Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘ProgDay 2010’

cover_5010171432013_r

TRACKLISTING:
1. It Strikes You (4:27)
2. Good Things (6:27)
3. All Day and All Night (4:45)
4. Rise (6:00)
5. Landmines (4:46)
6. Cool Water (5:25)
7. Spin the Girl (2:42)
8. Fate (4:16)
9. I Am Lion (6:35)
10. Wolf (3:09)
11. Darkness Knew (4:37)
12. The Earth (5:27)

LINEUP:
Kyree Vibrant – vocals
Constantin Necrasov – guitars, backing vocals
Dmitry Lesov – bass, Chapman stick, backing vocals
Igor Kurtzman – keyboards, backing vocals
Marcello Ciurleo – drums, backing vocals

Back in the summer of 2009, the release of Toronto-based outfit Half Past Four’s recording debut –  the quirkily-titled Rabbit in the Vestibule – caused quite of bit of stir in the progressive rock community. However, in spite of the album’s largely positive reception and a barnstorming appearance at the 2010 edition of ProgDay, the band seemingly dropped off the radar for over two years. Formed in 2005 by vocalist/lyricist Kyree Vibrant and three musicians of Eastern European descent – bassist Dmitry “Les” Lesov, keyboardist Igor “Iggy” Kurtzman and guitarist Constantin Necrasov – the band were very active on the live front both in Canada and in the US until the search for a new drummer (a problem jokingly referred to as “Spinal Tap-like” on the band’s website) forced them to take a break. In early 2012, drummer Marcello Ciurleo finally joined, allowing the band to concentrate on the recording of Good Things.

Those who missed Half Past Four the first time around might be forgiven for thinking they are just another newcomer to that “female-fronted prog” bandwagon that has yielded a multitude of technically impeccable, though often soulless Annie Haslam clones. However, even a quick spin of Good Things will put any such fears to rest, because the Canadian quintet’s sophomore effort is a concentrate of humour, original ideas and outstanding musicianship that will reconcile a lot of jaded listeners (myself included) with a genre that, in recent years, seems to have left quality control by the wayside. The album’s unassuming title and delightful, retro-style artwork also stand out on a scene where hyperbole and pretentiousness abound, emphasizing the light-hearted attitude that has always been one of Half Past Four’s defining features.

Half Past Four can be counted among the trailblazers of what I call the “new frontier” of progressive rock – a 21st-century take on the “art rock” form associated with such diverse acts as Roxy Music, David Bowie, 10cc, Steely Dan and Supertramp. While many new bands follow in the footsteps of the classic icons of the genre, often letting their ambition run wild to the detriment of quality, bands such as Half Past Four, MoeTar  and 3RDegree (as well as a number of others) imbue that old pop music staple – the “short” song form – with progressive sensibilities, skillfully demonstrating that complexity does not necessarily mean excess.

Indeed, Good Things is packed with the kind of twists and turns that every self-respecting progressive rock album should offer, From a compositional point of view, the band has grown exponentially, and using the term “quantum leap” would not be an overstatement. In particular, Kyree Vibrant’s stunning vocal performance throughout the album elicits comparisons with MoeTar’s Moorea Dickason and District 97’s Leslie Hunt – both experienced, well-rounded artists like Kyree herself, as well as gifted vocalists. Her strong, confident voice dominates the proceedings,  from the soothing, wistful tones of “Fate” to the breathtaking acrobatics of the Russian-inspired “Spin the Girl” and the anthemic “Rise”. Each of the musicians strives to create s an extremely tight instrumental texture. Keyboardist Iggy Kurtzman’s consistently outstanding work  anchors the album and complements the singing in dramatic flurries or in gentle brush strokes. Newcomer Marcello Ciurleo and the ever-reliable Dmitry “Les” Lesov lay down complex rhythm patterns, leading the path to exhilarating, dramatic crescendos of intensity and assisting Constantin Necrasov’s head-on riffing in the heavier offerings, while capable of more subdued touches in the slower ones.

Like most classic albums, Good Things begins and ends on a high note. The jaunty talk-box intro of opener “It Strikes” immediately sets the mood, showcasing the album’s signature juxtaposition of breezy, catchy melodies and heavier, riff-laden sections, bound together by Iggy’s fluid piano and Les and Ciurleo’s pyrotechnic rhythm section, with Kyree’s commanding voice firmly in the lead. On the other hand, closing track “The Earth” reprises the exhilarating intensity of “Biel” on the band’s debut, climaxing with Kyree’s voice soaring to an impossibly high pitch. In such as dense album, there is something for everyone – from the jazzy, jagged “Landmines” (which made me think of both MoeTar and 3RDegree) to the rousing Russian folk echoes of “Spin the Girl”, from the cheery, almost comedic “Wolf” to the subdued atmosphere of “All Day and All Night” and the haunting mix of low-key melody and tense, brooding riffs of “I Am Lion” and the title-track – the latter reminiscent of District 97’s approach, though somewhat more restrained.

With a sensible running time of about 58 minutes, and none of the 12 songs over 6 minutes, Good Things achieves an admirable balance, coming across as a mature, highly entertaining album that is already poised to become one of the year’s undisputed highlights. Obviously, those who expect progressive rock albums to contain at least one 10-minute-plus and/or endless instrumental noodlings will not fail to be disappointed. However, if the genre has any hope of becoming relevant again, instead of slowly turning into a parody of itself, it is through albums like this one and bands like Half Past Four.

Links:
http://www.halfpastfour.com

Normal
0

false
false
false

EN-US
X-NONE
X-NONE

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0in;
mso-para-margin-right:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0in;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi;}

http://www.progshine.net/2013/04/interview-half-past-four.html

 

 

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Houndstooth Pt. 1 (4:04)
2. Houndstooth Pt. 2 (5:29)
3. Expo ’67 (5:04)
4. Flossing With Buddha (4:35)
5. Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt (8:29)
6. Message From Uncle Stan: Green House (3:49)
7. Saffron Myst (4:02)
8. Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service (7:46)

LINEUP:
Graham Epp – electric guitars, MicroMoog, Farfisa Organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric and acoustic pianos
Jesse Warkentin – electric guitars, MicroMoog, Farfisa Organ, Farf Muff, ARP String Ensemble, Korg MS2000, electric and acoustic pianos
Scott Ellenberger –  electric and acoustic bass, Briscoe organ, percussion
Andy Rudolph – drums, percussion, electronics

With:
Eric Lussier – harpsichord (8)

At the end of February 2012, Mahogany Frog played two dates in the Brazilian metropolis of São Paulo – one of the largest cities in the world, and the birthplace of Formula One driver Ayrton Senna, who died in a tragic accident in 1994. The sixth album of the Canadian quartet is dedicated to this legendary figure, who enjoys the status of national hero in his native country.

Based in Winnipeg (Manitoba), and named after an amphibian from south-east Asia, Mahogany Frog have been together since the late Nineties, and released six albums with different lineups – founders Jesse Warkentin and Graham Epp being the only constant members of the band. Senna, released in September 2012 by New York label Moonjune Records, comes four years after DO5, their first album for Moonjune. Besides their recording activity, Mahogany Frog are quite busy on the live front, gigging regularly in Canada and occasionally elsewhere: in 2010 they were invited to perform at the 16th edition of ProgDay, and wowed the crowd with their unique brand of wildly eclectic instrumental progressive rock.

