Gong – “The Universe Also Collapses”

gong-universe-cover-art-500Gong has had a long stored history with many different variations of the band. Of course there’s the Daevid Allen classic Gong but there’s been Mother Gong, Planet Gong (now known as Here & Now) and Pierre Moerlen’s Gong. Now with the passing of Allen, “The Universe Also Collapses” is the second Gong album without him…or any member from the classic lineup(s). Does it really matter though?

“Rejoice! I’m Dead!” was a stunning album which I was ill prepared for. To say I was blown away would be an understatement. Honestly, the name of the band didn’t matter. It was great music! And the same can definitely be said for “The Universe Also Collapses.” It is just as incredible as the previous album and might very well be even better!

“The Universe Also Collapses” has 4 songs. The 20 minute psychedelic freak out “Forever Reocurring” start things off in jaw dropping fashion. There is a bit of a krautrock opening to it before things go full on prog in your face. “If Never I’m and Ever You” is the other end of the spectrum at two and half minutes. Yet Gong gets more done in that period of time than most prog bands do in 10 minutes.

“My Sawtooth Wake” is another big track. Amazing playing and Ian East is an absolute star on sax. The album closes with yet another great song, “The Elemental.” The playing on this is just flawless. That’s why THIS Gong is one of the best prog bands around today. Are they Gong? I don’t care what they call themselves because they are awesome. Should they be honored to be considered Gong? Gong fans are lucky to have these guys calling themselves Gong.

“The Universe Also Collapses” is a masterpiece. There are plenty of times I audibly said “wow!” What’s in a name? Well I guess that’s up to you. This is Gong. And no other Gong lineup could have achieved this album. I am not saying they are the best version of Gong. They are the version of Gong we need. We are lucky to have them and “The Universe Also Collapses.”

Rating: 10/10

Tracklist:

1. Forever Reoccuring
2. If Never I’m Ever You
3. My Sawtooth Wake
4. The Elemental

Label: Kscope
Release Date: May 10, 2019

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The Aristocrats to release “You Know What…?” on June 28th

I am looking forward to this album. Here’s the press release and all the important information.

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What do you call an act who blends elements of dirty rock, folk, jazz, and explosions of esoterica into one mind-melding album?

The Aristocrats, of course.

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The Aristocrats (guitarist Guthrie Govan, bassist Bryan Beller and drummer Marco Minnemann) are perhaps the best known instrumental rock-fusion band on the circuit and have just recorded their most ambitious and exploratory album in their eight year history. You Know What…? is the fourth studio album from the trio and includes nine new tracks recorded at Brotheryn Studios, Ojai, CA.

In true Aristocratic tradition, each band member wrote and produced three songs which were brought to life in the studio thanks to the band’s instinctive chemistry and shared musical vocabulary. Having taken a little time away to work on other projects, the band were excited to be back together doing what they do best and producing a sound that’s at once fresh and new but unmistakably the work of The Aristocrats with their trademark blend of discipline and musical freedom. True to form, the album doesn’t hitch its wagon to any one genre. The only rules the trio live by are that the music must be pleasurable for the listener and it most definitely has to be fun to play.

A glance at the track listing for You Know What…? may cause some raised eyebrows from those unfamiliar with the band. For fans however, it’s a tantalizing glimpse of the stories behind the songs that the band will soon be sharing with audiences all over the world on their upcoming world tour, which begins in North America this summer. From the filthy, greasy rock of “D Grade F*ck Movie Jam” and “Terrible Lizard”, to the quirky anything-goes madness of “Spiritus Cactus” and “Spanish Eddie”, to the lavishly arranged “Burial At Sea” and “When We All Come Together”, and to the timeless melodies of “All Said And Done” and Last Orders”, You Know What…? is an album full of addictive grooves, high energy jamming and seemingly impossible musical twists and turns.The Aristocrats are undoubtedly back and ready to blow some minds.

The band are pretty pleased with how it turned out, commenting that: “On You Know What…?, we feel like we inspired each other as songwriters and musicians to do things we’ve never done before as a band. We know each other pretty well now, and we used that familiarity to really get after it in the studio and push the boundaries of what we can accomplish on a record. And still, it’s totally, completely an Aristocrats album. We think it’s the coolest thing we’ve done yet by far.”

