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Posts Tagged ‘ProgDay 2011’

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Attend to Your Configuration (2:47)
2. Was Solis (6:02)
3. Pantocyclus (4:07)
4. White Minus Red (6:55)
5. Crime of Separate Action (6:32)
6. Entanglement (4:19)
7. A Tiller in a Tempest (3:15)
8. Passing Through the Wall (4:22)
9. This Could Be the End of the Line (2:23)
10. Plying the Cold Trade (8:02)

LINEUP:
Mike Eber – guitars
Jeff Eber – drums
Johnny DeBlase – bass

Four years after their barnstorming second album, the aptly-titled After the Air Raid, New York-based trio Zevious are back with their long-awaited third full-length CD, Passing Through the Wall, also released on Cuneiform Records. In the intervening years the band have maintained a brisk schedule of live performances – including the 2011 edition of ProgDay and, a couple of months later, Cuneifest at Baltimore’s Orion Studios. All three Zevious members are also involved in other projects, which pits them against the likes of Steven Wilson as the most hard-working people in progressive rock.

Zevious, like miRthkon and many of the bands and artists featured on these pages, stand on the outer limits of the progressive rock spectrum – that twilight zone that some would label as “progressive but not prog”, a definition that shows how for many fans the genre has become nothing more than a collection of dated mannerisms. The trio’s musical approach, however, is every bit as complex as the average “mainstream” prog band’s, though relying only on the essential rock instrumentation to create an impressive volume of sound characterized by a very high level of energy. Indeed, Zevious are definitely not for everyone, especially those who believe that the “progressive” in “progressive rock” has been stripped of its original meaning.

The definition of “King Crimson on steroids” that I used in my previous reviews of the band still holds true for Passing Through the Wall – perhaps even more so than for its predecessor. Zevious take the hauntingly repetitive, angular structure of pieces like “Red” or “Discipline” as a springboard, and inject it with an almost manic energy that owes a lot to metal and punk. As drummer Jeff Ebert, whose mind-boggling polyrhythms are at the core of the band’s sound, is also a member of hyper-technical metal band Dysrhythmia (with whom Zevious played some shows in November 2013), Zevious are seriously heavy, though in a different way than, for instance, miRthkon or Guapo – two bands that, like Zevious, straddle the line between Avant Progressive and experimental metal.

Clocking in at about 48 minutes, and packaged in a minimalistic, black-and-white cover with an Escherian feel, Passing Through the Wall comprises 10 tracks ranging from 2 to 8 minutes – a structure both similar and different from their previous album. The shorter tracks emphasize energy and dynamic pacing, while the longer ones allow for more variation. However, those who are looking for dramatic shifts within the same track  in classic prog tradition are in for a disappointment, because at a first listen the compositions on the album may sound all rather alike. Tempo changes are handled subtly as a whole, and the music’s hard-driving intensity does not disguise the complexity of the instrumental interplay.

The imperiously-titled and –paced “Attend to Your Configuration” barges in with its relentless web of interlocking bass and guitar lines driven by Jeff Ebert’s acrobatic drumming, then slows down to an almost Sabbathian plod in the second half. In  the considerably longer “Was Solis” Mike Ebert’s clear-toned guitar weaves sinuously in and out the rumbling backdrop of Johnny DeBlase’s bass, sparring with the drums and occasionally going into slo-mo mode for atmospheric effect. “Pantocyclus” melds skewed melody and haunting, insistent pattern peppered by piercing guitar effects, while the strikingly Crimsonian “White Minus Red” is powered by a superb performance by DeBlase, the rhythmic foundation steadily surging and flowing, then gaining momentum towards the end. The slow, ominous strains of “Crime of Separate Action” wrap up the first half of the album, again showcasing DeBlase’s astonishing propulsive/textural bass work supporting Mike Eber’s eerily chiming guitar.

The first half of“Entanglement” pulls out all the stops in terms of escalating guitar assault,  with drums all over the place; in contrast, “A Tiller in the Tempest” slower, somewhat rarefied pauses relieve the tension of the tight instrumental work. The short, fast-paced “This Could Be the End of the Line” acts as an interlude of sorts between the two most distinctive pieces on the album – the title-track, with its uncharacteristically muted guitar-bass-drum pattern, whose understated intensity creates a heady, drone-like texture; and 8-minute closing track “Plying the Cold Trade”, whose dirge-like pace and somber, Gothic feel offer a rather sharp departure from the unrelenting energy of the previous numbers.

Obviously, Zevious are not going to encounter the favour of the average melodic prog fan, while their music should prove to be far more appealing to the younger generations, weaned on a diet of post/math rock, technical metal and crossover bands such as The Mars Volta. They are also one of those bands who – as good as they sound on CD – have to be experienced live to be fully appreciated, as their hard-driving yet sophisticated music gains a whole new dimension on stage. In any case, Passing Through the Wall is a riveting slice of modern progressive music, powerful and intricate though not devoid of melody, and definitely deserving to be heard with some measure of concentration. Highly recommended to all adventurous prog fans, this album is sure to be featured in many “best of 2013” lists.

Links:
http://zevioustrio.blogspot.com/

http://cuneiformrecords.com

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 In spite of their young age, New Jersey band The Tea Club have already been around in various incarnations for almost a decade, and have already attracted the attention of the progressive rock fandom both in the US and in Europe. Their brilliant set at the 2011 edition of ProgDay confirmed them as one of the most exciting acts on the modern prog scene, and the recent release of their third album, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly, is quite likely to consolidate their position. To celebrate this new milestone in their promising musical career, brothers/band founders Dan and Pat McGowan and drummer Joe Rizzolo have kindly agreed to answer some of my questions about the past, the present and the future of the band.

As your site includes some very thorough biographical info about The Tea Club, I will skip the usual introductory question about the origins of the band, and go instead for something less usual (and perhaps loaded). Why did you decide to play progressive rock, instead of opting for a trendier – and possibly more financially profitable – genre?

Dan: The music that we wrote when we first started the band was a little more accessible, but that might be because the songs we wrote when we first started out were simpler. We took a whole bunch of different influences. Some of it was King Crimson and Yes. But our whole thing was that we weren’t hearing the kind of music that we wanted to hear coming from new bands, so we tried to make it ourselves. We saw a lot of other people in bands that were trying to intentionally do something in a style that was trendy or popular, and instead of achieving any popularity, they would just wind up looking like people who were pretending to be a popular band, and it was just uncomfortable for everyone involved. There are a billion bands that already have that exact idea. Bands that are in a better position than you are. Bands that have more money, who are better- looking, who are already connected in the business. So in our experience, there seemed to be no point in dumbing down our music to be more accessible and make something that isn’t all that it could be. We decided that it’s better to just make music for ourselves, and chances are, there are people who are just as crazy as we are who are going to get it. And they might even give you some of their money to support you because you have the balls to try to make something unique.

Joe: I enjoy composing and performing all styles of music and progressive rock lends itself to including many of these styles in a rock setting. Harking to what Dan said, composing music, in my humble opinion, is done best by throwing out all genres and gates that are put around it. To truly create something unique and interesting, you must draw from all experiences musical and otherwise and include them in your music. Whether you end up being described as a progressive group or a techno-pop-rock-indie band is up to those who listen.

Pat: I think a lot of bands are afraid of the word “prog” and all it entails. I am not. I fully embrace it because in my mind all it means is that we are “progressing”. Everything else associated with “prog” is for people to argue about in forums. I’m only interested in getting better as a musician/artist and having the freedom to do so.

 

Let’s talk a bit about names. Why did you choose that particular name for your band?

 

Dan: Pat came up with The Tea Club and it was the one name that everyone in the band liked. We are notoriously terrible at naming things.

 

Pat: I didn’t want a band name that gave you a hint as to what our music was gonna sound like. Some bands names kind of give it away but I wanted a more ambiguous name so we could do whatever the hell we wanted to.

