Review – Cosmograf – When Age Has Done Its Duty (2018 remix) – by Progradar

In the sleeve notes for the comprehensive new package that comes with this remix of Cosmograf’s 2011 critically acclaimed release ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, Robin Armstrong writes,

“I sometimes think about all the people I once knew that are now gone and I very much struggle to come to terms with their collective struggles, joys and achievements in life coming to an end. It’s an enduring theme in a lot of what I write. I decided some time back that it would be a tragedy to leave a life with no legacy left behind and it’s a driving force for me to leave as much music as I can with the hope that someone will remember…”

Robin is the man behind Cosmograf and is an extraordinary musical storyteller. His involving concepts and often personal historical narratives take you, the listener, directly to the centre of the story and envelop you in a whole gamut of emotions, all invoked by his remarkable songwriting.

Following the brilliant ‘The Hay Man Dreams’, released last year, Robin has taken it upon himself to revisit ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ to completely remix and master it and, in his own words,

“…address some of the issues that were less than perfect on the original recording. Many of the original guitar, bass and vocal parts have been re-recorded, new string arrangements added and a more dynamic low volume level master produced…”

I’ll confess, I have never heard ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ before so I can’t give a ‘before and after’ review but, as a big fan of Cosmograf, I’ll tell you what I think of this release as a whole.

The concept of the album is based around Robin’s personal experiences as a boy, visiting his Auntie Mollie and Uncle Harry at their home, Pear Tree Cottage, in a tiny village called Cleobury North in rural Shropshire and he has expanded the concept to cover the emotions and experiences we feel through the ageing process from birth to death. The stunning, original artwork is done by Graeme Bell.

Into This World is a an eleven minute piece that sets the scene with ‘Birth’ as the theme and is instantly recognisable to any fan as a Cosmograf track. Slow building and slow burning with a fragile piano note and Robin’s distincive vocal, the clever lyrics are used to convey the hopes, fears and aspirations that follow the bringing of a child into the world. A powerful and edgy song where the stylish drums of Bob Dalton are used to very good effect. As always, this excellent musician has you gripped from the first note with a moody and atmospheric song that asks questions and, while there is always a feeling of venturing into the unknown, deep down it is hope and optimism that is at the core. The elegant bass of Steve Dunn joins us for Blacksmith’s Hammer, a tribute to his Uncle Harry who worked the forge, shoeing horses right up to his death, age 73 in 1987. It’s an uplifting piece of music, an ode to a modest life where simple pleasures (like smoking a pipe) were enjoyed to their full. An almost spiritual song, there’s a superb (if short) guitar solo that burns with a humble honesty and the lyrics literally describe his demise; he sat back from shoeing a horse and drew his last breath.

Written about Pear Tree Cottage, a special place in Robin’s childhood, On Which We Stand was originally a poem which he wrote to read at his Aunt’s funeral and has become the lyrics to this beautiful song. A wistful and nostalgic opening courtesy of Simon Rogers’ guitar opens into a sublime vocal where Robin reminisces of all the happy times he had in the cottage, the games and the fond memories of he pastimes that made it such a wonderful place. Sit and listen to the words, let the music wash over you and you can almost imagine being there, a sentimental musical journey down memory lane. An old light switch that Robin remembers triggers flashbacks to previous memories and dramas, this is the essence of Bakelite Switch, sounds or smells we experience that snap you back to a previous event in time. On my first listen to the album, this was one of the songs that immediately stood out, the compelling , almost mysterious opening that erupts into a forceful and dynamic guitar riff catches your ear straight away. Bob’s drums drive the track along and you’re hooked as soon as Robin’s vocal begins, “We had electric light in the 70’s, flick the heavy switch, lights up all our lives.” A very involving song that speaks about the novelty of going back to a house that is very much ‘back in time’ and the emotive guitar solo from Luke Machin combines with some swirling keyboards to add even more drama to the visceral memories that Robin is invoking.

Huw Lloyd-Jones adds a poignant vocal to the emotive background of Memory Lost. The song is about an old lady battling on as best as she could after the death of a partner, and living alone with her memories. The title referring to hanging on to the only thing you have left when someone dies…your memory of them. A pared back and sincere track that really hits you hard and makes a mark on your heart and soul, a single tear rolls down my cheek as I listen to the intensity of Huw’s voice, Robin adding a wonderful harmony. I challenge you not to be moved by this seven minutes of Robin trapping history so he would never lose the detail as the years passed, the guitar solo that closes the song is just superb. Documenting Mollie’s last days at the cottage, title track When Age Has Done Its Duty opens with a wonderful recital of ‘Growing Old’ by Tom O’Bedlam spoken over an eloquent piano and keyboards and then Steve Thorne lends his stirring vocals to this bitter-sweet tale. In the 20 years after harry’s death, Mollie always seemed to just be waiting to be with him and in the days leading to her death she just huddled against the Rayburn in the kitchen refusing to eat or move. A sad but elegant song that documents the passing of this proud woman. Robin’s songwriting skills really come to the fore on this track and his choice of Steve Thorne as the vocalist is perfect, the pathos and sentiment he brings to every word is perfect. Just when your emotions are as strung out as you think they can be, Robin fires another stupendous guitar solo at you, leaving you utterly drained.

White Light Awaits takes on the question that has been asked through the ages, what happens after you die? Written as if Robin was having an ethereal conversation with Mollie, asking her what it was like to die and did she experience anything after death. Being a devout Methodist, she would have been appalled by this idea. There’s a bitter, angry tone to the song and the edgy guitar of Lee Abraham adds to the almost cynical, questing tone of Robin’s vocals. Drums are, this time, provided by Dave Ware and their dynamic feel just adds to the challenging aura. The album closes with the heartwarming Dog on the Clee, an inspring song which tells the story of Robin forging a privileged bond with Mollie’s Border Collie ‘Laddie’, a dog that didn’t really like many people at all. The graceful acoustic guitar and Robin’s ethereal vocal bringing a sense of wonder and inspiration to the final chapter in this utterly captivating story.

