Tag Archives: Flower Kings

The Flower Kings: Islands

Islands
Cover art by the master of prog art, Roger Dean

Here is the latest in what will hopefully be a regular feature at Spirit of Cecilia: a conversation about a current release from a favorite artist. Once again, Arts Editor Tad Wert joins Editor-in-Chief Brad Birzer, this time to discuss the Flower Kings’ latest, Islands.

Birzer: Somewhat surprisingly–especially given how recently the band released its last album, 2019’s excellent Waiting for Miracles–The Flower Kings is just about to release its fourteenth studio album, Islands.  It comes out on October 30. 

And, it’s not just any album, but a double album.

Tad, we’ve had a few weeks to listen to the promo, and I’m really curious what you think. It’s a collection of (generally) shorter FK songs, but with all the FK trademarks and psychedelic flourishes one would expect from the band. 

Islands reminds me a bit of Stardust We Are in terms of its structure, but that album was more epic in reach and in scope. With Islands, however, it’s great (as always) to have the trademark dual vocal leads, but I think some of the instrumental passages and songs are simply stellar. Track 2 on disk 2, “A New Species,” for example, really stands out for its musical innovation and flow. I definitely would love an entire album built around this track, much like what a much younger FK did with Flower Power.  This is the kind of track that proves that FK is still a major powerhouse of prog.

Yet, there are a few moments that make me scratch my head.  The band has released as the first single from the album, “Broken,” the fifth track on disk one.  While the song has some achingly beautiful moments, especially lyrically, there are guitar and keyboard passages that are lifted almost directly from the theme song of The Simpsons!  Whether this was intentional and playful on the part of the band or not, I have no idea.

Still, while Islands is an excellent album, it’s very much rooted in third-wave prog.

Wert: Brad, I know the Flower Kings are one of your favorite groups, so I am honored you invited me to talk about them with you! I had a little chuckle when you said, “It’s not just any album, but a double album.” Looking at my music library, I have 13 studio albums of theirs, and no less than 9 are two (or more) discs. That’s almost 70%! I have enjoyed their music very much, but there are times when I wish they had an editor; I think some of their albums would be improved if they tightened them up a little.

So what about Islands? I agree that the songs are generally shorter, and that is a good thing in my opinion. The ones that immediately grabbed me were “Black Swan”, “Broken” (except now that you have pointed out the Simpsons reference, I can’t get that out of my head!), “Tangerine”, “Northern Lights”, and “Fool’s Gold”. A common thread of them is that they feature the vocals of both Roine Stolt and Hasse Froberg. I think when they collaborate the energy level really rises.

In their press release, Stolt says that the listener should approach this set as one long piece, which makes sense. When I first heard “Heart of the Valley” on the first disc, I thought it didn’t go anywhere; it sounded like a section of a larger epic. Well, on the second disc is “Telescope”, which is quoted in “Heart of the Valley”, so Islands really is one 90 minute suite. Once I approached it in that light, the songs I first considered throwaways took on more significance.

As Spirit of Cecilia’s resident FK expert, how would you rank Islands in their discography?

Birzer: Tad, great thoughts.  Thank you for them.  As much as I like Islands, I wouldn’t immediately rush it to the top in terms of rankings. My favorites from the band are Space Revolver (far and away, my favorite) and Paradox Hotel, followed closely by Stardust We Are and Unfold the Future. So, as much as I like Islands, it would rank–at least in these early stages of listening–somewhere in the low middle of their albums.  Maybe around the level of Banks of Eden.

Above, when I mentioned that the album is deeply rooted in third-wave prog, I meant this more as a statement of fact than as one of judgment. What I like about my favorite FK albums is their energy and their innovation, the chances the band takes. Overall, Islands seems low energy compared to the band’s best work and innocent of any real innovations.

It’s still a FK album and that means it’s better than 95% of the music out there.  But, within the FK discography, Islands ranks fairly low.

Wert: I’ll go with that assessment, Brad, although the more I listen to Islands, the more I like it. And I want to give a shout-out to Roger Dean for the incredible cover art! My takeaway: Islands is a solid effort by a band that is in no way in decline. They are still making vital music, and for that I am grateful.