 

Judging from the eclecticism of your sound, you listen to a lot of different music. What are your main influences, inside and outside the prog spectrum?

 

Dan: When it comes to prog rock, I love pretty much everything that King Crimson has ever done. I love 70’s Yes and Genesis, Gentle Giant, PFM, Magma, Van Der Graaf Generator… I think even a lot of the bands that I like that aren’t “prog” are still kind of “proggy”. Bands like Trail of Dead, Sunny Day Real Estate, Flaming Lips, Doves, Radiohead, Björk… bands that are in that twilight area where it’s not quite prog rock epic but it’s still adventurous and extremely emotionally moving. What else… Well, I love Nick Drake, The Beatles, Tom Waits, Jeff Buckley… I like a lot of old 90’s grunge like Soundgarden and Nirvana and Alice in Chains. I’m a pretty big Michael Jackson fan too. I’m also really into old video game music. Koji Kondo, Keiichi Suzuki, Dave Wise, Grant Kirkhope, these are all guys that are musical geniuses in my eyes. And I love Danny Elfman’s film scores from the 80’s and 90’s too.

 

Pat: I’m pretty much gonna second everyone Dan mentioned. I’ve been listening to a lot of Todd Rundgren lately as well as The Tubes and The Cardiacs. I love a lot of classical music, jazz, Motown and R&B. Some of my favorites are Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, The Heartbeats, The Orioles, and James Brown. Some of my favorite composers at the moment are Ravel, Stravinsky, Debussy, Handel, Shostakovich, Bartok, Schubert, Shoenberg, Berlioz, and Wagner.

 

Joe: Everything and everyone.

 

Though I am aware that this is a bit of a hot-button issue, this is a question that I find it hard to resist. I saw you perform as a six-piece, and I thought that the additional band members added a lot to your sound. What is the deal with all those lineup changes? Do they affect your songwriting process?

 

Dan: Well, it’s been a different situation for every person who’s been in the band and then left. Being in a band is a relationship, and any kind of relationship with other human beings is going to be an extremely complicated thing. Everyone’s different. You can’t predict what’s going to happen when you have a group of people playing music together. It’s all part of the craziness that comes with being an artist.As far as the songwriting goes, everyone who’s ever been in the band has contributed to the music and brought their own unique personality and soul into it. But that’s part of the beauty of being in a band; how people interact with each other and what they bring out in each other. It’s unpredictable. All I know is that I’m extremely excited about the lineup that we have right now. I’m really looking forward to writing music with these guys.

 

Pat: A fluctuating line-up has its blessings and its curses. The first 5 King Crimson records are great examples of them all. You can hear the triumphs and failures in those albums of what comes with re-inventing a band from record to record. You also get a very powerful glimpse of what can happen with a (semi) stable line-up in the last three records of that period. The Beatles would be the go-to example for that. So we’ve had to balance those blessings and curses over the years.  The goal is to be always balancing, but never achieving balance (my fortune cookie philosophy moment of the interview…). The vision that Dan and I share for The Tea Club is a musical world where things are constantly changing, and moving, and (dare I say) progressing. For some musicians that’s a terrible place to be, for others (like Joe) it’s the only place they want to be. So, sometimes things happen and you don’t all see eye to eye and a decision has to be made. All the musicians who have passed through this band are great players and gave their all to help us make some great music. I respect them all and the decisions we made.

 

Are you planning to continue as a trio, or have you already contacted some prospective new members?

 

Dan: We have a new bassist named Jamie Wolff and a new keyboardist named Renee Pestritto, and it’s going really well. Right now we’re just focusing on playing the stuff from Quickly Quickly Quickly and Rabbit, but we’ve already started to throw around some new stuff, and I’m extremely encouraged by the sounds that we’re making.

 

Pat: It’s a very exciting time right now. There are all kinds of ideas and music flying around. Jamie and Renee are wonderful players with big ears and at this moment the sky’s the limit. I’m looking forward to seeing how touring will grow the band and develop the ideas into new music.

 

Are any of you professional musicians, or otherwise involved with the music industry for your day job? What is your view of the current state of affairs that, to all intents and purposes, does not allow most non-mainstream artists to make a living out of their music?

 

Dan: Me and Pat don’t have any kind of musical training, so basically everything that we’ve done musically has gone into The Tea Club. So far it’s been easier for us to work a simple job during the day, just make the money to pay for rent so we have a place to make music and art. If that’s what I have to do to make sure that the band has a place to practice, then so be it. As long as it isn’t interfering with my music, or something that makes me start treating the band like it’s something that needs to take a back seat.

 

Pat: Whoa, those are loaded questions! Again, I believe it’s a matter of balancing the good and the bad. In some ways I’m immensely grateful we’ve had to work dead -end day jobs. There are things that you learn from being ‘in the kitchen’ that you would absolutely never understand without spending some time there. And for a musician/artist those lessons can enrich your art in a way that cannot be imitated. I think popular or ‘mainstream’ music in general could benefit from spending some time pumping gas.Of course the downside is the toll it takes on your personal life. But it forces you to be real and if this is your path it separates the hobbyists from the lifers. For some it’s a price you must be willing to pay. No one is making us do this. We are CHOOSING to endure all the insanity. But very good things are starting to happen for us and there does come a time to get out of ‘the kitchen’ because staying there too long can become a trap. Once you get past the fear of not ‘making it’ you come to terms with the real reasons why you’re doing what you’re doing. And, in my opinion that’s when you become dangerous.

 

The current state of the non-mainstream music scene encourages artists to stick together in order to promote and perform their music. Do you have any ongoing collaboration with other bands or artists in your area, or elsewhere in the US?

 

Dan: Sure, there’s a bunch! There’s some amazing music happening around us. And for me, it’s easier to believe in the music when you know the people and you see the hard work they’re putting into it. Rexedog, Thank You Scientist, Goodnight Lights, Suit of Lights, Craig van Hise, Banned Books, Advent, Changing Modes, and Rasputin’s Secret Police are some of my favorite acts that we’ve played with. And of course, those Echolyn gents.

 

Performing live is an essential part of your activity, as anyone who has seen you on stage will not fail to realize. Is it hard for you to find gigs (as it usually is for prog musicians), or does the “modern” component of your music give you access to a wider range of opportunities?

 

Dan: We’ve been able to play some really great shows. We’ve played with some interesting bands in these cool little venues in Philly. I suspect that some people might find it kind of hilariously awesome when they see us play, and they might be thinking, whoa these guys are in their 20’s and they have the balls to sabotage their careers and sound like Yes! There are apparently some clubs in Philly who literally refuse to book “prog rock” bands though, which is pathetic. There is still a hilarious stigma about “prog rock”. I still read it in certain music magazines and reviews. You can’t do this or that because that’s “proggy” and you’re not allowed to sound like prog rock or else no one will like you. It’s kind of like, well you want to sit at the cool kids table right? But I think that limiting what you are and are not allowed to like or write or play will ALWAYS suck. All I know is that when prog rock is great and it hits, it hits hard and it leaves a lasting impression. Like Close to the Edge or “Gates of Delirium” or “Supper’s Ready”. Those moments where imagination and musicianship come together to create something that is almost impossible not to be moved by. Maybe college kids don’t dance to it, but I don’t think any form of rock music has EVER moved me the way that prog rock has at its best.

 

Pat: I’m consistently surprised by the shows we get and the shows we don’t get that we really thought we would get. We manage to get away with a lot and play places I never thought we would, but we do tend to stand out musically just about everywhere we play. Sometimes it can be quite hilarious.

 

What about your most important live experiences so far – your ProgDay appearance and the mini-tour with Beardfish?