It may have been originally released in 2011 but this completely remixed and mastered version of ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ feels as fresh as if it was recorded yesterday. Possibly the most emotional journey that Cosmograf has ever taken me on, I feel it is Robin at his most open, a wonderfully involving musical journey with a narrative very close to his heart. There’s nothing quite like a Cosmograf album and this could possibly be the best of them all.

Released 26th January 2018

When Age Has Done Its Duty CD (2018 Remix Edition) -PREORDER

Oh, and for vinyl fans like me, there will be a vinyl release later in 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

Vinyl Review – Cosmograf – The Hay Man Dreams – by Progradar

“I am careful not to confuse excellence with perfection. Excellence, I can reach for; perfection is God’s business.”
― Michael J. Fox

Surely every musician strives for perfection on every new record that they are working on but perfection cannot be attainable otherwise what else could they seek to achieve? When you follow an artist across their album releases you accompany them on this journey to a perceived nirvana of musical enlightenment, every release opening another door into their soul for clearly that is what every musician leaves with their music, a piece of themselves?

Robin Armstrong is the man behind the highly respected musical project Cosmograf, the Cosmograf sound is rooted in 70’s classic rock with a contemporary and progressive twist with obvious influences from classic progressive rock such as Pink Floyd, Yes and Genesis, but with more contemporary flavours from bands such as Porcupine Tree, Muse, and Radiohead.

Cosmograf albums are built around concepts – Conceptual Progressive Rock allows the freedom to span genres, stop and start in different tempos, with the inclusion of relevant soundscapes and effects to build the story.  This creates a musical freedom far beyond the commercial rules and constraints of a disposable 3 minute pop song.

Robin’s musical odyssey began in 2008 with a rough demo called “Freed from the Anguish” and ‘End of Ecclesia’ which was self released in 2009. The break-through release that really brought Cosmograf to the music industry’s notice was ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’, released in 2011 and the quality and excellence never let up through 2013’s ‘The Man Left In Space’, 2014’s ‘Capacitor’ and last years superb ‘The Unreasonable Silence’, a release where many thought Robin had actually reached his musical zenith.

However, an artist with the talent and imagination of Robin Armstrong can’t sit on their hands and, despite health problems (thankfully resolved now), Robin has returned with another Cosmograf release ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ which, for the first time, will be released on vinyl through Chris Topham’s Plane Groovy label.

A retrospective album in both theme and style, ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ harks back to the sound and feel of the classic prog era fused with the raw energy and darkness of a rock behemoth. The 6 track album is measured at a single LP length and instrumentally delivers the vintage sound of guitar, bass and drums with a sprinkling of classic keyboards.

The theme presents as a mythical tale of a farm labourer meeting an early death, and leaving a loving wife and young family. His widow builds a scarecrow effigy as a shrine to her loss, and this ‘Hay-Man’ spends his weather beaten days in eternity, dreaming beyond his field.

The new album features guest performances from Rachael Hawnt (The Beautiful Secret), Kyle Fenton (These Septic Stars), Matt Stevens (The Fierce and the Dead), Rachel Hall (Big Big Train) and former BBC Voiceover artist David Allan.

It’s great to see an album that was conceived to be a vinyl release from the outset, the packaging is excellent, as I’ve come to expect from Plane Groovy, and you get that frisson of excitement as you remove it from the shrinkwrap and take the slipcase and liner notes out of the sleeve. The singular artwork is very impressive and really stands out. Time to take it out of the slipcase, put it on the record deck and lower the needle…

“I’m tethered and bound to the earth today
It’s hard to walk free when you’re made of hay
Tethered and bound to the earth I say
Nothing to fear but nothing to say…”

The ominous and suspenseful opening to the first track Tethered And Bound raises the hairs on the back of your neck and David Allan’s atmospheric voice-over just helps to build the tension. The eerie feeling continues before a powerful and methodical guitar riff breaks through the uneasiness and Robin’s distinctive vocal adds an authoritarian tone. This song is pure and definitive Cosmograf but turned up to 11 with emotive guitars and mountain moving percussion provided by Kyle Fenton. It’s like the best of progressive rock met math-core and morphed into something quite unique. I love the creeping tension that lies throughout the song, it’s almost like hiding behind the sofa watching Doctor Who when I was a kid but brought bang up to date for the 50-something adult I am now. A really powerful, imposing piece of music that dominates its surroundings with Rachael Hawnt’s vocal talents also put to good use to add even more theatre, a thunderous start to proceedings.

“These trees surround the field
The boundary marks the forest
It forms a perfect shield
Protects the summer harvest…”

Trouble In The Forest is a massive contrast with its wistful, gentle nostalgic opening that is full of the feeling of lazy, hazy sunny days and a forest with the dappled sun’s rays lighting up the forest floor. A wonderfully calm and collected track full of assured grace and composure. There’s a feeling of longing to the elegant, ethereal guitar and contemplative percussion that gives an otherworldly aura to the music. I can’t imagine a more laid back song that I’ve listened to this year as Robin’s voice finally joins in, all soothing and tranquil and with a meditative timbre to it. The tempo increases slightly, a note of urgency bleeding into the vocals before another voice over from Mr Allan sets the scene. The gentle meander and preamble takes on a slightly discordant edge as the immediately recognisable tone of Matt Stevens’ guitar opens up and he goes into Guthrie Govan mode with an intricate and convoluted guitar solo that only a guitarist of Matt’s talent could ever hope to deliver. The snaking, coruscating guitar work fits in perfectly with the almost spiritual ambience of this song and the ambient effects add even more mystery as this superb piece of music comes to a serene close.