Before Senna’s release, Mahogany Frog had undergone another lineup change, as drummer Jean-Paul Perron (who had been with the band since its inception) was replaced with Andy Rudolph, an electronic performance artist whose expertise with drum machines as well as a traditional kit adds a keen contemporary edge to the jazz-tinged, psychedelic wall of sound produced by the band. With all members possessing multi-instrumentalist skills, and  switching effortlessly from keyboards (both analog and digital) to guitars and all sorts of cutting-edge electronic gadgets, Mahogany Frog’s music is at the same time cheerfully chaotic and sharply energizing –  a collection of soundscapes that throw together a multitude of influences with wild abandon and unabashed eclecticism, but also with a method to its madness. Not surprisingly, the band have managed to land concert opportunities that most prog bands can only dream of – and that in spite of the often counterproductive “progressive rock” tag. While paying homage to Seventies trailblazers such as Soft Machine and early Pink Floyd, Mahogany Frog also embrace modern trends such as post-rock and even techno and trip-hop, seasoning the heady brew of their sound with the ambient-like flavour of field recordings of birds and whales.

The juxtaposition of organic warmth and state-of-the-art technology is revealed right from  the intro of  “Houndstooth Pt 1”, suggesting the sound of an engine being started (in keeping with the album’s title and cover artwork). The solemn drone of the organ evokes Pink Floyd circa A Saucerful of Secrets, and the mix of piercing slide guitar, rugged riffing and wacky electronic effects rivets the attention. “Houndstooth Pt 2” pushes distorted, almost Hendrixian guitar chords to the fore with a strong space-rock matrix, mingled with an atmospheric surge propelled by Andy Rudolph’s authoritative drumming. The compact, dense riffing and whistling synth in “Expo ‘67” are tempered by organ sweeps redolent of The Doors and a clear, sharp guitar solo; while bucolic birdsong introduces the lively, dance-like pace of “Flossing With Buddha”, in which layers of keyboards are bolstered by Andy Rudolph’s powerful drums.

The second half of the album opens with the sparse texture of “Message From Uncle Stan: Grey Shirt” (the longest track on the album), resting on strident, almost industrial sound effects, but soon evolving into an exhilarating guitar duel, backed by assertive organ and clearly inspired by Ennio Morricone’s iconic style. The shorter “Message From Uncle Stan: Green House” starts out slowly with a faintly ominous, spacey drone, then the organ signals a sudden, crescendo-like change of pace. Then, after the brief respite of the airy, electronic mood piece of “Saffron Myst”, chaos erupts with “Aqua Love Ice Cream Delivery Service”, where buzzing feedback and metal-tinged riffing coexist with a field recording of whales, as well as an unexpected harpsichord finale with an elegant, almost classical lilt.

Clocking in at a very restrained 43 minutes, with only one of the 8 tracks exceeding the 8-minute mark, Senna makes the most of its highly concentrated musical content, striking a nearly perfect balance between inventiveness and sheer energy – a rare achievement even for an all-instrumental album. It also shows a band at the top of their game, whose expressive power seems to have been honed by their four-year break between albums. Indeed, Mahogany Frog deliver the kind of music that has the potential to appeal to a large cross-section of the non-mainstream audience – not just dyed-in-the-wool prog fans, but also those who actually believe in the original meaning of that pesky “progressive” word. A highly recommended album, Senna is definitely one of the most consistently strong releases of the year.

Links:
http://www.mahoganyfrog.com

http://www.myspace.com/mahoganyfrog

http://www.moonjune.com

Read Full Post »

Based in the New York/New Jersey area, Shadow Circus first came to the attention of progressive rock audiences in 2007, with the release of their debut album, Welcome to the Freakroom.  However, it was their sophomore effort, 2009’s Whispers and Screams – followed by their appearance at the 2010 edition of ProgDay – that put them on the map for the majority of prog fans. With their theatrical image and lyrics inspired by the cream of science fiction and fantasy literature, as well as a powerful yet melodic sound that, while harking back to the golden years of the genre, does not shun contemporary trends, the band have attracted a lot of interest in recent years. They are now working on their third album, which should be released in early 2012, and have just released a maxi-single with two new songs, “Rise” and “Daddy’s Gone”.  The members of Shadow Circus (guitarist John Fontana, vocalist David Bobick, bassist Matt Masek, keyboardist David Silver and drummer Jason Brower) have kindly agreed to answer some of my questions.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

 Though your history is briefly but effectively outlined on your website, would you mind expanding a bit on the why and how Shadow Circus came to be?

John: I’ll try to address some aspects of that which might not have been mentioned before. I had been playing in some bands, such as Persona Grata, Violet Love, and Omnilingus, which were all born out of the early 90’s alternative rock scene. The music I had been doing was much more based on a heavy, funky, psychedelic thing, more akin to Jane’s Addiction, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. But, I always saw progressive rock as how I wanted to express myself musically, and so all of those bands had some of that element, albeit well-hidden much of the time. I took a break from it for a few years, and promised that when I returned to music again, it would have to focus on what I genuinely loved. As I auditioned for progressive rock projects, I had a problem that none of the recordings of my previous bands showcased what I could do in that context, so I made some demos to show what I could do with Prog. Dave heard what I was doing, and insisted that I form a band to perform the music I was recording, rather than just treat it as an audition demo. Those demos ended up becoming what is now called “Journey of Everyman”.

Dave B: Yeah, in the simplest terms, it became a vehicle for John to produce the “whirlwind extravaganza” that is going on in his head. Thus far that “extravaganza” shows no signs of stopping…LOL!!

Your lineup has changed since I saw you play live last year. How did you acquire your new members?

John: Well, our newest member is actually one of the original members. Our bassist, Matt, had to leave the band after the first album due to logistical issues. When we searched for a bass player this time, we contacted him on a long shot, just in case he could do it again, and we were very fortunate that the timing worked out perfectly. As for keyboards, we were originally getting ready to audition David Silver’s brother Harry, who realized while preparing for the audition that it would be more of a time commitment than he could handle, and so referred us to David, which also worked out incredibly well.  Jason answered our online ad, and blew us away with his first audition. Then he blew us away even more with his second audition. He’s apparently made a habit of blowing us away every time he gets behind the kit…and piano, as well!

Jason: Thanks, John. Remind me to give you that 20 bucks next time I see you. I had seen the name Shadow Circus all over the place on Internet prog sites and knew they had a presence of some sort in the newer prog circles, so, when the opportunity arose to possibly be a part of that group, I contacted John, sent him some video of my playing and set up an audition. I’m glad I did. This is a great bunch of guys and a great band, musically and personally.

