Neal Morse joins ProgPositivity to discuss his band’s 2015 release “The Grand Experiment”, their most collaborative effort to date.
In the past, Morse typically has waited until he had 90% (or more) of an album’s material pre-composed before getting a band together to begin recording. For his upcoming 2015 album, however, he invited drummer Mike Portnoy, bassist Randy George, keyboardist Bill Hubauer and guitarist Eric Gillette to come to the studio prepared to contribute integrally to the songwriting process.
The “experiment” was a Grand Success, resulting in a reinvigoration of the band’s signature sound (which, by the way, still retains the soaring melodies, catchy hooks, and sterling instrumental performances fans have grown to expect from The Neal Morse Band). Pick up your copy of “The Grand Experiment” at Radiant Records!
This London band has a found a sweet spot triangulated somewhere between alternative rock, metal and progressive rock. The most obvious reference point is probably the band Tool. But their output is a little less dark and perhaps a bit more more accessible. So add a dash of Soundgarden to the mix nd perhaps you’ll have a very quick and rough idea of where this band is coming from stylistically.
The songs are powerful and at times intricate, but the arrangements are refreshingly straightforward. Three guitars (Ian Hill, Tim Bonney, Jim Hall) plus a fourth guitar if you count bass as a type of ‘guitar’ (Taria Dawson – who adds a pleasant spash of color and panache to the groups appearance) and a drummer (Toby Bonney).
Two of the guitarists sing (Ian and Tim). Depending upon the musical passage and mood plenty of space is allowed for one or more of the guitarists to add sheen, effects or to otherwise enhance the sonic pallet. This music is old fashioned in that I can honestly envision this sophisticated wall of sound reproduced live. The vocal harmonies are limited to two vocal lines at a time. By composing effective vocal arrangements without resorting to extensive multi-layering, they’ve managed to create a collection of songs that two singers should be able to reproduce live. Similarly, I don’t hear anything on these songs that could not be replicated by three electric guitarists working in close sympathy and connection with one another in a live setting.
I approached the new Knight Area album expecting to hear lushly atmosphereic, sometimes melodramatic neo prog songs emphasizing vocals and keyboards from a band which, even in their more powerful moments often appropriated a form of metal I’d describe as oddly smooth. Those elements are not bad per se, nor are they gone entirely, but there is something very different happening on their latest album Hyperdrive. I hear a sense of direction and urgency in these compositions that I’ve not often associated with Knight Area previously. The songs, guitar riffs and guitar leads are more inspired. The keyboard solos soar with a new sense of vim and vigor. With this set of songs, the band knows exactly where they want to take us and they waste precious little time getting down to the business at hand. No wonder they named this album Hyperdrive!
The formula seems to be to alternate up-tempo numbers with ballads. But even the ballads are more tightly focused than in previous releases. Sometimes a majestic or anthemic feel permeates slower tunes, propelling them forward. Other times the choruses are very catchy. Almost always, the solos know exactly where they want to go and what they want to do.
This isn’t the most progressive music you’ll ever hear. But stretching these songs out by padding them with 50% more running time wouldn’t have made them more progressive, only more meandering. What then is Hyperactive? It is a set of high quality rock songs featuring quality vocals, tasteful extended solos and emotionally full and satisfying arrangements.
On Hyperactive, Knight Area are onto something very good. Their songs are more succint, more visceral and more captivating. The guitar solos are more purposeful, constantly seeking to push the songs forward musically. And all of this is done without the band losing touch with their neo prog roots. When Knight Area get powerful, I still consider their brand of metal to be a rather mellow and melodious one. Even so, it has acquired just enough crunch to now be the kind of mellow metal I can really enjoy sinking my teeth into.
This Friday night 9/5/14, at 10PM Eastern on ProgPositivity Radio, I look forward to sharing some beloved classics from the golden age of prog with you! This week we’ll hear
RICK WAKEMAN (Wakey had a deal with A&M but even they weren’t willing to pre-fund this ambitious project’s choir, orchestra and rock band. As a result, Rick reportedly took out a personal loan to help make it happen. At first A&M was reluctant to release such an odd combination of styles. The story, of course, has a very happy ending. A&M released it. It went on to sell MILLIONS of copies and we are playing 2 tracks from it on this week’s show!
