Monthly Archives: September 2013

Lightbulb moment (his Children’s children)

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This is kinda one of my ‘Fresh From The Vault’ posts by any other name, albeit with benefits and shiny pre-order knobs on. One of my favourite albums of last year (it was recorded and released in 2011, I was a little late to the party) was the transcendental In The Last Waking Moments by Anglo-American duo, Edison’s Children.

Never heard of them, right? Fair enough, no reason you would’ve; but within the demographic best-predisposed to like them they’re already superstars. The other half, alongside singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Eric Blackwood, is Marillion bassist Pete Trewavas, and few bands do audience-engagement in the internet era as effectively as Marillion. It’s the ’80s band that refused to die – should’ve, some might say – but in spite of having had its commercial heyday some two decades previously, its never been in better musical and financial health. Of the five-strong membership, Trewavas has long been the most musically accomplished and promiscuous, and like his best-known extra-curricular projects, EC fits in somewhere on the prog rock spectrum, albeit a million miles away from anything he’s recorded with Marillion, Kino or Transatlantic. It’s closer in tone to early/mid-period Porcupine Tree – before Steven Wilson got chummy with Mikael Åkerfeldt (Opeth) and imbibed a draft from the poisoned spring of Death Metal – and the widescreen Gothic melodrama of Fields of the Nephilim, minus Carl McCoy‘s ‘from beyond the grave’ baritone. That said, there’s more than enough originality there for the project to stand on its own merits; and it possesses certain qualities rare enough to be considered remarkable in today’s – more than ever – saturated musical marketplace

ItLWM is a real headphones album, a seductive, immersive sonic universe that is almost fiendishly well imagined.  Although the pace rarely rises above that of a leisurely ramble across the moors (80bpm, say) there’s an understated, rolling urgency in its beats and chords that sweeps up and carries the listener as surely and powerfully as a driving trance anthem or moshpit filler. It’s just not possible to hear this as a set of stand-alone songs: in an iPod age where the album form has been eroded by download-overload, ItLWM remains stubbornly shuffle-resistant. Cue up Dusk and you’ll find yourself in it for the (70min) duration – which is no mean feat. Wall-to-wall brilliance was rare enough in the age of the LP: 35-40 minutes of flawless composition and performance is a big-enough ask and the number of consistently-listenable double sets even in that golden age a select group. The advent of CD made the 60, then 70 and now 80 minute – effectively double – albums a possibility and in some quarters an expectation. Quality was bound to suffer, if not always, then often: Prog rock aside, Hip Hop and R’n’B records have been especially prone to padding out decent records with material that, in days gone by would have been relegated to single b-sides.

So It’s notable that the final running order for ItLWM was culled from an initial burst of creativity that ran to nearly 50 demo’d songs: hard work, great chemistry and also quality control made that album what it is. The songwriting is consistently strong, and whilst it’s ostensibly a concept album – Sci-Fi gubbins themed around alien abduction; plenty of scope for pitfalls into stinky, cloying Gorgonzola already; deftly-avoided, mind  – it’s the strength of its musical themes that lend it coherence as a piece. The four part Fallout sequence dispersed thruout the album recalls the similarly-structured Marbles theme from the Marillion album of that name; still regarded as a high-watermark of its 30-year career by many. There’s a whiff of Another Brick In The Wall in Fracture. A Million Miles Away  comes from the same stable of confident, mature pop rock as Don’t Hurt Yourself – albeit with a darker edge – also from Marbles. The album is rich in intriguing sonic detail: back-projected, tinkling, burbling samples, squeeks and washes that convey atmospheric depth – this an obvious point of comparison with the aforementioned Nephilim – and impart a sense of unity to the collected songs. The middling pace is broken on occasion: Outerspaced is a demented stomp rocker; Aerosmith in their drug-addled vintage transported to the restaurant at the end of the universe. And The ‘Other’ Other Dimension almost overplays the gently psychedelic element that elsewhere simply suffuses and underpins the songwriting. Totally overplays it, actually, it’s a bit silly, in a Viv Standhall-as-Dr Who kinda way. But these diversions just serve to add colour to an already rich palette in the end. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable journey, all told. The story, such as it is, remains as opaque as Dream Theater‘s Scenes From A Memory was until I looked it up on the Wikipedia page; but I still feel I was taken somewhere, which after all is what the best prog – hell, music – is supposed to do.

