Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Good evening fellow progheads!  November is making her swan dive into Thanksgiving here in the USA, which means the madness that is the Christmas season is just about upon us.  With that in mind, and harboring no desire to ruin any potential festive mood with a "Black Friday" shopping spree, I thought this might be a good week to simply take my search for all things prog out of town. Setting the Concert Closet compass on "far away," we are off to Germany for something a little different; the sounds of RPWL.

Following the formula for simple and easy, RPWL calls themselves a "...German progressive, rock, art-rock band."  Fair enough; I respect those who cut directly to the chase with no need of flowery descriptors and excess adjectives.  Reciprocating the simplicity I move straight to the music buffet for the first course, a song called "Crazy Lane."  The song opens like a beautiful morning rose; soft, subtle, and bursting with unexpected energy...you can almost see the dew dripping off the petals.  The vocals are soft as honey on a warm biscuit.  An emotional song that moves right through you...everything is understated so as to allow you to take it all in slowly and deliberately.  RPWL seems to channel Wishbone Ash with a touch of Be Bop Deluxe on acoustic night.

Selection number two is a tune called "Hole In The Sky."  The guitar work that opens the song is strong and well crafted.  The pieces start to fall in place as drums, bass, and vocals come together to put the finishing touch on what truly is a piece of prog beauty.  Notice the aromas of Beardfish and the delicate top note of Under The Psycamore...RPWL may spend the balance of their time in the ambient section of the prog garden--but they are not afraid to leap across every fertile acre of the landscape.

Liner Notes...RPWL formed in 1997, reside in Munich, Germany, and have twelve albums on their resume.  The name of the band is actually an acronym for the surnames of the four original members; Risettio, Postl, Wallner, Lang.  The line-up has changed some since those early days; founding members Yogi Lang on vocals and keyboards and Kalle Wallner on guitar, have joined forces with Markus Jehle on keyboards, Werner Taus on bass, and Marc Turiaux on drums.  Originally formed as a Pink Floyd cover band, RPWL soon realized a strong passion for progressive writing and performing.  Their debut album hit the streets in 2000 and RPWL has been tending a far out corner of the prog garden ever since.

Not withstanding the obvious overtones of Pink Floyd, I also detect strong top notes of Spock's Beard, early Genesis, and aromas of Transatlantic wafting through the headphones.  RPWL has a sound reminiscent of classic prog while at the same time being unique unto itself--precisely what makes prog confounding to the untrained ear and fascinating to the skilled listener.

Making my way back to the buffet for my final serving, I find a hidden gem called "New Stars are Born."  The opening vocals pierce the ear ever so delicately, like a knife through Jell-O.  The guitar and keyboards wrap themselves around the midsection of the song and never let go, while the drums lead you down a psychedelic path right through the center of Syd Barrett's imagination...twelve-plus minutes of prog utopia.

The piece posted below is a wonderful introduction to progressive rock in general and RPWL specifically.  Imagine Yes and Pink Floyd performing on one stage; the guitars wrap  around your brain as the drums systematically split your head in two.  The keyboards simply tie the pieces together and help you keep your balance.  Listen, enjoy, and learn more about RPWL at
http://www.rpwl-wanted.de/cm/index.php.  You can also find and follow them on Twitter at @RPWL_official.

Moving closer to the end of 2014, I am humbled by the incredible prog music I have uncovered via the Concert Closet.  Traveling the world has been an amazing experience--and the journey has just begun.  RPWL is but one example of the prog bands out there with the creative genius to offer astonishing music album after album.  My search for all things prog has led me to places I could not have imagined--and the journey is still in its infancy.  So let us take December head-on...until next week...


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Mood Manual

Many thanks for returning one more time fellow progheads!  Leaving Italy was bittersweet after spending seven days embedded in the ambient section of the prog garden; I was reluctant to pull up stakes and move on...but my search for all things prog faithfully continues.  This week I find myself back in the Motherland (for me); the good ol' USA, pushing the envelope while scouting for a new,
"not-quite-hit-the-big-time" prog band..and my GPS has led me to Madison WI to enjoy the captivating sounds of The Mood Manual.

