The Progressive Aspect

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/07/02/mcstine-minnemann-mcstine-minnemann/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=mcstine-minnemann-mcstine-minnemann

Marco Minnemann has been my favourite drummer for many years now, always exciting, everything he does is worthy of attention, and this debut album with guitarist and songwriter Randy McStine is no exception. The duo take on multi-instrumentalist roles to create an entertaining and punchy record of short melodic songs that retain the firepower you’d expect.

Marco seems to have a new album out with someone every couple of weeks, and until the pandemic put paid to such things (for the time being at least) has been a frequent flyer with The Aristocrats of late. Randy McStine may be familiar from his band Lo-Fi Resistance, but he has also been playing with Nick D’Virgilio and Jonas Reingold as The Fringe and was scheduled to replace Dave Gregory to play live shows with Big Big Train, but alas, not this year.

The duo first met in 2018 and immediately discovered a shared love of rock, pop and punk and soon decided to work on something together, initially an EP, but this soon became an album as the creativity flowed, bringing in their various shared influences with the intention of forging a tuneful and engaging collection of songs with enough depth to keep them interesting.

This is a duo album in every sense with the two taking on all instrumental and vocal duties, and nailing them, it has to be said. The blend of rocky progressive pop with a punky edge and effects driven keys is a fun listen, the compact and high energy songs still managing to find space for dexterous musicianship, and they can certainly pen a hooky melody too. They pitch the songs at the centre of the Venn diagram taking in XTC, Mr. Bungle, The Police, Queen and Frank Zappa – if there were such a thing – and you can see where they’re coming from.

Program, the first-fruits single, explores the impact of technology in the modern world. Randy first recorded the song in 2013, but returned to it last year: “I thought this would be really great to do [with Marco] if we kick up the energy a bit and take it to a Devo-esque sound. I’m super excited about how it came out!” From Marco’s perspective, “the whole track has a real driving energy to it and I think, as an album opener, it sets the stage for most of the musical elements that are to follow.” The drums are to the fore straight away and it’s industrial pop with a pleasing Cardiacs-like sense to it, the tower teetering near collapse, but with the reassurance that it never will. Randy puts in a good vocal and there are nice guitar figures in this compact and fun track, starting as they mean to go on with songs in the two to four minute zone. The ‘vertical video’ is fun too…

Upfront punky bass gives a snarky edge to Falling From Grace, but with honeyed harmony vocals, and MM drums to the max, natch. It’s fiddly and witty but a world away from The Aristocrats, Marco, as always, adept at fitting his technique into accessible songs that have enough instrumental clout to garner wide appeal. Sinister piano takes an unexpected path to the dark side toward the end.

Your Offenses, the second single, is another winner, flying out of the traps on keys, drums and bass. The guitar work is excellent, as is the piano augmented chorus, all breaking down with some dirty, gritty soloing. Randy: “We didn’t make a ‘punk rock’ record, but I feel like the core of it is very much in that spirit. The bass and drums have a Police-like presence and I really love the way the song turned out!” In the writing process, it was the bridge section of this song that confirmed to Randy that they were both on the same page.

It’s ridiculously accessible, and proof (if any were needed) that tricksy talent does not preclude a poptastic end-result.

In marked contrast, Catrina has funky bass, dark vocals and a creepy, crisp melody. The vocals soar on harmonies, but the structures are unorthodox. Top of the Bucket is all frenetic drums and exemplary chiming guitars – tasty stuff – while Tear the Walls Down (No Memories) is chunky, stuttering, riffy rock, almost from another time, but with crisp drums and a powerful McStine vocal. Pounding but at the same time intricate, again spooky and with a nice guitar solo that mingles beautifully with piano to the fade.

Atmospheric vocals drive Fly, the album’s swaying stately centrepiece, a toe-tapper with FX and keys, while the groovesome intro to Activate is akin to Aristocrats, Randy’s vocal taking it elsewhere with funky chops and a winningly upbeat chorus. But is there room for a contemplative piano ballad? Why, of course! And The Closer is it, with slide guitars it’s a fab little tune. Finally the power drive of Voyager to finish, a four minute ‘epic’ of groovy metal and massive Zappa soloing with big finish harmony vocals.

This pair obviously have the chops, but they also understand the power of sophisticated pop and are adaptable enough to deliver this often quirky material in a direct way. It’s punchy and fun with all the instrumental pizzazz that any self-respecting enthusiast would wish for, but with a sense of melody and a poppy ethic that is often alien to ‘muso’ albums. These guys can pen a good hooky melody while twisting it in any direction they want, or just playing it straight – as that’s what won’t be expected!

TRACK LISTING
01. Program (2:40)
02. Falling From Grace (3:44)
03. Your Offenses (3:27)
04. Catrina (3:37)
05. Top of the Bucket (3:30)
06. Tear the Walls Down (No Memories) (3:05)
07. Fly (3:48)
08. Activate (3:39)
09. The Closer (2:24)
10. Voyager (4:42)

Total Time – 34:36

MUSICIANS
Randy McStine – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Keyboards, FX
Marco Minnemann – Drums, Percussion, Vocals, Guitar, Keyboards, FX

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: U.S.A./Germany
Date of Release: 3rd July 2020

LINKS
McStine & Minnemann – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | Instagram | YouTube

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/07/02/tpa-news-july-2020/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=tpa-news-july-2020

Latest Prog News from across the progressive music spectrum & updated throughout July 2020.


02/07/2020: Neal Morse Announces New Solo Concept Album Sola Gratia

Neal Morse has announced the release of Sola Gratia, his new solo progressive rock concept album, on the 11th September 2020. Originating from an idea about writing a record based on the apostle Paul, Sola Gratia came together at the beginning of 2020. The album sees Neal working with long-time collaborators Mike Portnoy, Randy George, Eric Gillette, Bill Hubauer and Gideon Klein.

The title Sola Gratia has echoes of Morse’s 2007 epic Sola Scriptura, about the life of Martin Luther, but was in fact originally the result of a simple marital misunderstanding: Morse comments: “I was talking to my wife Cherie about debuting this new piece at Morsefest 2020 (Morse’s annual fan convention in Nashville) and she said she thought it would be good for me to do a solo album. However, I thought she said ‘Sola album’ and – because some of the new ideas involved Paul’s aggressive pursuit of the early Christians, I could see a link to some of the themes of persecution in ‘Sola Scriptura’.

The music was recorded ‘virtually’ in April 2020 at the height of the Coronavirus lockdown with long term collaborators Mike Portnoy (drums) and Randy George (bass): “It’s the first album we have ever made remotely: I sent them the basic tracks and asked if they wanted to rearrange things, but they just said ‘No, it’s great!’, so they just played to it and sent their parts back over. It wasn’t an easy way to make an album, but creating always has its challenges, no matter how you do it.”

As Morse explains, it was this process that decided that Sola Gratia was to be a Neal Morse album, rather than being credited to The Neal Morse Band: “With the Neal Morse Band, the whole band works together on the writing, and while Eric Gillette plays some guitar and Bill Hubauer has added some keyboards on this one, neither of them wrote – or is singing – on this album.”

