Laughing Stock’s Sunrise: No Laughing Matter

You have to admire a group that name themselves after one of the most legendary albums in prog history, and Norway’s Laughing Stock live up to their namesake.  Jan Mikael Sørensen, Håvard Enge, and Jan Erik Kirkevold Nilsen have released a very fine album that leaves me wanting more.

They certainly reference all the right artists, calling to mind Pink Floyd one moment, King Crimson another, Porcupine Tree, Close to the Edge-era Yes, and of course, Talk Talk (literally singing in the song Echoes, “I still believe in you”). What is so  appealing about Laughing Stock is their ability to absorb and honor those influences while forging a distinctive sound of their own. Not quite pop, not quite prog, not quite folk, but a wonderful combination of them all.

The album begins with a clanging alarm bell on Sunrise, which is followed by a television playing in the background, a la Wish You Were Here. Somber vocals – accompanied by acoustic guitar – chant, “Stay awake, take me to daybreak – sunrise.” Drums, mellotron, bass, and guitar are gradually added to the mix to great effect.

The album is a song cycle chronicling daylight hours, Sunset, Fading Light, a Darkest Hour, and finally, Another Sunrise. The third track, Afraid, is a great song, where they sing “I’m afraid, afraid of the morning/When dreams are fading away/I’m afraid, afraid of the light/Rising daylight, come out to play/What the hell is wrong?” A loping guitar riff pushes the song along as bits of sitar weave in and out of the background. It’s slightly unsettling, yet very attractive.

In Sunset, they sing, “I am falling for you” over a gorgeous acoustic guitar, drums, and bass melody. Beach Boys -like harmonies abound, and everything seems to be at peace. It’s a beautiful track. As a matter of fact the entire album is a beautiful piece of work – primarily acoustic, featuring slower tempos with deliberate pacing. Not until Darkest Hour do we hear some serious rock, and it is excellent. Imagine King Crimson and Porcupine Tree getting together for a slow jam session, and that gives you an idea of its atmosphere.

Sunrise is being released on Apollon records. It’s the perfect thing to listen to at the end of a long day when you want to relax and unwind. However, it’s definitely not background music, as their sophisticated lyrics conjure grown-up themes. Highly recommended!




Why Aren’t There More Conservative Anarchists? On Recovering a Robust Tradition of Anti-Statism

“So to make a complicated matter as simple as possible, an anarchist is somebody who regards the existing, post-Westphalian form of the state as illegitimate. This does not commit the anarchist to any particular course of political action. An anarchist need not be a revolutionary, for example. Nor does it mean the anarchist is opposed to all forms of rules and hierarchies. Anarchists frequently make a distinction between government and governance. All human societies need the latter, both as a means of checking the passions and inculcating virtuous habits. But the former is simply one way of achieving the latter, and historically considered, a relatively young and untested one at that.”

Why Aren’t There More Conservative Anarchists? On Recovering a Consistent Philosophy of Conservative Anti-Statism

lush simple minds: street fighting years

Thirty years ago, Simple Minds released a gem, Street Fighting Years. It sounded almost nothing like the previous albums–the bombastic Once Upon a Time; the fay New Gold Dream; or the mesmerizing Sons and Fascination. Far more Peter Gabriel in restrained rage than Ultravox or U2, Street Fighting Years lived up to its title: a lush, nuanced, and political affair, all managed by the incomparable Trevor Horn.

Sadly, it was the last album on which keyboardist Michael MacNeil played a central role, giving the band a much needed depth.

At times Celtic, at times Norse, and at times just Simple Minds, Street Fighting Years was a last cry before the wilderness of grunge and techno swamped us all.

The Elegant Art-Pop of Manuel Schmid und Marek Arnold

One of the most delightful aspects of prog music is the convoluted networks of artists that can lead one to discover surprising hidden treasures. My latest vein of musical gold is an album by German artists Manuel Schmid and Marek Arnold. Their album, Zeiten, is my favorite of 2019 so far. (It was released in December 2018, and I wasn’t aware of it until March of this year, so I’m counting it as a 2019 release.)

How did an American fan of prog rock find this relatively obscure album that is sung entirely in German? Even Schmid’s official website is in German, so it’s incomprehensible to me. Well, I am a big admirer of the Australian group, Southern Empire. Sean Timms is their keyboardist and main songwriter. He is also a member of another excellent prog group, Damanek. Damanek includes multi-instrumentalist Marek Arnold. I noticed that Arnold’s newest project was Zeiten, and, voila!, I found this gem of an album

Zeiten is entirely sung in German, but that hasn’t detracted from my enjoyment of it one bit. I wish I could tell you what the songs are about, but based on the official video for Kleines Glück, I would say they are about relationships. Zeiten itself means “times” or an era in one’s life. All I know is that every song is perfectly crafted jewel.

