Odds & Ends: September 6, 2021

Band: Antinode | Album:The Canary the Named the Stars | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

The three songs on this long EP/short LP are solid, spacey progressive rock with subtle touches of jazz, metal, and indie rock. I’m a big fan of the instrumental tones and textures, and despite the songs’ lengths, they never feel like they’re dragging. There’s significant internal variation on all three tracks, and there’s a natural flow to the way the compositions evolve.

Score: 81/100

Band: Big Big Train | Album: Common Ground | Genre: Neo-prog, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

I have never understood the appeal of Big Big Train. They’ve got the occasional decent song here or there, but I’ve never enjoyed an entire BBT album. They often come off as saccharine and glossy, like a worse version of Spock’s Beard. Maybe I’m too much of a dour Debbie Downer to enjoy such unashamedly major-key music, but the opening “The Strangest Times” exemplifies my lack of fondness for this act. It’s bright, sunny piano-pop that doesn’t strike me as particularly proggy in any definition of the word. Successive tracks are significantly better, though it’s still not exactly my cup of tea. Much of this album comes off as soulless and plain, to say nothing of the bloat. The band sounds stuck in the mid-’90s’ prog scene, a sound which was fine for its time but was rightfully cast aside at the turn of the century. The lushness hobbles the band’s ability to make any real splash, and everything on here has been done much better previously by other artists, often half a century ago.

Score: 51/100

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Album Review: Perilymph – Tout en Haut

Band: Perilymph | Album:Tout en Haut | Genre: Space rock, Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2021

From: Berlin, Germany | Label: Six Tonnes de Chair

For fans of: early Pink Floyd, Patrick Moraz, Phideaux

Bandcamp

While I purposely use pretty broad, amorphous genre definitions on this site, I generally aim to highlight acts who are musically adventurous or inventive. A common way artists spice up their music is through various forms of contrast. This is especially common in metal and various subgenres which start with “post,” where it’s often a harsh-clean contrast. Another dichotomy occasionally used is an electronic-acoustic one.

I’ve previously covered Perilymph, the brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Fabien de Menou. The band’s last album, Deux, was a wonderful blend of synth-led space-kraut balanced smartly against pared-back acoustic passages. Tout en Haut (Eng. On Top) follows in a similar sonic and textural path.

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Odds & Ends – July 12, 2021

Band: BaK | Album:Crater | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

BaK is a bombastic Australian act which blends the sound of acts like Pain of Salvation and Dream Theater with Middle Eastern instrumentation and rhythms. The closest parallel to BaK is probably the Tunisian power metal act Myrath, though some of the weaker moments on this EP do remind me of Grorr. The integration of those more exotic influences is done better than most acts who attempt similar genre fusions, but it’s still really tough to not come off as corny.

Score: 71/100

Artist: Christian Cosentino | Album: Lawn | Genre: Progressive metal | Bandcamp

This proggy atmospheric black metal album makes extensive use of lush, programmed orchestration. Many parts of this record feature piano as a co-lead instrument alongside guitar, and strings are almost always present. Normally I’m not the biggest fan of this type of arrangement, but I credit the success here to the fact that he went in a more atmospheric direction, instead of something more traditionally proggy, technical, and overblown.

Score: 81/100

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Album Review: Hanford Flyover – Hanford Tape Sessions

Band: Hanford Flyover | Band:Hanford Tape Sessions | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2021

From: UK | Label: Fruits de Mer Records

For fans of: Cheer-Accident, Phideaux, early Pink Floyd

Bandcamp

The lockdowns of the last year-and-a-half interrupted many musical acts’ touring and recording plans. But at the same time, the sudden forced sedentary setup offered many opportunities to write and record at home. Hanford Tape Sessions is one such of those recordings. 

UK-based duo Hanford Flyover recorded all this music on a few portable cassette home recording devices. That technological limitation forced the band to keep things pared-back and straightforward, and the contrast to past releases’ lush sounds is obvious. The songs on this album are mostly short and to-the-point, but there are some interesting sonic experiments with satisfying structures.

