Archive for the ‘Prog’ Category

Petition to Änglagård: Release the NEARfest ‘03 performance on CD!

Wednesday, May 24th, 2006

As someone who does a bit of grassroots online organizing as a small part of my job, I know something about online petitions. Generally they are more useful for building an organization’s list of supporters than for actually influencing what they claim to be trying to influence. That said, I actually feel that this petition to Änglagård to release their NEARfest 2003 performance on CD has a chance at achieving its goal. At the very least it’s worth signing to show the band how many fans they still have out there, despite the fact that no new material has been released for a dozen years now.

I still really like Pink Floyd

Monday, April 17th, 2006

Last night, as my bedtime music, I somewhat whimsically decided to play Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here. Back in the day, when things were simpler and I could actually answer those annoying “what’s your favorite band/album?” questions, my answers would have been… Pink Floyd, and Wish You Were Here. I still rank this album among my favorites — in my personal Gnosis-style rating system it’s still one of very few 15s — but I probably haven’t listened to it in five years.

I was suprised at the extent to which I still know pretty much every single note on this album, and the extent to which it still packs an emotional punch for me. In the past couple years I’ve been considering my two former “favorite bands” (King Crimson being the other) more or less played out for me; I’d listened to them so obsessively that at this point their music has lost all personal impact. I’m glad that this appears not to be the case. I enjoyed immensely my spin of Wish You Were Here last night, and now I’ll probably go back and give my other Floyd albums a go. I won’t be listening to them nonstop like I used to, of course, but it’s nice to know that a few years away from an old favorite can make it sound fresh and new all over again.

Terrible band names

Thursday, January 19th, 2006

I nominate Presto Ballet for Worst English-Language Band Name Ever. And really, are there any other serious contenders? No? I didn’t think so.

“Not bad, but not good either”

Tuesday, January 10th, 2006

Wow, talk about an enthusiastic review: check out this one of Xcarnation’s Grounded at Sea of Tranquility. The reviewer’s concluding paragraph is, “This is an adventurous album that slowly leaves an impression. I hated it the first time I heard it; now I don’t.” Now there’s a ringing endorsement.

Bill Martin is not a very good writer

Monday, January 9th, 2006

Amazon finally delivered my copy of Bill Martin’s book Avant Rock: Experimental Music from the Beatles to Björk, which I mentioned buying in an earlier entry. I’m about 50 pages into it and while it’s not exactly compellingly readable, it’s interesting to me thanks to my insatiable interest in the subject. Martin’s writing style is awful, though — the organization of this book is pretty much impossible to follow (if indeed there’s any rhyme or reason to it at all), and he has an annoying habit of name-dropping esoteric Western philosophers at literally every turn. While I am enough of an academic at heart to be interested in how avant-rock relates to Derrida, this is just a little much. I almost get the feeling that Martin just included every single connection between music and philosophy that came to his mind while writing (let’s not even start on his weird chess analogies). This guy needs an editor, bad.

None of this is stopping me from reading, of course. Just… be warned if you’re expecting an easy-to-read overview of avant-rock, because this sure isn’t it. Avant Rock makes Chris Cutler’s File Under Popular look like a children’s book.

Socialism and Fläsket Brinner

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2006

Happy new year!

One of my most recent acquisitions, which has quickly become a prized possession, is the 2003 box set of Fläsket Brinner’s Swedish Radio Recordings, 1970-1975. It is amazing that such a thing exists: four discs of top-notch performances from this obscure (outside Sweden, at least — but I imagine they are hardly mainstream material even in their native country) psych-prog group. Perhaps the best of these is the final disc, from 1975, in which two members of Älgarnas Trädgård joined the band, giving a much spacier and more “out” feel to the jams. But it’s all fantastic stuff and highly recommended. The packaging is gorgeous, and the little note in the booklet confirms my suspicions as to why: “This project was supported by the Swedish Council for Cultural Affairs.”

The Swedish system of social democracy at its best: public grants supporting boundary-pushing artists in the interests of advancing the state of modern music. Well, Fläsket Brinner was “boundary-pushing” 30 years ago, at least. Still, I’m not complaining.