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Tracklist:

  1. D Grade F*ck Movie Jam 
  2. Spanish Eddie 
  3. When We All Come Together 
  4. All Said And Done 
  5. Terrible Lizard 
  6. Spiritus Cactus 
  7. The Ballad Of Bonnie And Clyde 
  8. Burial At Sea 
  9. Last Orders 

You Know What…? will be available in both standard and deluxe CD packages, in addition to digital download and streaming versions. The deluxe edition includes a bonus DVD, filmed and edited by Jon Luini, featuring exclusive studio footage and interviews with the band – as well as a 12-page booklet comprising artwork to accompany each song, in which Graphic Artist Hajo Müller continues and expands the Aristocratic tradition of illustrated artwork with a decidedly childlike vision of each of the album’s nine tunes. You Know What…? will be released on June 28th 2019. Pre-sales will be available from early June.

 

The Aristocrats will begin a new world tour this year in support of You Know What…?, starting with their very own music camp “The Aristocamp” in upstate New York from June 18th to 21st before heading off for their most extensive tour yet of North America. Tour dates for other continents will be announced in the coming months.

 

Tour dates and ticket links can be found on The Aristocrats website at: http://the-aristocrats-band.com/shows/

 

All studio and live releases by The Aristocrats can be purchased at: https://www.hellomerch.com/collections/the-aristocrats

 

For more information on The Aristocrats, please visit: 

 

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Brighteye Brison – “V”

BEM069 album cover

Even with the internet, it still feels rather exotic that much of the music I’ve discovered in the last few years has come from parts of the world other than where I live. Many of these artists have been around for a while before I discovered them.

Brighteye Brison is no exception to this. I saw their name on social media, and then magically the boss offered me their upcoming album – their fifth! – to review.

If you are looking for a big, expansive, progressive rock album, this release will fit the bill.

Opening track The Crest of Quarrel sneaks up on you, all quiet at first, then the mysterious
sounds appear and the song opens up into a progression of music that hints at what might be hallmarks of an epic, keyboard-driven prog sound.

Second track V features vocal interplay within its alternative rhythms.

The closing song, The Magician Chronicles, clocks in at almost 37 minutes and is a continuation of a narrative from their previous work. This is another huge, monster of a track with amazing layers of sound. The vocals are especially incredible!

“I am who I am. I will never let go of my power.”

Warning: It’s quite the earworm! This album is wonderful for headphone listening.

Now, I need to check out their other albums so I can catch up on the mythology.

Rating: 9/10

Available May 24, 2019

Tracklisting:

1. The Crest of Quarrel
2. V
3. The Magician Chronicles – Part II

Band Members:

Linus Kåse – keyboards/saxophone/vocals
Per Hallman – keyboards/vocals
Johan Öijen – guitars
Kristofer Eng – bass/vocals
Erik Hammarström – drums

Label: Bad Elephant Music: music.badelephant.co.uk
Band Website: www.brighteyebrison.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/brighteyebrison
Twitter: twitter.com/brighteyeb

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Big Big Train – “Grand Tour”

BBTI’ve been into Big Big Train since they were giving away mp3s on their website many years ago. I have a two track sampler (home made) from the “Bard” album. Yet despite all of that, I wouldn’t say that I LOVE them. I like them okay but a love for them has seemed to elude me for whatever reason. Yet album after album, I venture back to them to try some more.

There is no denying their talent and that is certainly the draw for me. The lineup is stellar and has grown and grown over the years. Adding ex-Spock’s Beard drummer Nick D’Virgilio and Gungfly/Beardfish mainman Rikard Sjöblom have been more reasons to keep me interested. I will say that each album has been better than the last, for me anyway. So here we are once again. Is “Grand Tour” the album that I have been waiting for? Yes!

So why did “Grand Tour” hit me so hard? The first single “Alive” is one of the tracks I really like. Most times in the past when BBT does a more “radio friendly” track, the song would seem very light weight and cheesy. “Make Some Noise” is an example. “Alive” is very catchy and uplifting, yet somehow avoids the watered down cheesiness of past efforts.

Another factor is the epics on “Grand Tour” are all exceptional songs. “Roman Stone,” “Ariel” and especially “Voyager” are well structured and build really well. They all sound natural and organic and not overly pastoral like past epics. Another winner is the NDV written instrumental “Pantheon” which just kicks ass. Something BBT needed! “Homesong” makes for a nice closer with it starting folky before taking flight.

“Grand Tour” is an album that is great all the way through. The song writing of singer David Longdon and bassist/founder Greg Spawton are in top form and the addition of drummer Nick D’Virgilio​ to the songwriting has just made BBT that much stronger. It’s a shame that Rikard Sjöblom​ didn’t add any songs to the mix but perhaps the next outing. For now, “Grand Tour” has me more excited in Big Big Train than I have ever been and I’ll probably go back through the catalog for another look.

