Posts Tagged ‘Progressive Rock’

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Rush – 2112

Sunday, April 4, 2010

2112 (1976)

A friend burned me a mix CD with the first two movements of “2112” when I was a senior in high school. And I was blown away.

2112 wasn’t like any rock music I had heard. It was different, and spacey. And it rocked hard.

And it had a concept that only nerds like me can appreciate. The story runs something like this, at least to me:

In the year 2112, a dystopia known as the Solar Federation has taken over humanity. This dystopia keeps the masses subjected through a religious system that outlaws music.

But one day a young man discovers a guitar, and learns how to play. His mind is opened, and music makes him see the world differently. He goes to the priests to share his discovery, but they scorn and outlaw him.

The outlaw then visits an oracle, and there gets inspiration. He tries to get the world to understand – but inevitably they can’t. He can’t shake the dream from his mind. Grieved, he kills himself.

But the young man has unwittingly made a martyr of himself. A rebel army gathers under his name. They attempt to usurp the Solar Federation, but in this last movement, it’s left ambiguous who has won.

Nerdy, to be sure – but awesome for guys like me who love sci-fi. I’m not that into prog music, and this is the only thing by Rush I own. The music and lyrics compliment one another perfectly. The instrumentals are out of this world (terrible pun intended).

But the thing is, any fan of rock music should own this. 2112 is an important, unique, and enjoyable album, great to nerd/rock out to.

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Muse – Showbiz

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Showbiz (1999)

This is early Muse. Muse, before they delved into the dancey depths of despair, known as Black Holes and Revelations and The Resistance.

Now Showbiz isn’t Muse’s greatest effort, either. But it is a great effort. From “Sunburn” to “Unintended,” this album is pretty solid. That unfortunately is the extent of the good tracks on here (although I’m partial to “Escape”).

For Muse fans who are only turned on to their later output, or have figured this one isn’t worth picking up, hopefully I can change your mind. Muse is just a fun band, whatever era of theirs you pick. Even though I just bashed their last two releases, there’s still much to like about them.

The best moments of Showbiz soar into a stunning fusion of masterful piano and progressive alternative. Also soaring is Matthew Bellamy’s falsetto – which is entertaining in itself to listen to, although I’ve heard of people who find it very annoying.

Though good, Showbiz is far from being the most interesting Muse album. What interest it does hold only lasts for a short while. There are a few stellar tracks – “Sunburn,” “Muscle Museum,” “Cave,” and “Showbiz” come to mind – the last more for its extreme passion, intensity, and lack of control than anything else, which is guaranteed to get your heart pumping.

But Muse at this time is a band of great potential, still finding their voice and niche. They eventually found that it in Origin of Symmetry. But in Showbiz, you can catch shadows of the greatness to come. On the better tracks, you’ll be rocking as hard as you would to either “Citizen Erased,” “Micro Cuts,” or “Stockholm Syndrome.”

Well, almost as hard. Showbiz is a debut, after all, and it’s rare for a band to knock it out of the park on the first try. Or if they do knock it out of the park, they end up striking out every other time. But for a debut, Showbiz is great, hinting that the best was yet to come.

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Porcupine Tree Signify

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Signify (1996)

Last winter, I listened to a lot of Porcupine Tree. I listened to, for the first time, Signify, Lightbulb Sun, and Stupid Dream. Of these, I probably like Signify the best.

I always remember winter when I listen to Signify, mostly because it was the default as I drove to work each day in ice and snow. And it is a suiting winter album.

I think and feel several things when I listen to Signify. The themes are usually bleak, dealing with disconnect and numbness. The lyrics ask haunting questions, such as “Where will be when the future comes?” It expresses discontent and anger toward religion and those use it for power, perhaps even outrightly condemning religion itself.

But musically, this is Porcupine Tree at their best, and they’re at their best quite often. If you’re used to In Absentia or Deadwing era Porcupine Tree, as I was, the style might take some getting used to. After all, it was composed in 1996, six years before In Absentia. But they rock as hard as ever and sound quintessentially Porucpine Tree. This album is host to several classics, such as “Sleep of No Dreaming,” “Sever,” “Idiot Prayer,” and “Dark Matter.”

This is one of those rare albums that’s good from start to finish. The message isn’t very good, expressing bleak discontent and outright negativity that could be depression-inducing at times, aided by the minor key tonality. It is certainly haunting and even creepy at points. But it’s Porcupine Tree and that’s to be expected. Just be aware that the album will deal with dark themes that it doesn’t attempt to answer positively.

