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Album Review: Glass Hammer – Chronomonaut

 

 

OK, full disclosure. I’m a big fan. So much so I  jumped on a plane a while back to see the band play live in Nashville. And got a tattoo to boot. Albeit not a Glass Hammer one. But that’s another story for another time. The core Glass Hammer line-up now seems to be:

Susie Bogdanowicz  on lead & backing vocals, Fred Schendel on guitars, keyboards and backing vocals, bassist extraordinaire Steve Babb on, er, bass but also keyboards and backing vocals and Aaron Raulston  on the drums. A somewhat different lineup to the one I saw in Nashville, for sure.

Chronomonaut sees the band carrying on Tom’s story from their 2000 album Chronomotree (remastered and only available in a pre-order bundle).

When I reviewed Cor Cordium way back when, I wrote “(A)fter so many top quality albums…then the discerning Glass Hammer fan will have a fair idea of what to expect, and they won’t be disappointed” but that doesn’t quite work here, because, in all seriousness this is a quantum leap forward for the band and, remember, I was a huge fan before. But this is no mere fanboy talk because Glass Hammer have to my mind released one of the finest pieces of American progressive rock music that these hairy old ears have heard in a long, long time. And not just because Matthew Parmenter and Chris Herin of Discipline guest on the record.

Jon Davison has been gone for a while and, as much as I loved the albums featuring his vocals, you couldn’t really counter the criticisms of ‘Yes-Lite’ from people who, for example, weren’t that familiar with the mighty body of work the band released before Jon came on board.

If ever a band were truly ‘progressive’ then it is, to my mind, Glass Hammer. And the only evidence I need is this album. It is so assured, so confident, varied and as such so different from 1993’s Journey of The Dunadan or 1995’s follow-up Perelandra. And it’s so vastly different from their recent work with Jon Davison as to almost be unrecognisable. Although everything you loved about ‘old’ Glass Hammer is still there: the symphonic grandeur, the conceptually dense themes (although for a more paired down experience, and one that foreshadowed this current incarnation do check out 2009’s ‘Three Cheers For The Broken Hearted’).  It is American progressive rock music for the 21st Century. Production-wise it is a masterpiece of restraint compared to the histrionics of earlier work and throughout there’s the inspired bass playing of Steve Babb. Really. You have to listen to this on headphones although to be fair Fred Schendel is no slouch on the piano either.

Things start off all quiet and piano-y, showcasing the talent that is Fred Schendel before it gets all proggy, sweeping guitar riffs courtesy of Chris Herin of Tiles fame. And we’re singing of Elf Kings. Albeit with lovely harmonies and more than a Buck Dharma vibe to Babb’s singing. There’s a groovy, big swing daddio vibe to the track eventually  with horns and synth washes before Mr Babb repays my faith in the bass department.

In case you were in any doubt that Glass Hammer have drawn a line in the sand and staked their claim as one of the finest progressive rock bands not just in America there’s even a track called ‘The Past is Past’ (of which more below) so if you were expecting songs about hobbits and whatnot step away now. Favourite tracks include ‘It Always Burns Sideways’, and not just because it reminds me of Mike’s urinary tract infection. No, but because it’s a joyous piece of symphonic power prog. Blinding Light has trumpets. Which is nice. Epic ‘The Past is Past’ (10 minutes give or take) caresses with warm jazzy vibes and Hammond loveliness before descending into Parmenter-infused melancholy and saxophonic discordance.

The other epic track, if you will,  is album closer ‘Fade Away’, at 10 minutes give or take it’s a cinematic masterpiece and a primer on how to pace, orchestrate and produce modern progressive rock music. American or otherwise. The always wonderful Susie Bogdanowicz shares vocal duties with Matthew Parmenter and as such it’s an unalloyed delight, with Banksian keyboard flourishes from Schendel and wonderful guitar phrasing from Chris Herin. As might be expected from the album closer it all builds to a magnificent climax. It’s Supper’s Ready with better vocal harmonies, and I’ve already set fire to the curtains and set off the smoke detector raising my lighter in the air.

