Archive for the 'Music' category

Friday Random Ten

Jan 18 2013 Published by under Music

I haven't done an FRT in a while. I'm really trying to get back to posting more regularly, and I've always enjoyed talking a bit about the crazy stuff I love to listen to.

  1. Marillion, "If my Heart were a Ball": Very appropriate that in my first FRT in a while, Marillion would come up first. There's just something about these guys, I can't get enough of them. This is the live version of this song, from the "Live at High Voltage 2010" recording. I love this song on the original recording, but the version they played here is even better.
  2. Gordian Knot, "Shaman's Whisper": Wow, but I haven't listened to this in a while. Gordian Knot is what instrumental prog rock should be. It's got complexity and skill, but it's also got soul. This is music, not wankery.
  3. Spock's Beard, "The 39th Street Blues": not a bad track, but this album always leaves a bad taste in my mouth. It's heavy-handed preachy stuff, written by Neil Morse right after his turn to born again christianity.
  4. Parallel or 90 Degrees, "Threesome" : Interesting track from Andy Tillison and Po90. I really love the album that this came from, but this is my least favorite track. It's got a very heavy electric fuzz effect which always gives me a headache.
  5. Squackett, "Stormchaser": Here's something really super. Steve Hackett (of old Genesis) and Chris Squire (of Yes) got together and recorded an album. Amazingly, it really does sound like a blend of Hackett-era Genesis mixed with early Yes. I really like this.
  6. Sonic Youth, "Stil" : I've adored Sonic Youth from the first time I heard them. I've never been a big fan of much of anything punk-related, except for these guys. I particularly like it when they're screwing around experimenting with free improvs. This piece comes from one of their collections of experiments, called "SYR2". Not something that mainstream rock fans will enjoy, but I think it's brilliant.
  7. Takenobu, "Dark in the City" : This is something that a friend of mine from work turned me on to. I don't really know how to describe it. Sort-of mellow alt-rock with layered string accompaniment? I don't know, but it's so beautiful.
  8. Steven Wilson, "Significant Other" : I learned about Steven Wilson because of Porcupine Tree. But I've learned to basically buy everything that he does. From prog-rock to psychedelia to experimental jazz, from original music to remixes of classic old albums, everything that he does is pure gold. This is from Insurgentes, an album that I just can't stop listening to. You can definitely hear that it's the same guy who led Porcupine Tree, but it's got a really unique dark sound to it.
  9. vonFrickle, "Cranium Controller" : Remember what I said about Gordian Knot? vonFrickle is an instrumental prog band that frequently strays into the wankery area. A lot of their stuff is fantastic, but it's often complex showoff because they want to show off how they can do this awesomely complex stuff, not because the awesomely complex stuff actually sounds good. This track is one of those that feels like complexity for the sake of showing off.
  10. Steve Hogarth and Steven Wilson, "A Cat with Seven Souls" : What do you get when you take the lead singer of my favorite band, and blend his style with one of my favorite all-around musicians? It's what you'd expect, which is pretty amazing.

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Friday Random Ten: from Prog to Neoclassical, with some Blues.

Apr 13 2012 Published by under Music

I haven't posted one of these in a while, but I'm currently stuck waiting between very long and slow compiles, so I figured why not?

  1. Echolyn, "Make Me Sway": Brilliant track by Echolyn, one of the very best american neo-prog bands. One of the things that's so distinctive about Echolyn is the way
    that they use complex vocal harmonies better than anyone else.
  2. Umphrey's McGee, "Miami Virtue": Ick. What a disappointment. I'd heard great things about Umphrey's, and got their Mantis album, which was pretty good. So I got their latest album, "Death by Stereo", which is absolutely atrocious. Ugh.
  3. Tinyfish, "I'm Not Crashing": Now this was a great discovery. I know nothing about them, but someone pointed them out to be on Twitter, and when I grabbed one of their albums, it knocked my socks off. This is seriously terrific neo-prog.
  4. ProjeKct X, "The Business of Pleasure": Weird. Very, very weird. This is one of Robert Fripp's experimental instrumental gatherings of musicians. It's strange stuff, but if you (like me) like interesting oddness, this is one of the most amazingly bizzare and yet great pieces of work you'll find. Is it rock, jazz, or something else? Yes.
  5. Cynic, "Nunc Sans": progressive death metal with strong jazz influences? Yup.
  6. Owl, "Sky Rocket": Meh.
  7. Gong, "Sold to the Highest Buddha": How did I go for so long without learning about Gong? This is one of the very best of the Manchester prog bands. Amazing stuff, which never takes itself too seriously.
  8. Jason Ricci and New Blood, "I Turned Into a Martian": I don't normally like blues much, but... Jason Ricci completely redefines what you can do with a harmonica. Despite not being a fan of the format, his playing is amazing, and he put together a great band to back him.
  9. NOW Ensemble, "Change": This is a big change of pace from the rest of this list. Here in NYC, there's a really great organization called New Amsterdam Records. NAR is a non-profit label dedicated to promoting the NYC post-classical scene. The NOW Ensemble is my favorite of their stable of artists. Beautiful music by up-and-coming composers, brilliantly performed. I've embedded a Youtube link to a couple of their pieces below.
  10. Steve Reich Ensemble, "Clapping": This is a perfect demonstration of the beauty of simplicity. This piece consists of two people clapping the same pattern - but one periodically shifts by a beat, so that the pattern overlaps with itself in different ways. Embedded below is a ten-person variation on it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nIcQUf4S8-Q

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Friday Random 10

Mar 11 2011 Published by under Music

In case you haven't noticed, the blog in general has been very slow lately. I've been overwhelmed, both by work, and by being the administrator for Scientopia. That's helped turn blogging into more of a job than a hobby. I'm trying to make some changes in how I'm doing things to try to make things fun again.