Rating: 9.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Novum Organum
2. Alive
3. The Florentine
4. Roman Stone
5. Pantheon
6. Theodora in Green and Gold
7. Ariel
8. Voyager
9. Homesong

Label: English Electric
Release Date: 17 May 2019

Website: www.bigbigtrain.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/bigbigtrain

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Rob’s Recommendation Roundup: Volume 12

Cover_artworkThe title of this column could be “Unlikely Recommendations.” At least, this first one is very unlikely. Port Noir is a band that despite being signed by Inside Out Music, I had assumed they were just some alternative rock band. While they certainly have that element has a part of their music, they do fall into the prog world the same as bands like Agent Fresco and Dead Letter Circus (two of my favorites).

In addition to reminding me of those bands, they even have the edginess of a band like Leprous. Their sound is more sparse though. The drums and bass carry the music with synths being the first line of attack on top. That’s not to say the guitars aren’t a part of it. The dynamics allow the guitars to be that much more powerful when they kick in. Port Noir definitely know a good melody and would never be accused of using too many notes. This is more about the song first and I do prefer that.

There’s such a cool vibe to their new album “The New Routine.” It’s thanks to the keys used and how they are used. Sometimes they are pulsating which accentuate the bass line. Other times they form a foundation for the melody. Tracks like the opening tracks “Old Fashioned” and “Flawless” benefit from those synths but also from ridiculous strong hooks.

But that’s not to say that the guitar doesn’t play a strong role. The riffs on “13” and “Drive” remind me of Rage Against the Machine of all things. Cool bass lines are through out this album right to the awesome closer “Out of Line,” which is both catchy and odd at the same time. And then I just want to hear the whole thing over again.

I really did not think I’d like Port Noir. But I decided to give the band a fair listen. Inside Out has released some interesting bands of late with Soto and RPI band Banco del Mutuo Soccorso being part of the current wave. I tried both of those albums out along with “The New Routine” and oddly enough Port Noir is the one that I like. And now, I have become a big Port Noir fan and that’s why I do reviews like this. Just amazing.

Label: Inside Out Music
Release Date: 10 May 2019

cover_1556130146958596Pinkish Black are an experimental rock duo that feature a former contestant on American Idol. But before you think that Deron Beck is some over the top cheesy vocalist, realize that the judges hated him and he was rejected. He was way too fucking weird for that show. Luckily, his voice fits the odd atmosphere generated by him and his cohort drummer Jon Teague.

Concept Unification” is the third album by the duo and it’s just as strange as their last album “Bottom of the Morning” which I really enjoyed. They have layers and layers of synths that create a dark atmosphere: sometimes heavy and other times quite melancholic. Pinkish Black aren’t an easy listen but that’s the point. Their music is about mood and it can be unsettling.

The difference between the last two albums for me is the synths are clearer and more atmospheric on “Concept Unification.” There’s a bit of a Zombi element to this album and I fucking love Zombi. The songs that really blew me away are “Dial Tone,” “Petit Mal” (a very prog instrumental) and the epic “Next Solution.” But don’t expect a deluge of notes. This is quality over quantity.

It’s been three years since “Top of the Morning” and while Pinkish Black hasn’t changed themselves dramatically, they have honed their sound. The songs are stronger and the atmosphere is at times positively claustrophobic. Take some doom, post rock and soundtrack music, throw them in a blender and you might begin to understand Pinkish Black. But odds are it will take you sometime before you appreciate the greatness of “Concept Unification.”

Label: Relapse Records
Release Date: 14 June 2019

672004It’s been 15 years since the last album by the legendary Alan Parsons. “A Valid Path” had more to do with electronic music than the last AOR fueled prog rock that he did with The Alan Parsons Project. His new album “The Secret” goes back in time to pick up where APP albums like “Turn of a Friendly Card” or “Eye in the Sky” left off.

The formula that worked so well for Parsons and his late cohort Eric Woolfson is back in full force on “The Secret.” Lush orchestrations(“The Sorcerer’s Apprentice”), forays into pop music (“Miracle” among many) and pristine production. The surprise for me was that Parsons is actually a good vocalist. As with all of the APP albums, there are many vocalists on “The Secret.”

Parsons takes lead vocal on a couple of tracks including my favorite “As Lights Fall.”  His voice reminds me a bit of Steve Hackett, who guests on guitar on the album. There are a plethora of guests of course! Former Foreigner frontman Lou Gramm is one of the vocalists and proves he still has it. The musicians are all top notch as well with drumming legend Vinnie Colaiuta and bass great Nathan East topping the list for me.

If you though Alan Parsons was strictly a nostalgia act, the man has more left to do musically beyond producing others. “The Secret” is a welcome return to the radio friendly prog rock that he did back in the 70s and 80s. It sounds as fresh as it did then which comes as no surprise.

