Tag Archives: Flying Colors

In The DropBox: Flying Colors, Nick Mason, Djabe with Steve Hackett, and Gazpacho

The DropBox overfloweth this week: two live sets, an interesting prog/jazz offering, and the new Gazpacho album.

First up, Flying Colors’ third live album, Third Stage: Live In London, recorded during the tour in support of 2019’s excellent Third Degree. The prog supergroup of Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave LaRue, Casey McPherson, and Neal Morse just gets better and better. This is a two-disc set featuring the cream of their crop of arena-rock style prog. The rhythm section of Portnoy and LaRue is insane, especially LaRue’s funky bass. If you aren’t familiar with Flying Colors, this is the perfect introduction. If you’re a fan, it’s the best document of their scorching live prowess yet recorded.

Next up is Nick Mason’s Saucerful of Secrets. This is a real treat: Nick Mason, original drummer for Pink Floyd, put together a talented group of musicians to play a relaxed set of pre-Dark Side Of The Moon classics at the Roundhouse. If all you know about the Floyd is DSOTM and later, these songs (with the exception of the Meddle ones) will surprise you. They are playful and psychedelic in a very charming way. Gary Kemp, of Spandau Ballet fame, handles vocals, and he is terrific. It’s obvious both the band and the audience are having a great time, and Nick Mason has not lost his chops one bit.

The Magic Stag, by Hungarian group Djabe, is hard to categorize. The first few songs sound like some sort of raga/smooth jazz hybrid, as if Bob James found himself in Bollywood. Okay, I exaggerate, but there’s definitely an Indian feel to “Power of Wings” courtesy of a sitar jamming with trumpet. Steve Hackett lends his always tasteful guitar to seven of the eleven songs, and he and his wife wrote the lyrics to the title track.

The sixth track, “Unseen Sense” is the highlight, with some outstanding acoustic guitar work supporting a beautiful melody. This is a song worthy of stellar fusion artists such as Oregon, Weather Report, or Mark Isham. The rest of the album maintains the high standard set by this track. If you are looking for a nice album to play on a lazy Sunday morning, Djabe’s The Magic Stag is a perfect choice.

Anything new from Gazpacho is big news, and it’s been two years since we heard from them. Fireworker is their latest, and it is somewhat of a departure from previous efforts. I, for one, am glad to see them stretch out a little. The past few albums were starting to sound a little interchangeable. This one kicks off with the 20-minute epic “Space Cowboy”, which features a huge choir. It’s as if Carl Orff took his Carmina Burana and scored it for a prog rock group. That sounds ambitious, but Gazpacho pulls it off with aplomb.

This song cycle, like most of Gazpacho’s, has a unifying concept. In the words of keyboardist Thomas Andersen,

“There’s an instinctual part of you that lives inside your mind, separate from your consciousness. I call it the ‘Fireworker’ or the ‘Lizard’ or the ‘Space Cowboy.’ It’s an eternal and unbroken lifeforce that’s survived every generation, with a new version in each of us. It’s evolved alongside our consciousness, and it can override us and control all of our actions.” In order to get us to do what it wants, he clarifies, the “Fireworker” will silence the parts of our mind that feel disgust or remorse so that we’re unable to stop it. The conscious part of our mind, Andersen notes, will actually “rationalize and legitimize” those thoughts and actions so that we never discover the beast behind-the-scenes. No matter how we feel about ourselves in terms of identity, accomplishments, and value, we’re all just vessels—or “Sapiens”—that the creature uses until it no longer needs us. “If you play along,” Andersen explains, “It’ll reward you like a puppy and let you feel fantastic; if you don’t, it’ll punish you severely.”

From arena prog, through psychedelic pop, to jazz prog, and finally Norwegian choral prog (for want of a better term!), this is the most eclectic batch of music we’ve ever pulled from the DropBox. I’ll leave you with a little Djabe and Steve Hackett:

 

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 10: 2019

Well, we’ve reached the end of the decade, and the end of our retrospective. Whew!

2019 proves that prog rock’s current renaissance is showing no signs of slowing down. We finish this decade with another year providing a surfeit of wonderful music. I’ve picked 11 representatives from 2019 for your listening pleasure. Here they are, in alphabetical order.

Big Big Train: The Grand Tour

Big Big Train went for the big ideas on this one. It’s loosely based on the concept of a “grand tour” that educated Europeans took in the 1700’s and 1800’s. They manage to pull together such disparate topics as St. Theodora, the poet Shelley, and the Voyager spacecraft. Believe it or not, it all works!

Cyril: The Way Through

Both Manuel Schmid and Marek Arnold are in Cyril, and I recently wrote a review of their excellent 2019 release, The Way Through. It’s about a man who has a near-death experience, and the struggles he has to overcome to reunite with his earthly body. A great prog effort!