ELP (The only prog trio of their era gutsy and perhaps pretentious enough to cover Mussorgsky? When they succeeded, they brought just enough of their own unique fingerprint to classical works that they bristled with new life.)
PINK FLOYD (a true classic which was affectionately called “Return of the Son of Nothing” when they first performed it live in 1971).
Of course, we also have exciting NEW progressive minded music like:
Funky syncopated and sophisticated fusion of AZURE
Sometimes melancholy, always memorable vocals from TIM BOWNESS
Nice guitar work from AL GARCIA
Interesting combination of classical and modern instrumentation and styles from ECHO US.
Your friend on the web radio,
ProgPositivity is undergoing some changes.
First off, you may notice that suddenly things sound different. Better. Well, due to some upgrades here at the studio, we are able to bring you high quality streams of our ogg, mp3, and aac+ feeds. You’re welcome. We still have a low bit rate mp3 feed for those who are on dial up or want to listen at work without causing a huge spike on the network traffic.
The other thing is that our music licensing agency (loudcity.com) is going out of business at the end of the month. We do have alternate plans for when that happens, and we’ll try to make it as smooth a transition for you as possible.
There are other things planned, but like a great new prog song you haven’t heard yet, it might be good to keep you guessing as to what’s coming up.
It was Friday the 13th. For me, that was a piece of good luck because I was able to see one of my favorite bands, Schleigho. They were touring incessantly in the mid-to-late 90’s and were gaining something of a following, then for whatever reason they slowed down in the 2000’s and were all but stopped for the last few years. Recently things started to pick back up with more shows and such, when out of the blue drummer Erik Egol announced that he was moving to California. I guess that can be rather rough for a New York-based band.
They’ve got another show tomorrow night, but there’s nothing after that on the schedule, so it looks like I might have been witness to one of the last Schleigho shows ever. I hope it’s not true, but if it is they’re going out at the top of their game. It’s just a shame that more people don’t know about them. I guess heavy progressive fusion is kind of a niche market though, not everyone really “gets” it.
This particular show (at the Rex Theater in Pittsburgh, PA) had a bunch of surprises. The first one was that Jesse didn’t have the keyboard rig I was used to seeing from him. That would be the Hammond B-3, a Fender Rhodes, and (sometimes, depending on how well it was working that night) a really beat up Clavinet. Instead, there was just a Nord synth there, but it was run through his usual effects. Know what? The sound was almost exactly what I would have expected from the old rig, but with less to set up and carry.
Erik wasn’t playing his drum set either. Since they were opening for Marco Benevento, he had to use their drummer’s set. This meant that Erik had to make do with about half as many drums and cymbals as he’s used to. I was frankly amazed at how well he adapted and made the most of the kit he had available.
Suke wasn’t playing the Gibson ES-137 I’m used to seeing him with. Instead it was a solid body Godin. He also had a bunch of effects at his feet instead of the usual wah and distortion pedals. Any doubts I had about this setup disappeared with the first note though, as it all sounded great. His playing was on fire tonight! I suspect some of the effects were for his flute. It may have been the same old flute, I don’t think I would have noticed if it was a different one.
So what about the bass? Well, Drew was back in that slot. If you’ve been following along at home, you know that he was the original bassist, then Matt took over for a little, Paco played for a while, and there were a few others that filled in here and there. But now Drew is back. He had a 5-string fretless, perhaps even the one in the album art for the Farewell to the Sun CD (but not the long hair). This wasn’t much of a surprise, but there was a bass surprise coming up later in the show.