So I was understandably excited to receive today’s email from marillion.com updating me on the progress of Edison’s Children‘s sophomore release. It’s going to be called The Final Breath Before November. As before, it’s predominantly the work of Trewavas and Blackwood – with the duo handling all the guitars, keys and digital wizardry, vocals, recording and production – plus support from a handful of collaborators including Henry Rogers (DeeExpus/Touchstone) on drums and Wendy Farrell-Pastore on additional vocals. With Trewavas fielding a full schedule touring with his day job and working intermittently on the next Transatlantic album the man is clearly on fire, and if the last album is anything to go by, Blackwood makes for him an excellent creative foil. As Marillion have previously done since 1997, EC are employing a crowd funding model and fans wishing to buy-in early can support the upcoming release by heading over to the EC pledge page HERE .

TFBBN has a lot to live up to and I don’t mind stoking the flames of expectation a little higher.

p.s.

Having mentioned Kino and Transatlantic up top, it seems churlish not to include a little of their brilliance into the mix. Check ’em out too:

(Bit of an epic this one – amazing gig, though; and I can vouch for that cos I was there 😉 )

 

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Red alert

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Frippin’ ‘eck, just when ‘comeback’ shows on the part of artists ‘of a certain vintage’ were in danger of becoming passé…

The same year that The Strolling Bones resurrected the ghost of their famed 1969 Hyde Park gig (by way celebrating of the band’s 50th anniversary) sees the latest, unexpected call to arms for arguably the most important, celebrated support act on that bill. Crimson had yet to make their recorded debut when they joined Family, Roy Harper, Alexis Korner and others to set the stage for that legendary Woodstock-inspired festival line-up; they secured their place on the strength of a club buzz that gained the approbation of the cream of ’60s rock talent including Pete Townsend, Bowie and Hendrix.

When In The Court of The Crimson King surfaced later in ’69, it, to quote oftentimes Crimson percussionist Bill Bruford, ”…signalled the emergence of the mature progressive rock style…” and its (the album’s and the band’s) influence has been felt and appreciated ever since by several generations of aspiring art rockers including Genesis, Nick Cave, Tool, Doves, Between The Buried And Me and Dutch Uncles. Crimson has only convened to record and tour but sporadically over the intervening years and, Bob Fripp aside, the band membership has been in more-or-less constant flux and yet in spite – or perhaps because – of this, and enhanced by its membership’s extensive and diverse repertoire – there’s scant sign of its creativity becoming stale. It’s arguably retained its freshness and credibility better than any other exponent of the prog era.

The band for the upcoming shows is yet to be fully confirmed but Fripp‘s latest online diary update reveals “…[t]he Seven-Headed Beast of Crim is in Go! mode…”, and names session veteran William ‘Bill’ Rieflin – best know for his stints with Ministry and REM but also a former Fripp collaborator – and hints that oftentimes Crimson stick-man Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Paula Cole, ABWH, Liquid Tension Experiment, Steven Wilson) is also on board.

One ostensible indicator of Rieflin‘s suitability for inclusion in the re-vamped line-up is his proven ability to lay down a tight groove in concert with a drumming partner; as evidenced by his position in an early incarnation of the Ministry touring band alongside PIL‘s Martyn Atkins (see below): for this writer, one of the most exhilarating pieces of rock concert footage ever committed to tape

But who are the other possible contenders for this according to Fripp ‘…very different reformation to what has gone before…’?

Completing the 4-strong English contingent alongside Fripp – maybe Porcupine Tree‘s Gavin Harrison (d) and Steven Wilson (g/v), and Jakko M. Jacszyk (g/v)? Harrison sparred with Pat Mastellotto (below) on the Crim‘s last stage outing and both Wilson and Jaczsyk have developed strong working relationships with Fripp thru studio projects in the last few years. There’s an outside possibility that Fripp may have tempted Bill Bruford (p) out of retirement, or John Wetton (b/v) back into the fold; or maybe decided to bring horns back into the mix: Theo Travis‘ star has certainly been rising over the last few years, considering his prolific collaborations with the likes of Wilson, Gong, the revitalized Judy Dyble and others.