So yes. I’m a fan. And I’ve been one for a long time. That notwithstanding I think this is easily as good as Chronometree. Perhaps a tad better, given the wonderful production and guest artistes. So it’s fair to say, I think, that Chronomonaut is the best album Glass Hammer have ever made. So I’ll say that.

Track list:

1. The Land of Lost Content (1:54)
2. Roll for Initiative (7:43)
3. Twilight of the Godz (8:13)
4. The Past is Past (9:56)
5. 1980 Something (5:51)
6. A Hole in the Sky (4:49)
7. Clockwork (2:17)
8. Melancholy Holiday (4:27)
9. It Always Burns Sideways (5:49)
10. Blinding Light (6:01)
11. Tangerine Meme (3:05)
12. Fade Away (10:27)

 

www.glasshammer.com

It’s not AmericanProg. But…

So yes I’ve voted.
When I was reviewing for DPRP way back when I had a 15 second rule. I’d play 15 seconds of each track, then forward to the next to get a flavour of the record and decide whether I ‘liked’ it. Because, and to be brutally frank, so much of what we got sent was by Porcupine Thief, Pineapple Beard, Dream Tree and Spock Theater clones as to really not warrant much interest. And certainly not pronouncements that they were ‘masterpieces’ and ‘contenders for album of the year’ as I read so much now.
I got to the point where I felt ‘new music’ was overwhelming the good, nay excellent material that for whatever reason people might have missed from a few months, a year or longer ago. Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s fish and chip papers and all that. Except those pesky Europeans no longer allow us to wrap our food in packaging materials that may have been used as cat litter or bin liners.
Decent – to my ears at least – music got downtrodden and largely forgotten by virtue only of the fact that it was released in one month and not the next. This apathy led to the end of some bands I think that if they were around now would be superstars insofar as there are such things in the progressive rock community. I can think of Pure Reason Revolution and Spiraling to name but two.
We do a disservice, I feel, to some artists by building them up so much that they honestly believe they are the ‘next big thing’. And then they get upset when they attract a handful of folk to their CD release party at a boozer in Walthamstow. Or Williamsburg. And half of those attending are family members. Now I know they can always massage their egos by paying to play on cruises and festivals and the like but my point is this:
The new Anderson/Stolt is over 9 minutes in already and there’s no way I’m fast-forwarding this. Not a chance in heck.
And I don’t want to sound rude but I’m not angling for loads of people posting as to whether they like the record or not. As I pointed out to someone recently it’s not your level of insight or erudition I’m bothered about. It’s whether I like the record. Sure, it’s no Blue Oyster Cult (I’m still at a loss as to how to get the umlaut above the O) but then what is?
For those folks wondering as to whether to buy it or not I’ll be spinning a track or two on forthcoming Not The AmericanProg Shows. So have a listen. And make your own mind up. But make sure you do.

635937958856657655

New Show on Sunday 22nd May

Hope you can tune in to the next show this Sunday at 8pm here in the UK, on progzilla.com and the TuneIn app, featuring music by:

Dixie Dregs
Thank You Scientist
Tristan Park
Iluvatar
Salem Hill
King’s X
Magellan
Spock’s Beard
Glass Hammer
World Trade
Toy Matinee
Suzanne Vega
echolyn
Buck Dharma
The Mercury Tree
The Yellow Box

3rdegree – Ones & Zeros vol.1

This review is proudly brought to you by our sponsor, Valhalla Biotech.

Valhalla Biotech and You: A Singular Relationship.

OAZ-cover-FINAL-SQUAREsmall

 

Whilst 3rdegree may have passed under the radar for a few of you, then thankfully things started to change for them three years or so back with the release of their 4th album, The Long Division. The band was formed by Robert James Pashman back in the 90s (remember them?) and they released the excellent Human Interest Story in 1996. I had bought their 2008 album Narrow-Caster based on a review by Ron Faulkner, who gave the album a resounding 9 out of 10, drawing parallels with the work of echolyn and Izz. Ron had this to say: “Try to imagine a grown-up 10cc, with the pop and quirky elements dialed down a good few notches, and with a hybrid of Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and Roger Taylor (of Queen fame) on vocals, and you’re part-way to imagining the sound of this band. Sprinkle in some funk and soul, and a little late night smoky blues bar, and you’re getting even closer”. New record Ones & Zeros vol.1 maintains of course that funky, bluesy vibe courtesy of the amazing George Dobbs’ vocals, but adds a whole other layer of progressive rock goodness courtesy of, amongst other things, the bona-fide epics and my ‘Track of the Year’ contenders The Gravity and the Life suite (Life, Life At Any Cost and More Life).