I’m looking forward to Roine’s work with the new Transatlantic album that is slated for release soon!

IN THE DROPBOX: aYREON, flOWER kINGS, AND sHORT-hAIRED dOMESTIC

This week, I feel like the DropBox is in a holding pattern (with one exception). We have two well-established prog artists with new albums, but neither one indicates much artistic growth. Both are solid efforts that will certainly please die-hard fans, but I don’t see them attracting many new ones.

ayreon-e28093-transitus-600x600-1

Arjen Lucassen, the king of prog operas, has released a new magnum opus, Transitus. This is the first of his operas that isn’t tied to his Ayreon world in some way (although there is a sly reference the “The Human Equation”). Transitus is a Victorian ghost story/morality play that tells the story of two doomed lovers – one a wealthy young man and the other a servant of his – and how they overcome the barrier of death to be together.

If you’re an Ayreon fan, musically this fits in with everything Lucassen has done previously. There’s not a lot of new ground broken, but it’s hard to fault an artist for being so consistently good. Tommy Karevik (Kamelot) sings the lead role of Daniel, and Cammie Gilbert (Oceans of Slumber) takes the role of Abby. 

islands

The Flower Kings are never ones to stint their fans when it comes to providing music, and Islands is no exception. It is a big 2 CD album that features Roine Stolt’s trademark guitar work and laconic vocals. On this outing, I actually prefer the songs bandmate Hasse Froberg sings – he is a little grittier. According to Stolt, all of the songs revolve around the theme of isolation, hence the title. There are some beautiful moments in this sprawling set, particularly All I Need Is Love. Fans of the Flower Kings and Transatlantic will not be disappointed with this one.

short-haired-domestic-album-cover

This album is the most interesting one of this week’s batch. Short-Haired Domestic is Tim and Lee Friese-Greene, and their offering is not exactly prog, but it is some of the most delightfully quirky artpop I’ve heard in a long time. Every song is sung in a different language – Japanese, Bulgarian, Italian, German, Hindi, even Latin. It is funky, catchy as hell, and just plain fun. Tim is best known for his extraordinary production of Talk Talk’s last few groundbreaking albums, and Short-Haired Domestic makes clear he still has a few tricks to share with us.

Here’s the first single, A Song In Latin About The Importance Of Comfortable Shoes (yes, that’s the actual title):

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 4: 2013

We’re continuing our look back at the decade that is ending in a few weeks with a fond recall of 2013. It was another exceptional year in terms of high quality music, and I have selected fifteen albums that represent just how good that year was for lovers of prog and rock. Once again, my choices are in alphabetical order.

The Beatles: Bootleg 1963

Okay, this is certainly not prog, but the Beatles were the greatest rock group of all time. This is a huge collection of studio outtakes from 1963 that was initially available for purchase for only a few hours on iTunes. Why only a few hours? Because the 50 year copyright on them was set to expire if they weren’t made commercially available. Once they were put on the marketplace, their copyright was safe, and the music label could continue to make money off of them.

That said, these tracks are a fascinating glimpse into how good John, Paul, George, and Ringo were from the beginning of their recorded career. They hit their harmonies effortlessly, and their musicianship is excellent. This collection is now available on Apple Music, and it is worth checking out if you are a even a casual Beatles fan.

Big Big Train: English Electric Part 2; Full Power

Big Big Train followed up 2012’s English Electric Part 1 with English Electric Part 2, which was, in some fan’s eyes, even better. It opens with the propulsive “East Coast Racer” and includes the tender “Curator of Butterflies”. “The Permanent Way” pulls together several themes from the two parts beautifully.

Later in 2013, BBT released a deluxe 2-disc edition of Parts 1 and 2 with a changed running order and extra tracks entitled Full Power. I suppose it is the definitive edition, but I prefer the original separate albums.

Cosmograf: The Man Left In Space

One of my favorite albums of the decade is Cosmograf’s The Man Left In Space. It is a concept album about the anguish an astronaut goes through as he realizes he will not be returning home from his space voyage. Great music, sensitive lyrics, and snippets of audio conversations create a claustrophobic soundscape that is redeemed by the uplifting finale, “When the Air Runs Out”.