On the American side, take your pick from Crimson veterans Pat Mastellotto (d), Trey Gunn (g/b) and Adrian Belew (g/v/d) plus the aforementioned Rieflin and Levin. Then again, one Michael Portnoy (d) has been busily pursuing a number of avenues since his parting of the ways with prog giants Dream Theater (unlikely, granted; but you know he’d kill for the job…) and Tool‘s Danny Carey must have a little time on his hands waiting for Maynard to write the next batch of lyrics; has been showing his Jazz rock bent of late and has previously played with Crimson on a double headline tour a few years back (the two bands being mutually-appreciative of the other’s gifts).

Buuuut… enough idle speculation already. Play mix’n’match to your heart’s content Crim-heads. Sufficed to say I’m excited about this (can you tell?). I’ve never seen this band live so here’s hoping I’m able to pick up tickets when the shows are announced.

In the meantime here’s a little reminder or several of Fripp & co.’s previous genius…

plus a couple affectionate tributes…

New Sounds…

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Gotta share a couple – very different, but both fabulous – tunes that arrived in my inbox today…

First up, a new collaboration between System 7/Gong musicians Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy and Japanese psych/jam band Rovo. Hinotori is from their Phoenix Rising album, released today. If you’re a fan of either or those projects, or instrumental psych/prog like Ozrics and The Future Kings of England then this might well be your cup of tea…

And for a complete change of tone, this ongoing collaboration between Terry Bickers (House of Love/Levitation) and Pete Fij (ex-Adorable) is producing some wonderful work: infused with that peculiarly-British penchant for underplaying heartbreak: like a scruffy bum on a park bench humming a cheerful tune to himself, clutching a half-empty can of Special Brew. This is Downsizing

Watch the clip, too: some chucklesome moments including a badly-spelled homage to Manic Street Preachers.

And in case you missed it, here’s previous, also excellent ‘single’ Betty Ford:

Check HERE for news and details of upcoming gigs and releases…

Dream Theater – the Opus is upon us

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Dream Theater‘s self-titled 12th studio album is due to be released this Monday; in the meantime I’ve been enjoying the stream via Prog magazine‘s website. It’s been up a few days but due to technical issues I’ve only been able to listen since yesterday. Nonetheless I’ve had a few listens right thru and initial impressions are, if not great then certainly not bad either. Here are a few thoughts on each song…

False Awakening Suite is the title of the previously-mooted instrumental intro. As intros go it’s ok; cycling in short order (2.41) thru a series of contrasting dramatic themes. Think a compact variation on the 6DOIT Overture. By comparison it suffers somewhat from its brevity: there’s scarcely time to appreciate the merits of one theme before the next one kicks in. I can see it working well as the live intro it’s reportedly been written to be, though.

My initial thoughts on first ‘single’ The Enemy Inside are here. Sufficed to say, although – like many songs – its placing within an album context changes the listening experience somewhat, and its metal directness makes it both a strong opening cut proper after the tease of False Awakening and an effective contrast to some of the more proggy and balladic moments.

Instant impression of The Looking GlassRush! Definitely a melodic tip of the hat to the Canuck power trio here (they do it again later in the intro for Surrender to Reason, too). Probably the most immediately-impressive song so far to my ears, as it happens.

Enigma Machine is the second instrumental track: a showboating interlude that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Awake, or even Scenes From A Memory: like Erotomania or The Dance of Eternity it demonstrates the band’s instrumental and compositional prowess without pushing the bounds of indulgence or outstaying its welcome.

There are hints of of …Puppets era Metallica and latter-day Pendragon in Behind The Veil and that’s no bad thing, and where the contrast between crunchy riffing and sweetly-melodic sections come off as disorienting and jerky elsewhere they’re really effective on this track. Another highlight for me.

Neither Surrender To Reason nor The Bigger Picture have really made much impression on me yet. I’ve listened several times but nothing’s sticking and they kind of exemplify the ‘mushy’ comment below…

Along For The Ride is a short, quietly-epic ballad with a feel not unlike This Is The Life from the last record. Wasn’t hugely keen when RR released it as the second album trailer but it grew on me pretty quickly with each listening and tracklisting-wise it provides a welcome moment of pure calm prior to the full on prog-ness of Illumination Theory. Nice solo spots from Petrucci and Rudess too: economical and understated by their standards and all the more effective for that.