 

As far as I can tell the new album (available only digitally on the 10T site at the moment until the official release date on August 18th) is garnering universal praise on the interweb. And having listened to not much else for the past month or so I can see why. Much has been made of it as a ‘concept’ album but before you run off thinking of wizards and floating mountains all that means is that it is a record that demands to be played all the way through, in the order that the artists intended. None of this shuffle nonsense. I played quite a few tracks on the AmericanProg radio show over on progzilla.com and excellent as the songs are, in hindsight I feel that something was lost in terms of the flow and the overall ‘feel’ of the material. There are some superb narrative segues interspersed throughout, charting the all-encompassing and insidious reach of Valhalla Biotech in the dystopian, cyber-future posited by the album’s overarching concept. In fact I think that this has got some of the smartest lyrics you’ll ever hear but what will ensure it vies for attention come the year-end cavalcade of ‘Album of the Year’ lists is the combination with the music that ties it all together. I spoke with Pat Kliesch a while back and he gave me a little insight into the track We Regret To Inform You – he and I both love the album Gangs by And So I Watch You From Afar (it was he who recommended it to me in fact) and he advised that the song almost started out as an homage to their style. It subsequrently morphed, however, with lots of extra layers and spoken VO. Such is the musical petri-dish the band delves into. Now as much as I loved The Long Division – and I did after all rate it 9/10, when I reviewed it for a website back in the day – with this album I think that 3rdegree have released a genre-defining piece of work. Up there with some of the seminal American progressive rock releases of this or any other decade. And there’s a second part coming too. Which according to guitarist Pat Kliesch should be out late next year and which includes an epic 15-20 minute long piece to end the album. Starting with the production (which is full, rich and hugely rounded), the song writing, the concept, the lyrics and the playing I find this so much more fulfilling. Which is saying a lot, given how good TLD was and which has me salivating for 2016’s vol.2

 

If the overtly political message of TLD was perhaps lost on you then the message of Ones & Zeros vol.1 will be much more accessible and I venture that you will be hard-pressed to listen to a better record all year. It is masterfully melodic, symphonic in places but angular and more urgent when it needs to be. There are no show-off solos but check out the keyboards and guitar in Circuit Court. Musically the sound is all 3rdegree but if you held a gun to my head I’d say that you can hear First-Wave of Prog things on the album that will quite easily appeal immensely if you are a fan of Rush, Genesis and King Crimson. Be in no doubt though that this is a 21st Century progressive rock album. The best bands don’t sound like anyone else but respectfully pay homage here and there. So it is with 3rdegree. The standout track for me is More Life but I prefer to think of it as Part 3 of the Life Suite. As I’ve touched on already George Dobbs’ voice is wonderfully evocative but when combined with the harmonic backing vocals and string arrangements it’s an incredibly cinematic piece, and a crowd-pleaser when they play it live to be sure. The opening becomes the close. The end is the beginning.

 

I definitely think that it is an album to be listened to on headphones. Get the highest quality download you can, or better still the CD and with the right kit you’ll be amazed at the sonic quality. Whatever format you listen to it on, though, you’ll be blown away. Not one filler track ensures it is one of the most ‘complete’ albums you will have in your collection. The CD package is pretty cool, too. With art by Aleksandr V. Kouznetsov. Eric did the design and layout.

 

Fans are going to get a chance to see them in the States and in Europe soon and I strongly urge you to try and get along to a show. I’ll see you at Leicester and Summer’s End. I may or may not be wearing a hat.