Dave B: Basically it was a necessary evil. No one loves auditioning. It can be a bit grueling but once Jason came in that first time the process just got easier. I’m not the most easy-going person on the planet but in a lot of ways Jason is. This really helped. PLUS…he’s a Kiss fan and as you also know Raffaella, that’s a big deal in my world…LOL!!! You are, too, so I know you understand :-). Finding a Keyboard player was a bit daunting at first. It always seems to be the hardest position to fill but MAN…David is just THE perfect fit for this band. He’s just nuts!!! He’s got this crazy sense of humor that works with everyone and most importantly he’s genius on the keyboards. So, we really try hard to accommodate his schedule and make it work. As for Matt…well…we were definitely getting a tad nervous without a bass player and I have always wanted Matt back in the band since the day he left   but always figured, much like John did, that he would not be able to work things out. Alas, that was not the case. He actually jumped at the chance and to be honest, with Matt in the band it kinda feels like “home.” It’s the way it should have been from the beginning 🙂

David: As John said, my brother told me he knew of a band that was looking for a keyboard player.  This was at a time when I had no interest in joining a band.  But I listened to the music anyway and it reminded me of my musical roots while still sounding fresh.  On reflection, I came to realize that the Circus had a lot going for it and I was lucky to have the opportunity to step into this situation.  So, how did I come to join?  I stepped in it.

Did all of you grow up with classic progressive rock as your main influence, or are there others that you would count as equally or even more important for your development, both as individual musicians and as a band?

MattA high school friend turned me on to Genesis in 1977 and I was hooked on prog rock from that time on.  I had always loved the classic rock standards like the Beatles, the Doors, the Who and anyone from Motown but Genesis absolutely sparked my love of prog.  I am classically trained so the sweeping melodic grand themes of prog remind me of the masters of classic symphonic gems.  I would have to say that training laid the groundwork for my love of prog!

John: I had a friend in 6th grade who got me into classical music. He was a wicked violinist. Actually, I’ve recently been in touch with him, and he is now the touring bassist for Peter Murphy. But, I digress. He got me into Stravinsky, Beethoven, Brahms. Then I started hearing hints of classical elements in the music my older siblings were listening to. Hearing Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song” was a pivotal moment for me – what I loved about classical blended so beautifully with rock, and I was hooked. Also, I was very much drawn to the sound of the Moog synthesizer, and sought anything that used it, so I listened to everything from the Steve Miller Band to Isao Tomita. I’ve also always been a big Joe Walsh fan, so all of these influences find their way into what I write somehow.

Jason: I grew up with records always being played in the house. My parents had great taste in music and still do. I remember Dark Side Of The Moon and Wish You Were Here being played a lot! I would even request them at the age of five. It was one of the first times I remember being affected by music. Queen, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Elton John, Billy Joel, The Rolling Stones, Boston…all the classic rock stuff was in the house. There was also some country, doo-wop, standards, etc. The funny thing is, my three favorite genres of music (aside from all the classic rock stuff),  prog, fusion and classical, were strangely non-existent (aside from Floyd, Queen and Zappa). That was MY music. Stuff that I discovered on my own and grew to love beyond description. My parents started me off right and I took it from there. As a performer, musician and composer, I can be inspired by almost anything, even non-musical things.

David: During my formative years it was pretty much all about The Beatles.  Influenced by an older sibling, I was quickly making my way through the obligatory Led Zeppelin/Deep Purple/Black Sabbath phases when one day I heard ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition.  This rocking interpretation of classical music featuring Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer opened about 15 doors at once that I ran through and never looked back.  In short order there were Yes, Genesis, Jethro Tull, Gentle Giant and Frank Zappa albums cluttering every surface (vinyl LPs were large, you know) and I began trying to learn various keyboard parts by ear.  Like John and Jason, I realized that there was a logical connection between a variety of so-called musical genres and followed each path wherever it took me.  A Frank Zappa concert one day and Victor Borge the next was what it was like in those days.

Dave B: Raffaella, you’ve gotten to know me a little over the last couple of years and I’m sure that when you think of my influences you will probably come up with one word…KISS! Beyond that, I listened to a lot of different things, but metal and heavy rock has always been my main influence. Queen became a huge influence in my life. I consider myself one of the lucky ones having actually gotten to see them live in 1982. Freddie Mercury was just mind-blowing. As you also know, musical theater also played a huge part in my life, opening me up to a whole different world that I did not know existed such as the song stylings of Miss Barbra Streisand, whom I consider to be the best singer on the planet. The list could go on forever at this point in my life.

Are any of you professional musicians? What are your respective experiences in the music field?

Matt: I work for a living music in the insurance field but I had attended a small music conservatory in Philadelphia for a couple of years, studying cello performance, hoping to play cello in a professional orchestra, but those plans fell through. I started on the classical guitar at age 9 and moved to cello by the age of 11.  I remember days spent in the local music store as a kid lusting after the shiny new bass guitars and in my senior year first performed in a band at a talent show.  I was hooked!

John: I have always depended on things other than music for sustenance, so, for me, it’s always been just for art.

Jason: I have been at every level that a musician can be except professional (laughs). Sure, we’ve all made money at it and sometimes really good money, but, never to the point that we could do nothing but. Hopefully, that will all change soon!

David: No.  None.  (Unless you count playing “Hoedown” on stage with Keith Emerson?  Nah.)

Dave B: Thus far I have not gotten to the pro level but one should never say never.

What about the compositional process? Are you all involved in the songwriting, or it is rather something that involves only some of the band members?

John: I typically come up with the musical foundation, and I’ve gotten more involved with writing vocal melodies and lyrics, such as the choruses for “Daddy’s Gone” and “Rise”. Otherwise, the vocal melodies and lyrics have been Dave’s. Now, with Jason and David in the band, they have lots of great musical ideas, so I see that evolving now to be a more collaborative process.

Jason: I have enough material for, oh, I don’t know, eighteen albums or so and haven’t stopped writing. I like the challenge of not only writing for myself, but writing for a group that already has a sound, bringing my sound and ideas into the mix. I’m looking forward to hear how our separate styles come together and what we will create.

David: Once John and Jason are done, I may have a couple of suggestions for album # 26.

Dave B: What John said…LOL!!! Just kidding 🙂  Yeah, I write lyrics for most things but there are times where I am at a loss and John will jump in. A perfect example of this would be “Horsemen Ride” off Whispers & Screams. I just wasn’t feeling it or I just could not connect and he jumped in and came up with a great set of lyrics. There’s no ego here. If John can do better, then all the power. That includes Jason as well. He’s got some awesome ideas that we  are fleshing out for the next CD which I think are going to just rock. I’ve already got lyrical ideas for it as we speak. Now if we could just get him to record it and get it to John we’d be golden. We’re working on it…LOL!!!

The lyrical aspect seems to be as important in your output as the purely musical one. How do you go about the process of writing lyrics, and what gets your creative juices flowing?

John: Dave will have more to say about this, but for my small part, I think of the vocal melodies in an abstract, phonetic sort of way. I think of the sound of certain vowels and the rhythm of the syllables. From there, I think about the story that the song needs to tell.

David: I’m still trying to picture what the vocals must sound like in John’s head.  I imagine sort of like if Marlee Matlin were the lead singer.

