Here’s ‘The Platform’ – first single form Beardfish next lp Mammoth

The snippets I’ve heard from this record, including this single, sound a bit like a slightly calmer version of Destined Solitaire, the band’s 2009 release.  There seems to be continued development away from big melodic themes and more toward very tight, stop-on-a-dime arrangements that come at me with more force than the very listen-able Sleeping In Traffic records.  Release is scheduled for March 30.

Also – cover art is again super groovy:

Good news and bad news

The good news people are reading Blogerantz!  The bad news is that one of them is Dave Meros of Spock’s Beard.

Thanks for the nice words. Not so many thanks for offering our CD up for illegal downloading, though.

You P2P and Bittorent guys are killing us. .. literally.

Dave Meros / Spock’s Beard

Sorry about that, Dave.  I thought the title (Live at Whiskey and Near Fest) was unavailable through conventional means, but I have since confirmed that it can be purchased directly at Radiant Records on CDR.

I’m pleased to say that I did purchase this item back in the day, as opposed to getting it from bittrorrent or P2P.  My original vision with Blogerantz was to share music the way I did back in high school when I would copy Steve Hackett’s Defector for one friend and they would copy Tony Banks’ Curious Feeling for me.  Behavior like that generally did not lead to cease and desist letters, even though it was technically in violation of copyright laws.

But I understand Dave’s point and I am very sensitive about posting ‘official’ releases for artists who are young or independent.  Despite my deep and abiding love of Beardfish, I’m not posting any of their studio records at Blogerantz, no matter how much I want to spread the word.  Those guys really need the money.

Beardfish meditation – Abigails Questions from ‘Destined Solitaire’

This is the review I posted at ProgArchives.  I’m not sure I complied with all the rules nd requirements, so, just in case they take it down, I’m posting it here.

100 word minimum?  No Problem.  I’m ranting a bit tonight, so instead of cranking out 1000+, let’s just focus on one song, OK?  Can you tell I like the album?  Can you guess what my rating is going to be?

“Like the white dot in the middle of the TV when you turn it off…”  That’s right, we’re going to the infinite universe that is ‘Abigails Qusetion.’  And quoting the lyrics is not where you expect a Beardfish review to begin.  I keep saying the same thing to anyone who will listen, but I can’t believe how much I like the lyrics for this band.  That’s not supposed to be true for a prog band, or at least not usually.  That’s exactly the reason I’ve enjoyed so much international prog over the past twelve months.  Take away any understanding because you’re hearing Polish or Portuguese or French, or whatever.  But these guys are fans of Zappa, and the written (and spoken and sung) word was such a big part of what made his music special.  It was not just comedy – it communicated a big idea that could not be captured by the music alone.  ‘Billy the Mountain’ (once described as a movie-for-your-ears) is my favorite example, but there are many others.  The fascinating thing is that THESE GUYS DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH TO EACH OTHER.  They don’t speak English to their friends and family.  And while it is clearly far more common for a Swedish person to be fluent in English than visa-versa, being able to have a nice conversation in English is one thing – writing about the infinite universe, with idiom, simile and metaphor is something else entirely.  Yet, for some time now, for Rikard and the band – no problem.

Now, it’s best not to speak about Zappa too much in a Beardfish review, lest the reader get the impression that this is a one-trick-pony of Mothers-impersonators.  That’s not the case.  No way.  Then why do I even bring it up again?  because the music, the notes, the time signatures, the arrangements are tough, at times, on the listener, particularly the new listener.  And that criticism may be reasonably directed at much of Zappa’s music.  And also, these guys know the Zappa schtick upside-down, backwards and forwards, and they don’t care to hide that fact.  The thing to remember is that it is merely a jumping off point, and it is not the thing itself.  Too often I see the word ‘retro’ associated with this band, and I cringe.  With all due respect to Mike Portnoy’s very kind words about it being just like 1974, this is not retro.  This is progressive.  Ideas from the past, particularly those involving intensive composition, are being recombined and mixed with NEW sounds and NEW ideas to make NEW music.

“Nothing has a beginning.  Nothing has an end.”  What a comforting thought.  It reminds me of Neil Young (perhaps the most un-prog of artists) who said “It’s all one song.”  Well, despite that lovely refrain, Abigails Question certainly does have a beginning and an end.  It also has a TON of material in between, including a little chit chat about the density of space (basically a vacuum) compared to the density of complex living organisms, like tadpoles.  But even with that unexpected (and very  welcome) roadsign, this was the song I was waiting for on this record.