 

Tour Dates:

 

September 12, 2015 Bestbar New York, NY (w/John Galgano, Yellow Box, PiXPRNC, Anton Roolaart)

September 20, 2015 ‘t Blok Nieuwerkerk A/D IJssel NETHERLANDS

September 24, 2015 das Rind Rüsselsheim, GERMANY (w/Neo Prophet)

Sep 26 Le Baroc Paris FRANCE
September 27, 2015
The Talking Heads Southampton, UNITED KINGDOM (w/Credo & Introitus)

September 29, 2015 The Musician Leicester, UNITED KINGDOM (w/Credo & Introitus)

September 30, 2015 The Bedford London, UNITED KINGDOM (w/Credo & Introitus)

October 3, 2015        Summer’s End Festival Chepstow, Wales, UK (w/Pallas & others)

October 17, 2015      Orion Sound Studios Baltimore, MD

October 24, 2015      XO Lounge Philadelphia, PA (w/Orpheus Nine & TBA)

October 24, 2015      The Gagliarchives NJ (live radio appearance)

 

 

Tracklist:

 

  1. Hello, World! (0:15)
  2. The Gravity (7:50)
  3. This Is the Future (4:28)
  4. Life (2:38)
  5. The Best & Brightest (4:05)
  6. Circuit Court (5:10)
  7. Life at Any Cost (7:58)
  8. What It Means to Be Human (5:30)
  9. We Regret to Inform You (5:22)
  10. More Life (5:33)

 

 

Personnel:

 

George Dobbs – lead vocals, keyboards, percussion

Robert James Pashman – bass, keyboards, backing vocals

Patrick Kliesch – electric guitars, acoustic 6-string guitars, backing vocals, synth

Eric Pseja – electric guitars, 12-string acoustic guitars, backing vocals, voice of Valhalla Customer Service Agent (1, 3, 9)

Aaron Nobel – drums, percussion

Bryan Zeigler – electric guitars, backing vocals

 

 

Record label: 10T – http://10trecords.com/store/3rdegree-ones-zeros-vol-1/

 

Website: http://www.3rdegreeonline.com/3RDegree/Home.html

 

26 years later, and still just getting started…

Ahead of a review of the new echolyn album, i heard you listening, here’s everything you ever needed to know about the band. But were afraid to ask…

 

echolyn’s musical style, progressive in the truest sense of the word, defies any one musical categorization and yet all their albums have achieved critical acclaim from around the globe as they continue to release new music.

 

echolyn started in the late 1980’s when Brett Kull, Raymond Weston, and Paul Ramsey played in a cover band named Narcissus; however in 1988 that band disbanded as the members tired of playing cover tunes.

 

A year later Christopher Buzby joined Kull and Ramsey to form echolyn, making a conscious decision to focus entirely on original music. Weston soon returned to the band and they began recording the eponymous CD “echolyn” in 1990. Jesse Reyes covered bass duties until Thomas Hyatt joined the band permanently during the recording process of this first studio album.

 

echolyn” was released independently on their own Bridge Records label and the first pressing sold out quickly. The CD was even a sought-after collector’s item for a while, fetching high $$’s on several internet auction sites. echolyn was indeed a welcome addition of new, unique and challenging music in a generally lean time for progressive rock music.

 

In 1992 the band released “suffocating the bloom“, now regarded by many as an early ’90s progressive rock classic. The album honed echolyn’s trademark two-and three-part vocal harmonies with tight, angular and contrapuntal instrumental musicianship, and featured the 25-minute opus “A Suite for the Everyman.” Lyrically “suffocating the bloom” deals with the loss of childhood innocence and idealism.

 

In the spring of 1993 the band released a 4-song unplugged mini-CD “­…and every blossom,” however it was “suffocating the bloom” that attracted the attention of executives at major label Sony Music/Epic Records, and the band signed a multi-album deal in the summer of 1993, tied to the release of their next full-length album on Sony/Epic/550 Music.

