Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Gregorian Rock 2

Hello again fellow progheads!  Traveling to and from London last week in my search for all things prog certainly gave me time to think--and what a crazy process that tends to be.  Because my thoughts tend to wander down the "all things prog" path, this week's leg of the journey took me back to the states--Texas to be more exact.  Once again I have been asked to review a CD  as it is about to be released, a privilege I take seriously and absolutely enjoy.  With that intro, I welcome you to the distinct sound of Gregorian Rock and their second release, "Gregorian Rock 2."


It was  a little over a year ago I discovered a sound emanating from San Antonio that was truly unique ...atypical to say the least.  Describing Gregorian Rock as different is akin to describing the Indian Ocean as big--the adjective just does not suffice.  Having been a fan of Gregorian Rock ever since my first taste, I am quite pleased to announce that the second release from Roland Dale Benedict, "Gregorian Rock 2," is being released May 2nd.  I can think of no better way to get this review started than to simply immerse myself in the music...please join me for a stroll through the majestic section of the prog garden...

The disc opens with "Deus Lux."  The piano is as smooth as silk sheets in a four star hotel...and leads seamlessly to the vocal chant.  Gregorian Rock is able to fill the room with sound that seems to emanate from the ceiling, walls, and floor...so full, balanced, and enriching.  The time changes, tempo, rhythm...everything is so perfectly connected you'd swear the headphones and your ears are one.  The chant/vocals slice through the wall of music with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel.  Time to get my monk hood and some candles; this is putting me in a mood...

Moving deeper into the disc--all the way to track three, I find a gem titled "I Call You Friend."  A celestial-like opening brings you through a dark veil slowly penetrated by light.  Keyboards echo quietly behind deep, rich vocals.  Suddenly the organ punches through and a burst of radiance and hope fills the room.  The chant has an intensity that reaches out and touches your soul; extremely moving piece.

Liner Notes...Gregorian Rock is the brain child of the aforementioned Roland Dale Benedict.  In addition to vocals, Dale plays keyboards, electronic wind instrument, and chapman stick.  Joining Dale are Scott McCullor on vocals and percussion, Jay Pilkington on guitar, drum programming, and bass, Pat Neil on guitar, Ramon "Suro" Lopez on drums, and Raul Reyes on bass.  When I interviewed Dale last October, I learned the members of Gregorian Rock are splayed across three separate states, with Dale residing in San Antonio, Texas.  He describes Gregorian Rock as "...music I want to listen to...music nobody else was playing..."  Heart and desire, blended with just the right touch of talent, can produce magnificence...

Gregorian Rock is deceptive...they come at you full force, but in such a soft and subtle manner you feel embraced rather than attacked.  The music is tighter than skinny jeans on Robert Fripp--and much easier on the eyes and mind.  With everything being recorded in three states and mixed later, that is a remarkable feat.  I have been listening to "Gregorian Rock 2" for a few weeks and while there are some slight parallels with other bands, Dale truly has created an exclusive sound tilling previously virgin soil in the prog garden.

Serving number three is an instrumental piece called "The Good Guys Win."  An opening as crisp as the first fallen leaves of autumn, this song wraps itself around your head from the outside and slowly permeates the cranium...the friendly top notes of the keyboard belie a strong drum and bass foundation that keep the entire thing buoyant and balanced.  The soft fade out is but a smooth transition to cut number eight, a bolder song called...

"The Battle."  This one hits you head on; strong drums and wild keyboards are surrounded by a vocal chant that pokes and jabs from all directions.  The song creates a tension with strong guitar work building to a crescendo that reigns down like so much confetti at a victory celebration...evidently the good guys won this battle.  Enjoy the celebratory instrumental avalanche that wraps the piece up...