The Mood Manual defines themselves simply as a progressive rock band that "...autonomously create authentic and unique art...with the elegance to amplify awareness..."  So apparently Wisconsin is famous for something much bigger than cheddar cheese and beer affordable by college students--and that is my cue to traipse up to the prog buffet and get this party started.  Selection number one is a tune called "Feeling Symbol."  It opens as if the stylus randomly dropped on the middle of the album; you know that feeling you tuned in thirty seconds too late and can't help but wonder what you missed. The vocals smack you on the cheeks while the drums hit you like rabbit punches on the back of your head...I feel the prog love and am drawn in for more...

Serving number two is a moodier piece called "Black Massasauga."  An uptempo opening that seems a bit contradictory to the lyrics; suddenly I can relate to the name of the band.  The Mood Manual strikes and then takes a step back as if to examine their handiwork, asking, "Do you realize what you just felt/heard/saw?"  The drums never leave the back of the song...filling in spaces that would otherwise sit empty while guitars rhythmically strut up front.  Top notes of  The Strawbs and a slight touch of Gentle Giant meets Architecture of the Absurd crawls through the inner being of the band...The Mood Manual  pitched their tent where metal meets neo in the prog garden; an interesting combination.

Liner Notes...The Mood Manual calls Madison WI home and is comprised of Tyler Kundinger on vocals, guitar, and violin, James Keith Fabry on bass and vocals, Andrew (Gio) Giordano on drums and percussion, and Matthew William McHugh on guitar and vocals. James, Gio, and Matthew grew up together and played with several local bands, finally assembling The Mood Manual and releasing their debut album in 2011.  Challenging the five senses--especially sound--is evidently something The Mood Manual does for kicks, as their eclectic and emotion filled style exemplifies their many moods for the prog listener.

My third selection this week is a song called "Ballad of Somebody."  Taking the tempo down a notch, I close my eyes and am taken to a nightclub lounge with thick cigar smoke hanging in the air while subtle guitar work starts to slowly gain momentum.  With the snap of a guitar string the lounge melts away, the mood darkens just enough to furl my brow, and The Mood Manual is coming at you full-on.  But almost as suddenly the tempo flits back and you become caught in a swirl of time and energy. The Mood Manual  paints using an emotional brush with no fear of bright or dark colors.
Just when you think you've cracked the code they go off on a tangent, pulling you in deeper.

My selection for your viewing/listening pleasure this week is a bit different; more of an informal introduction to The Mood Manual if you allow me some liberty here.  Wade past the first four minutes to get to the music; from the vantage point of a live performance by an up-and-coming band recorded in a small venue, not bad.  They do manage to pack a lot into this clip--but do yourself, me, and The Mood Manual a favor by digging a bit deeper at http://themoodmanual.bandcamp.com/. You can also follow them on Twitter at @TheMoodManual.

Now that November has opened the door for the dreaded "Polar Vortex" to sweep across parts of the country, I am grateful for the warmth of the Concert Closet as I continue this journey.  The Mood Manual offered a glimpse into a different section of the prog garden...a section where the growth is deep, thick, and can bloom in all sorts of weather.  Progressive music is unique because of its chameleon-like ability to adapt to its surroundings.  The mood, tempo, attitude, and everything associated with prog make it something to behold.  Now that I have broken fertile ground in Wisconsin, it is time to move my search for all things prog forward...until next week...

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Phoenix Again

Greetings from the Concert Closet fellow progheads!  Continuing my search for all things prog, my objective this week was something with a throwback vibe that hits a nerve...a "new" sound that pays homage to the progressive masters of yesterday.  I wanted to find a band that knows how to slap you on the back of the head one minute and rub your shoulders the next.  To find this multi-faceted collection of musicians in one group I traveled all the way to Italy...welcome to the diverse prog atmosphere of Phoenix Again.