Label: Frontiers Music
Release Date: 26 April 2019

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Avandra – “Descender”

avandraReleased Friday, April 26 is “Descender” from Puerto Rico’s Avandra. After multiple listens, I’m left feeling nostalgic, comforted and happy. The music is reminiscent of the early Magna Carta catalog (think Altura, Lemur Voice, Dali’s Dilemma). “Descender” is in that 90s/2000 vein of progressive metal & neo-prog as opposed to the current crop of “extreme” progressive metal and/or djent. This is a compliment, by the way!

You won’t find guttural vocals or blast beats. I find the chord changes intentional and impactful, thoughtfully placed. The vocals are in delivered in a smooth tenor with lots of harmonies which I appreciate. One will find mid-tempo distorted metal with some odd time-signatures baked into the compositions, strong keyboard and synth tones, and warm production that’s not participating in the volume wars. There are moments of sparse vocals and piano, there are syncopated guitar double-leads, there are prog-metal flourishes, but most importantly all these features are used strategically to serve the songs.

The movement from track one to two is almost imperceptible and, while these are two separate songs, they have a certain emotional weight to them that underlines the fact that they are kept together. I’m having flashbacks of early Pain of Salvation during the guitar solo.

Track three is slow and moody but something causes me to pay attention and enjoy it rather than just wonder when it will be over and I can get on to some heavier music. The first of two epics on the CD is A Narrowing of Meaning, clocking in over eleven minutes. It’s not a “difficult-to-listen-to” epic but a “lots-of-melodies-to-show-you” epic. There are some thick harmonic moments in this track that bear repeat listens.

If you don’t hear the Cynic influence on track 7 I’m not sure you are reading the right website. Again, another compliment. A final track of instrumental music, almost post-rock, is an interesting decision, but not a bad one! There is some guitar, some orchestral synths, and some electronic drums, and even though this sounds like it’s from a different band and CD, it caps an emotional ride with a sort of palette cleanser and although it seems risky on paper, experiencing the flow from track 7 to 8 was a nice, turbulence-free landing.
One of the best ways to leave a review is wanting to listen to the music again and Avandra have left me with a reason to visit Descender a few more times

Rating: 7.5/10

Tracklist:
1. Beyond The Threshold Part 1 – Helios Awakens 6:20
2. Beyond The Threshold Part 2 – Helios Descends 6:09
3. A Decision Must Be Made 6:01
4. The Narrowing Of Meaning 11:06
5. Even You 4:43
6. Adder’s Bite 13:13
7. Derelict Minds 7:20
8. Q.E. 4:20

Label: Blood Music
Release Date: 26 April 2019

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Arch / Matheos – “Winter Ethereal”

WinterI will be upfront with you and start by saying that I’m a HUGE Fates Warning fan. When all my buddies in high school were squeaking and awing about Van Halen, I was in my dark room listening to the foreboding sounds of the Fates Warning albums “The Spectre Within” and “Awaken The Guardian”. So naturally both John Arch and Jim Matheos rank high in the ethos of metal for me.

When “Sympathetic Resonance” was released, I was giddy with excitement to once again hear that masterful combination of John Arch’s soaring vocals and Jim Matheos’ meaty guitars. I figured that album would be a ‘one off’ record but I was happy to have it. When I heard news of another collaboration of these two gentlemen, I immediately messaged John to get an interview for my radio show (which can be heard on the Headphone Meditations Facebook page) to get some details.

After so many years, John Arch still has a powerful voice and is immediately recognizable. Jim is in top shelf form as always as he keeps up his chops with Fates Warning. The new album “Winter Ethereal” was no let down. This album has the hard hitting riffs and haunting passages that you would naturally expect from these guys but also veers into some interesting changes. The main reason being the addition of several guest musicians that were not present on it’s predecessor “Sympathetic Resonance” but also because all the music was written specifically for Arch / Matheos whereas “Sympathetic Resonance” started off as a Fates Warning album.

Returning again to join John and Jim are Bobby Jarzombek, Joey Vera and Frank Aresti along with special guests Thomas Lang, , Baard Kolstad, Matt Lynch, Steve Di Giorgio, Sean Malone and former Fates alumni Joe DiBiase and Mark Zonder. How could you go wrong with that? Well, the answer is, you can’t.

I won’t go into all the stereotypical adjectives used to describe what the music sounds like (and never succeeds) but I will say that this album will provide you a journey that only John and Jim can navigate. Prepare yourself for a tear jerker at the end.

Favorite songs: ‘Wrath of the Universe’, ‘Never In Your Hands’ and ‘Kindred Spirits’

Label: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 10 May 2019

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