At a little more than nine minutes, this is concise, especially given the variation of music contained therein.  After a very brief bit of atmosphere, the verse begins, supported by something akin to soft mellotron hits and guitar that sounds like it’s processed an octave up.  Drums and bass drive steadily while keys, guitar and vocal meander in a daze through the first 50 seconds.  In order to get to the “Nothing has a beginning…” refrain there’s a quick little somersault that feels meant to be disorienting for the listener, but it happens so fast that we find our feet right away, and are rewarded with a bit of synth melody that would make Tony Banks proud.  Unlike most Genesis, that melody is with us for less than twenty seconds – which is actually a small eternity in Beardfish time.  Now we’re back to verse two.  The short cycle basically repeats until we’re just under the two minute mark.  All change!

Now it’s time for a somewhat anxious meditation on how an infinite universe could be a bad thing.  This is matched with an unsettling up-chop on the guitar that is so not reggae.  Basically the song is contemplating the spontaneous and immediate end of everything.  This troubling thought leads directly into a polyrhythmic section where it seems everyone is regimented in their own march.  It reminds me of Wetton-era King Crimson.  We are then rescued by an instrumental statement, similar to that earlier synth melody, but now carried by the organ.  There is a little groove here, almost like beautiful and mellow rock’n'roll music.  Is Beardfish about to become a jam band?  What do you think?  This lovely bit of music goes from just before the 3 minute mark to about 3:34.  Again, in the life of this song, that’s a pretty nice little jam.

Now it’s the same melody, transposed and counterpointed to be a little peppier and a little more edgy.  At 3:57, we’re back to the original key for this part, and there is a small sense of resolution, small because we know it is temporary.  Just around 4:15 some synth (Moog?) foretells the next transition.  It’s the same key change, but VERY quickly followed by hits at the 4:36 mark (which is the exact halfway mark, by my calculation). Now we’re gently meandering, noodling a bit even.  Organ, bass, drums and guitar, kind of just going together, but constantly changing direction.  This is hard on the listener, unless it is setting something up.  Why yes, that’s the same theme we just heard back at the 1:14 area.  Ahhh… I feel so relaxed.  i hope this is not a false sense of comfort.  That floor tom is hitting a bit hard.

Now some noodling and  hits and then really fast vocals about checking out the trail left from that first kiss.  The lyrics are delivered so quickly that I needed to look them up, but they’re followed by the old demon voice (octave down) confirming that yes, “You should totally check it out!”  OK, stoner!  Now, at 5:23, the stage is set for something tasty.  Why, yes, that IS a delightful little clavinet solo.  Such easy rockin’ music is rudely interrupted by the aformentioned chat about the density of intergalactic space compared to some complex stuff here at home.  This voice reminds me of the seemingly benevolent super computer controlling everything on the starship, which computer (emotionless) may or may not be planning on killing the crew.  What IS definitely killing is Rikard’s organ solo, which only runs from 6:40 to 7:16.  Again, that’s a long time to be in the same progression for this song.  What I love is the maturity on that tiny little solo.  He’s got a very small amount of space and he delivers chops AND emotion.  It is an ecstatic high point to the record and perfectly sets up the rest of the band to take us home.

Repeat that extra fast lyric and then we close in on the BIG FINISH – YES!!  Nothing has a beginning, Nothing has an end!  Except with those sustaining Hammond chords and the very tasteful and understated guitar melody accents, we’re pretty much in jam band heaven from 7:28 to the finish.  It is an extremely rewarding finale for a listener who has gone through the whole experience described above and it shows the emotional power that this quartet can muster to bring the chaos to a sublime conclusion.

The rest of the record is also very good.

Odds and ends – music, friends, family, fun

dream_theater_japan

Special thanks to el Sturg and his lovely wife for hosting me in the DC metro area.  Senor Sturj and I ventured into the wilds of Columbia, MD for Progressive Nation 2009.  We got treated to Zappa Plays Zappa, Dream Theater, and even a little Queensryche.  It was a great night of music with a dear friend, but I’ll need some time to digest the whole deal.  In short, the Zappa set was brilliant, satisfying and very much what I expected.  It was a treat to see such extraordinary music played so brilliantly.  Dream Theater, quite simply, was an onslaught.  Portnoy might be the best in the business behind the drums.  I’ve seen him before, but not with HIS band.  This show was loud, abnoxious, mighty and awesome.  Like I said, more on that later.