It's been a hell of a long time since I did one of these. In fact, I think this might by the first random 10 I've posted on Scientopia!

  1. Crooked Still, "You Got the Silver": Crooked Still is a very nice, mildly progressive bluegrass band. Beautifully performed bluegrass music, with a very distinctive style.
  2. Sonic Youth, "Alice et Simon": this is a really intriguing track. Sonic Youth is a band with a very distinctive sound and style. This track has all of the trademarks of SY - and yet, it's very different from their typical sound.
  3. Mogwai, "Danphe and the Brain": absolutely typical Mogwai. And that's a very good thing. Mogwai is one of the very best post-rock bands out there.
  4. The Tangent, "Grooving on Mars": a live track from the Tangent. The Tangent started off as a collaboration between Roine Stolte (from the Flower Kings) and Andy Tillison (from Parallel or 90 degrees). Stolte left, and the Tangent has become very much Tillison's band. They're fantastic. There's a strong Flower Kings influence (for obvious reasons), but also a very visible connection to old Genesis, and a variety of other influences. The main problem with the Tangent is that Tillison has some really annoying vocal ticks. But this is an instrumental track, so it doesn't even have that to hold against it.
  5. Punch Brothers, "Ride the Wild Turkey": Ok, so remember I said up above that Crooked Still was mildly progressive? Well, where CS tries to gently probe the boundaries of what bluegrass is, Punch Brothers attacks them with a hydraulic sledgehammer. It's hard to say whether Punch Brothers is a bluegrass band with classical influences, or a classical chamber ensemble with bluegrass influences, or a bunch of post-rock geniuses playing with bluegrass. But whatever they are, they're one of the very best bands in the world. Brilliant musicianship, brilliant compositions, brilliant arrangements... Just all around a thoroughly and delightfully amazing band.
  6. The Books, "Idkt": this is one of my favorite recent discoveries. The Books are a post-rock group that work with found sounds. All of their tracks are built by playing instruments against a backdrop of found sound. They use everything from the voice tracks of old elementary school documentary filmstrips, to traffic noise, to numbers station broadcasts, to the sounds of doors opening and closing in a hallway. They take those found sounds, and they find the music in them. It's an amazing thing. They're really not just fitting these sampled sounds into their music; their fitting their music into the found sounds.

  7. Naftule's Dream, "The Unseen": progressive klezmer. If you like Klez, this is not to be missed.
  8. Build, "Imagining Winter": Lately, I've been buying a lot of music from New Amsterdam records. They're a not-for-profit label that's operating out of (I think) Brooklyn, which specialized in what they call post-classical music. It's basically the same sort of stuff as post-rock, but with a very strong classic influence. Build is a very, very good example of the post-classical style. I strongly recommend visiting New Amsterdam's site. They've got samples and free download tracks of just about everyone on the label - so you can get an idea of what they'll sound like before you buy them. It's fantastic, innovative music, being built on a model that allows the musicians to survive in the internet world.
  9. King Crimson, "Sleepless": my favorite example of how catchy, dance music doesn't need to be insipid bullshit. This is King Crimson, at their progressive best - and it's bouncy-catchy-fun-engaging music, while also being complex, intricate, and experimental.
  10. Sunday Driver, "Snow Song": This is a band that's really hard to describe. They connect themselves with the Steampunk movement in fiction, but I find it hard to find that in their music. To me, they sound like mid-80s Kate Bush with influences from Indian music. Not something I feel like listenting to every day, but very interesting, and terrific if I'm in the right mood.

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My Newest Flute, made of... Plastic?!

Oct 14 2010 Published by under Music

This is rather off topic for GM/BM, but there's a teeny bit of physics mixed in.

One of the things that I do for fun, other than writing this blog, is playing the flute. I don't play the modern flute: I play traditional Irish music on the wooden flute. For traditional Irish music, you're mostly playing tunes that were written for pipes, which aren't chromatic - and as a result, for Irish music, you don't actually need any keys. Just the main six finger holes are enough. I bought a really magnificent wooden flute, custom made by an amazing craftsman named Patrick Olwell.

But sometimes, I want to be able to play other stuff. So for a very long time, I've wanted a wooden flute with keys, a flute that could play chromatically so that I could play any kind of music I wanted. The problem is, a decent keyed wooden flute costs a fortune. They generally cost at least $4,000, and most of the good makers have a waiting list. For Pat Olwell, that waiting list is between three and seven years.

So for a very long time, I've been looking for a way of getting a keyed, chromatic wooden flute. I've bought four different antiques from Ebay, all of which needed lots of work to be playable, and none of which were really salvagable for chromatic playing - their keywork is just too messed up for me to fix.