David Bowie: The Next Day

After he released Reality in 2003, Bowie announced he was retiring from music. Ten years later, The Next Day appeared. Reality was a career high point, but The Next Day is a worthy successor. In it, Bowie explores all of his eclectic musical interests, and delivers a terrific set of songs. The album cover is simply a vandalized version of his 1978 classic, “Heroes”, as if to say, “What’s past is past. Listen to me now.”

Days Between Stations: In Extremis

Los Angeles-based Days Between Stations released their excellent second album, In Extremis in 2013. It features Colin Moulding of XTC fame on the catchy “The Man Who Died Two Times”, and “Eggshell Man” is one of the best epics of the decade.

Ludovico Einaudi: In A Time Lapse

Einaudi is a classical composer and pianist, and In A Time Lapse is a superb collection of his minimalist-tinged compositions. Unabashedly melodic and romantic, this album is a beautiful listening experience.

Flower Kings: Desolation Rose

One of the strongest sets of songs Roine Stolt and the Kings ever recorded. Here’s what I wrote about it in my 2013 review: Desolation Rose is a dark and brooding jeremiad on the dangers of corrupt media and government, perpetual war and violence, and religious fanaticism. Freedom is not a given, and Desolation Rose is a dire warning to those who would trade it for “security”, whether by indiscriminately believing what governments and mainstream media tell us, or by neglecting critical thinking when it comes to the claims of deceptive religious figures. Each song segues seamlessly into the next, reinforcing the overall impact of the lyrics. It may take a few listens for them to take hold, but once they do, they are very powerful.

Haken: The Mountain

The Mountain was Haken’s third album, and it was a breakthrough. Every song is excellent, and “Paraidolia” is one of the best in their entire catalog. This album was my favorite of 2013 (yes, I liked it even more than BBT’s Full Power). Today, Haken is one of the top bands in progworld. This album shows why they deserve all the accolades.

KingBathmat: Overcoming The Monster

KingBathmat is the brainchild of John Bassett, and for a while in the mid-’10s it looked like they were going to conquer the world. Overcoming The Monster is their best album, and it is a hard-driving metal/psychedelic/progressive melodic masterpiece. “Kubrick Moon” is one of the weirdest yet satisfying songs I’ve ever heard.

Gary Numan: Splinter – Songs From A Broken Mind

Most people in America think Gary Numan is that one-hit wonder guy with the song about cars. He’s actually had a long career, with many ups and downs, and Splinter is an incredible return to form. Trent Reznor owes a lot to Numan, as Splinter illustrates. A very strong album, performed very well. The bass is absolutely thunderous, and the hooks Numan sets up sink in and won’t let go.

Rush: Vapor Trails, remixed

Not a 2013 album, but a welcome rerelease. The original 2002 album was greeted rapturously, because no one knew if Rush would ever perform together after Neil Peart’s personal losses. Once the initial excitement subsided, it was clear that the mix on Vapor Trails was a disaster. With this version, these fantastic songs can be heard as the band intended.

Sand

Matt Healey (North Atlantic Oscillation) released this solo album that could be another NAO set. It is a wonderful album, including an ode to Halley’s telescope (“Elegy For The Old Forty-Foot”). I’m a fan of anything NAO does, and SAND is an essential part of their catalog.

Sanguine Hum: The Weight Of The World

Sanguine Hum’s second album is even better than their excellent debut. The title track is 15 minutes of endlessly delightful pop that flies by in no time. The Weight Of The World is a career high that they have yet to surpass.

Sound Of Contact: Dimensionaut

One of the best albums of the decade. Simon Collins (son of Phil, with his father’s vocal and drum chops) and Dave Kerzner formed the creative nucleus of this band and released a terrific concept album about a being who can travel through different dimensions. “Mobius Slip” is one of the most exhilarating 20 minutes in rock. Too bad Collins and Kerzner couldn’t patch up their differences to work together again. We’re all poorer for it.

Steven Wilson: The Raven That Refused To Sing

When I first heard Steven Wilson’s opening track to The Raven That Refused To Sing, I thought, “Hmm… Early ’70s Herbie Hancock fusion with Yes.” I’m not a fan of that particular mixture, but fortunately, track 2 is one of Wilson’s finest ever: “Drive Home”. I admire him for trying new things and never sitting still musically – that’s what keeps me interested in his work.

