Posts Tagged ‘ProgressiveEars’

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.

rmp slowly descending into suckitude

Tuesday, April 29th, 2003

For a number of reasons, I’ve been pretty erratic in keeping up with rec.music.progressive in the past few months. The signal-to-noise ratio seems to be getting constantly worse, and whenever I scan the threads I usually only find a few things of interest. The forum I read most often these days is ProgressiveEars, which in the past couple years has exploded in membership and activity. The forum there has a lot of good discussion about actual music, threads about specific bands, and so on; stuff that rmp hasn’t had in volume for a while, it seems.

That said, I’m finding this current thread about Pink Floyd absolutely hilarious.

More thread summarizing

Tuesday, April 29th, 2003

And while I’m thread-summarizing, here’s some interesting stuff culled from ProgressiveEars. First, the news that Avant Garden is apparently disbanding, after only one official release and a high-profile gig in their ProgDay appearance. Too bad, these guys were pretty darn good.

There’s an interesting thread about music people can’t stand that’s given me some good laughs. I most agree with someone choosing Lou Bega’s “Mambo No.5″ as the most annoying song ever. That song puts my teeth on edge instantly. What I find really interesting, though, is that a ton of people tend to pick out specific groups or songs in rock, pop, and so on, but then they go and decide that an entire genre is also worthless and annoying - namely, rap. I find it so weird that people can just write off entire genres like that, especially given that such a opinion is probably formed based on hearing just a few songs on the radio. Too bad.

And finally, there’s a recurring debate that’s started up again recently about the usefulness of negative reviews. Apparently some people think that negative reviews are inherently less useful than positive ones, or something like that. I’m not following very closely because frankly I find the whole discussion absurd. Anyway, the “Straw Man Argument of the Year” award goes to none other than L Perez:

As a reviewer, when I get an album by a band that is playing in a style I dont really care for, I will compare them to other artists in that style. I dont trash them ad hoc but find things about the album that fans of that style of music might like and expound on those. I usually end such a review with; ‘it’s not my cuppa but if you like and then this disc is for you’I find this style of criticism to be much better recieved than the ‘they suck shit through a straw as does all music in this style and here’s why’ kind of review, YMMV

Well, no shit. Thanks man.

I suppose it’s sort of dumb to post these responses here, where no one can respond in kind. I do this quite a bit - I guess whenever I feel like I have something to say, but I don’t actually want to get involved in a discussion. For instance, I have absolutely no desire to get embroiled in this argument… I just thought the above quote was really funny.

I hate ELP because ELP sucks

Wednesday, February 12th, 2003

The new Massive Attack is a little disappointing, at least on first listen. I’m still itching to hear their collaboration with Mos Def.

There’s a pretty fascinating discussion over at ProgressiveEars about how younger prog fans tend to dislike ELP even if they dig the other big-name “classic” prog bands. Obviously, I’m included in this category (although I also have reservations about Genesis and I’m not so big a fan of Jethro Tull, more by lack of experience than anything else). There are some interesting theories about why this is. Sean says the ELP has just aged far less gracefully than the other “classic” prog bands, and presumably aren’t helped on by the subpar lyrics and vocals and Emerson’s “self-important” adaptions of classical themes. The ever-predictable L.Perez thinks it’s just a conspiracy of young, stupid prog fans combined with avant-snobs, and that ELP-bashing is trendy.

In the end, I dislike ELP for a lot of reasons, but chief among them is the fact that while other prog bands tempered their pomposity and, urgh, pretentiousness (I fucking hate using that word in this context), ELP didn’t bother. And so now it just sounds kind of silly. Besides, I really hate keyboards when they’re used Emerson-style, probably because that kind of sound just comes off as absurdly dated.

I’m not entirely happy with this explanation. More power to those listeners that can transcend the datedness of this music. Regardless, I really can’t stand ELP, period end of story.

We’re too young to know anything

Tuesday, November 27th, 2001

An interesting philosophical point that seems to get raised pretty often is that of reviewer qualifications. There’s a dude over at ProgressiveEars who seems to dislike this site because our reviewers are young and relatively new to prog (i.e., they haven’t been listening to it since the 1970s heyday). While I’m sure those who have been fans since the 70s may be able to offer more in the way of comparison and personal experience and the like, I think there’s an advantage to being a younger reviewer as well. We have a different perspective on prog, one that may well be more in tune with the current cultural context. I know there are exceptions - there are plenty of older fans that are perfectly able to contextualize prog in the modern world - but as a whole younger fans are less likely to get stuck in a rut of cultural irrelevance. Whether or not this is reflected in reviews or review choice is a different matter, of course, but I think the idea that one has to be a grizzled veteran of prog in order to have valuable opinions about it is bunk.