Flying Colors: Third Degree

This supergroup just gets better and better. On their third album, Flying Colors branches out into a diversity of styles, and come up with one of the best of the entire decade.  “Last Train Home” is my favorite, “Geronimo” is funky blast of fun, and “Love Letter” sounds like a lost Raspberries classic.

 

Continuum Acceleration
In Continuum: Acceleration Theory

In Continuum is another Dave Kerzner project that rose from the ashes of a planned Sound Of Contact reunion. It is a concept album about an alien who falls in love with a human, before Earth is scheduled to be destroyed. Kerzner recruited the cream of the crop to play on this, and it is a fine addition to his already impressive resume.

 

Izz: Don’t Panic

Izz released one of the most enjoyable albums of 2019. “42” is about Jackie Robinson breaking baseball’s color barrier. While “Age Of Stars” features interweaving vocals and a driving beat. Their previous album, Everlasting Instant, was good, but Don’t Panic has more focus and confidence.

 

Moron Police
Moron Police: A Boat On The Sea

Goofy name, amazing music! These guys sound like a hybrid ska/prog/new wave band with an incredible vocalist. They have terrific playing chops, and their ability to switch styles mid-song makes my head spin. I found them via Tony Rowsick’s indispensable Progwatch podcast, and you can’t beat them if you just want to have something fun to listen to. “Captain Awkward” is a great track to start with, if you’re curious.

 

Neal Morse Band: The Great Adventure

The Neal Morse Band pick up the story where Similitude Of A Dream left off. In this installment, the son of the protagonist from Similitude must battle his own demons and find salvation. I actually like this album better than Similitude, because there is more variety in the songs. There are so many good ones, but “Vanity Fair” really stands out.

 

Pattern Animals
Pattern-Seeking Animals

Since Pattern-Seeking Animals consists of current and former Spock’s Beard members, you would expect this to sound somewhat Beard-like. However, the Pattern-Seekers come up with their own individual style that sets them apart. Ted Leonard is excellent on vocals and guitars, and John Boegehold steps up and takes a more visible role. “No One Ever Died and Made Me King” is the key track.

 

Bruce Soord: All This Will Be Yours

Often a much-loved album doesn’t make a positive first impression on me. That was the case with Bruce Soord’s (The Pineapple Thief) second solo album, All This Will Be Yours. On first listen, it is an unassuming set of songs, softly sung by Soord over a bed of mostly acoustic guitar and murmuring electronics. However, the more I listen to it, the more I am taken by it. “One Misstep” in particular is an engaging tune, with a mournful melody as Soord sings of his determination to make a broken relationship whole. As a matter of fact, I like this record better than the Thief’s much-acclaimed Dissolution, which was also released this year.

 

Tool: Fear Inoculum

This was the biggest news in progworld in 2019 – after more than a decade, Tool reunited and recorded this massive groove-laden record. All of the songs segue into each other, and the result is almost trance-inducing. I was not a huge fan of Tool’s early work, but I love this one. Maynard James Keenan seems to be rejuvenated these days (as last year’s Eat The Elephant illustrated), and that is good news.

Devin Townsend: Empath

After recording several albums with his Devin Townsend Project, Townsend decided to go solo for the highly personal Empath. Once again, his patented wall-of-sound production is in play, and his incorporates choirs, strings, and guitars. Lots of guitars. Devin can be inconsistent, but Empath is one of his best.

And that completes our look back at the decade from 2010 – 2019. There were some exciting new artists that emerged, like Damanek, Evership, Perfect Beings, and Southern Empire, while veterans like Big Big Train, Gazpacho, Glass Hammer, Katatonia, and Neal Morse released some of the best music of their careers. Several surprise reunions bode well for the future: it was great to see Kino, A Perfect Circle, Tool, and Slowdive back in action.

I hope this series of posts inspired you to check out somebody you may not have been aware of, or go back a revisit an old musical friend. If you are interested in hearing more prog news and music, check out the podcasts ProgWatch and The Prog Report. Both are excellent resources for learning about and hearing new music in progworld.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Happy New Decade!

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 5: 2014

We are well into our retrospective of the decade now, and in this post we will take a look at 2014. It was another fine year for music as some artists made their debut, and some seasoned veterans continued winning streaks. Once again, my selections are presented in alphabetical order.

Dave Bainbridge: Celestial Fire

Dave Bainbridge is a phenomenal guitarist who led the Celtic-prog band Iona in the ’90s. Celestial Fire is a massive album featuring several guest vocalists, including Damien Wilson (Threshold, Headspace, et al.). Bainbridge’s style is inventive and fluid, reminiscent of Alan Holdsworth, and Celestial Fire provides ample proof that he is one of the finest guitarists working today.