 

Pat: There are countless things to learn at every show and if you want to be a great live band you must look for them. Years ago we did a live radio show and minutes before we began the vocal monitoring system died. We were in a small room with all our gear playing at full volume singing into mics that were plugged directly into the radio station’s soundboard and going live over the air without being able to hear our voices AT ALL. We had to play for 90 minutes like that. We overcame it and played a pretty damn good show but you can’t prepare for things like that. You have to get through it and each show builds your confidence.ProgDay was a challenge because it’s a very smart crowd and they know your music and are expecting you to be great. Many, many great bands have played that festival and much of the audience comes back year after year. They’ve seen good bands and they’ve seen truly great bands and the burden was on us to rise to the occasion.The Beardfish shows taught us many things. Watching how they play to their audience was incredible. It forever changed my understanding of the relationship between audience and performer. They were brilliant and I learned a lot.Our most recent NJ Proghouse show was something of a milestone for me. We did not play it safe in preparation for that show. It was our first performance since releasing Quickly Quickly Quickly and we went for broke. There were 4 part vocal harmonies, multiple keyboard players, improvisation without any visual cues: stuff that we avoided in the past. I learned a lot from that show as well, but most importantly I learned that we must be progressing as a live band just as much as we are as a studio band. A musician at the end of the day is a performer and that is an art all to itself.

 

Let us talk a bit about your new album – starting with its title. As I wrote in my review, I applaud your decision of not releasing 80 minutes of music, though other artists would have done so without too many qualms. How did you end up writing so much material?

 

Dan: Well, like I mentioned earlier, we are horrible at naming things. It took forever to name Quickly Quickly Quickly. No exaggeration, there were probably about 100 titles we were throwing around that would have been really good titles, but we just couldn’t decide on one. With naming an album, just like naming a band, there’s a lot of pressure. It has to be memorable, it has to sum up the album or at least fit with the album in some way, and everyone has to agree on it. And it had to match the album cover that Kendra DeSimone made too, and that album cover is just beautiful. For me, there was so much riding on it that eventually I started coming up with really silly names because I wasn’t having any fun. “Canine Suspect” was one I came up with. “Fleas on a Crab” was another one. When I get to that point I’m pretty much out of the picture, I just become useless.

 

Pat: Dan and I always have to be working on “the next thing” whatever that may be. More often than not it’s new music and the compulsion can borderline on mania. For me personally I have difficulty with down time. If a few days go by and I don’t have anything creative I’m working on I start to get very anxious. Being productive is essential and after we finished Rabbit it was essential to our survival. There were a lot of difficulties going on at that time (both band related and not) and we had no outlet that felt productive other than to write. So we wrote a lot of music. The band could have very easily ceased to be during that time but the new music would not be denied.That’s a reason why I love the album title so much. It sums up what we were going through. Also, just to go on the record, there was a night or two there where I actually considered “Fleas on a Crab” as an album title.

 

Unlike many other prog bands, you put a lot of attention into the lyrics. Where do you get your inspiration?

 

Dan: From my experience, inspiration is an extremely mysterious and spiritual thing. It can come from anywhere and everywhere and I can’t force it to happen. When I’m writing lyrics, I tend to feel like it’s not good unless it feels like it has come through me and not from me. Like I’m just guiding words together that are supposed to come together. I think more than anything, I’m good at recognizing what’s inspired and what’s not. Sometimes there will be weeks where I create absolutely nothing of worth, because I have no inspiration. And then suddenly it’s there. And it can come from something as serious as a panic attack or the death of a loved one, to something as silly as an old cartoon or an inside joke. Or just from nowhere at all. I don’t understand it. I believe that it comes from God. It’s one of the most important ways that I can connect with God. But I don’t understand it.

 

Pat: I read a lot and I read on a variety of subjects. I love to pick weird topics that interest me and drink them in with the goal of mixing them all together and seeing what comes out of it. It’s that fascinating struggle between discerning randomness and specific intent. It’s really just a lot of fun to give your conscious and subconscious a voice and try to navigate your way through the insanity. For me, going to that place is a bizarre way of worshiping God. But it’s very important for the words to be meaningful. I love poetry that is nonsensical but I also love poetry that seems nonsensical or whimsical but is really loaded with deep meaning. We’ve tried to provide many a long and mystical night for those interested in such things.

 

The visual aspect of your albums also deserves a mention. Do you see the artwork as a necessary complement to your music?

 

Dan: Definitely. It’s totally essential to creating our own little Tea Club world. I plan on integrating it more and more for years to come. I’ve been working a lot on music videos for our songs, messing around with things like stop motion animation and puppets. I don’t really know what I’m doing, I don’t have any experience with animation or film, but it’s a lot of fun and it’s turning out surprisingly well. But it’s SO much work if you really want it to turn out even remotely watchable, and I have the utmost respect for people who can really do it well.

 

Pat: My favorite records are ones where you are pulled into the weird little microcosm the band creates. I love the cover to the King Crimson album Lizard. I would stare at that cover all night as I listened to the record and try to find the hidden meanings and references to the lyrics. I was pulled into that record. The same thing could be said for Kid A by Radiohead. The art for that record is nightmarish and perfectly fits the atmospheres created by the music. I remember the first time we discovered the hidden booklet behind the disc tray, it was like Thom Yorke had accidentally included his diary in our CD. My connection with the music only deepens when I find those little breadcrumb trails bands leave behind. I want to offer that experience to our audience and it’s been especially enjoyable for us since we do almost all the art ourselves. 

 

Have you ever been in touch with a label, or are you happy with releasing your music independently?

 

Dan: I’d like to work with a label, but it would have to be a label that can legitimately do something for us that we can’t do ourselves. And if that doesn’t happen, we’re just going to have to keep going, even if people think we’re completely delusional in the idea of trying to make a career out of a supposedly unmarketable product. We have faith that people will get what we’re doing.

 

Pat: We’ve had contact with a number of labels but the right offer hasn’t come our way yet. I’m certainly open to the idea of working with a good label that understands what we’re doing. But we’ll keep doing this on our own whether anyone helps us or not.

 

When can we expect to hear the second half of the recording sessions that produced Quickly, Quickly, Quickly?

 

Dan: Soon, but probably not as soon as we were originally thinking!

 

Pat: A lot has happened since QQQ was released. Plans have changed many times but the music endures. We hope to have a new record out sometime next year. 

 

What are your plans for the next few months? Are there any live appearances in the pipeline?

 

Dan: We’ll be playing the Terra Incognita Festival in Quebec City this May, which is extremely exciting! This will be the first time that we’ve ever played a show outside of the United States, so we’re really looking forward to that.

 

Pat: We’re booking a lot of shows right now and will be doing some touring in the summer. We also hope to be back in the studio by the end of the year. There’s a lot going on right now and it’s a very busy time for us but that’s just how we like it. QQQ has done us a lot of good and there’s plenty more on the horizon for us and for the fans.

 

Thank you so very much for your answers, and all the best for your future ventures!

 

Dan: Thank you Raff!

 

Pat: Great questions, this was a lot of fun!

Links:

http://www.theteaclub.net/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Firebears (17:52)
2. The Eternal German Infant (8:11)
3. Mister Freeze (6:49)
4. I Shall Consume Everything (9:26)

LINEUP:
Dan McGowan –  lead vocals (2,3,4),  backing vocals, acoustic  and electric guitar
Patrick McGowan – electric guitar, lead vocals (1), backing vocals, bass (2)
Becky Osenenko – keyboards
Charles Batdorf – bass (1,3,4), guitar (2)
Joe Rizzolo – drums

Additional instruments by R McGeddon

New Jersey band The Tea Club seem to follow a regular schedule in the release of their albums: indeed, their third effort, bearing the snappy title of Quickly, Quickly, Quickly, comes two years after Rabbit , which in turn had come two years after their debut, General Winter’s Secret Museum. In the span of those four years, the band went from a trio of brothers Pat and Dan McGowan and drummer Kyle Minnick  to a four-piece with the addition of keyboardist Becky Osenenko, then, in the months after Rabbit’s release, added two more members (bassist Charles Batdorf and guitarist Jim Berger) and replaced Minnick with Joe Rizzolo. Quickly, Quickly, Quickly was recorded by the band as a quintet, with the mysteriously-named R. McGeddon providing additional instruments. At the time of writing, the band have reverted to a trio format, with only Rizzolo left of all those “new entries”.

