NEWS: PROG ROCK ICON KEITH EMERSON HAS DIED

According to Rolling Stone, “Keith Emerson, founding member and keyboardist of Emerson, Lake and Palmer and a prog rock legend, died Friday. He was 71. His bandmate Carl Palmer and the trio’s official Facebook confirmed Emerson’s death. TMZ reported that police found Emerson with a single gunshot wound to the head, though they could not confirm that Emerson died by suicide.”

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DISCOVERED @ SPOTIFY

Supertramp will always be remembered as a crucial influence on my music making in my late teens. Formed around the nucleus of two brilliantly gifted singer-songwriters Roger Hodgson and Rick Davies, this English quintet managed to come up with a successful blend of prog-rock and pop music sensibilities that resulted in two classic LPs in Crime of the Century (1974) and Breakfast in America (1979) as well as a couple of chart hit singles in “Give a Little Bit”, “It’s Raining Again” and “The Logical Song”.

You can listen to the band’s entire discography at Spotify but of course, check out my playlist for the comprehensive introduction to the delights of this iconic band. Enjoy!

…still there’s more…

DISCOVERED @ SPOTIFY

Obscure prog!

In the 70s, during the hey day of progressive rock, record labels were looking out for bands that might be the next money-spinner like Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull or Genesis. Thus, numerous second tier prog-rock bands were given the opportunity to become viable recording artists. Not all of these LPs were easily available in Singapore and even if they were, I would be spending my hard-earned allowance on those aforementioned top-tier bands… But thanks to Spotify, I can now listen to these now lesser known outfits. Enjoy…

U.K.

A supergroup in every sense of that word, U.K. originally consisted of John Wetton (vocals/bass), Bill Bruford (drums), Eddie Jobson (keyboards/violin) and Allan Holdsworth (guitar). That lineup recorded a eponymous debut LP which was released in 1978 but the band subsequently imploded. Still, this record remains a wonderful landmark for progressive circa the late 70s.

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THE FEVER MACHINE

FEVER MACHINE Living In Oblivion

Researching Shanghai indie music led me to The Fever Machine. Listening to its Living In Oblivion is bound to raise eyebrows and result in confusion. This music comes from China and in 2011?

Well, strictly speaking, The Fever Machine consists of Dan Shapiro (guitars), Fabien Barbet (bass) and Miguel Bustamante (drums), three expats residing in Shanghai – although the relevance of their backgrounds is largely moot. What is more intriguing is the brand of neo-psychedelic rock that the trio delivers with passion and aplomb.

Certainly, for much of the duration of this 9-track album, you’d be wondering if you chanced upon an album from the late 60s-early 70s, the period which witnessed the first flowering of psychedelic rock into progressive rock. You want influences? Well, inspirations certainly run the gamut from Hawkwind, Rush, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, The Doors and any other seminal band from this period.

But there is a highly intense sense of urgent authenticity about Living In Oblivion, almost as if your life depended on gulping down everything that The Fever Machine had to offer. The fact that this wildly vivid music was made in Shanghai, frankly blows my freaking mind. Which is probably the point.

Pointless to single out any particular highlight here as Living In Oblivions needs to be swallowed whole even as songs like the opening throbbing Hell Yeah, the slinky acid-rockin’ Milfshake, the frenetically rambunctious Dance with Deviance and the instant stoner classic Don Pedro will definitely vie for second and thirds on your attention spans.

Suffice to say, Living In Oblivions is one of those essential debut LPs that rear their insistent heads every once in a while. I am guessing that catching them live will be an out-of-body experience. Check them out and hopefully, we can see them in Singapore sooner than later.