Elbow: The Take Off and Landing of Everything

Elbow has consistently produced excellent albums, and 2014’s The Take Off and Landing of Everything is one of their best. Singer Guy Garvey is blessed with a terrific voice, as well as a knack for literate lyrics. He broke up with his girlfriend while writing the songs for this album, and his emotional turmoil resulted in a beautiful work.

Flying Colors: Second Nature

Second Nature proved that Flying Colors were a real group with a bright future. All the members of this prog “supergroup” meshed perfectly, and they came up with one the most enjoyable listens of the year. The positive chemistry between them is obvious from the opening song, “Open Up Your Eyes” through the closing epic, “Cosmic Symphony”.

Gazpacho: Demon

Gazpacho released one of the darkest albums of 2014 with Demon. It purported to chronicle the tribulations of a demon hunter. The packaging and artwork is extraordinary – it looks like an old notebook filled with cryptic messages and arcane drawings. The music is excellent as well, creating an ominous sense of foreboding. Don’t listen to this one alone!

Glass Hammer: Ode To Echo

From darkness to light. Glass Hammer’s Ode To Echo is one of their finest albums from their long career. Vocalist Jon Davison transitioned out and Carl Groves took over with the welcome return of Suzie Bagdanowicz. Groves brings an interesting lyrical perspective to songs like “Garden Of Hedon” and “Ozymandias”. Song for song, I think Ode To Echo is one of Glass Hammer’s finest efforts, combining their pop sensibilities (“The Poropoise Song”) with their prog chops (“Misantrog”).

IQ: The Road Of Bones

You have to give thanks for bands like IQ, who have proudly waved the prog flag since 1981. The Road Of Bones is a 2-disc set that is uniformly excellent. While the tone of the album is quite dark, the strong musicianship and songs make The Road Of Bones a very enjoyable experience.

newspaperflyhunting: Iceberg Soul

Poland’s newpaperflyhunting made a splash in 2014 with Iceberg Soul. Postpunk minimalism, angular guitars, spacey vocals, and progressive themes all combine to make a very unique sound. You can buy their entire discography at bandcamp for less than $5! Give them a try if haven’t heard them.

North Atlantic Oscillation: The Third Day

The cover of North Atlantic Oscillation’s third album features a steampunkish compass/timepiece thingamajig, which is an apt visual for their music. Harmonies hearkening back to classic Beach Boys, crunching grungy guitars, massive bass lines, and delicate keyboard flourishes evoke rock’s distant past and indicate a promising way forward. Everything NAO has released is top-notch and utterly unique.

Perfect Beings

Based in Los Angeles and led by guitarist Johannes Luley, Perfect Beings debuted in 2014 with this delightful album. Sounding at times like long lost sons of the Beatles and Pink Floyd, Perfect Beings are unabashedly progressive while keeping their feet firmly planted in melodic rock. One of the best debuts of the decade.

The Pineapple Thief: Magnolia

Everything clicked on The Pineapple Thief’s tenth album, Magnolia. It contains a diversity of styles while remaining a cohesive work. It’s more well-produced pop than out-there prog, and that can be a good thing. “Alone At Sea” and “The One You Left To Die” are highlights.

Pink Floyd: Endless River

The final album from one of the true giants of rock. It consists of outtakes and jams from when Richard Wright was still alive with some David Gilmour vocals added on top. Pretty much scraping the bottom of the barrel, compared to their earlier work.

Update: For a different opinion on Endless River, read Brad Birzer’s post.

 

Transatlantic: Kaleidoscope

A tremendous album by the long-absent prog supergroup Transatlantic. Kaleidoscope sounds like they never left, even though their last album, The Whirlwind was released in 1999. Kaleidoscope contains all the elements that make Transatlantic so special – ballads, huge epics, and outstanding musicianship. Opener “Into The Blue” is a fantastic song, as well as the closing title cut.

Midge Ure: Fragile

Coming off Ultravox’s triumphant Brill!ant, Midge Ure released the gentler Fragile in 2014. A true solo effort, Ure played, sang and produced everything. “Star Crossed” is one of the best songs he has ever written.

John Wesley: Disconnect

John Wesley is Steven Wilson’s go-to man when he needs a guitarist for his touring band.  he is also a talented singer and songwriter in his own right, as Disconnect amply illustrates. Alex Lifeson even drops by to contribute a nifty guitar solo. Best track: “Mary Will”.

Yes: Heaven and Earth

We finish our look back to 2014 with a somewhat controversial album: Yes’ Heaven and Earth. Jon Davison left Glass Hammer to handle vocals for Yes, and he assisted with the songwriting on this record. Fans’ reactions to it were mixed. Personally, I think it is a fine record. It doesn’t come close to their ’70s classics, but that is an unrealistic expectation. When taken as a pleasant musical offering, it is a solid effort.

