Not Only Metal

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Winter has a cruel grasp on the Twin Cities. It was -11 when I woke up and it’s up to 8 now, oh boy!
Lots of roundabout listenings of late. The Hennepin County Library is one of my secret weapons. I picked up the newest “regular” studio CD by Katatonia “Dead End Kings.” I’ve been a fan since their debut “The Discouraged Ones” and they are consistent to say the least. “Wind & Wuthering” by Genesis was recorded after Peter Gabriel left the band and I’ve not heard much of this post-Gabriel era (not counting those dozen top 10 hits from the 80s). I lean more toward “Selling England by the Pound” and “The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway.”

Many of my listening choices are found by association, from this to that to the other. When Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon announced he was producing and his band-mates were playing on the forthcoming CD by The Staves, I was intrigued. He’s got a cinematic producing vision so I checked out the promo video for the “If I Was” CD and was FLOORED by these three sisters and their complex yet pristine harmonies. The library had their previous full length “Dead & Born & Grown” and it is just as amazing as I had hoped. Think female Fleet Foxes; folksy, melodic, emotional.

Another set of CDs was Mew and Jellyfish. I was recently turned on to Vola https://volaband.bandcamp.com/album/inmazes who was described like a heavier Mew. And drum great Mike Portnoy calls Jellyfish one of the best power-pop bands and gushes on about them so I picked up Live at Bogarts. Mew is sorta electro-pop while Jellyfish is like the Beatles on lots of caffeine and just a few mushrooms. Really good stuff.

And finally Chris Thile is one of the world’s best mandolin players so I wanted to hear the newest Nickel Creek along with something by his “other” group The Punch Brothers. It’s easy to describe these tunes as progressive bluegrass (Punch Bros. have covered Radiohead!). I love the non-traditional song structures with bluegrass instruments.

See? I do listen to more than just metal.

Resurrection

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The last time I posted Coheed and Cambria was about to release Afterman: Descension – about two years ago.

Between then and now I have written reviews for Sea of Tranquility (seaoftranquility.net) – a fantastic website that has amassed over sixteen-thousand CD and DVD reviews.  A blessing and a curse about that site is that seemingly everything received gets reviewed, from the popular radio-friendly metal CDs to the obscure independent grindcore EP recorded in somebody’s basement.  It was a great challenge, but I found myself lacking interest in the obscure music that sat outside my area of  expertise. 

My father passed away in May of 2013 which took the wind out of my sails for a while as you can imagine.

My wife has completed her Master’s Degree in Teaching and my kids are in 1st grade and Kindergarten.  I’m employed at the same place and I’m still living one day at a time.  So, why write now I ask?

My MADD (music attention deficit disorder) is still in tact; I listen to folk trio The Staves and then check out the newest CD by thrash metal band Battlecross and then check out Bandcamp.com for music fitting the keyword “psybient” (ambient and psychedelic).  Standard.

There is a new radio station in town to rival The Current called Go 96.3 – it’s supposed to be modern indie rock with real humans on the air.  I found out their regular programming ends at 8pm and doesn’t pick up again until 8 in the morning, so I’m wondering what they are doing with the 12 unmanned hours every day?  I’d really like to program a show; even a single hour once a month would do.  But sharing some music that may be appealing to folks who may not put as much time and effort into their sonic discovery is something I’d like to do – think of Johnny Fever from WKRP.  DJs used to actually play NEW music that people had never heard before because the music was good, not because some media conglomerate who owns the station also owns the record label to which a musician/band is signed.  A DJ in Cleveland played Rush on their radio station and helped break the band into the USA.

Wearing the world like a loose garment-

R

Prog Rock Never Dies, it is the butt of many jokes

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There is so much I could be doing with this blog, the options are endless! But alas, I hardly post pictures, no videos, no links, very bare bones.

And since I know for a fact at least one person is reading, I guess the quantity doesn’t matter – I’m not making any money doing this – and quality is up for discussion, I guess I’m just downloading thoughts to make a comment. Actually not sure what I’m trying to accomplish!