Official Site | Facebook

BUY Living in Oblivion at AMAZON

JON LORD

JON LORD Sarabande (Eagle Rock)

Presumably, this re-issue of Deep Purple’s legendary keyboardist Jon Lord’s 2nd solo studio album will appeal to the ‘older’ set of readers who are into classic 70s symphonic-progressive rock. And they do not get more epic than the eight tracks here. With a full orchestra at his disposal (conducted by Eberhard Schoener) and a crack backing band (which includes a pre-Police Andy Summers), Lord pulls out all the stops to deliver a wildly eclectic album of instrumentals that traverse numerous genres and styles – from classical (Aria) to jazz (Sarabande) , from hard rock (Bouree – featuring an incendiary Summers guitar solo) to movie scores (Gigue) – this is a tremendously intellectually stimulating musical journey from start to finish. Highly recommended.

Buy Sarabande at Amazon

LUNARIN

LUNARIN Duae (Aging Youth)

Back in 2006, I had these words to say about Lunarin’s debut album, Chrysalis –

Lunarin is a goth rock trio from Singapore consisting of Linda Ong, Ho Kah Whye and Loo Eng Teck. Sure I realize that this album is distributed by Universal but the Singaporean angle must qualify Lunarin as an “underground” band. The Chrysalis is the kind of moody, atmospheric, dark rock album that the likes of 4AD have been releasing for years. There is a prog-rock edge to many of the tracks that border on pretentious but the fine instrumentation and Linda’s delicate larynx more than compensate. There are some keyboard passages (especially Shiver) that would not be out of place on a arty film score which add to the overall ambience of The Chrysalis. It seldom gets more exotic than this, boys and girls.

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B-QUARTET

B-QUARTET conformity has replaced consciousness (Aging Youth)

How do you follow up a near perfect debut album? That, my friends, was the dilemma presented to S-ROCK’s wonderboys B-Quartet. If you’re a close observer of the S-ROCK scene, then you would be familiar with the band’s wondrous debut LP, Tomorrow is My Permanent Address. In any review, I loved it and placed it in the Top 5 albums of 2008. Read my review here.

Back to the B-Quartet dilemma. Well, with sophomore effort – conformity has replaced consciousness – the band has obviously taken great pains to further develop their songcraft and instrumental prowess whilst retaining the spirit of that heady debut. So, whilst conformity does not contain such accessible instant classics like Shoebox, Boutique or Disp rs, there’s no denying that the band has moved on the next level in their pursuit of a musical excellence that goes beyond mere aping of their favorite indie bands.

There are no clear standouts on conformity (though I confess a fondness for a dull taste on my tongue and still homeless), yet the quality is uniformly consistent and it may be more of a slow burner (i.e. would require several plays before fully appreciating its depth) but I am impressed by the band’s commitment to the music rather than pandering the vagaries of the average indie rock fan’s tastebuds. The mark of true artists.

Musically, references abound to many varied sources e.g. Radiohead, Sigur Ros, Jaga Jazzist, Pink Floyd, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, XTC, Steely Dan and much much more. For those who know their music, the above list certainly suggests a trippy sonic experience for those discerning enough to pick up this challenging and ambitious S-ROCK album.

B-Quartet will be launching conformity has replaced consciousness at the Esplanade Recital Studio on 11th April at 9.30pm. Tickets available from SISTIC.

Myspace

THE BESNARD LAKES

THE BESNARD LAKES The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)

“Widescreen rock” is a genre I coined to describe bands/artists who paint their own new masterpieces on the broad canvas of five decades of pop-rock music. Comic fans will be aware that I “borrowed” the phrase from writer Warren Ellis who described his comic book series, the Authority as “widescreen comics”.

In my humble estimation, “widescreen rock” includes the likes of The Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev and the now defunct Grandaddy. Well, I’m glad to also induct Canadian band, The Besnard Lakes, into the Widescreen Rock Hall of Fame! I found the band’s sophomore effort – The Besnard Lakes Are The Dark Horses – akin to listening to Pink Floyd fronted by Brian Wilson, and one of the best albums of 2007.

This new album (due for release in early March), continues the fine form shown on Dark Horses, with the band drawing from the deep well of arcane rock, with references dropped to psychedelic rock, country-folk and prog throughout. With treated guitars, soaring vocals, electronic sound effects, old school keyboards, the songs here sound modern and classic at the same time – familiar and yet strange. The combination of the male-female vocal dynamic between Jace Lasek and Olga Goreas is priceless, as well.