This segues nicely into my most recent acquisition, which is decidedly non-prog, but which I’d like to talk about a bit. It’s the newest album produced by Dan “the Automator” Nakamura - Lovage: Music to Make Love to Your Old Lady By. No one can ever fault this guy for resting on his laurels: every single album I have of his is, stylistically, entirely different from the others. Well, except maybe Dr. Octagonecologyst is somewhat similar to A Much Better Tomorrow, but that’s because they were produced in the same period of time. Deltron 3030 is different from those, So… How’s Your Girl is totally different, and then of course there’s the Gorillaz project. And now there’s Lovage.

This is a hip-hop album, but not a rap album. There’s nary a rap to be found, but Nakamura’s beats are as hip-hop as ever, and there’s quite a bit of scratching by Deltron 3030 alumnus Kid Koala - in fact, “Everyone Has a Summer” sounds exactly like what his solo album Carpal Tunnel Syndrome would have sounded like with a producer (in my opinion, what it should have sounded like). Instead of MCs, what we get is Mike Patton (yes, that Mike Patton) and Jennifer Charles singing. I was first exposed to Charles’ voice on DJ Logic’s “Spider Dance”, and loved it - sensual and evocative. Her voice fits perfectly here, and the juxtaposition with Patton’s low growl is a delight.

The Onion calls this album “a cheeky detour into foppish pop, tongue-in-cheek trip-hop, and conceptual silliness”. There’s a focus on all things romantic and sexual, though it’s all a bit twisted. My favorites are “Book of the Month”, which masterfully contrasts the two vocalists over Nakamura’s beat and accompanying mournful cello loop, and “Sex (I’m A)”, a cover of the Berlin song. The latter is simply stunning - I wouldn’t have thought even Dan the Automator could have gotten anything good out of that song, but with the addition of a simple guitar part, a sultry beat, and the over-the-top-sexy voices of Patton and Charles (complete with strategically placed sighs and gasps), he’s somehow created a darkly sensual masterpiece.

Lovage has its weak points; some of the songs strike me as differentiated from pedestrian pop only by the Automator’s beats. But its high points are as good as anything Nakamura has put out so far.

Prog fans: Rap is a sign of societal decay

Thursday, November 1st, 2001

Grrr… sometimes I can’t stand prog fans. I’ll probably offend a bunch of people who read this (”never bite the hand that feeds you” and all that), but fergodsakes, why are some prog fans so goddamned snobby and narrow-minded? I suppose this criticism applies to die-hard fans of any genre, but for some reason it seems that much more egregious when it’s prog fans. Maybe it’s because many prog fans pride themselves on being open-minded to experimental, “difficult” music, so it’s that much more disappointing when it turns out that this vaunted open-mindedness only applies to a very narrow genre.

This stems from a somewhat distressing conversation I managed to get suckered into at Progressive Ears. Some samples of statements that inflamed me:

Why would anyone be a rap fan? Where can it possibly go? It seems like even rap has begun to realize that having musicians and singers is a vital necessity. Eventually rap should be forgotten….people in my age group are doing our part to fill our childrens’ ears with music…. I hope that the standards will soon be higher.
Even the stuff on radio that involves musicians seldom yields a guitar solo, certainly never a drum or keyboard solo.

If it involves scratching records, I do not deem it musical. Give me a break. Consider what we all listen to and think of it as decay.

Bootom line C(Rap) isnt worthy of being defended or even disscussed in a prog forum. Scatching records and a beat box played to shity ass lyrics dont make it music.It bottom line sucks ass hard.Its the cat fish of the musical lake strickly bottom feeders.

C(RAP) is completly valueless and the music I listen to does indeed far surpass any hip hop rap trip hop or any other lable it wants to go by.

Prog is a Rolls-Royce: not too many made, but each with impeccable quality that only a select few can appreciate.

“I do not deem it musical.” You’ve got to be kidding me - that’s got to be the most overtly snotty statement I’ve heard since the rec.music.classical thread “Our Children and Music”. And the thing about solos just cracks me up - yeah, all forms of music should be judged on their instrumental solos. There were some sane voices in the conversation, particularly the guy who said “Don’t let [rap] get to you so much. I don’t like poison oak, but I try to stay away from it.” and then went on to basically summarize my point of view very well:

Art, in whatever medium, is a thing that connects with the human spirit. Once it does that, no matter how simple or studied, it cannot be refuted with technical terms; it has already succeeded in its purpose. The study of art is to study why things succeed in this way, rather than the comparitive study of why one thing might be “better” than another.

I’m skeptical of the commercial tie-ins here, and it has nothing to do with music, but nevertheless it’s cool that the New York Times has posted their reviews of the Lord of the Rings trilogy (from the mid-fifties) as well as of The Hobbit (from 1938). Notably, two of the reviews are by W.H. Auden.