Sola Gratia will be released as a limited CD/DVD Digipak (featuring a ‘Making-Of’ documentary), Gatefold 2LP + CD, Standard CD Jewel Case and as a Digital Album. The cover art was created by another longtime collaborator, Thomas Ewerhard.

Track List:
1. Preface
2. Overture
3. In The Name Of The Lord
4. Ballyhoo (The Chosen Ones)
5. March Of The Pharisees
6. Building A Wall
7. Sola Intermezzo
8. Overflow
9. Warmer Than The Sunshine
10. Never Change
11. Seemingly Sincere
12. The Light On The Road To Damascus
13. The Glory Of The Lord
14. Now I Can See/The Great Commission

Neal Morse will debut Sola Gratia live at his annual Morsefest convention on the 18th and 19th September 2020. A limited number of people will be able to attend in person, with the event also being streamed online. More details and tickets are available here: https://nealmorse.com/tc-events/morsefest-2020/

SOURCES: For The Lost PR

Keep up to date with the TPA UK Gig Guide


02/07/2020: Downes Braide Association Tease New Album

In a statement released on their Twitter feed, Downes Braide Association reveal they are working on a fourth studio album.

The statement reads: “Geoff & Chris are producing some fantastic songs and sending these on to Dave Bainbridge to add guitar & Andy Hodge to add bass, with added spoken vocals of Barney Ashton Bullock this album is turning out to be another masterpiece

A release date for the new album has not yet been set.

SOURCES: Downes Braide Association Twitter

Keep up to date with the TPA UK Gig Guide


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This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/07/01/ronnie-platt-kansas/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=ronnie-platt-kansas

Veteran proggers Kansas have a new LP out, Absence of Presence, and in light of that, vocalist Ronnie Platt made himself available to TPA for an interview where he talked about the new album, the challenges of recording and touring simultaneously and what he expects 2021 will look like for Kansas.

Kansas banner

2020 so far and Kansas

For my part, I was quite nervous going into my call with Platt; I’ve had the privilege of interviewing many people during my career outside of music, but even in the case of my music interviews, I’ve always preferred to keep it to email, so a telephone interview is still new to me.

To get the ball rolling, I thought it would be best to open up the interview with nice, light conversation: global pandemics and how the 2020 lockdown had affected Kansas.

“Well it started off with a bang, that’s for sure,” Platt began. “With touring and putting the finishing touches on the album [to now being] kept in a holding pattern at the moment. So, you know, it’s a situation that’s beyond our control, so we have to abide by the situation.

“But I think there’s light at the end of the tunnel, I think things are starting to open up,” he added with a sense of optimism toward the future.

“It’s kind of a frustrating thing for us to have our album coming out now, because we were so, so excited about touring and perhaps playing a couple songs from the new album live,” Platt’s tone was genuinely upset about the lack of ability to hit the road with a new album in tow.

He continued: “One of course being Throwing Mountains, which is such a heavy song. You know, a lot of people are classifying that as progressive metal and that’s a perfect way to describe that song. But we are so looking forward to playing that live.

“We still are now, but we have to keep our excitement in containment, I guess.”

I agree with him that progressive metal is an apt description of the song, and also how heavy it is in comparison to a lot of Kansas repertoire, from what I could tell having done as much background listening as possible in the run up to the interview, which I think was appreciated.

Kansas 2020 European tour

So far, this was certainly an easy interview to conduct as Platt’s enthusiasm for his work and easy-going character found the humour in all of our exchanges and every response was accompanied with a good-natured laugh.

But it was time to get back to business.

“Do you want to talk about the tour?” I asked Platt as I was keen to know when audiences would have the opportunity to see Kansas performing.  “I know you guys were meant to be touring Europe this Autumn – has that been pushed back?”

His response was earnest, accepting of a situation out of his control, but that didn’t stop his eagerness to not be weighed down by the situation and get back on to the road.

“It has been pushed back. It’s very frustrating for me now that our first tour was cancelled, and now this second tour of Europe to be kept in a holding pattern is frustrating for me because… I want to go to Europe! And I want to bring this music to you!”

He added, “Our friends on the other side of the pond need to re-discover Kansas and witness this band because this band is on fire and sounding better than ever so I cannot wait to get there… and I cannot describe my anticipation and my excitement of wanting to bring this band to Europe.”

Platt’s enthusiasm for touring and for the album come across clearly, and I remark that the European audience would be glad to have Kansas. I suggest that it’s all about momentum – having the new album to come out in time for the tour and being able to play the newer songs, which they’d now be losing.

“Yeah, that’s the operative word there… ‘momentum’. And we did have such an incredible momentum; that inertia was in high speed, but you want the air out of the bag with the current situation. But I feel very strongly that we’re going to pick up where we left off. Because, I’ll say one thing, we’re all very well rested now!”

Impressions on the album and challenges in recording

Kansas - Absence of PresenceI ask Ronnie next what his overall impressions of the album are now that he’s had some time for it to simmer. His explanation shows to me that the Absence of Presence has much more than musical value, the value for him is in knowing all the hard work that the six band members put into it.

“I am as excited about this album now as I was when we first started working on the basic tracks,” he begins.

“There’s just something about the mystique of the album. It seems like the band is well tuned now. With The Prelude Implicit, I was still new with the band and Zak [Rizvi] didn’t join the band until we were already recording that album. Now I think we have a little maturity as a band with this album. Even though we recorded this album while we were touring – which made our schedule really intense.

“With The Prelude Implicit, we recorded that in the Winter months when we were off and we had the time to focus on just recording. For this album we were touring and at the same time recording.”

“That must have been something really difficult to juggle,” I reply.

“It was. With the band having so much momentum, we did want to take the entire month of August off, but the demand for the band wouldn’t let us, but we didn’t retract. Even though we did end up doing some shows, we didn’t let up on our recording schedule at all.”

Platt mentioned that the pressure and intensity helped the end product. “It helped the intensity, when you’re so focused and forced to be focused on one thing and you’re really striving for your songs to come out as good as they can… Wow! This album just… I can’t wait for everybody to hear this album.

“Between the diversity of the songs… you know very prog rock songs to very heart-felt ballads and that’s within the Kansas recipe and that’s just in one album. We’re really excited, really, really proud and we cannot wait for June 26th.”

[Since the interview, the release date has moved to July 17, 2020]

I am keen to know more about his take on the individual tracks on the album, and my next question was about which tracks stand out the most, to him.

Throwing Mountains because it’s such a high energy, high intensity song and we knew from very early on that we would be playing that song live.”

He exclaims: “That song just screams to be played live,” but adds, “it’s the old adage of ‘which one is your favourite child?’.”

That’s a fair assessment when you’ve put equal effort into every track on the record.

He added that when it comes to the Kansas back catalogue, he enjoys the ability to re-discover the older track as if they were new after re-listening to them. “Maybe I’m a bit fickle, but I change my favourite song every day,” he tells me with another chuckle.