Astute listeners will catch the heady influences of Neil Young, Beach Boys, Pink Floyd, Bob Dylan, the Bee Gees and the aforementioned widescreen rock bands in fine tracks like Chicago, Albatross, The Innocent and Light Up the Night. Modern rock fans into the Arcade Fire, Broken Social Scene and the Animal Collective (all current proponents of widesrceen rock) will definitely want to check out the Besnard Lakes.

Free download of Albatross here. A video below.

Official Site

Myspace

EARL GREYHOUND

EARL GREYHOUND Suspicious Package (Some)

Looking at retro-rock trio, Earl Greyhound, consisting of Matt Whyte (singer/guitarist), Kamara Thomas (bassist/singer) and Ricc Sheridan (drums), you’d think that they were living in a time warp. With a sound that unashamedly recalls classic rock of the 70s, their debut LP – Soft Target – mines Led Zeppelin prodigiously, the trio is an absolute dream for all lovers of that beloved epoch.

And whilst that debut effort may have drawn accusations of mimicry, the band has upped the ante by expanding the range of their sound on this 2nd album, to include prog (the 2-part The Eyes of Cassandra), stoner rock (Holy Immortality), jazz pop (Black Sea Vacation), country-blues balladry (Bill Evans) and folk (Out of Air). Fans of the first LP need not worry, there’s still enough Led Zep-fueled goodness for all you hard rocker out there.

Official Site

Myspace

Check out the video of SOS, off the Soft Target album below.

THE LUXURY

THE LUXURY In the Wake Of What Won’t Change (Self-released)

Better late than never.

If I had listened to this excellent album in 2009, I would have certainly listed it in my top albums of that year. No doubt!

Suffice to say that this Boston-based band has produced a pop-rock classic which encapsulates everything that the Power of Pop believes passionately about music. Eclectic at its core, defiantly melodic (and harmonic) and referencing all the coolest bits of powerpop, Britpop, psychedelia, prog and post-punk (in a manner I had previously considered impossible), In the Wake Of What Won’t Change is one of those rare albums where swallowing it whole is essential to its full appreciation.

The album opens with electronic noise which seques into epic washes of sound and then kicks off with Getaway Car, a thrilling driving song that recalls Be Bop Deluxe. From then on, the keen listener needs to be strapped in for the ride as The Luxury delivers the amazing chorus of Take It Back (think: the Alan Parsons Project), the epic ‘Til Your Last Day (recalling best prog-pop exercises of Asia and Trevor Rabin-era Yes), the dynamic Next in Line, the jaunty Straitjacket and so on.

Better late than never indeed.

Official site

Myspace

RICK WAKEMAN

wakeman

RICK WAKEMAN The Six Wives of Henry VIII: Live at Hampton Court Palace (Eagle Vision)

Wakeman is probably best known as the keyboards player of progressive rock pioneers/legends Yes. But certainly, Wakeman’s pseudo-classical style set the standard for all progressive rock keyboard players to come. At the height of Yes’s success, Wakeman released The Six Wives of Henry VIII LP in 1973, his 2nd solo album.

Loosley based on the titular characters, this instrumental suite really had nothing to do with Henry VIII’s six wives, rather they served as musical inspiration for the songs that Wakeman composed for this album. The significance of Hampton Court Palace, of course, is that it is the building that is most associated with Henry VIII in modern day England. Apparently, Wakeman had attempted to stage a concert of the album for 36 (!) years and finally in May of 2009, his wish was granted and this live DVD is the recorded result of that special concert.

Obviously aware of this, Wakeman pulled out all the stops and so not only does he have a full band to back him (including his son Adam) but he also ropes in actor Brian Blessed (for narration), the English Chamber Choir and Orchestra Europa to flesh out these intriguing and influential songs.

So prog rock fans should really thrill to this release as the concert is immaculately staged with Blessed, in particular putting a human face (and voice) on the proceedings. Considering the recent popularity of the Tudors TV show (about Henry VIII, of course, and yes, his many wives), it is a good time for the well-known monarch and this concert DVD is the icing on the proverbial cake.