Phoenix Again has an interesting history (I will discuss later in liner notes), and describe themselves simply as a progressive rock band from Brescia, Italy.  My initial reaction is just a slight interest--until I read further and discover Phoenix Again originally formed in 1981.  That peaked my interest a bit more, so naturally I had to give them a respectable listen--three decades together has to count for something.

My first taste from the prog buffet is a song called "Dance of Three Clowns."  Instantly I am swept away by the beautiful serenity of the music.  This is not your every day progressive music...more like Robert Fripp if he had been light-hearted in the hey-day of Frippertronics.  Think Yes with Uriah Heep playing classical music together and you are starting to catch a glimpse of what is happening here.  Everything flows calmly, even as the tempo starts to pick up.  This is progressive music for a more refined pallet...and so far I like.

The buffet should be accented with foie gras and caviar this week, but I am plenty sated with my second helping, a song called "Oigres."  This is a very smooth instrumental piece; the keyboards sit on top a bit while the guitars swirl around the drums, enveloping the entire piece.  The mood swings upbeat to mellow.  Phoenix Again has set up in the ambient section of the prog garden not too far from Brian Eno.  The music flows right through your ear canals and cascades down into your soul--you feel enraptured.

Liner Notes...Hailing from Brescia, Italy, the band started out in 1981 as Phoenix, founded by Claudio Lorandi on lead guitar and vocals, Antonio Lorandi on bass, Sergio Lorandi on acoustic and electric guitar, and Silvano Silva on drums.  Emilio Rossi joined the band in 1986 on keyboards and mixers.  Phoenix built their unique sound following the trail blazed by King Crimson and Genesis among others in the ambient/jazz fusion corner of the prog garden.  Unfortunately the untimely passing of Claudio in 2007 left Phoenix without its founder.

Determined to honor their fallen leader, the remaining brothers Lorandi lifted Phoenix Again from the ashes in 2008--the name symbolic of a re-birth.  Phoenix Again continues to soar with the next generation Lorandi; Antonio's sons Marco on guitar, Giorgio on percussion, and Sergio's daughter Alessandra on flute.  Keyboardist Andrea Piccinelli rounds out the current line-up.

My third and final selection for the week is a song called "Lookout."  This piece starts out faster than previous, yet stills follows the trail Phoenix carved out and Phoenix Again continues to trample.  The tempo picks up and settles down rhythmically, taking you on a emotional ride not quite roller coaster-esque, yet enough to make you feel the blood pumping through your veins.  The hard driving drums keep it all together, and the guitars and keyboards are doing just fine dancing on the edge of the stage. Phoenix Again can channel Dream Theater and Adrian Belew era King Crimson--but their sound is more a creative interpretation rather than a reflection.

The piece I posted below for your listening pleasure is called "Adso da Melk."  Forgive my inability to translate the written word--but for musical translation there is no need.  Imagine Gregorian Rock taking an acoustic break and blend it with some Transatlantic...you're getting close.  Phoenix Again has been through some difficult times, proudly channeling that energy and introspection into some powerful music.  This song proves you don't have to be loud to be good; everyone needs a good shoulder rub now and then.  Learn more about Phoenix Again at http://www.phoenixagain.it/ and follow them on Twitter at @ThePhoenixAgain  

Once again fellow progheads, seven days have fallen off the calendar faster than Wiley Coyote falls off a cliff.  The prog garden has brought a bumper crop into the barn this season, and the harvest comes from all over the world.  Phoenix Again has given new meaning to the term "Never give up."
I am sure Claudio is smiling and enjoying the great progressive sounds his family has put together. They say the band in heaven performs on a crowded stage; no doubt Claudio is there both as a member and a fan.  My search for all things prog continues...until next week...



Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Not Otherwise Specified

Good evening and welcome to November fellow progheads!  By now you have set the clocks back and are either lamenting the cloak of darkness that now wraps itself around the day an hour earlier, or are excited for the promise of a "wicked" winter season.  Me...I am just happy to continue my search for all things prog.  With the sun getting farther from the equator every day, I set the GPS in the Concert Closet on "south" and headed to one of my old stomping grounds--and a hot bed for latter day neo-prog--Georgia, USA.  This week I invite you, my fellow progheads, to enjoy the sounds of Not Otherwise Specified.