“The motorway extends in grace, the shiny metal’s keeping pace
The engine’s calling out to me, rev it more and let it breath
Let it breath…”

A stylish acoustic guitar motif opens The Motorway with an assured note, another tell-tale Cosmograf sound that is instantly known to this reviewer. It lulls you into a false sense of security as it gently ambles on before Robin’s emotive vocal begins, backed by Kyle’s classy drums and a real 70’s sounding keyboard, Rachael’s carefully considered backing vocals adding lustre. Everything seems good natured and jaunty as the song moves along at a measured clip but the mood changes as Robin’s voice switches to a more ardent intonation and the whole song seems to transform into something altogether more serious, sombre and thoughtful. A thunderous riff emerges and the drums go all native on us as Robin turns into a seriously heavy rock vocalist, all dark and dangerous, it’s quite an about face, I’m thinking 70’s Deep Purple or Bad Company myself. A sultry break with more of that acoustic guitar calms things before Robin opens up with a superb guitar solo that literally pins your ears back to the side of your head and screams passion, fervor and feeling at you (yes, it’s air guitar time!) before the song comes to resounding close and so does side one of this utterly captivating and arresting vinyl release.

“Spoil the view
Do what you want to do
A greener field
Made from a muddy hue…”

A deliberate and pensive piano opens Cut The Corn, the first of two relatively shorter tracks, and this precedes Robin’s instrospective, absorbing vocal, full of sentiment and warmth and yet there’s a melancholy edge that runs throughout the song, a yearning and a longing for something out of reach and this adds a fragile beauty to the whole track. The tempo is deliberate and restrained and adds to the mournful sense that emanates, even more so when the reflective and thoughtful acoustic guitar is played to the captivated audience leaving you lost in thought as the track comes to a close.

“The colder air it hurts my throat
as I walk the stony roadway
There’s demons on the moonlit path
They plot to steal the break of dawn…”

The emotion, passion and fervor reach a climax on the wonderfully stirring and affectional Melancholy Death Of A Gamekeeper, a track where, if I didn’t know better, I’d have thought Robin had co-opted David Gilmour into appearing. The whole song is a complex blend of emotions from Robin’s sultry vocal, Kyle’s elegant drums and the flowing keyboards but it is the incredibly impressive guitar work that really stands out and makes this a song I keep returning to time and time again. I could sit and listen to the searing, powerful and ardent playing all day long, this is music that moves you on a primal level and stirs the soul, I can’t get that guitar note out of my head and I don’t want to either. Touches of Pink Floyd? Yes, but it’s an affectionate nod of the head, not a blatant copy and I think it works fantastically well.

“The rain comes
It soaks his worn out clothes
I follow everywhere he goes
Hay Man dreaming of the sun
Hay Man are you having fun?”

Well, it is going to take something really special to top that and, to Robin’s eternal credit, he just gets on with it and produces another instant classic with the title track The Hay Man Dreams. From the first exquisitely delivered word that Rachael Hawnt utters we are given a song that will stand the test of time and should be considered a classic of the genre. Rachel’s hypnotic vocal is utterly beguiling and enthralling and the guitar, bass, drums and keyboards ooze style and sophistication. A track for late nights, darkened rooms, powerful red wine and forgetting about the complexities that life throws at you. The longest song on the album at over twelve minutes, not a second or a note is wasted and Robin delivers possibly his best guitar work yet with playing that bewitches, dazzles and delights even the most seasoned hack, just sit back and enjoy. That’s not all though, it’s a song in three or more parts and the mood is broken by David Allan’s voice over one more time before things take a darker turn as the carefree jazz/blues guitar is overwritten by a more compelling and aggressive riff, the drums dominating and Rachel delivers an outpouring of passion and fervor as the atmosphere turns chaotic around her, as if a tornado has hit the Hay Man. All of a sudden an argent and incandescent guitar solo breaks loose irradiating the sky, a furious and dynamic piece of guitar playing that hits you right in the solar plexus. This thunderous refrain comes to a sudden halt to be replaced by the elegant strains of Rachel Hall’s violin and order is restored once more. The album closes out with a feeling of pastoral calm and relaxed repose as the needle comes to a stop and silence settles around you.

What an incredibly emotional roller coaster Robin Armstrong has taken us on. I have no qualms in saying I have always been huge fan of his music and on ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ the sheer scope of his songwriting and imagination is barely conceivable. Cosmograf albums are lovingly crafted nuggets of musical brilliance created not for commercial gain but for the enjoyment of the listener and, on this latest opus (especially as it is available on vinyl), Robin has delivered his most impressive work yet. Perfection? maybe not but it doesn’t get much closer than this.

Released 14th July 2017

Buy ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ on vinyl via Burning Shed

Buy ‘The Hay Man Dreams’ on CD and Download from Cosmograf

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cosmograf Announce Limited Re-Pressing of ‘The Man Left In Space’ by Progradar

Great news for cosmograf fans, the man behind it all, Robin Armstrong, has announced that there will be a limited -re-pressing of the brilliant 2013 release ‘The Man Left In Space’.

“As some of you know the 2013 release – ‘The Man Left In Space’ has been out of print on CD for some time. This has lead to odd copies turning up at Amazon etc. at eye-watering prices none of which comes back to the artist. The cost of re-pressing is pretty large but due to demand we are planning a limited re-press. Further info will be here and possible pre-order once we have confirmation.”

“In our race for achievement and success, we sometimes gamble with our lives only to collect isolation, unhappiness and failure.”  

‘The Man Left in Space’ is a concept album exploring the themes of aspiration, achievement, and the failures that our quest sometimes brings.  The story is played out against the analogous theme of a doomed space mission, launched in a bid to save mankind. The story provides a metaphor for the perils of success, such as boredom, isolation, unhappiness and ultimately failure…

The 9 track  progressive rock album draws on many past and contemporary influences in music, and takes a journey into the unknown to feed the imagination, and appetite of the listener of intelligent music.   It features a number of special guests from the progressive rock community including Nick D’Virgilio  (Spock’s Beard/Big Big Train ),  Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard), Matt Stevens, Greg Spawton (Big Big Train), Simon Rogers, Steve Dunn ( Also Eden ),  Lee Abraham ( The Lee Abraham Band ), Luke Machin ( The Tangent/Maschine ) and Dave Ware.