Check out the video of Kathryn Howard below.

THE MARS VOLTA

Tmv-octahedron

THE MARS VOLTA Octahedron (Mercury)

It’s no mean feat to be a progressive rock band in the modern rock scene and still be hip and cool but that’s exactly what The Mars Volta have managed to achieve. Combining classic prog influences, jazz fusion and Latin music inflections into a popular confection that has won favour with fans and critics, the band even have a Grammy award to their name.

After four critically acclaimed albums, The Mars Volta have released Octahedron – their latest LP – which the band have described as an “acoustic” album. Get your jaw off the ground, The Mars Volta’s concept of “acoustic” does not accord with conventional wisdom and thank goodness for that.

What it does mean is that Octahedron is slightly more straightforward rock than The Mars Volta followers may be used to. Thus, whilst certain amount of experimentalism may have put on the back burner (and time signatures remain fairly constant), Octahedron still commands your attention for its bold and muscular songwriting, inventive arrangements and lively performances.

Top that off with memorable tunes (!) in tracks like Since We Been Wrong, Halo of Nembutals and Cotopaxi, Octahedron will appeal to all rock fans (of any era). Especially when there are numerous nods to the acid rock of the 60s – certainly the spirit of Hendrix and the power of Cream – and its various revivals/incarnations in the decades since in this truly striking album.

Official site

Myspace

THE OBSERVATORY

Dark Folke cover

THE OBSERVATORY Dark Folke (Self-released)

I will not pretend that I’ve been a rabid fan of the Observatory since the band’s genesis in 2001 as I’ve never really listened to the band’s previous albums viz. Time of Rebirth (2004), Blank Walls (2005) and A Far Cry From Here (2007). However, it’s impossible to deny their place and influence on the S-ROCK scene with their uncompromising artistic determination. Some might even consider it crass to describe the Obs as a rock band but at least they have demonstrated that it is possible to be both and thus, an art-rock band.

Dark Folke, the new album is encased in a little black booklet designed by Justin Bartlett, better known for producing album sleeves for dark metal/hardcore/underground bands. Not only that but the new album was recorded in Norway (home of dark metal) by Jorgen Traeen. So perhaps do all these signs point to a darker direction for the Obs?

Strangely enough, no. Even as indie pop bands like the Decemberists embrace the prog rock of the 70s viz. King Crimson, Pink Floyd and Jethro Tull, so the Obs have imbued Dark Folke with a sound that is highly reminiscent of that heady era. (Yes I am a 70s prog rock fan!). Which is an odd (but good) choice as prog rock is considered “regressive” for the arty indie set (of which the Obs are obviously full-fledged card-carrying members).

You might argue that Dark Folke isn’t much of a rock album to begin with, as it mainly eschews drums (not rhythm, mind), so from that perspective derives its impetus from a more psychedelic-folk (with a jazzy bent) source. There are gorgeous tunes and ambient soundscapes to behold whilst the earthy acoustic guitar keeps matters firmly rooted and rootsy.

Personally, I find Dark Folke revealing that such vibrant, unique music is being made in my hometown (well, via Bergen, Norway – heh!) Such fragile & sinister beauty as displayed on the creepy Invisible Room, the heavenly A Shuffler in the Mud (which to my ears recalls the Fleet Foxes), the bluesy Dazed and Confused channeling Blood Rising (with Leslie sounding uncannily like Dave Gilmour!), the pastoral & haunting The Boring and the disturbing Mind Roots, feeds me with a chauvinistic sense of national pride, more than a million National Day songs.

Lyrically, Dark Folke, as you might expect, bleeds melancholia with a glimpse of hope peering through slim cracks, much of which is entrenched in writer Leslie Low’s own personal demons. The words and music merge into a coherent black thesis on life and death and everything in the middle. Dark Folke is a journey that has to be experienced from beginning to end, it is an artistic triumph that transcends genres and borders. Truly incandescent.

Check out the Observatory’s Myspace page.