Posts Tagged ‘Mathew Kennedy’

1. Circuitry (6:16)
2. When the Walls are Down (7:29)
3. Dead City (5:15)
4. When She Dreams She Dreams in Color (13:40)
5. Rogue (24:04)

Matthew Parmenter – vocals, keyboards, descants
Jon Preston Bouda – guitars
Mathew Kennedy – bass
Paul Dzendzel – drums, percussion

In spite of its long-standing tradition as one of the music capitals of the US, Detroit  is not exactly known as a hotbed progressive rock. However, Discipline have almost single-handedly put the city on the prog map. Since their inception in the late Eighties, and  through the release of two albums – Push and Profit (1993) and the celebrated Unfolded Like Staircase (1997) – they have become one of the highest-rated acts on the US prog scene, where their powerful live shows earned them five consecutive appearances at Progday, from 1995 to 1999.  At the beginning of the new century, the band folded, though frontman Matthew Parmenter went on to release two solo albums, and three live recordings were also released between 2000 and 2005.  Discipline made their official comeback at the 2008 edition of NEARfest, Three years later, To Shatter All Accord, their highly awaited third studio album  (the first in 14 years), came out in the autumn of 2011 on the band’s own label, Strung Out Records.

Though often mislabeled as “neo-prog”, with the theatrical approach of keyboardist/vocalist Matthew Parmenter (aka Magic Acid Mime) drawing comparisons to the likes of Fish and Peter Gabriel, Discipline’s darkly intense musical and lyrical approach has more in common with Van Der Graaf Generator than with Marillion and their ilk. In spite of the lengthy pause between studio recordings, having kept the same lineup for over 20 years (no mean feat in itself) has allowed them to hone their distinctive sound, which runs the gamut from brooding harshness to soothing, almost pastoral melody.

While Parmenter’s dramatic vocals and tortured lyrics provide the main focus of attention, they are only one of the factors that make Discipline’s music so riveting. In fact, Parmenter’s voice often works as an additional instrument, and complements the other instruments instead of overwhelming them (as it is occasionally the case with Peter Hammill’s vocals in VDGG).  Discipline handle the frequent transitions in the fabric of their songs with seamless skill, avoiding the lack of cohesion that often mars the most ambitious prog productions, and the dramatic quality inherent to their music is conveyed so as to enhance the emotional content without becoming jarring or bombastic.

Out of the five tracks featured on To Shatter All Accord, the first two date back from the mid-Nineties, and will be familiar to those who have followed Discipline’s live career. Both songs were included in the double CD set Live Days (2010), as well as in the DVD Live 1995 (released in 2005). The hard-edged mid-tempo of “Circuitry” opens the album with a bang: forceful organ introduces Parmenter’s intense vocals, which bookend a magnificent instrumental section where piano, sax, organ and finally Jon Preston Bouda’s incisive guitar solo take turns in the spotlight. “When the Walls Are Down” hinges on superb interplay between Bouda’s guitar and Parmenter’s voice, in turns pleading and sneering; then sax and guitar engage in an exhilarating duel until the end of the song. Strategically placed in the middle of the album, “Dead City” introduces Discipline’s new material on a deceptively upbeat note. The distorted guitar and spacey-industrial electronics at the opening of the song are offset by a melodic guitar solo in the bridge, while a snippet of a radio broadcast announcing a zombie invasion is tagged at the end as a wry commentary on the lyrics.

The band, however, pull out all the stops for the last two tracks, which make up more than two-thirds of the 56-minute album. “When She Dreams She Dreams in Color” starts out in an understated manner, with a lilting pace that brings to mind a tango with jazzy undertones, supported by Paul Dzendzel and Mathew Kennedy’s impeccable rhythm section. Almost theatrical bursts of intensity, driven by vocals and sax, are followed by moments of quiet, leading to a spectacular finale in which Parmenter’s hauntingly lyrical violin, backed by solemn guitar and drums, evokes shades of King Crimson’s “Starless”. The 24-minute “Rogue” is a textbook example of how to write an epic that never outstays its welcome. With plenty of mood and tempo changes, yet remarkably cohesive, it is a harrowing existentialist tale in 10 scenes – almost like a 21st century take on VDGG’s “A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers”-  that might have resulted in an overblown mess, but is instead deeply involving. Parmenter’s vocal tour-de-force (complete with disturbing shrieks) enhances the stunning instrumental texture, made of powerful organ runs, tensely atmospheric interludes and dazzling guitar solos, full of melody and emotion, which relieve the intensity of the crescendo-like passages.

Though its release date, almost at the tail end of 2011 – a year noted for its many high-profile releases – has kept the album out of many “best of” lists, there is no doubt that To Shatter All Accord fully deserves to be mentioned alongside those albums that have drawn critical attention in the past year. Though not substantially different from its predecessors, it showcases a band that embodies the best of traditional prog without sounding either dated or derivative, and that seems to have gained polish and maturity in spite of the many years of inactivity. To Shatter All Accord is one of those rare efforts will potentially appeal to prog fans of every stripe, and marks a triumphant return to form for one of the top acts of the US scene.