Because this is a review for a disc about to be released, I do not have a clip to post this week. However; do your music collection the honor of adding "Gregorian Rock 2" to the family...a decision for which you need not be repentant.  Learn more about Gregorian Rock now and purchase the new release May 2nd at http://gregorianrock.com/index.html.  The band's first release, "Gregorian Rock," is also available.  Follow Gregorian Rock on Twitter @cantusnovus  and of course Facebook
https://www.facebook.com/gregorianrockband?_rdr.  Dale also has a YouTube channel that he will (hopefully) be expanding soon https://www.youtube.com/user/GregorianRock

OK fellow progheads, one more song to savor via the written word in anticipation of the Saturday live release...the closing track on the disc, "As Water Reflects."  Every tune recorded here seems but a stepping stone to the finale; a full bodied, deep, rich song that brings the musicians and their craft together in beautiful harmony.  The mood cascades across the entire spectrum; (almost) dark, somber, insightful, joyous, tempered, and thought-provoking.  A marvelous balance of all the things that set Gregorian Rock apart.  Gregorian Rock 2 is a disc you absolutely want to have in your collection. Play it once just to get it onto your skin, like a soothing salve after a day at the beach.  Play it repeatedly to allow it to seep into your pores and penetrate into your bloodstream...

Another first for the Concert Closet--a mid-week blog revision.  I just received a link to a video for Gregorian Rock 2.  Posted here is "Deus Lux" for your listening pleasure.  This will whet your appetite for the full course Gregorian Rock serves up on the disc...please to enjoy...

Like a roller coaster ride at Coney Island, April has come to an abrupt finish --in most dramatic fashion.  Four months have fallen off the calendar and the Concert Closet is just getting revved up. Gregorian Rock raised the bar in my search for all things prog, and it is time to reload, refuel, and light the fuse...until next week...

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Happy Graveyard Orchestra...Revisited

Greetings once again fellow progheads!  The search for all things prog has gained a lot of momentum as we move into spring, and I find myself in a very enjoyable position--namely being asked (once again) to do a music review.  Scurrying back to London from Argentina--the UK seems to be my second home lately--I brought the Concert Closet in for a follow-up of sorts with The Happy Graveyard Orchestra; they recently released their first full-length album, "Welcome."  In addition to reviewing the music I was able to get an interview with the leader of this "macabre" entourage, Ivan Perilli.  So let us leap in with both ears and listen for what is emanating from the Happy Graveyard...

Closet Concert Arena: What makes the Happy Graveyard Orchestra special?

Happy Graveyard Orchestra: We (Ivan and Pablo) recently asked ourselves the same question.
We obviously thought "because we are experimental," and then adjusted that to "because we are experimental, but not ALWAYS experimental."  Also, because we do it naturally; we don't follow a scheme or concept.  Although our shows are planned in detail, the preparation is very natural.

CCA: What can listeners anticipate from "Welcome?"

HGO: We tried to "put on paper" what we do live.  We focused more on  the music vs. improvisation and some tricks we do live.  We did our best not to sound too different from a live show; keeping the balance of rock, experimental, and all the other fancy terms available in music history.

CCA: Is "Welcome" the band's first release?

HGO: It's our first full-length album recorded the best way possible for our "capabilities."  We previously released two pretty good demos (in 2013 and 2014).  Both were nice and allowed people to discover us before and after our shows.  Still, "Welcome" is bigger, louder, and more complete from the opening song right through track eleven.  Also, there is more electricity, shades, and conflicted feelings.  There are even more instruments--eleven if I counted correctly!

CCA: You describe your music as "experimental;" how so?

HGO: Experimental is the closet adjective to "free."  We have no boundaries, and that was not a conscious decision.  Rehearsals easily become "let's try this" sessions where we do indeed experiment.  That transfers easily to the stage for our live shows, along with a strong dose of rock.  Add bits of classical, jazz, and blues, and ultimately we call it experimental rock.  However, for us it is just a label we need to introduce ourselves before plugging in our instruments.

Time to leap into the music; first serving at the buffet is an intriguing piece called "Evening News." The opening is stark...almost bare.  The oboe is joined by strings as tension builds in a non-threatening way--and then daylight bursts into the room.  The steady drum keeps everyone in the same time zone, but there is definitely some daydreaming going on.  The music meanders down a crooked path, much the way a newscast does.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra not only paints a picture--they capture the moment.  With a nod to minimalism, this is as creative a band as I have stumbled across in the prog garden.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra doesn't push boundaries, they draw new maps.

CCA: Who/what do you consider the biggest influences in your prog style?

HGO: When it comes to our (lightweight) prog, there are definite moments of Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, and perhaps a touch of Captain Beefheart and Alice Cooper.  Not on entire songs, but some approaches here and there.  We prefer odd times and rapid changes but we don't push them to the limit as so many explicitly prog bands do.  We have been told that we are similar to Jethro Tull and Hawkwind, and even have a Krautrock style...while we are not sure where and how, those are good names to be associated with!

