something very distinctive. As for the music, it sounds better than I remember from the dowload. The beautiful artwork does enhance the listening experience as it should! The standout track is the 24 minute epic "Memento Mori" which is one of my favourite tracks of the year. He really has constructed a wonderful prog epic. This album is highly recommended indeed! Must be on CD though!
Saturday, 24 May 2014
Here are three of my favourite albums embellished with artwork by H R Giger who recently passed away. Of course his name was made famous by his work on Ridley Scott's "Alien", but for many it's his album artwork, especially for Emerson, Lake and Palmer's "Brain Salad Surgery" that brought his work to the general public. We were all used to the colourful fantasy worlds of Roger Dean, so to see something as dark and disturbing was a shock back then. He was an original and produced startling, unforgettable images. The other albums above are "Pictures" by Island and "Attahk" by Magma.
Thursday, 22 May 2014
Well, here it is in all its glory, the BSS mega box set. I haven't managed to work my way through all of it, but concentrated on the main selling point of this box the new mixes. New stereo and 5.1 mixes have been produced by Jakko Jakszyk. Over and above that we get another remaster of the original album, this time by Andy Pearce who was involved in the catalogue when Sony first took over the release of all of ELP's albums. There is a disc of alternative cuts, b-sides and what-nots which are similar to the extras on Universals deluxe edition of a few years back. I think there are just a couple of extra tracks here in comparison. Of course the new stereo and surround mixes are presented in hi resolution on the DVD along with the original mix.
So what of the new mix. Well, the opening track Jerusalem took me by surprise a bit. The vocals are quite different to the original, which was steeped in lots of reverb. Here, Lake's vocals are much cleaner and the presence from verse to verse seems to change as if taken from different takes! Also on Benny the Bouncer there is a guitar refrain near the end of the song which I never heard before. So, to me there are some radical differences here, but the overall impression is a much clearer, detailed mix. I always considered BSS to be very pompous sounding, too flashy maybe! But Jakko's mix gives a more thoughtful and complex feel to the music. In particular Carl Palmer's percussion sounds less showy. Just listen to his brush work on Benny the Bouncer which is very considered and playful or the jazzy complexity of 2nd Impression. These facets seem to have got lost in the original mix, but here they are particularly highlighted.
The packaging is ok, but nothing really special. I had never owned BSS on vinyl before so was really looking forward to having this with the original cut-out, fold-out sleeve which made the original vinyl edition so distinctive. But that is not reproduced here. What you get is the vinyl, credit/lyric poster and DVD video slipped inside one side of a standard gatefold sleeve with the CD's and DVD audio fitted into inserts on the opposite side. Luckily I have a papersleeve CD version of the original sleeve design which Castle produced many years ago, but Sony really have missed an oportunity here.
There are some nice pictures in the booklet and I was pleased to see the front of the Music Scene special which I remember buying back in 1973. Wish I still had that! The notes by Chris Welch are fairly perfunctory, but serve their purpose.
So overall this to me includes the best sounding BSS, whether the original mix or new mix, with all the extras you could hope for. Though I do recall that there was a version of Benny the Bouncer with different lyrics so not sure why that was not included. The packaging is ok, but they should have included the vinyl LP in its original design. With the recent passing of H R Giger, that would have done his original design the justice it deserves. BSS has had many, many re-releases over the years and they never get it right. Here, they nearly have, just not quite!
Monday, 12 May 2014
The above just arrived this morning from those awfully nice people at Burning Shed. Of course it was:
Yep, the Brain Salad Surgery Super Deluxe Box set. This should be the ultimate version of this and boy have we had plenty of those in the past. It seems over the last few years, we have had this album reissued every, well year! So hopefully, this newly remixed version by Jakko Jakszyk will be the last word on this album. So, more on this soon.
Thursday, 8 May 2014
Prog Dog is cock-a-hoop with joy at the news that there is to be another multidisc box set of archival live and studio King Crimson material to be released this October. This time centred around the "Starless and Bible Black" album. Full content still to be decided. So, what are the odds now of similar boxes based around "In the Wake of Poseidon", " Lizard" and "Islands"?
Wednesday, 7 May 2014
The last week or so may have been dominated by IQ's magnificent new album "The Road of Bones", but there has been another newly released album that is just as equally impressive, in it's own distinctive way. The latest solo album by Nick Magnus is a sheer delight from start to finish.
