Monday, 29 April 2013

t - psychoanorexia

Haven't done this in a long time, but every once in a while an album comes along that requires more than just my private enjoyment and I feel the need to shout out loud to the few who may take notice, of something far greater than just 'a new release' or 'some great new music' or even a 'sure fire top 10 of the year'.
Some records are made that transcend mere music. On the musical planet that I call home - Progressive Rock - a quick perusal of will reveal a 'Top Prog Rock Albums List'. This is a 'best of' of the genre and frankly hasn't changed much since I've been a regular visitor to the sight, for the last 6 years or so. Aside from some shuffling around, the 'top 10' remains virtually unchallenged. In fact if you visited today, here is the order you would see...

1. Yes - Close To The Edge ( 1972 )
2. Jethro Tull - Thick As A Brick ( 1972 )
3. Genesis - Selling England By The Pound ( 1973 )
4. Pink Floyd - Wish You Were Here ( 1975 )
5. Genesis - Foxtrot ( 1972 )
6. King Crimson - In The Court Of The Crimson King ( 1969 )
7. Pink Floyd - Dark Side Of The Moon ( 1973 )
8. King Crimson - Red ( 1975 )
9. Pink Floyd - Animals ( 1977 )
10. Van Der Graaf Generator - Godbluff ( 1975 )

Notice the trend.

The last release to crack the top 10 is from 1977. To be sure Animals is a classic, also a favorite of mine, but it's 36 years old.

I love all of these albums - although admittedly having not listened to #10 - and if were asked, would probably if pressed have to declare Camel's 'Moonmadness' ( #21 in the top 100 incidentally ) as my all time favorite,  but is it really? Or is the comfort and familiarity, of the 'prog' equivalent to an old pair of slippers at work here? Some deeper questions might be, 'Among the thousands of progressive rock releases since 1977, does time with the music reveal an inferiority to 'the greats' among all of them? Is there not at least a few albums produced in the last 36 years, that can vie for a spot in the 'impenetrable top 10'? Or have the thousands of progressive rock musicians out there suffered an inexplicable decrease in creative ability, never again to match those from the list above?

I don't think so.

To be frank, many of us who love progressive rock and are passionate about it, aren't spring chickens anymore. We grew up listening to the music above and that time was a breeding ground for experimentation and progression and was almost mainstream. Those days will always be fondly remembered and although 'prog' will likely never be mainstream again, beaten down into 'internet discovery' status, by the massive popular music machine that sacrifices integrity and deep connection with the artist and his/her creation, for samey 'flavor of the day' sexually charged, mind-numbing pablum, performed by 'pretty people', that serves more as background noise to our busy day, if not to distort a whole generations ability to listen to and be truly moved by an artist who doesn't sacrifice themselves, at the alter of 'mammon' for their three and a half minutes in the orgy of popular music culture!

But all is not lost. There are artists out there who 'create', who - and no, I don't say this lightly - despite our reluctance to knock the kings off of their thrones, are producing music to rival the best.

Which brings me to the artist known only as 't' ( Thomas Thielen ) from Germany, who has released 4 albums as a solo artist - and solo really means solo here, as he performs all instruments and vocals - his latest being the real focus of this post 'psychoanorexia'.

As a progressive rock music purchaser, the internet is where I find my music and rely heavily on samples, but more importantly the reviewers who inhabit the underground with me and with great zeal and affection, write of their discoveries. Much more than not, they get it right and if it's 'up my ally', I go ahead and order and am pleased that I did. 'psychoanorexia' - although based on a small sample size - is regarded by those who I trust with my hard earned money, a 5 star release. By musical description, this was a 'no-brainer' purchase for me, but really, until you hear the product, you're never sure. I have purchased some great albums in the last 6 years, certainly deserving of their 'no-brainer' status and play them regularly to this day and will continue to do so. I have also purchased some 'meh' albums - good, but not quite as good as advertised.

