Friday, April 30, 2010

Point-Counterpoint: Porcupine Tree - Signify


Porcupine Tree blew me away with In Absentia.  I decided I needed to hear more.  I picked up Deadwing shortly after it was released (that is another album for one of these point-counterpoint articles).  Then, while browsing a Borders in Detroit, on my way to yet another residency interview, I picked up Signify.

When I finally had a chance to put it in and listen to it, I was initially thrilled.  The opening track is more of a "noise" track, but sets up the rest of the album.  "Signify" is a fabulous instrumental number with a great bassline that propels the track.  Then the organ intro to the third track kicked in.  Suddenly I wasn't in Kansas anymore.  I'm not even sure I made it through the entire album on that long car ride from Knoxville, TN, to Raleigh, NC (360 miles FYI).

Signify has some great moments, no doubt.  However, there are too many skip-worthy tracks on this album for it to be a frequent item on any playlist of mine.  There are really strong tracks here.  But there is also too much psychedlia/spacey pop stuff for me.  Porcupine Tree is a fantastic band, but I definitely prefer their latter work.

Final Verdict: Explore it (probably best explored with mind-altering substances, though no first-hand experience)


In Absentia was also my first foray into the world of Porcupine Tree (because, of course, I was introduced to them by Peter.  It happens).  Following that, I gobbled up every PT album I could get my hands on - and one of the very first I found was Signify.

Porcupine Tree really has three eras in their music - the first was a psychedelic experiment in ambiance, the second was a time of melody-driven power pop, and with In Absentia on it's been heavier and more crushing.  As far as that first epoch of their sound goes, Signify is the bright shining example of what Steven Wilson and crew could do.

In points, it's loud and cacophonous; in others, it's spare and empty, carefully weighing the use of sound and silence to the greatest degree.  It's filled to overflowing with samples of old radio programs, grounding it in musical history; the bass is very loud (just the way I like it); the drumming by former drummer Chris Maitland (who has gone on to greatness in Guilt Machine) is poppy and slick; and Wilson's guitar work is always detached, antiseptic, and awesome.

In short: I love this album.  It's the best thing PT did in their first decade.

Final Verdict: Adore it (with a virgin daiquiri and plenty of time to sit back and enjoy)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: Alternative Rock

It's time for another installment of my series of articles dealing with the best albums of the last decade.  Today, I wanted to focus my attention on my first true love in music - alternative rock.

I cut my teeth on alt rock - the local alt rock station, x96, has been basically the only thing I've listened to over the airwaves other than NPR.  Like, ever.  Consequently, I have a lot of love for this genre, even if it's not one I listen to much these days.

Regardless, there have been some resounding efforts that have impressed me in the last decade.  (Keep in mind, I still have to do indie rock, so it could be that what you think may be missing from this list could show up there.)  But enough lolligagging!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Essentials of the last decade: Progressive Rock

Seeing as how everyone else has been making end of decade lists (whether you regard the decade as having been 2000-2009 or 2001-2010 is irrelevant), I decided in the shower this morning I wanted to do the same.  

However, in the name of shorter articles, I'm going to do this by genre, therefore making it a less daunting task.  These are albums that I feel every music fan should have in their collection.  Eventually I'll write one of these for each big genre of music I listen to (metal/prog metal, indie, jazz, etc.) but first up: Progressive Rock!

Friday, April 23, 2010

The death of the "Review"

For a few years now (though admittedly in an inconsistent fashion) I have been writing "reviews" here at Progged.  Heck, I even had a brief stint as a writer over at  In that time I have discovered something.

Reviews are rubbish.

At least as I have been trying to write them.  See, all reviews about entertainment are subjective.  Sure, there are objective things that can be measured and perhaps quantified: is the mix even, is the production done well.  But so much is ethereal.  Particularly when it comes to music.

There are albums that I love because of what I relate them to, the memories they evoke.  Likewise, many songs/albums evoke certain emotions that strengthen or weaken the music.  And those are unique to each person.  So trying to review objectively equals one thing only: Fail.

As such, here at Progged, after discussion with my bro, we are going to be moving to a less precise, more general type of review.  It will likely be a three tiered system that will break down something like this: Great music, okay to good music that is at least worth checking out, but maybe not owning, and crap.

Yeah, that middle one is long and awkward.  We're working on it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rush announces new tour. . .

But did I leave my fanboy card at the door?

That's right.  Rush recently announced their "Time Machine" tour.  My initial reaction was "Awesome, must go."  I mean, they are playing Moving Pictures in its entirety, for the first time ever.  And I still feel that, to this day, Moving Pictures is one of the best  albums ever.  Period.

Then I start to think about it.  Don't get me wrong, I still love Rush.  But where is the new material for this tour?  Sure, they hint at some special surprises.  What does that mean though?  Are they going to play some new songs on tour?  Maybe.  But is it worth it for me to go see them for that?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Great news for Rock Band DLC!

One of the greatest aspects of the Rock Band series of games from Harmonix is their continued addition of content.  I have mentioned before just how awesome the Rock Band Network is as both a concept and with the execution so far.  However, that is certainly not the only way in which the game continues to receive new content.