(Featured image by Dan Armstrong)

http://www.cosmograf.com/

Progradar’s Best of The Year For 2016 – Editor’s Choice

So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.

Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…

You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.

Bad Dreams – Déjà vu

‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.

Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King

Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning

Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in  a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.

Big Big Train – Folklore

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.

David Foster – Dreamless

The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!

Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Glass Hammer – Valkyrie

With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…

iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que

A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.

I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.

Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!

Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s  abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”

Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home

Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.

Tilt – Hinterland

What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!

Marc Atkinson – Home Grown

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.

So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.

 

Progradar Best Of 2016 – Leo Trimming’s Top 10

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Robin Armstrong’s multi-instrumental ability would be nothing without the excellent song writing and fascinating concept of this outstanding album. Undoubtedly, Album of the Year for me, from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

(I’ve put Cosmograf as my Album of the year… the rest are in no particular order… they’re all great albums.)

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

‘This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.’

Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

Marillion – F.E.A.R

This is a remarkable release from the Prog veterans that rightly propelled them back to wider prominence with an album full of anger and insight in to the state of the world, with the dominance and influence of the ‘super rich’. Of course, none of those political thoughts or feelings would count for anything in an album without outstanding music – Marillion have conveyed their message with powerful rock passages and also subtle melody. Three epic songs with ambitious scope are clearly modern and truly ‘Progressive’ without lazily resting on ‘Prog’ tropes.  A late contender for album of the year, but who would guess that well over 30 years in to their career that Marillion would pull off an album that truly has something to say about today’s world with such impact and sensitivity, and really mean something.  Beautiful at times, dramatic at other times… thought provoking throughout.

The Gift – Why The Sea Is Salt

Let’s get straight to the point – ‘Why the Sea is Salt’ is a truly exceptional album, and deserves to propel The Gift in to the higher echelons of current British Progressive Rock Music. Simple as that – it really is that outstanding. Very few albums indeed have the potential to attain the status of a potential ‘classic’ album, which will live long in the memory like ‘Why the Sea is Salt’. This is a work which greatly appeals to the heart and mind in equal measures, and similarly beguiles and stimulates in its beauty and drama. The Gift have skilfully and  beautifully draw upon a variety of influences, inspirations and ideas and artfully crafted them into an imaginative and enjoyable musical experience that touches the heart and stimulates the mind. Just brilliant.

What more could one want from an album?!

Paradigm Shift – Becoming Aware

This is an outstanding album musically and lyrically, with this young band fusing elements of heavy rock, psychedelia, rap, politics and progressive rock tropes in an intoxicating mix.

Paradigm Shift create finely played music based on well known influences with a largely retro feel. It is refreshing to see a new, younger band on the progressive rock scene willing to inject a political but not overwhelming edge to their songs on this very promising debut album, addressing such issues with vigour and passion.

What remains to be seen is whether Paradigm Shift can sustain this very impressive early showing, and how they develop and absorb other influences in the modern progressive music scene. However, with this album I think many progressive rock fans will definitely be ‘Becoming Aware’ of this promising young band.

TILT – Hinterland

TILT have delivered a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done. It is a clever mix of styles with some subdued, complicated sections weaving between the more straightforward rock themes and gives TILT their own definite sense of identity. This is a talented group of musicians who are at the top of their game and it shows.

Yorkston,Thorne and Khan – Everything Sacred

Finally, and completely out of ‘left field’ for me after seeing them at a festival.

What do you get when you combine a talented Scottish folk singer-songwriter, (James Yorkston) with a reknowned double bass jazz player (Jon Thorne) and finally an award winning Sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi ( Suhail Yusuf Khan)?

You get an album of beguiling beauty, heart breaking emotion and diverse sounds, blending styles and cultures in a fascinating mix. Listen to songs like ‘Broken Wave’ and ‘Everything Sacred’ and try not to dab the corner of your eye. At other times you are drawn in to hypnotic Indian rhythms with hints of folk, and always played with such delicacy and skill.

Is it ‘Prog’? Of course it bloody isn’t!

But what is more ‘Progressive’ than skilfully and intuitively blending musical and cultural influences to create something so new and so beautiful? Go on… challenge yourself – it’s a great album.

 

Progradar – 2016 – Best of the First Six Months

David

(Yours truly and Prog Guru™ himself)

Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the first official Progradar Reviewers and Friends ‘Best Of…’ feature.

I asked those who wished to contribute to cogitate over what great music they had heard, released 1st January to 30th June, in the first half of 2016 and come up with a list of their definitive five favourites.

Not an easy task, let me tell you but, here are the selections of nine (including me) erstwhile wordsmiths and friends, including a few words as to why these particular releases made the cut.

Emma

Emma Roebuck (Progradar reviewer)

Cover 2

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

This is Robin Armstrong on some amazing form.  I loved ‘Capacitor’ and I thought ‘Man Left in Space’ was a hard one to beat. I was clearly wrong and happy about it too. Robin is at his best when looking at the human condition when viewed through a less than regular lens. The mythology of Sisyphus and alien abduction combine to make such a lens.  I will treasure seeing his one and only live performance so far at Celebr8.3 fondly. The album is dark and melancholy which is the way I like my music to be honest.

This film might change your life and Relativity being high points in an album that is a mountain range of achievement.

Aftermath

Preacher – Aftermath

Their second album, and independently released like the Cosmograf album (and another 2 in my, selection if I remember rightly.) Preacher craft both songs and albums exceedingly well. ‘Signals’, the previous album, shows signs (poor, but unintentional, pun) of a band with tons to offer. They draw their roots from 70s Floyd and the melodic side of the genre.  It could be said that this is the album that Floyd should have released instead of ‘The Endless River’, I could easily agree but this is not that Floyd this is a band that use melody, harmony and song in a way that could go beyond the genre.