'psychoanorexia' falls into neither category. This is one of those albums that transcend. There is so much beauty and depth here, that to attempt to root it all out and do it justice after 10 or so listens, seems beyond me, a daunting task to be sure. Thielen has created an 'album for the ages'. In short - in my mind - a masterpiece, to take it's place among the greats and to easily reside with them for years to come.

What will you find here? Better yet, what won't you find here?

It certainly pays homage to the greats, but never ever does it re-hash them. Never during the listen of this album do you say to yourself "that sounds like....", it never lends itself to that. Don't get me wrong, there are elements of the greats, but this is a modern record, that has as much to do with Radiohead as it does with Floyd, or as little. It's an epic heartwrenching/mind-bending thriller of a movie, without the pictures, except the ones that creep into your head while listening.

66 minutes comprised of 4 epic length tracks that defy your ability to pigeonhole any one of them into a a 'nice and tidy' category, for as soon as you think you've got it, this mad genius - and I say this with all due respect and admiration - crosses you up, with a change of direction and mood. At times sad, at others reflective, angry and uplifting, but never boring or repetitive. You can't help but hang on every note anticipating what comes next, even after repeated listens.

There's no point in trying to review the 4 songs as separate entities here, it doesn't work. No song stands above another ( great is great folks ) as this must be taken as a whole, or not taken at all. In saying this, please understand I AM NOT SAYING, don't mind the song, for there are songs withing songs and the melodies and lyrics achieved here are second to none!

To continue on here would just be to heap superlative upon superlative and my vocabulary doesn't stretch as far as this album deserves. You get the point by now I think. If not, I'll say it outright and please understand, I don't say this lightly....THIS IS ONE OF THE FINEST ALBUMS/PIECES OF MUSIC EVER CREATED...period!

Thomas Thielen is a poet/composer/musician of the highest order and has created with 'psychoanorexia' a millennial masterpiece, not to be missed!

Here are some links to some reviews and Thielens web page. Please visit and read and if you plan on purchsing any music in the future, please do yourself a huge favor and put this at the top of your list. This music will never be heard on your local radio station or promoted and maybe that's a good thing. Music such as this, should be sought out, savored and cherished in this world full of background noise.


Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Favorite Albums Of 2012

First off, what a year! After the slew of great releases in 2011, I was a little skeptical that 2012 could top it, but with the promise of releases from such heavy hitters as Anglagard, Echolyn, Neal Morse, The Flower Kings, Big Big Train, Anathema and The Gathering, there was some hope. Oddly enough, with all of the big names mentioned above, only 2 of those made this years favorites list. That's certainly not a slight against any of the ones that didn't make it, but more of a statement about the ever increasing quality of music out there. A little bit of searching time spent on the internet can reveal a slew of talent, just waiting to be discovered. That's half the fun for me!

Which brings me to my second point. I decided to call this a favorites list, rather than a 'best of' or 'top 10', only because of a fear of presumption in a highly subjective category such as music. As terrible as I think some music is, I don't have to listen to it, nor do you have to listen to mine. So this list is a personal thing. It's made up of music that is technically top notch ( a progressive rock fan's pre-requisite ), but most of all, it is what moved me, to the point of tears at times and because of that, became my favorite listening experiences of 2012.

Before I get started on my favorite 10, I'd like to give a nod to 2 albums that would've made it, if not for extenuating circumstances, the first because it was re-done older songs, the second because it was a re-issue of an older album.

Steve Hackett, Genesis Revisited 2. ( United Kingdom )

Steve Hackett, is one of my favorite musicians, certainly my favorite guitarist and any new release by him is a cause for personal celebration. When that new release is some re-done material from one of the giants of progressive rock - Steve's old band, Genesis - well for someone who grew up as a Genesis fanatic - until Hackett's departure - it just adds to the 'must have' category. Add in the fact that included on this 2 disc monster is the penultimate progressive rock song 'Supper's Ready', it sends it over the top! Done with a multitude of top notch musicians and singers, with added guitar parts and excellent production, this was a massive release and a constant in the cd player.

