The sun is out, the sun is shining, but we’re not slumming it in parks listening to terrible summer music just yet. Oh no. Some of us are making sure the beard-stroking, mind-expanding sphere that is Prog isn’t going unattended – step forward David Keevill, who returns with his latest column examining what the big stories and events in the world of Prog have been over the last few weeks…
1) Steven. Wilson. Isolated.
Persona-hopping Steven Wilson lives so fluently between projects that following his career can be a physically nauseating experience. His prolific output and musical dexterity has brought numerous plaudits and the kind of grandiose live slots usually reserved for the artistically hoary, a contrast to the comfortable, barefoot Wilson who typically appears on stage.
It’s this contrast that has defined his life as a musician; a man who is most at ease when exploring the complex boundaries between styles and genres in the name of progression. His latest venture is the most daring. For one, Hand. Cannot. Erase. is dealing with livid, painfully close subject matter. He tells a story based on the life of Joyce Carol Vincent, a seemingly popular young woman who dies in her London flat and isn’t discovered for three years. It’s a true story, and it speaks to an increasingly disconnected society that isolates the vulnerable even in the midst of one of the world’s busiest cities. Isolation, a favourite topic of Wilson’s since Fear of a Blank Planet, is given a voice, and its completely harrowing and brilliant.
2) R.I.P Daevid Allen (13 January 1938 – 13 March 2015)
In the last month, the music world lost one of prog’s great eccentrics. We asked Matt Stevens, prolific solo artist and deadly component of The Fierce and the Dead, for a few words on Gong’s Daevid Allen:
“Daevid Allen was a one off. If he’d just done the Radio Gnome Trilogy he’d still be a legend but he did so much more. I was lucky enough to support him at a gig once and he was a lovely fella, lots of energy. It’s a cliche to say he seemed half his age, but he genuinely did, touring in a transit van and playing to a devoted audience.
“The latest Gong album [I See You] is stunning, a superb mixture of classic Gong and Cardiacs/Voivod riffing, ever moving forward. I saw the Allen-less Gong show in London to support that album and Kavus [Torabi, of Knifeworld] was taking photos of the crowd to send back to the Divided Alien to show him the love from the audience. He also appeared as a projection. It was all rather moving. A wonderful character and inspired musician, he’ll be sadly missed.”
3) New blood.
Home Counties-based Eschar might not have got it all worked out, but they are certainly on the way. They play warm, hazy post-rock in the vein of genre architects Pelican, dropping in riffs like they’ve Marty McFly-ed back forty years and soaked in every guitar line they could get their hands on. They might not have earned the unique naturalism grown by post-rock grandees Toundra, but their recently released second album Nova is an unexpectedly mature and enjoyable find. The kind of blissful fuzzed-out 65daysofstatic strains (‘Echoes and Reflections’) swerve into hot-footed tapped riffs (‘Discovery One’), drenched in the vigour of their craft. They’re playing the acclaimed ArcTanGent festival later this year, alongside a fiercely brilliant set of bands. Even against mammoth competition in the line-up, I expect these guys are worth going out of your way to see.
4) John Mitchell’s next step
The 80s weren’t especially kind to prog. If the stalwarts of the genre weren’t splitting up, then they were making drastic moves towards the bombastic, synth-heavy pop music that defined the decade. Neo-prog was born, and whilst its theatrical and emotive strains pleased some, for others it was an empty vessel surrounded by the glitz and perceived vacuity of the time. John Mitchell, a component of Arena and later It Bites, is a child of that age, yet his work over the last ten years has been vital in re-imbuing prog with a sleek, near euphoric sound that felt so staid thirty years ago.
Please Come Home by Lonely Robot, his latest outing, is sharp and catchy, veritably heaving with atmospheric twists and turns, and utterly compelling in its weirdo tale of our alien forefathers. It’s bombastic, and feels inherently part of that lost age, whilst simultaneously sounding current, something which is bolstered by the huge credibility of the record’s contemporary collaborators. For all of the high aiming, and seemingly nerdily dense subject matter, Please Come Home is subtly assembled and often touching.
5) Double trouble
Anneke van Giersbergen (The Gathering, Devin Townsend Project) and Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) have a combined proggy lineage that would excuse any misstep in their respective careers. I expect their latest outing together, The Gentle Storm, will need no justifying to the prog community, as it’s precisely the kind of overblown, narrative-rich adventure that sits incredibly comfortably with those in the scene.
The Diary is a double album, with a single record’s worth of material duplicated across two styles; a bombastic rock opera, and an acoustic folkier rendering. There’s nothing extraordinary about the music, and the duality of the record smacks a little of superfluity, despite its creators veteran status within the scene and usual sense for what works. Despite its high aspirations, and some interesting Fairport Convention-like flourishes on the softer version, it’s van Giersbergen’s textured and beautiful delivery that pulls this away from mediocrity.
Also due to perform at ArcTanGent this year are Cleft, a self-described ‘turbo-prog’ twopiece who make a lot of noise in the vein of Alpha Male Tea Party. Last month, Cleft guitarist Dan Beesley was diagnosed with a brain tumour, which was removed on 02 April.
Let’s get the obvious bit out of the way. Fuck cancer. Fuck its ability to turn even the brightest things monochrome.
Now for the good stuff. Not only are the members of Cleft the kind of people to summon huge amounts of generosity from the musical community (check out Dan’s JustGiving page and give what you can), but their continued positivity during a shitty time has pervaded their social media channels. Their eclectic, wonderfully upbeat and dancingly heavy music is a credit to their status as innovators in a tight-knit experimental scene and as open-minded individuals with a buzz for life.
Listen to Cleft and take something positive away from this.