Dave B: I’ll give you an up to date example. As you know there is a new Van Halen CD coming out this February and everyone on the Internet…well not everyone…just the trolls (You know who you are…)…are starting to put it down not because it’s bad but because Van Halen are using a lot of ideas that were written many years ago and revamping them. That is the case with me. A lot…not all but a lot of the lyrics that are on the first and second CD’s were culled from lyrics that I wrote years ago when I lived out in San Diego. A lot were written for the band I had out there and some were just written kind of like poetry. When we started putting things together for Shadow Circus many of those lyrics fit like puzzle pieces into the stuff  John was writing. They were definitely tweaked and modified. One perfect example of this is the song “Angel” on Whispers & Screams. I actually wrote the lyrics AND the music for that song for my band Hang ’em High. It was originally called “Angel With the Dirty Wings”. John did some modifications to the music and I did as well with the lyrics and it…well…It “grew up” to be the song it is today. I find nothing wrong with taking from the past and letting things grow up. There is a song called “Russian Roulette’ off the latest Kiss CD, Sonic Boom, which was a song Gene Simmons wrote years ago. He modified it and it’s now one of the most rocking songs off that CD. Personally I don’t get what people are complaining about…well, I guess they just want to complain…LOL!!!

Beyond that, I love Stephen King and his stories have been fodder for many songs we’ve done. I think taking from literature is a great way to come up with lyrics. Iron Maiden has done it for years with “Rime of the Ancient Mariner”, “To Tame a Land”, “Alexander the Great”…and the list goes on. Stephen King has been a huge influence on me for that reason. I’m a lot less interested in writing about life experiences and more about turning crazy stories into crazy lyrics.

As a keen reader of fantasy literature, I am curious about your own interest in it, which is reflected not just in the songs, but in the band’s very name. Which novel or short story would you like to reinterpret for a future album, besides those that have already received the Shadow Circus treatment?

John: I’ve always wanted to do something with Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour. In fact, when I began writing “Project Blue”, that’s what I had in mind. The eerie intro to “Captain Trips” was originally intended to be the scene where Lasher first appears, with the circles of wind stirring up around the witch.

Jason: Keeping with the Stephen King themes, I’d love to do Salem’s Lot or Needful Things. We’ve talked about doing IT which I think would be incredible. I would also love to tackle Alice In Wonderland and The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow one of these days. Maybe the sixth or seventh albums (laughs).

David: I think a rock opera based on the Texas Chainsaw Massacre would be bloody wild.

Dave B: I’m definitely with Jason on this. I would love to tackle Salem’s Lot. IT is also on my list. In fact John has a song idea that was conceived with that story in mind. What we are tackling for the third CD is A Wrinkle in Time. John was very passionate about that story and it has really, really grown on me. We’ve got some epic things cooking as we speak. I’ll give nothing more away at this juncture.

One of the most impressive features of your albums, particularly Whispers and Screams, has been the artwork. Is the combination of music and art as important for you as for the original prog bands of the Seventies?

John: Absolutely. And, quite frankly, I wish that vinyl was still the standard medium. I liked when you could look at this big piece of artwork while listening to an album, unfold it and have easily legible lyrics and information about the band. CD packaging might as well be a candy wrapper. But that’s a whole other tangent.

Jason: Without hesitation, YES! It’s the first thing that invites you in and grabs you. Plus, being an artist myself, as well as a musician, it naturally attracts me and is very critical to the overall album experience. Like John said, it’s great to immerse yourself in the cover, art, lyrics, etc. while listening. They go hand in hand.

David: John told me H.R. Giger did all the covers.  John?

What about the New York/New Jersey music scene, which is by many perceived to be  more favorable to prog and classic rock than other parts of the country? What are the difficulties you encounter when it comes to finding gigs?

John: The biggest difficulty, I think, is that there is no place to play gigs on a regular basis. The Beatles didn’t become a great band by playing two gigs a year. They played five every day for years as a working band before setting out to record. Also, the list of bands that want to play these venues and festivals is so long, that you need to wait a minimum of three years before playing the same venue or festival again. The second biggest problem is that most American venues and festivals favor bands from Europe, and the venues and festivals in Europe will rarely, if ever, invite an American band to come and play.

Jason: The hardest thing that I’ve found about playing original music in NYC is gaining momentum and a following. Bouncing around from small dive bar or hole in the wall once or twice a month isn’t going to get you anywhere. You need to at least play higher profile venues with heavy tourist appeal and built-in audiences on a regular basis or open for a national act at the larger venues or even get into the college circuit. Promotion is key, as well.

David: To follow up on what John said, The Beatles not only benefited from working “in the trenches” in Hamburg, but then got to return to England as a hot band from Hamburg.  Some things never change.

You recently played some dates opening for Italian band The Watch, for the second year in a row. What can you tell me about your experiences in a live setting – including your participation in last year’s edition of ProgDay, the longest-running progressive rock festival in the world?

Matt: I can be assured we all feel this way but when you can translate a studio result into a live result and people are happy, then you have done your job as a live performer.  There is not much to rival that feeling!

John: We are so fortunate to have such good friends with The Watch. What a rare, and amazing opportunity to be able to play such great venues in front of such large audiences. We learned so much about preparing to travel to gigs, setting up and cleaning up quickly, keeping the set list tight. It’s been an incredible education. ProgDay was also a great learning experience, as well as the first real gig this band has ever played.

Jason: Opening for The Watch was one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had to date. Great band, great bunch of guys. I’m looking forward to a long friendship with them and, hopefully, many more dates with them here and abroad.

David: Agreed on all counts.  Opening for The Watch was a great pleasure personally and a great opportunity for Shadow Circus.

Dave B: I just love working with The Watch. They are genuinely the nicest bunch of guys you could know. Very hospitable and would pay us a million dollars a show if they could. It’s just a great relationship that will eventually allow us to play Europe opening for them as well. Really, I mean every night we played with them it was just such a pleasure to hang out and watch their show. They are definitely pro and we all learn a lot from playing with them. Come ON…Simone is just SO awesome on stage it’s great!!! ProgDay…well what can I say Raffaella…that where we met you for the first time. It’s all good!!!  \m/. It is a really great festival to play though. A great stage but a bit daunting as well. All the shows we have done including ProgDay have been learning experiences…like John said. Especially for me as the front man. Boy, do I have things to learn and I do with every show.

You have recently released two new songs, “Rise” and “Daddy’s Gone”, as a maxi-single. What has the response been so far?

John: We are getting a very positive response to the music. But, prog fans are a little old-fashioned in that they want an album, not a single, and they are even less interested in digital downloads as opposed to a CD.

Now something about your forthcoming third album. Do you see it as a logical follow-up to Whispers and Screams and Welcome to the Freakroom, or is it going to be significantly different?

John: I think that it is a logical follow-up. With each CD, we seem to get into bigger formats and themes. We had the short epic on Welcome to the Freakroom, then went further with an album-side-length epic on Whispers, and now we’re going for a full concept album. I also think that with each iteration, the music has more depth, more complexity in some respects, but we are also always pursuing the art of writing the perfect melody, however simple it is.

Jason: The single was great and a nice, easy way to introduce the new line-up and sound. Since this will be my first full album with Shadow Circus I can’t comment on the other albums, but, the excitement for the new album is really building within us as we get the material together and I think it’s going to be a great one!

David: I’ve noticed that the new hip thing is to release new material on vinyl, but so far my idea to put On a Dark and Stormy Night out only on wax cylinders hasn’t gained traction with the band.