I'd heard about M&E, a plastic flute made by a guy named Michael Cronnoly. His flutes are much less expensive, and they've got a very good reputation.

But... Plastic?

I've seen several acoustic studies that claim that the material the instrument is made of isn't that important. In a wooden flute, the physics show that the head joint is the only part of the flute that really has a significant influence on its sound. But the head joint of a wooden flute is actually lined with metal. So the wood isn't really having too much influence on the sound.

But...

The first flute I bought was a Dixon polymer. The thing is, frankly, a piece of junk. It's incredibly heavy; the tone is mediocre at best; the embouchure hole is awful... It's really not a great instrument. That's my only prior experience with pseudo-wooden flutes, and it really wasn't a good one.

Plus, I grew up playing the clarinet. There's a similar argument about acoustic materials for clarinets. In a clarinet, the tone is formed in the mouthpiece and barrel: they determine how it will sound. Most people (including me) play on mouthpieces made of hard rubber or plastic - so the primary sound-producing piece of the instrument is plastic. The barrel of a wooden clarinet is (obviously) wood, so according to the physics/acoustics, that's the only piece of wood that actually has any measurable acoustic effect. And the physics of this isn't sloppy stuff put together by an instrument company trying to sell their plastic clarinets: to the limits of my ability to understand it, it's good, solid stuff.

And yet, I've played a whole lot of clarinets, and by god, there's nothing like a grenadilla wood clarinet. Even the best clarinet makers, even when I put my wooden barrel on a polymer body, it doesn't sound the same. Of course, that's subjective, and we humans are notorious for hearing what we want to hear in a subjective situation. And, by god, I'm a math geek. I've seen the math, and it's correct.

But still, I really do believe that my wooden clarinet sounds better than any plastic I've ever played. So why? If the math says it shouldn't, why does it? I've never been sure, but my suspicion is that it's a matter of craftsmanship. No one makes plastic clarinets with the kind of care and craftsmanship that they put into a good wooden clarinet. My good clarinet is
built around what they call a polycylindrical bore. What that means is that the body isn't actually a long cylinder from the mouthpiece to the bell: the exact diameter varies. So you've got a very complex shape, and every contour of that shape has an effect. That distinction, the math supports very clearly: change the shape of the body, and you are affecting the waveform of the sound.

Anyway... I finally decided to try one of the M&E plastics. One thing about wooden flutes is that the shape isn't as complex as a modern boehm clarinet. It's a conical bore, with very straight lines. So if you made it really carefully, with a really clean, well crafted bore - well, maybe it would work! My plan was to find out about how much it cost, and how long the waitlist was, and then to order one when the next royalty check from my book came in. So I wrote to Michael through email about his polymer flutes. He sells them for just 500 euros, which is astonishingly cheap. (Like I said, the wood ones go for $4000, and most of that cost is the keywork - a custom made keyless costs around $1500; a keyed more than double that.) So I was planning on getting one, if he'd let me return it if I didn't like it.

And then, he offered to give me one in exchange for building a new website for him. I accepted. So the flute I'm talking about here was given to me by Michael. I didn't pay for it. But I did not make any promises about what I would say about it.

I've had Michael's flute for a few months now, and... I really can't believe how good it is. Every time I play it, I'm absolutely stunned by how wonderful it sounds. Over the years, I've bought a couple of antique flutes that needed repair... none of them were in good shape - they needed keywork, but they were playable. My M&E has them beat, hands down. It's not quite up with my Olwell - but it's amazingly close. Seriously, it comes very close to my Olwell in both sound quality, and sound flexibility. And that's simply shocking: this flute costs one-half of the cost of a keyless Olwell - and yet, fully keyed, it manages to come close. I'm not going to give up my Olwell for keyless playing, but... if I were starting over and buying a good flute for the first time? I'm not completely sure, but I'd probably go with the keyed M&E.

It's got excellent sound flexibility. By working with my embouchure, I can easily range from a great reedy sound to a very clear, bright, almost whistle-like sound. It's very stable in both octaves, and easy to break between. The low D isn't quite as strong as the low D on the Olwell - it takes a bit of work to get a good hard low D, but it is definitely doable.

For most of the range, the intonation is terrific. All of the standard notes are well-tuned. The only tuning glitch is that the keyed notes on the foot - the low C and C-sharp, are very sharp. But that's easily fixed - with the foot pulled out on it's joint just a quarter inch or so, they sound right-on, and it doesn't seem to effect the low D. Still, that's a problem. Really, that low key foot should be a quarter inch longer. This really bugs me: in general, everything about this flute is so wonderful, there's so much care about the aspects of the flute that affect its sound, and yet... the foot is too short. I don't understand it. You can easily work around it - but it's frustrating and frankly, kind of sloppy.

It's very comfortable to play. I'm not sure how he did it, but compared to either an old Rudall and Rose (the style of antique flute I've bought) or a new Pratten-style Olwell, the hole size and spacing are very comfortable, without any loss of sound quality. It's also light. Based on what I knew about polymers before, I was expecting it to be a heavy instrument. It's heavier than my keyless Olwell, but lighter than my keyed 19th century flutes.