In spite of the permanent state of flux of their lineup, The Tea Club have been actively pursuing their own artistic path, which has marked them as one of the most interesting and original acts of the contemporary progressive rock scene. In the two years that have followed  Rabbit  – an album that has earned them the attention of those prog fans that the more straightforward nature of General Winter’s Secret Museum had left somewhat unimpressed – the band have appeared at ProgDay 2011, supported Swedish act Beardfish in their 2012 US mini-tour,  produced a number of videos, and written 80 minutes worth of music for their new album, half of which is featured on Quickly, Quickly, Quicky. As a non-fan of excessively long albums, I commend their choice of splitting the material in two parts – as Radiohead (one of their undisputed influences) did in the early 2000’s with the sessions that led to Kid A and Amnesiac.

The caption “pastoral post-rock blending into proper progressiveness” proudly featured on The Tea Club’s website effectively describes the band’s musical direction, which acknowledges their membership of the vast, somewhat indistinct “prog” universe, while at the same time distancing them from anything smacking too much of nostalgia. Indeed, the band – for all their constant shape-shifting – have succeeded in retaining their own recognizable sound, painstakingly refined over the years, and characterized by a masterful handling of post-prog’s trademark quiet-loud dynamics. The high-pitched but always tuneful voices of the McGowan brothers – often twined in heady harmonies – also anchor The Tea Club’s sound to the modern prog aesthetics, evoking iconic singers such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Muse’s Matt Bellamy or The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord, or even The Mars Volta’s Cedric Bixler-Zavala – though avoiding the occasionally whiny, abrasive tones that can make those vocalists an acquired taste. Indeed, the brothers’ voices are treated more like additional instruments than as something separate, complementing  Quickly, Quickly, Quickly‘s largely lyrics-oriented nature.

The Tea Club’s allegiance to traditional prog modes is revealed by the increasing length of their compositions, which comes to full fruition on Quickly. Quickly, Quickly. In spite of the title, the music is anything but quick to sink in, and – as in the case of Rabbit – it may take a while to click. Interestingly, throughout the album the guitars are used more as an accent than as the main event, and the sleek, pulsing interplay of Charles Batdorf’s meaty bass lines, Joe Rizzolo’s authoritative drumming and Becky Osenenko’s layers of keyboards (including piano and Hammond organ) suggest the expertly rendered contrast between softness and angularity of Yes at their peak – though with a distinctly contemporary slant. Rizzolo’s trademark, surging drum rolls, on the other hand,  may often recall The Mars Volta, particularly on their genre-defining debut, De-Loused in the Comatorium.

The band’s choice to open the album with the  18-minute workout of “Firebears”, which somehow sums up the band’s vision and their evolution of the past four years, is undoubtedly a brave move – as epic-length openers all too often render the album top-heavy, to the detriment of what comes afterwards. However, things are balanced by the respectable running time of the  remaining three songs. “Firebears” kicks off in unmistakable Tea Club style, with majestic drum rolls, soaring vocals and jangly guitar riffs, then gradually slows down to a rarefied, pastoral middle section, with half-spoken, almost whispered vocals: then things pick up again, and the final part of the song sees all the instruments converge in an exhilarating, intense climax. Although the song might have benefited by some trimming – as it is packed with good ideas that do not always coalesce into a perfect whole – it showcases the band’s potential in tantalizing fashion.

Like the previous track, “The Eternal German Infant” opens on a high note, building up and then slowing down in an intriguing ebb-and-flow structure. Soothing, almost Beatlesian vocal harmonies (which, together with Dan McGowan’s vocals, put me in mind of Echolyn), pastoral keyboards and gently chiming guitar coexist with tense, jagged moments that, however, do not neglect melody. In contrast, the dark lullaby of “Mister Freeze” reprises the spirit of “Royal Oil Can” on Rabbit, while spacey keyboards and bits of Hammond organ add to the vaguely menacing atmosphere – again, bringing to mind The Mars Volta, and even some of King Crimson’s subdued yet tense pieces. The almost 10-minute “I Shall Consume Everything” wraps up the album by bringing together all the strains and themes introduced by the previous numbers, juxtaposing moments of pastoral gentleness with flares of sheer intensity, surging like a wave propelled by a remarkable instrumental synergy.

With its visionary, sometimes slightly disturbing lyrics, paralleled by Kendra De Simone’s customary quirky artwork, Quickly, Quickly, Quickly is a bold statement that thankfully eschews the pitfalls of  pretentiousness by keeping its running time at a restrained 42 minutes. Not an easy album to get into at first – unlike the band’s punchy, more streamlined debut – but rewarding in the long run, it shows a band that is constantly evolving, in spite of the growing pains manifested in in their frequent lineup changes. In any case, this is a fine release that is likely to be appreciated  both by fans of modern prog and more traditional-minded listeners.

Links:
http://theteaclub.net/

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Gnocchis On The Block (5:22)
2. Brutal Romance (4:54)
3. Le Surfer d’Argentine (6:42)
4. Golden Ribs (6:47)
5. Fidel Gastro (6:48)
6. Oh P1 Can Not Be (4:54)
7. Cantal Goyave (5:09)
8. Glucids In The Sky (6:12)
9. Wig Of Change (5:24)
10. Metal Khartoom (5:23)
11. 11 Casse (3:49)

LINEUP:
Christophe Godin – guitars
Ivan Rougny – bass
Aurélien Ouzoulias – drums and percussion

Hailing from the south-eastern French town of Annecy, Mörglbl are one of the vehicles for guitarist Christophe Godin’s considerable talent.  With five studio albums under their belt (the first released in 1998 under the band’s original name of Mörglbl Trio), they revisit the time-honoured rock staple of the power trio with dazzling technique and liberal doses of tongue-in-cheek humour. This has earned them a loyal following all over the world, especially in the US, where they have toured frequently in the past few years: in fact, they were one of the  headliners of the 2011 edition of ProgDay, and managed to energize the crowd in spite of the relentless heat and humidity.

The absurdist, pun-laden titles of the 11 tracks featured on Brutal Romance are so entertaining that almost make you regret the absence of vocals (which are instead present on Godin’s excellent 2011 album with Gnô, Cannibal Tango). The music, however, is definitely nothing to laugh at, combining often unrelenting heaviness in the shape of dense, crunchy riffs with a laid-back, jazzy feel and even occasional exotic influences like reggae or Latin and Eastern rhythms. While comparisons aplenty have been made with the likes of Frank Zappa, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and a host of other guitar luminaries, Mörglbl have their own distinctive approach, which privileges actual composition over empty displays of technical fireworks.

As a band whose output is not easily categorized, the “prog” label never fails to amuse the members of Mörglbl– which is understandable to anyone who is aware of the average prog fan’s seemingly boundless desire to pigeonhole anything they can lay their hands on. While their music is complex and extremely proficient from a technical point of view, Mörglbl do not follow the conventional prog template: they do not use keyboards, and their compositions tend to be rather short. However, even a superficial listen to Brutal Romance will reveal undeniable progressive characteristics, such as eclecticism and unpredictability. Moreover, even if the instrumental format can often lead to rambling, Godin and his cohorts keep a tight rein on the compositional aspect, and avoid an unstructured feel even in those tracks that feature plenty of variation.