Arco Iris, Agitor Lucens V. ( Argentina )

Wow! This was a curiosity purchase for me. As a fan of progressive rock music from all corners of the earth, coupled with the enjoyment I find discovering obscure music, this release fits the bill. Arco Iris are one of the fathers - along with Bacamarte and Los Jaivas - of South American progressive rock and one of the best, at least as far as this album is concerned. This double album was released in 1974 and for the most part, unheard of in these parts. This is a shame as this album has it all. A mixture of Pink Floyd inspired space rock, psychedelic rock, jazz fusion, some 60's type sounds and spiced up perfectly by native South American rhythms. This is an absolute treat for the ears and the re-issue of this Argentinian gem is easily my favorite 'oldie but goodie' of the year!

                                         And Now On To My Favorite New Releases of 2012

10. Autumn Whispers, Cry Of Dereliction Volume 1( Norway )

This one was a bit of a sleeper and edged it's way into the top 10 at the last moment. Very ethereal, sparse and acoustic, this one is perfect for a quiet evening at home. Thought provoking in it's lyrics and subtle in it's instrumentation, this is a beautiful album and worthy of it's place. Added to what was said before, I must say that anything that comes from Norway seems to have a dark, wintery woods feel to it, like listening to an old nordic myth, put to modern music. Beautifully dark, with a sense of light to come. That's the best description I can give.

9. Astra, The Black Chord ( United States )

Stemming from southern California, Astra is just what you need to get your psychedelic/space rock groove on. Flowing keyboard and guitar jams with a rollicking rhythm section and solid vocals, is just the right tonic on those long drives to work for me. The best description I can give of this album is 'feel good and fun'. If you thought psychedelic music died with the 60's, Astra will change your mind in a heartbeat!

8. Kompendium, Beneath The Waves ( United Kingdom )

Big, stunning sweeping project from Magenta's Rob Reed, with an army of who's who musicians and singers, full orchestra and choirs, this had to be a logistical nightmare that only someone like Reed could pull off! With more time spent, this one surely would end up in my top 5. It certainly is number 1, when the whole package is considered. No expense or care was spared with this production. The package is absolutely as stunning as the music. This is a true concept album in the tradition of 'Dark Side Of The Moon' or 'War Of The Worlds',,,better yet 'Lord Of The Rings' of concept albums! Orchestral, celtic, operatic prog! Everything done here is top of the heep! To try and explain this album is folly really. You need to sit down and experience it!

7. Violeta de Outono, Espectro ( Brazil )

Dunno what they're singing about, don't care! The music on this disc is sublime. In the best tradition of Camel, the keyboard and guitar interplay is beautiful and whatever Fabio Golfetti is singing about with his outstanding pipes, I'm sure is wonderful! From start to finish, this one is a winner and if you don't mind listening to vocals in another language, I highly recommend this to you. You might even find yourself bellowing out with the music, even if you don't know what you're saying :-) The South American masterpiece of the year, if I were to pick one.

6. Silhouette, Across The Rubicon ( Netherlands )

Ahh, the Dutch always make an appearance and with Silhouette's Across The Rubicon, it's an easy choice. Call it neo-prog if you'd like and in the best traditions of IQ and Marillion, I guess it is. This is their 3rd and also easily their best! 3 out of four band members share the vocal duties and musically, this disc is built around the wall of keyboard sounds of Erik Laan. Not that the other musicians are not outstanding, but this is a keyboard lovers dream, especially if you like that 'wall of sound' sound. Great melody tops this one off and permeates the whole album. This one is as good a neo-prog album as any you'll find and as nice of a surprise as Anubis' A Tower Of Silence, from last year. Another sing along album. Great stuff!

5. Frequency Drift, Laid To Rest ( Germany )

These guys almost made the list last year with the album 'Ghosts' and have done themselves better with this release. The stars of the show here are the haunting vocalist Antje Auer, keyboardist and composer Andreas Hack and the incredible violinist Frank Schmitz. This music will take you for a ride as they are not afraid of long stretches of exploration. Not in the sense of a lot of noise, but long drawn out melodies and solos, especially by the aforementioned Schmitz. In fact his violin is almost the lead instrument at times, but don't let that scare you off as this is an incredible album, where all musicians shine! Look at the album cover, it really does say a lot about this music. Very dark at times, but never depressingly so. This one could've come from Norway!