Most important thing on my radar is the new Coheed and Cambria; Afterman: Ascension. It’s just what the doctor ordered, part 1 of a 2 CD set – the 2nd part will be out in Feb 2013 – and of course it’s all about the universe created by main songwriter Claudio Sanchez (Check Wikipedia for “The Amory Wars.”

There is something so rock and roll about Claudio’s songwriting. And I’m takling about 50s and 60s rock and roll, concise verse chorus verse arrangements (most of the time) and certain rhythms that make me think that he must have picked up some songwriting tips from his parents’ musical tastes. The woah-woah’s and oooo’s and vocal melodies that aren’t singing words remind me of back-up singers from that era. This doesn’t mean the songs SOUND like 50s rock and roll but have certain traits. One can identify the contemporary aural aspects of this music, the production, the sound effects now and again.

Yes track 2 is about 8 minutes long and does break this theory but going back thru the Co & Ca catalog these traits are still present.

I would wager that this CD is not going to push any current fans away and could win new fans over. There are no tunes that are far off the target of what we have come to expect from Coheed and there are enough new sounds and melodies to keep listening over and over again.

A thought I’ve been having recently is how “new releases” can urge people to listen back to previous releases. Rush is a prime example with their newest Clockwork Angels. Lots of great tunes on this and I want to simultaneously listen to Snakes and Arrows and the Vapor Trails. Prior to that we had Test for Echo, Counterparts, Roll the Bones, and Presto.

Along the same lines, I find it interesting how some people (myself included) forget that many artists are in the process of creating throughout a career, not just a few albums. Is this not your favorite Rush album? That’s fine. People look at a painter’s lifelong works as a whole, not just their newest painting, or first painting, or painting in their 30s, etc. Sure we all have personal favorites but (I think) you can’t appreciate an artist without steeping yourself in all of their works.

Anyway, enough philosphy of art (I did get an A in that college course BTW) other things I’m listening to:

The Faceless’ newest “Autotheism.” Technical progressive death metal, like an American Opeth that plays more straight-forward, know what I mean? Michael Keane ups the ante with his clean singing and great guitar playing along with Wes Hauch.

Checked out some Remember Shakti featuring John McLaughlin which is very interesting, combining jazz guitar with tabla and other instruments. Also a 2010 John McLaughlin and 4th Dimension CD which shows off his amazing guitar chops. If you’ve never listened to Mahavishnu Orchestra, drop everything and go check out those jazz/rock fusion masterpieces. Thank me later.

Coming up Sunday for me is The Contortionist in St. Paul who will play with MN’s own After the Burial and Reflections. Definitely excited for some metal. I dare you to find a 6 string guitar at Station 4!

Quickly, briefly.

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Youngest fell asleep right after the ice cream cone, oldest is watching He-Man, wife is at grad school tonight, and I’ve got a second.  Per usual, lots of music streaming in and around these ears.  I just read my previous post and it was right before a major unfortunate event and a few busy, fortunate ones, so in other words, life keeps on keeping on. 

I did get that Periphery II recording and it is a banger.  Vocalist Spencer has upped his game as his talent and style has catapulted and his band-members definitely owe him a big thanks, amazing lyrics, incredible harmonies, contrast between clean and heavy vocals is practically perfect.  It’s a go-to listen at any time. 

Picked up another 2-fer just the other day (seems that I buy 2 CDs at one time whenever I do pick up the physical version of music) comprised of Epicloud By Devin Townsend and Momentum by Neal Morse.  To me it’s not contradictory but many other people would pick neither – you’ve read my post about schizophrenic musical tastes that I have, no?  Devin Townsend is a contemporary Zappa figure, eats, sleeps, dreams music and when not doing this for his own projects he’s producing other musicians.  Sadly I missed his recent show here in St. Paul but I figure I’ll have more opportunities.  Epicloud, for those who know Devin, is another gem in his catalog, neither totally heavy nor totally ambient, sometimes orchestral, sometimes sparse… it really does round out his 4 CD “Devin Townsend Project” series of Ki, Addicted, Deconstruction, & Ghost (each of those 4 have a different tone throughout the disc, representing a different aspect of Devin’s musical personality and personal evolution. It’s truly a stunning series).  It’s an uplifting listen even if a few tunes are heavy and thick, the message is clear that he is happy to be alive and generating hope and love. 