Opener “Gnocchis on the Block” introduces both the harder-edged and the jazzy component of Mörglbl’s sound – reminding me somehow of a heavier version of Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow or Wired. Unlike what you might expect by a band featuring a “guitar hero”, Godin’s guitar acrobatics do not overwhelm the contributions of his bandmates: indeed, Aurélien Ouzoulias’ drums and Ivan Rougny’s bass are not just wallpaper for Godin’s fireworks. In that, Mörglbl may bring to mind Rush, whose influence can be detected in quite a few tracks, such as the mid-paced, riff-heavy title-track. The heavy fusion of “Glucids in the Sky” and the funk-metal workout of “Cantal Goyave” rely on Rougny’s nimble, rumbling bass lines and Ouzoulias’ assertive drum patterns as much as on Godin’s dazzling guitar. On the other hand, “Oh P1 Can Not Be” veers squarely into Black Sabbath territory with its deep, harsh riffing only marginally relieved by more melodic guitar passages.

One of three tracks approaching the 7-minute mark, “Le Surfer d’Argentine” – which, as its title suggests, features a nod to a well-known tango tune alongside the driving riffs – offers an intriguing blend of melody and heaviness with a distinctly eclectic bent. “Golden Ribs” and “Fidel Gastro” alternate mellow passages with piercing, shred-like guitar parts – the latter starting out with an almost danceable, upbeat tune. Echoes of King Crimson emerge in the steady, insistent guitar line of “Wig of Change”, which also allows Ivan Rougny’s bass to shine; while “Metal Khartoom”, as the title suggests, blends fast and heavy riffing with a haunting Eastern tinge and jazzy bass-drum interplay. The album is then brought to a close by the lovely mood piece of “Casse”, where Godin’s unusually sensitive guitar brings to mind some of Gary Moore’s slow, emotional compositions.

Though, as hinted in the opening paragraph, Mörglbl are best experienced in a live setting – which allows them to display both their skills and their zany sense of humour – their latest release will satisfy lovers of instrumental music that successfully combines eclecticism, light-heartedness and serious chops. Challenging without being overwrought, hard-edged but eschewing the cerebral excesses of some jazz-metal bands, Mörglbl are one of the few bands of their kind that manage to make instrumental music entertaining. While it can be said that the band stick to a tried-and-true formula, and therefore there are no real surprises in Brutal Romance, they also do it with the right amount of flair, and manage to keep the listener’s attention. The album is highly recommended to fans of guitar-based instrumental progressive rock – though tolerance for some heaviness is a must.

Links:
http://www.christophegodin.com/

http://www.myspace.com/christophegodin

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You cannot get lucky all the time, as this year’s edition of ProgDay abundantly proved. Indeed, while last year the weather had been  as perfect for early September as anyone could have wished – sunny yet cool, breezy and dry, which made spending two days outdoors a real delight – this time, especially on the festival’s first day, we got a nice taste of typical Southern US summer weather, with relatively high temperatures made much worse by humidity close to 80% . Every time I checked the weather forecast in the days before the event, my heart sank lower and lower, and I have to admit that – as a staunch hot-weather-hater – I was more than a bit worried. Thankfully, nothing bad happened, at least to me (one of my fellow attendees suffered heatstroke and had to be taken to hospital), though most people’s enjoyment was somewhat marred by the unrelenting onslaught of the heat and humidity.

Despite the lack of cooperation on the part of the weather (which, considering the recent hurricane threats on the US East Coast, might have been far worse), ProgDay 2011 was an unqualified success. With a top-notch lineup representing the very best of modern-day prog, plenty of variety to satisfy even the most jaded fan, and – most important of all – lashings of humour and pure fun (two words that are not often associated with the prog scene), the festival managed to wipe out the bad taste still lingering months after the traumatic cancellation of NEARfest (whose future, at the time of writing, still hangs in the balance), and restore at least in part my faith in the future of progressive rock. No event can survive for 16 uninterrupted years without good reason – in this particular case, a healthy mix of humility, dedication and open-mindedness. Even if ProgDay has never aspired to the grandeur of other events, with their state-of-the-art theatres and “prestigious” lineups, it has acted as a showcase for a wide range of subgenres within the prog spectrum, and provided a springboard for up-and-coming bands, both domestic and international. And then, last but not least, the festival has been able to create – much more so than its higher-end cousins – an authentic community spirit, where everyone brings something to the table, avoiding the cliquish atmosphere that has often spoiled the experience of other events for those who are in some ways outsiders.

This year we set out on Friday morning, in order to avoid the Labour Day weekend traffic later in the afternoon, so were able to spend some quality time with friends at the renovated Comfort Inn Hotel – and eat way too much food, as often happens in such happy occasions. The anticipation for the event ran high, and attendance was noticeably up from last year, when the festival had been penalized by the lack of the coveted “international” bands, in spite of a superb lineup showcasing some of the finest acts on the North American scene. This year, the NEARfest cancellation had encouraged more people to head South, and – even if still far from the record highs reached on previous editions – the increase was noticeable as soon as we reached the festival grounds on Saturday morning. In spite of their constant fight with financial strictures, the organizers had managed to put together an incredibly tight lineup, catering to all progressive tastes. Even the two cancellations – first Czech band Uz Jsme Doma, then Sunday headliners Quantum Fantay  – did not undermine the strength of the musical offer.

The heat building up on Friday afternoon did not show any promise of abating the following day, though when we reached the beautiful festival location at Storybook Farm things were still relatively pleasant. Photographs do not do full  justice to the beauty of the surroundings, the green field ringed by woods where you can hear the echo of the music if you walk far enough from the stage area. The lack of rain in the summer months was made particularly evident by the clouds of dust raised by the cars approaching the festival premises (hence the title of my review), and the dry, prickly feel of the grass. Thankfully, in the morning and early evening a breeze blowing from the trees made things bearable, and my lightweight folding chair allowed me to move around in order to catch it. There was no respite from the sun, however, and leaving the shelter of the covered pavilion meant being hit by the full force of its rays, especially in the early hours of the afternoon.

Half of the bands on this year’s lineup were instrumental, and Milwaukee-based quartet Fibonacci Sequence introduced the festival in style. After having braved a 15-hour drive to reach North Carolina, the four musicians treated the crowd to almost 90 minutes of intricate yet effortlessly flowing music that showed an impressive level of maturity. Though their debut album, the excellent Numerology, had been recorded as a trio with a guest bassist (former Portal/Cynic member Chris Kringel), the band now feature the considerable talents of bassist Chad Novell, who looked more like a member of a modern metal outfit than a prog musician. However, for all the keen edge present in their compositions, Fibonacci Sequence are a full-fledged progressive rock band whose remarkably clean sound was flattered by excellent acoustics that allowed each instrument to be heard clearly and distinctly. As I wrote in my review of Numerology, they are one of those rare bands that have managed to achieve a sound of their own – even if they jokingly refer to themselves as “Rush with keyboards”. Like the Canadian trio, their music is eclectic but deeply cohesive, built on the solid foundation of the outstanding rhythm section of Novell and drummer Tom Ford (whose sleek interplay was riveting to watch), which allows Mike Butzen’s guitar to unfold all its melodic range, with Jeff Schuelke’s keyboards adding layers of depth. Their warm yet inobtrusive interaction with the crowd revealed their experience as a live act, and their heartfelt tribute to Kopecky drummer Paul Kopecky, who passed away two years ago, was particularly touching. In today’s materialistic, cutthroat world, it is heartwarming to see musicians from a particular region form a bond and work together towards the diffusion of non-mainstream music. Kudos to Fibonacci Sequence for being part of this trend, and for sharing their appreciation of their fellow Wisconsin artists with the ProgDay crowd. All in all, they are a very tight unit, who deserve as much exposure as they can get, especially among devotees of instrumental prog.