For many, Nick's name will be familiar from his days playing with Steve Hackett back in the late 70's and early 80's. He appeared on classic albums like "Spectral Mornings" and "Defector" and you can hear that same post-Genesis, eccentric English progressive vibe permeating "n'monix". The songwriting, arrangements and production have such a beautiful lightness of touch. Listen to "Eminent Victorians" and you will be transported back to Hackett's "Tigermoth", which is helped by the fact it is sung by Pete Hicks who was another stalwart from Hackett's late 70's band. The man himself lends his unmistakeable guitar tone to three of the tracks here. But without doubt the highlight is the inspired choice of having Tim Bowness sing the epic ballad "Broken". His breathy, heartfelt vocal is just right for this emotive song, which is further enhanced by the wonderful sax solo from Rob Townsend.
All the keyboards and synths are by Nick himself of course. But like everything else on the album, there is nothing showy. Every instrument is placed effortlessly into the mix. I did wonder about who played the drums and some of the guitar, as they are not credited in the sleeve notes, so I put this to Nick on Facebook. Lo and behold did he not email me personally. Seems the drums are programmed which surprised me as they do not sound synthetic at all. Also, what I thought was a wonderful guitar solo on the last track "Entropy" is in fact keyboard! Very ingenious, he really has spent time and effort to ensure the instrumentation sounds just right.
This is a real gem of an album. Classic, crafted progressive rock songwriting at its very best but maintaining a contemporary feel for instrumentation and production. It's no surprise that Mark and Vicky Powell have released this on the Esoteric Antenna imprint, as along with Matt Stevens recent album "Lucid" they have shown real savvy for finding that something special for their label. Even the packging is classy. Full marks to the inimitable Phil Smee for his usual flair in layout. It does my heart good to see that in this day and age an album as good as this gets the release it deserves.
Thursday, 1 May 2014
Here, the remix is more radical than the one he did on Close to the Edge. The most startling thing is the amount of synthesiser on this. On the original mix, synth was there but it wasn't so in your face as it is on this mix. It is well known that Tony Kaye wasn't a big synth man, he was happy with his trusty old Hammond. But this new mix shows there was more there than originally presented. Actually, the clarity on this new mix is quite breathtaking. The separation of instruments is so clear and so well defined. For instance you can really pinpoint Squires punchy bass and there is so much more of Howe here, guitar parts that were never there before. It's all a bit of a revelation really!
Of course it's all here on the blu-ray. The original mix, new mixes, suround mixes, live versions, instrumental versions. You do get your moneys worth! The notes in the booklet by Sid Smith are up to the usual, informative and well written standard. I didn't know the synth used on the recording was Keith Emersons!
So is this, as the sticker states the "definitive edition". Well, in terms of stuffing every conceivable version of the album tracks on to the blu-ray disc and for sheer clarity and quality of sound, it certainly is. However, there will be some who prefer the original mix, warts and all. I can kind of sympathise with that viewpoint. Although I love the new mix, in terms of something sounding different and fresh, I do also like the comforting familiarity of the old version. Well, it's what I grew up with!
Sunday, 27 April 2014
For any readers of this blog, sorry for the lack of posts. But my father passed away on the 27th March. I wanted to at least make this small dedication to him. I am so proud to have had him as a father and will never forget him. He was a WW2 veteran and there are not many left. We should always remember them for what they did for us. Here's tae ye Dad.
Friday, 21 March 2014
Thursday, 6 March 2014
Withe the release of The Crimson ProjeKCt - Live in Tokyo we now have live documents from two alumni bands representing both ends of the King Crimson timeline. The earlier 21st Century Schizoid Band included Mel Collins, Ian McDonald, Peter Giles and Michael Giles, later replaced with the late, great Ian Wallace. This band was fronted by Jakko Jakszyk who is now guitarist and vocalist with the latest, official KC lineup. Live in New York is a great set, showcasing exciting and sometimes beguiling versions of early KC material. It's obvious the band are really into playing this material live and the addition of Jakko is a huge bonus. He is a great frontman, full of humour and love for being able to play with his heroes. The band never split up I believe, just sort of fizzled out after Ian Wallace's death.
The Crimson ProjeKCt showcases the Adrian Belew period and here he is back with a double trio again, as per the Thrak grouping. Along with the usual KC suspects of Belew, Mastelotto and Levin are Julie Slick and Tobias Ralph from Belew's Power Trio and Touch guitarist Markus Reuter. To be honest this live set is pretty electrifying. It's KC, but more. Maybe the absense of Fripp has allowed the band a bit more freedom to play about with the arrangements. Whatever, there is a depth and density to the playing which really gives these pieces a new lease of life. In the words from Indiscipline, "I like it"! Sorry about that!