Not Otherwise Specified is self-described as delivering "their own style of progressive rock with a modern aggressive punch."  Ouch!  The band also claims musical inspiration from Dream Theater, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and Spock's Beard...so let's step into the ring and find out if Not Otherwise Specified walks the talk...

The first serving from the prog buffet this week is a song called "Judgment" from the album of the same name.  In typical latter day prog style, the song opens rather ominously and quickly sets a dark tone.  The vocals are razor sharp, cutting through the layers of guitars and drums like a knife through hot butter.  I pick up some top notes of Atomic Rooster and Opeth in this cut; Not Otherwise Specified has no doubt spent some time in the prog garden cultivating the soil and tending the roots. "Judgment" comes right at the listener, splitting the ear channels and daring you to pull the song apart.  A true melange of prog sound--something for everyone.

A return trip to the buffet yields a second helping called "Another Way."  The opening riff lends itself to a macabre Hammond B3 Organ--and then the drums and guitar roll in on a thunderclap to fill in the gaps.  Not Otherwise Specified has a sound that is thought-provoking, deep, loud, and hard-hitting.  The mood may swing toward the dark side, but Not Otherwise Specified has built its stage right in the middle of the prog garden, performing for all to hear.

Liner Notes...Not Otherwise Specified is Craig Kerley--period.  Craig created the "Judgment" album from start to finish...composing each song; writing the lyrics, playing the instruments, doing the arranging, producing, mixing, and making the determination as to when each song is what he envisioned from the outset.  I admit when I first gave Not Otherwise Specified a listen I never suspected a one-man operation...but as with Pekka Karjalainen with Stone Umbrella, there is only one evil genius behind the curtain.  Craig has also done some work with Rodrigo San Martin and if you look at the Not Otherwise Specified Twitter page you will see six musicians...but all signs point to this work being done sans band members.  Personally I am concerned less with who provided the input than I am with the resulting output--and Not Otherwise Specified nails it on the important stuff.

My final plateful from the buffet this week is a tune called "Dance on a Volcano."  As implied by the title, this is a high energy piece.  You feel the guitar and drums building to a climax right from the onset, while the keyboards keep a steady pulse in the background...as if to remind you of the fragility of life.  More of the Opeth-like feel with the vocals, although the strength of the song leans toward Liquid Tension Experiment.  Not Otherwise Specified has walked the width and breadth of the prog garden and it appears Craig is more comfortable in the neo/metal section.  His writing is quite accomplished and the vocals hit a nerve when you focus and listen.  The real strength of Not Otherwise Specified, though, is the way the music surrounds you from the outside and penetrates within.

My choice for your listening pleasure this week was a lot easier than my previous selections, a song called "Falling," from the band's second release.  Staying true to form, this song leaps at you immediately, grabs you by the temples, and never lets you go.  I sense a Dream Theater/Transatlantic vibe here; Not Otherwise Specified once again dabbles with throwing superior sounds into a Hamilton Beach blender and hitting the puree button...the result is a delicious blend of so many mouth-watering parts, that--while great in their own right--are taken to a level extraordinaire in the final concoction. Learn more about Not Otherwise Specified at http://nosband.com/ and try to pick Craig out of the line up on their Twitter page, which you can follow at @NOSpecified

OK fellow progheads, another week of living the dream is in the books.  Not Otherwise Specified is a perfect addition to the prog garden simply because he/they do indeed walk the talk.  The sound is inventive, crisp, and smacks you right between the eyes.  One of the (many) remarkable things about progressive music is its ability to take on an existence of its own and grow.  Not Otherwise Specified has breathed life into a sound that has its own pulse and continues to increase in strength.  Each listen brings something new to light as the music gains momentum.  So with another section of the prog garden in full bloom, I need to find more new growth...until next week...