The workmanship is mixed. In terms of things that affect the sound quality, it's very good. The embouchure hole is cut cleanly, and shaped very well. The fingerholes are clean and well positioned. The keywork is very sturdy and well made, and easy to work with. Pads and springs are all set up properly - the key-springs have the correct tension to keep the pads securely closed while keeping it easy to work the keys quickly. The low foot keys have a roller to make it more comfortable to quickly shift between the low notes in common scale patterns.

Cosmetically, it's a bit iffy. There are a few scratches around the embouchure hole. Nothing obvious, and certainly nothing that has an effect on its playing. But it's a tell-tale sign that there's not quite the same degree of care in making it as you'd find in one of the custom flutes from someone like Pat Olwell.

The joints are strange. Instead of doing something like a wood flute, and putting in a cork ring, he just shaped the polymer into the joints. So the joints are tight, bare polymer. They're a bit hard to put together, and grease on the joints doesn't stick particularly well, you'll get globs of grease getting squeezed out of the joint inside the flute when you put it together. It came with some sort of grease in the joints that's unpleasant - more like a vaseline than a cork grease. After experimenting a bit, I've found that traditional cork grease really doesn't work well on the plastic - you do need to use something stickier, like a petroleum jelly. This is the one thing about the flute that I really don't like: the bare polymer joints are, without a doubt, inferior to a corked joint.

The keywork is very nicely done. It's post-mounted keys. The keys are well made, with good post positioning, good key positioning, springwork set up to make the keys close solidly, without being too tense to open easily. The padwork is excellent. (Which is a bit of a bugaboo of mine. As a long-time clarinetist, I've done a lot of pad work, and I've found that a lot of people are really sloppy about how they set pads. These are leather-covered pads, set solidly and levelly.)

There are metal rings around the joint edges. The rings around the joints are a bit messy. Again, it's cosmetic, not functional. But when you look closely around any of the rings, you can see that the polymer isn't quite flush, and many of the rings have a bit of scratching around them.

The end-cap on the headjoint is ugly. It's a molded replica of a Rudall&Rose cap, with M&E added on the bottom. Frankly, it's ugly and cheap looking. Very disappointing, because over all, until you look very closely, the flute is beautiful. There are minor cosmetic problems with the joint rings, but overall, it's lovely. But that end-cap? It looks terrible. It's totally unimportant, but for a couple of extra bucks, I'll bet you could make a much nicer looking endcap.

The material is interesting. The thing that M&E is known for is making pseudo-wood flutes. That is, it's built in the style of a wooden flute, but they actually use a polymer. It's black, and it shows the marks of being worked in a way that really looks a lot like wood. Honestly, if I was looking at someone else playing it, I probably wouldn't guess that it was polymer unless someone told me.

When you pick it up, you know it's not wood. It doesn't feel like wood. The main difference is that it feels too smooth - there's no grain to it. And up close, you can see that the color is too uniform. In real wood, when you look closely, you can always see a bit of color variation. This is just perfectly, uniformly, black. But in terms of weight? It feels like a wooden flute. It's just a hair heavier than my Olwell - which makes sense, given that it's carrying full keywork.

It feels rock solid. As an experiment, I tried to scratch the inside of one of the joints with my fingernail. It's much too hard to scratch like that. It's a good, solid material. Like most plastics, it's weatherproof - so you don't need to worry about humidifying the case, or oiling the wood. And, unlike my Olwell, there's no variation in playability with the weather. My Olwell sounds different during the winter, due to the dryness of the air. There are noticeable day-to-day variations in how easily certain notes - particularly that all-important strong-low-D - sound. In the M&E, it doesn't vary: it's uniformly great.

Of course, the most important thing is the sound. This sounds like a wood flute. It really does. It sounds better than any of the beaten-up real wooden flutes that I've acquired. As I said, in terms of sound, it's not quite up there with my Olwell, but I think that that's more a matter of workmanship than material. Pat makes a magnificent instrument, and making something not quite as good is absolutely not a critique of M&E.

Being realistic, M&E is selling keyed polymer flutes for 500 euro. Pat made me my keyless wooden flute for something around $1500. For a keyed flute, Pat (and most other makers) charge in the $4,000 range. The M&E is unbelievable when you work price into the equation. It's better than any of the antiques I've played. It's as good as real wooden keyed flutes by some of the other makers (Sweet and Healy) that I've tried. It's not as good as an Olwell, but for 1/5th the price, and no waiting list? It's worth every penny it costs and more. It's a really lovely flute, with a beautiful sound. The workmanship is great where it counts. The cosmetics could use a bit of work - but when you consider the price, that's really no big deal. Still... if he charged six or seven hundred euros, he'd still be under a fifth the price of a good wooden keyed flute, and he'd be able to fix up some of the cosmetics. I'd definitely be willing to pay an extra one hundred euros for cork joints. (I really hate the uncorked tenons!)

If I had the money, and I could get an Olwell keyed flute tomorrow, I'd probably go for it over the M&E. But given that coming up with money to buy an instrument for my hobby isn't easy, the huge price difference, the multiyear waiting list? M&E wins. I'm very happy with my M&E. And given a choice between the M&E and pretty much anything but an Olwell? I'd take the M&E happily. I would happily pay Michael for this flute, and I just might end up buying one of his F flutes, to have something with a smaller finger reach.