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Odds & Ends – June 7, 2021

Band: Caligonaut | Album: Magnified as Giants | Genre: Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This solo project from guitarist Ole Michael Bjørndal features members of Wobbler in supporting roles, most notably in backing vocals. The vocal arrangements, combined with the Mellotron-focused compositions, make this a very Wobbler-y album. This project is what I had hoped Dwellers of the Deep would have been. While no individual track rises to the same level as “Merry Macabre”, this is a far stronger overall release. The four songs sound well-planned and finely-honed. It’s hardly groundbreaking stuff, but it is consistent, enjoyable, and well-formed progressive rock in the classic Anglo-prog vein.

Score: 86/100

Band: Coevality | Album: Multiple Personalities | Genre: Progressive rock, Jazz fusion, Math rock | Bandcamp

All the individual songs on this record are strong in their own right. The musicianship is fun and flashy without being too indulgent, and the band draws from a nice tonal palette. However, when packaged into a full-length record, it just feels too long. After about 10 or 15 minutes I find myself losing interest. Perhaps someone more into jazz would enjoy this record more than I do.

Score: 67/100

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Odds & Ends: April 5, 2021

Band: Grorr | Album: Ddulden’s Last Flight | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal | Bandcamp

Grorr are clearly trying to conjure up vaguely “Eastern” aesthetics on this album. The band’s logo evokes Chinese seals, and the album art draws from Chinese and Japanese styles. This continues in the music, though the influences are muddled and slapdash. The opening track is mostly scene-setting, but it give the listener musical whiplash by swirling together the entire continent of Asia. It’s got throat singing (from Mongolia and southern Siberia), sitars and tablas (from the Indian subcontinent), and the melodies are stereotypically “Chinese.” (Instruments which sound like guzhengs and erhus can be heard later on the album.) Moving beyond this mish-mash, Ddulden’s Last Flight is an alright album. The metal is melodic, and there are some inventive riffs. I’m especially impressed with the textures and timbres deployed here. After a while, though, the Oriental instrumentation becomes distracting. I absolutely hated the sitar by album’s end. And that’s unfortunate because Grorr demonstrated that they’ve got a creative vision and that they’re capable of composing some strong cuts. Ultimately, this record’s overbearing and half-baked Asiatic flare is what does it in. I really wish they would have toned it down a bit, or at least shown a bit more geographic restraint.

Score: 58/100

Artist: Jean Pierre Louveton (JPL) | Album: Sapiens – chaptire 2/3: Deus ex Machina | Genre: Progressive rock, Progressive metal, Jazz-fusion | Bandcamp

When I saw JPL is the leader of the band Nemo, I didn’t get my hopes up. Nemo is an alright act, but I classify them in the same group Spock’s Beard and other schlocky, overblown retro-prog acts. Thankfully, this album wound up being a pleasant surprise. Sapiens is a bit more metallic than Nemo’s usual fare, and while there’s plenty of pomp and show-off-y instrumental moments, it mostly avoids needless indulgence. Jazzy touches are present throughout, and the overall bloat is minimal.

Score: 75/100

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Deep Dive: Pink Floyd

Welcome to another installation of Deep Dive, where I take a look at the extended studio discographies of some of the biggest names in progressive rock. 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.

Today, I’m covering a doozy. Pink Floyd is the most commercially successful progressive rock act by a wide margin. Their global sales tally somewhere between 200 and 250 million records since their debut in 1965, placing them eighth all time among recording artists. The second-most successful prog act is Genesis, with roughly 100 million sales and significant non-prog output.

Jethro Tull and Pink Floyd were my two primary introductions to progressive rock, and those are my second- and third-most-listened-to acts, respectively, according to my Last.fm profile, trailing only The Beatles. I have a deep, intense love of their music, and Richard Wright is probably my single biggest influence as a musician. At the same time, don’t expect this to be a one hundred percent worshipful lovefest, as I have some (strong) opinions which are heterodox among the Pink Floyd fandom.

Unlike other artists I have covered or will cover in this column, Pink Floyd has a huge amount of material which either never saw official release or was released in unusual ways. As such, there is a significant portion of their output which will not be included in the ranking at the end, though I will address it in the body of this essay. Most of this oddball material was recorded 1965-1970 and was released as a part of the 2016 box set The Early Years, 1965-1972.

