Saturday, 14 December 2013

Reissues of the year - 2013

Here is a list of some of my favourite reissues, remasters, box sets, live albums etc. Whether it's a last ditch attempt by the record industry to keep physical product like the CD afloat, there has been a very healthy set of reissues and box sets this year. I have said it before and I will say it again, recorded music is just not an aural experience. For the serious music afficionado, downloads are not enough. Music is for the whole senses. I want to look at something when I listen to my music. The packaging is just as important as the sound. Also, I want to own and touch what I am listening to and experience the ritual of putting on a disc. It's all part of the listening experience. Long may it last.

King Crimson - The Road to Red Fripp's gone completely bonkers with this mammoth set of live Crimson. Can you have to much Crimson? Maybe!

Hawkwind - Warriors on the Edge of Time after many, many years languishing in the void, not only is this classic reissued at last, but given the Wilson treatment. Esoteric do us proud!

Anathema - Universal best live album of the year and superb film by Lasse Hoile. Unusually emotional.

Yes - High Vibration SACD Box Set i know Wilson is doing these, but there is something about SACD that is so natural. I just love this set.

Bill Nelson - Getting the Holy Ghost Across at last properly reissued with the original artwork. Another winner from Esoteric.

Rush -Vapor Trails remixed it has taken a while, but this now sounds listenable.

Harold Budd - Budd Box sumptuous little box set. All Harold's best stuff.

John Martyn - The Island Years mammoth box set that does justice to Martyn's legacy

Family - Once Upon a Time justifiably won Prog magazines design award

Yes - Close to the Edge 2013 Remix Wilson again. Every type of CTTE all in one package

Kenso - Complete excellent packaging of this superb Japanese prog band

Yes - The Studio Albums 1969-1987 how to get mini LP set of Yes's albums at a very affordable price. Bargain of the year.

Nick Drake - Tuck Box all Drake's work in one box. Nice mini LP sleeves with booklets and all at a great price too


Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Albums of the Year - 2013

Well, everyone does it! Lists of their favourite albums of the year. I cannot put them in order as preferences change from day to day. But here are my top 30 favs. Head and shoulders above the rest.

Riverside - Shrine of New Generation so atmospheric and so emotional

Haken - The Mountain completely bonkers. Covers every form of prog

Sound Of Contact - Dimensionaut lush. Very, very lush

Sand - Sand even better than NAO

La Maschera Di Cera - Le Porte Del Domani Italians doing what Italians do so well

Steven Wilson - The Raven That Refused To Sing is this too obvious?

Von Hertzen Brothers - Nine Lives commercial prog. Great, great songs

Anima Mundi - The Lamplighter symphonic prog in all it's glory

Spock's Beard - Brief Nocturnes and Dreamless Sleep always reliably superb

Comedy Of Errors - Fanfare & Fantasy great to see some superb Scottish prog here

Big Big Train - English Electric Part 2 as good as Part one. How do they do it?

Days Between Stations - In Extremis so good. Nice epitaph for the great Pete Banks

The Opium Cartel - Ardor it's not White Willow. Different, but just as good

Fish - A Feast Of Consequences truly back on form. Gorgeous packaging

Magenta - The Twenty Seven Club always a pleasure to experience retro prog at its finest

La Coscienza Di Zeno - Sensitivita simply, RPI at its very best

Dream Theater - Dream Theater settling very nicely into their new lineup

The Flower Kings - Desolation Rose nearly been going for 20 years and still producing the goods

Believe - The Warmest Sun In Winter without a doubt their best yet. Mirek Gil's guitar playing is superb

Vienna Circle - Silhouette Moon hopefully this release will get these guys better known. They deserve it

Kingbathmat - Overcoming The Monster yes, a monster of an album. Big, big sound

Quickbeam - Quickbeam great Scottish band. An almost chamber folk charm

The Fierce and the Dead - Spooky Action best instrumental album in years

Ayreon - The Theory of Everything Arjen is back, doing what he does best

Nosound - Afterthought Giancarlo produces some of the best atmospheric music around at the moment

Rhys Marsh - Suspended In A Weightless Wind maybe not an album, but some sublime cover versions

Solstice - Prophesy not really familiar with this band. But love the extended arrangements. Great playing

The Tangent - Le Sacre Du Travail Andy Tillison's masterwork. His most complex and ambitious album yet

Airbag - The Greatest Show On Earth this took a while to grow, but it did. Superbly atmospheric and Floydy

Il Tempio delle Clessidre - alieNatura RPI album of the year. Elisa Montaldo is a prog superstar


Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Last Pile


Here is the last pile of 2013 releases, dominated by Big Big Trains "English Electric: Full Power" in more ways than one. It has been a bumper year indeed!


Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Yes - The Studio Albums 1969-1987 Box Set


There were groans around the world when this box set was announced. Another box set! After the cheapy original albums, 5CD set and the Japanese SACD box and the Steven Wilson CTTE remix. So much Yes! But actually Rhino haven't done too bad a job on this set. They have attempted to reproduce the original LP sleeves. Gatefolds are all there, including the double gatefold for GFTO. In order to show the titles on the spine, the single sleeves are a bit too roomy and the CD easily slips out. At least they have the lettering. There are no inner bags, so no lyrics for CTTE or Relayer for instance and no info at all for Tormato.

As there are no booklets, all track info is only printed on the CD, which is a bit of a problem when listening to the disc and want to know what is playing. The quality of the sleeves, card and printing is not too bad. Not up to the standard of the Japanese mini sleeves of course, but much better than normally passes in the West for card sleeves. The original label designs are also printed on the discs which is a nice touch.

If you are a Big Generator fan, then you will want the box as this is the first time the remastered edition has been made available outside of the Japanese versions. You also get all the remixes which were included on the Japanese SHM mini LP version of 2009.

If you have a set of the original Rhino's and want to replace those by this box as a space saving exercise or as an upgrade away from jewel cases and digipaks then the box has it's merits. You could put all the original booklets into the single sleeve wallets with no problem and between the folds of the gatefolds. They will still all fit into the box.

I got my box for under £30, which is remarkable for a 13 disc set with all the bonus tracks, housed in a nice sturdy box. You could argue for a few quid more, they could have produced a reasonable booklet with all the album credits at least. But it's still a nice set for what it is.


Sunday, 1 December 2013

More piling


Here is some more pileage of 2013's bumper crop of releases. It's becoming quite clear that progressive based rock music is very healthy thank you very much. I ain't finished yet!


Saturday, 30 November 2013

Piled High


Getting to that time of year where all prog heads start thinking about their fav albums of the year. I have started piling mine as shown above. Not complete yet as it has been a bumper year for new prog. Long may it continue. Don't worry Mr Wilson's latest will be in there. But it's a biggie and would topple the stack! Not good!


Sunday, 24 November 2013

Ayreon - The Theory Of Everything

Arjen is back, doing what he does best. That is, Prog Opera! No one else can assemble such a huge cast of vocalists and instrumentalists and produce such epic music so effortlessly. We all thought the lengthy Ayreon project had come to an end, concentrating as he was on Guilt Machine, Star One and last years excellent solo album. But here he is again, still mixing prog, metal, folk, classical in a strange, hybrid melange that always seems to work. Here, he has great help from the likes of John Wetton, Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Steve Hackett amongst many others.

It may not be very original, but somehow Arjen puts his stamp on it all and you cannot criticise his boldness and enthusiasm. To totally appreciate and immerse yourself in Arjens world, you need to get the sumptuous super deluxe edition, which is a large format hardbound book affair, which houses the two vocal and two instrumental CDs plus the making of DVD. The latter is interesting, offering an insight into Arjen's meticuluous methods for bringing the project together. You cannot help being carried away with his boyish enthusiasm for all the people he brings on board and his love for music making. Nice one Arjen.




Friday, 22 November 2013

Cassiber - 1982-1992 Box Set


I almost completely forgot about this. I actually ordered this box set nearly a year ago from the ReRmegacorp web site. It has taken till now to actually finish it and release it. I think this type of, on the edge type of music is having a hard time at the moment. ReR are actually going the way of downloads rather than release physical product, such is the cost of producing music with such a specialised and to be honest, small audience. It's a shame, as no one produces such genre defying music as the likes of Cassiber did back in the late 70's and through the 80's.

Cassiber were basically a collective of Christoph Anders, Heiner Goebbels, Alfred Harth and drummer extraordinaire, Chris Cutler. This box set is a collection of all their albums, plus odds and sods as well as a DVD of live performances. The set is the latest in a series of incredible collections put together by Cutlers' label Recommended. Previous boxes have been by the Art Bears, Henry Cow and This Heat. They are truly labours of love. All have been gorgeously mastered by Bob Drake (apart from the This Heat box, which was mastered by Denis Blackham) and have fantastically detailed booklets with lots of rare archival photographs. It may have taken longer than expected, but this latest box does not disappoint and is produced to the same high standards as the others. This may be the last big release like this from ReR, which is a pity. I know that with the interest in progressive music on the rise, more and more people will start to investigate the further, outer reaches of the genre. It's all here, in all its' glory.


Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Airbag - The Greatest Show On Earth


This has been a difficult one. The Norwegian band, Airbag have released two previously exemplary albums of atmospheric prog, in the vein of RPWL and Riverside. The reviews for this, their latest have been a bit cool, mostly considering the band to be too near their Pink Floyd roots for comfort and lacking any real originality. On the first couple of listens I tend to agree. I was on the whole underwhelmed. But I had an inkling this was going to be one of those albums. You listen to it initially and it doesn't really click, but there is something in the back of your head that keeps making you go back to it. You just have this feeling that you will get it eventually.

After spending a while with it, it did click. I still don't think it stands up with their first two yet, but it is getting there. It is beautifully put together and the musicianship is superb. It sounds sumptuous. The songs slowly reveal their riches, taking their time to be fully absorbed. I think it is one of those albums that requires patience to really appreciate. I am getting to love this album. Slowly, but surely!


Saturday, 16 November 2013

Instrumental Rock

Here are two prime examples of instrumental based rock; The Fierce and the Dead's "Spooky Action" and Zevious's "Passing Through The Wall". Although rock and especially progressive rock is littered with purely instrumental based music as part of lengthy vocal based epics or between song pieces, bands playing entirely instrumental music are actually few and far between. Lets not count the electronic bands like Tangerine Dream. That's a different kettle of fish! The bands I am thinking about are the likes of Dif Juz, Blind Idiot God, Philharmonie, Pell Mell and The Science Group for instance. All are worth checking out.

Both Zevious and TFATD share a common King Crimson streak which permeates their music. Zevious take a much more angular, avant rock approach whereas TFATD are more playful. In fact TFATD do remind me of Pell Mell, the 90's US band, but much more aggressive and with greater complex structuring. I even pick up on a Zeuhl like fercoity in the fuzzy bass playing. I do enjoy the Zevious album a lot, but it's "Spooky Action" that shines brighter. With the unfeasably tall Matt Stevens really impressing on guitar (check out his beguiling solo albums), taking in everything from Discipline era Fripp like arpeggios to Lee Ranaldo's post hardcore noise rock, it's all out-there exciting stuff. These guys could be one of the best instrumental rock bands ever!

Friday, 15 November 2013

Roger Eno - Little Things Left Behind 1988 - 1998

Roger, the talented one of the Eno brothers. Only joking! Though Roger is the trained musician, whereas Brian was always the non-musician. It may have been through brother Brian's connection that Roger's music was able to come to the attention of a wider audience, but his music would have shone through anyway, such is its strength and beauty. Obviously inspired by Erik Satie's minimalist style, Roger's goes further to produce intimate, reflective, heartfelt vignettes. Over the forty tracks which grace the 2CD's here, every piece is imbued with rich melody and an uncanny ability to be at once still and animated, perfectly judging the arrangements and instrumentation to obtain maximum emotional resonance. Simply beautifully sublime. Lovely photographs by Roger's daughter Cecily throughout the packaging and booklet.


The Who - Tommy 2013 Super Deluxe Edition

Here is another example of why the the physical medium is still reigning supreme over digital downloads. For anyone interested at all in music, collecting is a part of that. Actually owning something physical and tangible is so much part of the listening experience. The look, touch and smell of the physical product is what excites us as much as hearing what lies within. Seeing this large format version of The Who's Tommy takes me right back to my schooldays and experiencing the album in all its 12 inch vinyl glory. This new super deluxe version is at once a superbly written document on the making of the album and a complete archival library of the album, in hi res stereo, surround, the demos and live presentation. It does please me so much, that record companies are still willing to spend the time and effort in really producing these box sets to the standards as this. That there is still a market for them is heartening too. There are still people out there where music is an experience that means something more than just pressing a button on a computer to download digital files on an ipod which are then just played in the background.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Rhys Marsh - Suspended In A Weightless Wind

I am a big fan of Rhys Marsh's Norwegian melancholia. In some ways he shares a similar sonic attitude as Tim Bowness, mixing a love for 60's and 70's singer/songwriters and progressive rock. On this very limited ep he covers songs by Nick Drake, Scott Walker, CSN, King Crimson and Family. I like the way he turns things around, making Nick Drake's "Things Behind the Sun" into a huge, mellotron drenched symphonic prog epic, and Crimsons "Moonchild" into a Scott Walker like torch song. It's a shame this is not a full albums worth of Marsh's inspired interpretations. But it is volume 1, so thankfully there is more to come.