4. Anathema, Weather Systems ( United Kingdom )

Next to Kompendium, this gets the nod as the best produced album of the year. Simply stunning in it's sound only surpassed by the music. As a former doom metal band, Anathema has left that sound far behind them, but not so far as to not let it influence them on occasion. The Cavanagh brothers have had to deal with a lot of personal toil in the last few years and it pours out from their music with abandon and makes for some emotionally wrenching moments. The music is simply outstanding here and pretty much each song tends to rise in tempo from mellow beginnings to ear shattering heights. However it's the emotionally charged vocals of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas ( the new queen of progressive rock singers ) that make this album the winner that it is. This is a powerful album that will bring tears to your eyes.These guys have refined their sound with each album and I can't wait to see what's coming next.

3. Big Big Train, English Electric Part 1 ( United Kingdom )

How can an old Genesis fan not love these guys? This album is filled with those sounds that made me fall in love with progressive rock in the first place. No rip-offs here though as these guys have pretty much rose to the top of the prog rock heap, by taking those sounds from the past and modernizing them, with their own brand of Britishness and story telling. This is 'Trick Of The Tale' for the modern age, but with more of a focus on real life stories. The Gabriel/Collins like vocals of Dave Longdon are the icing on the cake here. This vied for number 1 this year, but settles in nicely at number 3.

2. Gazpacho, March Of Ghosts ( Norway )

I'm blessed with a wife who loves me and this I am grateful to God for. I also count myself blessed, because although the music I love wouldn't be considered mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, Carla also loves it. I say this because for a second year in a row, she would have my number 2 album choice be number 1. We have come to blows over this and I am now eating frozen dinners,,,I mean they're really frozen! Hehehe,,just kidding.
I love this album as much as she does in reality and Gazpacho are probably my favorite of the modern progressive rock bands as they have truly hit their stride over the last 4 albums and become the kings of the laid back Radiohead meets Talk Talk meets Porcupine Tree meets Marillion sound, which really has produced their own classy sound, heavy on thought provoking lyrics sung by superb vocalist Jan Henrik Ohme. This is truly a band and each member contributes to the songwriting and the songwriting is stunning. This is a concept album of sorts, as the songs have to do with encounters with ghosts and their stories. Emotion is also the key here with Ohme's vocals riding high upon layers of outstanding music, where one musician doesn't outshine the others, but the others wouldn't sound near as good without each individual contributing. These guys have found a sound that's money in the bank and can do no wrong. No song on this disc is sub-par and none really outshine another as every song on this disc is of the highest quality, just like the band themselves. Carla's #1 :-)

1. Autumn Chorus, The Village To The Vale ( United Kingdom )

Oh boy, if I sound liked I was gushing over Gazpacho, I will overflow with this description! This album was actually officially released at the end of 2011 digitally, but didn't see distribution on hard copy until 2012 and was one of those 'this sounds interesting purchases' that I make every once in a while, without much info to go on. Classified by the band themselves as post rock/post classical, when the music is this good classifications are not needed thank you. To give you an idea, it's as if a band of English minstrels were transported into a 21st century recording studio that was already occupied by classic French Canadian progressive folk band Harmonium and asked to make an album with them. That might be a little obscure for some folks, but that's the best I can do. When I put this disc into the stereo it transports me to places that very few albums can do. This is truly other-worldly and never loses steam. From beginning to end this album delivers a musical experience that is as close to perfection - for me - as I have ever heard. The vocal performance of the year lives here, in the person of Robbie Wilson, a light shimmering and yet powerful performance that will leave you breathless! Together with the absolutely brilliant use of classic and modern instruments blended to near choral perfection, this - for me - was a no-brainer, for album of the year. If you decide to hear just one of the albums on this list, let it be this one. Turn off the lights, hit play and come back when it's over, so you can tell me what you think :-)