Schmid and Arnold’s melodies are beautiful and delicate, catchy without being cloying, and deceptively complex. The instrumentation is primarily keyboards based, and mostly acoustic. There are very tasteful synth flourishes and electric guitar solos, but none of them overwhelm the beauty of the underlying melodies. Stiller Schrei features Schmid singing with a string quartet, and it is comparable to a work by Schubert.

Schmid has a wonderful voice – warm, clear, and strong without any histrionics. Arnold supplies sympathetic accompaniment with keyboards, synths, and sax. Their talents combine to create some of the most seductive music I’ve ever heard.

Here is the video for Kleines Glückwhich I assume is a bittersweet meditation on memories of childhood:


Steve Hogarth Marillion eonmusic Interview September 2019

For an album that was rushed, there’s so much depth on it, not least with ‘Out of This World’, which was about Donald Campbell and the Bluebird tragedy.
I wrote those words many, many years ago even before I met or joined Marillion. I just had a handful of words about the Bluebird, and they were just my recollections of my mother crying when she saw it on the news, and I was sitting there wondering what she was crying about. She explained to me what was going on, and that strange lobster-shaped craft doing a back-flip in the water and a man losing his live, and it never really left me.

It’s a very haunting song.
Dave Meegan, our produce always maintained that song was haunted. Strange things happened in the studio, and it was beset with technical difficulties at every stage. Overdubs kept going missing off the tapes, and even when he came to mix it, things had gone missing. But we had to keep going trying to find them, and it was all full of clicks, and it would drive him up the pole! It was dragged kicking and screaming into the world against its’ own will. It was a strange, strange track.
— Read on

1980s Synthpop Redux

Early ’80s synthpop, an often maligned style of music, is having a resurgence in popularity. Maybe it’s the nostalgia generated by Netflix hits like Stranger Things, but there is a new appreciation for music that was first produced in the early 1980s by artists like Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Howard Jones, Gary Numan, Ultravox, Camouflage, early Tears For Fears, and Depeche Mode. If you’re like me, and you’ve always had a soft spot in your heart for those groups, then today’s new synth wizards are a lot of fun to listen to.

Gunship,  from the UK, has two albums out, and they are both excellent. Their latest, Dark All Day, is very melodic with prominent rhythm.  The video for the title track has over 3 million views, so there is definitely an audience for their style of music.

The Fixt label curates a synthwave playlist on Spotify called Neon that features their stable of artists. You can hear the latest tracks from Soul Extract, The Bad Dreamers, 3Force, and many others there.

Two of my favorite synthwave artists are also on Fixt: The Anix and Scandroid. Scandroid is a project of Fixt label founder Klayton, and he is an unabashed lover of classic synthpop new wave. He even included a fine cover of Tears For Fears’ “Shout” on his first album.

The Anix is darker and more modern sounding.  Their excellent album, Shadow Movement, is set in a dystopian future, and it features catchy melodies linked to relentless beats.

Finally, LA-based I Will Never Be The Same is the brainchild of Josh Atchley. His music combines Nine Inch Nails industrial style with the melodicism of Depeche Mode and The Cure. Add a dash of Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin, and you have an irresistible mix. Take a listen to “Last Goodbye”:

These recommendations barely scratch the surface of the fun and interesting music that synthwavers are releasing now. Check them out, and let us know your current guilty pleasures in the comments below!


Life at the Margins

The early morning buzz of an engine, or that moment when we ride off the garage onto the pavement, or that instant when we tear into a freeway ramp – these are all glimpses of riding at the margins, at the margins of transitions. From stillness to the rumbling promise of 1200cc engine, from being boxed in a garage to bustling downtown alleys, from constrains of 25mph to 70mph open landscapes. All marked transitions. Life actually resides at these margins, because these are the moments when we feel most alive.

Taking a 40 mph curve at 60mph is riding at the margins, but only until we conquer the very same curve at 80mph. If we want that exact same feeling, then we need to simply raise the bar. Doing the exact same thing twice does not help, because we have already moved the boundaries. Margins are now further away. We automatically strive to raise that benchmark because it’s that feeling at the margins which matter, rest is just a means to that end. This is true whether it’s at the margins of riding, or general pleasure seeking, or for that matter any human pursuit! We all seek that feeling — which a first sip of whisky provides at the end of a long day, or that first serving of frozen custard on a summer afternoon, or that satisfaction of solving a new problem at work. Second time around none of these feel the same.

The constant pursuit of being at the margins is visible across all the human spheres. We were probably happy with library until we had ebooks and Wikipedia, now we are only happy with augmented reality! We found happiness with no internet, but now we are unhappy with the internet speeds! We were also contented with Magna Carta or bill of rights, until we had a chance with modern republic with democracy. But, as expected, now we are not merely contented with these unprecedented freedoms. We are not contented with mere liberties which enable us to freely pursue our material goals. But instead we want to be at the margins again, where education, healthcare, transportation etc are universal. Undoubtedly, even if we manage to achieve them, we would simply raise the bar. It’s easy to realize, what makes us tick is this never ending journey to the margins. In short, the next time I clock 120mph, it just might not look as fast.