ProgBlog

By ProgBlog, Jun 15 2020 09:03PM

Even though much of the world has been in lockdown to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic, many musicians have been working away on new material and over the last few weeks ProgBlog has been inundated with requests for reviewing/featuring a wide range of prog-related singles and EPs, from pop-prog to protest song to symphonic metal to punk-progressive metal, all submitted for viewing with a video. It’s a testament to the unifying power of music that groups have been able to write, record and distribute material through such turbulent times – Manchester’s New Luna managed to play a session in New York before catching one of the last flights back to the UK before global passenger air travel ground to a halt. Here are the singles I’ve been listening to and watching:



Fughu (Argentina) Right from the Bone (from the album Lost Connection)



Fughu play aggressive metal tempered with prog flourishes and a punk attitude. Their story began when guitarist Ariel Bellizio met drummer Alejandro Lopez at school in Buenos Aires in 1999, before recruiting Marcelo Malmerica (keyboards), Juan Manuel Lopez (bass) and opera singer Santiago Burgi. Armed with influences as varied as Megadeath, Deep Purple, Kiss, ELP, Van der Graaf Generator, King Crimson and tango composer Astor Piazzolla, the group took on the name Fughu. In March 2008, Fughu were selected by Mike Portnoy to be Dream Theater’s opening act at the 9000 capacity Luna Park Stadium. The following year they self-produced their well-received first album Absence, and followed that with the simultaneous release of conceptual pieces Human – The Tales and Human – The Facts in May 2013. Both works received glowing reviews and opened the door to overseas tours, including European dates in Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Serbia and Austria during 2015.

Santiago Burgi left the band and returned to opera in 2016, replaced by Renzo Favaro. The new-look formation began touring Argentina in 2018 when they were honoured to be the opening act for Premiata Forneria Marconi in their home city, fine tuning what they regard as their most defiant work, 2019’s Lost Connection


https://youtu.be/XpEEY0Ne9Ew



Silver Nightmares (Italy) The Wandering Angel (from the EP The Wandering Angel)


Silver Nightmares was formed in Palermo in 2018 by bassist Gabriele Esposito, drummer Alessio Maddaloni and keyboardist Gabriele Taormina, going through several configurations until arriving at its current line-up with Mimmo Garofalo (guitars) before setting about writing and orchestrating the musical material that would make up their debut EP The Wandering Angel (2020). For recording, the quartet was augmented by Simone Bonomo and Michele Vitrano (vocals), Giulio Maddaloni (flute), Tody Nuzzo (guitars) and Davide Severino (trumpet). Their pool of influences ranges through progressive rock, AOR, heavy metal and classical music with acts such as Asia, Genesis, Savatage, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Styx, Kansas, Toto, Iron Maiden, Jethro Tull, Foreigner, Dream Theater, Opeth, Ghost, Marillion, Anathema, Katatonia and Judas Priest.

The five-track EP is a concept piece concerning the loss of human spirituality. A wandering angel, from the distant star of life, falls from heaven and gradually becomes ever more contaminated by the corruption on earth. The story is illustrated by the fate of the natural world, heroes of the past and shrewd present day characters


https://youtu.be/omV0T8kaBoo



New Luna (UK) Prunus



Affirming their reputation with a series of intense sold-out shows across Manchester last year, New Luna spent their final days before lockdown in New York for The New Colossus Festival and performed a head-turning Paste Magazine live session just hours before catching one of the final flights out of New York. Their sound has been described as ‘dream-pop reimagined for the Mancunian drizzle’ (Clash Magazine), a unique blend of post-punk and dream-pop that has earned them nods from the likes of Piccadilly Records and BBC Introducing. Tipped by Paste as one of the need-to-know Manchester artists, the band have performed at multiple major festivals and opened for softcore psyche band Childcare and alt-rockers Happyness, Kagoule, and October Drift.

Though it’s really not the sort of thing normally considered to be in the ProgBlog remit, it does blend a number of styles and I found myself quite enjoying it. Post-punk vies with guitar-driven dream-pop as the most dominant sound but mixed in with all this is a dose of psychedelia and the whole thing is held together with solid rhythm and intelligent, imaginative drumming – the interview at Paste suggests there are hip-hop references and Stewart Copeland is cited as an inspiration. The twin guitars work well together whichever style dominates, and there’s an admirable degree of variation


https://youtu.be/teRLVPZ93Y0



Moon Letters (USA) The Red Knight and On the Shoreline (from the album Until They Feel the Sun)



More about Moon Letters can be found on the ProgBlog DISCovery page http://progblog.co.uk/discovery-17-moon-letters/4594741702


youtu.be/ysohUexhhPo

youtu.be/I8iZMCFaSSI



Konarucchi (New Zealand) They Follow (from the forthcoming EP Stuck in Daydreams)



They Follow is a track inspired by alternative / progressive rock, influenced by bands such as Muse, Porcupine Tree, and The Pineapple Thief. The song is about someone reaching out for help because their bad thoughts and feelings are getting overwhelming, and they don't know what's wrong or how they can fix it. It's the second single off the debut EP Stuck in Daydreams, released at the end of May.