Momentum is a set of progressive rock tunes (which is an understatement) before an epic masterpiece.  I’ve only listened one time so can’t delve into specifics, but I was taken with Thoughts Part 5 and how it seemed to have the unmistakable stamp of Mr. Morse and Mike Portnoy on drums and Randy George on Bass – they really are a magical progressive power trio (typo was power “trip” but only in the positive sense).

Today alone I checked out Karybdis’ From The Depths, a remix CD by Explosions in the Sky, Rogue Waves’ Permalight, plenty of shuffle options on the iPod, you know, the usual.  Picked up a release of Opeth’s Blackwater Park which includes a DVD “The Making Of” and am psyched to watch the dry humor of Mikael Akerfeldt in the studio, while he shouldn’t quit his day job, his humor is steeped in sarcasm and Spinal Tap, just what the doctor ordered.

It is astounding that folks come out and check on the blog even though I am about the worst at keeping updates coming.  Maybe now and again I’ll get the habit going.

On a totally different note, we’re going to see The Big Wu on Saturday to get our fix of Northern Rock from the band that I’ve seen live more than any other band on the planet.  I’m a metal head but The Big Wu have a certain way of connecting that I refuse to disown.

PEACE!

Hit Shappens

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Greetings interweb relations.  What have I been waiting for?  I’ve just been busy; you know, work-busy, family-busy, that kind of thing.  I’ve still been soaking new music up like a sponge.  Pretty psyched about the new Periphery which comes out tomorrow.  Wanna bet Best Buy won’t have any copies?

Saturday 6/23 was my solo excursion to the first day of the first of 5 annual River’s Edge Music Festival held in St. Paul on Harriet Island.  The layout was very nice, plenty of free water stations (you could bring empty containers to refill), lots of food and art vendors, and the majority of folks were well-behaved.  My prime operative was to see Coheed and Cambria as this was my first time.  I made it and was very pleased with their performance.  Original drummer Josh Eppard is back behind the kit and he is such a joy to watch, he truly loves what he does.  New bass player (name) was singing along the entire time and I could tell he was loving this opportunity.  Claudio basically sang behind his veil of ridiculous curly black hair the entire time, said very little to the crowd, and appeared to have some amplifier problems, at one time going back to the amp head and giving it a bear-hug dragging it across his guitar.  The highlights for me were Welcome Home (Claudio had his double-neck guitar ala Jimmy Page on that one), new tune Sentry the Defiant (utilizing a lower tuning; could have been 7 string guitars, not sure), set opener Time Consumer, plus In Keeping Secrets of Silent Earth. 

Tool was the main stage act for the day, and for me it was a long-awaited, overdue bonus.  I last saw Tool in 1996 (holy crap) on Ozzfet/Warped Tour in Somerset, WI.  That show was during daytime hours and after Aenima was released so their visual portion was absent.  This evening though they had the giant dual screens on either side of the stage plus a screen that moved up and down behind the band in addition to moving lights, lasers, fog machines, etc…  It was much more enjoyable to be further back from the crowd so you could take in the whole show, lasers, computer graphics and all.  You know what the band looks like and they don’t want to look at you either.  The drummer Danny Carey has been a dormant favorite of mine and this performance catapults him into my top 5, hands down. 

My intention starting this post was to review band Karybdis and their new CD From The Depths but that will have to wait until next time.  Hopefully it won’t be too far away.

Progressive Paul Adrian Villarreal

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It is with great honor and wonderful joy that I present to you a post from Paul Villarreal, whom I know as Progressive Paul, but whom you may know as lead vocalist for Progressive Metal band Sun Caged. We shared the mic for Strong PROGress, our college radio program, on WSUM – Madison Student Radio on the campus of University of Wisconsin – Madison. Truly an excellent experience and a dream come true for me as I LOVE to share my musical finds with other people, as you will read below. Enjoy!

