Tag Archives: Sound Of Contact

In The DropBox: Kyros, Simon COllins, and Grumblewood

This week’s DropBox has couple of big wins, and a near-win. It’s also a diverse collection of music, but it wouldn’t be prog if it wasn’t diverse, right?

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First up is Kyros’ Celexa Dreams. Kyros hails from the UK, and they are led by vocalist/keyboardist Adam Warne. Their previous album, the two-disc Vox Humana, was a highlight of 2016, and Celexa Dreams is even better. If you miss the synth-heavy pop/rock of Thomas Dolby, Human League, and Tears For Fears, then you will love this album. Warne, along with guitarist Joey Frevola, percussionist Robin Johnson, and bassist Peter Episcopo have crafted a perfect combination of majestic ’80s anthems and 2020s production. Leadoff track “In Motion” sets the tone with an infectious synth riff and propulsive beat. “Rumour” is another upbeat earworm that wouldn’t be out of place on a Miami Vice episode.

Lest you think the album is all synthesizer confection, the 14-minute “In Vantablack” is a real prog workout that holds the listener’s interest every second. I wish Haken had gone more in the direction of this track instead of pursuing their metal side. “Technology Killed The Kids III” harks back to Vox Humana and Warne’s first iteration of Kyros, Synaethesia.

There seems to be a bit of a reappraisal of ’80s New Wave and New Romantics music happening, what with Steven Wilson’s To The Bone and other respectful homages to that era of music. Celexa Dreams is a wonderful collection of songs that take the best of synthpop and marry it to a prog sensibility. I highly recommend you check this one out.

Simon Collins

Next up is Simon Collins’ solo album, Becoming Human. Simon is Phil’s son, and there is definitely a vocal resemblance, in the same way Julian Lennon’s vocals recall his father, John. Simon was the vocalist for the prog group Sound Of Contact, which also included the marvelously talented Dave Kerzner. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like Sound Of Contact are getting together any time soon, so we’ll have to be happy with Kerzner’s In Continuum project and Collins’ solo work.

Judging by the quality of Becoming Human, we listeners are the winners, because instead of one excellent group, we get two to enjoy. I’m not sure if Becoming Human is a concept album, but it seems to have a sci-fi theme going on with titles like “Man Made Man”, “The Universe Inside of Me”, and “Thoughts Become Matter”. The aforementioned “Man Made Man” is a steamroller of a track that really pleases. Like Kyros, Becoming Human is very keyboard driven, in a good way. Stylistically, it includes spacey interludes, dance pop (“The Universe Inside of Me), straight ahead rock (“Man Made Man”), and epic balladry (“Dead Ends”). This is another album I have no hesitation giving a strong recommendation for. If you liked Sound of Contact, then you certainly need to give Becoming Human a close listen.

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Finally, there is Stories of Strangers from Wellington, New Zealand. The name of the band is Grumblewood, and they obviously worship at the altar of late-60s, early-70s Jethro Tull, with lots of fuzzy Martin Barre-sounding guitar, warm baritone vocals à la Ian Anderson, and, of course, flute all over the place. This is their debut album, and it is on Robin Armstrong’s (Cosmograf) label, Gravity Dreams. It’s a lot of fun to listen to, with its English folk/blues feel. Gav Bromfield (Vocals, Flute, Guitar, Piano) , Salvatore Richichi (Guitars, Mandolin, Mandola, Banjo), Morgan Jones (Bass, Bouzouki, Harspichord), and Phil Aldridge (Drums, Percussion, Backing Vocals) definitely have the chops, as well as songwriting talent. My only quibble is the production; the drums sound like they were recorded under a blanket. However, that may be deliberate. According to their website, the album “has been recorded, mixed, and mastered using only analogue equipment and production techniques for that authentic vintage sound.” So there.

When they learn to go easy on the Tull influence and start forging their own identity, they will be formidable. Meanwhile, if you’re a Tull addict, and you need a fix, Stories of Strangers will do nicely.

Three albums, two outstanding and one very good. The DropBox had a pretty good batting average this week! I’ll leave you with Kyros’ “Rumour”:

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!