Another fine example of the thriving New Jersey prog scene, The Tea Club had been the last band to be announced, a mere couple of weeks before the event. Having followed them for the past three years, I had hoped to be able to see them on stage for a while, and was elated on their behalf at the announcement, as a festival slot can be a turning point for a band, exposing them to a much larger audience than their normal live appearances. In spite of their collective young ages, the fresh-faced members of The Tea Club – now extended to a six-piece – are accomplished musicians and songwriters, their music astonishingly complex and multilayered, even if not always conforming to traditional prog standards. After the departure of drummer (and founding member) Kyle Minnick, brothers Pat and Dan McGowan recruited a new bassist (Charles Batdorf), drummer (Joe Rizzolo) and third guitarist (Jim Berger), while original bassist Becky Osenenko (a classically-trained pianist) took charge of the keyboards, which on their second album Rabbit had been provided by Tom Brislin. Because of Minnick’s involvement in the writing of their 2008 debut album, General Winter’s Secret Museum, they chose not to play any tracks from it, and concentrated instead on Rabbit and some new material. While The Tea Club clearly tread the post-prog path of bands like The Pineapple Thief and Oceansize, with bouts of intensity that may bring The Mars Volta to mind, the complexity of their songwriting goes way beyond most alternative bands.While I had found Rabbit a bit of a step backwards, as it sounded somewhat one-dimensional if compared to the boundless energy of General Winter’s Secret Museum, the material taken from the band’s sophomore effort came positively alive on stage. Enhanced by the seamless instrumental dynamics and the striking stage presence of the McGowan brothers, each of the songs possessed a deeply intriguing quality, with “The Night I Killed Steve Shelley” deserving a special mention. Even the relentless assault of the heat and humidity could not detract from the band’s brilliant set. The new songs reprised the atmospheric, laid-back mood evidenced on Rabbit, though spiked by instrumental surges exuding a keen sense of tension. The McGowan brothers are also fine vocalists, capable of delivering soothing harmonies as well as more aggressive parts, while steering clear of the excessively plaintive tone of post-prog icons such as Radiohead’s Thom Yorke or The Pineapple Thief’s Bruce Soord. With their sheer enthusiasm and obvious dedication to their music, The Tea Club have enormous potential, and their performance won them many new fans.

Though the weather certainly did no favours to The Rebel Wheel, the Ottawa-based quartet, led by guitarist David Campbell and featuring a highly awaited guest appearance by keyboardist Guy LeBlanc (of Nathan Mahl and Camel fame) delivered a stunning (though somewhat short) set, featuring a slightly modified version of the 30-minute epic “The Discovery of Witchcraft”, the centrepiece of their 2010 album We Are in the Time of Evil Clocks. Being familiar with the album, undoubtedly one of the standout releases of last year, I was looking forward to the band’s set, which was a delight to start to finish – even if, by the time they got on stage, I was feeling somewhat faint, and lay half-slumped in my chair. The music, however, was so riveting that it was impossible not to listen intently. Like a well-oiled machine, the band churned out flawless tune after flawless tune, their choppy, jazzy Crimsonian vibe well complemented by Campbell’s powerful, expressive vocals and LeBlanc’s masterful keyboard sweeps and rumbling organ flurries, while relentlessly driven forward by the splendidly pneumatic rhythm section of Andrew Burns and Aaron Clark. The dark, angular “Death at Sea”, from a 2005 Gentle Giant tribute album, was a particular highlight, with echoes of King Crimson’s “The Great Deceiver”. Though the epic was adapted to the absence of vocalist/saxophonist Angie McIvor (on leave following the birth of her first child), it lost none of its punchy, gutsy effectiveness. An impressively professional outfit, oozing confidence and flair, The Rebel Wheel manage to sound thoroughly modern while paying homage to the great Seventies tradition. I really hope to see them again in the very near future, and will be looking forward to their new album.

In the interval between the third and the fourth set we were treated to an impromptu acoustic guitar solo spot by Jimmy Robinson of Woodenhead (whovwere due to play the traditional festival pre-show at a local club, this year extended also to the Saturday evening). Robinson displayed an astonishing mastery of the instrument, his short but intense performance including versions of Led Zeppelin’s classics “Kashmir” and “When the Levee Breaks”. It was a fitting introduction to another dazzling display of guitar fireworks, this time of the electric variety – courtesy of Mörglbl, introduced by one of the festival’s elder statesmen, Paul Sears of The Muffins. A classic power trio in which Christophe Godin’s scintillating guitar is supported by the hyper-dynamic rhythm section of Ivan Rougny and Aurélien Ouzoulias, the French outfit have often been tagged as jazz-metal, and, while the metal element is an unmistakable component, there is a lot more to their music than just ultra-technical noodling. While listening to their set (in spite of my extreme physical weariness) I could hear a lot of different influences in Mörglbl’s sound, such as funk, blues, Latin music and reggae, besides the obvious rock matrix. Technically awesome and very tight from a compositional point of view, their set was highly energetic, heavy but consistently fluid and never jarring, and, above all, extremely entertaining. With his shaved head, distinctive white goatee and fluorescent yellow guitar, Godin is a consummate frontman, throwing all sorts of funny shapes during his solos, his warm, amusing on-stage banter delivered in excellent English. The band are known for concluding their shows with covers of rock classics reinterpreted in their own inimitable style, and this time was no exception – their  lounge-jazz version of AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” (the only number featuring Godin’s excellent vocals) was one of the most hilarious moments of the weekend.

After a good night’s sleep, on Sunday morning we felt ready to face another day of great music, and this time the weather was definitely more helpful, with lower humidity levels and a nice breeze making things more comfortable. And a good thing it was, because the second day of the festival promised a lot of intensity, and the audience had better be in their best shape to fully enjoy what was on the musical menu. Opening act Zevious also belonged to the group of bands I had had the pleasure of reviewing in the past two years or so, and I had found their second album, After the Air Raid, one of the most impressive releases of 2009. A power trio based in New York, unlike Mörglbl they projected a rather serious image, in spite of their youth, and proceeded to deliver a set of astounding complexity, chock full of asymmetrical rhythm patterns overlaid by Mike Eber’s clear, piercing guitar, and propelled by Jeff Eber’s monstrous drumming. While not too high on melody, the band’s music never once descended into mere dissonance, and the sheer amount of sound produced by a trio of musicians employing very basic instrumentation was nothing short of astonishing.  The unceasing flow of dynamic bottom end provided by Johnny DeBlase’s Fender Jazz bass complemented Jeff Eber’s unbelievable polyrhythms, delivered with effortless simplicity, without the antics that might have been expected from such a gifted drummer. As good as they sounded on CD, Zevious’ music acquired a new dimension on stage, and, when fully unleashed, the band sounded like King Crimson  to the power of 3 – despite the “math-rock” or “RIO/Avant” tags so often (and awkwardly) stuck onto them. They are clearly not everyone’s cup of tea, and, although incredibly nice offstage,  they were not as communicative towards the audience as most of the other bands – hence my use of the term “serious” at the beginning of the paragraph. Their music, however, speaks for itself, and they have all the time in the world to hone their stagecraft.