Illumination Theory is the album’s only real excursion into the extended, symphonic mode, and as such it’s a daunting, multi-faceted beast of a track. Of all the songs here, it’s probably going to require the most digesting so take this early analysis with a pinch of salt. I’m reminded a little of song suites including Marillion’s Gaza, Fair To Midland‘s The Greener Grass and Frost*s Milliontown insofar as there’s a definite sense of disparate sections stitched together in a way that’s not initially pleasing to the ear: a jerky start-stop-start feel which contrasts poorly with previous DT epics such as Octavarium and The Count of Tuscany. Those songs, though equivalent in complexity and ambition clicked pretty much right away for me. Having said that, Gaza, …Grass and Milliontown now rate amongst my very favourite ‘epic’ prog workouts, so only time will tell whether Illumination Theory will become a favourite also. And speaking of Milliontown, that song sprang to mind when the false ending gave way to Rudess‘ piano fadeout.

To briefly summarize; the intricacies of this album will perhaps assert themselves more strongly over the course of time and repeat playing; I certainly hope so, because at the moment, a few highlights aside there’s a mushy, blandness to the album as a whole which after the near-triumph of ADToE I wasn’t expecting at all. It’s almost paradoxical, insofar as generally, DT have pulled back from the extended and twiddly prog workouts – for which they are both reviled or revered in certain quarters – and distilled their essence into more compact, more conventional songs. The average track length here is around the 6-min mark, for a start. Somehow though a number of the compositions feel unnecessarily cluttered and somewhat jerky, with few immediate hooks standing out. So what?! I hear prog fans snorting dismissively – this is DT not 1D right! Fair enough, but the two aren’t mutually-exclusive, as ADToE and much else of DT‘s best work attests. What made ADToE such a breath of fresh air was the ease with which it flowed as a complete piece: there were few gnarly moments of musicality for its own sake and it was chock full of memorable melodies and occasions for each player to shine. DT feels less well-balanced, though compliments are due to both Mike Mangini and James LaBrie who have certainly pushed themselves here. By contrast, Jordan Rudess and John Myung are afforded less prominence, which is a shame because their more up-front presence was again one of the most appealing aspects of ADToE.

False Awakening and Illumination Theory aside, the emphasis on this album is definitely on the hard rock rather than the prog side, albeit with a healthy smattering of ballad-ness and plenty of musicianly detail to make multiple listens a necessity. It’s perhaps closest to Awake than any other of their albums in this respect and yet nothing like that album in so many ways (Illumination Theory, for example has a feel very much at odds with anything they recorded with Portnoy, featuring shocking contrasts of crackling aggression and soothing lushness that bring to mind Oceansize or even Between The Buried And Me).

DT are buggers for defying expectation, though, which is precisely what keeps them interesting; and ensures that they never manage to please all the fans all of the time. If nothing else, DT (the album) offers further proof that those who wrote the band off in light of Portnoy‘s departure were mistaken: they certainly haven’t run out of ideas, it’s merely a question of which ideas resonate with, and stand the test of time for, whom.

Back to the listening booth, then  😉

Fresh Fish, for starters…

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I just got back a couple days ago from a lovely 12-day vacation on the east coast of Spain and I loved every minute of it: the temperature hovered around the high 20s, the sea was blue and the sand white, my girlfriend and I proved we could share a caravan for the best part of a fortnight without tearing our – or each others’ – hair out and the food was, even for a vegetarian in a country that resolutely refuses to embrace the notion, excellent*.

A different kind of banquet arrived for me the day prior to my departure. The handsome package accompanying Fish‘s 14th album, A Feast of Consequences is yet to dispatch, but The Company were kind – and canny – enough to include a FLAC download as part of the deal and the link landed in my inbox and I’ve been listening on and off ever since. And (Fish)heads up, it’s great.

One of the main reasons Fish remains on my ‘must-buy’ list of artists is his ability to continually tweak and evolve his sound thru collaboration with other musicians.  each of his records marks a new departure in feel and style from its preceding release, whilst always retaining a distinctive melodic sensibility which by turns grandiose, brooding, wistful and soothing remains undeniably Fish. This is a very good thing; the mark of a serious artist. I don’t like everything he’s recorded by any means, but I’m rarely entirely disappointed by an album, frequently pleasantly surprised and occasionally blown away.