Signify is a good album. Porcupine Tree is a highly talented band, and this album is worth a listen, if only for its outstanding musicality.

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maudlin of the Well – part the Second

Saturday, May 16, 2009
part the Second (2009)

part the Second (2009)

[This review first appeared on Blogcritics. To see the original, click here.]

Last night, I was up until 2:00 a.m. despite the fact I had to wake up early. I blame maudlin of the Well’s brilliant new album, part the Second.

The story behind the recording of this album is amazing and shouldn’t be glossed over. From 1999-2001, maudlin of the Well released three albums. The latter two, Bath and Leaving Your Body Map are among the most genius pieces of music I’ve ever heard. These albums seamlessly blend metal, jazz, and indie in an amalgamation that is breathtaking and awe-inspiring.

However, maudlin of the Well’s avant-garde nature also kept them from being more widely known. They disbanded in 2001, some members of the group going on to form Kayo Dot, an even more avant-garde group, which, ironically, is more well-known than maudlin of the Well.

Yet over the years, through music message boards, forums, and blogs, maudlin of the Well slowly began to pick up a devoted following. They gained what notoriety they had the hard way — through the mouths of people who could not shut up about how great they are.

In a MySpace blog post in 2008, maudlin of the Well front man Toby Driver mentioned he wanted to record some older songs that were never recorded, but was restricted by financial issues. Response and enthusiasm from fans was massive. Several people made large donations so Toby and the band could accomplish this. The donations made it possible to go beyond the one song and record a full-length studio album, not an album of leftovers, but of mostly new material.

[On] May 14, 2009, this dream and hard work manifested when part the Second, was released over the Internet completely for free, In Rainbows style.

I was among the first to download the album, and I was absolutely enthralled with what I heard. maudlin evolved their sound in a way that was unexpected and surprising to me. Most strikingly, though maudlin of the Well is considered a progressive metal band, most of part the Second is comparably soft and soothing, almost post-rockish. In fact, I would hesitate to call any part of this album metal, though glimmers of it are hinted at in various strains. The new incorporation of violin and piano blends in perfectly with the inimitable maudlin of the Well sound, and both instruments fit in as if they they had always belonged.

The compositional layering is practically on a symphonic level – cerebral listeners will enjoy its complexity. The sign of a good band is a natural, evolving progression from album to album, and maudln of the Well has achieved that. Hints of Kayo Dot abound, especially evident in track four, “Clover Garland Island,” though the album itself is undeniably maudlin of the Well.

Part the Second is a softer listen than maudlin’s other albums. Genre-wise, as with all of maudlin’s music, it’s difficult to classify. I would say it’s highly experimental and would call it post-rock, perhaps post-metal. Track one is great, and is very laid back and relaxing. The piano outro at the end is reminiscent of Radiohead’s “All I Need,” to use the In Rainbows comparison again, though maudlin of the Well are nowhere near that band’s genre.

Track two is a little harder – though hard, it is absolutely beautiful. Another highlight is the piano outro on the last track, which is the perfect ending for this album. Though picking highlights might cheapen the rest of the listening experience – know that I think that it is all good.

Fans of post-rock will love this new release. In fact, anyone who loves experimental music that pushes boundaries will love part the Second.

Of course, if you’re already a maudlin of the Well fan or a Kayo Dot fan, or just love interesting music, what are you waiting for? If you have gotten this far, then chances are you’re somewhat interested. Do yourself a favor and download this album – and why wouldn’t you, when it is completely free? It is available in three different formats, including higher than CD quality, which will appease all the audiophiles out there. While we’re on that note, download Bath and Leaving Your Body Map as well – they’re now out of print and the CDs go for $50 plus on the Internet. No one’s going to be losing any money off you, and from what I’ve read, the members of the band themselves are cool with this.

So what are you waiting for? Go listen to part the Second and download it at maudlinofthewell.net. You can also listen to it the site if you wish to hear it before downloading. And also, consider giving the band a donation, as they worked very hard on this release.

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Porcupine Tree – Deadwing

Saturday, April 18, 2009
Deadwing (2005)

Deadwing (2005)

From the first time I listened to this album it felt so innately familiar, like I heard all these songs before. This is definitely not a bad thing, in this case.

Every one of these songs are great and add something to the album, which I can’t really say for In Absentia. Certainly some are weaker than others, but every song shines here.