Konarucchi, who mostly performs solo acoustic or with his alt pop-rock band Pale Lady, is a multi-genre solo artist from the small town of Wainuiomata in New Zealand. He likes to experiment with many different styles of music, without focusing on how they will fit together, because he believes that cohesion in music comes from the artist rather than the genre. This idea has a clear influence in the music he creates, and is strongly apparent in Stuck in Daydreams. The EP has many different influences, ranging from jazz to rock to alternative to electronic to metal, which work harmoniously together to create an amalgamation of this raw emotional silliness (his words) he calls an EP. The material is a step-up from his normal work, employing a backing band of honed musicians in order to play the full versions of the songs from this EP


https://youtu.be/YxlPeqqDxH0



Kitten Pyramid (UK) Doughnuts



Experimental UK pop-proggers and The Guardian newspaper darlings Kitten Pyramid have just released a new song Doughnuts, the first track to be taken from upcoming album Koozy!, due out next year.

Seven years on from their acclaimed self-released debut Uh-Oh! and five since the ambitious High Five Scuba Dive EP, Burton-on-Trent singer-songwriter Scott Milligan, aka Kitten Pyramid, presents the new track Doughnuts, a reflective hymn to the importance of real people, ordinary lives and the march of time, carefully coordinated to coincide with National Doughnut Day. Milligan describes Doughnuts as embracing the beauty in repetition and of the mundane, saying 'it’s about the chirpy train of death rhythmically chuffing and clunking away behind us, getting louder as we get older.' Employing a Milligan family-and-friends choir, it begins with soft chanting before the introduction of a simple piano melody, subtle steam-engine percussion and A Day In The Life drums, building to a brass and strings-laden climax as Milligan details items of routine and domestic humdrum.

Superficially lightweight but really rather deep, Doughnuts and its accompanying video (filmed during the current lockdown) is subtle prog dressed in readily-digestible pop clothes


https://youtu.be/6gcsbUE7qgw



The Dowling Poole (UK) Deep Breath



The Deep Breath single doesn’t appear on The Dowling Poole's recently released third album See You See Me but was produced during lockdown and sums up the upheavals we are all enduring. Willie Dowling and Jon Poole have no qualms about penning political songs, and though they write catchy pop tunes the subject matter is treated with prog-seriousness.

Dowling suggests it tends to be those to the right of centre who advocate the hypothesis that music and politics is an unholy mix, in an attempt to protect the status quo. Explaining that almost everything that touches our lives is political by definition, he says any serious songwriter will be saying something in their songs about the recent immense events and the way that they touch their lives: 'Music is a powerful way of connecting people, and since the 1960s, established power worldwide [has been] aware of this and is keen to ignore, mock or condemn any critique of power made in song form.'

It’s pleasing that The Dowling Poole is free to speak up about what they believe in and highlight the injustices that surround them. In keeping with these ideals, the video for Deep Breath features footage contributed by fans of the band from around the world who have documented their recent experiences of protest and lockdown


https://youtu.be/ommwIdGKm20



Quantum (Sweden) The Next Breath of Air (EP)



Quantum is Anton Ericsson, Oscar Lundin, Marcus Lundberg and Samuel Walfridssona, a progressive rock band from Stockholm influenced by music ranging from classic-era prog like Genesis or King Crimson, to extreme metal bands like Mastodon and jazz fusion in the vein of The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Quantum’s music is packed with aggressive dynamic shifts and memorable melodies; music that can shimmer one moment only to explode the next. The material dips into jazz ballad and bursts of metal; it combines with expanded forms from European art music, exhibits flashes of math rock and blends intricate harmonies, all the while maintaining a focus on groove and melody, creating a sound that is quite something else


https://youtu.be/7FADB8XKhHI



The Tragic Company (Spain) Rotten


The Tragic Company hail from southern Spain and recently released a seven-minute long prog-single in the style of Tool, Porcupine Tree or Dream Theater called Rotten, which is to be featured on their forthcoming studio album Paradox (Wild Punk Records.) Guitarist/vocalist and band leader Juanma Medina has shaped their style into a mixture of the best alternative, post-grunge and stoner rock with a prog touch, citing Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Porcupine Tree as influencing their sound. The other band members are Mariano Alcobendas (lead guitar and backing vocals); Alan Voreaux (bass and backing vocals); and Jose Luis Fernández (drums). They have gigged hard to build a solid reputation on the Spanish underground scene over the past few years, with well-crafted songs in English, and put out two studio albums and a live unplugged album


https://youtu.be/0c3jW64hbRs



Seth Angerer (Austria) Not Here to F*ck Spiders



Seth Angerer explains that the title of his latest single Not Here to F*ck Spiders is an Australian phrase which means ‘not here to fuck around’. He regards it as his best produced piece, an anthem decrying hypocrisy, which like his other material is self-written, recorded and produced.