…Feast… represents something of a great leap forward from 13th Star, his last and somewhat flawed release. Where that album’s lyrics often stumbled and clunked like the Sixth-Form doggerel that Fish was sometimes unfairly accused of knocking out back in the ’80s, …Feast… is characterized by a richer, more nuanced emotional palate, with the musical recipe to do the flavours justice. There are more acoustic parts, for starters – guitar, piano and string accompaniments – plus more, and more effective backing vocals (courtesy of Elisabeth Antwi). And whilst there’s little of the naked bombast displayed on that album, there’s as much, if not more of another kind of musical muscle; better toned, more powerful and ultimately more impressive.

Perfume River begins the album in ghostly, windswept mode, replete with bagpipes. It maintains a mid-pace that plays as compelling rather than plodding and there are no big chords until well past the half-way mark when the acoustic guitars kick in and the tone lifts. For a 10 minute song that’s a long time, and it’s to Fish‘s credit that it doesn’t seem so. It’s all atmosphere, really – a touch of Opeth in the minor-key melody around the middle – and yet it utterly gripped me. An instant Fish classic, moody, steeped in foreboding yet perversely cathartic.

The following two songs are probably the least immediately impressive: All Loved Up a bare bones rocker, it’s borderline ham-fisted lyric conveying the sense of recklessness and self-importance engendered in the hoi-polloi by social media platforms. The ‘all fucked up’ fade out is curiously effective, though; and this from one who hates fade outs… Blind To The Beautiful is the kind of ballad Fish could write – and probably has – in his sleep. It’s accomplished enough, but it’s the one moment when the Scot seems to be resting on his musical laurels.

The ‘Symphonic Epic’ is something of a prog cliché – every ‘true prog’ act must produce their ‘Supper’s Ready’-style song-cycle: it’s THE LAW! – and it’s to Fish‘s credit that he rarely falls back on this ruse to prove his progressive credentials. When he does however, as previously with Plague of Ghosts and here with The High Woods Suite he pulls it off with aplomb. Lyrically, it – Crucifix Corner especially – raises the spectre of Iron Maiden’s classic ‘war epics’ such as Alexander The Great and Paschendale: a thrilling, gruelling, impassioned narrative that grabs the listener by the hand and leads them thru musical foggy, explosive, desolate and reflective musical terrains (The Gathering segment bears passing resemblance to Circular Ride by his previous bandmates, curiously). Fish‘s trademark spoken-word interspersions make an appearance too, and remain as characteristic and spine chilling as ever.

The Great Unravelling ends the album as it began; brooding, melancholy, infused with a dread sense of the past being inescapable.

As much as Fish avoids repeating himself, the previous works that resonated most in my mind whilst listening were Fellini Days, Raingods With Zippos and Field of Crows and that’s no bad thing – his Vigil In A Wilderness Of Mirrors solo debut aside, those are by far my favourites and this, if anything is more consistently strong, writing and arrangement-wise. Time will tell, but Fish may have produced his best work to date: the vast majority of the listening public will remain blissfully unaware, but those old farts, the album aficionados, who still hold the career singer-songwriter in high esteem have every right to feel vindicated and content for a while longer…

I’ll probably update this review when the full package arrives, but until then, I’m confident that this will be one of my albums of the year.

(* We also took the opportunity to spend a night and day in Barcelòna on the way down, including a visit to Gaudi‘s La Sagrada Familia which was quite the most extraordinary building I’ve ever entered: like something out of a sci-fi movie, I cried when I saw it for the first time. Astounding – I urge anyone to visit.)

Women’s Aid Speech on Cyber-Harassment

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Sickening, upsetting and shameful. Words fail me really 😦

Caroline Criado-Perez

Before I begin, I just want to warn you all, that I will be quoting some of the messages I have received. They include offensive language and references to sexual violence, which may be triggering for some.

WAstalking conf

So I’d like to start off by giving you a bit of background into what led up to the harassment I received for over two weeks in July and August, because I think it’s important to see how little it takes to provoke this kind of abuse – it’s important to face up to how much of a problem we still have with widespread misogyny against any woman who dares to use her voice in public.

So some of you may have heard of a campaign I ran from April to July this year, asking the Bank of England to review its decision to have an all-male line-up on banknotes. (note to media, I…

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