Those who, like me, were sitting under the pavilion during Zevious’s set had the opportunity to watch the members of Persephone’s Dream set up their gear on one side of the stage. Though I was not familiar with the Pittsburgh-based outfit’s music prior to the festival, I had read enthusiastic accounts of their latest album, Pan: An Urban Pastoral, released in 2010 – which I knew the band were going to perform in its entirety for the very first time. I anticipated a treat when I saw the incredibly elaborate array of percussion instruments being carefully arranged on the lawn, including a gong and bells and chimes of every description. And, indeed, a treat it was, both musically and visually, even if – as can be expected – the show suffered a bit from being squeezed on a relatively small stage without the use of lightning and the appropriate backdrop trappings. The band, a seven-piece, might have used a little more space, especially the two female vocalists, Josie Crooks (a really beautiful voice, powerful yet melodic) and Leah Martell (who twirled and danced all over the place), who had to change costumes, chase each other and run up and down the stage for most of the set. However, Persephone’s Dream pulled it off superbly. Though by far the most conventionally “prog” of the bands on this year’s bill, they were anything than the kind of derivative, snooze-inducing neo/symphonic fare that sends some fans into fits of ecstasy – as a matter of fact, their sound was quite heavy at times, with Jim Waugaman’s powerful keyboard excursions almost out of ELP’s heyday,  accented by John “JT” Tallent’s brilliant percussion work (which has elicited comparisons with Jamie Muir of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic fame). The “urban pastoral” setting – reminiscent in some ways of Peter Gabriel’s vision in The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway – was also imbued with genuinely menacing overtones, offset by pauses of quiet and gentle birdsong. The dramatic, larger-than-life music had more than a whiff of Italian prog to it – as well as nods to Celtic folklore and even early 20th-century classical music – and the band as a whole sounded more European than American. While those festival attendees who favour the more left-field stuff assessed the band’s performance rather harshly for being a collection of all the worst prog clichés – such as the mythological inspiration and the over-the-top instrumentation (in stark contrast to the minimalistic approach of bands like Zevious or Mörglbl), Persephone’s Dream’s set had an often mesmerizing quality, their music obviously tailor-made for the live dimension.

When people were still in a relaxed mood, following lunch and the consumption of quite a few excellent beers (which, unfortunately, I could not enjoy because, for me, heat and alcohol do not mix well), German quintet Panzerballett, ontheir first US visit, took the stage, and woke everyone up with their unique brand of “wellness death jazz” (I kid you not). In the seven years since their inception, the young but extremely proficient outfit have already earned a fearsome reputation among lovers of the more experimental branches of progressive rock for their highly energetic brand of avant-garde, metal-tinged jazz-rock served with liberal helpings of humour – debunking the commonly held myth of the dour, humourless Germans. Some of the song titles alone were worth the price of admission – “A Vulgar Display of Sauerkraut”, anyone? The on-stage banter of guitarist Jan Zehrfeld (whose English may not have been as fluent as Christophe Godin’s, but still effective in interacting with the audience) was delivered in quiet, polite tones that contrasted with the manic urgency of the music – unabashedly eclectic, cramming a lot of diverse influences in the space of a single number, and spiced with a healthy pinch of irreverence. Nothing is safe from Panzerballett’s imaginative reinterpretations (or rather deconstructions) – the love theme from Dirty Dancing, Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” (rechristened “Fake Five”, and played simultaneously in two different tempos), Weather Report’s “Birdland”, all got the Panzerballett treatment, to the audience’s delight. As in the case of Zevious, their music is clearly not for the faint-hearted or those who crave melody and catchy hooks, but their enthusiasm is infectious, and you have to admire a band that proudly claims to improvise every time they are on stage, dispensing with setlists. Though all of the band members were brilliant, powerhouse drummer Sebastian Lanser deserves a particular mention for his unflagging energy and perfect time-keeping.

After such an exhilarating performance, as the evening drew near and the temperature cooled down, the audience was well stoked for headliners Freak Kitchen – currently touring the US as Mörglbl’s opening act, and drafted in at the very last moment after Quantum Fantay’s cancellation (due to airline woes following in the wake of Hurricane Irene). Though I was not familiar with their music, what I had read around the Internet had whetted my curiosity, and I realized that we were in for a pyrotechnic conclusion. Yet another power trio, active since 1992, with seven albums under their belt, the band consists of a guitarist (Mattias Eklundh, aka The Axemaster of Sweden) and drummer (Björn Fryklund) that embody the Scandinavian archetype of tall, lean frames and flowing blonde manes, and a bassist (Christer Ortefors) that was a sight to behold, with his heavily tattooed arms, braided beard, combat helmet and low-slung bass in pure Lemmy style. All in all, Freak Kitchen are the opposite of every prog stereotype, looking (and sounding) like an Eighties thrash metal band with progressive undertones. Extremely gifted in a technical sense, they wrapped up the festival with a bang, combining sheer heaviness with plenty of infectious hooks and a bit of a funky swagger, whipping the crowd to a frenzy, getting the notoriously staid prog fans to get up and dance, headbang and sing along in a cathartic explosion of pure fun. With song titles as wacky as “Teargas Jazz”  and “Chest Pain Waltz” (one of the highlights of their set), and influences ranging from Megadeth and Metallica to King’s X and Living Colour with a sprinkling of punk rawness (mostly evident in the vocals), they have a commanding frontman in the soft-spoken Eklundh, who treated the audience to a constant stream of funny quips and anecdotes (like the one about the vibrating dildo belt), and poking gentle fun at the average progger’s obsession with odd time signatures. A memorable ending to ProgDay 2011, even though purists would have been positively horrified.

Although the lovely bucolic setting and general laid-back vibe, reminiscent of a family picnic complete with children, games and dogs, might lead outside observers not to take ProgDay too seriously in musical terms, the consistently high quality of the lineups assembled by the organizers throughout the years gives the lie to this impression. The members of the band selection committee are to be commended for their forward-thinking attitude, which allows attendees to sample a broad range of the many subgenres to be found under the welcoming “prog” umbrella, always striking a perfect balance between accessibility and cutting-edge potential. Unfortunately, it is also true that ProgDay can get away with having a full-fledged metal act as a headliner only because it is basically perceived as not quite as prestigious as the indoor festivals. The cancellation of NEARfest 2011 proved all too clearly the danger of overestimating the open-mindedness of prog fans, and booking anything with dubious prog status can be the kiss of death for even the highest-profile event. However, in spite of the overall lack of support from the US prog community, ProgDay soldiers on, thanks to the help (financial and otherwise) of a core of loyal patrons, and getting better and better with time, as demonstrated by this year’s stellar lineup. This past weekend, on the stage at Storybook Farm, I saw the future of progressive rock – a future that may not look like the Seventies bands that are still widely worshipped, but that is surely every bit as exciting and musically worthwhile. It is up to us to let it prosper, or kill it slowly but inexorably with our obsession with the past.

At the end of my review, I wish to thank everyone involved in the success of ProgDay 2011 – first and foremost the organizers, the band selection committee and all the volunteers (a particularly big thumbs-up for providing a “quiet room” for the numerous prog ladies present at Storybook Farm). Then, as usual, a shout out to all the great people that made our weekend special: the collective members of Fibonacci Sequence, The Tea Club, The Rebel Wheel, Mörglbl and Zevious, John Tennant of Persephone’s Dream, ProgDay founder (and purveyor of musical goodies) Peter Renfro, Michael McCormack, Alan and Amy Benjamin, Helaine Carson Burch, Debi Byrd, Lew Fisher, Doug Hinson, Michael Bennett, Jeff Wilson, Paul and Debbie Sears, Mike Visaggio of Kinetic Element, Rick Dashiell, Eyal Amir – and, last but not least, our dear friends Michael Inman and Djalma Carvalho. Here’s to ProgDay 2012, and many more years of great music!

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TRACKLISTING:
1. Here I Stand (4:11)
2. In My Place (3:33)
3. The Keeper (5:33)
4. Cannibal Tango (3:27)
5. Fever (the Battle Rages On) (4:48)
6. Hate Incarnate (2:58)
7. Get Out of My Way (4:38)
8. Russian Girls (3:32)
9. Demon Disco (4:05)
10. Be My Pride (4:30)
11. Fathers & Sons (5:01)
12. Inner Feelings (Silence) (18:54)

LINEUP:
Christophe Godin – guitar, lead and background vocals
Julien “Peter Puke” Rousset – vocals, drums, percussion, background vocals
Gaby Vegh – vocals, bass guitar, background vocals; tablas (3)

With:
Lilit Karapetyan – Russian girl’s voice (8)

French power trio Gnô are one of the projects of guitarist Christophe Godin, known in progressive rock circles as the founder and mastermind of Mörglbl, as well as one of France’s hottest guitar players. Cannibal Tango, Gnô’s second album, was released in the early summer of 2011 on the US-based label The Laser’s Edge – 10 years after their debut, Trash Deluxe, released in 2001 after Mörglbl’s temporary demise.