Dungen @ the Black Cat

Tuesday, September 20th, 2005

Oh, and. I saw Dungen on Sunday night at the Black Cat here in DC (where, incidentally, Ken Vandermark is playing tonight with his Free Music Ensemble, but I don’t think I’m going to make it). It was a decent show. Reine Fiske was having some issues with his guitar (”vintage gear,” he kept muttering) but his work was great — which is a good thing, because unlike on Ta det Lugnt at least, his guitar was way up in the mix and was definitely the focal point of the band. Overall the sound was much more “rock” and less psych/spacey than on record. A favorite piece of mine is one in which Gustav Ejstes pulled out his flute and played a few nice, melodic passages that bookended a white-hot jam or two. If this is on their first album, reissued on 1999-2001, I really need to get that one — especially as multiple people whose opinions I trust tell me that it’s better than Ta det Lugnt. A fun show, if one marred by the crappy sound at the Black Cat.

Oh, and #2. Maybe that Cathedral reunion announcement wasn’t a hoax after all. It’s sort of up in the air now. Go to ProgressiveEars, search for the relevant thread, and see for yourself if you’re curious. I don’t know.

ProgDay ‘05 and Los Jaivas live!

Wednesday, September 14th, 2005

It now seems fairly clear that the Cathedral reunion announcement I cited is probably a hoax. Joke’s on me. I should know better: don’t believe everything you read on the Internet — especially bulletin boards.

A couple live shows I saw that I should have mentioned earlier: ProgDay, and Los Jaivas. As regards the former, I actually only saw four of the eight bands due to prior engagements and the fact that my girlfriend lives in Chapel Hill, and my trip down to NC was as much to see her as to see the festival. To be honest, I was totally unexcited by the lineup anyway, and the only band that I was really interested in seeing was Cuneiform chamber-rockers Far Corner; however, I was happy to support the festival by buying two weekend passes, in the hopes that every little bit of help will encourage the organizers to move ahead with a 2006 incarnation.

Far Corner didn’t disappoint. I am lukewarm about their studio disc; it has moments I adore but a lot of the quieter, more ambient parts lose my interest quickly. Their live performance was more intense and rocking than anything on the studio album — including a sweet jam that the band seamlessly segued into after Dan Maske’s keyboard rig lost power during a new composition. William Kopecky was a joy to watch on the fretless bass. After seeing this performance I’m a bit more understanding of the comparisons to other chamber-rockers like Present, and would gladly see these guys again. However, seeing this performance still didn’t do much for my appreciation of the studio album. Oh well.

The first band I saw was The Spacious Mind, which had some moments of brilliance, but I think they’re the reverse of Far Corner in that I’d probably enjoy their studio work better. The long, spacy sections lost my interest live, where in a different environment — say, sitting in my apartment in the dark with headphones on — I could get lost in them instead of them being lost on me. Happy the Man I was as indifferent to live as I am to their records. The band just doesn’t really do it for me, although I did enjoy their extremely high-energy NEARfest show back in 2000.

The next day I saw Far Corner and the Glenn Phillips Band before having to leave. Glenn Phillips is a pretty phenomenal guitarist. Unfortunately, his band is definitely his band, in that they basically play little more than a backing role to his incendiary solos. Fun, but it got old without more compositional rigor — guitar solo after guitar solo, no matter how excellent they were, wasn’t really my bag. I did have a tremendous amount of fun just watching him rock out, though.

Just a few days after the ProgDay weekend I was treated to an amazing outdoor show by Los Jaivas, playing at the Kennedy Center here in DC. The crowd was quite large, probably at least 500 people, most of them Chilean. At times I almost felt like I was at a soccer game. The band was tight and incredibly energetic (and incredibly loud — I was really thankful the show was outside). Since they have an enormous discography — after all, the band was founded over 40 years ago — I didn’t recognize a lot of their set; however, they did play a fair amount of stuff from Alturas de Macchu Picchu and Canción del Sur, stuff I am familiar with. In particular, seeing hundreds of people blissing out to “La Poderosa Muerte,” a truly progressive piece of music in the symph-prog sense, was pretty awesome. Also, seeing the bewildering array of native/traditional instruments used to create the sounds found in those old classics was really fun. In contrast, listening to the studio albums now just doesn’t cut it; the live sound was so much better. An awesome, fun show.

SPV Popul Vuh reissues are ace

Monday, September 12th, 2005

Two thoughts this morning:

The SPV remasters of the entire Popol Vuh catalog are beautiful, and sorely needed given the utterly confusing state of the band’s CD catalog — what with various twofers combining albums in a nonsensical way, or worse, CD reissues that don’t correspond to original albums at all, containing tracks taken from completely different records. And they sound fantastic. However, I do really wish they’d put more effort into the booklets. Every single reissue appears to have the exact same booklet, with a brief history of the band and bios of Florian Fricke. Would it have killed them to have added in a page or two of info about each specific album?

