Deep Dive: Rush

Welcome to the fourth installment of Deep Dive, where I take an in-depth look at the studio discographies of some of the giants of progressive rock and progressive metal.

For those who don’t feel like reading this massive entry, I’ve included a TL;DR and ranking of albums at the end. I’m opting to explore albums chronologically, as opposed to a ranked-list format. The context in which albums were made is important, and that is an element often missed in a ranked list.

Rush is a band I’d always planned to eventually cover in this series. I’d made no firm plans as to when, exactly, but they were undoubtedly on the docket. Originally, this Deep Dive was slated to be a look at Genesis, but Neil Peart’s unfortunate passing earlier this year prompted me to push off the Genesis entry for a later date.

In the early 1970s, acts like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Atomic Rooster had demonstrated that trios could produce excellent progressive rock, but Rush pushed the capabilities of that limited format to its extreme with complex suites containing massive tonal variation. Even once Rush moved past their prog rock heyday, their music was mostly inventive, energetic, and—above all—distinct. Over the years, Rush became one of the best-known and most-successful rock acts of all time, particularly in their native Canada.

Subdivision I: The Early Years (1968-1974)

Rush formed in 1968 and originally consisted of guitarist Alex Lifeson (born Zivojinovich; “Lifeson” is an English translation of his Serbian name), bassist/vocalist Jeff Jones, and drummer John Rutsey. These early years saw a high degree of volatility in the band’s lineup, with Lifeson remaining the one constant. Jones left shortly after the band formed, soon replaced by Geddy Lee, and even Geddy was briefly out of the band in 1969. Continue reading “Deep Dive: Rush”

Album Review: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin

t1gArtist: That 1 Guy | Album: Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin | Genre: Experimental rock, Electronic, “experimental ‘earthshaking future funk’ from the future maybe” (as per his Facebook) | Year: 2020

From: Las Vegas, USA | Label: Independent

For fans of: Buckethead, Primus

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

That 1 Guy is one of my favorite musical acts. I’ve seen him live over a dozen times since I first saw him open for Porcupine Tree in 2009. He tours relentlessly (or at least he did prior to this current COVID-related lockdown), and I would strongly recommend going to see him live if you get the opportunity. As his name implies, he’s a one-man musical project who plays the Magic Pipe, an instrument of his own invention. The Magic Pipe is depicted on this album cover, but here is some footage of it in action.

As much as I love That 1 Guy, I wouldn’t label him as progressive rock. He certainly has an experimental flair—what with the homemade instrument and all—but most of his songs are, structurally, pretty straightforward. His previous album, 2014’s Poseidon’s Deep Water Adventure Friends, was his most ambitious to date, featuring surprisingly complex compositions and highly varied textures. So, when he released this album, I saw how long the songs were and the fact that he had tagged himself as “progressive rock” on Bandcamp, and I decided to stretch my definition of the genre to write about this release. Continue reading “Album Review: That 1 Guy – Set the Controls for the Heart of the Buttnoggin”

Album Review: Moura – Moura

mouraBand: Moura | Album: Moura | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock, Galician folk | Year: 2020

From: A Coruña, Spain | Label: Spinda Records

For fans of: Pink Floyd (pre-1973), Magma, Van der Graaf Generator

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

Near the end of last year, I reviewed the debut album of the band Híbrido. In that review, I praised the label Spinda Records for giving underground prog and psych in Spain a platform. Not long after I published that review, someone from the label reached out and told me to keep my eyes on Moura, a band from Galicia.

Moura’s self-titled debut record is a tour de force of psychedelic progressive rock. This quintet blends the dark psychedelia of Pink Floyd (c. 1968-1970), the compositional and instrumental complexity of acts like Yes and Van der Graaf Generator, and the native, Celtic folk of their native Galicia. This confluence is then draped in a druidic, occult atmosphere that in turn creates a menacing aura. (Galicia is a region in northwestern Spain which historically was populated by Celtic peoples and today retains significant Celtic influence in the local culture, particularly the music.) Continue reading “Album Review: Moura – Moura”

Album Review: Aridonia – Aridonia

arBand: Aridonia | Album: Aridonia | Genre: Stoner metal, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Jujuy, Argentina | Label: Independent

For fans of: Tool, Kyuss, Baroness

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon

Aridonia hail from Jujuy, a city in Argentina’s extreme northwest. That high-elevation, arid backdrop makes itself well-known on Aridonia, the band’s debut full-length record. Blues and stoner rock are the backbone of most songs here. The four musicians in the band are skilled and creative, so they’re able to twist those influences into something weird and exciting.