I will also refrain from ranking Pink Floyd’s live output, as that strays beyond the limitations of this column. That’s unfortunate, too, as Pink Floyd bootlegs from 1968-1972 are something of an addiction for me. Their live performances from this time period are fantastic and deeply interesting, and I really recommend you look into this material yourselves.

Part I: The Barrett Years (1963-1968)

Prior to becoming “Pink Floyd,” Roger Waters (bass), Nick Mason (drums), Richard Wright (keys), Syd Barrett (vocals, guitar), and Bob Klose (guitar) performed rhythm and blues and cut a handful of singles under the name The Tea Set. And immediately upon starting this piece, I’m struck by the issue of Pink Floyd’s massive catalog of unreleased and non-album material.

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Album Review: Acid Mess – Sangre de Otros Mundos

Band: Acid Mess | Album: Sangre de Otros Mundos | Genre: Psychedelic rock, Progressive rock | Year: 2020

From: Asturias, Spain | Label: Spinda Records

For fans of: Mezquita, The Mars Volta, Fuzz

Bandcamp

I’ve discussed Spinda Records and their consistently high-quality underground prog and psych before. Moura’s self-titled debut—released by Spinda in March—might just wind up being my album of the year, but my year-end list is still taking form. The latest release from this label is the third album from Acid Mess, Sangre de Otros Mundos (Blood of Other Worlds).

The album opens with “El Reflejo de Su Piel” (“The Reflection of Your Skin”). The first half of this song is slow and atmospheric: clean guitar echoes as a squiggly, fizzy synth line winds its way beneath. That suddenly erupts into a distinctly Spanish guitar riff imbued with metallic aggression. Handclaps add a distinct textural element, and swirling organ, though low in the mix, makes everything feel fleshed-out.

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Album Review: Garcia Peoples – Nightcap at Wits’ End

Band: Garcia Peoples | Album: Nightcap at Wits’ End | Genre: Progressive rock, Psychedelic rock | Year: 2020

From: Rutherford (NJ), USA | Label: Beyond Beyond Is Beyond

For fans of: The Grateful Dead, early King Crimson, Procol Harum, Uriel, Spirit

Bandcamp

Nightcap at Wits’ End—the fourth album from Garcia Peoples—shows the band’s continued evolution and refinement of their sound. Their first two albums were psychedelic garage rock pieces with some underlying prog leanings. One Step Behind (their third release) was centered around a 32-minute krautrock opus. This record dials back the scale of things, with only one song topping seven minutes.

The sound presented here is also something of a middle ground between their first three releases. This is undoubtedly a progressive rock album, but it hearkens back to the very earliest days of progressive rock, when the lines between psych and prog were even blurrier than they currently are. It draws a great deal of influence from those first prog bands, such as The Moody Blues, the first King Crimson lineup, and early Canterbury acts like Egg/Uriel.

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Odds & Ends – June 22, 2020

cbBand: Chief Bromden | Album: Slunovrat | Genre: Post-punk, Progressive rock | Bandcamp

This Czech quintet play a noisy, chaotic blend of post-punk and prog. They make me think of a rawer, noisier Atsuko Chiba, or a more progressive Viet Cong/Preoccupations. Glassy synthesizers shine against jagged guitars, and the compositions twist and surge in exciting ways. Math rock flourishes are common, and squealing guitars contrast against a buzzing background. There are other surprising moments: the keys in the instrumental “Skelněná Krajina” give a feeling not unlike video game music at times, and the sprawling “Ken Kesey” features some electronic inclusions.

Score: 82/100

afArtist: Aurora Ferrer | Album: Night Oracles and Falling Stars | Genre: Art rock, Electronic rock | Bandcamp

This album, while not strictly prog, is evocative of many prog and prog-related acts. The pulsing electronics are usually krautrock-y in nature, and the overall atmosphere is akin to acts like Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, and Pure Reason Revolution. The compositions are dense, creative, and driving. Particularly praiseworthy are the varied yet cohesive textures in each composition; the album has a distinct feel to it, but no two songs are quite alike.

Score: 80/100 Continue reading “Odds & Ends – June 22, 2020”