Saturday, 18 January 2014

2013: The Year in Prog Albums - Phase 2: Numbers 7-5

Continued from Part One (due to getting a bit overexcited and typing an entire thesis on why prog is still, like, awesome...)

7. Mr. So & So: Truth, Lies and Half Lies 

Rock, rock, rock. RAWWWWK. There are times when you just want your music to get down and dirty, and not to sound like either Yes or Porcupine Tree – and it’s at such times that you need to catch Mr. So & So live, like I did, and rejoice in their straight ahead, no-nonsense approach to creating great, enjoyable music. Built around obvious frontpeople Dave Foster and Charlotte Evans, they’re almost a less metal version of Touchstone, with (dare I say it?) better tunes. Throughout, there are gigantic riffs, proper choruses and great male/female harmony vocals which is always a plus in my book – plus there are proper, old-fashioned rock and roll guitar solos out the wazoo.

And just when you’re thinking this all sounds incredibly dumb and heartless, there’s the touching ‘Looking Glass’, in which Charlotte shows a rather raw and vulnerable side, and the gut-wrenching ‘You’re Coming Home’ which caused even hardened proggers  at the gig to come over a little unnecessary and “have something in their eye”.

Also, ‘Apophis’ sounds absolutely brilliant when you’re taking off in a plane (thanks BA for enabling me to find that out.)

Key tracks: Paperchase / Apophis / You’re Coming Home

6. Riverside: Shine of New Generation Slaves

Poland is a pretty grim and depressing place, isn’t it? I mean, I’ve never been there, but I have all the Riverside albums, so I’m just assuming, given how unremittingly minor key and bleak of outlook their songs are. Still, sometimes you’re just in the mood to wallow in self-pity like an emo teenager, even when you’re on the wrong side of 34, so for that reason it’s always nice to have Riverside back.

Again, I’ve not really studied the lyrics in any great depth, but there’s a picture of what looks like Canary Wharf tube station on the front, with hollow-eyed people going down an escalator  (or perhaps up, backwards), so I’m going to assume it’s a concept album about mean old city people, the evils of money, and the drudgery of being a corporate drone (popular theme this year…).

If The Tangent’s soundtrack to corporate drudgery is a cacophony of Stravinsky-esque mind-buggery, Riverside’s sticks with the tried and tested formula of being a bit like Porcupine Tree, with acoustic guitar dark-strummy ballads like ‘The Depth of Self Delusion’ which is this year’s ‘Conceiving You’ (and nearly as good), and catchy metal riffs like ‘Celebrity Touch’, which is hopefully about Moby’s favourite party game, and confirms the old adage that what makes a riff 73% more awesome is to play it on an additional guitar the second time around. They also go for the old “Pink Floyd Rulez” tack on ‘Escalator Shine’, something which is taken to extremes on the bonus disc of spacey instrumentals which is well worth an extra few quid of anyone’s money.

But, just when you think they’ve got nothing new to say, along comes ‘Feel Like Falling’, which is basically a really excellent pop song. And it’s in a major key. And Mariusz yalls “C’mon!” before the guitar solo. Maybe there’s a chink of light in that Polish sky after all…

Key tracks: Celebrity Touch / Feel Like Falling / Escalator Shrine

5. Big Big Train - English Electric Part 2 

GF: Greg, David, is that your final answer?
BBT: Erm, hang on…

Oh, alright then... 5. Sound of Contact: Dimensionaut

Oh lord, another concept album for me to not understand. Now, I have to admit that I was somewhat unfair to Sound of Contact when I saw them live earlier this year – my main impression being that Simon Collins was trying a bit too hard to be his dad, and that they weren’t as much fun to watch as Beardfish. But then again, Cirque de Soleil aren’t as much fun to watch as Beardfish.

Anyway, I picked up this album with trepidation, and blow me, if it doesn’t turn out to be one of the finest things released in a long time. So, just how much does it sound like a Genesis album, then? Well, there’s no getting away from the fact that Simon’s voice is exceptionally similar to his dad’s - which is hopefully natural and not an affectation - and Sound of Contact / Cosmic Distance, with its rolling toms, is probably the track I accused of ripping off Duke’s Travels at the gig, but it’s a stonkingly good album opening when it kicks into the first real song ‘Pale Blue Dot’, just the first of many “proper” songs with tunes and choruses, but definite prog sensibilities, like ‘Remote View’ and ‘Omega Point’. Admittedly, it does drag a little in the latter stages with some less interesting ballads like ‘Closer to You’, but it’s rescued at the end by closer ‘Mobius Slip’ which is probably the darkest, heaviest thing on the album and factually the longest.

So, yeah, pretty much exactly like a post-Duke Genesis album then – in fact I sometimes like to try to imagine that it is their new album, as I sit, friendless and alone at home with my copy of Armando Gallo’s ‘I Know What I Like’. Some of the songs are easier to do this with than others; Phil-led Genesis were never as heavy as some of the sections of ‘Mobius Slip’, for instance, but just imagine if they could get back together and produce something of this quality. It’d easily be their best for, ooh, 17 years.

Key Tracks:  Cosmic Distance…Pale Blue Dot / Omega Point / Mobius Slip

Next time: Some more albums. In some sort of order. 

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