“Abismos” opens the album on a foreboding note. A simple, minor-key guitar pattern rings out, and haunting vocals join thereafter. It’s not long before the distortion kicks in, though, and the band begin playing a weird, high-energy stoner-jazz riff with subtle Middle Eastern touches. Aridonia pull out all the stops for this song. They cycle through odd musical themes, seamlessly blending stoner metal and jazz-fusion. “Fantasmagoría” begins with more traditional stoner metal fare, but the jazziness and exercises in technicality reemerge after the first verse. Continue reading “Album Review: Aridonia – Aridonia”

Album Review: Slift – Ummon

sliftBand: Slift | Album: Ummon | Genre: Space rock, Krautrock | Year: 2020

From: Toulouse, France | Label: Vicious Circle and Stolen Body Records

For fans of: Elder’s new stuff, Can, Ash Ra Tempel, Fuzz

Buy: Bandcamp | Amazon | Apple Music

Slift are a French trio who combine the ethos and aesthetic trappings of garage rock with cosmic atmosphere and mantra-like repetition. I was introduced to them via their 2018 album, La Planète Inexplorée. That album was great, and Ummon took everything I loved about it and cranked it up even harder.

Ummon is not a record for the faint of heart. It’s 72 minutes of garage-kraut-doom (or maybe doom-garage-kraut) with barely any breathing room. Huge, abrasive walls of guitar dominate this record, while chaotic bursts of noise pummel the listener. The band members themselves give fair warning on how key repetition is to this album’s sound on their Bandcamp page (or, as they phrase it, “r r e e p p e e t t i i t t i i o o n n”). With all this in mind, if you’re willing to give it a shot, this album is highly rewarding. Continue reading “Album Review: Slift – Ummon”

Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020

a1331639050_10Band: Ak’chamel, The Giver Of Illness | Album: The Totemist | Genre: Krautrock, Psychedelic folk | Bandcamp

The Totemist is a swirl of ritualistic atmosphere and repetition. The murky aura augments the contrasts between the sharp notes of the acoustic instruments and the omnipresent, sinister drone. The compositions morph in naturalistic ways, and subtle touches of jazz are worked in amid the faux-shamanic folk, resulting in something quite creative.

Score: 75/100

a2807075973_10Band: Cthulhu Rise | Album: Last | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

This instrumental Ukrainian band reminds me a lot of Liquid Tension Experiment. The roots of the act’s sound clearly derive from Dream Theater-style melodic prog metal, but jazz plays a large role here too. The individual musicians flaunt their chops on the three songs here, but the soloing always comes off as purposeful. Each track is full of surprising twists and turns, with few ideas sticking around for more than about a minute at a time. Somehow, it avoids feeling disjointed.

Score: 84/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – March 9, 2020”

Album Review: Orange Clocks – Metamorphic

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Band: Orange Clocks | Album: Metamorphic | Genre: Space rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2020

From: Rushden, UK | Label: Bad Elephant Music

For fans of: Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles, Elder

Buy: Bandcamp | Apple Music

It’s often interesting to see acts evolve across successive albums. Even within the realm “progressive” genres, some bands don’t change their sound very much. Meanwhile, others engage in wild genre-hopping on the regular. More often, you find something like you do with Orange Clocks. Their 20-song 2017 debut album was chock-full of narration and brief interludes. The music was also somewhat unfocused, drawing heavily both from early Pink Floyd and the broader world of funk.

Metamorphic, the band’s second studio album, alleviates many of the issues of their debut. The sound is more consistent, and the distracting narration is gone, giving their sophomore release a more mature feel. The presence of stoner/desert rock is considerably more pronounced as well, and elements of krautrock and drone have begun to be worked in. Continue reading “Album Review: Orange Clocks – Metamorphic”

Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk

vinBand: Vinyl Dial | Album: The Flight of the Crown Hawk | Genre: Progressive rock, Space rock | Year: 2009/2019

From: Bedford, UK | Label: Seaside Tapes

For fans of: Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd, Hawkwind, Pulsar, Tool

Buy/Listen: Stream Bandcamp

Vinyl Dial has had an unusual creative trajectory. The Flight of the Crown Hawk was originally recorded and released on MySpace in 2009. However, in 2019 it got a remaster and was officially released on Seaside Tapes, a label focused primarily on DIY-electronica and vaporwave. In the intervening years, this one-man project has put out a handful of electronic and vaporwave releases, in addition to other space rock/prog rock releases.

The Flight of the Crown Hawk is not shy about just how much of the music is inspired by Porcupine Tree’s early work. The first proper song, “Shapes in the Clouds”, begins with spare acoustic guitar, airy synth pads, and murky, effects-laden vocals. It slowly slithers along for its first half, and the guitar solo sounds like it’s straight off Porcupine Tree’s Signify. The song’s second half plays with stranger rhythms, heavier guitar tones, and cosmic synth leads. Continue reading “Album Review: Vinyl Dial – The Flight of the Crown Hawk”