Saturday, 9 November 2013

Yes - Close to the Edge Steven Wilson 2013 Mixes

Out of all the versions I have heard of this album, whether vinyl LP, cassette, CD, SHM CD, SACD, nothing compares to this. Just considering the stereo portion of the blu ray disc, the 24/96 LPCM transfer is stunning. I have never heard CTTE sound so clean and clear. The litmus test for CTTE has always been Wakemans church organ solo on the title track. On previous CD versions, this has always distorted. Not here. It is grand, full and simply pleasant to listen to. Yes always excelled at vocal harmonies and these are really highlighted in this new mix, especially during the "I Get Up, I Get Down" section.

The blu ray is brimming with every conceivable version of the album. Maybe too much, but it is all here anyway, from vinyl transfers, original mixes, surround mixes, single edits and instrumental versions. Special mention on the blu ray menus. I am never too bothered by this on these discs, but the authoring by Neil Wilkes and design by Claire Bidwell is exemplary. Everything is clearly laid out and looks stunning as the screen shots below show.

The 20 page booklet is nicely done too. Superb notes by Sid Smith, though the type for me is a bit small. Don't they realise that us old proggers' eyesight is not what it used to be! The booklet fits loosely within the gatefold of the mini LP design, so you will need to keep the whole package in the supplied plastic sleeve. Just watch out for the adhesive on the closing flap. This can easily stick to the album artwork.

This is a great package, as I think most of us were expecting. But this exceeds those and is a prime example on how to do these archival releases properly. I cannot wait for the next installment in the Spring whatever that will be. I wonder what they will do with "Tales from Topographic Oceans"? It's already on 2CD's, plus a blu ray would make for at least a 3 disc set. I smell a box set coming on!


Friday, 8 November 2013

XTC - Nonsuch Steven Wilson 2013 Mixes

That busy Wilson bloke is up to his old tricks again. This month sees not one, but three of his latest remixes released. There is this, the first of his XTC remixes, then there is "Close to the Edge", first in a series of Yes remixes and the latest Jethro Tull, "Benefit".

XTC were one of my favourite post punk bands. They quickly transcended their new wave roots with the excellent third album, "The Black Sea". My personal favourite album is "The Big Express" so I am looking forward to what Mr Wilson does with that. I never really got on with "Nonsuch" for some reason. Maybe I found their songwriting at this point a bit too precious and for want of a better word, nice! But on revisiting the album, via the hi res stereo blu ray portion of this set, this is an album of beautiful, sophisticated and witty songwriting. I don't think there are many songwriters in the league of Andy Partridge and Colin Moulding for clever and memorable wordplay. That Dave Gregory is now a member of Big Big Train is no mere coincidence. Both bands excell in presenting a thoroughly English form of songwriting, that somehow hankers back to days of traditionalism.

The presentation of this package is similar to the King Crimson reissues, double digipak with booklet held in the middle, all placed in a slipcase. The layout is a bit confusing as nowhere does it actually say what is on the CD. There is just a list of mixes. The assumption is the new 2013 mix is on the CD. The booklet has very good in depth interviews with all concerned. So, Wilson does it again. A great, detailed mix. I cannot comment on the surround stuff as I dont do surround. Next up is CTTE, which will be in tomorrow. That's the biggie!


Thursday, 7 November 2013

Burning Shed Re-issues


Releasd together, these two expanded, remastered re-issues from the Burning Shed label are exceptional examples in presentation and content. The first is the "California, Norfolk" album by Peter Chilvers and the Godlike Tim Bowness, now expanded to 2CD's. The second is the "Slope" solo album by Steve Jansen, now expanded to 3 discs! I wish David Sylvian was doing work like this, that was both interesting and approachable. Both packages have their discs housed in hardback, booksized digipaks. It's so gratifying seeing independant labels like Burning Shed (who are also one of the best online retailers) taking the time and effort to produce top quality packages like this.