I also wanted to know if there were any tracks that were a challenge for him to record – listening to the album I was impressed by the vocal range on display, and it’s a performance that won’t be easy for any vocalist, no matter how long they’ve been working. Again, Ronnie’s honesty was good humoured and reflected the pride he put into the album.

“Right! No, not really, because Zak [Rizvi] wrote everything in my key which I really take a lot of pride in my range and my endurance, so there really was nothing that was too challenging.

“The challenging thing was to try stay in good voice while we were touring. Because when you’re touring, you never sleep. You never get the right amount of sleep, because you know you’re doing a show, you’re going back to the hotel and I’m not the kind of person that could just go back to the hotel room and fall asleep.”

Platt explains getting enough sleep after shows that have his adrenaline flowing means unwinding is essential – but there is added pressure to his intense live performances: “You know there’s a level of intensity when you’re filling the shoes of Steve Walsh, you know? He set the bar pretty high.”

He elaborated a little on the strains of recording and touring simultaneously.

“I don’t think people realise, it’s not just singing the song once or twice, it’s grinding it out in the studio. You’re kind of in the experimentation realm, so you’re trying things, you’re singing something over and over and over again and making small adjustments here and there, then you’re singing the harmony to that, so you’re trying different harmonies and then different combinations of voices. ‘Does it work well with me, Billy [Greer] and Tom [Brislin] singing? or should it be me, Tom and David Ragsdale?’

“It really is a tricky thing to find the right combination of voices that fit that harmony. Knowing which part fits which person and putting that together, doing a basic mix and experimenting there and going back the next day and listening to it with fresh ears. ‘Did that work? Should we try something different’. It really can be a tedious process sometimes.”

How audiences at live shows have received Kansas

Ronnie Platt - Kansas

Platt’s insights into the recording process were really interesting, and I wanted to know more about what went on in the making of the record, but I was getting close to running over time, so I thought it would be worth knowing how the band’s new music and live shows were being received by younger fans given the new momentum Kansas was experiencing.

Platt’s response was as earnest as ever and filled with appreciation for Kansas’ fanbase.

“I have to tell you this. I have now six years under my belt with Kansas and one of the most flattering things to me is not only to have our original fans still coming to the shows and in the time I’ve been with the band, I’ve seen our audiences get larger and larger and larger, which is extremely flattering.

“Also, the fans from the seventies and then on have brought their kids and their grandkids. And I’ve seen our audience, you know taking the average age, just in the time I’ve been in the band, I’ve seen our audience get younger and younger and it’s really a great thing to have young people have an appreciation for this music. This is not something that has been made with a couple of samples and a drum machine. This is very intense music by intensely talented people. So, for young people to appreciate this music, it doesn’t get better than that! That’s really a great thing and I hope it continues”

What’s in store for Kansas in 2021?

Kansas

With my time already a little bit longer than planned, and I was sure Ronnie had other interviews scheduled, I wanted to end the interview asking what 2021 had on the cards for the band.

“You ask the hot question there! 2021…

“I will say this… it’ll probably be the most intense touring schedule we’ve had, since I’ve been in the band. And a quick little story: when I first talked to Phil [Ehart] and Rich [Williams], they had told me they had plans on doing about 55 and 65 shows a year. My first full year with Kansas we did 98 shows. My second year with Kansas we did 99.”

He concluded, “we have to make up for 2020. I think there’s a very good possibility of us well surpassing that number next year.”

With the prospect of the busiest year of touring yet with new songs to add to an already energetic live show, my time with Ronnie Platt was up – indeed it had been up for 10 minutes now; what was meant to be a 20-minute chat had run to nearly 30-minutes, but it’s hard not to when you’re speaking to a man whose enthusiasm for his work and his band exudes with every word he says.

I was worried when I was dialling in about how the interview would go. But there was no need to. Ronnie answered and his friendly manner kept the interview in an upbeat tone throughout… it was apparent that he, along with his bandmates, are all excited about the work they’ve done in putting together Absence of Presence and that infectious enthusiasm rubs off on you when you speak with him. I believe this is the sign of a rejuvenated Kansas as the band’s touring cycle has grown since Platt joined the band in 2016. From my chat with Ronnie, the current dynamic of the band is one of positivity and honestly, it reflects in the album.

Even with 2020 being a challenging year for the music industry at large, Platt looks ahead with optimism, confident that when Kansas hit the road, the enthusiasm the band has put into their latest release will reflect in the live shows and on their ever-loyal fanbase.

[Read TPA’s review of Absence of Presence]

Kansas


LINKS
Kansas – Website | Facebook | Twitter

[All photographs by EMily Butler Photography – used with kind permission and our sincere thanks.]

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/07/01/kansas-absence-of-presence/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=kansas-absence-of-presence

There is lots to be excited about with classic rock veterans Kansas’ latest effort, The Absence of Presence. First, the album marks a milestone in that it’s been 50 years since the band formed in 1970 in Topeka, Kansas. Second, it’s also been four years on since The Prelude Implicit marked the band’s resurgence, signalling that Kansas was geared to move forward into the future, and The Absence of Presence confirms that Kansas is now well and truly in motion.

The line-up seems to have solidified, with the only change since the 2016 LP being losing David Manion (who joined for Prelude). He has been replaced by the adept Tom Brislin whose work on keyboard duties adds a creative element to Kansas’ latest LP, so hopefully this line-up remains.

The Absence of Presence is lyrically thought provoking and two themes dominate the album. The benefit of experience means Kansas can draw from a well of wisdom to add maturity and insight that younger musicians simply don’t have access to.

The first theme is the paradox of being physically present yet spiritually or emotionally absent or uninvested. This theme is most directly explored in the title track, but also Animals on the Roof, Circus of Illusion and The Song the River Sang all deal with this theme in an abstract way. They question if our absenteeism is represented by not working together and being uninvested in ourselves/the planet/society in favour of consumer culture.

Animals on the Roof is superficially about not fitting in; just as animals on rooves might be a ‘strange sight’ – pests even – they are in a position of greater foresight, despite their small stature. Once we hear Platt’s references to a coming ‘flood’ and a ‘dull, rumbling sound’, it becomes clear the track is a call to action to heed the warnings of those who can see further ahead, but are marginalised for being socially or environmentally conscious. The masses that ignore these visionaries will become victims of their own ignorance and arrogance.

The second theme is that of overcoming – overcoming our absence or non-investment in bigger issues. We see this in the track Jets Overhead, an ode to those in service as it articulates how military families make – and overcome – sacrifices to a larger cause, told through the eyes of someone saying goodbye to an Air Force pilot being deployed (the pilot being deployed having his own absence of presence). We hear:

Then you say: “This ain’t about me, but about everyone I’ve ever known.”
I’ll be waiting right here when you land

and understand the struggle in needing to accept that loved ones cannot be a priority, though that loved one may wish to be so. At the same time, the song reveals that sacrifices are made on both sides and both parties need to find solution to deal with that.