There’s been an announcement circulating that the famed Cathedral, that American one-shot band that released Stained Glass Stories, is reuniting with all original members and recording new material. I haven’t heard their first album and after this announcement don’t have much interest in the new one, thanks to this totally idiotic statement from one of the band members…

“Our newest collections will place you back in the past, where PROG BELONGS. Don’t get too comfortable! You’re going to be selected to land where the future of Progressive Music should have planted it’s heels not long ago!”

Maybe this is tongue-in-cheek, but somehow I don’t think it is. This represents just about exactly the opposite mentality of what I have, so at least now I can cross something off my want list.

Let’s review the prog review sites!

Tuesday, August 23rd, 2005

I’m probably going to annoy a lot of people here since I tend to think a lot of prog sites suck. I know, I have a certain bias since I happen to run this site, but really: go look at the e-prog site and tell me that’s a good web design. Well, if you can — if your computer doesn’t crash first. Regardless, below I gloss over a bunch of English-language prog review sites; I’m sure I missed a bunch, but these are the ones I am familiar with, in no particular order.

I should also say that I love reading about the music I listen to, and I give honest thanks to anyone that takes the time and effort to post reviews and other writings about said music. So I apologize in advance to any sensitive webmasters out there for my occasionally callous criticism, but here are my opinions:

  • Gibraltar Encyclopedia of Progressive Rock
    Still the granddaddy of prog resources for the newcomer to the genre. When GEPR was taken over by Fred Trafton in 2000 (?), the focus changed towards reviewing more new releases, which was unfortunate because lots of other sites had by that time taken up that challenge. Nevertheless, GEPR’s strength remains in its relatively excellent information on older obscurities which are not covered at all in any other place on the Internet aside from the better discussion fora.
  • Gnosis
    I won’t get into a debate over the usefulness of Gnosis’ massive numerical ratings database (though for the record, I find it very useful and I use the 1-15 rating scale in my own personal collection), since I want to just cover the reviews. Gnosis’ review database is growing, and its stable of reviews is reliably good. Drawing from various sources, including old issues of Exposé, there’s a lot of useful and well-written stuff here. I wish the review archive were larger and more quickly expanding, but that’s not the focus of the site.
  • Sea of Tranquility
    This site has become one of my favorites in the prog-review world. There are still some clunker reviews — this review of an Art Bears album is a real head-scratcher — but overall this site has good level-headed writers, decent design, and is updated very regularly with reviews of all the relevant new releases. Used to be more of a metal and prog-metal site, so those interested in those genres should be particularly enamored.
  • Dutch Progressive Rock Pages
    One of the best-designed and best-run sites out there. Their reviewers stay up-to-date on all the latest big releases in the world of accessible prog, and the news page is pretty useful as well. They don’t review much in the way of anything that’s not symph or prog-metal, and they shouldn’t, because when they do the reviews tend to be useless. But for what they cover, this is quite a good resource. Bravo.
  • ProgressiveWorld
    I used to like this site a lot more than I do now. The review archive is monstrous and easy to navigate, but I can’t tell any of the reviews apart - they are almost invariably very positive, 4 or 5 stars out of 5. A few of the reviewers are very susceptible to hyperbole problems, which sort of discredits them in my view, in terms of their usefulness. But I’m sure neo-prog and traditional symph fans get a lot more mileage out of it than I do, and this is still a site I find a lot of fun to read. Regularly updated with tons of reviews and news bites — I can’t imagine how much time Stephanie Sollow puts into this labor of love.
  • The Axiom of Choice
    I don’t know why I like this site — Juriaan Hage isn’t the best writer in the world, but I think that after coming to understand his taste, I found his reviews invariably helpful. He has since brought on at least one other writer, though (Roberto Lambooy), whose reviews I generally find unhelpful. But despite too many boring track-by-track reviews and a general tin ear for the more avant-garde stuff (as pointed out by someone on ProgressiveEars), I still like this site, which covers a wide range of prog.
  • ProgressoR
    Never really found this site all that useful. Maybe it’s just the fact that the reviewers’ primary language isn’t English, and so the reviews are often hard to read. Maybe it’s that most of the reviews tend to be overly positive, to the point of hyperbole. Maybe it’s because I got turned off by totally incomprehensible reviews like the one of Sol Central. Maybe I just need to spend more time checking out their extensive reviews archive.
  • Aural Innovations
    A long-running and excellent space-rock review zine. These guys know what they’re talking about, generally avoid the hyperbolic reviews that plague many other sites, and have an easy-to-use if somewhat ugly site design. Another big plus is that their rather large review archive covers many obscurities that just don’t appear on the radars of many of other big review sites.
  • Eclectic Earwig Reviews
    A few years ago EER’s site owner took me to task for bashing its site design, and I accordingly changed my tone. But let’s be frank: this site’s design is absurdly awful. It was then and it is now. It takes way too much work to figure out where the reviews are, and once you get to them they’re of limited usefulness (again, lots of hyperbole and such). Specializes in space-rock and the like, so if Aural Innovations (see above) isn’t enough for you, go here next, but be prepared for a headache.
  • ProgArchives
    I don’t use this site much, but its collection of mp3s from lots of prog artists, though illegal, is a very valuable resource for the explorative. Anyone can submit reviews, much like the old prog.net, which means that the reviews are totally hit or miss; some are helpful and some are hilarious for their incoherency or downright idiocy. They also have a very active discussion forum which is occasionally useful, but because it lacks regular participation from the kind of widely-listened folks that frequent ProgressiveEars for instance, it otherwise is by turns boring (lots of topics about Yes and Genesis), depressing (lots of prog-snobbery and “look at me” style topics), and just kind of sad (TONS of “what is prog?” topics, since the list of bands that are included in the actual archive section of the site is tightly moderated).
  • Proggnosis
    Probably a better and more diverse prog album database than Progarchives (though minus the mp3s). Reviews are moderated, so you don’t get the same volume of nonsense, but you also don’t get as many reviews, obviously; most entries just have album info. What reviews there are seem to vary widely in quality. The site is integrated to some extent with Ground & Sky, with links to G&S reviews where appropriate. I don’t use it much but for those who like the comprehensive prog-album-database idea, this seems like a potentially superior alternative to Progarchives (though the forums here are not nearly as active).
  • The Prog Organ
    When this site started up a few years ago I thought it had a lot of potential — a nice clean design, decent writers, the same kind of capsule-roundtable-review style that Ground & Sky started with. Unfortunately it just isn’t updated that much, so the amount of content there is limited. Still, some good stuff.
  • ProgressiveEars
    In recent years this has become a premiere prog discussion forum, though to some extent it replaces rec.music.progressive’s ubiquitous flame warring with an almost as obnoxious penchant for gossip and bickering. The review archive is inconsistent since any member can submit a review, but they are generally well-written and more useful than not. However, the discussion forum proper has a lot of individuals with an enormous amount of knowledge of prog, which in the end is the most useful resource possible.
  • Progweed
    Aw hell, what happened to these guys? Mike Prete’s Progweed was one of my favorites while it lasted — intelligent reviews, attractive design, lots of useful features and information. Too bad they haven’t updated in years; it looks like the folks behind it spend much of their musical energy on Gnosis instead. Thankfully their review archive is still up and there’s some great stuff in there; in my opinion, no other review site mentioned here comes close to the quality of their reviewer staff.
  • Prog4You
    Bad, confusing site design and middling review quality. Hasn’t caught my interest, so I can’t really say anything more at this point.
  • Prog-Nose
    Any site that crashes my browser goes on my shit list. This site has a very busy design and covers a side of prog that I’m not too interested in, so I haven’t explored it much. But it looks like the reviews are comprehensibly written and pretty in-depth, although the ones I read were uniformly glowing (and inconsistently formatted). Not bad; I’m sure someone will get a lot of mileage out of this site… just not me.
  • Prognaut
    Ron Fuch’s personal review page — if your tastes line up with his, this could be a very useful site since he faithfully reviews a lot of new releases. The actual quality of his reviews seems to fluctuate wildly, but again, if your tastes are similar to his (mine are not), you will probably find them all helpful.
  • “Psyche Van Het Folk”
    Not the proper title for this website, but I can’t find a real title anywhere. Lots of capsule reviews of some of the more obscure stuff out there, ranging from psychedelic folk (obviously) all the way to avant-prog and RIO. Well-written, with lots of useful links. Despite a kind of confusing site architecture, this one was a nice surprise find.

So… what have I missed? Maybe in a future entry I’ll go over some of the non-prog music review sites I like to read regularly.