Dave B: Among the many things that will be great about this next CD, I have to admit that the biggest deal for me is having Matt Masek back in the band and on this next CD. It’s literally full circle…ya know??? He’s so good at what he does and was awesome to work with on Freakroom…well, this is just gonna rock even more!!! I haven’t forgotten about you either Jason!!! You are a force to be reckoned with and you will make this CD everything the last two should have been!!! I think this line up more than anything will make this not just a logical follow-up but a GREAT follow-up. I’m just so excited to see what David Silver comes up with on the keys…it’s really very exciting!!!

Is your new album going to be an independent release like Whispers and Screams, or is a label going to be involved, as in the case of your debut?

John: I do think that a label will be involved in this release, one that is open to all of our approached to marketing and connecting with fans, but it is too early to announce anything formally.

David: Well, we were gonna put it out on a Black Label, but we couldn’t get enough proof. So I’m gonna let John handle this.

What are your plans for 2012, after the album’s release? I remember hearing something about a European tour…

John: We are invited by The Watch to come over to Europe and play some shows with them, so that will be our biggest priority.

Jason: Yes, a return to playing with The Watch here and then over in Europe, like I mentioned earlier, and hopefully a bunch of festivals. Basically, promote the album in any way we can and expand our fan base.

David: I think these days a new music act has to break on one of the reality shows, so I’ve got feelers out with American Idol, America’s Got Talent, Dancing With the Stars and America’s Next Top Model (couldn’t hurt).  So far we’ve only had interest from America’s Funniest Home Videos (and Project Runway likes my jacket).

Dave B: For me, I agree. I want to go over to Europe because I think that is where our biggest market is BUT…I also think it’s important for us to get to Canada with The Watch this fall as well. They get really big audiences up there and I think if we do it right we’ll make a positive impact in those cities.

Thank you very much for your answers, and looking forward to hearing On a Dark and Stormy Night!

Jason: Thank you for taking the time to give us this interview.

Dave B: Same here!!! Thanks so much for taking the time to support Shadow Circus. It really means a lot to everyone in the band. keep rocking!!!  \m/

David: I apologize. Truly. I apologize.

Links:
http://www.shadowcircusmusic.com

 

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Walk On Alone (12:31)
2. Voices (6:24)
3. Weapon (6:52)
4. What I Have Done (5:56)
5. Mind Over Matter (2:38)
6. Prelude (1:48)
7. World in Front of Me (11:19)

LINEUP:
John Baker – lead and backing vocals, guitars, guitar synthesizer, mandolin
Kerry Chicoine – bass, backing vocals
Steve Mauk – keyboards, backing vocals
Jerry Beller – drums, percussion, backing vocals

A quartet of experienced musicians based in Los Angeles, Mars Hollow were brought to the attention of progressive rock fans by the release of their self-titled debut album, almost one year ago. The highly awaited disc did not disappoint, and the band were immediately invited to perform at the 2010 edition of ProgDay, where I had the pleasure to meet them and see them on stage. In spite of the dreaded word ‘hype’ rearing its ugly head, or of those who may point out that Mars Hollow’s music does not really bring anything new to the prog table, and that it is also too poppy for its own good, the band’s dedication to music-making is undeniable, as is their professional attitude.

These days it is certainly not usual for artists to release an album a year, and long waits are often in order for fans of any musical genre. This seems to be even truer in the world of prog, when it is not uncommon for acts to let at least three years pass between releases – mainly due to those practical issues that I have often mentioned in my writing. Mars Hollow, however, chose to buck the trend by going into the studio a mere two months after their successful ProgDay appearance – with a well-respected musician and producer like Billy Sherwood (of Yes, Conspiracy and Circa fame) at the helm, and a strong commitment to delivering the goods in an even more impressive manner than their debut. Needless to say, the band’s sophomore effort – heralded by another prestigious live appearance, this time at the 2011 edition of ROSfest – was even more highly awaited than their debut, though the anticipation was tinged with the kind of anxiety engendered by far too many examples of anything but lucky second times.

While Mars Hollow, with refreshing honesty, have never claimed to be purveyors of daringly cutting-edge music (as is the case with some acts that, in my opinion, are nowhere as consistently good), World in Front of Me rises way above any considerations of innovation, progression, or whatever you choose to call it. Even though their self-titled debut was a hugely enjoyable slice of catchy, melodic prog with modern production values and all-round excellent performances, World in Front of Me is, simply put, pure gold – an album possessed of an almost timeless quality, a flawlessly executed homage to the best that progressive rock has to offer that, in many ways, transcends the very definition of prog. Odd as it may sound, I would compare it with another recent release that has left a lasting impression on me – Black Country Communion’s debut. Now, while the latter are definitely more of a classic hard rock act than a progressive one, their first album is also one of those very rare efforts that manage to reach a very high standard of quality without reinventing the wheel, so to speak.

Clocking in at a perfect 47 minutes, World in Front of Me is bookended by two 10-minute-plus tracks which – like “Dawn of Creation” on their debut album – eschew the tired, worn-out template of the ultra-convoluted (and ultimately patchy) ‘epic’ in favour of an orgy of enchanting melodies, splendid vocal parts, and scintillating instrumental interplay. With consummate sense of balance, the five tracks sandwiched between those two display a variety of moods, from the melancholy, mainly acoustic “Mind Over Matter” to the jagged, somewhat tense “Voices” – shorter, yet no less dense and involved. To use a cliché, Mars Hollow are like a well-oiled machine, their individual skills honed by years of experience and a genuine love of their craft, creating layer upon layer of lovely sounds that, while sustaining that uplifting quality so evident in their debut, are tinged with a hint of gentle sadness suggesting the wisdom that comes with maturity. And mature is probably one of the most effective descriptions for World in Front of Me: though lacking anything as infectious as “Midnight”, it is hard not to find yourself singing along the title-track or “Walk on Alone”, as well as listening raptly to the seamless ebb and flow of the instrumental passages.

As was the case with the band’s debut, World in Front of Me is strongly keyboard-based, with John Baker’s guitar used in a supporting (though indispensable) role rather than as the star of the show. However, Sherwood’s crystal-clear production has given the rhythm section a much more prominent role. Jerry Beller’s dynamic yet sophisticated drumming is not merely propulsive, but adds a lot of dimension to the music, sometimes following the melody laid out by the keyboards and guitar, sometimes playing in a sort of counterpoint; while Kerry Chicoine’s rumbling, pneumatic Rickenbacker bursts out of the densely woven fabric of the sound in a way rarely heard since Chris Squire introduced his ‘lead bass’ approach to the instrument. Indeed, Yes might be mentioned as probably the biggest influence on this album – though, rather than the toweringly unapproachable Yes of Close to the Edge fame, Mars Hollow bring to mind the band that, with their first three albums, gave the music world a textbook-perfect example of contamination between classic pop-rock and the fledgling progressive trend.