M&E's current site has sound samples in realplayer format. I'm working on setting up a new site for M&E. Assuming he approves the design, it should be up by next week. I'll have updated sound samples in mp3 format, and Michael even sent me a video of Matt Molloy (one of the finest Irish flutists in the world) playing an M&E, which will be on the new site.

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Friday Random Ten, 4/23/2010

Apr 23 2010 Published by under Music

  1. Stellardrive, Inlandsix: Reasonably good instrumental prog. They're
    not particularly exceptional, but they're decent.
  2. Gong, "The Octave Doctors and the Crystal Machine": Gong is a
    perfect example of one of the differences between the great prog bands,
    and a lot of the neo-progressive stuff. I can't quite describe exactly what it
    is - but you listen to a band like Gong, and you never get bored. You can listen
    to it over, and over - and it's always interesting. Even though the individual
    features of the music are similar to what a lot of less brilliant bands do,
    they manage to put them together in a different way. I can listen to a neo-prog
    band like Jadis or Frost once or twice a month; if I listen to them more than
    that, they start to bug me. But I can listen to Gong twice a day, and never
    lose interest.
  3. Parallel or 90 Degrees, "Backup": One of the really great neo-progressives.
    Po90 is Andy Tillison's other band, and they are brilliant. Not as brilliant as
    groups like Gong, but pretty damned amazing.
  4. Jadis, "All You've Ever Known": Here's exactly what I'm talking about.
    The beginning of this Jadis track is actually sort-of like the Gong track above.
    But somehow, it's dull when Jadis does it. Listening to them right after
    Gong and Po90, they frankly sound terrible. I really like Jadis, but they can't
    hold a candle to the prog greats.
  5. And So I Watch You From Afar, "If it Ain't Broke, Break It": Really good
    post-rock. ASIWYFA is on the louder end of post-rock, and they're really good
    at it. They're one of my most recent post-rock discoveries, after being recommended
    to me by a reader of the blog, and I'm really enjoying them.
  6. Genesis, "Your Own Special Way": And now, my favorite band of all time.
    I love Genesis. Even after Peter Gabriel left, they still wrote some of the
    best prog rock of all time. There's a reason why so many neo-prog bands were
    inspired by them. Even when they're doing a song like this, which is basically a silly sappy ballad,
    they make it into something really special.
  7. Jacob Hoffman with Kandel's Orchestra, "Doina and Hora": an incredibly old
    recording of traditional klezmer, led by probably the greatest Klezmer xylophone player
    ever. If you have any appreciation for Klezmer, this will absolutely knock your
    socks off.
  8. The Flower Kings, "Soul Vortex": Ah, the Flower Kings. The only
    neo-progressive band that I've found that's really as good as the original
    prog guys. Whatever that elusive "it" that the great bands had that made them
    endlessly listenable was, Roine Stolt and the Flower Kings have it.
  9. Transatlantic, "The Return of the Giant Hogweed": On their latest album,
    Translatlantic added a disk of covers of their influences. Naturally, no
    group made up of members of the best neo-progressive bands could possibly
    not include a classic Genesis track. It's a very faithful cover, and
    it works really well.
  10. Marillion, "Forgotten Sons": An old favorite of mine: one of the
    lesser known tracks from Marillion's very first full album. From the
    very start, Marillion was really something special.

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Friday Random Ten, 2/19/2010

Feb 19 2010 Published by under Music

  1. Transatlantic, "The Whirlwind (Part 4) - A Man Can Feel":
    a track from the new Transatlantic album. Transatlantic is
    a supergroup: it's made of members of Marillion (Pete Trevawas on
    bass), the Flower Kings (Roine Stolte, guitar), Spock's Beard (Neil
    Morse, vocals and keyboards), and Dream Theater (Mike Portnoy, drums).
    In general, I don't like supergroups; they're usually more of a
    commercial stunt than anything else. But I love Transatlantic;
    and this album is fantastic - it's a bit less smooth
    than some of Transatlantic's earlier work, but the writing is
    fantastic. Highly recommended.
  2. Do Make Say Think, "Fredericia": a very typical track
    by one of my favorite post-rock ensembles. In sound, they're
    somewhere in between Mogwai and Godspeed, with a bit of classical
    influence.
  3. Marillion, "Man of a Thousand Faces": absolutely classic
    Marillion. One of the things that Yes used to do that I love
    is slow builds. They start with a simple pattern, and repeat
    over and over, adding another layer each repetition. This song is
    the only time that I recall Marillion doing it, and it's
    amazing.
  4. Abigail's Ghost, "Gemini Man": a big disappointment. A bunch
    of people recommended Abigail's Ghost to me as a great neo-prog
    band. I find them incredibly dull. Pretty much the only time I
    hear them is when they come up randomly, because I never choose
    to listen to them.
  5. The Flying Bulgar Klezmer Band, "Sam": wonderful jazz-influenced
    Klezmer. When they're actually playing Klezmer, FBKB is fantastic.
    Unfortunately, they often introduce songs with a sort of beat-inspired
    poetry recitation, which is just annoying.
  6. The Andy Statman Klezmer Orchestra, "Galitzianer Chusid":
    more Klezmer! Andy Statman plays very traditional klezmer. This
    one I feel a special connection to. My mother's family are Litvaks,
    and my father was a Galitzianer. (That is, ashkenazi Jews from
    Lithuania and Galacia, respectively.) Traditionally, the Litvaks
    were wealthier, and looked down on the Galitzianers. My grandparents
    used to tell my mother that if she weren't good, she'd grow up
    and marry a Galitzianer. And she did - and they were happily married
    for 44 years.
  7. Peter Gabriel, "The Rhythm of the Heat": utterly wonderful
    old Peter Gabriel. Security is still my favorite of his albums,
    and this is my favorite track off the album.
  8. Kansas, "Distant Vision": Often when an old band gets back
    together, it's pure tripe. And Kansas has reformed itself several
    times over the years, only to produce more tripe. This time they
    got it right. This album sounds like what you'd expect the old
    Kansas to sound like if they were writing in the 2000's. It's
    not exactly like their old stuff - it's grown over time - but it's
    got all of the beauty, complexity, and quality of their older stuff.
    The lead singers voice has suffered a bit with age; he can't quite
    pull off some of the stuff he tries to do. But it's good stuff
    overall.
  9. Parallel or 90 Degrees, "Entry Level": Andy Tillison has
    been very busy lately, coming out with new albums from both
    Po90 and the Tangent. Of the two, I think that the new Po90 is
    the better album - I think it's absolutely terrific.
  10. Roine Stolte, "Spirit of the Rebel": the leader of
    the Flower Kings recorded a solo album, which was intended to
    be a tribute to the pop bands he grew up listening to. But Stolte
    being Stolte, even when he's trying to play pop and R&B,
    he still manages to play better prog than 9 out of 10 prog bands.
    It's definitely on the pop side, much less challenging that
    tFK, but it's really good stuff.