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1. Snowtorch – Part One (19:39)
a) Star of Light
b) Retrograde
c) Fox on the Rocks
d) Celestine
2. Helix (5:54)
3. Snowtorch – Part Two (16:11)
a) Blowtorch Snowjob
b) Fox Rock 2
c) Coronal Mass Ejection
4. ” … ” (2:34)

Phideaux Xavier – acoustic guitar, piano, vocals
Ariel Farber – vocals, violin
Valerie Gracious – vocals
‘Bloody’ Rich Hutchins – drums
Mathew Kennedy – bass guitar
Gabriel Moffat – electric guitar
Linda Ruttan Moldawsky – vocals, metal percussion
Molly Ruttan – vocals
Mark Sherkus – keyboards, piano
Johnny Unicorn – keyboards, saxophone, vocals

Stephanie Fife – cello
Chris Bleth – flute, soprano saxophone

With 7 albums released since 2003 (not counting Ghost Story, originally released in 1997 and reissued in 2004, and mostly consisting of material dating from a previous project called Satyricon) Phideaux need  no introduction to prog fans. Based on a group of childhood friends who grew up together in the New York area, but are now scattered all over the US territory, they are a proudly independent outfit, a group of gifted musicians coming from diverse backgrounds led by the remarkable talent of Phideaux Xavier, whose highly individual approach to the production of progressive rock has turned them into firm favourites of a wide-ranging, yet rather volatile scene.

Throughout the years the band have perfected a format that, while not exactly uncommon in the prog world, has been given a new twist by Phideaux Xavier’s fertile mind and keen awareness of social matters. All of the band’s albums since 2006’s The Great Leap have been based on elaborate concepts that, eschewing the  often formulaic fantasy topics that are still quite popular with prog bands and their fans, present reflections on the state of  the modern world – albeit coached in metaphorical terms. In some ways, Phideaux has become a 21st-century equivalent of Roger Waters, down to the configuration of the band – which, with its ten members, plus various collaborators, is a veritable mini-orchestra. Everything, so to speak, is done in the family, with guitarist Gabriel Moffat in the role of the producer, and backing vocalists (and twin sisters) Molly Ruttan and Linda Ruttan Moldavsky responsible for the elegantly minimalistic artwork.

Released in the spring of 2011, a couple of months before Phideaux’s appearance at the 2011 edition of ROSfest, Snowtorch is a compact, 45-minute offering that  manages to pack more content in its streamlined running time than most of the sprawling behemoths favoured by some artists. Featuring the same line-up as its predecessor, 2009’s  Number Seven, it is, in Phideaux’s own words, “a musing on life, language and solar flares”, conceived as single suite in various movements, though split in two separate halves connected by a stand-alone song also based on the composition’s main theme.This strategy of building the album’s musical content around a recurring theme is what makes Snowtorch a symphonic offering in the truest sense of the word. With a perfect balance between vocal and instrumental parts, and the added bonus of thought-provoking lyrics, the album stakes its claim as the rightful heir of the great classics of the Seventies – though bringing a definitely modern twist to those old prog warhorses, the epic and the concept album.

In fact, listening to Snowtorch may evoke strong comparisons with classical music, on account of both the structure and the nature of the compositions, which combine the powerful surge of exhilarating crescendos with intimate, low-key moments. However, Phideaux’s sound is quite far removed from the somewhat cheesy grandiosity of bands such as The Enid. With two keyboardists (plus Phideaux himself on piano) providing a lush, yet tightly-woven background tapestry, bolstered by Ariel Farber’s violin and guest artist Stephanie Fife’s cello, Chris Bleth’s flute adding a pastoral touch to some of the quieter sections, the music possesses a dramatic fullness that complements the harmonious beauty of the vocal parts.

The first half of the “Snowtorch” suite opens with the subdued melody of “Star of Light”, introduced by piano, organ and Phideaux’s husky, expressive voice; then it soon gains intensity, the intricate, orchestral keyboards and relentless drumming driving the vocals along towards a climax. The main theme is introduced, and brought to fruition in a splendid, organ-driven section peppered by guitar excursions, the two instruments sparring in a peaks-and-valleys pattern. “Retrograde” revolves around a lovely, emotional duet between Phideaux and the band’s other lead vocalist, Valerie Gracious, whose soaring soprano shows more than a hint of steel without any trace of saccharine – an enthralling song almost out of a classic Broadway musical. The entertaining ditty “Fox on the Rocks” (with lyrics penned by keyboardist Johnny Unicorn), sung by Phideaux in a near-falsetto register, prepares the listener for  instrumental “Celestine”, a veritable keyboard tour-de-force,  pastoral and stormy in turns, where solemn mellotron washes underpin the sparring of piano, synth and organ, with violin, metal percussion and sax joining the fray.

As previously hinted, “Helix” bridges the gap between the two parts of the titular suite – a majestic, powerful piece sustained by Valerie Gracious’ commanding performance, with all the instruments working together to produce a solid wall of sound  – which reminded me of the dramatic sweep of some episodes of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall”. “Snowtorch Part Two” – shorter and somewhat edgier than Part One – opens in almost upbeat fashion with the funnily (and punnily)-titled instrumental “Blowtorch Snowjob”, then culminates in the explosive, ELP-influenced keyboard-and-drum orgy of “Fox Rock 2” (with an unbridled organ solo that would sit quite comfortably on Tarkus). Things finally mellow out with the sedate, Pinkfloydian atmosphere of “Coronal Mass Ejection”, an ominous, somber piece which reprises the album’s main theme, briefly climaxes with guitar slashes and intense vocals, then ends with sparse piano. The short “ghost track” included at the end as a sort of instrumental summary wraps things up with a cheery feel that seems to release the tension built up throughout the album.

Effortlessly marrying superb musicianship and genuine passion, Snowtorch brims with gorgeous melodies, the kind that stick in your mind for quite a while. While often pervaded by a sense of impending doom, it can also be oddly jaunty; for all its lush, multilayered arrangements, it is never gratuitously pretentious. With all-round flawless performances, excellent songwriting and beautiful singing, it has quickly established itself as one of the strongest releases of the year so far. Though influenced by the great tradition of the golden age of prog, unlike the myriad of “retro” acts Phideaux manage to sound like no one else on the current scene. An album such as Snowtorch is living proof of how they are almost single-handedly dragging symphonic prog right into the 21st century.



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