Other significant releases in 2013: Anathema’s concert set Universal, Blackfield’s IV, The Dear Hunter’s Migrant, Nosound’s Afterthoughts, and Tesseract’s Altered State. Let us know your favorites that we missed in the comments!

 

Another Miracle: The Flower Kings at 25

Interior art, Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES (Sony/Inside Out, 2019).

Looking death straight in the eye

You will never feel that much alive

—Roine Stolt

For anyone in the prog world, Roine Stolt is a grand and solid name, a trusted master of the craft and a man as honest about his opinions as anyone ever has been in the rock world. From The Flower Kings to Transatlantic to Anderson-Stolt to Steve Hackett’s band, Stolt is anywhere and everywhere excellence is. 

Simply put, when I think of Stolt, I imagine that other master of amazing things, Tom Bombadil. And, yes, that means Goldberry is nearby. “He is.”

The new Flower Kings, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a thing of beauty, delicate yet everlasting.  Sounding a bit like FLOWER POWER and SPACE REVOLVER, the new album has everything a fan loves: mystery, lingering, soaring, contemplating, undulation.

This is glorious and mighty prog.

The album opens with the fragile and compelling “House of Cards,” moving immediately into the Tennyson-esque rage against fate, “Black Flag.” Followed by ten-minute “Miracles for America,” a plea for the future of the free world, and then another ten-minute track, “Vertigo,” disk one is nothing if not dizzying.  If there’s a rock anthem on the album, it’s track no. five, “The Bridge,” which might very well have topped the rock charts in 1983, with its reminder of the theme of the album, “waiting for miracles.” “Ascending to the Stars,” track six of disk one, gives us a mysterious and dark Flower King, an instrumental and orchestra joy somewhat reminiscent of Kansas in its heyday. Despite its name, “Wicked Old Symphony” is the poppiest of the tracks on disk one, a track that hints at the Beatles as well as early 1970’s America. “The Rebel Circus,” track eight, is another wildly wacky and infectious instrumental, followed by the intense and aptly-named, “Sleeping with the Enemy.” The final track of disk one, “The Crowning of Greed,” is a poem, at once reflective in theme, and progressive in tone.

Disk two is much shorter than disk one, and I have no idea if it’s meant to be a “bonus disk” or a continuation of the album. That track one of disk two is a reprise of track one of disk one does nothing to answer my confusion about all of this. Track two, “Spirals,” is a feast of electronica and reminds us once again of the theme of the album: “Call on miracles—For America.” “Steampunk,” the third track of disk two, seems to take us back into the world of adventures. If “Black Flag” followed the voyages of Ulysses, “Steampunk” has us follow Aeneas. The final full track of the album, “We Were Always Here,” is a rather beautiful rock song, reminding us of life and its unending beauties. “It’s so simple in its purities/All that genius—life energies/like forgotten springs of melody.” Disk two ends with the 52-second long bluesy circus piece, “Busking at Brobank.”

Overall, WAITING FOR MIRACLES, is a joy.  It’s not just a joy as a Flower Kings album, it’s a joy as a rock album. Anyone serious about his or her rock music should add this to the collection. One final note—while I’m not wild about the cover art (too political for my tastes), I absolutely love the interior art, making a physical purchase of WAITING a must.

P.S. I proudly bought my copy from my favorite store, Burning Shed.

approaching our first birthday

Well, birthdays all around!

XTC as Dukes. Does it get much better? Yes, Steven Wilson as Porcupine Tree remixes.

Tomorrow, our wonderful poet-in-residence, Kevin McCormick, is turning 52. Just a good deck of cards.

On November 22, the website turns one. How great is this? Too great, to be sure.

Very recently, some excellent music has shown up in the Spirit of Cecilia mailbox. New Flower Kings, new Cure (well, new live Cure), new Elbow, new old Peter Gabriel, and new old Dukes of Stratosphear. Some new Bruce Soord, too. A blessing of riches. If all goes well, Glass Hammer’s remixed and renewed LEX REX should show up tomorrow.

Reviews forthcoming. . .

And, of course, expect great pieces from Tad, Erik, Mahesh, Richard, and Alex and others! All to the good.