 

During this time period echolyn performed live extensively, playing sold-out shows throughout the Philadelphia region, most notably at the Ambler, 23 East and Chestnut Cabarets and at the Theater of the Living Arts on South Street in Philadelphia, as well and a featured set at a progressive rock music festival (ProgFest ’94) in Los Angeles, CA, just prior to the release of their own Sony/Epic/550 Music album debut.

 

A major label deal would not corrupt echolyn’s musical ambitions. “as the world” was, and is, an uncompromising piece of echolyn’s musical output. Recorded in Nashville, TN in the spring of 1994, the album was released in March of 1995 to critical acclaim as it broke down musical and lyrical stereotypes, making honest and artistic statements about conformity, coupled with the plight of being human.

At the time, many spoke of echolyn as the best chance for wider mainstream acceptance of progressive music, however Sony maddeningly refused to support touring, echolyn’s best way to reach new ears and their musical lifeblood, and thus marked the beginning of the end to echolyn’s short-lived major label career. The band headlined the inaugural ProgDay Festival in North Carolina in September 1995, without label support, and shortly thereafter were dropped by Sony. Hyatt and Buzby next left the band, and after over 250 live shows and 4 studio album releases, echolyn had seemingly met its end.

 

A posthumous fifth album recording entitled “when the sweet turns sour,” was released on SynPhonic and Cyclops, GFT in 1996. This CD consisted of working demos of unreleased new songs, an acoustic version of “Meaning and the Moment,” a cover of “Where the Sour Turns to Sweet” originally arranged and recorded for a Genesis tribute album, and live tracks from the ProgDay ‘95 show in North Carolina.

 

The members of echolyn, however, remained very active in music…

Kull, Ramsey, and Weston formed Still, which released “Always Almost” in 1996, focusing on song-writing in a hard-rock format with a powerful, melodic approach. Re-named Always Almost, the same trio released “God Pounds His Nails” in 1997, which featured a Gentle Giant cover of “Aspirations.” Both of these recordings were released on Georgia-based Pleasant Green Records. Kull and Ramsey also started recording and touring as session musicians with the major-label folk-rock group Grey Eye Glances on both studio albums & live shows/tours.

 

Meanwhile Buzby formed a new band named finneus gauge with several other musicians, including his brother Jonn on drums, and released two albums of intricate jazz-fusion influenced progressive rock, “more once more” (1997) and “one inch of the fall” (1999) to worldwide critical acclaim. Keyboard magazine picked “more once more” as “One of the Top 5 Records of 1997” in an editor’s poll, while Guitar World recognized finneus gauge as “One of the 10 Best in the Current Progressive Rock Underground” in 1998.

 

In the spring of 2000, 4/5ths of echolyn reunited and released a brand new collection of 10 songs and their first studio album in over four years, titled “cowboy poems free.” The line-up featured original members Buzby, Kull, Ramsey, and Weston, along with new drummer and percussionist Jordan Perlson, a student of Buzby’s at the time. echolyn played a couple of live shows in support of “cowboy poems free,” most notably the stifling-hot and jam-packed NEARfest pre-show in 2000 in Allentown, PA.

echolyn retired again to the studio after the summer of 2000 to begin meticulous work on their next album titled “mei,” released in June of 2002. Always striving for the next challenge and musical adventure, “mei” is the most diverse echolyn recording to date. Featuring several guest musicians on timpani, marimba, vibraphone, clarinet, flute, violin and cello, and clocking in at just under 50 minutes in length, “mei” is echolyn’s modern day version of a symphonic tone poem.

 

Following the success of “mei,” echolyn decided to take the current live show on the road for a few shows in Philly, Baltimore, Canada and Boston. Following a positive worldwide reception to “mei,” the band also decided it was time to truly empty the vaults and give the newer fans everything they had been looking for + old fans and completists all of the non-released tracks and out-takes from years past.

 

Thus “a little nonsense: now and then” was born. Released in December of 2002, the box set included the entire re-masters of echolyn’s debut album, “­and every blossom” and “when the sweet turns sour.” The release of this box set finally, and officially, closed the door on the first 13 years of echolyn. It also included the return of Tom Hyatt as guest bassist for a few live shows, followed by Tom’s official return to the band in the fall of 2003.