It starts hard with the nealy ten minute “Deadwing.” Next the pop-metallish “Shallow.” Then my favorite song on the album, “Lazarus,” is very pretty and spacey. It has a piano background which really make the song tender and warm while maintining its progressive elements.

Deadwing is my second Porcupine Tree album and it just makes me want to explore the band further. This is the beginning of a great and new obsession, I’m sure.

“Arriving Somewhere but Not Here” is just an epic twelve minute thrill ride. “Mellotron Scratch” is also good. I could just go through the rest of the songs and devote a sentence to each of them, but there really is no point. I’d just be repeating myslf.

I’m not really an expert on Porcupine Tree, but this album makes me want to be one. It’s very surprisng to me that they are not as popular. I know, there are a lot of people who know about Porcupine Tree, but I guess what I’m saying is if you were to walk up to someone at my unversity and ask them if they’ve heard of them, maybe one of fifty would say “yes.” As such, Porcupine Tree seem to be a secretly amazing band that only a lucky few will ever hear about.

Deadwing is fun. While In Absentia has some better songs, Deadwing seems more consistent. I’ll probably review Fear of a Blank Planet soon.

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Muse – Origin of Symmetry

Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Origin of Symmetry (2001)

Origin of Symmetry (2001)

Just to start, “Origin of Symmetry” is a really cool name for an album.

This is Muse at their most racauous and space rocky prime. Way back in the day I was really obsessed with Muse I listened to this album all the time, and listening to it today I still catch the feeling of older times, where everything seemed a lot more simple… sigh.

Anyway, since I can’t go back, I can still always pick a song off this album and go back in my mind. Not saying I do that often, just when the mood strikes.

Muse are one of the best bands out there that can rock really hard but be very catchy. Origin of Symmetry is Muse at their best. The sound here is a little rougher than anything else they’ve done, but that’s what makes Origin of Symmetry so great to me. The first seven tracks up to “Micro Cuts” is an absoulte rollercoaster. “New Born,” “Bliss,” “Space Dementia,” “Hyper Music,” Plug-In Baby,” “Citizen Erased,” (woot!), and finally “Micro Cuts.”

From there, admittedly, the album goes a bit downhill, but the songs are still good, “Megalomania” probably topping the second half as the best.

This album plays to Muse’s greatest strengths: Matthew Bellamy’s jaw-dropping falsetto on “Micro Cuts,” the sheer epicness of “Citizen Erased,” the pop masterpiece that is “Plug in Baby,” the higly experiemental, Rachominoff-inspred “Space Dementia,” this album is just “wow” all the way through.

I’m sort of sad about Muse in a way. I listened to them way too much (overdosed, if you will), and now they are not as interesting and fun as they used to be to me. Same goes for Radiohead and Explosions in the Sky, along with some other bands I’m sure.

Origin of Symmetry is an important album to me. Lots of good memories are tied into its notes.

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Porcupine Tree – In Absentia

Friday, February 13, 2009
In Absentia (2002)

In Absentia (2002)

Though unique, In Absentia doesn’t sacrifice accessibility. On first listen, it is engaging, and remains so to me over a year after I got it.

In Absentia is a concept album about a serial killer – or the darkest elements of people. “The Creator Has a Masterpiece,” for example, is about child abuse. The music itself reflects the dark lyrics – the strumming is violent and thrashing, while some songs have a calm yet disconcerting vibe – “Lips of Ashes” is a good example. It’s a really cool album to listen to – it has many unexepected turns.

Given the murderous themes, this was a fitting album for my friend and I to listen to on our way to see Friday the 13th yesterday.

Some people really love Porcupine Tree. But I’m of the school that they aren’t the BA new gods of the universe some make them out to be. I admit Porcupine Tree’s musicality is impressive. The banjo solo in the almost poppy “Trains” is amazing, and the song’s hand claps are well-placed (I’m a sucker for hand claps). Other highlights include “Blackest Eyes,” “The Sound of Muzak,” and  “Gravity Eyelids.”

Though the front half of the album has the lion’s share of the best songs, my favorite song is actually the album closer,  “Collapse the Light Into Earth.” It’s a haunting piano refrain which repeats itself over and over, adding layer upon layer – first, voice, then strings, then all of them together. The song feels like a passageway from life to death, or life to new life. I can’t really explain why it feels that way to me.

I can’t understand Porcupine Tree, genre-wise, because they use so many ideas in their music. As a good progressive band, Porcupine Tree can take these varying ideas and combine them seamlessly.

Great album, great band.