CCA: The band has seen a few personnel changes; who is the current line-up?

HGO: Original members Ivan Perilli on bass and vocals and Saif Ur-Rehman on guitar joined forces about a year ago with Debbie Teo on oboe and percussion, and Pablo Perez Vich on drums. Presently we have been auditioning for two additional band members, and we are happy to say...Kasjusz Lipkowski has just joined the Happy Graveyard Orchestra family on tenor saxophone!

CCA: Are you currently touring or back in the studio?

HGO: We are staying away from the studio for at least a year.  It's time to get back on stage as, although more difficult, live performance is what makes a gathering of musicians a real band.

Second serving from the new release is a charming instrumental called "Wooden Bridge Tale."  The entire piece is almost completely background--I have to believe that is not a coincidence.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra draws you in with the music; it is subtle and evocative while dancing like baby's breath across your ears.  The drum lying on the bottom like a counterweight keeps you focused as the entire piece teases your sensory palette like fresh strawberries and chocolate...

CCA: What can fans expect from a live show?

HGO: Songs from our official releases, and always something new.  Everything is played with a lot of nicely hidden mistakes; performed with fun and love for artistic freedom, music, and a puzzled audience.  It is quite a different night out.

CCA: What is your favorite cut from the album?

HGO: We each have our own favorite.  Ivan loves the emotional crescendo of "Evening News" and the entire experience of "Those Seventeen Letters."  Saif really enjoys the upbeat, bouncy pop on "That Thing There For Me" and the ominous trudging on "Insects" that explodes at the end.  Pablo likes the mix of emotions throughout the album, from the melancholy of "Evening News" and the anger in "Those Seventeen Letters," to the strange and bitter happiness of "Vomit."  For Debbie it is the process of recording, as we were always exploring new sounds and acoustics to create new timbres and textures, adding new dimensions to our music.

My final taste of this captivating album is "Insects."  This is a moving piece, painted with a bit of a darker hue.  Insects put you on high alert, unlike a cuddly puppy or cute little kitten.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra draws you down to the level of these creatures and forces you to think from their point of view.  The world is a big dangerous place when observed from down below, and the emotions bleeding from every instrument cut just deep enough into your epidermis to pinch your nerves.  You feel alive and alarmed all at once...

CCA: Is "Welcome available as a vinyl album and/or CD, or strictly as a download?

HGO:  Strictly a download, although we would love to feel the need for a CD edition one day.
Sadly, the decision was a marketing one we had to make.  I would love to have hundreds of CD's and even vinyl LP's to sell, but nowadays we prefer to invest more in something else.

You can purchase (and please do) "Welcome" as a download at
http://happygraveyardorchestra.bandcamp.com/album/welcome.   "Welcome" is also available on Spotify and iTunes.   You can find out more about the band at http://happygraveyardorchestra.co.uk/
Follow Happy Graveyard Orchestra on Twitter, @HappyGraveyardO and of course, the ever popular Facebook https://www.facebook.com/HappyGraveyardOrchestra

Take a listen below to get just an inkling of what Happy Graveyard Orchestra is about; but please buy the download.  I chose the song "Vomit" for this post deliberately.  While the title grabs your attention, the picture your mind paints is almost immediately shaken out of your head like an Etch-A-Sketch once the music begins, as--subconsciously perhaps--a smile pierces your lips.  Happy Graveyard Orchestra plays music like Salvador Dali paints...nothing is as it seems...

A different slant, an alternate view, the flip-side of normal...call it what you want; The Happy Graveyard Orchestra views prog--and life in general--through a lens that runs skew to most of us.  If only more people could see the world from the inside out...Happy Graveyard Orchestra doesn't just play music--they take you on a journey.  Jamie Muir must feel a twinge of sudden excitement as sound is coaxed from unexpected objects and places...

Progressive music comes from the heart, soul, and mind of the musician.  It is an art form in the right hands; one to enjoy via sight and sound.  I hope you enjoyed the Happy Graveyard Orchestra reprise this week fellow progheads.  Now once again I take the Concert Closet deeper into the stratosphere as my search for all things prog continues...until next week...

