Archive for August, 2005

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.

Bar Kokhba Sextet kicks ass

Sunday, August 21st, 2005

It’s a bit too early to tell, but I think the new Bar Kokhba Sextet release on Tzadik’s 50th Birthday Celebration series might just edge Electric Masada’s entry in that series (Volume 4) as my favorite. That’s saying a lot, since the latter was one of my favorite albums from a very, very strong year of music in 2004. But the Bar Kokhba title — in addition to being an amazingly great deal, with three CDs covering three full live sets for under $23 — has all the fire and energy of the Electric Masada, with a wider range of moods and a looser feel. I’ll probably be writing a proper review of it eventually, but for now it’s settling in as another favorite drawing from the Masada songbook. I’m going through a bit of Masada overload, what with the recently-released Sanhedrin and all that, but this 3CD set is just killer.

And, for your entertainment, here’s an incomprehensible but still funny review from an amazon.com user (because really, what’s more entertaining than an idiotic review?):

what`s the problem with john zorn? first of all: he never have sex with his instrument. he dont live at all. so he can play it all. but he plays his demoniac paranoid alto saxphone psico concept. o.k. but…we are not all a jewish audience. so? you only have to buy this record or box sert or whatever but its enoguth for your big loft apartment in NYC. o.k.?
we are all ill inners childs but this guy is too much.

Another new one I got recently is Arch Enemy’s latest, Doomsday Machine, which leans a bit too straightforwardly power-metal for my tastes but is still pretty good. I mention it because there’s also a really funny review on amazon.com of this one, from a reader who was apparently expecting the band’s deceptively angelic-looking lead singer, Angela Gossow, to sound like the chick from Evanescence. I would have paid money to see his face when Gossow’s straight-up death-metal roars hit his ears for the first time.

More lists!

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2005

I present to you my top 10 lists from 1997 through 2005. Feel free to leave your flames in the comments for this post, but be aware that the lists are dynamic, and they will change on a regular basis as my tastes change and expand (and as I keep getting more CDs, especially from the more recent years).