Those that have heard Throwing Mountains, one of two singles released in advance of the LP, will understand that it talks about if we overcome personal doubts that hold us back, we can achieve the impossible – although I’d like to have heard a little bit about how they overcome those doubts, instead of simply relegating them to the past tense.

Musically, Kansas are as good as I’ve ever heard them and the veterans’ decades of experience playing their instruments really shines through in every song.

Ronnie Platt’s powerful tenor vocals are performed with conviction and emotion. His lines are delivered with feeling and nuance – I found his performance in Never particularly captivating. Billy Greer harmonises well with Platt, although I would have hoped to hear some creative use of a second vocalist. There is no absence of Greer’s bass presence – he doesn’t simply replicate the guitar riffs but adds creativity and colour throughout, especially in The Song the River Sang.

In the rhythm section, founding member Phil Ehart’s drumming keeps a steady pace and his playful use of rhythm comes across seamlessly. Ehart really shines in the fast-paced, but short, instrumental, Propulsion 1, where he unleashes himself and spoils us with some double pedals.

Richard Williams and Zak Rizvi showcase their skills with alternating solos in a few tracks, working with newcomer Brislin and David Ragsdale on keys and violin respectively to create exciting and vibrant interludes.  We have instances such as in Throwing Mountains or the title track, where Brislin, Williams and Rizvi solo battle it out, pitting organ against guitar and guitar, before their differences are settled in a unison – first the two guitars, then keys and violin join in.

David Ragsdale’s violin work adds drama, flare, and a strong hook to every song he is present in. The two ballads, Memories Down the Line and Never give Ragsdale the freedom to showcase the raw emotion that only a violin can inspire, and along with Platt’s heartfelt vocal performance, both ballads are an immersive experience.

Closing track, The Song the River Sang, is one of my favourites off the album as it is strays away from the formula of the other songs and is the most ‘prog rock’, thanks to a 7/8 time signature that evokes a flowing river. Dramatic bass drums add a sense of urgency to the first half of a song that is essentially a warning of a coming flood (alluding to the animals on the roof that will see it coming first). The second half is a portrayal of chaos and ends the album suddenly.

Almost every prog trick in the book is on display to strong effect in The Absence of Presence, without suffering from being ostentatious, and this is made possible thanks to a line-up of experienced musicians applying their craft the way they know works well.

The Absence of Presence is a strong album and will sit well in Kansas’ 16-album discography and help to preserve the band’s legacy in coming years. It boasts plenty of memorable moments of music and the thoughtful lyrics lend the album to repeat listens.

It would appear that Kansas, 50 years in, still sound like the Kansas we know and love; they haven’t abandoned the formula that’s worked so well for them, but they have updated it enough to help drive their music to a new audience.

[You can read TPA’s interview with Ronnie Platt HERE]

TRACK LISTING
01. The Absence of Presence (8:24)
02. Throwing Mountains (6:21)
03. Jets Overhead (5:17)
04. Propulsion 1 (2:17)
05. Memories Down the Line (4:38)
06. Circus of Illusion (5:19)
07. Animals on the Roof (5:12)
08. Never (4:50)
09. The Song the River Sang (5:05)

Total Time – 47:27

MUSICIANS
Tom Brislin – Keyboards
Phil Ehart – Drums
Billy Greer – Bass, Vocals
Ronnie Platt – Vocals, Keyboard
David Ragsdale – Violin, Guitar
Zak Rizvi – Guitar
Richard Williams – Lead Guitar

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.S.A.
Date of Release: 26th June 2020

LINKS
Kansas – Website | Facebook | Twitter

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/06/30/revolutionary-army-of-the-infant-jesus-songs-of-yearning-nocturnes/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=revolutionary-army-of-the-infant-jesus-songs-of-yearning-nocturnes

With a band name like that, it’s easy to get attention, and for all the wrong reasons. Admittedly, I only gave this a once over because of the name, half expecting to turn it off once the Bible-thumping started. The other half of me vaguely recalled hearing John Peel (I can’t think who else it may have been!) playing something by a band so named waaay back in the mists of time, and as such, suspected all may not be as it seems, and thankfully, that turned out to be the case. Contrary to the obvious impression given, the band name is taken from a terrorist group in Luis Buñuel’s 1977 surrealist film, That Obscure Object of Desire. It seems that this enigmatic band from Liverpool have made a sum total of four albums in 35 years, including this release, which only adds to the perhaps deliberately cultivated air of mystery.

Overt Gothic religious imagery swirls through the shadows of the main album, Songs of Yearning, with musical prayers sitting alongside spookily ambient reflections. The lyrics are in at least four, maybe more languages, creating a drifting and sombre atmosphere over slow, thoughtful music led by acoustic guitars over understated electronica, with Eliza Carew’s* cello adding darkly to the tale. This is introspection at its most poignant. The spirits in these grooves are sometimes sombre things, aided and abetted by the aforementioned mournful cello, as is the case in opener Avatars, which opens with a single repeated slowly strummed chord over a reverberating rhythm, and which closes with a quietly tolling bell, being a case in point.

Hannah Harper’s* voice is unaffected throughout, with an added hint of world-weariness, nowhere more so than on Ave Maria, where the sadness behind the veil is laid bare for us all to hear. The compositions are uncomplicated, and often starkly atmospheric, as if bearing their souls. Any judgement is ours, not the composers’.

Evoking the cerebral yet emotional atmosphere of an art house movie shot in monochrome, around a tumbledown shack buried deep in a mist-shrouded wood, Songs of Yearning is in no rush to get to any particular destination, and takes its time to slowly reveal itself over several listens. Vespers plays hopscotch in veils of misty melancholy, the vocals lying just out of reach behind a gently insistent melody and subtle electronics. Belonging/O Nata Lux seamlessly combines the fragile, avant ambience of the first part with the devotional interpretation of the second part, and is a perfect representation of the album in miniature. No one song stands out, this is a work that needs to be taken whole, in one sitting, and it is more than deserving of the time invested.

The limited edition bonus album Nocturnes starts off in a more accessible and upbeat fashion, with a straight ahead folk-indie-rock number. If, like me, this package is your first encounter with the band, this comes as something of a surprise, given what has gone before on the main course. We are back to more familiar introspective territory on the following instrumental Falling, a six-minute extended version of the snippet on the main album, wherein waves of quiet instrumentation evoke images of an autumn leaf swaying through a slow descent to Earth. Elsewhere, more folk-tinged pop and darkly medieval pastoral ambience is disturbed by Visions, which in another unexpected twist borders on noise rock. Following that is an eight minute spoken word Kosmische tone poem in Russian entitled Belonging, again an alternate take of a track from Songs of Yearning. The closing track Nightwaves slowly fades to nothing, dying ripples spreading out on still water, the stone cast leaving as many questions as answers, and yet an indefinable vague feeling of completion. While the music is largely conventional, with occasional departures down the alleyway marked “Strange”, it leaves the listener feeling slightly disconnected as if between two worlds.

Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus are not preachers, but something far more subtle than that, separate, apart from the headlong rush of modern life. As such, they seem strangely suited to the current heavy manners, where we have all been forced into an unfamiliar pause for breath. This is the most thought-provoking music I have heard this year, it goes beyond an anodyne “like” or “dislike” (I like, by the way). This can only be a good thing.

TRACK LISTING
Songs of Yearning

01. Avatars (5:30)
02. Celestine (2:07)
03. Kontaktion (for St Maria Skobtsova) (3:11)
04. Ave Maria (3:35)
05. Vespers (3:47)
06. Paradise (3:13)
07. Beginnings (2:02)
08. Songs Of Yearning (2:44)
09. Falling (1:20)
10. Miserere (2:13)
11. Belonging/O Nata Lux (7:24)
12. Prayer (3:11)

Time – 40:19

Nocturnes
01. I Carry The Sun (2:02)
02. Falling (6:06)
03. Like The Waters (2:59)
04. Near To The Beginning (4:37)
05. Toujours Pour La Première Fois (1:43)
06. Overture (5:31)
07. Visions (2:55)
08. Opening (8:02)
09. Anthem (3:05)
10. Belonging (3:58)
11. Nightwaves (4:47)

Time – 45:45

Total Time – 96:04

MUSICIANS
*These are assumptions from Google searches, actual info is hard to track down!
RAIJ are Paul Boyce, Jon Egan, Leslie Hampson, Jessie Main, Eliza Carew, Zander Mavor, Hannah Harper

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Occultation Recordings
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 5th June 2020

LINKS
Revolutionary Army of the Infant Jesus – Facebook | Bandcamp | Occultation Recordings Facebook

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/06/29/bismarck-oneiromancer/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=bismarck-oneiromancer

I’d never heard of Norwegian band Bismarck before. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect, and was even a little wary based on the cover art. Truth be told, if Oneiromancer were not released on Apollon, I might not have given this album a chance at all. And that would have been a shame, because Oneiromancer sounds nothing at all like what I expected. I guess I was thinking Bismarck might be Norwegian black metal, as that is what the cover art looked like to me – and there is a certain amount of that sound in the mix, but there is also doom, drone, psychedelic, sludge, ambient and Middle Eastern folk.

The opening track, Tahaghghogh Resalat, threw me off guard immediately, and also enthralled me. Honestly, the combination of drone, chime and chant is amazing! And the percussion is mesmerisingly awesome. The drumming is hypnotising throughout the album, but really drives this opening track forward. This is a heavy trip, and a psychedelic delight. Four minutes pass by in what seem like seconds. I could easily listen to this at twice or even thrice the length. But just as I’m getting comfortable, the title track crashes in, unrelentingly. It’s such a grand entrance, so massively does it contrast with the mesmerising drone and rhythm of the opening track.

Over its nine minute length, Oneiromancer provides quite different atmospheres. While it begins in an impressively and oppressively heavy manner – all blast beats and harsh vocals – the music becomes more expansive, with some psychedelic sounds taking away much of the bleakness and heaviness, before almost everything falls away. The vocals become clean and subdued, accompanied almost only by some light drumming, with other instrumentation providing subtle accents. Even this, too, disappears, and there is near silence – before a tentative rhythm begins again, and then the crushing heaviness returns. There is so much going on in this song, and although it’s not my favourite, I suspect it will be for many (perhaps most) listeners.

The Seer carries on the rather delicious marriage of heavy and trippy that Oneiromancer introduced us to. It’s perhaps more straightforward, sticking to a mid-tempo stoner groove, and full of thick fuzzy sludge. I guess it’s rather less spectacular compared to the track it follows, and yet for reasons I can’t fathom, I prefer it. I actually really, really, really like this song! It’s aggressively groovy, and I love the way the riffs slow as the song progresses, until an eerie but absolutely gorgeous keening melody fights with then breaks through the morass, and floats above it. Quite possibly my favourite moment from the entire album.

Hara changes the pace once more, all dissonant and melancholy. The vocals are cleanish, but caught somewhere between a whisper and a retch, that gives them a pained desperation, which is strangely attractive. Eventually those massive mid-tempo riffs kick in, and the song oscillates between heavier and lighter sections, with some lovely Middle Eastern folk passages fitting in (and far more naturally than one might ever expect). You can hear the Middle Eastern influences throughout the album, but this is the most overt they’ve been since the opening number. I love how well they’ve integrated the sounds, without ever sounding like they’ve forced them in, or used them for effect.

Khthon is beautifully psychedelic, reminding me quite a bit of Suns of the Tundra, with some almost ethereal vocals, until, of course, the extreme elements take hold. Yet, as heavy as this track gets (and it does get heavy), it remains incredibly atmospheric. Before you know it, the song is over – and so is the album. Oneiromancer clocks in at just over 30 minutes, and that’s probably as long as it needs to be. Bismarck could have easily stretched out some of the songs, but it says a lot about the band that they knew they didn’t need to. Everything about this album feels just right. The production is excellent, too, with everything very clear in the mix, and having its own space. In fact, space is a big part of the mix, as it’s “wide” enough for every instrument to have full impact.

Put aside your expectations and your prejudices, and give this beast a listen. You may well be surprised! I am fully expecting to see this album turn up on several people’s end of year list.

TRACK LISTING
01. Tahaghghogh Resalat (4:17)
02. Oneiromancer (9:15)
03. The Seer (5:39)
04. Hara (8:59)
05. Khthon (6:48)

Total Time – 34:58

MUSICIANS
Torstein Nørstegård Tveiten – Vocals
Anders Vaage – Bass
Eirik Goksøyr – Guitar
Trygve Svarstad – Guitar
Tore Lyngstad – Drums

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: Apollon Records
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 17th April 2020

LINKS
Bismarck – Facebook | Bandcamp

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/06/28/iq-a-show-of-resistance-livestream/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=iq-a-show-of-resistance-livestream

At the end of May, the symphonic British neo-proggers IQ were scheduled to visit the Netherlands and France in the context of their Resistance Tour 2020. We now know what happened: both shows had to be cancelled due to the ever-spreading corona virus.

Obviously, the band was very disappointed that both gigs had to be pulled, although through reasons beyond their control. IQ had never experienced this and it didn’t feel right, especially knowing that so many people had made arrangements for travel and accommodation.

Meanwhile, some artists were making lockdown videos at home, a great idea but not quite workable with the extensive IQ setup. By coincidence, the band had just played two gigs in Germany in January, the first of which, in Aschaffenburg, was filmed and recorded, initially only for the IQ archives. However, the video footage was not quite what they had hoped for in terms of quality, so the footage seemed doomed to disappear. While there were no real plans to do anything with the material, the impending lockdown event gave them different ideas: maybe this could take the place of the two cancelled concerts? The setlist for the Aschaffenburg show was almost identical to the one that would be played that particular weekend, and since it was the full two-hour and fifteen-minute show, it seemed more than appropriate to use the footage for this purpose. No sooner said than done.