Sand - Sand

To be honest I wasn't really expecting much from this, purely from not knowing much about it. The previous North Atlantic Oscillation albums were very good indeed and I picked this up simply because I had those albums. Just for completeness you understand! But this solo effort by frontman Sam Healy is extraordinarily good. It has the same blissed out, electro prog feel of NAO, but this is more traditionally song based in structure. The densely layered and treated guitars, synths and percussion make for a hugely epic sound. The absolute standout for me is "Clay". This is such a wonderful, hook laden song with a great, orchestral coda. This album was a surprise, a very good one indeed.


Bill Nelson - Getting The Holy Ghost Across

One of my favourite Bill Nelson albums. Though released in 1986 and certainly of the time, Bill's songwriting and musicianship shine through the 80's gloss. This was another unhappy relationship with a major label, here CBS but the results are startling. Along the lines of the lush, liquid sounds of "The Love That Whirls" and "Chimera" this was a more lighter effort, even commercial. You can still sense the influence of Yellow Magic Orchestra, who he had a close relationship with. The single "Wildest Dreams" should have been a hit.

CBS refused to release this on CD for some reason until 2006 when Bill secured a release on his own Sonoluxe label. However, he completely revamped the artwork, which though good wasn't as classy as the original LP design. Thankfully for this expanded release via Esoteric, the original design has been reinstated, beautifully realised by Phil Smee. All the tracks from the original album, the mini-LP, "Living For The Spangled Moment" and the "Wildest Dreams" single are included. A superb reissue for one of Bill's best.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

King Crimson - USA 40th Anniversary Series

This is the album that isn't! It says USA by King Crimson but it's not the same beast that I heard back in 1975 on vinyl. That album had remix assistance by Eddie Jobson on violin and piano. The improv Asbury Park lasted around 6 minutes and segued straight into Easy Money, the guitar solo of which was faded out. Lastly, 21st Century Schizoid Man actually came from another concert venue, namely Providence. None of that exists on the CD portion of this new issue. What we have is a mix of the full concert which took place at the Casino Arena, Asbury Park. So no Jobson, a longer Asbury Park improv with Cross more prominent in the mix, a longer instrumental section at the end of Easy Money and 21st CSM from that venue.
While it's great to hear the whole concert as it was, especially the full improvs, I personally prefer the original USA as it appeared on vinyl. That may be in part due to long time familiarity of the album, but I can see why Fripp and Wetton made some of the mixing decisions they did. For instance the greater presence of Cross's mellotron on Asbury Park, though giving a more symphonic sound to it, does reduce the power and impact of Fripp's guitar and actually the whole band. The keyboards are too dominant. Also, Fripp's solo after Easy Money is one of his very best and nothing after the brilliant peak of it could add anything more, hence why the fade out works so well in maintaining the power of what has come before.
You do get a hi res version of the expanded USA album on the DVD, but this new mix is Casino Arena, Asbury Park, not USA. It says USA on the packaging, but it's not the same USA on the CD.

Yes - The Studio Albums 1969 - 1987

Though known about for a few weeks, this box set has just been officially anounced on the Yesworld web site. Anyone hoping for any more info will be sorely disappointed. All we know is that all 12 studio albums will be packaged in a clamshell box. The mention of remastered albums simply means they are using the Rhino masters from back in 2003. So nothing new there. For any yes fan, they will already have these issues. So who is this box set aimed at? The timing is odd too. Hot on the heels of the SACD box from Japan and with the imminent release of Steven Wilsons CTTE remixes, this doesnt make much sense. Is this Atlantic trying to get something out of the publicity surrounding the upcoming CTTE release (which they licensed to Panegyric anyway and they are creating a lot of buzz) or is it to do with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nomination?

The competitive pricing of the box at under £40 for 13 discs (Topographic Oceans is a double disc of course) means that the packaging will be minimal. Ok, you get new Roger Dean artwork and some Big Generator remixes, which were only released on the Japanese mini LP version, but fans would really want more than this to warrant purchase. I think the discs will be in card sleeves. Hugely unimpressive if these are simple card wallets like the 5 disc Original Album series box from February this year ( yes, that was another box set). Maybe they will be like the Joni Mitchell studio box set, where they did try and replicate gatefolds and inserts. Whatever, there wont be any booklet I am sure. Which will be lacking as for the amount of bonus tracks included (66), you really do need some relevant background info on these. However, for the pricing, this is good value, especially including all those bonus tracks. So for anyone who has been off the planet for around 40 years and wanting to hear what all this Yes stuff is about its a good package. For the rest of us, the Panegyric remixes is the way to go.