Mörglbl are widely considered as one of the most exciting bands on the current prog scene, and anticipation is running very high for their forthcoming US tour – whose culmination will be the  headlining slot on Saturday, September 3, at the legendary ProgDay festival in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Though adopting a somewhat more straightforward format than Mörglbl’s output, Cannibal Tango is bound to win over most fans of Godin’s main gig, especially those who have a broader view of progressive rock than the average fan pining for the good old days of the Seventies. With their irrepressible, genre-bending attitude and obvious enthusiasm for making music, Gnô deliver a real rollercoaster ride of an album, bubbling with a wild and wacky sense of humour, crushingly heavy but also full of infectious grooves and catchy hooks.

Cannibal Tango’s press release describes the band as “Pantera meets The Beatles” – a rather weird, but oddly effective definition.  Driven by Godin’s high-powered, razor-sharp riffs and searing lead breaks, propelled by Julien “Peter Puke” Rousset’s thunderous drums and Gaby Vegh’s solid yet nimble bass lines, Gnô;s music is always brimming with energy, but capable of unexpected twists and turns. While the influence of heavy metal – both in its classic incarnation (as in Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden) and the more eclectic strains represented by the likes of the above-mentioned Pantera, Faith No More or System of a Down – is clearly recognizable, one of the closest terms of comparison would be King’s X, whose imprint is hard to miss in the impossibly catchy vocal harmonies. Like the American trio, Gnô rely on conventional song structures spiced up by intriguing hints of a higher complexity.

With 12 tracks averaging between 3 and 5 minutes, the album’s 63-minute running time is quite deceptive, as it includes the unexpected “Easter egg” (a funny a cappella version of “Fever”) tacked at the end of closing number “Inner Feelings (Silence)” after a lengthy pause.  Although the canonical “prog” features of mind-boggling time signature changes and extended instrumental sections are conspicuously absent on Cannibal Tango, there is still plenty of variety to hold the listener’s interest. Starting with opener “Here I Stand”, the songs as a whole are bold and relentlessly dynamic, without too much subtlety, yet introducing different elements into the sheer heaviness of their foundation. The funky  pace and catchy chorus coexisting with an aggressive guitar solo reminded me of another of the seminal crossover bands of the Eighties, New Yorkers Living Colour; while with “In My Place” some lazy reggae licks are thrown into the mix, together with a chorus that owes a lot to The Beatles, though with a much harder edge. Echoes of King’s X emerges in numbers such as the slower, doom-infused “The Keeper” with its faint Middle Eastern vibe, the groovy “Get Out of My Way” and the intense, slow-burning “Inner Feelings”. The more nuanced instrumental bridge of  the brisk “Demon Disco”, on the other hand, points to another hugely influential power trio – the mighty Rush; while the unabated intensity of “Russian Girls”, probably the heaviest number on the album, borders on hardcore punk.

As pointed out in the previous paragraphs, Cannibal Tango requires a high level of tolerance for heaviness and fast and furious riffing in order to be fully enjoyed – as well as a taste for artists such as Frank Zappa or Primus, whose music prominently features a blend of chops and off-the-wall humour. Packaged in a colourful, zany cover proudly emblazoned with the band’s striking logo,  and photos hinting at the “cannibal” motif gracing the CD’s inner sleeve, this is a genuinely entertaining album from a very talented outfit, which fans of the more crossover-

Links:
http://www.gno-music.com/

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TRACK LISTING:
1. Where’s the Captain? (5:11)
2. Coma Cluster (4:42)
3. Mostly Skulls (5:12)
4. That Ticket Exploded  (5:54)
5. The Noose (4:28)
6. iNCITING (4:39)
7. Gradual Decay (4:45)
8. The Ditch (5:49)
9. After the Air Raid (3:20)
10. The Children and the Rats (4:59)
11. Glass Tables (4:35)

LINEUP:
Mike Eber – guitars
Jeff Eber – drums
Johnny DeBlase – electric and upright bass

Another impressive find from the ever-reliable Cuneiform Records, Zevious hail from New York City.  Formed in 2006 by guitarist Mike Eber, his cousin, drummer Jeff Eber (formerly of experimental progressive metal band Dysrhythmia) and bassist Johnny DeBlase, they started out as a straight-ahead jazz trio before they decided to take a more innovative direction.  Their self-titled debut album was released in 2008, followed one year later by After the Air Raid, recorded and mixed by Colin Marston of tech/extreme prog-metal band Behold…The Arctopus. Following a successful US tour in the spring of 2011, Zevious have been invited to perform at the 2011 edition of ProgDay (Chapel Hill, North Carolina), the longest-running progressive rock festival in the USA.

The three members of the band have been active on the music scene for over ten years, and their collective experience is clearly brought to bear in After the Air Raid, a high-energy blend of sleek jazz/fusion, angular math-rock, and a spicy sprinkling of metal – challenging without being overtaxing, thoroughly modern without turning its back to the old-school progressive rock tradition. Not as spiky and impenetrable as their label mates Upsilon Acrux, Zevious have managed not to banish melody altogether, though it is handled in a very unconventional manner.  For all its cutting-edge allure, Zevious’ music is not meant to be abrasive or forbidding, and draws much of its power from being able to keep the listener on their toes, though without wearying them out with a relentless barrage of wildly clashing sounds.

A cutting-edge permutation of that old classic rock stalwart, the power trio, Zevious manage to produce a huge volume of sound without the use of any keyboards or other props. Theirs is also a fully collaborative effort, as it would be hard to single out any of the three members as the star of the album. While Mike Eber’s guitar weaves dazzling webs, avoiding the ever-present pitfalls of mindless shredding, Johnny DeBlase’s fluid yet powerful bass provides a solid layer of bottom end for Jeff Eber’s stunning drum patterns, displaying the experience gained as a member of avant-progressive metal band Dysrhythmia in an array of head-spinning polyrhythms – though the influence of more “classic” drummers, such as Bill Bruford, can also be detected.

The 11 tracks featured on After the Air Raid are rather short from a prog-purist point of view, but pack more twists and turns in their restrained running time than many “epics”, though without descending into the excesses to which the more experimental prog acts are often prone. While most of the compositions clearly point to math-rock’s hypnotic, multilayered angularity, the band’s original jazz foundation adds a welcome touch of melody that is often lacking in otherwise outstanding bands like Don Caballero or Battles. With such a consistently high level of quality, it is difficult to pick out any standout tracks; however, I was particularly impressed by the brilliant, Black Sabbath-meets-jazz/fusion workout of That Ticket Exploded, or the Rush-on-steroids, bass-driven extravaganza that is iNCITING. The Noose and The Ditch both steer towards heavier territory – the former strongly reminiscent of a jazzier version of King Crimson with its devastatingly effective bass-drum interplay; the latter more aggressive, with an almost punk intensity, Mike Eber’s guitar let loose over thundering drums and a steady bass line. In sharp contrast, the title-track reveals the more subdued side of the band’s sound, a hauntingly melancholy piece revolving around Mike’s muted, atmospheric guitar work.

Clocking in at 51 minutes, this is a very dense album, and perhaps just a tad overlong on account of the unabated intensity of the music. In fact, those who prefer a more traditional approach to prog, as well as those who object to a lack of vocals, may find it a somewhat stressful listen. On the other hand, with stellar performances all round, and a brilliant combination of diverse influences and creative ideas, After the Air Raid is highly recommended to anyone with a keen interest in contemporary progressive rock.

Links:
http://zevious.com/

http://www.cuneiformrecords.com

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