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Friday Random Ten, 12/18

Dec 18 2009 Published by under Music

  1. Naftule's Dream, "Speed Klez": Naftule's Dream is a
    brilliant progressive klezmer band. I happen to love klezmer,
    but I think that anyone into jazzy prog rock would also enjoy
    them. They're terrific.
  2. Oregon, "Celeste": Oregon is a band that I can't make
    up my mind about. They're a jazz trio, with most melodies played by
    a wonderful oboist. They tend to really push the boundaries -
    playing with unusual tonalities, really pushing the edge of
    the envelope with their improvisation. It's quite impressive. And yet,
    they frequently leave me feeling cold, like there's nothing under
    the technique.
  3. The Flower Kings, "The rainmaker": Ok, you've heard me
    babble about the Flower Kings before. They're the best prog band in
    the world today, and quite possibly the best ever. They're wonderful,
    and I've yet to hear anything by them that I didn't absolutely love. Go
    buy their recordings.
  4. Parallel or 90 degrees, "Jitters": Po90 has a new album! Po90
    is Andy Tillison's original band. Tillison is the co-founder, with Roine
    Stolte from the Flower Kings, of The Tangent, another wonderful band.
    Po90 has been mostly inactive for quite a while - but they just came
    back with a new album, and it's absolutely terrific. It's interesting
    how different it is from the Tangent - Tillison is the primary composer
    for both, but they manage to have very different sounds. Highly
    recommended.
  5. Do Make Say Think, "In Mind": fantastic post-rock. DMSY is one
    of the best at what they do. If you like Godspeed or Mt. Zion, you should
    enjoy DMST.
  6. Isis, "False Light": More fantastic post-rock, but from a very
    different style. Where DMST is post-alternative, Isis is sort of
    post-metal. The vocals take a bit of getting used to, but the overall
    quality of the music makes it worth the effort.
  7. The Clogs, "Tides of Washington Bridge": Still more fantastic
    post-rock, from still another style. As you can tell, I'm a very big
    post-rock fan. Part of what I love about it is the breadth of the
    genre - it ranges from almost classical like the Clogs, to almost
    thrash, like Isis - and yet, it also manages to have a common form
    that makes it post-rock. The Clogs are one of my two favorites from
    the classical side of the genre. (The other being "Rachel's".)
  8. Red Sparrowes, "Buildings Began to Stretch Wide Across the Sky":
    iTunes seems to be in a post-rock mood. Red Sparrowes are another
    terrific group, from the same stylistic family as DMST.
  9. Bach, "Wiewohl Mein Herz in Traenen Schwimmt", from the St. Matthew Passion:
    In my opinion, Bach is quite simply the finest composer who ever lived.
    And the St. Matthew Passion is probably my favorite of his compositions.
    It's a work of sheer musical perfection. Music just doesn't get
    any better than this. If you can listen to this and not be moved,
    then you have no heart.
  10. Thinking Plague, "Consolamentum": Every time Thinking Plague
    comes up in a FRT, I manage to get something about them wrong. Their
    guitarist either has a Google alert set up, or he reads my blog, because
    he shows up and patiently corrects my errors. I think of
    Thinking Plague as a very unusual post-rock group; lot's of people try
    to categorize them differently, because exactly what they are is a bit
    hard to pin down. They've got a very unique style that really isn't
    much like anything else I've ever heard. They work with odd tonalities,
    sometimes verging on atonal; they've got vocals, but the voice isn't
    a lead, it's treated as just another instrument in the mix. It's not
    the easiest thing to listen to - but if you like interesting,
    complex, beautiful music that doesn't stick with conventional
    tonality, then these guys are amazing. I found a couple of youtube clips to
    include below the fold to give you a taste.