Earlier this week, I professed my love for the new Coheed and Cambria album, Year of the Black Rainbow.  Well then, you can imagine my joy when I saw the announcement this morning (okay, the announcement was yesterday, but I was only just able to see it) of the official Rock Band DLC (downloadable content) announcement for next week.

Amongst the 6 songs being released you will find the Coheed and Cambria pack, including three really great songs from Year of the Black Rainbow.  Those tracks are "The Broken", "Here We Are Juggernaut", and "Guns of Summer".  I can assure that all three songs are really great.  In fact, "The Broken" is one of my overall favorite C&C tracks, not just from this new album.  All three tracks have great vocals, guitars, bass and drums.  They should be a lot of fun to play in the game, and I can guarantee I will be picking up the whole track pack so I can virtually rock out to those three.

Definitely exciting news, and the fact that they are calling this Coheed and Cambria track pack 01 gives me hope there will be some more tracks released from them.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Album Review: Shrinebuilder - Shrinebuilder

Shrinebuilder: Shrinebuilder
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Supergroups are a tricky thing.  Too often they feel like odd amalgamations of the disparate contributions of their constituent members.  They feel forced, trying to pigeonhole Band X's sound into Band Y's style.  Most of the time, they just fall flat.  Perhaps it is the bane of the supergroup: to succumb to the unrealistic expectations.

Enter Shrinebuilder.

Comprised of Scott "Wino" Weinrich of Obsessed and Saint Vitus on guitar/vocals, Scott Kelly of Neurosis on guitar/vocals, Al Cisneros of Om and Sleep on bass, and Dale Crover of The Melvins on the skins, those are huge expectations to live up to.  So what does Shrinebuilder do to those expectations?

It crushes them.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Album Review: Coheed and Cambria - Year of the Black Rainbow

Coheed and Cambria: Year of the Black Rainbow
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Coheed and Cambria shouldn't be popular.  That is all there is to it.  Music that at times is heavy, progressive rock/metal, then swings wildly to emo-pop.  A vocalist whose upper register touches the clouds.  And most importantly, an intricate (and "out there") science fiction yarn that spans (now) five albums, each of them a concept album in a larger work.  In terms of popularity, these guys should be niche at best.

Yet Year of the Black Rainbow demonstrates admirably just why they are so popular.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Thoughts on Beatles Rock Band.

I've never been a fan of the Beatles.

Sure, I grew up knowing their music (thanks largely to my mother, who always has enjoyed them) and I had a cassette copy of Abbey Road that I listened to back when there were nothing but cassettes, and listened to it until the tape literally disintegrated and snapped.  But I never thought I really liked them.

That was until the last couple of weeks, as I've been enjoying a romp through their history thanks to Beatles Rock Band.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Gaga versus M.I.A.

It seems that there may be a war brewing in the world of pop music, and all of us will have to pick sides.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Russian Circles: Geneva

Russian Circles: Geneva
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Russian Circles, a three piece band from Chicago, released a really great debut a few years ago.  They struck a nice balance of thunderous, instrumental post-metal with atmosphere and building tension.  Their second release left me a little cold, being too much atmosphere and not enough thunder.

Geneva, the band's latest effort, however, manages to strike the perfect balance between the two extremes.  Stand up and take note.  If you haven't heard of Russian Circles before now, I recommend you pay attention.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Jaga Jazzist - What We Must

Jaga Jazzist - What We Must

Year: 2005

In my ever-constant evolution as a jazz lover, there are a lot of groups or artists that have caught my attention for a bit, only to have that attention wane as their music seemed less layered, less complex than I originally thought. (What can I say? I'm a perennial music dissector. It's just what I do.) For example, The Bad Plus was a great gateway drug into the world of three-piece-jazz-ensemble, but I'd rather listen to the Esbjörn Svensson Trio any day over them now. (RIP, Esbjörn.) There are others, however, who've had staying power in my pantheon of jazz listening - Polar Bear, Acoustic Ladyland . . .

And Jaga Jazzist is bound to be one of those latter bands.

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings

Dream Theater: Black Clouds & Silver Linings
Year: 2009
Click here for the artist's site

Ah Dream Theater.  Where to begin with this band.

Despite being a Rush fan for years, and being somewhat acquainted with the whole genre of "prog rock", I hadn't really delved into the somewhat heavier realm of "prog metal".  That was, until I heard "Pull Me Under" by Dream Theater.  Released in 1992, Images and Words quite frankly blew me away.  Thus began my long love of progressive metal.

Yet I cannot say that Dream Theater has been a constant throughout these past 18 years.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Fear Factory: Mechanize

Fear Factory: Mechanize
Year: 2010
Click here for the artist's site

Right off, let's just ignore the entire Fear Factory argument of the past year.  I has been well documented elsewhere, so there is no need to do so here.  Here is a quick rundown of who is out and who is in:

Vocals: Burton Bell sill IN (despite stating he no longer wanted to make this kind of music)
Guitars: Christian Olde Wolbers OUT (initially bass player, switched to guitar when Dino left after Digimortal), Dino Cazeras back IN
Bass: Byron Stroud still IN (took over bass after Wolbers moved to guitar)
Drums: Raymond Herrara OUT, Gene Hoglan IN

The first question someone familiar with the past work will ask is: How does this compare to Demanufacture?  I will answer that question, in time.