 

At this point in their career echolyn still did not have one thing on their resume: a “live” album. It was finally time for an official live bootleg album “The Jersey Tomato.” Released as a 2-CD limited-edition pressing, it sold out before the actual CDs and jewel cases were even ready for shipping. Featuring 13 live echolyn tunes, and a powerful, complete band version of “mei” (without the chamber orchestra), this release was recorded at a show echolyn performed at The Jersey ProgHouse in September of 2002.

 

Always looking for the next challenge, echolyn also began planning work in a new medium. During 2003 the band played several live shows in Baltimore, Quebec, Lowell, MA and Pennsylvania, the latter being filmed for a DVD release. In 2004 production took place on “Stars and Gardens,” which contained film footage of live echolyn from the previous year plus a video documentary spanning the band’s entire career. Released on September 7, 2004, the DVD finally lets fans outside the USA see the band on stage and in the studio. With positive reviews coming in from around the world, the DVD further promotes the success of a one-of-a-kind American band that continues to defy the odds and push the boundaries of original progressive rock music.

 

Brett Kull’s solo album releases, “Orange-ish Blue” (2002) and “The Last of the Curlews” (2008), plus Ray Weston’s ”This is My Halo” (2003) are further proof that the originality and musical output from the members of echolyn is never done, nor complete. All three solo album releases were heralded by music fans from around the world as bold, necessary, and musical steps forward for both Brett and Ray.

 

With the re-release of the album “as the world” in July 2005, along with a companion DVD of the band performing many selections from “as the world,” filmed in Michigan just 2 days before the original March of 1995 album release, the band completed and released a brand new album titled ”The End Is Beautiful” – an urban, angular, somewhat back-to-basics, rock album on August 23, 2005 – followed immediately by the band’s first-ever European tour in early September of 2005.

 

With 9 shows in 6 countries over 15 days, the European tour was wildly successful in that the band not only did all their own leg-work in lining up the shows, tour bus, venues and cartage/gear, but actually more-than-broke-even financially – proving once again their DIY approach to writing, releasing and promoting their own music and tours still has its benefits. With many new friends and fans across the pond – and actual faces to place with e-mail addresses – echolyn came home tired, but fulfilled, from another bucket-list adventure. The tour even inspired the band to write a new song, “15 Days,” which was exclusively featured on the Hurricane Katrina survivor benefit album, “After the Storm.”

 

Seven long years would next unfold with the band working on-and-off to release another studio album and playing brilliant shows in North America. With multiple false-starts and release dates, the band eventually realized that this next set of songs would, and could, only be released when it was time…and time it took.

 

Finally, in the winter of 2012, all the right songs, arrangements and recorded tracks fell-into-place to create a new double-CD (and limited-pressing double vinyl release) titled eponymously, just like their debut album: echolyn. This beautifully melodic, mature and introspective set of 8 songs best captures echolyn doing what they do best – writing songs about life and living life – an ever-important reminder to the band members why echolyn was formed back in September of 1989 in the first place: to create truly honest and original music together. With album sales over 30,000 copies to date, this 2012 album release, lovingly titled “the windowpane album” by fans, continues to leave its mark in the music world with introspective, moving song lyrics, lush and powerful music, coupled with intimate and sparse, musical arrangements.

 

Which brings us to the here, and the now: the same band just getting started again and creating more, once more:

On July 31, 2015 echolyn will release a brand new and powerful musical statement titled

i heard you listening” – 9 new stories of life – delivered with a musical and lyrical sensibility that is still echolyn. Music written to be both heard and felt, echolyn has hit a new stride for their musical future with an album that is, for them, another giant step forward. echolyn hopes to hear you listening…

From the vault: Mars Hollow – World In Front Of Me

 

This review first appeared on DPRP in 2011

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Tracklist: Walk On Alone (12:31), Voices (6:23), Weapon (6:52), What Have I Done (5:56), Mind Over Matter (2:27), Prelude (1:48), World In Front Of Me (11:18)

You’ve got to admire bands that play and record music they actually like. Because they, well, like it. And not because they think it’ll sell by the crate load, not because they think it’s ‘hip’ or the next big thing. Such bands will never be wealthy, at least not in terms of dollars or pounds. But artistically they are rich beyond dreams of avarice. And I for one am glad they continue to follow their own particular muse. In my own little way, by buying music by bands like The Underground Railroad, Discipline, Iluvatar, Starcastle, Spiraling, Fluttr Effect, Little Atlas, Echolyn, and dozens of others I have been making my own little stand for, and paying my own little homage to integrity and honesty for quite a few years now.