The live stream took place on 22nd May and would also be available the following week to ensure everyone had the chance to see the show. As a true IQ fan, you don’t think twice. Hence, armed with a laptop, a HDMI cable to connect to the TV (no smart TV yet), a drink at hand and sitting on a comfortable sofa, I was ready to watch the band in a completely different way. Not packed as sardines, as so often the case at the band’s completely sold out traditional Christmas concerts, but in the comfortable surroundings of my own living room. And, although incomparable, not an altogether unpleasant experience. Above all, it was an opportunity to review the band’s new material in a live setting, because five years after their last successful studio album The Road of Bones, successor Resistance arrived at the end of 2019, again gaining predominantly positive reviews. Not surprisingly, the new album supplied the majority of the songs, five to be precise, while The Road of Bones was represented with three songs. Fortunately, there were also sufficient songs from the old(er) work to view/listen to. I sit myself in a prominent position in front of the telly.

The scene is Colos-Saal in Aschaffenburg, near Frankfurt. The theatre is sold out with 500 people, an enthusiastic audience with many fans. Alampandria, from just released Resistance, is the short opener, immediately followed by personal favourite Sacred Sound, in a dazzling performance. Shallow Bay, also from the new album, tends towards Marillion, after which the ominous tones of From the Outside In appear, the stage is bathed in red light. Stay Down is yet another new song, a moody piano intro by Neil Durant, accompanied by projections of falling crystals on the video screens.

The entire band is dressed in moody black, except for Mike Holmes in his white doctor’s coat, perhaps a link to his NHS past. As it appears, the hall has a relatively low ceiling. As a result, the three video screens are positioned low, which sometimes has a dazzling effect. On the other hand, as ever, the images further enhance the experience.

The Last Human Gateway sets the tone for the rest of the performance: over twenty minutes of superb prog from 1983 debut album Tales from the Lush Attic, brilliant! Only keyboardist Durant was not part of the original line-up on this album, the other four were all involved in its creation at the time, so it was quite special. The characteristic Frequency has a leading role for guitarist Mike Holmes while For Another Lifetime, the fourth song of the new album, starts off with an organ intro, but soon this excellent song, about fifteen minutes long, develops into the well-known IQ sound. The Road of Bones‘ title song can hardly be missed during an IQ gig. What follows is a strong rendition of said track, which also applies to newcomer A Missile.

Another 15 minute epic, this time Further Away from 1993’s Ever, including a beautiful mid-section acoustic moment. After exactly two hours of playing, the band briefly leaves the stage to quickly return for two encores. First is Ten Million Demons, singer Peter Nicholls receiving a red heart from the audience, iconic Subterranea follows suit. Then it’s finally all over, after two hours and fifteen minutes of intense music.

The video images are mediocre: many shots from the back of the hall, over the heads of the audience, the musicians’ faces are barely distinguishable. There is simply not enough light for good images, I fully understand why they have rejected this material for official DVD/Blu-ray release. The sound, however, is brilliant, and the mix is ​​excellent. A solid show, this time without Christmas decorations and huge angel wings, just a professional performance by the neo proggers, who happen to  be in truly formidable shape.

And above all, a sympathetic gesture from the Brits: streaming a recent show, thereby setting an excellent example to follow – kudos! Next year a big party will take place: IQ 40 will undoubtedly be celebrated in style, assuming that “normal” conditions will apply. A pleasant prospect for many fans who have secured tickets for the continuation of the tour in Poland, Spain, England, Holland and back again to Afschaffenburg. Finally, our heroes have some sincere advice on their website, please take it to heart:

Stay safe, Stay home, Stay Down.

PS: After the incredible reaction to the recent live stream, the band has decided to make it available in a limited edition double CD format entitled Show of Resistance as part of the Archive Collection series. The double CD includes all 2 hours and 15 minutes of music from the video and comes in a 6-panel digi-file with a 4 page booklet and introduction text by Peter Nicholls.

IQ-Show of Resistance

SET LIST
Alampandria
Sacred Sound
Shallow Bay
From The Outside In
Stay Down
The Last Human Gateway
Frequency
For Another Lifetime
The Road of Bones
A Missile
Further Away
~ Encore:
Ten Million Demons
Subterranea

MUSICIANS
Peter Nicholls – Vocals
Neil Durant – Keyboards
Mike Holmes – Guitars
Tim Esau – Bass, Bass Pedals, Vocals
Paul Cook – Drums, Percussion

LINKS
IQ – Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
A Show of Resistance – IQ Shop

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/06/27/frost-others-ep/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=frost-others-ep

Chris Squire’s endorsement of Frost* in issue one of ‘Classic Rock presents Prog’ magazine pointed out that the genre had indeed progressed with such music that their album Milliontown had presented to the world. Not bound by what had gone before or shackled by the sound of the ’70s, band creator Jem Godfrey had combined his considerable success in the so-called pop music business, writing with what appeared to be some of the production measures employed in his writing for Atomic Kitten, Shayne Ward, and Holly Valance.

Utilising the energy of metal but using heavily compressed sounds created with modern-sounding synths and glitches, Frost* has ploughed its own furrow in the Prog field and has produced three studio albums. The last one, Falling Satellites, had produced a few more songs in the recording stage that did not end up on that album, and they have decided to release them as a six track EP called (appropriately) Others.

So although these songs hail from 2016, such is the futuristic (admittedly a dated term) nature of this music that these tracks could have been beamed in from the next century, where women wear tight space suits, everyone lives in harmony, and no one holds up the PC card because they don’t have to.

Fathers smacks you around the head with a start that’s as subtle as opening your front door one morning and being hit by a shuttle craft. Uncut lockdown hair will literally be parted by the air that is moved by your speakers. It is classic Frost* and is so processed there is a thought of what might be left if the track was rinsed in warm soapy water to see what’s left. But, of course, the dirt in the bottom is the magic ingredient that has exemplified this act. There are credited band members, but it’s almost as if the Borg have programmed the entire five minutes to blow human’s brains out. A huge salvo of a battle charge.

Clouda has the voice of what has been left on the hard drive after assimilation and the realisation of real drums and players now bear fruit. The predilection for a good sample dominates this EP, especially Exibit A which starts with captured voices forming a rhythm back bone which harks back to the science fiction of the first album. A song that appears to be about something slavish in electronic plastic that does nothing to take away the vision of the surviving Earth, worth the entry fee alone fellow androids.

Fathom is a novella from the perspective of the female partner of a protagonist who appears to run away to the sea? This is what used to be known as a grower, as it is quite beautiful on repeated listens and is a companion piece to the final track. However, before that the sampler is again dusted off and little breaths and noises from some ladies are used and sequenced as a percussion track for this thoroughly experimental stab at pleasing the aliens at their coming out party – Eat builds with some great synth strings until they all need plugging in for an overnight charge.