Farewell To The Sun
They started their set with the classic epic Farewell to the Sun. If you went in with expectations that maybe they would sound a bit rusty, this immediately proved that wrong. Suke’s vocals sounded great too – maybe the best I’ve ever heard them. This set the tone for the evening. Schleigho is a band that has been known to play different types of sets depending on their audience, ranging from nearly straight-ahead jazz to their complex, heavy, darker material. This evening was almost entirely the latter. They played Same Game next, a great song I can’t believe they’ve never released officially. More vocals from Suke (they’ve been known to do these songs instrumentally). That morphed into a bass solo journey from Drew that came out on the other side and somehow we were in Go Children Slow! This was played with such conviction that even though it was one of the lighter songs of the set, the intensity didn’t let up one bit.
After that, Drew took a break and Paco came up to play Keep It In The Car on his beautiful 6-string fretless bass. This was a nice surprise, but not entirely unexpected since Paco lives in Pittsburgh and had said on Facebook that he would be there. I do love the way Paco plays, he can make that 7/8 riff funkier than should be legal. It’s not exactly the most complex song in their repertoire, but considering this was done without any rehearsal (I know because Paco didn’t arrive until after sound check), it was amazing. It sounded like the last 10 years or whatever since Paco was the regular bassist didn’t happen.
Drew returned on bass, and they played a scorching version of Or Something and for the 1000th time or so, I wondered why Suke isn’t better known for his guitar playing. It’s one thing to shred neoclassical metal, but heavy jazz is quite another. This was also a vocal version of the tune. It might be their heaviest, most complex (but not their longest!) tune, but I don’t think anyone missed a note. They closed with Palindrome from their first album, another nice loud complex crowd pleaser. Sometimes they slow it way down after the intro and build it back up, but this time they stayed fast – and then went even faster! More guitar and organ shredding that I wished would never end. But it did, and there was no time for an encore.
If there were some way I could start a petition to keep Schleigho playing more often – and a new album would be nice, if I’m allowed to dream that far – I would. They looked like they were having a blast up there, and it sure sounded great. I know they’re saying it might be over, but judging from what I just witnessed, I don’t think any of them are ready for that to happen.
Regal Worm – Use and Ornament
As “Regal Worm” Jarrod Gosling draws upon classic prog, fusion, symphonic and psychedelic influences to create a progressive style of new music which almost defies categorization. Exquisitely detailed and impeccably produced, this music is also surprisingly accessible, especially when one considers the disparate elements and moods it so heartily embraces. Although it may be true that the spoken bits and lyrics aspire to little more than providing an esoterically droll air to the proceedings, the music effortlessly transcends that context, even to the point of approaching the sublime. Simply stunning.
(Note: Jarrod Gosling also records as ‘Henry Fool’ and “I MONSTER”.)
Here are some new albums that have been added to rotation so far this month:
Haken – The Mountain. Excellent prog with far-reaching depth and breadth. I wouldn’t pigeonhole them as a prog metal band, but when they get heavy, it’s pretty darn heavy. The really impressive thing is how the vocals are so well done and the non-heavy parts – there are plenty of them – don’t sound like they’re only there to make the heavy parts pop out.
Haken – Visions. I got this one because it seems we somehow missed the boat on it. It’s also good, although I think The Mountain is better. This one focuses more on being heavy, not that there isn’t still plenty of variety.
Prog Collective – Epilogue. Billy Sherwood’s latest effort with the usual all-star prog lineup. In my opinion, it’s a mixed bag. I liked the later tracks (“side 2”) of the album better, but maybe it was just because at that point I knew what to expect from the songs.
Ampledeed – A is for Ampledeed. This is a side project from some of the members of The Source. It was born out of some late night jam sessions and is some rather unusual stuff that can only be the result of a lack of sleep. That’s not to say that the playing is lazy or tired or sloppy, it’s just that the ideas that come up after midnight are not usually the same ones you’d think of at 6 PM.
Adeia – Hourglass. Here’s some prog metal, but with a twist… one of the band leaders is a violinist. There’s also a cellist. They make great use of this to create the effect of something like a metal band with a string quartet. The melodies are accessible but the harmonies are something of a stretch for the ears. The vocals are a mix between the clean melodic vocals and growling styles.