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Hello Fellow prog/music lovers. I was just blathering on my fb page about a little band called Echolyn! As I explained a bit about why they made such an impact on me, it kind of turned into a reminiscing of my first true “prog” experience. It also became too long for anyone with a Twitter/Facebook-lengthed attention span to actually read. So I thought, what better topic could there be for my first official post here on the Strong PROGress blog. (the post is still there on my FB page, but I’ve edited and expanded it here to make more sense as a stand alone blurb.)

…you enter this conversation as we are speaking of one of my great loves in the prog world, a far under-credited band called Echolyn! I announced that I was in the mood to watch some “Stars & Gardens” (their live dvd) on this dreary, but not unpleasant Sunday morning:

It occurs to me that they’re like a ‘first love’. One of my first TRUE prog experiences. Before them I’d heard some prog, but not really knowing what it was. Kansas (thought it was just really good Classic Rock), Dream Theater, Fates Warning, Queensryche (thought they were just metal, but better than others…) Rush (a band I remember really digging when I heard them on the radio as a child)

My friend Doug was really the first who explained the common thread to me–and that I’d been listening to “prog” all along. I decided I needed to delve into this “prog” consciously.

Then along came my friend Ryan Good (who has sadly forsaken FB, lol). Ryan and I had several times bumped into each other at concerts all over our area: Dream Theater in Milwaukee, (Awake & Change of Season tours I think), Fates Warning in Rockford or Chicago (I can’t remember, Ryan were you at the one with ‘Rebels Without Applause’ as support in Rockford?) King’s X, Milwaukee, whatever good shows stopped in Madison… At some point we recognized each other and knew we were both UW Madison students. There was a little ‘crew’ forming of Madison Area prog/metal fans. My good friends Doug & Carlo, Matty Mo (radio host from the Madison Public radio), My brother Marc (occasionally when he wasn’t too busy being sensible and responsible ;), Ryan and myself and a few others. Anyway, we kept seeing each other at these events and realized we had very similar musical tastes. So, eventually Ryan invited me to hang out with him and co-host his “prog” show on College radio.

I think it was the day of his show…we met at a nearby cafe & had a coffee in the sun basked terrace before show-time. There he showed me Spock’s Beard for the first time. (The Kindness of Strangers) Imagine your first hearing of real prog being in headphones, in the glorious Sun on a springtime college campus enjoying a coffee with your new (and then unbeknownst to you, life-long) friends…and having the sounds hitting your ears being the absolute musical perfection of “The Good Don’t Last” The perfect “prog” intro followed up by the revelation that was, “What!? You can use acoustic guitars in this music?” …then enters the unrivaled vocal harmony blend of Neal Morse and Nick D’Virgilio…then the classic “prog interlude,” only the display chops is tempered by supreme musicality and tastefulness! Climactic chorus…then challenging, engaging art-rock outro…. did I mention the sunshine + college campus atmosphere? … yeah, it would change you too. I remember my initial reaction (once I was able to speak) Was thinking Spock’s Beard sounded like what STYX (then & now one of my favorites!) could’ve ended up doing if they’d made a very different decision in about 1982–and decided to go *more* artsy and challenging instead of chasing the mainstream and popular taste of the minute.

Of course after that I was more than excited to join up with Ryan and do the show! Later that day (or the next, I can’t really remember…) we arrive to do the show. After getting the feel of the place and playing a few songs, I hear Ryan say, “have you heard THIS?” I looked up and he was holding Echolyn – “As the World” …me: “no.” Almost speechless with excitement (perhaps a guttural “duuuude…..” or something of the like was uttered) he pops it in and spins the opening track. I listen AGOG! At the end he says, “take this home and listen to the whole thing. THIS IS A LIFE-CHANGING CD!!!” I’ve told that part of the story many times….because he was so right! I did take that cd home with me. Listened to it from start to end that night. Time stopped. I remember hanging on every note and every line! I remember at the end being almost near tears. Starting the cd over again and having the same thing happen. I’d intended to sleep to it but the awesomeness kept me awake! I took it to work with me the next day–listened to it several hours straight.

