Saturday, 14 January 2017

This week's Playlist - a Bandcamp binge...

I don't have many rules when it comes to music, other than it has to be good! But one thing I tend to do is give preference in listening to material that's new to me, and I try and play everything at least 5 times before moving on (or not!). On the albeit rare occasions that there is no new music in my library, I'm not averse to shuffling the iPod (by album, of course), and seeing what comes up.

After a splurge of new stuff last week, I decided last Sunday to just see what came up for my listening pleasure. The result was interesting. First up was the Eagles' self-titled debut: great songs and musicianship which some may call a little bland, but which I love. Next was an album I'd more or less forgotten about, from 2013, by Swiss band Time Grid - their album 'Life': some quite good prog metal with some depth and melody to it. Then there was one of the better albums of 2016, though perhaps a little neglected: Kristoffer Gildenlöw's 'The Rain', exploring beautifully themes of loss and grief - a hidden gem of an album. Finally came the somewhat bonkers folk-tinged progressive stylings of Norway's Tusmörke and their debut album, 'Underjordisk Tusmorke', with its Tullish overtones.

I'd been suitably impressed, so I took a similar course on Monday. New day, new feel, and we kicked off with the classic 'Birth of the Cool' by Miles Davis: cool jazz, 60 years old this year, at its finest! This was followed by more jazz of a later era, 1972's 'Crossings' by Herbie Hancock which departs more into fusion, but does so with the same clarity and inventiveness that Hancock has always shown. From jazz  we departed into the realms of folk, with Roy Harper's early masterpiece 'Flat Baroque & Berserk' - timeless tunes from the troubled troubadour. Then another change, as we moved to the powerful, atmospheric, instrumental post-rock of Spencer Bassett's Flicker Rate EP. For a lad of 16 this is accomplished work and it really hits the spot! The day was rounded off with the self-titled debut from Canadian proggers Machines Dream, a great collection of intelligent rock music.

After 2 days of delving trough the archives, however, the urge for new music was strong, and I went on a bit of a binge, catching up on stuff I had missed from the latter part of last year on Bandcamp - one of my favourite places to go to find new and exciting music. Most of the music there is available to stream, but I like to have it for myself if I can (it's just the way I am), and although in the past I've got a large amount of music digitally I have a preference these days for physical copies if possible and practicable. As it happens 4 of the 6 albums I bought were only available digitally!

I mentioned Spencer Bassett earlier, a musician from a talented family, as his father, John, has produced some excellent tunes in recent years in his own name, as King Bathmat, and also as Arcade Messiah. In November 2016 John released the third Arcade Messiah offering, a collection of hard-hitting, atmospheric, instrumental guitar-based rock music, easily on a par with his earlier albums, which grows in your appreciation of it with every listen. Then there's a collection of songs old and new (as they gear up to a new album later this year) from the aforementioned 'Machines Dream' - Record, recorded live for a show at the end of November last year. If the band are new to you this may be a great place to start, and it's available for 'name your price'. In a different vein is the more pastoral sound of 'Cirrus Bay', from Buckley, Washington, who seem to release an album every 2 years of evocative, melodic, old-school progressive rock, and 2016 saw the release of album number 3, 'Places Unseen', which pushes all the right buttons for me. From the east coast of the US, Mechanicsburg, PA, come 'Clark's Secret Identity', who I was introduced to (musically) through progrock.com's 'Check It Out' show earlier this year. Their second recording and first album (their first offering was an EP of 4 tracks) came out on 6th December (the day I was knocked down crossing the road), and was interestingly entitled 'The Promise of a Wonderful Future'. This is intelligent both musically and lyrically and has a rawness at times that is refreshing.

My physical purchases were firstly a pre-order of A Formal Horse's 3rd EP, 'Made in Chelsea', which will be released on 31st March but the title track is available now and is a hard-hitting, heavy piece, subtitled 'Apocalypse in 15/8', which offers the third female vocalist in as many EPs, Hayley McDonnell, who seems to have a more operatic feel to her voice than previous incumbents - not as relaxed, certainly. We'll have to wait until March to see how it pans out over the whole EP. Secondly was an album that I'd only just become aware of, chiefly because it recently went straight to Number 1 in the Progressive chart: the new album 'World of Grey' by The Aurora Project. This is an outstanding record, touching on dark themes of dystopia and the death of democracy, but doing so in a style that draws on the best of the neo-prog tradition of the 1980s, producing echoes of Twelfth Night, IQ and others for me. This is one of the stand-out recordings of 2016 that passed me by until the new year. This is the third year in a row that this has happened, with Tiger Moth Tales's 'Cocoon. in 2014 and I Am The Manic Whale's 'Everyting Beautiful In Time' in 2015.

It's been a busy week, but it didn't stop there. Two further albums came to hand this week. First was last year's 'Eros & Thanatos' by Syndone, an Italian symphonic prog band who seem very much in the Italian tradition. Despite language issues, this is an album that is growing with each listen. And finally I received an early copy of Tim Bowness's upcoming release, 'Lost In The Ghost Light'. Bowness's last two albums impressed me a lot, and the new offering continues the fine tradition. This is quiet music of great pedigree, and Bowness's voice, with its moody, breathy, ethereal quality is perhaps stronger here than previously. It strikes me as music that needs to be listened to rather than simply heard, and I think I need to give it some more focused attention in the coming week.

It's been quite a week, but it's been good to share it with this great music!