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Autumn Moonlight

Cerebral greetings from the Concert Closet fellow progheads!  I believe you will agree last week's post was a bit off the radar but well worth the sound check...Abstract Aprils took the mind on quite a field trip. However; two weeks spent in the continental USA gets me yearning to log some frequent flyer miles again...so setting the GPS for "somewhere far from home," I take my search for all things prog back to a country I have visited in the past--but not nearly enough.  Join me friends, and listen as the South American winds carry the Argentinian progressive sounds of Autumn Moonlight through the atmosphere...

Autumn Moonlight cuts right to the chase--they refer to themselves as a "...progressive post rock band...mainly a fusion between post rock and progressive rock..."  OK; I'm liking the word "fusion" here and really don't mind doing a little extra homework, so let's dig deeper into this "fusion thing" shall we?

My first waltz to the buffet yields an interesting first course, "Alter Reality."  The song opens simple enough; a guitar bridge to a drum leading you down a path where something dark seems to lurk behind every corner...and then it strikes as you realize the song title was not random.  Autumn Moonlight leaps off the disc at you hard and fast, but not to hurt or cause you pain; they prefer to push you headlong into their world.  There are hints of the Alan Parsons Project and a touch of the Crimson ProjeKct meandering through my headphones.  Autumn Moonlight paints with a dark brush but there are flashes of light--bright light--and they are striking.  The drums  hit you from the side while guitars slam you in the gut...and the week is just getting revved up...

Making my way back to the buffet for a second helping, I come away with a full plate of "Letters to God."  Autumn Moonlight once again strikes at the heart; chipping away with guitars and drums that expose a vulnerability you want to embrace.  The mood swings dark yet there is an emotional surge right behind the curtain...you can almost feel it.  The bass holds the song together as the drums wrap themselves around a guitar that refuses to be silenced...everything fits so well together.  The shadow voices as the song winds down remind you of innocence lost.  This piece bleeds out all your emotions and inhibitions...the abrupt end is oh so fitting...

Liner Notes...calling Berazategui, Buenos Aires, Argentina home, Autumn Moonlight was formed in 2009 by Mariano Spadafora on bass and Tomas Barrionuevo on guitars.  Two drummers later Mike Buenaventura Lima rounds out this dynamic trio.  Autumn Moonlight has three full length LP's and one EP in their repertoire with a third full-length album soon to be pressed.  Don't confuse quantity with quality--Autumn Moonlight does more with three band members than some bands do with five...
Music can do so much more than simply  tell a story or paint a picture--it can entwine itself within your emotions, crawl down your spine, and ooze into your bloodstream.  Autumn Moonlight grabs you like an old roommate; seemingly playful at first, but carefully creating a bond as real and tangible as family.

The final selection from this week's prof feast is an ethereal piece called "Dawn of Atlantis."  As the ocean laps at the shore, you get a sense of  serenity that seems to fit like your favorite fuzzy slippers...aaahhhh, the comforts of home!  Autumn Moonlight captures the essence of prog with this piece...the picture comes to life slowly; a piano moves across your line of vision while guitars and drums move in to fill the void.  Not an upbeat song per se--but nothing dark or gloomy here either; simply a very deep crevice into which you long to crawl...the better to allow  raw emotions to wash over you like the incoming tide.  Learn  more about Autumn Moonlight at http://www.autumnmoonlight.com.ar.  They are also on Twitter @AuMoonlight and Facebook

The selection I made for your personal listening pleasure is called "The Sky Over Your Shoulders."  A thought-provoking emotional piece, the song starts out by drawing you in...the allure of nature in all her splendor flows through the headphones, building to what feels like a crescendo ready to explode any time.  Autumn Moonlight tills some dark, rich soil in the prog garden and the resulting fruit is exceptionally robust.  

That was a week well spent...I hope you enjoyed the rich new bounty from South America fellow progheads.  Although Buenos Aires is no stranger to great prog...Autumn Moonlight is but one more impressive Argentinian band to stake out their own acreage in the prog garden.  The deep rich sound echoing across so many time zones soothes and provokes, like sand in the Vaseline.  One of the many pluses of progressive rock is its ability to educate and entertain simultaneously.  My prog journey has unearthed so many different variations of the genre--I am awestruck and captivated, all the while being entertained.  And once again it is time to continue the search for all things prog...until next week...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Abstract Aprils

Warm spring greetings to all my fellow progheads!  As April begins to thaw the calendar a bit, I thought it might be appropriate to take the Concert Closet down a tangent route in my search for all things prog.  I wanted to stay domestic one more week, making it fourteen days without need for a passport.  Setting the GPS for all things prog, I do a little searching in the clouds for music to cleanse the mind and soul...and suddenly I am in the mountains of Montana...welcome to the ambient world of Abstract Aprils.