Stand out Tracks

War/ War reprise and Vinyl show how we look to emotions and actions and make things or deeds of them as people.

Cover

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

I was too young to be really aware of the genuine impact of the classic period of Prog rock. I caught the periphery in my early teens but felt no ownership of Yes, Genesis, VDGG, Floyd, Gentle Giant, etc only a serious attraction to the music as a 14 year old in 1975. In the early 80s, having ridden the horror that was punk, I remember seeing Marillion, IQ and Pallas in small pubs and clubs in 82 and it was a pure emotional and intellectual epiphany. It felt like I was hit in the heart and the brain with a piece of 2 by 4. I found home and ownership of music.  I liked ‘Trip the Light Fantastic’ immensely and when I heard this album I felt all those emotions again. I was in the Sheffield Limit club again hearing something of very high quality and I connected immediately to this music. It is Neo Prog of a very high standard.  They sound like themselves with echoes of the last 40 years resounding through the music.

Standout Tracks Intruder and DesolationRetribution.

Jump Over The Top Cover

Jump – Over The Top

I have been a fan of Jump for the best part of 21 years. It is the Classic rock society that I owe big style, not just for these but many others, in times of musical desolation.  I found my first sample of these by old school recognition and recommendation by word of mouth. Fast forward to many Jump gigs later, the new album ‘Over the Top’ comes out and it was ‘yes, get in!’. Some of the current live set had been used to fine tune some of the songs over the last 18 months or so and it shows. John Dexter Jones is a storyteller par excellence and the band are an excellent vehicle for those stories. The words are heartfelt and the music comes from the same place. If they lived in medieval times they would be the bards of old. The use of the past to illustrate the way of the world we live in now is the stock in trade here.

Stand out tracks, I want to say all of them but if I was to choose The Beach and the Wreck of the St Marie are those choices.

Cover-500K

Kiama – Sign of IV

Just when you think you have Rob Reed figured out, Sanctuary, Magenta and so on, he does something out of the blue and blows the socks of you. Take good old rock sensibilities from the 60s and 70s, put them in the hands of some very talented individuals and they become a band which sounds like they have been a unit for years. I recently saw them support Frost* and wow, just wow.

This is a hybrid, musically drawn from the past in a very real sense, and is a homage to how they used to work but it does not feel like a tribute band in anyway.  It results in a multifaceted album of light and shade with some fantastic songs and heartfelt lyrics. It is some of Luke Machin’s best work outside of Maschine & Rubidium.  Rob Reed has a blast playing with sound and tone to create things like ‘Muzzled’, which is a tribute to the Floyd Album ‘Animals’, using the tones from the period to reflect the music and the time it came out. Dylans voice is amazing, we need more Kiama …

Stand Out Tracks  Muzzled and Slip away.

Leo2

Leo Trimming – (Progradar and TPA reviewer)

Tales From The Bookcase Cover

Red Bazar – Tales From The Bookcase

This was my TPA’s review’s conclusion early in the year for this surprise package, and I’ve had no reason to change it since…

This is an excellent collaboration: Red Bazar have helped Peter Jones express more of his serious, darker side and also allowed him to display more vocal dexterity. In return Red Bazar have gained a talented and very fine rock vocalist who has added great lyrical skill and vocal feeling  to their own fine emotional musical palette…

This may be a bit of a dark horse, but Red Bazar may just have released one of the Prog albums of the year.

All Our Yesterdays cover

Matthew Parmenter – All Our Yesterdays

A favourite on two levels – it’s a great album of subtle artistry and fine music, and on another level the artist & his music  touched me personally. My Progradar review concluded:

Matthew Parmenter has stepped aside from the magnificent, gothic group dynamic of Discipline to create a solo work of art suffused with dramatic shades and emotional lyricism, conveying tragedy and hope. This is an album that is likely to captivate and beguile with subtlety and delicate emotion. It certainly gave me unexpected comfort – Inside.’

BEM023 cover

Nine Stones Close – Leaves

A darkly trippy and psychedelic album. Part dream, part nightmare – this is an album for which repeated listens gradually unpeal the layers, like all the best progressive releases. My Progradar review observed:

Nine Stones Close create rich musical landscapes suffused with a sense of the dramatic and psychedelic… They do not stick to their old formula and want to progress. My advice is stick with these guys because you are never quite sure in which direction their songs or this albums may turn, but it sure is an imaginative and fascinating ride!’

Cover

Big Big Train – Folklore

A much anticipated release does not disappoint as the album describes modern folklore, ancient legend, elegies for lost love and epic stories of heroism and loss … plus bees (!) in a rich tapestry of folk tinged progressive rock. Lyrically intelligent and insightful, conveyed with integrity and emotion, and played with consummate skill and passion. Impossible to ignore – we all sort of knew it would be great. Of course it’s great!

Cover 2

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Simply stunning. Robin Armstrong has imagined a rich narrative of alien incursion (or paranoid breakdown?!) with sonic brilliance. The imaginative story is unnerving, whilst the music is captivating on a human level but cinematic in scope – ranging from crunching Purple riffs, through atmospheric acoustic passages to sweeping Floydian soundscapes. Undoubtedly, major contender for Album of the Year already from one of the best Progressive Rock artists of this generation.

Gary

Gary Morley – (Progradar reviewer)

HAWKWIND The Machine Stops

Hawkwind – The Machine Stops

Everything that Hawkwind evoke distilled into one disc. Great musicianship, tunes and tons of atmosphere make this the top of the pops for me. It’s been a long time since a Hawkwind album had such a buzz about it. Biggest regret – that I missed the live shows. Biggest hope – a proper live blu-ray & CD set is coming.