I also received a huge supplement to my music collection via Mr. and Mrs. Sturg.  With the former, I have an opportunity to hear every single show Mahavishnu played between 1972 and 1974.  Friday night, Saturday night, Sunday night, etc, etc.  That is a deep collection.  From the later, I got to continue my education in sounds from around the world, as the Mrs. has traveled widely, speaks fluent Spanish and supplemented her considerable music collection accordingly.  I was only able to scratch the surface while being treated to pancakes and fresh fruit this morning, but I still managed to collect many gigs.  It was a good haul; just how good, will take some time to fully realize.

Friday night (still in Philly), my friend Joe had the sense to push me to Johnny Brenda’s, where I always love what I see.  In this case, it turned out top be a band I had already seen, but in a much worse venue.  I previously reflected on these events over at Fretbuzz, so there’s that.

On Thursday we wrapped up a great visit with my dear sister and her hell-ish beast-like offspring amazingly sweet and hilariously funny kids.  Dorothy has some great shots posted at her .mac sight.  I’ve got a few things to add, although most of my stills are from the Bat Mitzvah.  This video (warning: unedited!!) gives a good feel of how things progressed:

With today’s 7-3 drubbing at the hands of the Gigantos, the Phillies have now dropped a disturbing number of games on this seven-game west coast trip.  I wouldn’t worry so much, seeing as their lead in the atrocious NL East is still pretty comfortable, but they will undoubtedly have to play San Francisco and/or LA when playoff time comes, provided they get there.

I guess the last thing worth mentioning is the insane joy I’ve been getting from following Brent Spiner (Star Trek: TNG’s Data; yes, that Brent Spiner) on Twitter.  He has clearly elevated the art form.

AND, last but not least, the new Beardfish record Destined Solitaire is yet another work of genius.  Great music, lyrics, cover art, everything.  More on that later too.

Time Turns Elastic – not Beard, not Fish, but Phish

phishtimeturnselastic

I was encouraged by a good friend to give the 13 minute ‘single’ from the forthcoming Phish record.  I’ve never been a big fan of their music, despite the fact that there is a serious prog side to this jam band institution.  Anyway, they’ve got their first studio album in five years coming out this summer, they’re back on tour, fans are eating it up.  So after getting all salty about what they do, I took some time and actually listend to the song.  Here’s the pertinent portions of my explication:

For a different band, the first two minutes could be a chart-topping pop single.  How crazy is the crowd going to get when they hear “I’m a submarine”?  Now comes a very small meandering and then we get more lovely and heartfelt pop.  The sound of the acoustic piano and the electric guitar is really simple but rich and textured.

At about 4:35, things start to go a bit wrong for me.  ‘Melody, shelter in the darkness.  Take hold of me now.”  Even at the first go-round (and without having a strong contextual understanding of the band in general) I knew this was going to introduce a long instrumental section.  But the lyrics give it away.  We’re ‘in the darkness’ and we need some ‘melody’ to make it – I guess – not so scary.  OK, let’s see what you got.

This starts by sounding like the more recent versions of Brand X with the alternate picking and harmonics.  Then we have the build-up to the long middle portion.  It’s a little rocking, then it’s a little quiet.  Then it starts rocking again.  The piano is leading the charge and it’s pretty happy until we get to about the 8 minute mark.  Now it’s back to those harmonics and melody in counterpoint.  Not so happy now with the sky bleeding and the world turning upside down.  It’s a bit fusion-y for the next minute or two – almost reminds me of Chic Corea and Return to Forever, but less hysterical.  My problem, is that it’s just a bit of meandering, almost trying to be a bit off, a bit atonla, to set up the BIG ENDING.

Now, you know that no one likes the big ending more than I, but did we need seven minutes (from about 4 to 11) to get there?  It’s OK if there’s some hot stuff in that intervening period, but it seems to be kept at a moderate to low energy intentionally to set up the big classic rock finale.  I just wish they would do more with that middle period.

But the ending is exceptional and it rocks and I know that it will go over great live.  It is prog because it’s very composed and it requires a lot of attention to get all the ins and outs.  And while not all prog is automatically good music, I always appreciate the effort.  It makes the world safer for Beardfish, Elephant9 and other rockers coming on the scene.

I know that is some cheap, cut-and-paste, blogging, but its along the lines of what happens here, as far as content.  The same individual who encouraged the above email is now pushing for collaborative music blogging.  Hmmm…  As always, I’m all ears!