Steve Mauk handles his array of keyboards with impressive aplomb, supported by the relentless work of the rhythm section. While the gorgeously wistful, rippling piano piece that is “Prelude” puts him directly in the spotlight, his lush yet sedate contribution to the overall sound perfectly complements John Baker’s understated guitar work and commanding vocal performance. As I stated in my review of Mars Hollow’s debut, Baker’s voice – a soaring, admirably controlled tenor reminiscent of a smoother Geddy Lee, with touches of early Steve Walsh – may not be to everyone’s taste, but his handling of the somewhat downbeat, meditative lyrics (mostly focusing on the end of a relationship) is nothing short of masterful, and the harmony sections suggest the effortless grace of vintage Yes and, occasionally, even Gentle Giant.

As regards the individual tracks, opener “Walk On Alone” and the title-track are classic prog heaven, blending memorable melodies – catchy, though in a very subtle fashion, and dispensing with a conventional verse-chorus-verse structure – with instrumental passages of stunning elegance and understated complexity. While the former number is more airy and relaxed, the latter seems to slowly build up to a climax, with a sense of tension occasionally surfacing. “Voices” and “Weapon”, though shorter, are conceived along similar lines, successfully merging haunting vocal sections with intense instrumental passages; while “What I Have Done”, with its more streamlined approach and catchy harmony vocals, comes closest to the spirit of Mars Hollow’s debut, though without the bold airplay potential of songs like “Midnight” or “Eureka”.

Down to its stylish cover photo, depicting the stark beauty of the Death Valley desert, World in Front of Me is a supremely elegant album that succeeds in the task of combining accessibility with dazzling technical proficiency and a genuine feeling of warmth. Let us forget for a moment about ‘retro-prog’ or any such ultimately pointless labels. Mars Hollow’s intention was never to revolutionize the music world, but rather to produce an album that people will enjoy, cherish, and possibly relate to in terms of their own experience. A pleasure from start to finish, this is definitely a very serious contender for album of the year.

Links:
http://www.marshollow.com/

http://www.10trecords.com/

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Le Labyrinthe Du Cochon (9:15)
2. Jeudi (De) Poisson (10:34)
3. Sombre Trafic Sur Le Nil (3:40)
4. La Marmite Du Pygmée (8:55)
5. Le Château De L’Eléphant (6:26)
6. Cravate Sauvage (9:27)
7. Oppression, Dépression, Les Valeurs Du Cool (13:37)

LINEUP:
Arnaud M’Doihoma – bass, vocals
Gregory Pozzoli – guitars, vocals
Thomas Larsen – drums, percussion, vocals
Philippe Prebet – guitars, vocals

Just like Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd (“by the way, which one’s Pink?”), Jack Dupon is not a solo artist, but a French quartet whose debut album, L’Echelle du Désir, was released in the second half of 2008. It is also the name of the fictitious character whose picaresque stories are told in the band’s songs and live performances. Formed in 2001 by three school mates, Arnaud M’Doihoma, Gregory Pozzoli and Thomas Larsen (now in their late twenties), in 2004 Jack Dupon was joined by an older, more experienced musician, guitarist Philippe Prebet.  In September 2010 the band embarked on their first US tour, playing in venues such as the legendary Orion Studios in Baltimore, as well as the ProgDay Festival Pre-Show – their quirky, theatrical performances leaving a strong impression on American audiences.

My first contact with Jack Dupon occurred in 2009, when I reviewed L’Echelle du Désir, and was left with mixed feelings. While I could not help appreciating the band’s eclecticism and the undeniable impact of their music, I also felt they had been overambitious in recording an album that clocked in at nearly 75 minutes, and opened with a 30-minute epic. It seemed that the members of Jack Dupon, as talented and inventive as they obviously were, had not yet learned the valuable lesson that sometimes less is more – with the result that the album, after a while, overstayed its welcome. This time around, however, they seem to have heeded the advice of most reviewers, and gone for a relatively pared-down offering, slightly over an hour long, and avoiding the over-indulgence of L’Echelle du Désir’s two sprawling epics.

Unlike other bands placed under the RIO/Avant umbrella (a subgenre that is much more diverse than its detractors might think), Jack Dupon use a very traditional rock instrumentation – which means no strings, no woodwinds, no saxes, and even no keyboards. Indeed, their configuration (two guitars plus rhythm section) closely resembles King Crimson’s in the Eighties and onward – and Fripp’s crew, together with Frank Zappa, are clearly one of the main inspirations behind Jack Dupon’s output. However, the theatrical bent of the band, as well as the ‘mythology’ on which their music is based,  possess an unmistakably European flavour. While their French origins bring to mind concept-based bands like Magma and Gong (as well as Ange, a clear blueprint for the vocal department), some Italian bands of the Seventies are also evoked, especially those that, like Jumbo and the short-lived Pholas Dactylus, pushed the dramatic element at the forefront of their sound.

One of the biggest obstacles for people who approach Jack Dupon’s music are undeniably the vocals, mostly handled by bassist Arnaud M’Doihoma with the assistance of his bandmates. Harsh, grating and exaggerated, reminiscent of Ange’s Christian Descamps or even Jumbo’s Alvaro Fella, M’Doihoma’s singing style fits the music like a glove, but is likely to put off those who like a more traditional approach. Personally, I see the vocals very much as another instrument.  From the instrumental point of view, though there is plenty of razor-sharp riffing, Jack Dupon’s sound hardly ever suggests the heaviness of metal, but rather the angularity of King Crimson – with interlocking guitar lines very much in Fripp/Belew style, insistent to the point of occasional monotonousness, and frequent surges followed by pauses of relative calm that create sonic peaks and valleys. The undercurrent of zany, Dadaist humour running through the album (also reflected by the titles, as well as by the nonsensical lyrics and distinctive artwork suggestive of German Expressionism) – echoes not only Zappa, but also Gong (whose flying teapots are referenced in “Le Château de l’Eléphant”), RIO/Avant bands like Samla Mammas Manna and Höyry-Kone, and borderline progressive bands like Primus and Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade.

The tracks on Démon Hardi (“Bold Demon”), with the sole exception of the Middle-Eastern-tinged instrumental “Sombre Trafic Sur le Nil”, an unusually melodic, guitar-driven piece, are all over 6 minutes in length, though this time the longest number is strategically placed at the album’s close. The remaining tracks are prevailingly similar in structure, with an ‘ebb and flow’ movement that alternates slow, almost ominous passages and frantic ones, the vocals used sparingly but forcefully to add further intensity to the musical texture. The Zappa influence clearly surfaces in the more upbeat sections, as in the almost cheerful “Le Château de l’Eléphant”, a veritable drum tour de force with a classic rock feel in the guitar parts and occasionally funky touches. “Cravate Sauvage”, on the other hand, is somber and somewhat monotonous, spiced up with effects-laden guitars seemingly ‘conversing’ with the drums in the style perfected by King Crimson in their Eighties period; while “La Marmite du Pygmée” drags a bit at times, but features some outstanding guitar work. The longer tracks (such as opener “Le Labyrinthe du Cochon” or the jazz-meets-King-Crimson “Jeudi (de) Poisson”) offer plenty of changes, even though an impression of patchiness may occasionally emerge – as on closing track “Oppression, Dépression, Les Valeurs du Cool” (at 13 minutes the longest track on the album), whose riff-driven intro hints at metal and is then followed by a sedate, melodic section with a bluesy guitar solo, then climaxes with a choppy, funky passage.