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Friday Random Ten, 11/06

Nov 06 2009 Published by under Music

  1. Porcupine Tree, "Kneel and Disconnect": New Porcupine Tree! It's
    always great to get new stuff from these guys. It's good, but it's not
    up to the quality of their last two albums. (But given that their last two
    were utterly amazing, that's not much of a criticism.)
  2. Mind Games, "Royalty in Jeopardy": Some prog that I recently found
    via eMusic. They've got a sound that I describe as being sort of like a
    mix between Yes and Marillion. They're very good - I wouldn't put them
    in the top ranks of neo-prog, but they're not at the bottom either.

  3. Riverside, "Cybernetic Pillow": Now, these guys, I would
    definitely put in the top ranks of neo-prog. Riverside is a
    Polish prog-rock band, formed by members of a couple of other
    heavy metal bands. They're absolutely brilliant. This track
    is off their album "Rapid Eye Movement", which I'd recommend as a first
    Riverside album.
  4. Marillion, "Hard as Love (acoustic)": This is the version of "Hard as
    Love"" from their recent acoustic album. HaL was one of their louder,
    poppier, catchier tunes - a Marillion rocker. To call this just an acoustic
    mix doesn't do it justice. They took the basic bones of the song,
    and completely rebuilt it. It's an amazing change. The acoustic
    version swaps the bridge and the chorus, completely changing the fell
    of the structure, and turning it into something that's almost a ballad.
    Amazing, and much better than the original version of the song.
  5. Thinking Plague, "This Weird Wind": Thinking Plague is a group
    that I have a hard time describing. To me, they sound like a very out-there
    post-rock group with classical influences, but I've been told that
    they call themselves a "Rock in Opposition" band. What they are is
    a distinctly peculiar ensemble. They've got vocals, but they use
    the singers voice like it's just another instrument in the mix - it's
    not leading the song in any way, it's just part of the music. The music
    itself is frequently atonal, with a very peculiar sound. The guitarist
    sounds very much like one of Robert Fripp's GuitarCraft students - but
    when I mentioned that in the past, he showed up in the comments saying
    "Who's Robert Fripp?" I love Thinking Plague, but I have a hard time
    recommending them - they're so strange that most people won't like
    them. If you're a big fan of both neo-progressive rock and 20th
    century classical, then definitely give them a listen.
  6. EQ, "Closer": IQ is back! IQ is a progressive band that
    got started around the same time as Marillion. Also like Marillion, they
    started off sounding like a Peter Gabriel-era Genesis rip-off, but
    they've evolved their own very distinct sound over the years. They're
    absolutely fantastic - I'd put them up in the top of neo-progressive
    bands with Marillion and the Flower Kings. And they just released a new
    album, which is absolutely fantastic.
  7. Sonic Youth, "Rain King (live)": Very typical Sonic Youth - strange
    tonality. Loud. Tons of hidden complexity. Brilliant. And performed
    live! No studio tricks here.
  8. Kayo Dot, "The Useless Ladder": Another very hard-to-describe
    band. Roughly, they're what you get when a progressive metal band
    decides to start writing 21st century classical chamber music. Very,
    very highly recommended.
  9. Red Sparrowes, "And By Our Own Hand Did Every Last Bird Lie Silent In
    Their Puddles, The Air Barren Of Songs As The Clouds Drifted Away. For Killing
    Their Greatest Enemy, The Locusts Noisily Thanked Us And Turned Their Jaws
    Toward Our Crops, Swallowing Our Greed Whole"
    : It took me longer to type
    the title of that than it did to listen to it. Red Sparrowes is a really
    excellent post-rock band. But frankly, this track just annoys be because
    of the damn title.
  10. Rachel's, "A French Gallease": A beautiful track by my favorite
    of the classically-leaning post-rock ensembles.