Aftermath

Preacher – Aftermath

Prog at it’s best for me needs a driver. Preacher use guitars. Proper guitars like your dad waffles on about when he talks about Pink Floyd, Steve Hillage, Jimmy Page and that time he watched Rory Gallagher play for 3 hours at the Hexagon Theatre and your mum was drinking pints and ended up paralytic, singing along to “Wayward Child” sat on his boss’s shoulders…

cover

I Am The Manic Whale – Everything Beautiful In Time

Local boy’s debut embraces everything that is good about music. It has great tunes, off the wall lyrics and subjects that place it head and shoulders above most of what passes for modern music from the under 30’s. I’m looking forward to their next offering, be it a live gig in Reading or more music.

cover-1

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

‘The Clockwork Fable’ is a Steam punk opera, like a space opera or a soap opera but without the bad romance and dodgy backdrops.

I loved the variety of musical genres used to tell a totally bonkers tale of clockwork suns and steam powered boys looking for missing cogs in a giant machine all played out in a cavernous underground city. There are rock tracks, some great drumming, some “epic” prog , some plaintive melodies and a host of guest vocalists and musicians, all of which add to the mix without overegging the lily.

The first time you listen you get sucked into the world presented here. It’s a Post apocalyptic, dark dystopian world but there are flashes of humour and the absurdity does not detract from the sheer brilliance of the effort here.

Cover

Steven Wilson – 4 1/2

“left over’s” from ‘Hand .Cannot .Erase’ these track might have been, but as a snapshot of Mr Chuckletrousers ( © Angus Prune I Think) and his Zeus like stature in the modern Prog pantheon  this is sublime in its perfection. Hints of Zappa referencing impossible “stun guitar”, epic soundscape that demonstrate his skill as an arranger and bleak yet beautiful lyrics are all wrapped in a package that sticks 2 fingers up at the download and go generation. This is a quality production in every detail, lovingly constructed and presented for your pleasure.

Shawn Dudley

Shawn Dudley – (Progradar reviewer)

Press_cover

Messenger – Threnodies

It took several spins for this album to truly work its magic on me, but once hooked it just won’t let me go.  A beautifully organic record, informed and powered by vintage sounds but not a slave to them.  The tastefully arranged guitar work on this album is a particular highlight.  Favorite tracks:  Balearic Blue, Celestial Spheres. 

Press_cover

Haken – Affinity

Haken leaves the 1970s sounds of ‘The Mountain’ behind, makes a brief stop in the 1980s for the song 1985 and then ventures forward into the future on Affinity.  An endlessly inventive collection of intricately designed and passionately performed pieces it’s one of the most thrillingly forward-looking albums of 2016.  It’s time to drop the “Prog Metal” genre tag, these guys have transcended it.  Favorite tracks:  The Architect, Red Giant

purson-desires-magic-theatre-cover

Purson – Desire’s Magic Theatre

Purson’s follow-up to ‘The Circle And The Blue Door’ is essentially a solo album from Rosalie Cunningham who wrote, arranged, produced and performed the majority of D.M.T. herself.   A conceptual psychedelic journey influenced by her Father’s record collection and her own experimentation with mind-expanding substances.  Another case of an artist using the canvas of vintage instrumentation and production techniques to create very personal and unique modern music.   Favorite tracks:  The Sky Parade, The Bitter Suite.

Cover

Big Big Train Folklore

Another beautiful collection of immaculately arranged and produced “pastoral prog” from this master collective of musicians.  I recommend going for the extended track-list available on the LP and High-Res download editions, I believe an even stronger collection than the shorter CD version.  Favorite tracks:  Salisbury Giant, London Plane

Print

Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A wonderfully quirky concoction of pop sensibility, progressive experimentation and the harmonic sophistication of jazz all mixed together into a thoroughly accessible brew.  And it’s fun!  Favorite tracks:  I Am Lost, I Must Set Fire To Your Portrait.

Roger

Roger Trenwith – (TPA reviewer and Astounded by Sound blog)

cover low

Bent Knee – Say So

An unparalleled triumph of invention, melody, and strangeitude, it will take some beating for album of the year.

cover

David Bowie – Blackstar

Hardly seems right relegating this poignant artistic statement and full stop on a career of a true visionary to No.2, but from a purely musical point of view, them’s the breaks.

Print

Knifeworld – Bottled Out OF Eden

A chronicle of loss leavened by hope, Knifeworld get better with each release. Criminally underrated.

cover

Body English – Stories of Earth

Is there a sub-genre called “prog-pop”? If not, this is it. A truly joyous record shining a light in this dark Year of Stupid.

KCr

King Crimson – Live In Toronto – Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Toronto, Canada, 20th November 2015

Whatever I put here means leaving out at least half a dozen albums equally as good, so this came out on top after a complicated mathematical randomisation process involving dice, incantations, dead frogs, toads, and copious amounts of single malt. The mighty Crim remake, remodel like no-one else. The version of Epitaph will make you shiver, unless you have no soul. Superb!

Kev

Kevin Thompson (LHS) – (Progradar reviewer)

Cover

Big Big Train – Folklore

Does this really need a reason?, best of the Band’s excellent output so far and an album that will always be on my desert island disc list. As near to perfect as it gets…

Press_cover

Long Distance Calling – Trips

There are so many bands in this area of music it’s hard to stand out, but, on this release, Long Distance Calling have…..

cover-1

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

A tremendous 3 disc concept package of such quality. Never been better value for money and shames the bigger bands!!

cover

Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

A delicately beautiful album from this Russian duo added further poignancy with the heartfelt vocals from Mariusz Duda on the title track.

Cover Album low res

Downriver Dead Men Go – Tides

Another band who came recommended and I’d not heard before buying. Slow, dark and emotional, this Dutch band surpassed my expectations.

David

David Elliott – (Prog Guru™, TEP, Bad Elephant)

Cover

Lazuli – Nos Âmes Saoules

There is nothing else quite like them, and they keep on going from strength to strength….

cover low

Bent Knee – Say So

My first exposure to this amazing American band…genuine innovators, and hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck exciting!!