As other reviewers have pointed out, Jack Dupon’s music seems to be tailor-made for the stage – which means that its effectiveness is not always as strong as one might expect when heard on CD. While the vocals are undeniably an acquired taste, they go hand-in-hand with the music and the concept behind it, and it is not hard to imagine that a live setting would increase their impact exponentially. The somewhat repetitive, jam-like nature of the music, with its often hypnotic pacing, also seems to be much more suited to live performance than more or less ‘passive’ listening. On any account, even if clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, Démon Hardi is definitely an interesting album, and Jack Dupon a very promising band that have obviously grown a lot since their debut. Though their musical offer may not be to everyone’s taste, and needs the right disposition on the part of the listener to be appreciated in full, they manage to deliver a product in which the various influences are reworked in a genuinely personal manner. At the time of writing, Jack Dupon are about to embark on a European tour, and are scheduled to appear at the 2011 edition of the Rock in Opposition Festival (Carmaux, France) in September.

Links:
http://www.jack-dupon-rock-progressif.net/

Read Full Post »

One of the biggest advantages of living in an otherwise crowded, ‘pressure-cooker’ area such as the US Northeast is the staggering variety of music on offer. With an impressive choice of venues of every size and description, as well as a thriving underground scene, the region has become one of the most important hubs for progressive rock, as illustrated by the documentary film Romantic Warriors (reviewed elsewhere on this blog). While gigs are organized more or less throughout the year, things are definitely quieter in the colder months (mainly because of the unavailability of the outdoor venues) – while the summer months offer such a wide range of gigs that fans are obliged to pick and choose, unless they have a unlimited supply of time and cash.

2009 was my first full year in the USA, so Michael, my husband, and I were finally able to start sampling the musical delights offered by our area. Our season included our first participation to NEARfest, four visits to the quaintly bucolic Merriweather Post Pavilion (the last one particularly poignant in retrospect, being the last time that we saw the great Ronnie James Dio on stage before his untimely passing), as well as what has now gone down in the annals of concert history as ‘the monsoon on the Potomac’ – the ill-fated Asia/Yes gig at the National Harbor. At the time, I had just started my reviewing tenure with ProgressoR, and as such was very much a ‘newbie’ of the whole scene. This year, though, was quite a different story…

With my review count growing and my reputation as a reviewer spreading around the prog fandom (helped by the reactivation of my Facebook account), I made friends among musicians, built an increasing network of contacts, slowly but steadily became part of the scene. For a basically shy person as I am, this made me feel much less self-conscious when attending gigs and festivals, and boosted my enjoyment of those functions. While I am very human and enjoy the attention generated by my reviews, I also feel I am helping those who need it the most – the artists – by covering their work and encouraging their efforts.

This year, our season of music was fittingly inaugurated at the very end of May, on Memorial Day weekend (which here in the US marks the beginning of the summer season), with the annual concert organized by the DC Society of Art Rock at the Jammin’ Java. We were already familiar with the venue, as we had seen Eddie Jobson and his band play there last year. A small, friendly coffeehouse, notorious for the ear-shattering volume of its gigs, this year it hosted two local bands, Brave and Ephemeral Sun, plus one of our favourite new acts – New Jersey’s very own 3rd Degree. Though all three bands put up excellent performances, 3rd Degree were our personal highlight of the evening – an extremely tight outfit very much in the vein of vintage Steely Dan, fronted by the amazing talents of vocalist/keyboardist George Dobbs and bassist Robert James Pashman.

A couple of weeks later, it was the turn of two legendary bands such as Jethro Tull and Procol Harum, in the beautiful setting of the Wolf Trap Foundation – a striking wooden pavilion surrounded by deep woods, and the only National Park in the USA dedicated to the performing arts. While Ian Anderson may have lost most of his vocal power, he and his crew are still mightily entertaining to watch, and their back catalogue has very few equals in the rock word. However, the real surprise of the evening were Procol Harum. Unlike Anderson’s, Gary Brooker’s inimitable voice is still in pristine shape, and they wowed the audience with a mix of older and newer material, including the goosebump-inducing “A Salty Dog” and the much-awaited “A Whiter Shade of Pale”.

Our second time at NEARfest, which took place on the third weekend of June, is documented in the lengthy account I wrote for ProgressoR when I was still on board. Since all my articles for said website are covered by copyright, I will post a link to it at the end of this piece. Two days after our return from Pennsylvania, we were back at Wolf Trap for the Yes/Peter Frampton double bill – another great concert from two historic acts, though this time marred by the stiflingly humid heat. After last year’s monsoon, which had literally driven Yes off stage, we had bought tickets for their February concert at the Warner Theatre in DC. It was not, however, meant to be, since the event was first rescheduled because of the heavy snowfall; then – on the evening it was finally going to happen – Michael came home from work with a touch of the flu, so we kissed goodbye to our tickets, and patiently waited for the next opportunity to see the band. In spite of all you can say about the Jon Anderson-less Yes, they did not disappoint, and I was particularly excited by their performance of “Close to the Edge”, which I had never previously seen them play live.

After almost a month’s gap, on July 20 we headed to a venue we were not yet familiar with – the Jiffy Lube arena (formerly Nissan Pavilion) – to see another formidable double bill, firm favourites Iron Maiden with Dream Theater as openers. Unlike either Wolf Trap or the Merriweather Post Pavilion, Jiffy Lube is a largely unprepossessing space, located somewhat in the middle of nowhere and totally devoid of atmosphere. Though we were seated in the covered area, we managed to get relatively wet when a thunderstorm broke out (quite appropriately, seen the title of their latest release) just as Dream Theater took to the stage, and the wind drove the rain beneath the roof of the pavilion. While I found the New York band tolerable at best (their set was mercifully short!), Iron Maiden delivered in spades as usual. With three decades of activity under their belt, they are still one of the most energetic, entertaining live bands in the business, and I was thrilled with their choice to perform some of their more recent material alongside their undisputed classics.

Fast forward to the first weekend of September, and my first time at ProgDay – as described in detail in the review linked below. Barely two weeks of rest, so to speak, and the 2010 edition of the Sonic Circuits festival was upon us – with the organizers having pulled out all the stops by securing the participation of three major draws such as Magma, Univers Zéro and Miriodor, as well as veterans The Muffins and electronic pioneers Richard Pinhas and Merzbow. Though we had bought passes for the whole week, we were only able to attend the opening and closing shows, both held in the gorgeous premises of the Maison Française, the cultural centre of the French Embassy in DC. The marathon-like opening event culminated with a simply incredible performance by Zeuhl legends Magma, a band every self-respecting progressive rock fan should experience at least once. A week later, the festival was closed in style by the utterly stunning musicianship and compositional mastery of Miriodor and Univers Zéro – a once-in-a-lifetime double bill.