His early EPs were in a prog metal/djent style, influenced by bands like Meshuggah and Haken, but his first long-form opus was 2018’s symphonic album Shinka (Japanese: evolution) in four movements; expansive, dramatic and cinematic music that could have acted as the soundtrack for the creation of the solar system. Not Here to F*ck Spiders is a move away from the symphonic, back firmly into prog metal territory where in addition to his own voice, guest vocalist Pipi Gogerl (Ancient Fragments/Question of Eternity) lends a hand


https://youtu.be/LekQuPQyyT4












By ProgBlog, Aug 29 2018 09:27PM

Dave Stewart’s keyboard playing has graced a number of iconic and important albums in the progressive rock canon, from the proto-prog psychedelia of his early bands Uriel and Egg to the studio trio and one live recording from Bruford, releases fitting somewhere between progressive rock and jazz classifications, marking his time as an integral part of a band producing interesting music while the golden age of progressive rock faded into industry-influenced AOR. Looking back on his personal influences which included Jimi Hendrix, Keith Emerson, Cream and Mont Campbell, any leanings towards jazz within Hatfield and the North, National Health or Bruford came from his erstwhile bandmates and, by association, the Canterbury tag that seems to have been applied to his music.


The first Dave Stewart album I owned was a cut-price Caroline Records pressing of The Civil Surface by Egg, recorded and released two years after the demise of the group and after the Hatfield’s eponymous debut in 1974, when Stewart suggested an Egg reunion to Simon Draper of Virgin Records. I was influenced by the marketing, i.e. selling an album cheap, and by the fact they were a keyboard-trio, having started to listen to The Nice and ELP in 1972 but, in common with a number of people who have commented on a Progarchives thread, I didn’t really get it at the time and eventually sold it to a school friend who collected anything musically related to Bill Bruford; The Civil Surface also featured Barbara Gaskin as one of the Northettes along with Amanda Parsons and Ann Rosenthal, who had provided some beautiful vocals on Hatfield and the North and I can safely say that I now get it!

The next time I came across Stewart’s work was in fact on Bruford’s Feels Good to Me (1978), a release my circle of friends had been looking forward to with fevered anticipation and one that didn’t disappoint. Bruford had worked with Stewart during the formative years of National Health and called on the keyboard player not only for his playing skills but also his ‘reasonably advanced harmonic advice’. Stewart would gain three co-writing credits on the album which was released one month before the debut from National Health, with the sophomore release Of Queues and Cures coming out ten months later in December 1978.



I began to retrospectively acquire National Health and Hatfield and the North LPs during my final year at university and even when I began to trade-in vinyl for CDs in the late 80s I hung on to them, eventually adding CD versions of selected titles to my collection when I found them in second-hand shops, or in the case of Of Queues and Cures, bought a new, re-released copy on Esoteric Records in 2009. One of my most treasured albums is a vinyl copy of DS al Coda, bought from an Our Price store in Charing Cross Road sometime, I now believe, having previously written that I bought it in the early 90s, that I added it to my collection in the mid-80s and strangely, possibly as a result of some temporal-fold effect, my copy of Hatfield and the North, bought in Virgin Records in 1982, is an Italian pressing!


Stewart quit National Health, his own band, after Of Queues and Cures because the majority of the other musicians were interested in pursuing a more improvised approach. Then when Bruford (the group) was effectively shut down by their management in July 1980, disclosing an £11000 deficit following what seemed to have been a successful tour of the US and suggesting that the drummer could work off the loss by joining a new band with Robert Fripp, Stewart formed a band called Rapid Eye Movement with close associates Pip Pyle, Rick Biddulph and Jakko Jakszyk. I distinctly remember the announcement about the formation of this group in the music press, but subsequently becoming very confused when attempting to research its history during the early days of the internet, only managing to find links to the American group REM. What little documentation has since emerged indicates that Rapid Eye Movement did play some live dates (according to Jakszyk, some poor quality recordings of French gigs survive) but they never recorded an album.