So that completes our survey of the 2014 musical landscape. We are halfway through the decade! As always, let us know your favorites from this year in the comments. Thanks for reading!

Those Awkward Teenage Years – The 2010’s, pt. 3: 2012

As I mentioned in Part 2 of this series, 2012 is when the floodgates open for prog releases. This post features 15 albums from that halcyon year, and it barely scratches the surface! So let’s dive into the great music 2012 had for us, in alphabetical order.

Anathema: Weather Systems

Anathema followed up the wonderful We’re Here Because We’re Here with the even better Weather Systems. Featuring a weather-related song cycle – “The Gathering Of The Clouds”, “Lightning Song”, “Sunlight”, and “The Calm Before The Storm” – Anathema produces a prog classic.

Big Big Train: English Electric Part 1

After a 2-year absence, Big Big Train returned in a big way with English Electric, Part 1. David Longdon is now fully integrated into the band, and his songwriting sparkles, particularly on joyous romps like “Uncle Jack”. One of BBT’s finest hours, ever.

Devin Townsend Project: Epicloud

All of the disparate styles Devin Townsend played with on previous albums is synthesized in this masterpiece. Power pop, metal, gospel -it’s all here in one big beautiful mess.

Echolyn: Echolyn (“Windows album”)

This album topped a lot of critics’ Best of 2012 lists, and rightly so. Every song is perfect, and “Some Memorial” may be the best they’ve ever done. This is a classic prog record that will still be lauded decades from now.

Flying Colors

This effort from the prog supergroup comprised of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Dave Larue, and Casey McPherson was a very impressive debut. Everyone participating subsumed his personality in service to the group, and the result was a lot of fun – reminiscent of the best of ’70s arena rock.

John Galgano: Real Life Is Meeting

This is a somewhat obscure gem by John Galgano, the bassist of Izz. It’s a quiet, beautiful, philosophical collection of songs that is truly charming. There is a lot of depth and solace in these songs.

Glass Hammer: Perilous

Glass Hammer continued its winning streak with the third album to feature Jon Davison. Perilous is one long song chronicling the adventures of two children trapped in a, well, perilous land populated by malignant beings. The music is appropriately exciting and compelling.

It Bites: Map Of The Past

John Mitchell (Arena, Frost*, Lonely Robot) took over It Bites’ reins for this marvelous concept album about a young man confronting his past and his tortured relationship with his father. “Wallflower” is one of his finest songs.

Arjen Anthony Lucassen: Lost In The New Real

Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon, among many other projects) released this solo effort in 2012, and it featured his love of science fiction themes. Many years in the future a cryogenically preserved man is revived and brought up to date with all the changes that have occurred in society while he was frozen. Along the way, Arjen gives us a history of rock while an evil Rutger Hauer narrates. Great fun.

Mystery: The World Is A Game

I’ve written a full post on this excellent band, and this is one of their best albums. It’s a perfect introduction to Mystery if you’ve never heard them. “Another Day” is a 19 minute song that ranks with the best epics in the genre.

North Atlantic Oscillation: Fog Electric

The second album by Kscope’s North Atlantic Oscillation still has their impossibly angelic vocal harmonies from the debut, but there is an undercurrent of unease in songs like “Savage With A Barometer”. Utterly unique sound, and one of the best albums of the decade.

O.S.I.: Fire Make Thunder

The fourth (and final?) album from the Office Of Strategic Influence. Jim Matheos (Fates Warning) and Kevin Moore (Dream Theater, Chroma Key) collaborate on another fine collection that is somewhat somber but always melodic. If you need music for a rainy afternoon, O.S.I. is the perfect choice.

Producers: Made In Basing St.

Another supergroup, this time composed of, surprise, producers. Trevor Horn, Lol Creme, Stephen Lipson, and Ash Soan (with a uncredited Chris Braide on vocals) combine to produce a wonderful pop confection. Too bad they only lasted for one album.

Rush: Clockwork Angels

In 2012, we had no way of knowing this would be Rush’s final album, but what an album to go out on. It was meant to be the soundtrack to a Kevin Anderson sci-fi novel, but it works well as a standalone work of art. Rush pulled out all the stops on their tour supporting it, and it remains a high point of their career.

Ultravox Brilliant
Ultravox: Brill!ant

This was a complete surprise – after decades of inactivity, the ’80s synth band Ultravox reunited in 2012 and put together this terrific set of songs. It was as if they never left, still at the top of their form. If you loved Vienna and Rage In Eden, then this is a must-have album.

That’s 15 albums from 2012, and I could have added many more. District 97, Downes Braide Association, Gazpacho, Headspace, Izz, KingBathmat, Pineapple Thief, Porcupine Tree, Storm Corrosion, Threshold, Time Morse, and Yppah all released outstanding records. Let us know what your favorites of 2012 were in the comments!