I’m not even going to go into detail describing the music. First off, that could be a whole different post, secondly, why should I ruin the experience for you with my opinions…discover it for yourself! Instead, I’ll finish by recounting the image that is forever seared into, intertwined with my memories of those days. Not long after, my darling and I planned a trip to visit my relatives in San Diego. We were young college kiddos (i.e. broke) so we took the Greyhound Bus–from Madison to San Diego. The horrible parts of the “Greyhound” experience, I’ll also leave out. But the most memorable thing–and here I’ll date myself a little–not only had I made a cassette tape (Side A: Spock’s Beard – The Kindness of Strangers; Side B: Echolyn – As the World) but I was also proud of my walkman for having the “auto-reverse” feature. (yes, I had a discman, but at the time I didn’t have the capacity to copy onto cd) In my typical fashion, I packed WAY, WAY too many tapes and cds, but the irony, of course, was that that cassette never left the walkman! Going that route by land you pass through quite a lot of flat barren plains, didn’t matter I could just close my eyes and listen. Then at one point, as if it was the payoff for taking this terrible travel option, we passed through the Rockies. Looking out on those views completely matched my feelings of the music: Earthy, Organic and yet undeniably EPIC (before those were even buzz words 😉

So I’ve rambled on, but getting back to the bit about ‘first love’ … Those two albums combined to create the quintessential ‘a-HA!” moment…”so THIS is ‘prog’!” …and it’s been very difficult for any later prog experience to compete with that first taste!

And yet, there’s more to the story. For if I hadn’t visited San Diego, and felt so happy there (partly because of the music!) then I might never have moved there. If I’d never moved there, I’d never have made music with my brothers of Wooden Badger. If I’d never have done that, I’d never have had anything to send to Sun Caged as an audition sample, and if I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t be here in Europe with my lovely family, and musical experiences with Sun Caged. ….BUT!, coming full circle, if I’d never met Ryan, I’d never have heard a little band called “Lemur Voice” (which Ryan showed me either that same day or the following week) and therefore never have heard of a guitar player named Marcel Coenen who would later form a band called Sun Caged…who would later find themselves looking for a singer!

In the words of ‘The Stranger’ from The Big Lebowski: “That’s how this whole derned comedy keeps perpetuatin’ itself”

So readers, if you’ve stuck with me this far, thanks! I hope to speak with you again soon, and perhaps (…just *perhaps*) not at such great length!

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Check Paul out on Twitter at @WoodenBadger77 and I am still at @StrongPROGress

Lake Michigan

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One musical experience I’ve been wanting to share but put on a shelf and forget for pieces of time is how I first heard the band Rogue Wave. Not a “typical” musical choice of yours truly, with them being described as “indie rock” or “folk rock” or “alternative rock” or whatever… but they are permanently painted in my memory.

It was right after my 1st son Tobias was born (12/7/2007). It was late in the evening, I was feeding him a bottle while sitting on the floor at the foot of our bed and my wife was sleeping. I did the classic “here you can lay on my chest” thing when he was done and he drifted to sleep and apparently I did too.

Next thing I knew I was lifted out of the fog of sleep by the beating of drums and applause. I remember my eyes being gummy and couldn’t see very clear but saw that the TV was on. I could tell by the stage set that it was Craig Ferguson’s show (he rules) and there was a musical guest starting up. Why are there clapping angels hopping around the stage? Why are multiple band members beating floor toms? Oh I see.

The next week I searched online to find out who the musical guest was and it was Rogue Wave playing their “single” called Lake Michigan. That live version still rocks my face off and I also love the CD version. The whole CD now has such a nostalgic tint to it. It should probably go in a time vault for Tobias.

now playing – Lake Michigan by Rogue Wave