Regal Worm – Use and Ornament. This is some really creative and exciting eclectic prog. The sounds, instrumentation, subject matter, stories, all of it… it’s just unusual. And that’s a good thing. It’s certainly not cookie-cutter prog. Whatever that is, if it even exists.
Anakdota. There’s no album here, the band has only recorded two singles thus far. I really hope there’s an album to come, I rather liked these two songs. They’ve basically made pop music with a great sense of humor and some of the proggiest playing around. There’s no guitar player, but you won’t miss it.
What kind of features would you like to see on the website that aren’t there already? I have a few I’m thinking of trying to implement, such as searching the playlist instead of browsing alphabetically by artist – I mean, what if you know the name of the song but not who it’s by? I’d also like to improve the “coming up” and “now playing” sections a bit. It seems like a huge undertaking, but wouldn’t it be awesome if users could post comments on the artist, album, or song level – and have those comments follow that item? Kind of like mini-reviews that would show up every time the song is played.
You can email me – that’s moses at progpositivity dot com – and let me know your suggestions. If you have ideas on how to implement them, that would be great! I’m not 100% confident on how to do everything in php and WordPress, but I’m learning. If you’re knowledgeable about that sort of thing and want to help, let me know!
My friends… Allow me to introduce you to the brave face of the Future of Progressive Pop. For I have seen this face. And it is the face of a midget! Modest Midget! 😉
In some respects, Modest Midget could be considered “anti-prog”. After all, their songs aren’t particularly long. And their melodies are infectiously hummable, even to the point of insipidly lodging themselves “stuck” in my head for hours, days, even weeks without end! (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!) Perhaps most “telling” of all, however, is the fact that my wife and son do not immediately place their hands over their ears and evacuate the premises whenever I play their new album “The Great Prophecy of a Small Man”. One thing is for certain, MAGMA, this band is not!
On the other hand, even the most casual of listens reveals that the underlying accompanying chords often have far more in common with jazz music than with standard pop or rock. Whenever I self-righteously anticipated a plebian direction in which a seemingly simply melody line most surely would move, a sudden reconstructionist twist or turn curved away from predictable terrain, amazingly enough only to arrive back home under the most pleasant of tonal circumstances! Beneath careful economy lurked a depth of thoughtfulness coupled with a penchant for musical schizophrenia that was only surpassed by punctuating moments of brilliantly inspired eccentricity! Such eclectic and synergistic popular music simply must be deserving of the best that the term “progressive” has to offer.
And while it is admittedly impressive any time a progressive band pens memorable and captivating melodies, the true genius of Modest Midget is not that they write such compellingly clever and quirky tunes. Nor is that they somehow manage to imbue these tenaciously catchy melodies with rich vocal harmonies and arrangements (reminiscent of XTC’s greater works). No. Their true stroke of genius is that they have achieved these distinctions while simultaneously introducing bold harmonic tonalities into the mix (in the tradition of Gentle Giant) to create some of the most intelligent and cogent progressive pop music I’ve heard in a long long time.
Although Idiosyncratic, tuneful compositions and lush vocal harmonies take center stage, the artful guitar work of Lonny Ziblat looms ubiquitously near throughout the album, supplementing and expanding the palate most tastefully. There are moments when his guitar lines achieve a subtle angularity approaching the sublime. Other times they create tuneful statements of exposition. And right when you think you have his “approach” figured out, he hits you with moments of sheer exuberance, choosing to revel in joyful repetition of simple chords constructed from a standard blues pentatonic scale. Such is the variety to be discovered on this album.
Ziblat grew up in Israel in the 1970’s, which no doubt accounts for the hint of middle eastern flair you may notice as you listen to the album. His Masters Level studies of classical composition and workshops in conducting, composing and jazz explain the high quality construction of the tunes. But only an unnaturally strong musical GIFTEDNESS can truly account for the delightfully playful, richly varied, yet somehow surprisingly accessible music of Modest Midget.