Our season of music came to a close last Saturday, with our first-ever visit to the Orion Studios in Baltimore to see Italian band The Watch (who were performing Genesis’ iconic Foxtrot album in its entirety) supported by Shadow Circus – one of the Northeast’s finest new bands, and very good friends of ours. The Orion is indeed one of those places that seem to have come out of a bygone era – a warehouse in a suburban area of Baltimore converted into a temple of progressive music, somewhat small and cramped, but brimming with character and a ‘family’ atmosphere of sorts, with people bringing their own chairs, drinks and food. Unfortunately, tiredness prevented us from attending the whole of The Watch’s performance, though we managed to enjoy all of Shadow Circus’ set. Those guys are going from strength to strength, and will hopefully soon reap the rewards of all their hard work.

In the coming months there will probably be other concerts for us to attend in the area, though not with the same frequency. At any rate, we already have some gigs lined up for next spring, and will also try to attend all three of the big festivals organized on the East Coast. Until then, I will continue to support up-and-coming bands with my reviews and feedback. Watch this space!

Links:

NEARfest 2010 review (http://www.progressor.net/nearfest2010.html)
ProgDay 2010 review (http://www.progressor.net/progday2010.html)

Read Full Post »

TRACKLISTING:
1. Lake of Fire (4:22)
2. Money Speaks (4:40)
3. You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe (5:22)
4. Stars of Sayulita (6:12)
5. Warning (4:20)
6. What Have They Done to the Rain (4:56)
7. Abandoned Mines (5:45)
8. Suicide Train (4:23)
9. Telstar (3:55)
10. Dateless Oblivion & Divine Repose (1:54)

Bonus tracks:
11. Abandoned Mines – Forest Fang Remix (8:26)
12. You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe – Alternate Mix (5:48)
13. Lake of Fire – Evan Schiller Remix (4:21)

LINEUP:
Barry Cleveland – electric & acoustic guitar, electric & acoustic 12-string guitar, Moog guitar, GuitarViol, sampled percussion, sampled Mellotron, voice (8), bass (8)
Robert Powell – pedal-steel guitar (1-5, 7, 9, 11-13), lap-steel guitar (4)
Michael Manring – bass (1-9, 11-13)
Celso Alberti – drums, percussion (1-4, 6-9, 11-13)
Amy X Neuburg – vocals (1, 2, 6, 9, 10 & 13).

With:
Harry Manx – vocals (4)
Deborah Holland – vocals (4)
Artist General – voice (5)
Erdem Helvacioglu – acoustic-electric guitar, electronics (3,13)
Rick Walker – chain-link drums, teapot (5), congas (4), dumbec (7)
Gino Robair – dumbec, kendang (6)

As anticipated in my previous post, here is my third review in a row of an album released in 2010 by MoonJune Records – and, like its predecessors, definitely one of the top releases of the year. Hologramatron, the fifth album credited to the name of San Francisco-based guitarist, composer and journalist Barry Cleveland (currently Associate Editor for Guitar Player magazine), has recently been submitted for the Grammy Award as “Best Alternative Rock Album of 2010” – and deservedly so.  A labour of love, whose recording took several years to complete, Hologramatron (whose title, according to the artist himself, means ‘whatever you need it to mean’) is one of those rare musical efforts that manage to sound like very little else. With derivative acts a dime a dozen on the current music scene, listening to such an album can be an exhilarating experience. Although Barry Cleveland’s name may be the most prominent on the cover, unlike your average ‘solo pilot’ release this is very much a collective effort, in which the input of each member of the band is recognizable, yet at the same time meshes with the others to form an organic whole.

Unabashedly eclectic,  Hologramatron has been called a modern ‘protest album’, and with very good reason – though only part of the songs have an unmistakable socio-political bent. However, it is first and foremost a collection of inspired, thought-provoking compositions performed by a group of amazingly talented, experienced musicians who manage to come across as an extremely tight unit rather than a combination of over-inflated egos. While vocalist Amy X Neuburg (a classically-trained singer, and a truly serendipitous find for Cleveland) may be relatively unknown outside dedicated avant-garde circles – in spite of an impressive curriculum as a composer and ‘avant-cabaret’ artist – the name of bassist Michael Manring is nothing short of legendary among four-string fans, and both drummer Celso Alberti and pedal-steel guitarist Robert Powell can claim a number of prestigious affiliations. When such collective talent is gathered together, the results may often be a tad underwhelming – especially when musicians forget that they are at the service of the music, and not the other way round.

Thankfully, this is not the case with Hologramatron. The impressive cohesion between all the artists involved, band members and guests, results in 10 tracks that display a remarkably original approach, even when external influences can be detected . While listening to the album for the first time, the closest comparison that came into my mind was with the late ‘90s – early 2000’s incarnation of King Crimson – and Robert Fripp is undoubtedly one of Barry Cleveland’s most noticeable sources of inspiration. In contrast with the majority of prog albums released in the past year or so, Hologramatron is based on relatively short compositions, none longer than 6 minutes –  and, indeed, half of the tracks are songs with a more or less ‘conventional’ verse-chorus-verse structure. The album might even be seen as a lesson on how to produce music that does not rely on 30-minute epics or convoluted concept stories in order to be progressive.

As I previously pointed out, eclecticism is the name of the game, with the hard-hitting earnestness of tracks like “Lake of Fire” or “Money Speaks” relieved by the inclusion of two covers of Sixties hit songs (which, in my personal view, do not really fit too well with the rest of the album), or the gentle yet emotional content of “Stars of Sayulita”. The psychedelic-meets-ambient component of Cleveland’s creativity (which was brilliantly showcased in the band’s live performance at ProgDay 2010) is here represented by the instrumental tracks, namely “You’ll Just Have to See It to Believe It” and “Abandoned Mines” – where Cleveland’s array of traditional and electronic guitars, effectively supported by Robert Powell’s pedal-steel guitar, Manring’s stellar bass and understated percussion patterns, weave subtly entrancing, multilayered textures.

On opener “Lake of Fire” (whose firebrand lyrics point a sharp finger at Christian fundamentalism),  Amy X Neuburg adopts two sharply different singing styles in the verse and the chorus – soothing, almost seductive in the former, venomously aggressive in the latter. The splendidly bass-driven “Money Talks” and the haunting “Stars of Sayulita”, graced by the warm, bluesy vocals of Harry Manx and Deborah Holland, follow a similar ‘mainstream’ pattern – as, obviously, do the two covers, “What Have They Done to the Rain” and “Telstar”, whose cheerful nature contrasts almost jarringly with the rest. Two of the tracks with vocals, however, diverge quite sharply: the ominous, electronics-laden avant-rap of the aptly-titled “Warning” (with vocals courtesy of long-time Cleveland collaborator Michael Masley, aka Artist General), and the tense “Suicide Train” (interpreted by Cleveland himself), an effort that borders on metal, featuring a beautiful, hypnotic guitar solo bolstered by crashing drums.

Running at around 64 minutes, Hologramatron is nowhere as cumbersome as many other current releases, though the three bonus tracks tagged at its end do not really add a lot (unless you happen to be a staunch completist) – with the possible exception of the remix of “Abandoned Mines” (nearly three minutes longer than the original), which possesses an eerily cinematic quality.  A masterful blend of mainstream sensibilities, socially-aware lyrics, intriguing atmospheres and stunning instrumental and vocal performances, this is a unique album that is warmly recommended to progressive music fans.

Links:
http://www.barrycleveland.com

Read Full Post »