My DPRP resume made much of my penchant for American third wave progressive rock music. Well, we’re surfing the fourth wave now and that love continues unabated.

And I’ve got a new band to add to the list. Mars Hollow had their debut reviewed on DPRP, and it scored a good solid, if not a ‘recommended’, rating but, horses for courses, had I been reviewing back then and – given my love of all things American – it would have gleaned at least another point. Indeed, fellow DPRP-er Alex Torres gave the debut 5 out of 5 on Sea Of Tranquillity:

Wow! At last! I’ve been waiting four months for a 2010 release to really grab my interest and, finally, it has arrived in the form of this absolutely splendiferous debut album from Mars Hollow! An album without fault: music that is at once complex, brilliantly played and yet melodic and catchy! Music! Hurrah!
It’s definitely one worth adding to your collection if you like any of the bands I’ve mentioned, or for that matter Rush, Yes, King Crimson, Gentle Giant, Genesis, ELP or Kansas. And, let’s face it, who doesn’t?

Produced and mixed by Billy Sherwood no less (Yes, Circa:, World Trade), and mastered by producer David Javu Morse (David Bowie, Alice In Chains, Frank Zappa) this new one is a must-buy. I’ve only had the mp3 to listen to, and up until recently I’ve been playing it (pretty much constantly) in the car and on the alienware laptop. However, I’ve just got a cool little sandisk cruzer usb thingie, tiny as you like, and made of plastic, for transporting tunes into the car without having to burn CDs. So, I’ve dragged and dropped The World In Front Of Me onto it.

And, I’ve now got some What Hi-Fi award winning Denon kit, with usb, and some Q acoustic 2010 speakers with some seriously good cabling.

This record sounds amazing – the production is a thing of beauty. Probably the best I’ve heard for a non-mainstream release. The musicianship, songs and overall vibe – of some guys about my age tearing it up and playing music they love – is wondrous to behold.

There’s been a massive buzz about this record, and the band’s live performances (including a stunning set at RosFest), all over the progressive rock t’interweb for some time, and once you pop this thing into your quality listening platform of choice you’ll know why. They’ve recently been interviewed on Sea Of Tranquillity, and, signed to 10T Records, their star is most definitely in the ascendancy.

Mars Hollow is; John Baker (Lead Guitar and Lead Vocals), Steve Mauch (Keys and Vocals), Kerry Chicoine (Bass and Lead Vocals) and Jerry Beller (Drums and Vocals) and between them they’ve recorded what for me is the touchstone of American fourth wave progressive rock music – the standard by which all else will be judged. The bar’s been set ridiculously high, but don’t think we’re dealing with coked-out complacent rock musos:

So far everything has been funded out of our own pockets but it all adds up and we’re reaching a point where we have to take a step back and ask, “Can we afford to continue to do this at this level?”
John Baker’s vocals are heavily reminiscent of Glenn McLaughlin of (personal favourite) Iluvatar but elsewhere he’s been compared to a cross between Jon Anderson and Geddy Lee. Kerry Chicoine is your new favourite bass player (who has an amazing Chris Squire/Geddy Lee/Les Claypool thing going on), who combines with Jerry Beller to lay down a fantastically beefy bottom end for the marauding keys and fantastically fluid and perfectly syncopated guitar work of Steve Mauch and Baker himself respectively.