Finally, Drown is a lovely cuddly injection of morphine that roots itself with old fashioned piano, strings, and the gentleness of a warm breeze that would cause Charlie Brown and his now cloned gang to smile at the peacefulness of the effect. It’s the feeling one gets as your wetsuit slowly warms after the cold water has abandoned its purpose in the realms of temperature…

The Frost* universe has always needed a realignment of current to begin to “get” what’s happening, and this EP is no exception. Starting with a hammer blow and ending with the inevitable and required pain killer, this is a great slice at modern prog and a worthy teaser for what surely must come next in the form of a fourth album. Thank you the future, for this offering.

TRACK LISTING
01. Fathers (4:54)
02. Clouda (6:55)
03. Exhibit A (5:35)
04. Fathom (3:58)
05. Eat (4:40)
06. Drown (5:58)

Total Time: 32:00

MUSICIANS
Jem Godfrey – Vocals, Keyboards
John Mitchell – Guitars
Nathan King – Bass
Craig Blundell – Drums
Andy Edwards – Drums

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 5th June 2020

LINKS
Frost* – Website | Facebook

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/06/26/eishan-ensemble-afternoon-tea-at-six/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=eishan-ensemble-afternoon-tea-at-six

Much of the first wave in the late ‘60s of what has come to be known as prog was a fusion of classical and jazz music. Something that sounds like it should be an eclectic mix, perhaps, but only when thought of in Western terms. For while classical music from the West has always relied heavily on composition, many forms of classical music from the East place as much importance (and sometimes more) on improvisation as composition. Coming from one of the earliest cultures of the world, Persian classical music must surely be one of the earliest forms, and indeed relies on both improvisation and composition. It’s therefore a quite natural match for Australian based Eishan Ensemble to blend band leader, Hamed Sadeghi’s background in Persian classical music with his interest in the improvisational expression of jazz. The result is charming and captivating, and sure to intrigue listeners from beyond just the two aforementioned genres.

The integration of the two similar yet different genres is made more overt by the use of familiar jazz instruments saxophone, guitar and double bass played pizzicato, alongside traditional Persian classical instruments such as the tar and oud, and some breathtakingly propulsive percussion. The collective sound is one of complement rather than contrast, and will perhaps be surprising for some to hear some of the instruments played in this context. Eishan Ensemble, like fellow label mates, Hashshashin, integrate traditional and contemporary, East and West, to provide soundscapes that are truly universal in scope. The level of attention to moods, rhythms and structure creates a natural fascination that shows music can transcend its influences or origin.

Those soundscapes are also wonderfully immersive. It is easy to lose yourself in the melodies, and this second album from Eishan Ensemble surpasses their debut in this regard. (Which is quite a statement, as the debut is also quite beautiful.) Much of the beauty comes from the main instrument of the Eishan Ensemble, the tar – an Iranian lute which will be a quite unfamiliar to many lis-teners. It has a resonant and almost metallic sound that, in terms of Western instruments, might sound closest to the banjo (although far more pleasant sounding – though I recognise that will be subjective). Sadeghi has quite masterfully found similarities between Persian classical and jazz, and interwoven Western instruments and instrumentation, while leaving ample space for the tar to be heard.

The opening number, Black and White, is very nice, but perhaps not as exciting or as indicative of the fusion and variety as that which is to come. Second track Street, though, is perhaps one of the most delightful examples of the classical jazz fusion of Eishan Ensemble, and also one of the most evocative. When I first listened to the album, as always, I paid no attention to the names of the tracks. I like to listen to an album for the first time with as few preconceptions as possible, and I have to admit that without knowing the title, I assumed this was the title track. I find it impossible to listen to Street, and not imagine taking afternoon tea. There is something very refined and relaxed about this track.

On the other hand, the following Future #2 (the title obviously harking back to Future from the debut album) could almost be described as acoustic math rock, and is a far more effervescent affair than its namesake, despite sharing much of the same composition. What both versions of Future do well is present a good demonstration of the alternation within a piece of slower, more contemplative passages and fast-paced and destroying displays of musicianship, that is characteristic of Persian classical music. The percussion in this track is riveting, and halfway through takes centre-stage. Definitely one of my favourite numbers on the album, and the reinvention of the track from its appearance on the debut very clearly shows the development of the band since then.

Signs, the first single from Afternoon Tea at Six, follows and showcases guest vocalist Sonya Holowell, whose wordless vocalisations add even more colour to an already vivid and vibrant palette. Once again, as the track progresses, it moves and switches in style. I often realise I’m grinning inanely, but there’s something about the sonic variety of the core instruments that makes it hard not to smile, when they make a change. This was definitely a good choice for a single, and is well placed on the album as a centrepiece.

The upbeat Wind is energetic and jaunty, and as evocative as Street. It conjures up all sorts of imagery of energy and movement, and even though I had no idea it was called Wind, one of the images that came to mind was the way Autumn leaves swirl in circles along and above the ground as gusts of wind move them about. It was a pleasant surprise to find out the title later. I absolutely love the sax on this track, and, again, what makes it particularly special is the interplay between the Western and Eastern instruments. They weave in and out of each other so naturally, which is a far more difficult feat than it might sound. Like Future #2, this is another real favourite.

Finally we reach the title track I thought I’d already heard nearer the beginning of the album. And it actually, for me, shares a lot of the same sense and feelings, but if Street is the more Western afternoon tea, this is the more Eastern. Indeed, if Street opened this album, and the title track closed it, they would make perfect musical bookends. If Street is afternoon tea in Sydney, then the title track is afternoon tea in Mashhad. Once again, Sonya Holowell provides some beautiful vocalisations.

But there is one more track, and it’s a beauty. Sins does indeed sound a little devilish, but in a way that’s impossible not to forgive – like a cheeky child with a naughty glint in her eye. The child is up to no good, but is too cute to be angry with. Sins is that child. Once again the fusion of Persian classical and jazz is seamless. Expansive improvised solos are passed from instrument to instrument in a constantly changing delight, until the track ends (too soon!) after nine minutes.

Afternoon Tea at Six is an album that gently and subtly, almost without me even realising it, transports me away from wherever I’m listening. The music is complex, multi-faceted, and polyrhythmic, yet the delivery is so easy and relaxed, so it’s never a difficult listen. The charm of Persian classical and familiarity of jazz combine to create some truly atmospheric and layered soundscapes. Eishan Ensemble is clearly a vehicle for Sadeghi’s tar, but every other instrument maintains their personality, playing with and around the tar, and providing some of the most interesting fusion I’ve heard this year.