Cover

The Dowling Poole – One, Hyde Park

Unashamedly unoriginal, but huge fun, and immaculately crafted. Big smiley music.

Print

Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden

Banging tunes, a great groove, and more bassoon!!

Press_Cover_01

Frost* – Falling Satellites

A great return to the arena from the masters of modern progressive. Progressive rock with pop sensibilities – what’s not to like?

John Simms

John Simms – (Progradar reviewer, Rev Sky Pilot blog)

Cover

Big Big train – Folklore

Consistently turning out excellent pastoral English progressive music, BBT have hit the motherlode again with this suite of songs celebrating the British folkloric tradition. From the sublime beauty of ‘Transit’ to the quirky tale of ‘Winkie’ the Pigeon, this is music of the highest calibre.

IoK cover

Anderson/Stolt – Invention of Knowledge

This, for me, is simply the best music anyone connected with Yes has produced since ‘Awaken’. It draws on the bestaspects of Yes and Flower Kings and produces something sublime and beautiful. It was a very close call between my Top 2.

cover

Southern Empire – Southern Empire

One of the up sides to Unitopia folding a few years ago is that we now have both UPF and Southern Empire to carry on the legacy. This is a fine collection of melodic progressive rock music, exhibiting high levels of virtuosity and songmanship.

Print

Knifeworld – Bottled Out of Eden

Another band with a unique style and approach to music making. This is a wonderful follow-up to ‘The Unravelling’ and Kavus and his band of minstrels continue to delight.

BEM021 album cover

Mothertongue – Unsongs

The best music is that which stands out from the crowd, and Mothertongue certainly do that. Ecclectic, bizarre, unexpected and bonkers, this is a wonderful collection of (un)songs.

Hutch

And finally my thoughts, this selection of five albums was incredibly difficult to pick but I’m pretty certain that, at this moment in time, it is my definitive top five!!!

BEM021 album cover

Mothertongue – Unsongs

With its incisive, intelligent lyrics and first-class musicianship, Unsongs is unlike anything you will have heard in recent years. The music will lead you on a roller-coaster journey of acid jazz inventiveness that’s a big heap of noisy and light and also includes a lot of brass because everyone likes brass, right? A musical breath of fresh air that you will return to again and again, it’s just brilliant!

Cover

Big Big Train – Folklore

The acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling return with a fresh collection of tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life.

Cover 2

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

cover

Iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

Tilt Album

Tilt – Hinterland

A superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. By the way, three of these guys are better known as Fish’s backing band but, oh my god, have they risen well above that soubriquet now….

So, there you have it, a small selection of our own, very subjective, opinions on what has been the best music of a highly impressive first six months of 2016. You may agree, you may not but, one thing that everything agrees on is that the music just keeps getting better, and long may it continue!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review – Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence – by Progradar

COS06-FRONTCOVER-150x150 

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.”

The Myth of Sysiphus – Albert Camus

Camus introduces his philosophy of the absurd: man’s futile search for meaning, unity, and clarity in the face of an unintelligible world devoid of God and eternal truths or values. Does the realization of the absurd require suicide? Camus answers: “No. It requires revolt.”

Let me introduce you to the fifth studio release from Cosmograf, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ is an existential concept album with an alien theme, based on ‘The Myth of Sysiphus’ by the French philosopher Albert Camus.

“It’s essentially a more modern re-telling of Camus’s writngs about makind’s struggle to understand the universe and our role within it”, says the concept’s creator Robin Armstrong.

“Camus desribed man standing face to face with the irrational, longing for happiness and reason which leads to a confrontation between the human need and the unreasonable silence of the world.”

robin

Cosmograf is a progressive rock project lead by Robin Armstrong, a multi instrumentalist progressive rock musician from Waterlooville nr Portsmouth UK. The sound is rooted in 70s classic rock with a contemporary and progressive twist. Influences are Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Genesis, Yes, Porcupine Tree, Muse and many others.

Through four previous albums, ‘End Of Ecclesia’ (2009), ‘When Age Has Done Its Duty’ (2011), ‘The Man Left In Space’ (2013) and ‘Capacitor’ (2014) Robin has been joined by a ‘who’s who’ of musical collaborators to create amazing jewels of intense musicianship woven around immaculate storylines and ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ sees him tackle his most ambitious project yet.

Music produces something inside me that mere life cannot replicate and Cosmograf’s work has, on occasion, opened up the universe with a clarity I haven’t seen before so a new release is always something I am going to look forward to with intense longing.

alien star wars

Robin’s cast of distinguished guest performers includes Nick D’Virgilio (drums), Nick Beggs (bass), Dave Meros (bass), Rachel Hawnt (vocals) as well as a number of voice acting contributions (including my dulcet tones, but don’t let that put you off).

Between our quest for knowledge and refusal of the world to give up its secrets, lies the concept of absurdism. Camus, in his original essay, describes Sysiphsus condemned to a pointless labour, to illustrate the absurdity of human existence. Robin Armstrong twists the story to portray a modern character disillusioned with his own life to the point that he believes his destiny may reside in another world.

‘The Unreasonable Silence’ explores the themes of paranoia, social withdrawal and conformity, and ultimately the search for meaning in our own existence.

mustang

“The Absurd is born of this confrontation between the human need and The Unreasonable Silence of the World.”

Echo $abduction is the atmospheric instrumental opening to this theatrical feeling work. It fades in quite ominously with a languid guitar line and atmospheric keyboards. The sound of a V8 Mustang engine piercing the uncanny and supernatural gloom beginning this mysterious paranoiac tale perfectly.

“10ft tall and eyes of black, I saw them on this lonely track, Lights around me in the sky, couldn’t move I thought I’d die.”