It came of something of a surprise that Stewart’s next move was into the world of pop though his discovery of the Prophet 5 while working with Bruford must have helped him to catch the early 80’s synthesizer pop zeitgeist; watching him perform on Top of the Pops in 1981 having arranged the Jimmy Ruffin soul classic What Becomes of the Brokenhearted for ex-Zombies vocalist Colin Blunstone, sporting a Public Image Limited T-shirt while punk hair crossed in front of the camera might sound as though it would give your average prog fan nightmares but the arrangement actually features a fairly proggy middle section and there’s even some Canterbury-like organ work. Peaking at number 13 in the UK singles chart, the experiment obviously paid off and set the course for his future career: writing his unique brand of adult pop; arranging classics; and arranging strings for some very well known contemporary prog acts including a number of Steven Wilson projects and Anathema. Better still, the Stewart-Gaskin follow-up which was released in August 1981, a cover version of the Gluck-Gold-Weiner-Gottleib 1963 teen lament It's My Party, not only reached number 1 in the UK and Germany, it remained in the UK top spot for four weeks, preventing the novelty Birdie Song from topping the charts.

The one and only Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin album I own is The Big Idea. This was bought second-hand from Real Groovy in Christchurch, New Zealand for NZD 7.95 in 2009 but I was an early subscriber to the couple’s email newsletter making it possible to follow their artistic endeavours and which included interactive posts on their compositions and referenced Stewart’s writing for the US Keyboard magazine.



When I received the announcement that they were going to play somewhere in London, the venue being dependent on the response from the email subscribers, to coincide with the planned release of a new album I indicated that I was intending to attend, though the email was sent early in the year and I had absolutely no idea if I was going to be able to go. When t became obvious I was going to be in the country, wasn’t going to be on call and could easily access the venue, Bush Hall, I recruited a friend, Jim Knipe and signed up; after all, they don’t play very many concerts and I’m quite enamoured with Stewart’s music. I’ve only seen him play once before, with Bruford at The Venue on 5th May 1980, a double-header performance along with Brand X, which was excellent (and is now included in the Bruford CD box set Seems Like a Lifetime Ago.)


I may have not expected a prog gig but I was a little nonplussed by other members of the audience who, judging by their choice of T-shirts (Gentle Giant’s In a Glass House; Zappa’s Hot Rats; Larks’ Tongues in Aspic; Led Zepellin) were all prog aficionados. I guess I didn’t know quite what sort of audience to expect because the Stewart Gaskin newsletter quite clearly indicates that the group, augmented by stellar drummer and long-term associate Gavin Harrison plus emerging talent Beren Matthews on guitar, play pop. It also transpired that despite a penchant for prog-related clothing, a number of people preferred Jim’s Schrödinger’s Cat is Dead/Alive T-shirt so their openness to things other than prog was a positive sign.

The evening was split into two sets with a lengthy interval when we were encouraged to go and buy beer. Stewart acted as compere, eliciting details of the audience’s nationalities (Finland, Sweden, Spain were mentioned and I’m pretty sure there was a Japanese gentleman standing in front of us) while resetting patches on his keyboards. He’d asked his old school friend Anthony Vinall (co-author of Copious Notes, the story of Uriel and Egg) to perform lighting duties, but Vinall had suggested his son could sub for him which resulted in a terrible joke about lumiere et son. The music was more proggy than I’d imagined thanks to Stewart’s arrangements and choice of keyboard sounds. I only recognised two songs, Levi Stubbs’ Tears, a Billy Bragg song covered on The Big Idea, and Walking the Dog, a very brief excerpt of which is included on National Health’s Missing Pieces, but even though I wasn’t familiar with the other songs, I liked the continued saga of Henry and James (from the track of the same name on 1988’s Up from the Dark) called Wings on their Heels, which I assume is featured on the forthcoming release Star Clocks; another new track was inspired by their bathroom floor following a bout of illness! Star Clocks should have been available for the gig but Stewart hinted that the perfectionist in him had managed to delay its printing.




Barbara Gaskin still has an excellent voice although there were times when it was a little low in the mix. Stewart used keyboard patches to add Gaskin’s own backing vocals which were very effective, similar to sections of It’s My Party, and Matthews added some backing vocals. I found it quite difficult to work out Matthew’s guitar lines because he appeared to be strumming rhythm while impressive lead guitar sounds emanated from the keyboards but this provided a simple demonstration why Stewart and Gaskin were so much better than the thin synth-pop acts of the early 80s: Not only could Stewart actually play keyboards, his arrangements were brilliantly layered, giving a full, orchestrated sound. The one thing lacking, considering the pedigree of keyboard player and drummer, was something in an odd time signature.



Public transport had been dissolving in heavy early evening rain so we left early and missed any encores. It might not have been prog, but it was still worth the trip, even in heavy rain. The description of the duo on their website isn’t far off the mark: one of the UK’s most respected, innovative and intelligent pop acts; I’d like to add, and excellent hosts.





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