Oh shit, oh shit! BEARDFISH North American tour!!!

beardfish

Best prog band in the business.  Wihtout Zappa and (real) Genesis, Beardfish gets my vote.  These guys deffinitely ‘get it’ and they’re coming to the Tower!!!
USA

21 Jun 2009 13:30  NEARFEST BETHLEHEM, Pennsylvania
24 Jul 2009 20:00  Fillmore @ Jackie Gleason Theater MIAMI, Florida
25 Jul 2009 20:00  Rock Hard Live Orlando, Florida
26 Jul 2009 20:00  Ruth Eckard Hall Tampa, Florida
28 Jul 2009 20:00  The Tabernacle Atlanta, Georgia
29 Jul 2009 20:00  Thomas Wolfe Auditorium Ashville, North Carolina
31 Jul 2009 20:00  Tower Theater Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1 Aug 2009 20:00  Merriweather Post Washington, Washington
2 Aug 2009 20:00  Bank Of America Pavillion Boston, Massachusetts
4 Aug 2009 20:00  The Palace Theater Albany, New York
5 Aug 2009 20:00  Chevrolet Theater Wallingford, Connecticut
7 Aug 2009 20:00  Convention Hall Asbury Park, New Jersey
-Over to Canada – see below
21 Aug 2009 20:00  The Orpheum Theater Minneapolis, Minnesota
22 Aug 2009 20:00  Riverside Theater Milwaukee, Wisconsin
23 Aug 2009 20:00  Chicago Theater Chigaco, Illinois
25 Aug 2009 20:00  Temple Hoyne Buell Theater Denver, Colorado
27 Aug 2009 20:00  Event Center San Jose, Colorado
28 Aug 2009 20:00  The Joint Las Vegas, Nevada
29 Aug 2009 20:00  GREEK THEATER/PROGRESSIVE NATION 2009 LOS ANGELES, California

Canada

11 Aug 2009 20:00  The Agora Quebec, Quebec
12 Aug 2009 20:00  Ball Center Montreal, Quebec
14 Aug 2009 20:00  Molson Amphitheater Toronto, Ontario
16 Aug 2009 20:00  The Burton Cummings Theater Winnipeg, Manitoba
18 Aug 2009 20:00  MacEwan Hall Calgary, Alberta
19 Aug 2009 20:00  Shaw Conference Center Edmonton, Alberta

Elephant9 – Norwegian Power Trio

(That is so baddass)

(That is so baddass)

The traditional organ trio, as far as I understand it, is comprised of Hammond B3, drums and guitar or sax.  Think about Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, Joey DeFrancesco – they used the awsome power of the B3 to carry the bass on the left hand and go nuts with the right for leads and melody.  Darediablo proved that the format could work well in a rock setting.  In the world of jazz fusion, the great example is Tony Williams Lifetime of 1969.  The twist there was that the organ, normally dominant in such contexts, had to play second fiddle to Williams’ drums and McLaughlin’s guitar.  Even though Jack Bruce came along to play electric bass, that lineup never gelled.  The true genius of Lifetime was the trio – no bass.

Then comes Medeski Martin and Wood.  This is not an organ trio, because Medeski is playing everyhing in sight, so long as it has black and white keys, not just the B3.  Medeski’s the focus and and it all goes through his playing, but now there is a bass.  Wood is almost always on a stand-up acoustic, but it doesn’t take away from the funk.  When that band wants to get down, it gets down.

Now I arrive at Elephant9.  Things are different in Scandanavia.  Fusion is not a dirty word.  Progressive Rock is an art form, and not an insult.  And in Norway, Stale Storlokken absolutely burns on keys.  This is a band that has not one but TWO Joe Zawinul covers on the same record.  There is no hiding the influence.  This is a direct decendent of early 70′s Miles Davis and Weather Report.  Storlokken’s ability to conjure a fiery groove is matched only by his seemingly limitless technical ability.  The drums and electric Fender Bass add pure muscle.  This is not subtle music.  And then you hear the variety of synths and other sound generators in Storlokken’s arsenal, and you can understand why these young men embrace a prog identity.

In 2008 I discovered Beardfish – an amazingly talented group from Sweeden.  That love of Zappa and old Genesis has not gotten old, and I wait with bated breath for the time when I can see them live.  But Elephant9, and particularly Storlokken, feels like the next big thing for me.  I have not been this excited about young musicians in many months.

Beardfish makes me happy

Best. Band. Ever. These guys are in their mid 20′s and they play this insane pop-zappa-prog-blues-rock. AND they’re from Sweden, but the lyrics are (almost entirely) in english and they’re actually quite good. I’m shocked that I’ve found a band that’s so great and so young. And when I say ‘I found’, what I really mean is Dr. Starr found and told me to listen to. The new record is Sleeping In Traffic, Pt. 2. GO BUY IT NOW!!! This video is from 2006 and will give you some idea of the pure joy that is Beardfish!