This Film Might Change Your Life begins with a distorted soundtrack and then the drums join in before the whole thing erupts with a video game vibe. A voice over holds you rapt, the music rooting you to the spot, holding position perfectly. The cinematic feel is tangible, it’s like a movie running in your mind to which you can only hear the soundtrack. A big riff kicks in, rhythm section complimenting perfectly before Robin’s guitar breaks free on a convoluted, contorted guitar run of intense brilliance. The wait has been worth it, this is Cosmograf and then some. A calmer mid-section precedes another spine-chilling voice over, the tension building before the vocals finally begin. The story begins of an encounter with a supposed alien, the protagonist’s terror is almost tangible. The music and words depict the paranoia perfectly and you are already awaiting the next instalment with bated breath…..

“These toys are the same again, They make the same noise, The feel of the plastic men, imagine their voices.”

A dolent piano note opens Plastic Men, overlaying a telephone answering machine filling up with messages for the missing man. There’s solemn tone pervading the track as the vocals begin with an impassioned note. Dark thoughts from a disillusioned mind, the music imparting this feel perfectly. A massive riff hits you along with Robin’s tortured voice, almost screaming the words. This ebb and flow between the almost cathartic verses, low key and downbeat, and the thunderous delivery of the chorus really plays on the mind allowing you to sympathise with what misapprehensions may be present. Another worried telephone message closes the song with a disquieting feel.

computer

“Ask me what I can see, ceiling pushing on me. Feeling stress in a queue, lost without you.”

Uncertainty and anxiety are at the core of the notions here and the opening to Arcade Machine is no different. Tension builds again, the lyrics convey a man lost in his own world and the music just builds on that thought. Cinematic and theatrical concept music that you feel a part of and hang on every note and word. A wild and heavy riff and impassioned vocals lead into the seriously icy cool chorus, keyboards and guitars whirling around all Pink Floyd like and the bass and drums providing perfect accompaniment. There’s quite a 70’s psychedelia party going on under the conspiracy theory, mind-bending and multi-coloured and you find yourself slap bang in the middle of someone’s kaleidoscopic meanderings. The music is utterly engrossing and absorbing, the guitar solo tears at your psyche, never letting go, deliciously compelling……

“Born. Live Die. Insert a coin, lose a life.”

“The TV’s on. Addiction Strong.”

“John Gibson we are coming for you…”

RGB is a dramatically tense four minutes of delicate music overlaying Robin’s hauntingly whispered vocals. The tension is delivered more by what you can’t hear than by what you can, like the days when you hid behind the sofa watching Dr. Who. It seems to have a hallucinatory atmosphere like you are trapped in the mind of the man who is confused by reality. I really like its nostalgic and obsessive ambience.

“I don’t believe you. When you say it’s brighter on the outside. These walls are friendly. They don’t intimidate or argue or exhaust me.”

A psychedelic guitar opens Four Wall Euphoria with a far out feel to it before the vocals begin, telling the story of a man deep in his paranoia. Stuck inside his own ‘four walls’and happy to be separate from the outside world. A real Pink Floyd sound permeates the whole song with the epic backing vocals from Rachel Hawnt,the 70’s infused keyboards and the funky guitar note. There is a really insular aura emanating form the track, the lyrics speaking of fear, dread, religion and medication. Superb musicianship enhances the believable storyline and you feel as if you are in the middle of a man’s very personal breakdown.

Robin 2

“Hit the road with a tank full of gas. Watch the gauge if you’re driving too fast. Take it slow and the journey is long. Go too fast to the nd of the song.”

For those of a delicate nature, look away now, my voice over is somewhere in The Uniform Road, I won’t spoil the surprise any more. The edgy, suspenseful atmosphere is brought to boiling point by the phone messages and industrial feel to the opening. Harsher notes from the keys and percussion underscore a hushed vocal before a heavy, staccato riff and Robin’s piercing voice ramp up the intrigue even more, real ‘edge of your seat’ stuff. Is it just paranoia or are they really coming? The riff has a feel of Led Zep’s Kashmir to it and the ever increasing power of the vocals give it real stand out presence. The 70’s edge is more and more of an influence as the Led Zep comparison increases. There’s a real sci-fi feel to the off-kilter guitar solo with the impression of lasers firing and you sense you could be in the middle of an alien invasion but, is it real or imagined, this song really screws with your mind in a brilliant way.

“I’ve seen them….”

“I drive to this field. It’s lonely. They need my design. They need my mind.”

Spooky and euphoric, the groove of The Silent Field is definitely full of expectancy and suspense. Our protagonist believes he is going to meet the aliens and seems happily resigned to his fate. The song gets under your skin and definitely leaves a question mark in your mind.

“Leave the ground, I see myself ascending…”

Relativity is a dreamlike song, much akin to the tracks on The Man Left In Space, laid back and chilled even. There’s a surreal aura around Robin’s laconic vocal and the airy guitar note is almost hypnotic. In his self-absorbed psychosis The man really feels he has been abducted and you have the box seat as you absorb and ponder over his experiences. Punchier riffs and more emotive vocals bring an undercurrent of anguish and despair to the song and the restless and uneasy guitar solo and drum beat do nothing to dispel that notion. A deliciously dark track that lays itself bare before and leaves nothing behind.

Robin 1

The final, and title, track on the album, The Unreasonable Silence is Robin Armstrong at his absolute best. A superbly constructed and thought out song that probes and quests and holds your attention rapt throughout. The laid back, uninhibited and self-possessed guitar solo that opens this piece is sublime and then the vocals begin with world weary depth to them that feels like it spans the ages. There are subtle ebbs and flow, hints of things unseen and an intelligence that is most definitely of alien origin. Next comes an utterly mesmerising solo that steals your soul,at this point you raise the white flag and surrender to the stunning and superlative skill on show. The tension then builds to a mouth watering close to the song and the album with Rachel providing the dramatic vocal ending to this sobering and inventive tale, was it all in his mind though?

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

Released 13th June 2016

Order ‘The Unreasonable Silence from the cosmograf shop