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'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!

Saturday, 7 January 2017

This Week's Playlist - a lot of jazz, a bit of Prog

The first week of a new year has seen me at a bit of a loose end. As some of you may be aware early in December I was knocked down crossing the street, and consequently have been somewhat incapacitated. One thing I've managed to do, though, is listen to some music, and I thought I would let you know what I've been listening to (just in case you're interested!)

Much of my listening has been catching up with pre-Christmas purchases, though I did indulge myself a little the other day with some classics from the collection. Quite a bit of my music discovery comes through the medium of Bandcamp, a wonderful way to meet, listen to and even purchase a wide selection of sometimes great music! One band that I came across during last year was the Seattle Jazz combo of the Jason Parker Quartet, initially through a tribute album they released to the work of the late Nick Drake in 2011, which is well worth checking out. More recently I've gone back to their self-titled debut, a wonderful example of the best of modern bebop in the tradition of the classics.

Still in a jazzy vein are first the Oakland, CA trio of The Once and Future Band, who bring a fusion and proggy sound, with echoes for me of Yes and BJH without being derivative. Well worth checking out their Brian EP! Second is the Canterbury-based quintet The Thirteen Club, whose album So Yeah is jazzier and brings a wonderful late-night fusion feel to its lush instrumental melodies. This is good modern jazz rock, which stays with you. Thirdly is an album released towards the end of 2016 on the (for me) increasingly influential Edition Records label. Through exploring their catalogue I have enjoyed the work of Jason Rebello, Tim Garland, Jasper Høiby, Phronesis and Dinosaur, but this particular item came from the guitar-playing hands of Stuart McCullum and Mike Walker. The album The Space Between creates some beautiful soundscapes and textures using acoustic and electric guitars, and is a quiet, thoughtful album that puts me in mind on many occasions of Pat Metheny.

At the more progressive end of my musical diet are a couple of albums that ring a whole lot of musical bells, both by musicians who might be considered on the slightly eccentric side of life! Both of them are also presenters on Progzilla Radio, too: coincidence? The first takes me back to the autumn and to the Summer's End Festival in Chepstow, as it is a recording of one of the sets from this year - that of the multi-talented Peter Jones, aka Tiger Moth Tales. In an exceptional weekend for music, theirs was one of the stand-out sets of the festival, and thankfully it was recorded for posterity, and it is impossible to isolate a stand-out track: they're all fantastic! The second is the final release of many for 2016 from the wonderfully eclectic Bad Elephant Music label, this time a second volume of archive songs from the delightful Simon Godfrey: the Black Bag Archive volume 2. This is a collection of re-worked songs dating from 1999 - 2016, showing a tremendous range of song-writing from Simon and leaving me eager for the new Shineback and Valdez material that should be due shortly. Finally in the new music is an album that's not actually out yet, but which I've got an early copy of: the latest album from Blackfield - Blackfield V. The work of Steven Wilson and Aviv Geffen, this is a wonderful collection of short, thoughtful songs that draw on Wilson's solo work and even his work with Porcupine Tree, but with Geffen's voice it seems to remove the gravitas without removing the earnestness. The band's earlier work is not that well-known to me, but this seems to stand out from what I do know (Welcome to My DNA) as an album to return to many times.

The 'classics' from my collection that I mentioned earlier again look quite jazzy. (No links, as these are CDs) The Impossible Gentlemen's third album, Let's Get Deluxe has a great collection of modern jazz tunes (written by the aforementioned Mike Walker). Miles Davis has always featured highly on my all-time greats list, and last year Don Cheatle did a biopic of the great man, Miles Ahead. The OST gives a wonderful feel for the film (still to be seen!), and even features Cheatle himself on trumpet, as well as playing the man. I've also always had a soft spot for the cool jazzy stylings of Walter Becker & Donald Fagen in Steely Dan, and the other day I gave possibly their best two albums a spin: their debut, Can't Buy A Thrill and the beautiful Aja - both offering music of the highest order. Finally, and a little more proggy, was Motivation Radio by Steve Hillage: maybe not the best thing he's recorded (of his solo work, that's probably a toss-up between Fish Rising & L), but an evocative album that has its moments.

So that's how that last week has panned out musically (along with various podcasts!). I hope, if you're not familiar with them, that you'll find the music interesting. Let me know!