Some more astute readers of this site may have noticed that many of our reviews go in for a ‘track by track’ approach. Well, I’ve listened to this thing about thirty times now, and all I’ll say is this – listen to the 12 minute opener Walk On Alone on any legal streaming site, or better still 10T Records ~ Mars Hollow page. Once heard, it’s ‘add to cart’ time. This is one of the very best American symphonic progressive rock albums I’ve heard, and the last time I said that (for my naïve debut review) I gave a 10. Now, I know how much my DPRP colleagues gnash their gums and get, frankly, violent whenever a 10 is given out so I shall, as I always have, be guided by my DPRP reviewing guide: Brilliant, one of my top 5 of the year.

I and Thou – Speak

201235iandthou

This review first appeared on the DPRP website in 2012, and is reproduced ahead of recently announced new music by Jason.

Tracklist: Speak (12:19), …And I Awaken (11:31), Hide And Seek (16:31), The Face Behind The Eyes (13:35), Go Or Go Ahead (6:43)

2012 has been a fantastic year for progressive rock music, and American prog in particular is in especially good health, with recent releases by Discipline, Glass Hammer, Echolyn and Izz. Fans of the latter should definitely take note of this new release by I And Thou – a band project formed by Jason Hart, keyboardist with Renaissance. More of the reasons for that in a moment…

Jason, as you might expect, plays all the keyboards but he also takes on lead vocal duties. He plays a ton of other stuff too: percussion, glockenspiel, trumpet, guitar and sound effects. Suffice to say, then, he’s an extremely talented lad. His vocals are a revelation, perfectly suited to the pastoral, symphonic prog on offer and his keyboard playing, apart from being fantastic, is highly reminiscent of Tony Banks.

As if this wasn’t enough, he’s brought in a few friends from Izz as guest players. John Galgano plays bass, Paul Bremner plays guitar and Laura Meade adds backing vocals. Most of the guitar work is handled by Jack Petruzzelli (Patti Smith) and Matt Johnson (Jeff Buckley, Rufus Wainwright) plays drums. The third track, face behind the eyes features Keren Ann and a certain Mr Hogarth appears on the bonus track, a cover of Rufus Wainwright’s Go Or Go Ahead.

Musically this is a melodic, symphonic prog fan’s dream, with four epic pieces in addition to the cover tune. Think Genesis circa Wind And Wuthering or A Trick Of The Tail and you won’t go far wrong. There’s a strong Izz influence too, as you might imagine and all in all this is up there with the best of the year for me. In addition to the Izz-inspired elements here we’ve got a tranquil, soaring beauty to the music, very pastoral, very symphonic, very English. It’s beautifully produced too (by Jason Hart) achieving sonic peaks through a gradual build up, and layering, of instrumentation and not just by turning up the volume to 11.

Title track speak kicks things off, and is typical of what is to come, with haunting piano over which Hart’s fragile vocals are laid. Keyboard and guitar become gently intertwined before percussive elements build and typically Banksian keyboard sounds give a distinctive, One For The Vine vibe to the tune before a harder-edged swirling synth pattern takes over. The layering of instrumentation begins from this point, propelling the melodic elements ever forward to the inevitable, perfectly paced climax and denouement. I’d go so far to say that this is better than anything Genesis have done since And Then There Were Three.

Paul Bremner lays down some guitar solos in Hide And Seek and (personal favourite) The Face Behind The Eyes that are, in my humble opinion, as good as anything he’s done with Izz.

All four long pieces dovetail perfectly, hewn from the same cloth but each adding different rhythmic elements, melodies and textures. Overall they give the impression of comprising four sections of one longer suite before the Rufus Wainwright cover go or go ahead featuring Steve Hogarth on vocals. H is on top form, and the song, which I wasn’t familiar with, is quite simply, beautiful.

Now I’ve seen the album described elsewhere as ‘beautiful’ and you know what? They were right. Not only that, but the cover art, by Annie Haslam is perfectly suited to the material and overall it’s a lovely package. No lyrics, however, but that’s a minor irritation when the quality of the disc contained within is so strong.

Fans of Genesis, Izz or Hogarth are going to be in seventh heaven. And for me? Well, yet another American prog CD has made it into my top ten (it’s too good a year to just have a top 5). It truly is a great time to be a fan of progressive rock music, don’t you think?