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Friday Random Ten, 10/2

Oct 02 2009 Published by under Music

  1. Dead Soul Tribe, "Goodbye City Life": mediocre prog metal. Not bad,
    but nothing special either.
  2. Dave Matthews Band, "Lying in the Hands of God": I know, lots of people think
    I'm crazy to like DMB. But I do. And I find this song terribly depressing. One of the
    members of the DMB was an amazing saxaphone player named LeRoi Moore. Moore's
    saxaphone play was absolutely fantastic - incredibly skillfull, tasteful, with a huge
    range. Moore was killed in an auto accident, and his place was taken in live shows
    by Jeff Coffin from the Flecktones. Coffin is, in my opinion, a godawful
    gimmicky player with no taste, no style, and who knows one volume setting: way too
    loud. This track uses old samples of Moore from before he died - the last time we'll
    get to hear his beautiful playing.
  3. Marillion, "The Space" (electric): this one is actually a double. I just got
    the digital version of Marillions new album, which consists of acoustic rewrites
    of a selection of their old songs. This is one of the tracks that they chose.
    The original version is from "Season's End", the band's first recording with Steve
    Hogarth as the lead singer. It's a great song - one of the best from that album. The
    original version is very interesting - because it's recognizably Marillion, and yet
    there's a huge difference to the sound of the song compared to the stuff they'd been
    performing with Fish on vocals - and that basic difference emerged all at once on
    this album, and stayed with them through the dozen albums since. Like I said,
    it's classic Marillion, with beautiful transitions, elegant instrumental
    breaks, intricate structure. A lovely song, which is carried by Hogarths vocals,
    Kelly's keyboards, and Rothery's electric guitar.
  4. Marillion, "The Space" (acoustic rewrite): An amazing difference. From an
    incredibly dense electric song, to a sparse, intimate acoustic. It's not just an
    acoustic remix, but a really deep rewrite of the song. The rhythm of the vocals has
    changed. The main vocals are now sung mainly against acoustic bass guitar and
    a but of rythmic chunking on the guitar. Everything is much more syncopated. It's
    hard to believe it's the same song. I need a few more listens - but I think I actually
    prefer this newer version - the rhythmic changes and the sparse arrangement just
    increase the emotional impact of the song. It's really quite impressive.
  5. IQ, "Breathtaker": Bit of a jarring change after the acoustic version of
    "The Space". But IQ is one of the very best neo-progressive bands out there. Like
    Marillion, they started off as a Genesis sound-alike, but grew into their own sound.
    Great song, from "Subterranea", the IQ album to buy if you've never heard
    them before.
  6. Isis, "From Sinking": Post-rock, from one of the harder/louder post-rock
    bands. Isis is a bit of a harder listen for many people, because they include
    death-metal-style screeched vocals, which can really grate. But their overall
    sound is brilliant - it's worth getting over the vocals to enjoy them.
  7. Dirty Three, "Feral": Another big transition, but still post-rock. Dirty
    three is a mostly-acoustic post-rock ensemble from the more classical end of the
    spectrum. Their compositional style is much more minimalistic than a lot of others.
    But it's beautiful stuff. Highly recommended.
  8. The Flower Kings, "Flight 999 Brinstone Air": What can I say about the
    Flower Kings that I haven't said before? THey're a neo-progressive band that's
    fit to drop the neo - they could stand up well next to pretty much any of the
    original wave of prog in both quality and creativity. This is a typical
    instrumental track from them. If you've never listened to the Flower Kings,
    give them a try. It's pure brilliance.
  9. Isotope 217, "New Beyond": This is hard to classify. It might be sort-of
    progressive rock. It might be sort-of odd Jazz fusion. I just don't even know where
    to put it. It's a recent acquisition, and to be honest, I haven't formed a firm opinion
    of it yet. (That could be good or bad. Much of my favorite music is stuff that I wasn't
    sure about at first. I tend to like things that challenge me as a listener, and so
    that sometimes means listening a few times to absorb it.)
  10. Abigail's Ghost, "d_letion": Abigail's Ghost was recommended to me by
    a reader as an American neo-prog band that I'd probably like. Unfortunately, I'm really
    not wild about it. I don't know if this album is typical of their sound. But I really
    don't like this one.

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Friday Random Ten, August 14

Aug 14 2009 Published by under Music

  1. Peter Hamill, "The Unconscious Life": A track from an amazing live
    performance. In general, I'm not a big fan of live recordings - you really need
    to be there for a live performance. There's a dynamic between the performer
    and the audience in live music, and in a recording, you're listening to it from
    the outside - so you can feel that there's something missing. This recording has an
    intensity, an intimacy, which is extraordinary. And it's a great song, too.
  2. Valley of the Giants, "Whaling Tale": Valley of the Giants has taken its
    place as my favorite post-rock band - surpassing even "Godspeed You Black Emperor!".
    This track is very godspeed-like, but it manages to carry it out better than
    even Godspeed would have.
  3. Black Math Horseman, "Deerslayer": This is a hard group to describe.
    It's sort of like a cross between Mogwai, Sonic Youth, and King Crimson. They're not really post-rock, and they're not really prog rock, but they've got elements of both. They've got a really great sound. I haven't listened to them enough to get a really
    good feel, but they're definitely worth a listen.
  4. The Flower Kings, "The Rainmaker": What can I say about the Flower Kings
    that I haven't said before?
  5. Marillion, "The Only Unforgivable Thing": a vaguely poppy track from
    Marillion's second-best album. It's slow, with the feel and structure
    of a pop ballad, but the lyrics are very un-ballad-like, and it's got a ton
    of subtle complexity. Classic Marillion.
  6. Riverside, "Cybernetic Pillow": I'm pretty sure I've mentioned
    Riverside before. They're a really fantastic neo-progressive band from
    Poland that I discovered lately. They're really remarkable - they've got
    an amazing sound, which is very distinct from anything else. Most neo-prog
    bands, you can listen to, and say their main inspiration is Genesis, or Yes,
    or Pink Floyd, or whatever. With Riverside, I can't do that. They sound like
    themselves, and nothing else. I've embedded a Youtube live video of this
    song below.
  7. Gong, "Damaged Man": A very typical Gong track, if there is such a thing.
  8. Porcupine Tree, "Sentimental"
  9. Rush, "Red Lenses": a nice old classic Rush track.
  10. The Reasoning, "Shadows of the Mind": another recent discovery for me;
    The Reasoning is a decent neo-prog band. They're not great, but they're good,
    and they do some terrific multipart vocal harmony.

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