TRACK LISTING
01. Black and White (5:08)
02. Street (7:20)
03. Future #2 (12:23)
04. Signs (8:25)
05. Wind (6:05)
06. Afternoon Tea at Six (7:03)
07. Sins (9:00)

Total Time – 55:24

MUSICIANS
Hamed Sadeghi – Tar
Pedram Layegh – Guitar
Michael Avgenicos – Alto & Tenor Saxophones
Adem Yilmaz – Percussion
Elsen Price – Double Bass
~ with:
Sonya Holowell – Vocals
Adnan Barake – Oud

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Labels – Art As Catharsis | Worlds Within Worlds
Country of Origin – Australia
Date of Release – 15th May 2020

LINKS
Eishan Ensemble – Website | Facebook | Bandcamp | YouTube

This news story was originally published here: https://theprogressiveaspect.net/blog/2020/06/25/steve-thorne-levelled-emotional-creatures-part-3/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=steve-thorne-levelled-emotional-creatures-part-3

Levelled: Emotional Creatures, Part 3 is the sixth album by Englishman Steve Thorne, the successor to Island of the Imbeciles (2016) and the third part of his trilogy Emotional Creatures. With some imagination you could call Thorne a (prog) singer/songwriter. The album was mixed by the prog-acclaimed Rob Aubrey (IQ, Pendragon, Spock`s Beard, Big Big Train), Thorne sat next to Aubrey at the controls and is also responsible for production.

In the past, Steve Thorne has made extensive use of a variety of respected prog musicians from the UK, on this album he is breaking this trend. The drums are played by Kyle Fenton (Cosmograf) while the electric lead guitar is in the hands of completely unknown local artist Geoff Lea. Both Fenton and Lea deliver mature and solid performances and support their employer optimally, especially listen to the latter’s phenomenal guitar parts. As usual, Steve Thorne plays all other instruments himself.

I don’t know what it is with Thorne, but every time I hear his music it puts a smile on my face. The recognisability factor is enormous and his melodies are always written in capitals. Moreover, the man’s vocal qualities are of a more than decent level and he always knows how to keep the instrumentation exciting. Then, if you are also capable of supplying each song with a great tune and a catchy chorus then you are in the right place. And then there’s the lyrics.

“The album is sure to challenge pretty much everybody lyrically with its controversial subject matter!” Steve states. He comes up with some strong comments in which he explains the central idea behind the album. This explanation is full of conspiracy theories, especially the Moon landing in 1969 which is something that fills him with horror and distrust; according to Thorne this event never took place, and we respond to this with denial, ignorance and disinterest. Moreover, he doubts whether the Earth revolves around the Sun. Well, what can I say to that? Fortunately, the dreariness is restricted to the lyrics, the music is far from it and often sounds deceptively positive and up-lifting. If, for instance, IQ would tackle these topics, you could safely say that the music involved would more likely be doom and gloom as well, but not with Thorne. He knows how to wrap these dark lyrics in an attractive kind of (prog) rock music that gets you enthralled almost instantaneously. A kind of Trojan Horse, as it were, probably putting the message across in an even better way. Smart thinking.

Little Boat (Part 1) opens the album, a short acoustic intro in the best busker tradition with brass band and all. It sounds a bit like Pink Floyd’s Outside the Wall, further enhanced by snippets, sound collages and voices, true to the famous icons’ example. The song spills over into He Who Pays the Piper, an excellent song, arguably the best on the album. Ominous atmosphere, musically leaning a bit towards Alan Parsons Project, the odd twelve-string guitar (Thorne himself), almost ten minutes of that typical Thorne signature. “So NASA lied about the man upon the Moon”, is the frequently recurring lyric, further exploring the conspiracy theory. Brilliant guitar contribution from Geoff Lea, and I’m all ears now. Rainy Day in New York also has that recognisable sound that only Thorne can create, again with wandering electric guitar from Lea, less prog, more like AOR, but of high quality.

The pace slows down, Waking Up is a beautiful ballad with excellent fretless bass playing by Thorne, please check it out. The melody lingers for a long time, the harmony vocals are strong as always. A lyrical attempt at positivism, “embrace the good, good people”, can’t hurt. During World Salad Surgery there’s strong reminiscence of Fish’s early solo work, especially Vigil in the Wilderness of Mirrors coming to mind. A kind of spoken, staccato lyric, often of a pedantic nature, with restrained anger. The music is rock solid and once again has a strong proggy tone. Just listen to the middle section, the duel between guitar and keys – hats off.

Snippets and other audio fragments connect all tracks, for Psalm 2.0 even bleating sheep appear, just like Pink Floyd’s renowned Sheep. Lyrically it’s in line with his ideas about denial, ignorance and disinterest, again the razor-sharp guitar from Lea comes at exactly the right time – the boy is on fire. Well, at last the frightened, ignorant sheep return to their pen. For The Fourth Wall, the tempo goes up a nudge in this rocky song about the imaginary wall between the audience and the performing artist on stage. Intriguing, both lyrically and musically. Monkey Business reminds me a bit of recent solo work by Neal Morse (Life and Times), an unpretentious, funny little tune with Beatles/Beach Boys-like harmony vocals. Waves is another characteristic Thorne song with beautiful instrumentation and vocals, the same goes for I Won’t Forsake Truth, perhaps a tad too poppy due to the (electronic) violins. Fortunately, we have Lea’s Jeff Beck-esque guitar at the end. The closing Little Boat (Part 2) picks up where opener Little Boat (Part 1) left off. A subdued ending, Thorne all by himself with a little help from flautist Gina Briant and the local brass band: we’ve come full circle, sheep bleating and it has started to rain. Again.

Eleven songs with a total playing time of 54 minutes, the average song lasts about five minutes, apart from opener/closer Little Boat 1 & 2 and the longest song, He Who Pays the Piper. Consistent quality without one particular weak spot (well, almost). I’ve made quite a few references, I do realise that, but please forget about them as soon as possible: there’s certainly no copy-cat at work here, Thorne has his own, very recognisable style of making music. And whether or not you endorse his theories, they are definitely intriguing. He has somehow managed, for me, to delve into matters like cognitive dissonance, the fourth wall and heliocentricism, well done Steve. But what I will always endorse, no matter what, is this man’s music. Not always prog (Rainy Day in New York, Monkey Business), certainly not, but very well crafted and knows how to fascinate and captivate until the very end. How often does that occur? Highly recommended and definitely a candidate for the obligatory year-end 2020 charts.

TRACK LISTING
01. Little Boat (Part 1) (2:05)
02. He Who Pays The Piper (9:24)
03. Rainy Day In New York (5:19)
04. Waking Up (5:19)
05. Word Salad Surgery (5:41)
06. Psalm 2.0 (5:05)
07. The Fourth Wall (3:54)
08. Monkey Business (4:47)
09. Waves (5:07)
10. I Won’t Forsake Truth (4:56)
11. Little Boat (Part 2) (2:16)

Total Time 53:53

MUSICIANS
Steve Thorne – Vocals, All Instruments
~ with:
Kyle Fenton – Drums (tracks 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 & 10)
Geoff Lea – Electric Guitar (tracks 2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9 & 10)
Gina Briant – Flute (tracks 1 & 12)

ADDITIONAL INFO
Record Label: White Knight Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 2nd February 2020

DISCOGRAPHY
– Emotional Creatures: Part Three (2020)
– Island of Imbeciles (2016)
– Crimes & Reasons (2012)
– Into the Ether (2009)
– Emotional Creatures: Part Two (2007)
– Emotional Creatures: Part One (2005)

LINKS
Steve Thorne – Website | YouTube | Steve Thorne at White Knight Records