Self-defined as "sounds for daydreaming..." Abstract Aprils takes the Concert Closet far from the metal and heavy undergrowth section of the prog garden.  Abstract Aprils prefers to occupy a section where sun is required--but not the scorching, earth-burning variety; rather the soothing, carried on a breeze, melt the morning dew variety.

Cozying up to the notion that the following seven days will be vastly different than the previous seven, I walk the prog buffet carefully and deliberately.  My first take-away is a tranquil piece called "Breathing Sculptures."  All at once I am adrift on a crystal clear lake with nothing clogging my thought process...just serenity and peacefulness.  Very strong top notes of Robert Fripp a la Frippertronics and  Soundscapes...and strong aromas of Brian Eno's ambient days.  Abstract Aprils paints with a varied pallet; the colors are not dark at all--but there aren't any neon yellows or day-glo limes either.

Serving number two is a bit stronger; a bounce-around-your-head piece called "At This Point."  I sense a strong influence of Eluvium with hints of Helios...and dare I say a tinge of Syd Barrett?  I get just the faintest hint of "Mr. Floyd's" artistry and madness floating through the calming salve that oozes from this piece.  The song title seems a bit tongue-in-cheek as I feel myself being pulled back in time by the clatter rushing through my headphones.  The sounds you hear on the fringe are absolutely captivating...Abstract Aprils is a minimalist's dream--luring you in with pure simplicity.

Liner Notes...hailing from Missoula, Montana, Abstract Aprils is Collin Welner...that's it; just Collin Welner.  Apart from being an exceedingly humble human, Collin seems to have a firm grasp on the art of tranquility.  His ability to milk maximum effect from minimal sources is astounding, and his evident appreciation of the world around him and its ties to the inner being are laid bare for all to hear.

I move slowly back to the buffet for serving number three--I really don't want this to end--and I come away with a full portion of  "Daring Remedy."  Lying on a blanket at the beach, walking through a field at sunset, holding the hand of a loved one...all these emotions and more are nudged while listening to the sounds of inner peace cascade over my mind.  Imagine being tugged in several directions while feeling as vulnerable and delicate as cotton candy at a state fair.  Abstract Aprils allows you to fall into yourself without getting lost in some surreal, 1960's existential conversation about nothing...the only reality for the immediate here and now is a calmness that is the Ying to Liquid Tension Experiment's Yang.

This is the point in my blog where I usually post a clip for you to listen to so as to get a feel for what I am experiencing...but not so this week.  Abstract Aprils has released but one album, "blossom ends." and the only music I was able to download and post here would have been the entire LP.  I would much prefer you order the disc or purchase a download...believe me you will use this as a
go-to at some point in your life.  Abstract Aprils is the kind of prog you can showcase to those who "don't get it" and watch them melt from the inside.  Dig deeper and hear more from Abstract Aprils at  http://abstractaprils.bandcamp.com/releases and soundcloud.com/abstractaprils.  You can also follow Abstract Aprils on Twitter @AbstractAprils and the ever popular Facebook https://www.facebook.com/abstractaprilsmusic?fref=ts

 An interesting week; I hope the escape was a nice respite for you...it was undeniably a pleasant "cranium cleanser" for me.  Progressive music has many sides, facets, emotions, and temperaments...but the underlying connection throughout the genre is its ability to reach the listener on so many different levels.  I was struck this week by Abstract Aprils' interpretation of prog and the subsequent approach to exposing that to the world.  Let the music flow slowly and steadily over you; like molasses cascading down the side of the jar...

...and just like that 2015 is seven days shorter...time to continue my search for all things prog.  The Concert Closet has logged many a mile on this exquisite journey and I have yet to scratch the surface! Not sure where this prog adventure will lead to but of this I am sure; the excursion will be well worth the time spent...prog is that good.  Until next week...